Celebrating 150 Years – And So Much More

Where: Dom Polski

1 McDonald Street, Morningside

When: Sunday, 20 November 2022

Time: 12 noon – 4pm


Anniversaries are sent to us for a reason.

We all seem to complain about our lives becoming busier than ever but, if it were not for those birthdays and other high holidays to force us, we would seldom get together socially. We might grumble—just a dash—about the effort required, but once at the gathering, we appreciate the camaraderie. It’s feel-good.

With that goal in mind, your Auckland Polish Association has decided to join other Polish associations in celebrating the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first large group of Polish settlers in New Zealand. They arrived in Lyttelton and Port Chalmers, the ports serving Christchurch and Dunedin. Auckland did not feature heavily in the history of early Polish settlers 150 years ago but, although we did not have large Polish communities ourselves, we can celebrate with those in other parts of New Zealand that did.

Our Polish history in Auckland is different from that of the rest of New Zealand.

Records of the ship City of Auckland, which arrived here on 3 September 1872, show a single Pole: 19-year-old tailor, M Sampson, who paid his required £8 fare before the vessel left England. He seems to have disappeared, but another tailor, Henry Possenniskie, who apparently arrived in New Zealand in 1864, traded from his shop in Shortland Street. He may have been related to army and navy tailor W Possenniskie, who worked from a shop in Queen Street and advertised in 1848 that he could make a suit in 48 hours. 

Count Józef de Montalk-Potocki, who arrived in New Zealand in the 1860s and who helped Jackson’s Bay Polish settlers engineer a petition to the government in 1877, taught modern languages at Auckland University College from 1891.

APA members entertained at the 25th anniversary of the Pahiatua Poles’ arrival in New Zealand.

Auckland had its share of prominent Polish visitors—from the pianist, composer, and prime minister Ignacy Paderewski in the early 1900s to Pope John-Paul II in 1986—but it was the post-war Poles who cemented Auckland’s Polish culture.

Poles who refused to return to a communist-controlled post-war Poland after 1945 and who settled in Auckland, brought their Polish culture with them. The first 733 Polish children and their 105 caregivers arrived in Wellington on 1 November 1944 to live out the war in peace in Pahiatua.

When it became clear in 1945 that there would not be a free Poland to return to, the then Prime Minister Peter Fraser extended his government’s invitation to the Polish refugees already here, and to their mostly veteran relatives in the UK and Europe. The Pahiatua children’s camp emptied as the children grew older, and by 1949 it closed, having placed all the children in high schools throughout New Zealand.

The Poles in Auckland clubbed together to buy an old villa on McDonald Street in Morningside, which became the second home for many of them, and a much-loved Dom Polski, despite its wonky floors and cumbersome layout. By 1976, the Auckland Poles had replaced the old villa with a new hall they built themselves—the hall that we are still using today.

It is in this hall that we invite you to help us celebrate the 150 years of Polish settlement in New Zealand. We are honoured to be hosting our Polish Ambassador to New Zealand, Grzegorz Kowal, and our Honorary Consul in Auckland, Bogusław Nowak.

Our event kicks off at 12-noon with a “high tea” light lunch. We are asking guests to bring a pretty plate of nibbles to share as they mix and mingle with others. We will provide the tea and coffee.

We hope that you will enjoy browsing the photographs and history of the Auckland Poles that will be on display, and that you will enjoy reminiscing and recognising some old faces, or yourselves as children or much younger adults. If anyone has an item to share for the day, we welcome it. Just let one of the committee members know, or email info@poloniaauckland.co.nz.  

At 2pm, our APA President, Dariusz Koper, will deliver the official welcome, after which our ambassador and honorary consul will say a few words.

A descendant of one of the earliest large families in New Zealand, Mike Subritzky, has agreed to share his family’s history with us. According to the family story, widow Sophie Subritzky and her three young sons arrived in Nelson in 1843, and left for Australia two years later. The Subritzky brothers moved back to New Zealand in 1860, and settled in Houhora.

Their mother arrived a year after that, and became one of the first women in New Zealand to establish her own brand name of herbal medicines. The Subritzkys were among the first European settlers in the Far North and solved the problem of the lack of roads between Northland and Auckland by establishing a coastal shipping business. One day, when the men were at sea, local Māori approached the house, and demanded money. When they did not remove themselves, a furious Sophie apparently grabbed an axe out of a chopping block and chased them away… Mike will no doubt tell us all more on 20 November.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

PS – A more detailed history of our APA is available through the About Us tab on the menu bar.