The Scandinavian settlers of the Manawatu

In 1870, Colonial Treasurer Julius Vogel introduced a public works and immigration scheme, under which suitable immigrants would be settled along the projected lines of the road and railway. The idea was that the construction work for this infrastructure would support the settlers until they could develop farms on the blocks of land allotted to them.

At this time, the Manawatu and western Hawkes Bay was still largely undeveloped, in most part covered in dense impenetrable forest. For these areas, Vogel was keen to recruit settlers from Scandinavia, who were reputed for their skill as foresters and axemen. It also appears that he may have also been influenced by an early, and rather illustrious settler in the Manawatu – Ditlev Gothard Monrad, former premier of Denmark. Monrad had immigrated to New Zealand, along with his family, in 1866, in a kind of self-imposed exile. Clearly not afraid of hard work, he found a small clearing on the banks of the Manawatu River, in Karere (near Longburn) and, using timber from the surrounding thick forest, built a home and then went on to develop a farm.

Calaeno, arriving in February 1871, was the first ship bringing Scandanavian settlers bound for the Manawatu. On it were 51 people from Norway and Sweden who were to make new homes for themselves in the heavy bush land which surrounded the swampy clearing, known as Papaioea, that was to be Palmerston North. (The site of  “the crumbling remains of the stockade of the old Papaioea pa which had been built by the Rangitāne”, noted by trader Charles Hartly in 1846.)

The 18 families were allotted a small block of land of around 40 acres at either Whakarongo (the Stony Creek block) or Awapuni (the Karere block).  The men were provided with work building roads and a railway and felling bush. A road and tramway was built through the bush from Foxton to the site of Palmerston North, providing better access to the fledgling township. The settlers’ wages was used to pay off their land at 1 pound per acre and build a house (often a more substantial building to replace an initial cottage).

The home of one of these first group of settlers, Petter and Maja Andersen, who were allotted a 33 acre block of land at Whakarongo still survives today, though relocated to Clifton Terrace, the river terraces overlooking Palmerston North. See also The opening up of the Manawatu – the waste land of the colony.

Photo above left: Tramline serving Richter, Nannestad & Co’s Albert Street Sawmill. Near the site of the present Palmerston North Airport, near Milson Line. Some of the men pictured are Scandinavian immigrants. Palmerston North City Library ID 2007N_Ti2_EPN_0291 Above: Monrad’s farmhouse in Karere, near Longburn, 1880s. The house was one of the first European houses in inland Manawatu, erected 1867 by European carpenters employed by Ditlev Gothard Monrad, the Lutheran Bishop and ex-Premier of Denmark who settled at Karere in 1866. The house was occupied by the Bishop and his wife 1867 – 1868 and then by one of the Bishop’s sons, Viggo, 1868 – 1885. The house was situated near the bank of the Karere Lagoon on Section 35 of the Karere Block, about three miles west of the present settlement of Longburn, near Palmerston North. From left: Miss McAlister; Thekla Monrad; Olga Monrad, Viggo’s wife; Oscar Monrad; Harold Monrad; Mrs Johannes Monrad and three of her children. Palmerston North City Library ID 2010N_Bur49_3165

[Sources: Manawatu – Our Region, Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Palmerston North – A centennial history (1973) by G.C. Petersen, “Pioneers, politicians and the conservation of forests in early New Zealand” (1979) by Graeme Wynn, Journal of Historical Geography.]

3 thoughts on “The Scandinavian settlers of the Manawatu

  1. Tina White, who writes the local history feature in the Manawatu Evening Standard, contacted envirohistory NZ with this fascinating information about her personal connection with the top-most photo in this post.

    One of those men in the bush is my great-grandfather! He wasn’t from Denmark or Sweden; he was a Polish immigrant named Jan Iskierka, but he hitched a ride from Hamburg to NZ in the “Terpsichore” in 1876 after putting himself down on the passenger list as Danish! (It was free passage for the Scandinavians, who were desperately needed to break in the land and make roads.)
    That was a pretty weird voyage in many ways. Many of the passengers contracted typhoid and were put ashore at Matiu-Somes Island in Wellington harbour. Most died. When coming into Wellington harbour, the boatswain tried to fire a salute from the ship, but the cannon didn’t fire. He stuck his arm down the barrel to try and fix it, and the charge suddenly took, and blew his arm off. The married ship captain seduced one of the passenger’s daughters… they later vanished together in another ship to Peru…

  2. Pingback: Scandinavian axemen, Maori gardening and forgotten streams of Christchurch | envirohistory NZ

  3. Donna Olsen | November 12, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    Yes – we live here now! This homestead burnt down and the second homestead was built circa 1879 on top of the original totara piles. You can see the scorch marks on them if you crawl under the house. The magnolia tree in this picture is now a towering giant and still very healthy.

    envirohistory NZ replies:
    Thank you for the comment about the photo, Donna. It is lovely to know a bit of the history and also that the magnolia is alive and well.

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