Statistics New Zealand maintains the national classification standard for ethnicity. European is one of the six top-level ethnic groups, alongside Māori, Pacific Peoples, Asian, Middle Eastern/Latin American/African (MELAA), and Other. Within the top-level European group are two second-level ethnic groups, New Zealand European and Other European. New Zealand European consists of New Zealanders of European descent, while Other European consists of migrant European ethnic groups. The term European New Zealander is therefore ambiguous, as it can refer to either the top-level European ethnic group or to the second-level New Zealand European group.
Cook claimed New Zealand for Britain on his arrival in 1769. The establishment of British colonies in Australia from 1788 and the boom in whaling and sealing in the Southern Ocean brought many Europeans to the vicinity of New Zealand. Whalers and sealers were often itinerant and the first real settlers were missionaries and traders in the Bay of Islands area from 1809. Some of the early visitors stayed and lived with Māori tribes as Pākehā Māori. Often whalers and traders married Māori women of high status which served to cement trade and political alliances as well as bringing wealth and prestige to the tribe. By 1830 there was a population of about 800 non Māori which included a total of about 200 runaway convicts and seamen. The seamen often lived in New Zealand for a short time before joining another ship a few months later. In 1839 there were 1100 Europeans living in the North Island. Violence against European shipping (mainly due to mutual cultural misunderstandings), the ongoing musket wars between Māori tribes (due to the recent relatively sudden introduction of firearms into the Maori world), cultural barriers and the lack of an established European law and order made settling in New Zealand a risky prospect. By the late 1830s the average missionary would tell you that many Māori were nominally Christian, many of the Māori slaves that had been captured during the Musket Wars had been freed and cannibalism had been largely stamped out. By this time, many Māori, especially in the north, could read and write Māori and to a lesser extent English.
European migration has resulted in a deep legacy being left on the social and political structures of New Zealand. Early visitors to New Zealand included whalers, sealers, missionaries, mariners, and merchants, attracted to natural resources in abundance. They came from the Australian colonies, Great Britain and Ireland, Germany (forming the next biggest immigrant group after the British and Irish), France, Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark, The United States, and Canada.