Swiss Settlers in New Zealand

A history of Swiss immigration to New Zealand

by Joan Waldvogel (Author)
©2018 Monographs 408 Pages
Series: Germanica Pacifica, Volume 16


The book presents the first comprehensive history of Swiss settlement in New Zealand. It describes Swiss settlement in New Zealand from the time of the gold rushes in the 1860s to the present day in a very accessible way. The focus is on the Swiss-born migrants: who they were, why they came, how they have adapted to life in New Zealand, and their ongoing links with their homeland and the Swiss community in New Zealand. The migrants’ stories are set in the historical and social context of the period in which they arrived.
The book is a mixture of archival and other research of primary and secondary resources, and life history interviews. It will appeal to academics interested in the New World and migration studies and to Swiss living in New Zealand and elsewhere.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One The Gold Miners and First Swiss New Zealanders
  • Swiss Italian Identities
  • Chapter Two Two Pioneer Swiss
  • Jacob Lauper
  • Anton Fromm
  • Chapter Three Assisted Immigrants of the 1870s
  • Chapter Four Other Pioneer Swiss
  • The Helvetia Settlement
  • Chapter Five Swiss Settlement in Taranaki
  • Four Pioneer Families
  • Organised Groups
  • Chapter Six The Post-war Years
  • Post-war Settler Stories
  • Chapter Seven Late Twentieth-Century Settlers
  • Late Twentieth-Century Settler Stories
  • Chapter Eight The Millennials
  • Millennial Settler Stories
  • Chapter Nine Becoming Kiwi and Staying Swiss
  • Chapter Ten The Swiss Contribution
  • Appendices
  • Appendix I Swiss registered in New Zealand before 1900
  • Appendix II Swiss assisted immigrants of the 1870s and 1880s
  • Appendix III Swiss population in New Zealand
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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I grew up in the Taranaki Swiss community. My father was a Swiss immigrant in the 1920s, and my mother the daughter of Swiss who came to New Zealand in the early twentieth century. Some twenty years ago, I became aware that the stories of the Swiss of my parents’ generation were dying with them and interviewed a number of older Swiss living in Taranaki and Wellington for a research essay. Many years later I was able to pick up the threads and complete the story of the Swiss who made New Zealand their home.

I was motivated to write this book for two reasons. Firstly, the Swiss story needs to be told. There is, as yet, no comprehensive study of the Swiss in New Zealand. Many of New Zealand’s other ethnic groups have their histories, but not the Swiss. I have read Helen Baumer’s excellent study of the Swiss who came after the war and have attempted in my book to fill in the periods before and after her study, as well as covering some of the same ground. Another motivation was my father. In order to buy the farm he was leasing after the war and on which his young family were settled, he had to renounce his Swiss nationality. A consequence of this was that my two brothers and I also lost our Swiss nationality. This was heartbreaking for my father as, like many other Swiss, he remained very Swiss, proud of his homeland and true to it. Had he applied for citizenship later, he would have been able to remain a citizen of Switzerland while also becoming a citizen of his adopted country. The possibility of being able to retain their Swiss citizenship has been a major factor in the decision of many of the Swiss living in New Zealand today to take out New Zealand citizenship.

The book is a mixture of research and personal accounts – a survey completed by sixty-two Swiss, and sixty-five in-depth interviews of Swiss who arrived in New Zealand from 1939 to 2009. It includes historical context, but the focus is on the Swiss-born settlers: who they were, why they came, how they have adapted to life in New Zealand, and their ongoing links with their homeland and the Swiss community in New Zealand. For practical reasons, most of the interviews were conducted in Taranaki and Wellington, but stories of Swiss outside of these areas are also included. All of the Swiss interviewed had interesting stories to tell. A choice had to be made of which stories to include from each decade to give as representative a picture as possible of the Swiss living in New Zealand now and in the past.

Seeing the Swiss settlers in the New Zealand environment, against the New Zealand landscape, in the New Zealand light, gives us an insight into Swissness, the Swiss character, and what it is to be Swiss. ← 11 | 12 →

While every attempt has been made to use the correct spelling of a person’s name, it is possible that an incorrect form or spelling appears in the book and for this I apologise. When there has been more than one version of a person’s name sighted, it has been difficult to know which spelling to use. If the family name appeared in an official document, this is the version that has been chosen. For first names, preference has generally been given to the English form of the name, the assumption being that this was the name a person was usually known by.

