New Zealanders In London

| 19 April 2007
photo shows close up on shoulder of jersey

A jersey from the 1905 All Blacks tour of Britain. Courtesy of the Museum of Rugby at Twickenham.

As Anzac Day approaches, when Australians and New Zealanders remember the huge loss of life amongst their soldiers in the World Wars, we look at some of the places where you can find New Zealander history in London.

Read about Australians In London

Search for museum collections relating to Australian and New Zealander history.

A fifth of all New Zealanders are outside the country at any one time - for many the natural next step after going to university. It is referred to as "OE" or overseas experience. Traditional "OE" means coming to Britain on a 2 year work visa, but others stay for much longer periods. Many return to New Zealand to have children, preferring the greater safety and beautiful countryside. No-one knows how many New Zealanders there are in the UK: official statistics hover vaguely between 50 - 150,000 because many travel on European or British passports.

Ellie, a New Zealander working for New Zealand News says "we do feel a little bit isolated in New's a rite of passage... then one day you wake up and know that it's the right time to go back". She adds that being abroad brings a new perspective to New Zealander's sense of identity - "we get a bit more patriotic".

New Zealand's history as a nation is still a relatively short one. It is perhaps one of the reasons that Anzac Day - representing a devastating piece of modern history - retains such resonance for young and old, many of whom will attend dawn services on April 25th to mark the day.

photo shows maoris with sticks and white cloaks walking through the halls of the british museum

Maoris at the British Museum. Courtesy of Ngati Ranana.

Maori London

London is home to Ngati Ranana a Maori club that gives performances across the UK and Europe of Maori song and dance as well as being a social group. Its members have worked closely with British museums that hold Maori artefacts, whilst still clearly feeling some ambivalence about the presence of the objects there. They describe the Maori objects in museums as "taonga" - "treasures" which are living, not inanimate things, and in an unnatural environment far from home.

During a exhibition 2003 the British Museum collaborated with the Ngati Ranana who touched the taonga and played the instruments. Che Wilson, then a member of the group, wrote a lament for the objects in the museum. In the voice of the taonga, it describes their loneliness shut in dark boxes away from home, and their joy in being touched by Maori people once more. Che comments "there are many more taonga in the British Museum than there are in New Zealand."

Until her death in 2004 the group was led by Rahera Winsor. Many press cuttings relating to her life are now held by the Women's Library

At the end of the 19th century, many white settlers assumed that the Maori were dying out - a monument was even proposed to them. History has proved that this is far from the case, and the thriving London scene - which also includes Maori language classes and martial arts - underlines the survival of the culture.

photo shows mantle wrapped around dummy in museum case

A pre-1840s mantle from the Cuming's Pacific collection. Courtesy of the Cuming Museum.

Cuming Museum

The Cuming Museum has a collection of Polynesian and New Zealand artefacts - a small number are on display at any time. You can see a wider collection online here

British Museum

You can find out more about New Zealand objects in the British Museum collections here. The 2006 Power and Taboo exhibition which displayed many Polynesian taonga has now closed. But you can read more about it here

photo shows small grass-covered hut

The Maori Meeting house now at Guildford in Surrey. Photo: Nick Meers. Courtesy of the National Trust.

The Maori Meeting House

A little way outside London in Guildford there is an original Maori Meeting House in the grounds of Clandon Park. The house was originally situated near Rotorua in New Zealand. In 1886 the surrounding countryside was devastated by the eruption of the volcano Mount Tarawera, which was thought to be extinct. The house provided shelter to many terrified inhabitants, who survived although it was almost buried in lava and ashes.

It remained half buried for several years until Lord Onslow, then Governor of New Zealand, had the debris removed, purchased the House and sent it to England in 1892. You can learn more about the recent restoration work

on the house on the Clandon House website

There are also decorated fragments of another Maori Meeting House at the Horniman Museum in South London
photo shows impressionistic blue image of hms belfast

The HMS Belfast, a floating museum which runs annual events about the history of Gallipoli.

Two World Wars

As with Australia, New Zealand's participation in the two World Wars and other conflicts caused a very high death toll in a very small country. In his history of New Zealand, Michael King writes "For a country of its size - a population of less than 1 million in 1914 - the New Zealand contribution to World War I was massive. Nearly 20 per cent of the eligible manpower was recruited: of all the Allied countries, only Britain's proportion was higher. The number sent overseas was 100,000, and these nearly 17,000 were killed and more than 41,000 wounded".

Anzac Day on 25th April is an important day of national commemoration. In the run up to the day the Imperial War Museum is running a weekend of films and discussion about the contribution of Australians and New Zealanders to both wars.

The Imperial War Museum holds extensive collections about New Zealanders at war - you can learn more about them here

The HMS Belfast will be holding a film showing and discussion about Gallipoli on 25th April.

photo shows rocks in new zealand garden

The 2006 New Zealand Garden at Chelsea Flower Show.


New Zealand's national sports are Rugby and Cricket. The fame and successes of the All Blacks are recorded at the Museum of Rugby at Twickenham Amongst other things, the museum retains a jersey from the 1905 All Black's tour of Britain.

This was the year when they won all but one of their 33 matches, and established themselves as a force in world rugby. Their victories also had an impact on New Zealander self-perception as the colony returned to show its strength at the centre of Empire.

More recently, New Zealand has also been winning prizes for its gardens - in 2004 a garden by Maori artist Lyonel Grant won gold at Chelsea Flower show.

etching shows two enormous whales dwarfing small canoes full of whalers.

Two whales fight what looks like a winning battle against harpooners. Courtesy of the Museum in Docklands.

Earning a living

New Zealand and Australia were used as stopping off points first for British whaling fleets, and then by those two countries for their own whaling. The Museum in Docklands holds objects related to the whaling industry, including a giant pair of whale jawbones set up as an arch. Much of the material comes from whaling expeditions near Greenland, but this picture shows the hazards of the enterprise in Antipodean waters.

From the late 19th century New Zealand's economic stability depended on the export of New Zealand lamb to Britain in the new refrigeration trucks. The first successful export to the London market was on the sailing ship Dunedin in 1882. Most of this meat would have passed through Smithfield Market, associated with the slaughter of animals since medieval times, and still used as a meat market today.

Some ships, such as those of the New Zealand Shipping Company would ship out new migrants to the country, and ship back meat.

photo shows men with lamb carcasses on barrows.

New Zealand lamb is unloaded at the Royal Albert docks in London. Courtesy of the Exploring 20th Century London website and the Museum of London.

20th century travel

19th and early 20th century New Zealanders travelling to London would tend to stay for very long periods. The short story writer Katherine Mansfield moved permanently from New Zealand to London, living at the now-blue-plaqued 17 East Heath Road, Hampstead.

As the 20th century advanced more writers and ambitious professionals were attracted to London, although mid-century the distances were still daunting. In the third part of her autobiography The Envoy From Mirror City the New Zealand writer Janet Frame describes her first arrival in London - after 32 days at sea she arrives alone in a strange country with no accommodation, and then gradually finds a life in a London still covered in bomb sites.

Today, whilst the thirty-hour plane flight from the other side of the world still means that New Zealanders come long term, it has become much easier for more people to choose "OE". Increasingly, Australasians are likely to be young professionals - getting first jobs as office temps, rather than the bar work they monopolised 20 or 30 years ago.

Some will stay for good. But unlike other migrant populations - where there's a strong pattern of people intending to resettle in their home country but never returning - the majority of New Zealanders will go back to New Zealand. The "OE" in London, however, has become part of the traditional lifepattern of many Kiwis.

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