A new sea land
In 1642 the members of a Dutch expedition became the first Europeans known to have sighted New Zealand. Captaining two vessels from the Dutch East India Company’s base in Java, Abel Tasman ventured south in search of fabled riches and fresh land for expansion.
On 13 December he recorded his first glimpse of a ‘groot hooch verheven landt’ – ‘large land, uplifted high’ – the Southern Alps. After charting some of the coast, Tasman anchored in the sheltered waters of what is now Golden Bay. Four of his crew were killed in a confrontation with the Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri tribe, and Tasman’s ships left, naming the area Murderers' Bay. A Dutch mapmaker later christened the new lands Nieuw Zeeland (after the coastal province of Zeeland in the Netherlands), stamping a Dutch imprint on the national story.
Three hundred years after Tasman’s tragic encounter with Māori, land near where he anchored was renamed Abel Tasman National Park. The Tasman Glacier and the Tasman Sea are other reminders of this explorer’s long and enduring reach.
Netherlanders were one strand in the knot of continental Europeans settling in New Zealand from the 1840s. Some speculate that the misfortune of Tasman’s crew led to a national reluctance for a second entrance into New Zealand. Most of the quarter-million who left Holland (officially known as the Netherlands) between 1846 and 1930 were heading westwards, chiefly to the United States.
A few Dutch people may have settled in New Zealand before the middle of the 19th century. Some had professions associated with the sea, or were drawn to the colony by the 1860s gold rushes. But in the 1874 census, just 127 of the 300,000 settlers recorded were of Dutch birth – 112 men and 15 women.
Some famous figures among early settlers of Dutch origin include the landscape painter Petrus van der Velden, and gold seeker and later prime minister Sir Julius Vogel, who had a Dutch father. Others, like Wellington’s first rabbi, Herman van Staveren, made their mark at the community level. The contribution of Dutch churchmen has been long lasting. For more than a century, a succession of priests attached to the Mill Hill Fathers, a prominent Catholic missionary order, came to work in remote Māori communities in the central and northern North Island.
The number of Dutch-born settlers dropped in the first half of the 20th century, despite the arrival of a few people connected with multinational companies and trading concerns.
A Dutch dynasty
An example of how Dutch migrants have enriched New Zealand can be found in the van Asch family.
Gerrit van Asch arrived in Christchurch in 1880 and set up the world’s first fully government-funded school for the deaf. His grandson Piet went on to become one of New Zealand’s foremost aviation pioneers and a leading exponent of aerial mapping.
Henry van Asch co-founded the company A. J. Hackett Bungy in the mid-1980s, taking over this adventure sports business in 1997. The family name has now been perpetuated in his van Asch winery, based in Central Otago.
From the late 1920s, the growth in the European population was slowing down. Faced with a low birth rate and mounting skill and labour shortages, New Zealand increasingly looked to immigration to help shore up social and economic progress.
Racial ideology underpinned immigration policy in an Anglo-Saxon and Protestant society. Financial assistance was available to preferred British migrants, but a 1938 report suggested that the supply might not be adequate. It made the radical suggestion that migrants from other parts of the world should be accepted.
The Netherlands came to be seen as an alternative source of Aryan Europeans – ‘good Germanic genes but without the politics’. 1 The Hague was pleased to oblige. In 1939, five handpicked Dutch carpenters arrived. They were described as ‘a fine type, of athletic build and well educated’. 2 This happy experiment paved the way for post-war Dutch migration.