Story: Scots

Page 8 – Scottish culture

Highland traditions

Most Scots who came to New Zealand were Lowlanders, but they took the emblems and activities that proclaimed their identity from the Highlands. They adopted popular Highland symbols – clan societies, kilts, piping and Highland games – which were more romantic than the history and culture of the Lowlands.

Games, societies and publications

Highland games, cultural societies and publications sustained Scottish identity.

The identity of Waipū settlers, originally defined by kinship, religion and the Gaelic language, was later expressed through participation in the Caledonian games, first held in 1871. Caledonian gatherings (Caledonia is the Latin word for North Britain) celebrated aspects of Scottish identity in the south from the 1860s.

New Zealand’s first Caledonian society was formed in 1862. Scottish, Burns, Highland and St Andrew’s societies also flourished.

Some Masonic lodges followed Scottish rituals. Even Taranaki, with its consistently low proportion of Scots, had a Scottish society by 1912. A Scottish interest group of genealogists was formed in 1990. Many clan societies established branches in New Zealand.

Some societies originally restricted their membership to people of Scottish birth or descent. The Dunedin Gaelic Society, founded in 1881, excluded even Lowlanders. These restrictions were gradually relaxed.

For some years Scottish societies had a national magazine. The New Zealand Scot, founded in 1912 in Dunedin, was published under a variety of titles in Auckland and Wellington until, as The New Zealand Scotsman, it folded in 1933. Today, the magazine Scotia Pacific, published by the Piping and Dancing Association, enjoys national circulation.

Pipe bands

Although there were no pipers among the first Otago settlers, in the 20th century pipe bands became the face of Scottish identity in New Zealand. The first civilian pipe band was set up in Invercargill in 1896. Pipe bands were often linked to Scottish societies, which also promoted Highland dancing. The first national pipe band contest was held in Christchurch in 1907. By 1953 there were more than 100 bands in the country. In 2003 there were still over 80.

Gaelic language

Gaelic was spoken in pockets of 19th-century New Zealand, including Waipū, Turakina and the Mackenzie Country. But even there, children were educated in English. Gaelic societies attempted to keep the language alive, but they later became indistinguishable from other Scottish societies.

Although Gaelic died, words and phrases entered everyday English from the Lowland Scots (Lallans) of the south and east, such as ‘crib’ for holiday house and ‘wee’ for little. And the burr in the accents of Southlanders is Scottish in origin.

The old language

The 1930s were the last years in which any significant number in New Zealand spoke Gaelic. Sermons were still being preached in Gaelic from a few Presbyterian pulpits in that decade, and in 1938 T. D. Burnett, of the Mt Cook station, organised a highland gathering at which the speeches and a sermon were in the old language. When Dame Flora McLeod visited Dunedin in 1954, she was welcomed in Gaelic by a woman from Skye.

Poetry, sports and knitting

A love of Robert Burns’s poetry was brought to New Zealand. The first Burns Club was founded in Dunedin in 1891. Burns night (25 January) vies with St Andrew’s day (30 November) as an occasion to celebrate national traditions.

Burns-inspired verse was written in New Zealand by John Barr, Jessie Mackay and Hugh Smith. Dugald Ferguson expressed a sentimental Scottish nationalism in verse and wrote a historical novel modelled on those of Sir Walter Scott. Alexander Bathgate wrote novels with a Scottish flavour about colonial life.

Scotland left its impression on sport with golf and curling, first played in central Otago by gold miners. Knitting owes its popularity to Scottish immigrants. So does whisky. Porridge, shortbread and scones (if not haggis), all Scottish in origin, appear on everyday New Zealand menus.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson. 'Scots - Scottish culture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13-Jul-12
URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/scots/page-8