Story: Scots

‘Shall I ever return / To the Land of Heather and Thistle / From the Land of Kauri and Fern?’ (‘Heather and fern’, John Liddell Kelly, 1887)

The red in Dunedin’s tartan signifies the blood ties that Scottish settlers had to leave behind. But the green symbolises new pastures. Arriving with a mix of idealism and common sense, they helped build the nation as farmers, engineers, social reformers, businessmen and politicians. In Otago they founded a city renowned for its educational institutions – and for very fine haggis.

Full story by John Wilson
Main image: ‘The emigrants’

The Short Story

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Leaving Scotland

Between 1840 and the 1970s, many thousands of Scots emigrated to New Zealand. They were not refugees from the Highland Clearances, but they were of modest means, typically farmers and artisans such as weavers, and later tradespeople and skilled workers. They left harsh economic times for a better life.

Immigration flows

Large numbers of Scots came in the 1840s, settling mainly in Auckland and Wellington. An influx of Otago settlers arrived after 1848, and in the 1860s, gold miners flooded in. Assistance schemes enticed more to Otago and Canterbury in the 1870s. Between the world wars there was another surge.

Scots spread throughout the country, though many favoured Otago and Southland.

Otago

With clear rivers and brisk frosts reminiscent of home, Otago was where a group of Free Church Scots founded their ‘new Edinburgh’, Dunedin, in 1848. They had high moral values, and a belief in hard work and the value of education. Today, clans and tartans, Burns night celebrations, and tossing the caber, are part of a lasting legacy.

Culture

From porridge to Presbyterianism, there are numerous signs of Scotland’s traditions. Surnames such as Campbell and MacDonald are very common. Many of today’s Caledonian and other patriotic societies have lasted since the earliest days. In 2004 there were over 80 pipe bands.

Although most settlers were Lowlanders, the more romantic Highland symbols of Scottishness have been adopted – the sword-brandishing mascot of Otago’s rugby team, or the kilted drum major pictured on tins of ‘Highlander’ condensed milk.

Contributions

The Scots contributed in many fields, particularly in farming, politics, education, industry, medicine and science. Notable Scots include Peter Fraser (Labour prime minister in the 1940s), women’s rights campaigner Margaret Sievwright, and teacher, politician and judge Robert Stout.

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How to cite this page:

John Wilson. 'Scots', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 9-Nov-12
URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/scots