The history of the Norwegian emigrants to America is well known and well documented in Norway. What we do not know so well is that Norwegians emigrated to other countries too, such as Australia and New Zealand.
In 1872 and 1873 the boat “Høvding” arrived at Napier in New Zealand after 108 days at sea. Together on the two trips there were 741 Norwegians and 11 Swedes who arrived in the new country. Together with 70 Danes from the English boat “Ballarat”, these immigrants formed the basis for the inhabitants of what is today called Norsewood and Dannevirke on the northern island of New Zealand.
Hundreds of settlers came to New Zealand over the next few years. There were many Norwegians, but also Swedes, Danes and Englishmen. Everyone struggled to establish themselves in this new and harsh environment.
Were promised high wages
The Government of NZ had promised the immigrants good salaries while they were working on the building of roads and railways through the district. In the economic downturn around 1880 the government was not able to fulfill its obligations.
A hard life
Life was hard for the Scandinavian immigrants. For a price of 1 pound per acre, the settlers had been awarded 40 acres of dense forest. That was land that had never been cleared before. The immigrants had poor tools, the trees were huge and the roots tough. In addition, natural disasters such as flooding occurred in 1880 and a huge fire in 1888 meant that about 170 people were made homeless.
These were long and lean years. The clearing of the future farms was slow. The settlers owed the government money both for the land they were awarded and for the boat tickets (7 pounds for an adult and 5 pounds for a child). This had to be paid by 1892. It was expected that they would work up to four days a week on the road and rail. The government paid them only 5 shillings a day.
As there were 20 shillings to the pound. This meant that the debt burden was severe indeed.
The railway through the woodlands was finally completed, but Norsewood, which had developed into the largest village in the district, was bypassed. The railway instead went through the town of Ormondville, a distance of just 6 km away. This would not have meant much today, but in the 19th century it became fatal for Norsewood’s development.
Today, Norsewood is quite modest, it is more or less hidden from the tourist traffic. The city center consists of just one street.
Dannevirke translates as “The work of the Danes”. The town has prospered. Today’s highway passes through it’s center and it has a flourishing business life.