In the 19th century many Pākehā who had been born in Britain thought of themselves as exiles from ‘Home’. They imported British and European culture and intellectual values, and tried valiantly to reproduce aspects of their familiar way of life. However, this often paled beside what they had experienced in the northern hemisphere. It was common for ambitious individuals to leave in search of opportunities they had left behind. They thought of this not as expatriation, but as a return to the motherland. Immigrants such as writers Samuel Butler, Mary Anne Barker and Alfred Domett spent time in New Zealand, only to move back to England within a few years. Others, such as novelist George Chamier, moved on to Australia or another part of the British Empire.
Having experienced London while attending Queen’s College from 1903 to 1906, young Kathleen Beauchamp – who later became writer Katherine Mansfield – bitterly resented being taken back to New Zealand. ‘London – it is Life’, she wrote in her journal. She nagged her parents until they allowed her to return in 1908, this time permanently.
New Zealand’s origin as a colony of Britain influenced popular opinion for years after the country became first a dominion in 1907 and then an independent nation in 1947. One pervasive colonial attitude was that Britain was the centre of all intellectual and cultural activity and New Zealand was on the periphery. To move to England, especially London, was to be at the heart of where things were happening. Another widespread belief was that New Zealanders, particularly Pākehā, were ‘British’, and therefore heirs to British thought and culture. But later generations of ‘colonials’ born and raised in New Zealand – for example, writers Katherine Mansfield and Frank Anthony – often found themselves treated as outsiders when they went to Britain. They were caught adrift between the distant land they had always idealised and the birthplace to which they were bound emotionally. Some reasserted their allegiance to New Zealand, but for others, the solution to this conflict was to assimilate.
Perhaps because of their strong ties to kin and the land, only a small number of gifted Māori became permanent expatriates. But, often with British ancestry, and thus influenced by the colonial world view, some were keen to expand their horizons. Anthropologist Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa) worked first at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii and later at Yale University in the United States. Fellow anthropologist Mākereti Papakura was, at the end of her life, a student at Oxford University in England.
Changing attitudes to expatriation, 1945 onwards
The gradual disintegration of old empires and the struggles towards autonomy of many previously dependent colonies and dominions following the Second World War, together with technological and social developments, changed attitudes. New Zealanders were less likely to perceive Britain as the hub of the world, and looked to other countries such as the United States for opportunities.
At home, the slow growth of cultural and intellectual infrastructure – for instance more universities, museums and art galleries; professional theatre and opera companies; and a national orchestra – may have encouraged some artists and academics to stay, but expatriation, either temporary or permanent, remained attractive for others. They saw the exchange of ideas and acquisition of overseas experience as important for their professional development.
From the 1960s jet travel made it easier for expatriates to maintain links with New Zealand while living overseas. But for some people it was still impossible to advance in their chosen field in New Zealand, and long-term relocation was the only option. Forming relationships in a new country helped loosen the ties with New Zealand and make the move permanent.