New Zealand as a colony was settled almost entirely by men and women of British stock. Aside from small regional minorities (Scandinavians, Germans, French and Dalmatians) the European immigrants to this country were almost entirely of English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh origin.

The Emigrants by William Alsworth, 1844. The portrayed MacKay family of Drumduin emigrated to New Zealand not long after.

But not all of them came from England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

Large numbers of colonists actually came from elsewhere in the British Empire. Some of the first whites to live permanently in New Zealand were convicts who had escaped from Australia. A very large percent of the early whaling community was composed of old-stock New England Yankees, some from families already almost two-hundred years settled in America.

In 1864 there were almost ten times more Australian-born residents in New Zealand than there were Welshmen. Early members of parliament were born in parts of the British Empire as diverse as Malta (John Valentine Smith) and Calcutta (Sir Arthur Guinness).

New Zealand is such a young country, that to a certain extent we were colonised by other colonies. For a time we were considered to be part of New South Wales after all.

But this article isn’t about the Australians or the Americans, the Anglo-Indians or anybody else. This is about the Canadians. Yes, Canadians. It might seem strange to think of our cousins in the Great White North coming all the way down here to start anew, but it happened, and there were actually quite a lot of Canadian settlers.

Most of these Canadians came from Nova Scotia, with many others coming from New Brunswick and Quebec, and smaller numbers from the other provinces.

This Nova Scotian exodus was largely due to the influence of one man. Reverend Norman McLeod.

Reverend Norman McLeod

McLeod was a Scotsman, and a Highlander at that. From far off Sutherland he would go on to become a zealous minister (as a community leader he would go on to ban all “entertainment” and once cut the ear off a boy accused of theft), and after falling out with a superior priest he took a self-imposed exile to the colonies.

McLeod was essentially forced to emigrate to Nova Scotia (Latin for “New Scotland”), one of Canada’s maritime provinces on the Atlantic Ocean. The colony had been founded two hundred years earlier by William Alexander, the 1st Earl of Stirling, and still retained a strongly Scottish character.

The town that McLeod arrived at was named Pictou, and as it had no church, he quickly established himself as a preacher to the settlers. His congregation was soon nicknamed the “Normanites”, and their numbers grew every year as more and more Scottish emigrants arrived in Canada fleeing the Highland Clearances.

After a stint in Saint Anns on Cape Breton Island, where the meeting house could hold more than a thousand people each Sabbath, the community began to suffer through worse winters, failed crops and lessened imports from potato famine hit Ireland and Scotland.

One of McLeod’s sons had made his way to Australia and sent letters home describing the wonderful life he was living in the Antipodes. Hoping for a better climate and living conditions for his flock, Norman McLeod decided that they needed to move to greener pastures in the Southern Oceans.

The Normanites built their own ships and in 1851 they set sail, eventually reaching Australia in the middle of a chaotic gold rush. Crime was rampant at the time and disease ran amok in the cramped mining camps; three of McLeod’s own children died in a typhoid outbreak, and the well-travelled Scots thought that they had made a terrible mistake.

Finally they found a way out. At McLeod’s request, Governor Sir George Grey agreed to give a grant of land in an unsettled region of New Zealand’s North Island. On September 21st, 1853, the now seventy-two year old Norman McLeod and his family and congregation arrived in New Zealand.

The long exodus was over; after two decades in Canada, as well as a few miserable years in Australia, the Scots (by now including many Nova Scotian-born adults) had finally found their final home. Waipu.

Over the next few years the Highlanders would built a thriving town, and by 1860 there were almost a thousand Scotsmen from nearly two-dozen clans living in and around what had only a few years before been untamed bush.

Many of the settlers served in the Land Wars, and during the worst of the troubles, the Waipu settlers procured a number of dogs and trained them to attack Maoris on sight, however the wily natives simply started carrying meat for the dogs with them when they entered the white settlements.

There are many still in Waipu who remember their now far-distant Scottish roots, and a monument erected more than a century ago stands in the town, dedicated to it’s forebears. Along with the names of the ships that brought the settlers to Waipu, the names of the clans and families that took part in the initial migration are engraved.

Also engraved on panels are the names of the clans and families that took part in the initial migration:

Anderson, Buchanan, Campbell, Cameron, Dingwall, Elmsley, Finlayson, Ferguson, Fraser, Gillanders, Gillies, Haswell, Kerr, Kempt, Matheson, Morrison, Munro, McKenzie, McKay, McGregor, Mclnnes, McAuley, McRae, McLeod, McDonald, McLean, McLennan, McNab, Mclssac, McPhee, McBeth, McMillan, McQuarrie, Nicholson, Ross, Stewart, Sutherland, Urquhart.

