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Settlers and Pioneers


The first regular immigrants to Auckland and the North were the Scottish settlers from the Clyde in the Jane Gifford and Duchess of Argyle , names of treasured memory. These people were mostly Lowlanders from Ayrshire and Galloway. Twelve years after them came the first of the Highlanders, the famous Gaelic migration from Nova Scotia.

We know that the Scottish Highland evictions, the Irish potato famine, the labour conditions in England, directed the thoughts of many to the new lands round the world, but it would be quite misleading and historically incorrect to say or infer that New Zealand was peopled mostly by people who were starving in the mother countries. The proportion of our early immigrants born in the slums of the Old Country cities must have been very small indeed. There was a process of natural selection which sent the best class of Englishman and Scot and Irishman overseas, at any rate the class best fitted to break in a raw, new country and make it a home of civilisation and comfort. Many were men and women of educa-page 31tion and culture who gave a lead in the shaping of colonial life. The majority of those who settled on the land in the first four decades of New Zealand's existence as a British country were, it may broadly be said, of the class described in England as yeoman farmers and the land-bred men who worked for them. They found their supreme satisfaction in making the soil productive.

The story of the Highland settlement of Waipu is an epic of adventure and endeavour. Its founders were chiefly crofters and their descendants who had been driven from their homes in Ross-shire, Suther-landshire, and other parts of the Highlands to make room for large sheepowners' flocks and rich men's deer and grouse, a series of cold-blooded evictions which Sir John McKenzie used to describe in terms of fiery indignation in the New Zealand Parliament. Many of these people, whose homes had been unroofed and burned in the callous clearances, crossed the Atlantic and settled at Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

The Rev. Norman McLeod, the pastor of the little Calvinist community, had a son who found his way to Australia. The accounts he wrote of the new Australian country, with its bright sunshine and its wealth and geniality, were so attractive by contrast with the hard and wintry land of Nova Scotia that the Highlanders, pastor and all, were seized with a great desire to emigrate once more. The whole page 32community, after many conferences, decided to try their fortunes in the new land in the Southern Seas.

The Nova Scotians set resolutely to work for the great adventure. They felled trees and cut them up for timbers and planking, forged ironwork, and built a brig which they named Highland Lassie , and another vessel, the brig Margaret. They loaded the ships with their goods, and the crowded emigrant craft set sail for Adelaide, South Australia, where they had heard land was to be had almost for the asking. The Highland Lassie was caught in the ice for a season, and it was fully a year before they reached their destination. But there they found things were not quite so bright as they had been painted. Most of the land near the port of Adelaide was in the possession of land companies, and being sea-lovers, like all coast-dwelling Highlanders, they would not go inland. They got into communication with Sir George Grey, then Governor of New Zealand, who persuaded them to make their homes in North Auckland, and so in 1854 the far-travelled Scots brought over by the barque Gazelle anchored at Waipu, just to the south of Whangarei, and found rest at last after their great voyaging. There they felled the bush and made their farms; and Waipu became a little bit of old Scotia transplanted in New Zealand, after two removes, and still persistently and heroically Scottish.

Other vessels followed, most of them built by the page 33Nova Scotians, the brig Gertrude , the small brigantine Spray , and the barques Bredalbane and Ellen Lewis. These vessels brought out from Cape Breton and other parts of Nova Scotia 876 people, all of whom settled in the Waipu and surrounding districts, and at Matakana, Omaha, and the vicinity. The Highland spirit still is strong, though the Gaelic no longer is understood by the growing generation. The old clans are there—McKenzie, McLeod, Matheson, McLellan, McGregor, McKay, McMillan, Cameron, Fraser, Campbell, McLean, Munro, McDonald, McPhee, McRae. Sailors, fishermen, bush-men, farmers, the pioneers could turn their hands to many things. They were the most determined and resolute of pioneers. They sowed their wheat and oats in amongst the stumps where the forest had been cleared and burned. The seed was hoed in by hand and reaped with a sickle. It was a hard life at first, hard indeed for many years, but gradually they made comfortable homes for themselves and they increased and multiplied, and to-day Waipu is one of the most attractive and well-tended small-farming districts of the Dominion.

Its Macs of divers clans are celebrated for their sea-going proclivities. So numerous are the McKenzie seamen of Waipu birth that it is related that on one occasion nine master mariners of the name were in their ships at the same time in Auckland harbour. To the clan lists of Waipu, Mangapai, and Omaha, page 34there really ought to be added the tribe MacNeptune. Two or three of the barques and brigs which brought the Nova Scotians out to this part of the world from Cape Breton were manned by families. There was a doughty Meiklejohn, who built a vessel in a Nova Scotian bay and sailed it to New Zealand; his nine sons formed the crew. The patriarch and his family settled at Omaha, where they built many a brigantine and schooner for Auckland shipowning Macs.

Mr J. M. McKay, a pioneer settler of Waipu, told many backblocks real life stories. 'My father,' he said, 'grew 500 bushels of wheat without using a plough. The work was done by the whole family, who used hoes. The corn was threshed with a hand flail. We really had no use for a plough, as we could not remove the stumps for some years. I had to grind enough wheat with a hand-mill to provide us with food before we left for school in the morning.' But nobody went hungry in those bush days, for there were pigs and birds in the bush and fish in the sea. 'Most of the settlers were handy men, who could saw timber and build houses and boats. All our people were loyal to each other. When a neighbour wanted a day's help all came. When I started on my own, forty men came to help me fell the first bush. They made it a pleasure and looked upon it as a holiday.'

Only the very old people among the founders of our Nova Scotian Highland settlements in North page break page 35Auckland three generations ago could remember the original ancient places, but the history and the poetry, the names, and the music remain. The clannish pride of people and place among the Gaels is so similar to that of the Maori, and the social organisation so alike in both races, that it was often remarked on by early Scottish settlers in New Zealand, notably Sir Donald Maclean, the great Native Minister. Sir George Bowen, Governor, commented on it in his despatches of 1870 to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. As with the Highlanders, the Maori love of the old homes, of the tribal birth-places and last resting-places, and of the local sanctities and associations, is a force that must be taken into sympathetic account by the pakeha in territorial dealings with the people.