Story: Scots

Page 3. The Otago settlement

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A Scottish settlement

English domination of the first New Zealand Company settlements prompted architect and politician George Rennie to start planning ‘a New Zealand settlement for Scotland’ in 1842. His plan to found a ‘new Edinburgh’ was modified after John McGlashan, Thomas Burns and William Cargill turned the venture into a Free Church enterprise. The Free Church was born in Scotland in 1843, when 400 clergy and about one-third of the lay people of the Church of Scotland left the established church in protest against patronage and state control of church affairs.

Otago is founded

The John Wickliffe sailed from Gravesend on 24 November 1847, with 97 passengers aboard. The Philip Laing sailed three days later from Greenock with 247 passengers. Burns and Cargill both came as settlers. Despite Burns’s dislike of ‘the little enemy’, as he called the non-Presbyterian settlers, only two-thirds of the original Otago settlers were Free Church Presbyterians. In August 1848, over half of Otago’s United Kingdom-born population of 403 was Scottish.

Immigration into Otago lagged in the early 1850s, but picked up later in the decade. Efforts to attract Scots were only partly successful, and by the end of 1864, after the first gold rushes, little more than one-third of the population of Otago and Southland was Scottish-born.

The 1848 Otago settlement set a Scottish stamp on southern New Zealand. Even into the 20th century, Otago and Southland remained the heartland of the Scottish legacy in New Zealand.

Southern place names

Otago’s Scottish origins are reflected in the place names of southern New Zealand. The region’s major river, the Clutha, bears the ancient Gaelic name for the Clyde. ‘Dunedin’ is an older variant of ‘Edinburgh’, and the name Invercargill (devised to honour one of Otago’s founders, William Cargill), includes the Gaelic word 'inver', meaning river mouth, which is part of such Scottish place names as Inverness.

The gold rushes

Although the gold rushes brought a more diverse population into Otago, they did not overwhelm the Scottish presence. In fact, the Scottish character of the south was reinforced by miners drawn to the Otago goldfields. A Scot, John Buchanan, was one of the first to find gold in Otago’s rivers in the late 1850s, although not in profitable quantities. About 30% of the miners who came to Otago in 1861–70 were Scottish.

Despite its burgeoning numbers, in 1866 Dunedin was considered by one European pamphlet-writer to be ‘a little township, something like a small fishing village at home … inhabited by a population consisting chiefly of rigidly righteous but whisky-loving, unprincipled Scotsmen’. 1Even if parochial in European terms, Dunedin was on its way to becoming New Zealand’s leading city, thanks to the influx of gold miners.

Footnotes:
  1. Quoted by W. D. Borrie in The European peopling of Australasia: a demographic history, 1788-1988. Canberra: Demography Program, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, 1994, p. 98. › Back
How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Scots - The Otago settlement', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/scots/page-3 (accessed 24 October 2017)

Story by John Wilson, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 25 Mar 2015