Dutch Settlement in Nelson


The 1950s Dutch migrants have been called a ‘lost generation', scarred by the disruptions and trauma of economic depression and military occupation in the Netherlands. On reaching their adopted country, most assimilated well, but they missed the ‘conviviality' of Dutch culture - cafes, theatres and restaurants. Here are stories of two Dutch settler families in the Nelson region.

The van Geldermalsen family
Maarten and Janny van Geldermalsen at home in richmond 2013. Photo courtesy Nelson Mail, Marion van Dijk.
Click image to enlarge

When Maarten and Janny van Geldermalsen arrived at their new home at the Appleby Research Orchard in December 1951, there were only two lights blinking in the darkness around them.  While Janny had grown up on a market garden and Maarten grew up outside Rotterdam, it was a far cry from the overcrowded country they had left.

Janny leaving the Netherlands. Click image to enlarge

After enduring the German occupation of the Netherlands, (1940-45)  Maarten went to Indonesia with the Dutch Army from 1948-1950. "I returned home to the message ‘there are 10 million people in a flowerpot, if you can find somewhere else, go for it'.  Colonists and army personnel were returning from Indonesia and there were no jobs - there was a very active emigration policy," Maarten said.

Maarten was confined to his mother's house for the last six months of the war to escape being forced to work in factories in Germany. "Holland was miserable after the war - they were grey years. World War II spoilt our teenage years and life was very small. At the time I was very happy to start another life," said Janny.

In 1950, a treaty was signed between the governments of New Zealand and the Netherlands for an assisted passage scheme which saw more than 6000 Dutch migrants  arrive in New Zealand during the 1950s. The Dutch were encouraged to assimilate and were scattered throughout New Zealand to avoid the clustering of ethnic communities.

Maarten and Janny in Rotterdam, on their engagement. Click image to enlarge
Maarten with son Ted in homemeade backpack.
Click image to enlarge

Like many young Dutch, the van Geldermalsens became engaged in Holland and married in New Zealand, as already married couples had to have guaranteed jobs and accommodation.  They also paid their own way, which gave them more choices about where they could live. Those who came through the Government scheme had to stay in specific jobs and localities for the first two years.

While Maarten flew to New Zealand on a 52 hour chartered flight, air travel was not common and the cost of toll calls was prohibitive, so immigrants to a country as far away as New Zealand had limited contact with home.

"I had no problems leaving my family. I didn't think I would be saying goodbye for ever, but I never saw my parents again," said Maarten.

Their arrival to New Zealand was greatly helped by the very warm welcome they had in Auckland from family friends, Reg and Janie Combes, who they called their NZ Mum and Dad.  Janny and Maarten could both speak some English and Maarten had horticultural qualifications and experience from Holland. With the help of the Combes family, he quickly found work as a labourer with the DSIR in Auckland. A technician's job at the Appleby Research Orchard soon saw the newly married couple heading south. "We were a novelty. We were taken to all the Christmas parties and felt warmly welcomed."

In 1954, a house was built at the orchard for the young family. While New Zealanders have a culture of home ownership, the van Geldermalsens, also taking the advice of a bank manager, decided not to buy their own home. "It wasn't part of our culture - it wasn't bred into us. We were there for 31 years and didn't buy a house at Appleby. We bought our first home in Richmond in 1982," said Maarten.

Janny and Maarten at the opening of Atawhai Play Centre, 1964.
Click image to enlarge

There were other differences: Maarten's workmates told him he worked too hard and the children's homemade hand-knitted socks, soon ‘came from England'. "We learnt that if you want to get on in this world, we'd better forget about being Dutch," said Maarten.

Maarten eventually became the manager at the Research Orchard, where he was involved in the integrated control of diseases and pests.  He gained a New Zealand Diploma of Fruit Culture.

Janny, who had worked as a botanical analyst in Holland, was offered a job in hop research at Motueka, but in those days it was a long journey on rough roads. She struggled with being at home with small children and the Play Centre movement offered her contact with adults: "you'd get to use your brain and lovely people from Wellington would come and stimulate us."  She was the first president of the Appleby Play Centre and eventually trained as a primary school teacher.

The van Geldermalsens became naturalised in 1956 - "the day we were allowed to". They  loved the outdoors- "tramping and botany".  Janny and Maarten quickly began to speak English to each other and none of their children learned Dutch.

They never regretted their decision: "Janny's father asked me if I wanted to take on his market garden and I said no - I never regretted it." But interestingly, all four van Geldermalsen children moved overseas when they grew up - daughter Marguerite  is the author of Married to a Bedouin.

