The Scandinavian Immigrants of Manawatu

The Scandinavian Immigrants of Manawatu

It was the New Zealand Government’s new public works and immigration programme — promoted by Colonial Treasurer, Julius Vogel — that led to the first immigrant group under the scheme being directed to inland Manawatu.

Celaeno was the name of the first ship which brought 51 people to the swampy clearing that was to be Palmerston in February 1871. They were to form a “special settlement” under the Vogel Scheme. While the majority of immigrants to New Zealand were “of British origin” recruiting had begun in the Scandinavian countries too. These people, it was thought, would be good settlers in bush-covered country. They came from forested lands and were used to working and living in this environment.

The Celaeno group came from Norway and Sweden and were followed soon after by another group of 56 Danes, 18 Swedes and 1 Norwegian, on the England.

Each family was 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. Their wages helped pay off their land at £1 per acre and build a house.

The Whakarongo home of Petter and Maja Andersen

Petter Andersen was 31 and his wife Maja was 28, when they left Nassjo, Sweden with their sons, three-year old Johan and baby Gustav (18 months) to board the ship England. On the voyage to New Zealand Gustav died from diarrhoea and at Rangiotu, as they walked from Foxton to Palmerston they lost, in the floodwaters of the Manawatu River all the goods they had brought with them from Sweden.

The Andersens were allotted 33 acres of land at Whakarongo and Petter worked clearing the bush for the road from Palmerston to the Manawatu Gorge. In 1875 Petter began building this house for the family, as a replacement for the first basic hut the family had lived in for the first months.

The ornamental fretwork round the verandah is typically Scandinavian and includes a traditional Swedish symbol above the door, to protect the house and family from the Devil.

In Palmerston Peter and Maja Anderson had five more children and lived to a grand old age. Contracting work supplemented the family income as they established their farm and Peter and his son Johan (Jack) are known to have done the first ploughing of the land in The Square, Palmerston North.

The Anderson cottage and land remained in the family until 1958. In1984, when the little house was derelict and facing demolition, it was bought and moved to the present site in Clifton Terrace.

Ihle Street, Terrace End, Palmerston North - recalls the railway and bridge builder of Palmerston North

Anders Ihle immigrated to New Zealand with his wife Martha Marie and their two children, Hans and Dina on the ship Celaeno,. In Palmerston the family was allocated 40 acres of land at Awapuni.

Anders had worked on railway construction in Norway, and he became the foreman for the construction of the Foxton-Palmerston North tramway. The wooden tracks with horse drawn tram slowly bumping along must have seemed like the latest in modern transport for the town in 1873. Soon Ihle was employed on the next stage of replacing the wooden tramway with an iron railway.

Anders Ihle won the contract to build a bridge over the Manawatu River from Palmerston North to Fitzherbert and completed this in 1877. During his working life Ihle went on to construct 60 road and railway bridges in the district — playing a vital role in the establishment of a communication network in Manawatu.

The daily news in Danish

The new settlement of Palmerston briefly had a predominantly Scandinavian population. In 1874 one third of the population came from Demark, Norway and Sweden. As more settlers arrived that proportion soon dropped — nevertheless, the presence of so many people from the lands of Scandinavia led to the brief appearance on the streets of Skandia, a local newspaper published in the native tongue of the Scandinavian settlers. Issue 1 appeared on Thursday 18 November, 1875, and was distributed to agents as far afield as Dunedin.