Untold stories
Anglo-Indians in NZ

In this article, Massey University lecturer Robyn Andrews describes her research examining the history of Anglo-Indians in New Zealand. Linked to at the bottom of this page are vignettes touching upon the stories of five Anglo-Indian New Zealanders.

Despite Anglo-Indians settling in New Zealand from the very early days of this country’s colonial history, their stories hardly feature in any history of migrants settling in New Zealand.

The project I’ve been involved in this past year has given me the opportunity to begin to address the near invisibility of this group, both in the nation’s history and in contemporary national population discourse.

Black and white photo of Anglo-Indian family

With Indian Independence in 1947, many Anglo-Indian families migrated overseas (Photo: Christine Atkinson (left), her mother Gwynneth and her sister Margaret. A link to Christine's story is listed below)

In doing so, I also aimed to explore how Anglo-Indians' connection to India impacted on their perceptions and experiences as New Zealand residents. To this end, I have met and interviewed Anglo-Indians and descendants of Anglo-Indians from Whangarei to Dunedin, consulted archives, and have become acquainted with groups they are involved in, such as FIBIS (Families in British India Society).

Anglo-Indians are an Indian minority community of mixed European and Indian descent, stemming from the European presence in India that dates back to the late 15th century, particularly the period from the 18th century until India gained its independence from Britain in 1947.

Members of this community are well known for their Western ways in India. They are the only minority community to be defined in the Indian Constitution, which states that:

An Anglo-Indian means a person whose father or any of whose other male progenitors in the male line is or was of European descent but who is domiciled within the territory of India and is or was born within such territory of parents habitually resident therein and not established there for temporary purposes only. (Section 366 (2))

At the time of Indian Independence in 1947, there were roughly 300,000 Anglo-Indians in India. Independence engendered a sense of uncertainty in many Anglo-Indians. Against the advice of Anglo-Indian leaders, at least 50,000 had migrated by 1970, half of whom settled in Great Britain in the late 1940s and 1950s. (Alison Blunt in Domicile and Diaspora: Anglo-Indian women and the spatial politics of home, 2005, p.3)

Based on this current research, the late 1940s - 1980s saw most arrivals to New Zealand too, but there was another peak around the turn of the millennium when our immigration requirements were less limiting and many more immigrants were able to meet the criteria and migrate. In the 2013 national census, 327 residents of New Zealand claimed Anglo-Indian ethnicity.

Black and white image of woman

Frederica Hay was one of the earlier Anglo-Indian arrivals to New Zealand, arriving here in 1869.

However, I was also surprised by the number of early and quite recent arrivals.

I met descendants of, and read about in archived documents, men who came from India to serve in New Zealand’s military at around the turn of the 19th century, and of families who arrived in the 19th and very early 20th centuries. Some of the earliest were those ‘Eurasians’ who accompanied the Cracroft-Wilsons who settled the Cashmere Hills in Christchurch, and perhaps even earlier was an Anglo-Indian who arrived in Auckland with her husband who came to join the ‘fencibles’ – former British soldiers who migrated to New Zealand under a scheme to provide security to the new colony – in the late 1840s. 

There were others too, mostly students, who have come to New Zealand in the last five years. A research visit to India during the course of the project indicated that Anglo-Indians do still dream of coming here, spurred by stories of the experiences of Anglo-Indians who have settled well.

It is some years since a dedicated Anglo-Indian organisation functioned in New Zealand. One in particular, the Eurasian Society, was very influential. In 2001, the society hosted the triennial World Anglo-Indian Reunion in Auckland. On that occasion, it was a New Zealand Anglo-Indian who proposed making  2 August World Anglo-Indian Day. This idea was taken up enthusiastically and is now recognised all around the world with dances, fetes, thanks-giving church services, and other forms of celebration in centres with large numbers of Anglo-Indians.

The Anglo-Indians I met during my research were uniformly greatly relieved not to have to explain who they were as Anglo-Indians: why they spoke ‘such good English’, why they had Western names, and that, many, were born Christians. With good reason they suffer ‘explanation fatigue’.

What they were particularly interested in were the other Anglo-Indians I had met, as many knew very few, if any, others in New Zealand. To that end, I organised dinners – with more to come – so they could meet each other. As a result of the first well-supported Auckland-based dinner, they have formed a loose association based, at this stage, within a Facebook community group.

Robyn at a restaurant with family

Robyn Andrews and her daughter at an Anglo-Indian dinner in Christchurch

When I came to this project, I had some ideas of what I would find out; my husband is Anglo-Indian after all, and we have great friends in and around Palmerston North who are too. But, as research should, it delivered some surprises.

For example, the domestically-based online research that some Anglo-Indians in New Zealand have undertaken; research that was not available until the recent surge in digitalisation of archived documents.

I have collected many stories of Anglo-Indians who have arrived and settled in New Zealand under various circumstances. I have also collected accounts from those who are researching their ancestors who, in some cases, they feel a strong identification with.

Some of the latter accounts are of discovery, others of quest, and some of reconciliation with their past or their family’s past. The following set is a sample of those I have collected. As they illustrate, Anglo-Indians in New Zealand are a widely diverse group with varied experiences, just as they are in India.

By Robyn Andrews

Robyn Andrews is a social anthropologist at Massey University. For more than a decade her research has focussed primarily on Anglo-Indians, both in India, and in the diaspora. She’s the author of the book Christmas in Calcutta: Anglo-Indian Stories and Essays (2014) and co-editor of the International Journal of Anglo-Indian Studies. The Asia New Zealand Foundation provided Andrews with a grant to assist her with her latest research.

Views expressed in this article are personal to the author and are not to be taken as representing those of the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

Read the stories of five Anglo-Indian New Zealanders: