Story: Creative and intellectual expatriates

Page 3. Expatriation to Britain

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Historically, Britain has been the main destination for expatriates from New Zealand, with good reason.

Academic study and research

New Zealand’s university system was modelled on British institutions and at first staffed mainly by British academics. Britain was therefore the obvious place for postgraduate study.

Not a fair exchange

Writer and academic C. K. Stead drew attention to the irony of the Rhodes Scholarship system, whereby the best New Zealand brains were sent to Oxford to be cultivated and then absorbed into English intellectual life, while at the same time second-rate Britons were sent out to fill the gaps in New Zealand academia.

From 1891 a scholarship funded by profits from the 1851 Great Exhibition in London enabled outstanding science and engineering students throughout the British Empire to study in Britain. Physicist Ernest Rutherford and chemist Joseph Mellor both left New Zealand on this scholarship. From 1904 Rhodes scholarships were available for study at Oxford. Rhodes scholars Kenneth Sisam, Norman Davis and Robert Burchfield became part of a so-called ‘New Zealand mafia’ of experts in English language and literature studies and lexicography at Oxford. Other scholarships were established specifically for study at British universities, and University of New Zealand postgraduate scholarships also encouraged study overseas. Recipients of such scholarships included mathematician Alexander Aitken and classicist Ronald Syme.

Nurturing New Zealanders

Sometimes well-established New Zealanders attracted people to study in Britain. For example, pioneering plastic surgeon Harold Gillies mentored his younger cousin Archie McIndoe and other New Zealanders who came to London.

Visual arts

Although artists from continental Europe such as Petrus van der Velden and Girolamo Nerli made a considerable impact, immigrant English artists were prominent in the art world in New Zealand from the 19th century. In the 1920s the La Trobe scheme of advertising technical teaching vacancies in Britain brought a further influx of British art teachers. They encouraged promising students to train in Britain. Between 1951 and 1962 the National Art Gallery Travelling Scholarship enabled young artists to study overseas. The Royal College of Art, the Slade School of Art, or the Central School of Art and Design in London were invariably chosen by successful candidates, including sculptor Bill Culbert.

An impressive record

The British publishing industry has attracted many talented New Zealanders. They held key positions at Oxford University Press from 1923, when Kenneth Sisam joined. He was followed by John Mulgan before the Second World War and Dan Davin and Robert Burchfield after. More recently, Liz Calder was a founding director of Bloomsbury Publishing, which produced, among other things, the Harry Potter books.

Performing arts

Many performing artists began by sitting exams set by British institutions. From the 1890s, graded music qualifications were conferred through the Royal Schools of Music and Trinity College, London, after trips to New Zealand by English examiners. Speech and drama students could also sit Trinity College exams, while from 1936 ballet students gained qualifications through the Royal Academy of Dance. With bursaries from the Culture Fund of the Department of Internal Affairs, established in 1946, outstanding students headed overseas.

Not surprisingly, musicians such as pianist Colin Horsley and soprano Kiri Te Kanawa furthered their studies at British institutions, including the Royal College of Music and the London Opera Centre. Dancers, including Bryan Ashbridge and Alexander Grant, studied at Sadler’s Wells Ballet (which became the Royal Ballet School). Until professional training became available in New Zealand in 1970, actors often went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art – Barbara Ewing and Terence Bayler among them.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Creative and intellectual expatriates - Expatriation to Britain', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/creative-and-intellectual-expatriates/page-3 (accessed 17 October 2019)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 22 Oct 2014