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Many people have assisted me on the long road to publication of this book. Very special thanks need to be given to the sixty-five Swiss throughout New Zealand who agreed to be interviewed and who provided the material for the oral history component of this work. In large measure the book is your story and would not exist without you. My thanks are due to the Auckland, Hamilton, Taranaki and Wellington Swiss Clubs who organised the distribution of a survey, and to those Swiss who completed the survey questionnaire. Thanks are also due to Peter Deutschle who organised the Auckland interviewees for me and assisted in other ways.

The author is grateful to Judith Waldvogel, Rosemary Jamieson, Margaret Hayward, Kay Blundell and Jenny Lewis for proofreading initial drafts and making valuable suggestions; to Professor James Bade for reviewing a draft and making a number of constructive suggestions and for his invaluable support throughout the editing process; to the Editorial Board of Germanica Pacifica who copy-edited the text; to Suzanne Lehner and Elisabeth Olds Wilson for help in translating and checking the German; to Peter Grainger of AuthoDox for doing the initial formatting of the text; to Peter Muller for preparing the maps; to the helpful staff at Archives New Zealand (Wellington) the Alexander Turnbull Library (Wellington) and the Taranaki Research Centre (New Plymouth); to the following people who provided photos, information or assisted in other ways: Shaun Barnett, Andrea Bosshard, Laine Cowan, Barbara Dodunski, Martin Doorn, Marianne Drummond, Marie and Jacq Dwyer, Joe Fohn, Graeme Hunger, Pamela Hyde, Lisa Pilkington, Nancy Swarbick, Jan Wannan (Department of Internal Affairs), and to my partner, Max Wigbout, for his patience and support.

Dedicated to my parents, Mena and Wendelin Waldvogel, who passed on to me my Swiss heritage.

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The Swiss in New Zealand

Since Swiss artist John Webber first set foot in New Zealand in 1777, accompanying Cook on his third voyage and introducing Europeans to this new land through his landscape paintings, the Swiss have contributed to the development and cultural mix of this country. Leaving their homeland to forge new lives at the other end of the globe, they mined for gold, farmed and engaged in numerous other occupations to play vital roles in the colonial and ongoing advancement of New Zealand.

Before 1900

Amongst the whalers, sealers, missionaries, ship-jumpers and adventurers who started arriving after Cook, there may have been the odd Swiss. Large scale settlement by Europeans, however, did not really begin until the arrival of the first New Zealand Company settlers in 1839. In that year, fewer than 2000 Europeans were living in New Zealand. By the time of the 1874 Census, there were 183 Swiss- born people living in New Zealand, 166 males and seventeen females. The numbers were sufficiently significant for the Swiss government to consider ‘the desirability of establishing a Vice-Consulate in New Zealand’.1 In response to its request in 1882 for the number of Swiss living in New Zealand, the New Zealand Colonial Secretary replied that in 1881 there were 333 Swiss-born people, 269 males and sixty-three females. Of these, 121 were on the West Coast goldfields and forty-six were in the adjacent counties of Patea and Taranaki. The remainder were scattered throughout the country.2

Before 1900, 147 Swiss were naturalised.3 At this time Swiss emigrants predominantly settled in Russia, Algeria, Argentine and Brazil, and especially in the United States and Canada.4 There was little interest in migrating to the relatively unknown antipodean countries. In 1884, a certain Albert Furrer wrote from Sydney to the Minister of Lands and Immigration in New Zealand offering ← 15 | 16 → to act as an agent in diverting the flow of Swiss to America by encouraging them to come to New Zealand, a land which he thought would be much more suitable for them. The New Zealand government showed no interest.5

Over 60 per cent of the naturalised pre-1900 Swiss immigrants came from the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino and the isolated mountain canton of Graubünden. At the time of their naturalisation, over a third of these had settled in the gold-mining areas of the South Island and were mining or in related occupations. Nearly all of those originating from Canton Ticino settled in the South Island. Many had moved here from the Australian goldfields.6

Early 1900s

Registration records show that after 1900 the flow of migrants from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland virtually dried up. Migrants were still coming from Canton Graubünden, but it was the German-speaking cantons of Central and Eastern Switzerland: Schwyz, Unterwalden, Bern, Luzern, Zurich, Zug, St. Gallen and Aargau, that provided most of the immigrants. This pattern has continued to the present day.

