Martin's Magazine

From Norway to New Zealand

The story about Emil Johansen by Lois Potaka

When we speak about the Norwegian emigration, we tend to think that they all went to the Unites States of America. This is not true and, as we shall learn in this article, one of the places they went was New Zealand.

Lois Potaka has kindly let us in on her family story.



EMIL HANSEN was the third child of JOHAN and MAREN Hansen, and he was born at BORGE in July 1869. MAREN died in 1875 and it looks like JOHAN had a child with Britta Nedsdtr, then later married again. The second wife was ELVINE SOPHIE LARSDTR. and they had 10 more children.


EMIL left home when he was 14 years old, because of his stepmother, and it is thought that he left, possibly on his uncles boat from Bergen. This would be around 1883 I think He jumped ship in INVERCARGILL, SOUTH ISLAND, NEW ZEALAND sometime before 1903. He had to hide for quite a while, and was scared they would come and get him. He may have sailed around England and America as crew, or deckhand. There is no way we can find out what he did and where he traveled between 1883 and 1903. He worked in the bush and timber-mills, in the South Island, and that was where he met MABEL JANE HARDING and married her in 1903. They had 9 children, 1 died at birth, and his son EMIL was killed when he was 9 years old.

He was naturalized in 1911 in Wellington. Three of his children are still alive today, ROSE MABEL, DOUGLAS, and MYRTLE LENORA. (Myrtle is my mother). Emil and Mabel lived in Invercargill, but around 1905 they moved to the North Island NZ, to a small place called UTIKU, near TAIHAPE. We are not sure whether they worked at any other small township on their way up, but it would have been a very long
journey in those days. Utiku was a small township established in the 1890's, and it was a place that had 16 saw-mills with plenty of work for years to come. When they arrived in Utiku, there were some 120 houses, and 42 small holdings. A school with a growing school role that reached 130 by 1908. He worked in the
bush, felling trees, and helped build bridges and the Main Trunk Railway line. Picnics, dances, and sports days were held regularly, mainly rugby and cricket being played. The family took part in most of these, and Emil's sons were good rugby players and his daughters played hockey and were good swimmers. None of his children were able to speak or understand Norwegian.

He did not write home as he did not know how to write in English or Norwegian, although he was learning how to do this so he could contact his family in Norway, but the man who was teaching him died in the influenza epidemic in 1918. ( I think that was the year of the flu epidemic). So Emil passed away on 2nd October 1941 in TAIHAPE NZ, his family in Norway not knowing where he went, or what his life was like. Mabel passed away on 10th September 1956.

My Mum tells me he had a very good life and they were a happy family. His 4 sons were true VIKINGS, all big strong, handsome men. Emil used to play the piano accordion, and as I was born 3 months before he died, maybe this is why Norwegian music touches at my heart-strings, he used to sit and play to me my Mum says. Emil was known as Emil Johansen in New Zealand.



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