For a long time the Waipu settlers were the largest group of whites in the area, and they were known to many by the traditional nickname for Nova Scotians, “bluenoses”. Politicians in electoral races campaigned specifically to win the Nova Scotian vote, and the Canadians garnered a reputation as a “manly lot; frugal, energetic, self reliant…”.

As well as founding Waipu, the bluenoses would settle Omaha, Whangarei Heads, McGregors Island (now High Island), McKenzies Cove, Kaurihohore, Millbrook and other parts of the Far North. Their Highland Gaelic language lasted into the early twentieth century through elderly colonists, but the younger generations quickly Anglicised.

The connection to Canada lasted longer, and in 1944 the town’s ninetieth anniversary was celebrated through the planting of 150 trees sent as saplings from Nova Scotia, using a century-old spade brought by James Sutherland from Scotland to Canada and finally New Zealand.

Many other Canadians, most also Scottish in origin, would settle in New Zealand. The second Superintendent of Marlborough Province was a Fredericton, New Brunswick man named William Baillie. One of the many fortifications used during the Taranaki Wars was known as the Canada Redoubt, as it was built on land near Hawera belonging to the Canadian Middlemass and Douglass families.

Captain William Douglas Hall Baillie, Superintendent of Marlborough Province

Lieutenant Middlemass fought during the Taranaki Wars as a commander of the Carlyle Rifles (Carlyle = modern Patea), and worked to defend the settlers around his redoubt. One of the Nova Scotian-born settlers of Waipu, John Gillander, would firstly join a Parnell militia unit before becoming an orderly to Gustavus von Tempsky of the Forest Rangers, even being present at von Tempsky’s death.

In Taranaki there is a place called Brunswick, named by the land’s original owner Tamberlain Campbell for the Canadian province he emigrated from. Near Seddon on the South Island is a place called Blairich, named by the Highlander George McRae after his original home village (before emigrating to Canada).

One of the deep-bush scouts during the Land Wars was a Nova Scotian named Ross, familiar with the woods of his own homeland, he explored the Tarawera and Taupo areas with ease. A French Canadian volunteer in the militia during the Tauranga campaign was once imprisoned for trying to convince his comrades to desert and join the Hauhaus.

Another party of French Canadians made a living on the Otago goldfields by building timber rafts and taking prospectors and travellers from Lake Pembroke (Wanaka) down the Molyneux (Clutha) River to Dunstan (Clyde). A group of Cape Breton Scots named Alexander, Kenneth and Roderick McGregor built a shipyard at Whangarei Heads, and Alexander would go on to dominate the steam-ship trade around Auckland until the end of the century.

While many of the Canadian settlers came to New Zealand via other colonies, there were also several emigrant ships that came directly from Canada, including the ships Australia, Lady Grey, Gertrude, Spray, Breadalbane, Ellen Lewis, Prince Edward, George Henderson, Pakeha and Emulous.

On Waipu’s settlers monument, along with the names of the ships and the men, you will find the following explanation:

To commemorate the arrival in New Zealand of that noble band of Empire Builders, who left the Highlands of Scotland about the latter end of the eighteenth century for Nova Scotia, and migrated thence during the years 1851-60, and who, by their undaunted courage, and their steadfast faith in God, did so much to mould the destinies of their adopted homes. Where the path of duty was plain fear had no place. Neither danger nor hardship daunted them.”

We also commemorate and admire the arrival of the Bluenosed Nova Scotians, as well as all the other disparate bands of settlers from all over the Empire that built this country from the ground up.

Alba gu bràth! Alba Nuadh gu bràth! Sealainn Nuadh gu bràth!

4 thoughts on “The Bluenoses”

  1. Nice article. One point of contention, Canada was not federated into a single nation until after the scottish settlers from nova scotia arrived in nz.
    They spoke Gaelic entirely; they existed independently with little or no interaction with other settlements, being wholly self sufficient; the Reverend being both civil and religious leader. To refer to a displaced west highland Scottish community as ‘Canadians’ is plum wrong- the nation didn’t exist , as we know it. and they nor any of their descendants everconsidered themselves as such or referred to themselves like this.
    I spent several decades in waipu.
    P.s Rev McLeod only marked/partially cut the young lads ear. Barbarous to us, but not an unheard of punishment for theft in those times.

  2. A fascinating article. My great-grandfather, William, emigrated to Auckland from Ayrshire in 1872. Although now spread all over the country, the majority iof his descendants (now the 5th generation) are still in Auckland. The author: is “Spoonlet” correct?

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