By 1916 there were 670 Swiss-born people living in New Zealand, 465 males and 205 females. More than half were aged between twenty-five and thirty-five. Only 73 per cent had knowledge of written English.7 After drastic immigration restrictions in North America in the mid-1920s, Australia and New Zealand became more popular as destinations for emigrating Swiss. As these two countries did not feel the effects of the depression until the 1930s, they offered a promising prospect to the growing numbers of unemployed Europeans.

With the exception of 1939, which saw the largest single group of Swiss arriving in New Zealand, very few Swiss came during the 1930s and 1940s, the years of the depression, and World War II.

The rich dairy farming lands of Taranaki, and later the Waikato, were the destination for many of the Swiss who arrived in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. Freehold land was the drawcard. These ‘farmer Swiss’, for the most part young single men seeking a better life in New Zealand, intended to live here permanently. ← 16 | 17 →

The movement to Taranaki was led by Felix Hunger who arrived in New Zealand in 1861. After a trip back to Switzerland in 1875, he returned with twenty-four of his compatriots, most of whom were assisted immigrants.8 These immigrants laid the foundation for the development of a Swiss community in Taranaki. When the peat swamps of the Waikato were drained and opened up for dairy farming, South Auckland became the second largest Swiss settlement in New Zealand.


In the post-war years, many of the migrants who arrived settled in urban areas and were part of family groups.9 A large number of these were skilled tradesmen, many of whom came on assisted passages. As their free passage committed them to staying in New Zealand for two years, most intended to return to Switzerland at the end of their contract time.

Since World War II, the number of Swiss-born people living in New Zealand has increased considerably, both numerically and as a percentage of the total population. The biggest increases were between 1951 and 1981 and in the period since 2000. In 1945, Swiss-born people numbered 599, but by 2013 this had grown to 3066, or one in every 1400 people living in New Zealand. This makes the Swiss one of New Zealand’s larger ethnic groups. Of the 272 countries of birth listed in the census data, only thirty-four countries recorded a higher number. However, over the last twenty years the Swiss proportion of the population, 0.07 per cent, has remained relatively stable.

Historically males have dominated the Swiss-born population of New Zealand, but that has changed recently. In 1921, there were twice as many Swiss-born men (405) as women (202). In the last year for which census data is available for the Swiss-born population, 2001, the number of women almost equalled that of men. (See Appendix III for graphs showing the growth of the Swiss-born population in New Zealand and the male-female distribution.) ← 17 | 18 →

Geographical distribution

The geographical distribution of the Swiss population, like that of the New Zealand population in general, has changed over time. As the gold rushes came to an end and farmland began to be opened up in the North Island, the northward drift began. In 1886 almost half of the Swiss population of 393 lived in the South Island, but the next thirty years saw a big change in the location of the Swiss. By 1916, 89 per cent of the 670 Swiss lived in the North Island. Approximately half of those in the North Island were in Taranaki, 25 per cent were in Auckland and 13 per cent in Wellington.

Also mirroring the non-Swiss New Zealand population, most Swiss (78 per cent) now live in the North Island. The main change in the last 100 years has been the decline of Taranaki as their home. The regions with the largest concentrations are now Auckland (30 per cent), the Waikato (12 per cent) and Wellington (11 per cent). The Bay of Plenty has moved ahead of Taranaki and now has the fourth largest concentration in the North Island. In the South Island, most of the Swiss population is found in the Canterbury region.

In line with trends in the rest of the population, the Swiss have become more urbanised. Approximately two-thirds live in the main urban areas, cities with a population of over 300,000.

Ethnic Swiss compared to other New Zealanders10

Compared to other New Zealanders, the Swiss are more likely to have a formal educational qualification, to own or part own their own house, to have access to the internet and to do voluntary work. Ethnic Swiss are more likely than other New Zealanders to speak more than one language. After English, which is spoken by over 95 per cent, Swiss German, spoken by 51 per cent, is the most common language spoken.11 Seventy per cent speak more than two languages, and over 50 per cent speak three or more. Swiss in the thirty to sixty-four year age group are those most likely to speak three or more languages. Younger Swiss are more likely than their New Zealand counterparts to have a religious affiliation. ← 18 | 19 →

The Swiss are less likely to move house, to be regular smokers and to belong to extended families. Swiss women, especially those born overseas, are less likely to give birth. On average, those who do, have fewer children than their New Zealand counterparts.

