Kōrero: Scots

Whārangi 11. Scots and the economy

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

The urge to succeed

From their Presbyterianism, Scots inherited a strong work ethic, and from the Scottish Enlightenment a self-confident individualism and eagerness to achieve material success. Migrants were well educated and possessed a range of skills. They prospered ahead of other immigrant groups, and were well represented among the very successful.


In the second half of the 19th century, when many immigrants were from farming backgrounds, there were higher proportions of Scots in the countryside than in towns. Allan and John McLean were among those who succeeded impressively as pastoralists, owning large tracts of land on which sheep were grazed. In south Canterbury, Jeanie Collier was the country’s first recorded woman pastoralist.

In the harsh Mackenzie Country, Scots succeeded an earlier English generation to dominate the holding of sheep runs. The Scottish shepherd with his border collie was also a familiar figure on runs in the Wairarapa and Hawke’s Bay.

Scots were also successful farmers. In 1882 they owned about half the farms of more than 40 hectares. Some succeeded spectacularly well. In 1892, 40% of those owning more than 4,000 hectares were Scots. Donald Reid on the Taieri was an example. In the Rangitīkei, the leading landowner, James Glenny Wilson, held more than 2,400 hectares.

Farm-based industries

Thomas Brydone and William Soltau Davidson started the meat-freezing industry. James Little developed the Corriedale breed of sheep, and John Matheson founded the cooperative dairying industry on the Otago Peninsula. Later, T. C. Brash saw the Dairy Board through its formative years.


There is some truth in the stereotype of the thrifty, hard-working Scot, and the Scots played key roles in developing the colonial economy. Their numbers in Otago, and wealth from gold, explain why many of the country’s early leading firms were founded in Dunedin. John Macfarlane Ritchie’s National Mortgage and Agency Company was one of the country’s most influential firms. John Ross and Robert Glendining founded a company that dominated the textile industry in Otago.

In Auckland, John Logan Campbell and William Brown were the founding fathers of the city’s business community and George Fowlds, son of a handloom weaver, was a leader in the clothing business. Nathaniel Wilson expanded from lime-burning to manufacturing Portland cement at Warkworth.

Engineering and shipping

A San Francisco connection

In Dunedin, George Smith Duncan, an engineer of Scottish background, decided that the cable car invented for San Francisco’s steep streets by another engineer of Scottish descent, Andrew Smith Hallidie, was ideal for his own hilly city. For Dunedin, Duncan developed a pull-curve pulley system, which was later adopted in the cable car’s birthplace itself.

Scottish immigrants also brought skills in engineering and shipbuilding. Henry Niccol and George Fraser were prominent in Auckland’s shipbuilding industry. In Christchurch, John Anderson founded a notable engineering firm. Two brothers, Peter and David Duncan, founded another Christchurch engineering firm and two more, Alexander and Thomas Burt, established a similar firm in Dunedin. Anderson was one of several Scots involved in setting up shipping lines. The company flag of the Northern Steam Ship Company, founded by Alexander McGregor, incorporated a St Andrew’s cross.

20th-century business

Success in business continued into the 20th century. James Fletcher (Fletcher Construction), Charles Todd (Todd Motor Company), and David Henry (New Zealand Forest Products) founded three of the country’s largest companies. James Wattie, of tinned-food fame, was born in New Zealand of Scottish parents. In retailing, Robert Laidlaw set up the Farmers’ Union Trading Company and James Hay and Benjamin Sutherland, both New Zealand-born of Scottish parents, established Hay’s department store and the Self Help grocery chain.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

John Wilson, 'Scots - Scots and the economy', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/scots/page-11 (accessed 16 June 2024)

He kōrero nā John Wilson, i tāngia i te 8 Feb 2005, updated 25 Mar 2015