Clergyman and pioneer coloniser.
A new biography of McLeod, Norman appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
McLeod was born of fisherman-farmer stock at Clatchtoll, Assynt, Sutherlandshire, on 29 September 1780. During his formative years his parish minister was the Rev. William McKenzie, who earned McLeod's disrespect and coloured his opinion of the ministers of the Established Church of Scotland. In his twenty-eighth year he decided to prepare for the ministry by studying at Aberdeen University, where he graduated master of arts in 1812, gaining the gold medal in moral philosophy. After studying theology for two years at the University of Edinburgh he left, probably because of his dissatisfaction with the state of the Church of Scotland. He returned to Assynt to teach, taking a position at Ullapool. But he still continued to preach, denouncing the mode of life and teachings of the parish ministers; consequently he was forced to abandon his school and to take up fishing as a livelihood. With the threat of “Highland clearances”, many small farmers were leaving Scotland. Norman McLeod, foreseeing continual strife with the church, joined many of these Highlanders in the Frances Ann and sailed to Nova Scotia with his wife (née Mary McLeod) and their two sons. They arrived at Pictou late in 1817 and settled near West River, where McLeod's preaching drew large congregations each Sunday. With the influx of Scottish settlers and their ministers, he decided to leave for Ohio in response to a call from a settlement of Highlanders.
In September 1819 McLeod, with some of his followers, sailed in the Ark. While skirting the coast they arrived at the tree-clad shores of St. Anns Harbour, Nova Scotia, which they found well stocked with fish. Being delighted with the surroundings they decided to settle and, after selecting land and commencing to clear it, they returned to Pictou for the winter to bring their families back to their new homes in May 1820. In the autumn of 1821 McLeod visited Ohio, returning in 1822 to open a school which was to render excellent service till 1851. McLeod was a born teacher and his ability was recognised by the Government, which gave his enlarged school the status of a “grammar school”. His leadership was recognised in 1823 when he was made a Justice of the Peace, continuing in this office until the Government removed this commission from all clergy. Although McLeod was the leader both civil and spiritual of his people, he keenly felt the lack of ordination; in 1825, therefore, he went to New York for 12 months' training under the Presbytery of Genesee, a licence being granted on 12 September 1826.
In 1848, at a time when the Nova Scotian potato and wheat crops had failed and when the fishing industry was being threatened by American competition, McLeod's son Donald wrote to his father from South Australia extolling the virtues of that area. After further inquiries from Donald and wishing to spare his flock the worry of possible religious controversy, McLeod, despite his 70 years, decided to leave for Australia. From 1849 till 28 October 1851 when the Margaret left St. Anns, ships were built, properties sold, and food gathered for the migration, all being done as was customary with worship as the centre of activity. About 140, including Norman McLeod and his family, sailed under Captain Watson, reaching Adelaide on 11 April 1852, only to find that Donald had moved to Melbourne. The migrants tried to obtain land near the coast, but as this was difficult, the majority set sail for Melbourne on 27 May, arriving on 4 June 1852. There the Margaret was sold. Many of the young men of the party went to the goldfields, a number of them remaining in Australia some years before coming to New Zealand.
Meanwhile the Highland Lass sailed from Big Harbour, Bras d'Or, on 17 May 1852 and arrived at Adelaide on 6 October. Nineteen of the Highland Lass people remained at Adelaide while the remaining 90, together with 33 Margaret people, came to Auckland in the Gazelle, leaving Adelaide on 2 September and arriving on 18 September 1853. Soon after their arrival Duncan McKenzie and Duncan Mackay interviewed Governor Grey on the question of a suitable site for settlement. Various places including the South Island and Hawke's Bay were suggested, but by November a party seeking a heavily forested area which would yield timber for homes and boats, land suitable for cropping, and a coast where fish could be caught, sailed up the east coast north of Auckland, entered the Waipu River and decided to settle the area. Their application, which was filed with the Commissioner of Crown Lands on 26 November 1853, was unsuccessfully challenged by James Busby. This delayed settlement and it was not until September 1854 that the first settlers landed at Waipu from the schooner Don. In the meantime, on 7 January 1854, the Gazelle had left Melbourne with some of the Margaret's passengers, including the Rev. McLeod and family, reaching the Manukau on 26 January. While waiting to select suitable land, the settlers rented houses in Albert Street and obtained work in the town and neighbouring countryside. Gaelic services were held in a hall in Symonds Street and McLeod preached several times in St. Andrews Church. In due course news was carried back to Nova Scotia of the advantages of life at Waipu, with the result that over 850 people in the six ships, Margaret, Highland Lass, Gertrude, Spray, Breadalbane, and Ellen Lewis, left for the south from 1851 to 1859. McLeod took up land in Waipu and remained the patriarchal leader of his people till his death there on 14 March 1866.
McLeod was an autocratic leader with a keen intellect, great physical strength, oratorical powers, and strict Calvanistic faith. He was attentive to every aspect of the lives of his followers, particularly in matters of religion and morals, and did not hesitate to castigate even his most intimate friends for offences which were often of a trivial nature. Nevertheless he earned the devotion and loyalty of most of his followers for they knew he continually sought their welfare. In patriarchal fashion, as clergyman, schoolmaster, and Magistrate, he moulded the character of a community which, by his inspiration, has won a unique place in the annals of colonisation.
by John Sidney Gully, M.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S., Assistant Chief Librarian, General Assembly Library, Wellington.
- Letters, 1835–1851, McLeod, Norman (Nova Scotia, Public Archives Bulletin, Vol. 2, No. 1), (1939)
- The Gael Fares Forth, McKenzie, N. R. (1942)
- Lion of Scotland, Robinson, N. C. (1952).