Olavi Koivukangas is undoubtedly one of the world's foremost authorities in the area of Scandinavian migration. His research on demographic trends, migratory influences and cultural factors and ramifications has been ground breaking and intellectually stimulating. The breadth of his expertise and scholarly insights have already been illuminatingly presented through his analysis of Scandinavian migration to Australia (The Scandinavians in Australia), more specifically (A Bibliography on Finnish Emigration and Internal Migration), and numerous articles. Koivukangas has now produced another masterly publication.
This is the first comprehensive study carried out on Finns in New Zealand and not only exhibits extensive and painstaking research, but is wonderfully evocative in its presentation of the past 150 years of this country's history. The amalgam of historical fact and personal reflections from the antecedents of Finnish settlers creates a fascinating and powerful account of the hardships many migrants suffered and the determination with which they forced new, but ultimately enduring ties with a country desperate in so many ways from their former home.
Koivukangas begins his study with a comprehensive discussion of pre-European settlement in New Zealand. This history is juxtaposed with that of Finland, providing a useful background for the commentary which follows. The author then proceeds with erudition to outline the aims of his study, and illustrates the eclectic scope of his research. He pursues a number of challenges, including the analysis of Finnish migration to New Zealand as a microcosm of a larger Finnish migratory pattern; the uniqueness of the Finnish 'socio-cultural background'; their 'acculturation and contribution' to New Zealand society; and finally, 'the chain migration processes', which address the consistencies between 'a locality in Finland to certain Finnish settlements in New Zealand'. In regard to each criteria Koivukangas sets himself, he shines brilliantly.
The author commences his investigation noting that amongst the first Europeans to set foot in New Zealand with Captain James Cook in 1769, was a Finn, Herman Dietrich Sporing, an assistant botanist on the Endeavour. Indeed, Cook named Sporing Island, 65 kilometres off the east coast of New Zealand after this Finn. From the late 18th century onward, Finnish sailors aboard merchantships came into regular contact with New Zealand, via the burgeoning whaling industry. Finns were long known as having 'the sea in their blood', to the extent that their seafaring talents were often considered of the supernatural kind. Koivukangas relates Herman Melvill's account of a deep sea sailor who terrified the crew with his second sight and ability to 'wreak vengeance upon those who offered him'. While this sixth sense may not have been universal amongst Finns, their propensity towards seafaring and adventure was very much in evidence. A number of New Zealand ports proved to be the stopping off point for many seaman and whalers who either decided to retire from the nautical life, or jumped ship. Slowly small communities built up as these men found alternative employment in rural areas or on the waterside. A number of Finns also gravitated towards the timber milling industry as forests were cleared and trees felled. This in turn led to a demand for workers in the grazing and dairy industries and casual labourers for harvesting.
Koivukangas makes the important point that these pioneering Finns were amongst the first Europeans to form relationships with the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori. A number of Finns married into tribes, and a few were actually accepted as Maoris themselves. Other Finns chose to return to Finland, married and began a new life with their brides in New Zealand. As is the case so often with successful migrants, family and friends back home encouraged to leave the 'old country' and try their luck also in this faraway land. In other cases, Finns who had initially migrated to the United States and had been disappointed or unsuccessful in ventures there, travelled on to New Zealand in the hope of improving their fortunes.
Circumstances in Finland itself at the turn of the 20th century also contributed to an exodus of young males. During the Russification period of Finland under Tzar Nicholas II, Finns were conscripted into the Russian army. Koivukangas cites examples of young men who decided a life at sea, was a preferable occupation that of warefare, with many deserting at various ports, including those of New Zealand.
Koivukangas also provided a fascinating account regarding the link between the Finnish shipowner Gustav Erikson and New Zealand during World War II. Erikson, who controlled a fleet of large square rigged vessels which predominantly carried timber from Finland to South Africa and grain from Australia to Europe, found one of his ships, the Pamir seized by the New Zealand Collector of Customs ' as a prize of war' in late 1941. The crew of Finns, Swedes and Danes were incarcerated for the Duration, but were permitted to work in New Zealand in various occupations including the building industry, wool stores and a cafe. During this period, two Finns became engaged to New Zealand girls and had no desire to leave, while others returned to sea or Finland when permission was eventually granted. The Pamir itself was used extensively during the war by the Allies, and was not restored to Finnish ownership until 1948.
From the 1950s, the burgeoning New Zealand pulp and paper industry benefited enormously from Finnish technological expertise. Not only were the New Zealand Forest Products Ltd mills near Tokoroa supervised by a Finn, Jerm Christiansen, but throughout the 1950s numerous Finns signed four year contracts to work for the company, while these men and their families initially found the conditions at Tokoroa bleak, they were determined to adapt to their new surroundings through the reinforcement of some Finnish cultural components. To this end, a sauna was built and a Finnish club organised, which co-ordinated sports, community activities and maintained Finnish culture. By the late 1960s it would appear assimilation had begun to take its toll on those Finns who chose to stay in New Zealand and the Finnish club featured far less as the apex of cultural life (it closed in 1984).
During the 1980s, an increasing number of Finnish women arrived in New Zealand, the majority coming from large coastal cities such as Helsinki and its environs. While these women may have been born elsewhere in Finland, many had gravitated to Helsinki in order to study or work. As Koivukangas perceptively notes, this initial willingness to embark on internal migration could quite easily have made the next step of external migration far less daunting and indeed an exciting prospect.
Although the overall number of Finns who arrived on the shores of New Zealand over the past 150 years has been relatively small (1500-2000), their impact has been considerable in socio-economic terms. The fact that the overwhelming majority of Finnish arrivals have been young, has meant they have contributed 'their best years to their adopted home country'.
This is a highly significant and exhaustively documented piece of research, with Koivukangas contributing enormously to an area previously untapped. In this cogent study of migratory effects and ramifications on the part of an adventurous and enterprising people.