The Ketel family

"I'm Johannes," said a sprightly 94 year old Johannes Ketel. Daughter, Lyn Teece, had told me her father is known as Jim in New Zealand. Lyn arrived in Nelson with her parents, Johannes, Catharina and brother, Wim in January 1959.  Born Paulina, affectionately known as Lineke, Lyn anglicised her name when she left school. "This meant I didn't have to explain myself to people and also didn't have to spell my name all the time."

The Ketel family in 1960
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The Ketel family's distribution (ration) card. The first thing the Germans did when they occupied Holland was to ration food supplies in the stores. Only a certain amount of food was available in shops using ration cards like this.
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Johannes lost an eye before World War II and was forced to work for the Germans in Holland during World War II.  "We went on strike when we saw them put some Jews on the train, but we had to go back to work as they would have put us in army camps," he said.

After working on construction sites, where work and wages were not available year round due to the weather, Johannes found he was unable to get a secure government job (such as the Railways or Post office) because of his eye, so the family moved to New Zealand in 1959.  Johannes' sister and family had arrived in 1953.

Aged nine, Lyn found herself the centre of attention at Enner Glynn School.  "I did not understand anything, but my cousin was in the class and she knew some broken Dutch and could translate for me."

Johannes went to work for Baigents as a painter and the family moved into a house in front of the Baigents yard in Nayland Road.  "There were no street lights - total darkness. After coming from Holland you felt you were alone in the world.  Mum used a copper for the washing and a wood burner to cook on - we'd had gas in Holland. Dad had to empty the toilet drum and dig a big hole in the garden.  In Holland we'd had plumbing, it seemed like we'd gone back years."

The Ketel family on the boat to New Zealand. Click image to enlarge

The family had come from the close knit town of Zwolle  where they knew a lot of people. They were initially very homesick. "But Catharina (who died in 2004) was a better immigrant than me. She learnt English better than me and had a good connection with people," said Johannes.

Lyn and her father in front of the Stoke home built by Johannes, 2013. Photo courtesy Nelson Mail, Marion van Dijk.

After three years, Johannes and his brother-in-law set up their own painting business. "In 1968, after 10 years of working in our own business, we went back to Holland for half a year.  Catherina wouldn't have moved back, but I found it very hard to come back to New Zealand.  My old boss said I was ‘stupid' to emigrate to New Zealand.   He said ‘we have plenty of work here,'" said Johannes.

"What didn't help was that New Zealand had plenty of employment when they came but things didn't bound ahead here like they did in Holland.  But if Dad had stayed in Holland, he wouldn't have had his own home or business. For ordinary working class people there was nothing there at that time-there was more class distinction," said Lyn.

Like the Geldermalsens, Johannes didn't seek out Dutch people in New Zealand: "I didn't want to go to a Dutch club." But the family preserved many food rituals. Catharina cooked "all the Dutch food', there was oliebollen  at New Year's Eve and Johannes used to make sauerkraut in the bathtub. 

Johannes, Lyn and the late Catharina all retained their Dutch nationality and Lyn felt torn when she went back to Holland as a 21 year old.  "I felt I would have liked to stay but my parents and brother were here.  There will always be a little part that belongs in Holland."

The Dutch contribution to Kiwi culture continues to this day, in areas as diverse as food, café culture, art and design and sport.  In Nelson, Eelco Boswijk established the iconic and very popular Chez Eelco café. Potter Carl Vendelbosch  was involved in Nelson's dynamic pottery scene from the early days when he worked with Jack Laird at Waimea Pottery.

Jim Ketel passed away in April 2014, aged 95 years.

2013 (updated 2024)

Sources used in this story

This story is based on interviews  by Joy Stephens with:

1.      Maarten and Janny van Geldermalsen, at their home in Richmond, Nelson 13 May, 2013

2.      Johannes Ketel and Lyn Teece, at Johannes' home in Stoke, Nelson. 14 May 2013

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Further sources - Dutch Settlement in Nelson



  • Pegge, B. (2006) The Invisible Dutch a Pilot Study Evaluating Dutch Migrants' Path to New Zealand from 1996 to 2006. Report of internship on project The Effect of European Union Knowledge Wave Migration to New Zealand at the National Centre for Research on Europe, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand. Retrieved from the University of Pittsburgh 2024:
  • Van der Pas, S. & Pot, J. (2011) The transformation of immigrant communities: the case of Dutch Kiwis. Research report no.14. Integration of immigrants programme. Massey University/ University of Waikato. Retrieved from National Library, 2024.


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