Early Polish Mag - Part 2


By publishing this article (the first part was published in our previous issue) we would like to open a forum for all New Zealanders whose  ancestors arrived in New Zealand from Poland. They came to Aotearoa with hope for a better future. Their children and grandchildren were born as New Zealanders. We invite you to write your family stories (and not only) to Gazeta Polonia. We will briefly translate your story into Polish making it available also to readers in Poland. Dr Stewart from Tauranga has kindly made available excerpts from his book ‚The Sugar Bag Years'depicting the arrival of his forebears to New Zealand.

For my great grandfather, Jacob Czablewski, this was the opportunity he was waiting for. Earlier he had taken part in the Crimean Wars in the Russian Army to defend places like Balaclava and Sevastopol.  As part of his discharge he was promised his own land title, but as this never came (the Russian nobles refusing to allocate land and the Czar’s assassination) Jacob’s chance to leave sounded like a call to the Promised Land.  So with his pregnant wife (a girl was born on the ship) and six sons he packed all his entire belongings into a sugar bag and headed north to Gdansk. The second son, Josef Czablewski, was my grandfather. New York, New Orleans, New Zealand? What was the difference as long as you could leave and your sons not remain to be drafted as future cannon fodder. Whole villages emptied. Many came from Starogard-Gdansk (where there is an excellent memorial museum). On board there was heard a menagerie of Polish, German, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian voices. Communication was not much of a problem among themselves as my folks could speak most of those languages.  They just could not speak English. That was a problem. Not for my folks. It’s just that the immigration agent failed to pick up the essential point of history that in 1872 whole towns, like Starogard-Gdansk, made the switch from being die-hard Lutherans back to being Catholics. How my ancestors of Jacob, Josef, Paul, Abraham, John and Martha got up the gang planks we are not sure.  I am told by my mother that the old grandfather had a survival saying: ‘Cut the Yiddish and just keep on walking.’

There were three main waves of Polish immigrants to New Zealand during the 1870’s. The first group settled at Waihola south of Dunedin and the third around Inglewood in Taranaki.  The big Czablewski family arrived
in Wellington on the SS Lammershagen in July 1875. Many of the new arrivals who with some means in their pockets were able to settle in various parts of New Zealand, Halcombe being the popular place to prosper. However, the sugar bag families, such as the Czablewski, Wisniewski, Wisichnowski, Lipinski, Zimmerman, Rosanoskiand Bielski’s were all despatched to the new Special Settlement at Jackson’s Bay in South Westland. A total of 367 new settlers were dumped there to fend for themselves.  Within three years most had abandoned their land allocations and headed north to rely on the generosity of their more prosperous compatriots. In 1882 my grandfather, Joseph Shapleski (note the anglicization) had succeeded in a land ballot of 100 acres at Kimbolton.

His near neighbour was George Richardson and it was not long before my grandfather had caught the eye of his oldest daughter, Mary-Ann. And it was not long before the families figured out that because George himself had fought in the Crimean War (in the invading British Army) he prohibited any romance. Mary-Ann Richardson was the eldest of 13 children and it was expected of her to remain at home to help bring up all her many siblings. Determined not to be left on the shelf she eloped with Joseph Shapleski to Thames where they married in 1890. It would take all the fingers and toes of a whole division to count up their descendants. By the late 1950’s most of our old colonial Polish (or was it Yiddish?) speaking grandparents and old babushka had passed away (I have fond memories as a child of seeing the likes of Russian Jack come into one of our family homes around the Rangitikei-Manawatu districts). At the same time a whole new generation of Polish speaking young people had arrived in New Zealand. I need others to speak of this.


Dr A. G. Stewart

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