Like the rest of the New Zealand population, the Swiss population is ageing. The Swiss median age of 38.4 is marginally higher than that of the New Zealand population but slightly lower than that of the New Zealand European population. At 41.3 the median age of Swiss males is nearly four years higher than that of Swiss females.

In the 2013 Census, 55 per cent of those who gave their ethnicity as Swiss said Swiss was their only ethnicity. The identification with only the Swiss ethnic group was particularly strong amongst those aged sixty-five and over.12

1 Archives New Zealand AI 485[46] 1883/1086.

2 Ibid.

3 Registration Records, Wellington, National Library of New Zealand.

4 Susanne Wegmann, The Swiss in Australia, Verlag Rüegger, Grüsch, Switzerland, 1989, p. 81.

5 Archives New Zealand IMI 35 1885/736.

6 Wegmann, Ibid., p. 78.

7 Figures cited in Hans-Peter Stoffel, ‘Swiss Settlers in New Zealand’, in: James N. Bade (ed.), The German Connection: New Zealand and German-Speaking Europe in the Nineteenth Century, Auckland, Oxford University Press, 1993, pp. 88–98.

8 The Taranaki Herald, 4 September 1875.

9 The naturalisation and citizenship records show an increase in the number of women and family groups taking out New Zealand citizenship after 1949. While there were many instances of members of the same family being naturalised before 1949, these tended to be young males suggesting that two or three brothers or cousins had come out together. After 1949 there were more couples taking out citizenship, and birthdates indicate many instances of a husband and wife immigrating with their children.

10 The figures and percentages given are based on 2013 New Zealand Population and Dwellings Census data. Ethnicity is the ethnic group or groups that people identify with or feel they belong to.

11 In the Census, people identify which language(s) they can hold a conversation about everyday things in.

12 New Zealand Population and Dwellings Census Data, Statistics New Zealand, 2013.

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Chapter One The Gold Miners and First Swiss New Zealanders

The homeland

From the top of the Bernina Pass, 2253 metres above sea level, the train, Rhätische Bahn, grinds slowly down steep-sided mountains and glacial valleys to the delightful little town of Poschiavo, Canton Ticino. Poschiavo, near the lake at the foot of the valley, lies nestled among tall, steep, rugged mountains, many of whose peaks are permanently snow-covered. A crystal clear stream hurries through the town and on to the lake. On the lake shore it passes through the tiny village of La Presse, an ‘on demand’ stop on the Rhätische Bahn which runs through its main street. On the other side of the lake, hemmed in by mountains and just a few minutes from the Italian border, is Brusio, another ‘on demand’ stop.

In late summer, the well-tended gardens in the villages and their surrounds are full of produce waiting to be harvested. High up on the valley sides, patches of green amongst the forest show up the summer grazing pastures. The relative isolation of Poschiavo and its neighbouring small towns has kept it largely free of the tourist hordes and has not yet created the need for many people to speak English. Italian is still very much the lingua franca.

The cold wind coming off the lake provides a reminder that the area is not always so benevolent and, come winter, it will be covered in snow. In the town, the wide arched barn-like doors of a number of houses bear testimony to the farming activities of its past. However, the short growing season, the limited amount of flat land on the valley floor and the steepness of the valley sides suggest that farming here has never been easy.

It is from this area and others like it in the cantons of Ticino and Graubünden, that the first notable group of Swiss to arrive and settle in New Zealand came. These mainly young, Swiss Italians were attracted by the prospect of making their fortunes on the goldfields. For the great majority, if not all, the initial destination was Australia and the goldfields in Victoria. When the gold there became harder to find, a number crossed the Tasman Sea to New Zealand.

