NZ's Morris


NZ has had a long history of morris dancing - check out those sides that are no longer dancing

There are records of dancers and musicians leaving England to migrate to New Zealand in the late 1800s, but there is no record of any dancing occurring in New Zealand at that time. However there certainly were bush bands playing for social dance.

From chatting to an elderly lady in the 1980s. I found that morris dancing was taught at Wellington Girls College around 1920 by a teacher fresh out from England. It is likely that she would have learnt through Mary Neal's Esperance society.

Dancing was taught in a formal manner in the late 1930s and early 1940s under the auspices of the EFDSS.

Then in the 1970s, a number of sides were formed, primarily through the efforts of dancers newly arrived from England but with a lot of local enthusiasm.

1977 Erewhon in Christchurch

1977 City of Auckland Morris Dancers in Auckland

1978 Pride of Holland Street in Wellington

Further sides formed over the new few years around the country

A few people have supplied notes on the history of dancing in NZ...


From Chris Brady

Early Morris in England and New Zealand -

To understand the place that English country dancing and morris dancing had in the 1940s in New Zealand you also need to understand what was happening in England at that time. Cambridge Morris Men were central to the revival of Sharp-style morris dancing and country dancing. John Oliver was an ex-CMM dancer. He was a New Zealander. When he returned to New Zealand it was natural that he should spread the good word, and he formed a morris team in Christchurch. That was probably the very first morris team in New Zealand (until documentary evidence is discovered from earlier newspaper reports). However there is no evidence of there being any continuity between that team and the current sides formed in the 1970/80s, excepting that the 1940s Christchurch kit was loaned by John Oliver to the newly formed City of Auckland side in 1978/9 before their own kit was devised.

There's an excellent web site detailing many of Roy Dommet's lectures about the history of morris dancing both of the kind performed in New Zealand in the 1940s, and also of the kind now performed by modern teams. Also mention is made of Tubby Reynold's important visit in 1990.

Anyway I refer you to the following web site:

If anyone wants a copy of Roy Dommets notes as published by Tony Barrand via the CDSS - then see:

Pre 1952, from Chris Brady's email -

There are tantalising snippets of information about the history of the morris in New Zealand. Roy Dommett - in his 1979 lectures at: states: "Now, Percy Manning lived in Oxford ... he employed ... a geologist assistant ... called Carter who was paid to go walking through the Cotswolds looking for Morris relics. ... That's how you discover that at about 1870 quite a few Morris sides emigrated en-bloc to New Zealand." Has anyone has researched the old newspapers for references to these immigrants? If an entire side emigrated then they would surely have danced on the ship and continued to dance when they got there? AND if whole sides emigrated to New Zealand, what about to Australia too?

In the 1930/40s one of the Cambridge University Morris Men involved in the Travelling Morris was John Oliver, a New Zealander. Some info. as to the background of Cambridge MM, John Oliver and other worthies of the then revival can be found at this rare site: When John returned to N.Z. he was instrumental in furthering the morris especially in Christchurch during the 1940s/50s. After that it all seemed to die out.

But in the 1970s, with a feeling that there SHOULD have been some folk activities in N.Z. brought over by the many thousands of English immigrants, and after much research in the various public library catalogues, I discovered that John was still alive and living in Nelson. And so I immediately flew down to visit him. It was like striking gold. He was most welcoming and he loaned me an amount of kit and material which subsequently helped to set up the City of Auckland Morris and indeed their first kit was the old Christchurch kit of the 1940s!!

Apparently there was a Courtney Archer in the 1940s team, who was a miller in Christchurch. He had some black & white film of the team dancing from the 1940s but I think this got destroyed (see note below). Various photos and articles of the morris are described in a Folk Magazine published by John Oliver during the 1940s. I believe that Christchurch and Auckland Public Libraries have copies, as well as C#H in London. There were 14 editions.

Cecil Sharp-style folk dance and song was very much the vogue during the 1940s in NZ. The NZ Branch of the EFDSS was the very first overseas official branch. Indeed there were more EFDSS groups in most of the towns in NZ than there are RSCDS groups now!! The groups were mainly of women, who danced in long skirts and white plimsoles. They danced to EFDSS 78rpm records. They only ever danced EFDSS 'official' dances - that is those dances published by Sharp in the Country Dance Books, Morris Books, and Sword Book. They totally ignored the social quadrilles and ballroom dances of the time.

I guess the early 1950s newspaper photo of the ladies of Wellington dancing Flamborough is typical. See: I remember morris dancing in Wellington in the late-1970s, and after a dance some elderly ladies came up and said that they used to do morris dancing. Not realising the significance of them they got ignored, and much like the 'last Sussex morris dancer' that Lucy Broadwood dismissed. I guess these ladies were never sought out and interviewed?

And I wonder if anyone ever interviewed John Oliver before he died, or tried to track down the other members of his team? They'd all be gone now though. Every summer throughout the war and afterwards annual Folk Dance Summer Schools were held, usually organised by John Oliver. Descriptions of the activities at these can be read in the Magazines mentioned above. There is supposed to be an archive of material dedicated to John Oliver somewhere in New Zealand but I have no details. There is nothing on the web about him apart from the above mentioned web site. If anyone can help to complete the picture I would be grateful so that I can set up a web site in his memory. Thanks.

Chris B.


Note. A copy of the film was recovered and digitised, the morris sections of the film are available on You Tube