Kōrero: Scots

Whārangi 2. 1840–1852: organised settlement

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Who came and why

Organised settlement began in the 1840s and continued well into the 20th century. Many Scottish people came, for a variety of reasons.

The founding of the Free Church in Scotland was evidence of revived religious fervour in Scottish life, but religion was not, even for the Free Church Presbyterians of Otago, why Scots emigrated. The Otago settlers shared with other Scottish immigrants economic reasons for migrating.

Few Scots emigrated as refugees of the infamous Highland Clearances, but up to a half of Scottish immigrants were agricultural labourers or farmers affected by the reorganisation of Lowland agriculture. They also came to escape the potato famine of 1846 and the fall in cattle prices in 1848–52. They arrived hoping to secure land.

Artisans and small traders were almost a third of all Scottish migrants, and industrial workers a small but significant part of the inflow. These groups came primarily from the industrial Lowlands, close to 70% of them from around Edinburgh and Glasgow. Most decided to emigrate when times became hard. A number left Paisley in the early 1840s when its weaving industry was in trouble.

What’s in a name?

A ‘Lowlanders’ rugby team? ‘Lowlander’ condensed milk? The majority of Otago’s Scottish immigrants came from the Lowlands, but when rugby was reorganised in the 1990s and the provincial team needed a new name, it became The Highlanders.

The name ‘Highlander’ had already been used commercially for a popular brand of condensed milk, manufactured by a company on the outskirts of Invercargill. The Highlander figure, which appeared for many years on the company’s cans of condensed milk, is believed to have been Drum Major James Macgregor of the Invercargill Pipe Band.

Arrivals in the 1840s

By 1839 there were probably upwards of 400 Scots among the country’s non-Māori population of perhaps 2,000.

In the first decade of organised settlement, many Scots came in the major inflows of 1840–42, and 1848. The New Zealand Company actively recruited settlers in Scotland, but only three of the company’s 76 ships sailed from Scottish ports. Scottish people constituted about 20% of all British migrants to New Zealand between 1840 and 1852.


Two groups of Scots came to Auckland in the early 1840s. In 1841 the Scottish Colonisation Company despatched three vessels from the River Clyde, bearing migrants who settled first at Cornwallis Point. A year later the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners sent out a party of more than 500 from Paisley (where the textile industry was in recession) on the Duchess of Argyll and the Jane Gifford.

In Auckland, unlike other early provinces, the Scottish were outnumbered by the Irish. This was partly because there were few Scots among the soldiers discharged from Imperial regiments, or among the Fencible settlers (men who were given land in exchange for military duties).


Two ships sent by the New Zealand Company to Wellington carried Scots. About 120 sailed on the Bengal Merchant, arriving in Port Nicholson in February 1840. On 30 November that year, St Andrew’s Day was celebrated at Petone. The Blenheim arrived in December 1840 with close to 200 Scottish passengers. Many settled a little north of Wellington itself, at Kaiwharawhara, which became known as ‘the Scotch settlement’.

After the government purchase of the Rangitīkei Block in 1849, a group of Blenheim Scots took up land in the Turakina valley, where an awareness of the Scottish origins of the original settlers remained strong into the 20th century.


Prior to the founding of the Canterbury settlement in 1850, several Scots moved south from Wellington. Notable among them were the brothers John and William Deans, who settled at Riccarton in 1843 and established the first successful farm on the Canterbury Plains. After their early deaths, John’s widow Jane became the matriarch of one of Canterbury’s most prominent families.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

John Wilson, 'Scots - 1840–1852: organised settlement', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/scots/page-2 (accessed 21 July 2024)

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