Gold and adventure

In the 1860s, gold was responsible for large scale migration to New Zealand. Gold first started drawing people to this country in the 1850s when small finds were made in the Coromandel, and at Collingwood and Aorere near Nelson. In ← 21 | 22 → 1861, the big rush started with the discovery by Gabriel Read of alluvial gold ‘shining like the stars in Orion on a dark frosty night’13 in the area in Otago later known as Gabriel’s Gully. The news spread quickly. Men and boys, from within and outside of New Zealand and from all walks of life, left their workplaces and homes and made their way by ship and on foot, to the new diggings. By the end of the year, some 23,000 had arrived from Europe and the British Isles. Many of those who came did not want to make a fortune, but just enough money to be able to return home and set themselves up in a business or on a farm. As the diggers fanned out from the existing fields, new fields were found in Otago, on the West Coast and in Marlborough attracting increasing numbers of gold-seekers and camp followers, ‘those who made their living by trooping onto diggings in order to sell or steal, bribe or buy’.14

When yields in Otago began to drop, gold seekers moved to the West Coast.15 In 1865, the big rush here occurred. That year, the net gain of arrivals over departures through the port of Hokitika was 11,313.16 In 1867, the population of the West Coast peaked. Over half a million ounces of gold were produced the year before, but the quantity of gold fell after that, and the series of rushes came to an end. By 1881 the Coast’s population had fallen to half its 1867 figure. Some of the miners stayed on the Coast and took up other occupations,17 but many left to become small farmers or labourers in other parts of New Zealand. A few moved to other goldfields in New Zealand to try their luck there.

In the naturalisation records for the period before 1900 and the early years of the twentieth century, the names of over ninety Swiss Italians appear, most of whom settled on the West Coast. Of these, seventy-three were living on the Coast at the time of their naturalisation, and at least two of the others are known to have spent time on the West Coast. Of the remainder, two had settled in Otago and three in the Nelson area, both gold-mining areas.

Apart from those who became naturalised, there are likely to have been many others. For example, the body of Mose Monfrini, a native of Lionza, Canton ← 22 | 23 → Ticino, was found in the bush,18 but this name does not appear in the naturalisation records. In newspaper records, a family name may appear with a different first name to that written in the naturalisation records. This suggests that while one or two members of the family became naturalised there were other family members who did not. Guiseppi Guileri appears in the naturalisation records, but not Pietro Guileri who died in Hokitika Hospital aged forty and who was a ‘native of Switzerland’.19 Similarly, Giacomo Manera was naturalised, but Dominick Manera, who appears in the newspaper records of the time, was not.

The records show that the majority of these Swiss Italian were from Ticino and that, at the time of Gabriel Read’s discovery, most would have been aged in their twenties. A number appear to have been well-educated.

Two intriguing questions come to mind. What drove these mainly young men to leave their homes and make the very long and often hazardous journey to an unknown land on the other side of the world? Why was it mainly Swiss Italians who came at this time? Much of the answer lies in what was happening in Europe and Switzerland at the time.

Changes in Europe and Switzerland

In the middle of the nineteenth century, Europe was undergoing great political and social change. The year 1848 had been a year of revolutions. Switzerland did not escape the strife occurring in other parts of the continent. Here too there were ongoing political and religious struggles and calls for democratic reforms. The cantonal governments were reluctant to give up their sovereignty. As the influence of new radical ideas increased, the Catholic cantons felt threatened by the aggressive anti-clericalism of the radicals. Their influence seemed to be increasing in the Protestant cantons who wanted some of the powers of the cantonal government handed over to the federal government. The short-lived civil war of 1847 saw the defeat of the Sonderbund, the alliance of seven Catholic cantons which wanted to break away from the federation, and the expulsion of the Jesuits. The latter were blamed for much of the dissent. In 1848, a new Swiss constitution came into effect which laid the base for the central government to assume more sovereignty at the expense of the cantonal governments. However, the conflict was not over in all areas. In Ticino and Fribourg, a struggle began between the Catholic Church and ← 23 | 24 → the radical party. New elections in Fribourg led to a landslide victory for the conservatives and a new conservative constitution.20


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (November)
Language maintenance Swiss contribution Migration reasons Assisted immigrants Integration Heritage maintenance
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018., 407 pp., 59 fig. b/w, 2 tables

Biographical notes

Joan Waldvogel (Author)

Joan Waldvogel has a PhD in Applied Linguistics and worked as a teacher and social researcher.


Title: Swiss Settlers in New Zealand
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