Although a British colony only since 1840, New Zealand grew rapidly, spurred by the discovery of gold in the South Island in the early 1860s. Within two years of the discovery of gold in 1861 the population rose from 12,600 to some 60,000. In the years 1865-7, some further 15,800 gold-seekers crossed from Australia to the new goldfields on the West Coast of the South Island.
The Provinces struggled to cope with this sudden influx of people. The central Government, under Julius Vogel, believed that the future lay with aggressive settlement of the country. To this end it promoted large-scale immigration from the British Isles, borrowing 10 million pounds finance it. This scheme assisted James Mulligan and his sister Margaret by paying their fares.
The government's development schemes focused on projects already underway: railways (especially railways!), buying Maori land for further settlement (the Government was the sole purchasing agent of land still owned by Maori), grants to roads boards, telegraphs, and public buildings.
Reports of favourable conditions in New Zealand sent 'home' by earlier migrants, especially in letters were instrumental in building an image of New Zealand which served to attract later migrants. Arnold quotes a stirring call in 1873:
Not a farm labourer in England but should rush from the old doomed country to such a paradise as New Zealand. ... The exiled labourers will be requited for their ages of suffering as a class in the Eden of New Zealand, and avenged for all the spoilation they have suffered from the plundering landed aristocracy, and a mean, thoughtless set of farmers by leaving them ..., by taking themselves off as fast as ships and steamers will take them to the land of promise; - A GOOD LAND - ... A LAND OF OIL, OLIVES AND HONEY; - A LAND WHERE IN THOU MAY’ST EAT BREAD WITHOUT SCARCENESS: THOU SHALT NOT LACK ANYTHING IN IT. ...
Away then, farm labourers, away! New Zealand is the promised land for you; and the Moses that will lead you is ready.
A striking feature of such letters is the biblical reference to the ‘land of [milk] and honey’. This image of a land of plenty is a constant theme running through the comments home by emigrants.
Joe says he wishes someone would pay him to come over for some of you. ... He earned 2 [pounds] 15s last week, and said he had worked harder in the old country for 15s. If you want to come out of bondage into liberty come out here. ... I wish a lot of from Grandborough would come. Joe says he would get you all such a meal as you never had at home.
Not only were migrants publicists for New Zealand; the Government agents were doing their part as well. One offer of free passages was quoted thus:
Everything here betokens prosperity, the inhabitants are well dressed, thoroughly respectable. A man’s a man here, as you see them walking along the streets, their head erect, and their whole bearing impresses one with the idea ‘that Jack is as good as his master’. No cringing here, - yet there is no rudeness - but everything around betokens comfort, respectability, and happiness.
And so they go on, seemingly obsessed with food and work and pay. It is easy to understand the focus on the worldly delights of a full belly, warmth, and shelter gained seemingly with lightning speed and beguiling ease.