Story: Scots

Page 4. 1853–1870: a surge of Scots

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More Scottish than the United Kingdom

From 1853 to 1870 Scots came in sufficient numbers to keep New Zealand more Scottish than the United Kingdom – in those years they made up more than 30% of New Zealand’s UK-born immigrants, even though they formed only 10% of the United Kingdom’s population.

Settlement of Waipū

The arrival of one group of Scots in the 1850s is among the most dramatic of New Zealand’s immigration stories. The charismatic preacher Norman McLeod left Scotland in 1817 for Nova Scotia. In 1851 he led his people, who were facing economic hardship in Canada, first to Australia and then on to New Zealand. In 1854 they secured land at Waipū in Northland. After 1854 more Scots came, from Nova Scotia and direct from Scotland. The total number of Waipū Scots exceeded 800. Most were Highlanders. Though now indistinguishable from other rural townships, Waipū still celebrates its Scottish origins.

Increase in arrivals

The surge of arrivals from Scotland that began in the 1850s reached its height in the early 1860s, when the discovery of gold in New Zealand coincided with the American Civil War. Between 1860 and 1863 more Scots left their homeland for New Zealand than for any other destination. These were the only years when Scots arriving in New Zealand outnumbered the English. In 1864 the number of Scottish-born in the country’s total non-Māori population reached a peak of nearly 18%.

The provinces

Scots remained dominant in Otago and Southland: in 1871 they made up about a third of the total population in these provinces. In the other major provinces they made up less than 10% of the population.

Auckland continued to draw a smaller proportion of its immigrants from Scotland than from England and Ireland. But recruiting agents in Glasgow in particular ensured that considerable numbers of Scots came to Auckland as land grant immigrants between 1858 and 1862.

Canterbury received more Scottish immigrants with farming backgrounds than other parts of the country because special efforts were made to recruit Scottish shepherds.

Highlanders and Lowlanders

Few immigrants were Highlanders, forced off their land by the notorious Clearances – these mostly happened long before any significant Scottish migration to New Zealand. Most Highlanders came between 1853 and 1870 because of Canterbury’s recruitment of Highland shepherds, the settlement of Waipū, and the gold rushes.

Lowlanders made up three-quarters of immigrants, although the families of some people recorded as Lowlanders might have moved from the Highlands a generation or two earlier.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Scots - 1853–1870: a surge of Scots', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/scots/page-4 (accessed 20 October 2017)

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