Sir Donald McLean

On this day in 1820, Sir Donald McLean was born at Kilmaluag on Tiree (Inner Hebrides). McLean undoubtedly was one of the most prominent New Zealand Scots. He came out to the Antipodes aged 18, first settling in New South Wales. Employment brought McLean to Auckland in 1840, from where he eventually found his way further south, being appointed to the Protectorate of Aborigines, later serving as police inspector in Taranaki, land purchase agent, and Member of the House of Representatives in the mid-1860s. McLean was well-regarded by many Maori tribes, thus becoming not only one of the most influential figures in mid-nineteenth century New Zealand, but also the key figure in Maori-settler relations.

A keen conversant in Gaelic, McLean enjoyed meeting fellow Highland settlers, ‘’swapping stories and songs’’. As much is indeed in evidence in McLean’s diary entry that relates to his engagement with Highland sports at Kaiwarra, Wellington in 1848. With a good many other Highlanders present, the Games were well-conducted, displaying neither strife nor enmity, as ‘’all in perfect unison played their part with animation and cheerfulness – the bag pipes playing at the end of each game’’. Once the games, which had included hammer throwing and wrestling, were over, McLean and many of the other patrons of the gathering repaired to Barrett’s Hotel. Perhaps it was the whisky, this being liberally dispensed, that led McLean to observe that it was

‘a sincere pleasure to meet so many people of the same land the same descent and origin met together to call to remembrance the sports of our parent land and not forget them. Do not forget your country and your loyalty – Highlanders, your meeting together shows the energetic spirit that animates and whatever zealously undertake you will – yes, Highlanders, you will do it.’

While pursued by a group of emigre Highlanders in 1848, the promotion of Scottish Games became the primary object of  New Zealand’’s Caledonian societies rather than their Highland counterparts. Thus commonly referred to as Caledonian rather than Highland Games, it took until the early 1860s that they became a regular fixture in New Zealand, proliferating in connection with the Caledonian societies then established. The Games McLean was involved in in 1848, however, were the first of their kind for which evidence has survived.

Learn more about Sir Donald McLean at DNZB.

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