Between the Waters
Canterbury's First Polish Settlers
The story of Canterbury’s first Polish settlers is told in this exhibition which marks the 145th anniversary of their arrival in Lyttelton from Europe in August 1872.
Between the Waters: Canterbury’s First Polish Settlers highlights the experiences of four Polish families - the Kotlowskis, the Geirszewskis, the Szymanskis and the Watembachs – who were part of a wave of immigration which saw New Zealand’s settler population double to about 500,000 during the 1870s. More Poles came later. Some convinced family members to join them. Others came independently.
Once here the immigrants picked up odd jobs, with many travelling to Pigeon Bay on Banks Peninsula to work on the land. In 1874, landowner Edward Reece travelled to Pigeon Bay and offered the Polish immigrants leasehold land in Marshlands. Many of the settlers took up his offer and became market gardeners.
On 6 October 2017, Christchurch City Council and the Embassy of Poland officially unveiled a plaque for Polish Settlers Place, a street in a new subdivision in Marshland. The naming is a public recognition of the early Polish settlers who shaped the area.
The Watembachs, the Schimanskis and the Gierszewskis settled in Marshland while the Kotlowskis settled in Akaroa. After travelling around 19,000 km from Łasin to Christchurch, Mary Kotlowski had had enough. She stayed on Banks Peninsula for the rest of her life and never came into Christchurch. Her reluctance to travel did not affect her social life and she hosted an annual ladies picnic.
Image (left): Mrs Kotlowski’s annual picnic, 1904. Top row from left to right: Miss Anderson, Rose Kotlowski, M Hartley, Mrs Ray, Mary Kotlowski Jr. Second row: Mary Kotlowski Sr, Mrs Hartley, Mrs O’Dell Sarah Brown, Mrs Mara. Front row: Mrs Hammond, Mrs Hart, J Brown, M E Rodrigues, Lizzie Shadbolt. Courtesy of Akaroa Museum.
List Image: Proud of her Catholic faith, Katarzyna Gierszewski wore a large crucifix as a public statement of faith at a time when there was considerable prejudice against Catholics. Katarzyna is pictured here with her husband Michał. Image courtesy of Margaret Copland.