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The Foundation of Waipu, New Zealand

The journeys of Norman McLeod and his followers, 1817-54

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The story begins with Norman McLeod, born in 1780 at Stoer Point, Assynt Parish, Sutherlandshire in the Highlands of Scotland. As a young man he underwent a religious conversion and determined to become a minister of the established Church of Scotland. After studying for the ministry at the University of Edinburgh, he became disillusioned with his instructors and broke off his studies. He returned to the Highlands to earn his living as a teacher. He taught in his home parish and in Ullapool in Ross-shire. In each parish, he began to preach and criticise the incumbent ministers for their hypocrisy and immorality, drawing crowds of parishioners away from the established Church. He was removed from both of his teaching positions.

After fishing for two years out of Wick in Caithness, he emigrated in 1818 to Pictoa, Nova Scotia, on the Frances Aini. While traversing the Atlantic Ocean, the ship sprang a leak. The Captain was about to turn back towards Ireland when McLeod calculated that they were closer to Nova Scotia than Great Britain. The ship carried on under McLeod’s direction and made a safe landfall.

In Pictou McLeod once again drew large crowds with his preaching. He made many enemies by criticising the ungodly ways of the townspeople. He decided to move to Ohio whence he had been invited by a group of Highlanders. Along with his kinfolk and converts he built a ship, named the Ark, and set out. A storm blew the Ark into St Ann’s harbour, Cape Breton Island. The travellers, impressed with the bounteous fishing and the providence which had brought them there, decided to stay.

After many successful years in St Ann’s, during which the community prospered, potato blight and wheat rust attacked the crops of Cape Breton in 1847. People were reduced to starvation. Late in 1848, McLeod received a letter from his son Donald who had emigrated to Australia. The letter spoke in glowing terms of the climate and conditions of that continent. The people of St Ann’s decided to build a ship so that they could move there. As more and more people became interested in emigrating, a second ship was built by the brothers Duncan and Murdoch McKenzie from the neighbouring community of Bad-deck. The ship from St Aim’s was called the Margaret after McLeod’s youngest daughter. The McKenzies’ ship was named the Highland Lass.

In 1851 the Margaret sailed from Cape Breton. She was followed six months later by the Highland Lass. The ships, carrying 300 migrants in all, arrived in Australia at the height of the Victoria gold rush. The emigrants found that good coastal land was available only at exorbitant prices. After a number of their group, including three of Norman McLeod’s sons, died in a typhoid epidemic, it was decided that they should leave Australia and try to obtain land in New Zealand.

The first group of Nova Scotians arrived in Auckland in September 1853. They immediately petitioned the government for a block of land on which they could settle together. Four ships followed from Nova Scotia, the Gertrude in 1856, the Spray in 1857, the Breadalbane in1858, and the Elten Lewis in 1858. In addition, eight families came directly from Scotland to join relatives from Cape Breton. In all more than 800 people took part in the migration. While most settled at Waipu, others formed sister settlements at Whangarei Heads, Leigh, Okaihau and the valleys north of Whangarei - Kamo, Whau Whau, Hukeranui and 1-Tikurangi - linking the far north in a web of kinship and community.

Reference:  Molloy, Maureen, 1991, "Those Who Speak to the Heart - The Nova Scotian Scots At Waipu 1854-1920" Dunmore Press Ltd, New Zealand. (ISBN 086469 130 0) and thanks to Dell Purdie for hunting this out for us.

Mural on the Butchers Shop in Waipu
Mural on the Butchers Shop in Waipu

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