Charles Suisted (Sjöstedt) was the second earliest Scandinavian to settle on the rugged shores of 1840’s New Zealand. Leaving behind a wealthy and comfortable lifestyle in his native Sweden, Suisted was to become the forerunner of Scandinavian agricultural enterprises with an amazing legacy that still stands today.
Sailors aboard Abel Tasman’s ships were the first Scandinavians to see New Zealand’s shores. Crew lists show one ‘Peder Pedersen’ of Copenhagen, and other typically Nordic names, but none settled here. Sources, albeit limited, indicate that Charles Suisted was only the second Scandinavian to settle in New Zealand. He followed Charles Hopkinson who appears to be the first Scandinavian to arrive here in 1840 and settling in Dunedin as a hotel keeper. No other Scandinavian settlement is recorded until Suisted's arrival in mid-1842.
The major wave of Scandinavian immigration did not take place until the 1870s when an assisted immigrant scheme was established and prospective migrants were promised free passage and 10 acres of land. In 1871 the first government-assisted Scandinavian immigrants arrived in Wellington aboard the Celaeno and by 1878 Scandinavians represented over one percent of the New Zealand population - the highest proportion it would ever reach.
Family legend depicts Charles Suisted as 'cheerful, energetic, generous and enthusiastic and 'a man before his time.' A contemporary wrote, 'He was a very large man, weighing 22 stone [140 kg], and was, as a lady remarked, 'very tall across the shoulders'. Standing at just on two metres (six feet, six inches) tall he was indeed a larger than life character.
Charles Suisted was born Carl Eberhard Sjöstedt in Varmland, Sweden, on 12 May 1810, the son of Carl Eberhard Sjöstedt and his wife Britta Juliana Ekermann (1782 to 1824). The family was wealthy, owning an important ironworks and residing in a large manor house at Bada.
Following his parents' deaths, Suisted left home to study for the civil service, but instead took to the sea. In 1830 he left from Gothenburg as an officer on board the Stirling. The ship voyaged for eighteen months to the East, also docking for three months in Portsmouth, England.
It is of note that twenty miles from Portsmouth lay Goodwood, which was known for its horse racing and was one of the grandest private horse stables in England. Suisted had a lifelong interest in horses; perhaps begun when, as a young boy he regularly rode 100 kilometres to school.
On 19 March 1833 at St Mary Le Bone, London, he married Lincolnshire born Mary Emma Richmond (1817 to 1860), whose father Robert Richmond (1792 to 1881) was a sea captain. Fifteen children, of whom twelve were boys, were born to the couple over the next 22 years.
In 1836, the Suisteds, along with Robert Richmond and his wife Emma, immigrated to Van Diemens Land, Australia. High English wool prices had brought about a boom in the settlement. The family flourished. Although the Suisted's first child, Emma, died in 1836 at six months of age, a healthy son was born in 1837, and christened with the anglicised Suisted spelling of the Swedish name Sjöstedt. The Suisteds settled in the port of Launceston and joined the busy shipping industry between Van Diemens Land and Australia. Two shipwrecks later, however, Suisted decided on a change of career. In 1839 he bought the licence to the Steam Packet Hotel.
In 1841 an economic slump hit Van Diemens Land, and Suisted's profits. 1842 saw the Suisted and Richmond families sailing for Wellington, New Zealand, with little left to their names.
In September 1842 Suisted took over the licence of Wellington’s Barrett’s Hotel and soon made quite a reputation. In a report about the Press Dinner held at Barrett’s it was said that 'an overabundance of the good things of this life was provided for the occasion by Mr. Suisted, viz. the delicacies of N.Z. and the luxuries of the neighbouring colonies. It was as good, if not a better dinner than has ever been sat down to in the settlement.' Barrett’s became the civic meeting place and most important building in the settlement of Wellington for a time.
Suisted also continued his shipping connections and even became a manager of the Wellington Savings Bank. The wreck of the Tyne in 1846 saw the family's fortunes prosper as a 'second box containing 1000 sovereigns was recovered yesterday from the wreck of the 'Tyne' by Mr. C. Suisted...' It was said that this money ultimately financed Suisted's interests in Otago.
Perceptions of New Zealand - 'wild animals, snakes and English people'
Prospective migrants' knowledge of New Zealand was very limited. To the average 1870s Scandinavian there was a degree of facination with a country on the opposite side of the earth, 'with the feet of its inhabitants pointing towards us'. Most knew Maori, but there were shipboard rumours of 'wild animals, snakes and English people'. Source: www.teara.govt.nz
Although Suisted prospered, ongoing conflict between Pakeha and Maori began to affect the confidence of the Wellington settlement. Immigration slowed. Land claims remained unsettled. Early in 1847, Captain Richmond travelled to Otago. Reports must have been favourable. Yet, according to Suisted's son James, the final decision to leave Wellington was made, 'because of the disturbed state of the Maoris, and because of the earthquakes…I have heard my father say, that during those earthquakes the ground was almost in continuous motion for 35 days.'
In 1848 Suisted paid £200 for 550 acres of land near Pleasant River in North Otago. Being the first European to settle in the area, Suisted and his family may truly claim to be among the founders of the province. He named his new property Goodwood and eventually the entire district took on this name.
A barn-like structure was built initially to house the Suisted family on their arrival from Wellington. It was their home for at least eleven months. After the family moved to their new homestead in 1851, the structure was converted to stables, which amazingly still stands today under the protection of the NZ Historic Places Trust.
After buying the Goodwood block, Suisted moved quickly to establish squatting rights further north over Kakanui and Otepopo, stretching from the Wainakarua to the Awamoa Creek near Oamaru. An outstation was established at Waianakarua in 1848 and a shepherd was installed to look after the holdings. These were the first European farm buildings to be erected in North Otago, which was a significant milestone in the history of the district. When the new tenure system came into force Suisted made haste to legalise his position and the licenses to these new blocks, containing circa 50,000 acres (20,234 hectares), were granted in 1852.
The NZSBA is grateful to Rob Suisted, a descendent of Charles Suisted and a respected NZ scenic and nature photographer whose work is available to view and purchase at www.NaturesPic.co.nz, for allowing us to use his story and pictures.
A special thanks to Tine Jensen from Maersk for editing and compilation