Networks served as risk minimisers and sources of comfort, two purposes that can already be traced in relation to the voyage out. George Sutherland, for instance, wrote positively about the presence of fellow Scots aboard his ship heeaded for New Zealand; he was especially pleased to learn of the ship’s six Scottish engineers: ‘none’, wrote Sutherland, ‘surpass the canny Lowland Scot in the handling of machinery’. Living, working, simply being, among fellow countrymen was viewed as beneficial. Archibald McCallum reported that he worked together with Mr McFarlane whom he knew from Scotland and a ‘Peter McLauchlan from Bailliston who came in the same ship with us. There are five of the passengers in the same house . . . so we are all well acquainted. When we are joking with one another I can never mind that I am sixteen thousand miles from home.’
The sheer scale of emigration from Scotland to New Zealand is reflected in the many references traceable in letters to the meeting of familiar faces. John Dewar, visiting the York Hotel in Dunedin, ‘by mere chance met with a gentleman you [John’s father] are acquainted with’. To make the meeting more extraordinary, the gentleman encountered had a brother who had just been home to Scotland and happened to live very close to John’s father. John marvelled at the coincidental meeting, which had fostered a wallowing in memories that made him ‘as jolly as a king’.
Coincidental meetings were all the more common in the early years of settlement when the proportion of Scottish settlers was particularly high in places like Dunedin. When exploring the area around Port Chalmers (Dunedin’s port), for example, Edward Aitken went on the surveyor’s track and met ‘Mr Anderson Brother to Mr Anderson Fishmonger George Street, Edinburgh’. The same Mr Anderson was also the subject of a letter from Mr James Williamson to his brother-in-law in Edinburgh. Williamson had stayed with Anderson, noting with great satisfaction that the Anderson family had treated him ‘with kindness of a brother and sister’. This was an experience also made by Andrew Mercer, who described Anderson as highly respectable and ‘of good connections at home’.
Newly arrived immigrants welcomed assistance of any kind. The provision of accommodation or other practical help, for example with the clearing of bush or the building of a house, were common, and confirm that kinship extended beyond immediate family ties. As much was certainly the case for George Brown, who arrived on the Pladda in September 1861 with his parents, four brothers, and two sisters, and was met by a friend who had been an apprentice to George’s father.
One of the most tragic examples in which family connections played a crucial role is that of the Mackie, Buchanan, Coulter, and Ramsay families. Members from the four families all came to New Zealand from different localities in Scotland, but principally Lanarkshire, between 1875 and 1879; all arrived in small kinship groups. Since family members knew each other, they used the wider kinship network to their benefit. William Ramsay was quick to inform John Mackie that he worked in a mine at Kaitangata and encouraged him to come down and join him as more miners were needed. Although Kaitangata was ‘30 miles from my wife and family’, Ramsay was pleased because he was already working together with Mackie’s brother, William Coulter, and William Watson. With male members of the different families in employment at the Kaitangata coal mine, the four families were deeply affected by the 1879 mine disaster in which more than thirty miners died. Among the dead were William Watson, David Buchanan, and Samuel Coulter. As the Wanganui Herald reported:
Samuel Coulter – Leaves fi ve children. One boy of 13 able to work, and a girl in Dunedin about 12. All the rest are young. He is an aged man, and arrived lately from Scotland in the ship Taranaki. David Buchanan – About 27, leaves a wife and two young children. He is a son-in-law of Coulter, and also a new arrival. William Watson – About 40 years of age. Leaves his father-in-law, who is a very old man, and four children, the eldest of whom is about nine years old.
Yet, in one sense, connections effectively intensifi ed after the disaster, as Grace Buchanan, David’s wife, remarried a member of the wider family network.
You can learn more about kinship networks in this post from the blog archive.