This time a decade ago I had just started packing. I had sold my car and a good number of other items. And all that because I was soon to head off to New Zealand to commence my PhD at Victoria University in Wellington, investigating the Scots in New Zealand.
Coincidentally I’m back in New Zealand just now for a visit and a number of activities (see here for details). So I though it would be a good opportunity to post a few stories about the Scots in New Zealand here on the Blog – one of which already came, as it fit so well with Burns’s birthday, at the end of last month (see here). New Zealand, described a report published in Wellington’s Evening Post in 1931, was the place ‘where so many Scottish compatriots have carried their virtues and customs to form a great and flourishing Dominion.’ And indeed, the Scots have been fundamental in shaping New Zealand society. And that despite the fact that the country was ‘the most distant of the Commonwealth nations . . . we find reproduced just those characteristics that make for our race. The foundations of New Zealand settlement were well and truly laid by pioneers who faced adventure, withstood hardship, and maintained under all conditions of difficulty a determination to plant in this distant part of the world a “new Britain”. . .’.
Coming less then ten years after the end of the First World War, the New Zealand Prime Minister’s statement does not surprise. To ease pressures on the post-war British economy, policies of state intervention had been formulated to promote cohesion and unity between Britain and her colonies. Imperialists in British political circles had pressed for state-funded migration schemes earlier in the twentieth century, but it needed war to reinforce their case. Initially set up as a scheme for ex-servicemen under the newly formed Overseas Settlement Committee, assisted passages were provided for war veterans from 1 January 1920. More than eighty-five thousand emigrants were granted free passages under the scheme, but only 16% went to New Zealand.
This was a fairly small number, however, compared to late nineteenth-century flows, for example. In terms of Scottish migration to New Zealand, five distinct immigration phases can be identified. While there were Scots among the transients in pre-1840 New Zealand, the first significant phase starts with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and runs until the mid-1850s. It is in this period that early Scottish pioneers like John Logan Campbell made their mark. Ships like the Blenheim , sent by the New Zealand Company to Wellington in 1841, brought Scots directly from the Clyde. Many of these early Wellington Scots living at Kaiwharawhara later resettled in the Manawatu/Rangitikei region and the Wairarapa in the lower North Island, where a strong Scottish heritage remains visible to this day. Viewed as hard-working, decent, and reliable, Scots were desired pioneer settlers. During this period, Dunedin (Gaelic for Edinburgh) was organised under the aegis of the New Zealand Company and its offshoot the Otago Association, as a Free Church Settlement in 1848. The Disruption of 1843 shaped the scheme, with a number of Free Church secessionists involved in the planning for the settlement. These included the Revd Thomas Burns of Dumfriesshire, who was offered the position of minister to the migrants in mid-1843 by the Colonial Committee of the Free Church of Scotland. Prior to arrival, Burns had already acquired a reputation for his strict moral standards, which he sought to anchor in the colony by selecting the ‘ideal’ Presbyterian settlers, leading Sinclair to later describe him as ‘a censorious bigot’. He was a nephew of the poet Robert Burns. The main point here is that recruitment schemes in Scotland, together with the direct departure from Scottish ports, secured a strong Scottish contingent in this early settlement phase, a contingent that was reserved not just for Otago.
The second phase of Scottish migration to New Zealand ran from the mid-1850s to 1870 and was primarily shaped by the discovery of gold in the South Island, first in Otago and later on the West Coast. It was in this phase that Otago’s character as a Scottish settlement was first challenged, though Scots were still being specifically recruited to the settlement in significant numbers. The 1858 census shows that no more than 55% of the 1,712 Dunedinites listed in the census gave Scotland as their place of birth. This was certainly higher than the 23% English and the less than 2% from Ireland, but it was a far cry from the founders’ vision of the settlement. The sudden influx of new migrants reshaped and diluted the Province’s ethnic make-up. The gold-seekers were a very different type of migrant from the early pioneers. They were mostly single (although differences between national groups indicate different migratory streams), highly transient, and of agricultural, mining, or pre-industrial background. Yet, while the discovery of gold meant that attention was primarily focused on the South Island, in the North Island provincial government initiatives such as Auckland’s land grants scheme also attracted Scottish migrant groups, the best known being the followers of the Revd Norman McLeod who settled at Waipu.
The early 1870s marked the beginning of a co-ordinated central government programme of state assistance for willing immigrants, chiefly through Julius Vogel’s Immigration and Public Works scheme. Devised to improve New Zealand’s infrastructure through the building of railways, telegraph lines, and roads, the scheme offered assisted passages in return for labour. To provide the necessary assistance for a large number of migrants, a good £20 million was borrowed on the London capital market by the New Zealand government. Estimates suggest that around a hundred thousand immigrants entered New Zealand in the 1870s, thereby contributing to the spectacular increase of New Zealand’s non-Maori population. Importantly, it was as part of Vogel’s policies that a larger contingent of Highlanders arrived in the country. Partly the result of the successful recruitment by emigration agents in Scotland, targeted special settlements were established across New Zealand under the auspices of provincial governments, facilitating the concentrated arrival of Highlanders. One special settlement was that of Stewart Island, the destination of a significant group of Shetland Islanders. Backed by influential politician Robert Stout, himself a native of Shetland, and Otago Superintendent James Macandrew, Shetland Islanders seemed well suited, ‘inured to the hardships of a rigorous climate’, and inherited ‘maritime instincts’ that would secure them a good living in the far south. The settlement, however, was ill conceived. Conditions in Foveaux Strait prevented immigrants from using their skills, and poor preservation methods made selling their catch all the more difficult.
From the mid-1850s to c. 1880, McClean estimates that around fifty-three thousand Scots travelled directly from a port in the United Kingdom to a destination in New Zealand. With the 1880s characterised by the gradual phasing out of assistance, this eventually terminating in 1890, immigration numbers fell. While immigration had previously been the primary source of New Zealand’s population increase, there was a net loss of population from the late-1880s. This was the combined result of a lower number of immigrants, assisted and unassisted, and economic depression, also triggering the introduction of the fi rst anti-immigration legislation. Despite these developments, the number of Scots entering New Zealand between 1891 and 1915 remained relatively constant. It was only during the First World War that immigration numbers stalled. By contrast, the final phase, up to 1930, witnessed reinvigorated flows. Empire Settlement, as noted earlier, was a direct response to the First World War, stimulating a new infl ux of migrants in the early inter-war years. Many were Scots trying to escape the economic hardship caused by the decline of the traditional heavy industries in Scotland after the short-lived post-war boom. Mass unemployment, particularly among skilled male workers, was high; in the shipbuilding industry alone the average rate of unemployment in the 1920s was 29%. In this climate of unease, emigration seemed a viable solution.