Dutch explorer Abel Tasman is the first European known to have sighted New Zealand. When he reached the South Island in 1642, he thought he had found a new southern continent. He anchored in present-day Golden Bay, but left after four of his crew were killed by Māori. Later, the country was named after a Dutch province, Zeeland.
Very few immigrants arrived from Holland (officially known as the Netherlands) in the 19th century. But some made their mark, including artist Petrus van der Velden and the Catholic Mill Hill Fathers, who worked among Māori.
20th century migration
Needing more people for the country to progress, New Zealand began opening its doors to non-British immigrants. In 1939, five Dutch carpenters arrived. This trickle became a flood after the Second World War, when Germany had occupied the Netherlands. Life there had become very hard, and thousands left. Some Dutch also came from the Dutch East Indies during its fight for independence as Indonesia.
New Zealand’s Dutch immigrants of the 1950s were mostly young men. Some brought kitset houses with them. By 1968, 23,879 had settled, forming the biggest group of non-British immigrants. But as the Dutch economy recovered, fewer came to New Zealand.
Pressured to be ‘new Britishers’ and to settle far apart, the migrants missed their friendly communities. Workers whose fares had been partly paid by the New Zealand government had to stay for two years in jobs such as building railways. But this first generation welcomed New Zealand’s open spaces and plentiful food. Two-thirds stayed, many marrying locals. Since the 1990s, speaking Dutch has become an important way to keep the culture alive.
The Dutch contribution
The Dutch brought new ideas and styles. Some started restaurants and cafés which served continental food, good coffee and wine. Others contributed in art, design, photography, and sports from netball (Yvonne Willering) to rowing (Eric Verdonk). Today more than 100,000 New Zealanders have Dutch blood.