Highlanders of Waipu
Chapter XIV - Wedding Bells
The winter of 1851 was a very severe one in Nova
Scotia. Early in the season a British ship put into St. Ann’s Bay for
shelter and became ice-bound. One of her officers was Hugh Anderson, a
tall and handsome man of 22 summers. To while the time away while
his ship was ice-bound Hugh was in the habit of visiting
the St. Ann’s settlement and the ships that were abuilding there.
Here he frequently met the minister’s lovely daughter
Margaret, or Peggy, as she was locally known, and immediately fell in love
with her. Cupid’s ways are mysterious, and Hugh became an almost daily
visitor in some part of the settle— ment. The wideawakes gradually
surmised that Hugh was a fond admirer of the belle of St. Ann’s. He
gradually pushed his way into the manse on the plea of desiring to learn
Gaelic from the young people of the manse. Mrs. McLeod, with a woman’s
intuition, soon perceived the object of his visits; but thinking that he
and his ship would soon be away and she and her family on the way
to Australia, remained silent. Hugh was a diligent Gaelic
scholar, and readily committed to memory such phrases as he desired to
learn. His favourite one was "thoir gaol do, mo callin boidheach, laoghach"
(give me your love my handsome bonnie lassie). When Cupid drives, man soon
accommodates himself to Babel’s tongues. In a few weeks Hugh managed to
sing in Gaelic one of Burns’ songs
Bhcir aodann Phegi is a dealbh,
Nimh aois is aonarachd air falbh;
Chuireadh inntin Phegi’s a luach maoin,
Seun air ceud-dhuin a chinne daoin.
My Peggy’s face, my Peggy’s form,
The frost of hermit’s age might warm;
My Peggy’s worth, my Peggy’s mind,
Might charm the first of human kind.
I love my Peggy’s angel air,
Her face so truly heavenly fair,
Her native grace so void of art;
But I adore my Peggy’s heart.
Early in the spring the ice broke
and Hugh’s ship moved out into open water.
When she was ready to resume her
voyage, officer Hugh could not be found, and it was surmised that he had
been drowned while attempting to regain his ship over the broken ice.
There were loud lamentations in St. Ann’s when the
supposed fate of the gallant officer became known. The ship sailed away,
while the second officer was logged as lost. Some days afterwards Hugh
reappeared, and sought employment on the building of the St. Ann’s ships.
This was readily proffered him, and he it was who carved the form of Peggy
as a figurehead for the "Margaret." No one asked how he had survived his
drowning, but it was surmised that Peggy and some of her girl friends had
a hand in his recovery.
When the "Margaret" was ready for sailing Hugh offered
to join her as navigating officer. Norman was so
engrossed in his parochial duties that he may not have observed the
ravages that Cupid threatened in his family. He demurred at this stranger
accompanying them, but Hugh had several friends amongst the people and
even in Norman’s family, so that eventually Hugh
joined the company and continued with them until
they had settled at Waipu.
Then he decided to approach Norman for the hand of
Peggy, now the belle of Waipu as formerly of St. Ann’s. It was the case of
Laban and Jacob over again. "Peradventure," said Hugh, ‘1 have served thee
and thy people for three long years, and now I have come to ask for the
hand of your lovely daughter Peggy." Then answered Norman, "thou are not
of our people, and Peggy cannot understand you or go amongst strangers."
"Aye," said Hugh, "that she can; for has she not taught me to speak
Gaelic, and has she not made a gaidheal (Highlander) out of a Gallda
(Lowlander)." With this Mrs. McLeod and Peggy appeared, and Norman quickly
read in Mary’s eyes the object of their interview. "Well, well," said
Norman, "silver and gold have I none, but in Peggy you have a treasure,
and with her you get my blessings and that of Heaven also."
The news soon spread abroad that Peggy and Hugh were
engaged to be married, and as both of them were very popular it was
decided to give them a grand Highland wedding. Weddings, like other things
in life, seldom come singly, and at the same time it was announced that
the wedding of Ina McKay and Hector McKenzie was also to he celebrated.
The marriages were proclaimed in church on three successive Sundays. The
brides during this period were in strict seclusion. Generally on the
Friday night preceding the wedding day the bride in each case received all
her female friends at her home. This was referred to as "oidhche nigh nan
cas" or the night of the feet washing. In the same way there was "oidhche
nan reiteach" or contract night. Originally both these ceremonies were of
a religious character, but after the Reformation they dwindled into nights
of merriment. The girl friends of the bride insisted upon washing her
feet, and during the ceremony they frequently added some colouring
material to the water to increase the fun. All of them brought some small
present for the bride extending from articles of furniture and dress to
ordinary food. Indeed, a popular bride was well set up after the feet
The bridegroom’s time came on a night or two before his
wedding day. Then all his young male friends came to see him at his home
during the evening and brought with them a great variety of simple and
useful gifts. In the Highlands each man brought some whisky, which was
generally used during the night’s festivities. In wine-for-bidden Waipu
they contented themselves with tea and tobacco. After a night of song and
story, the bridegroom stood at the door, and as each guest passed out he
was offered a glass of whisky and a hearty handshake. This drink was known
as "deoch an doras," or drink at the door. This was intended as a farewell
ceremony, for next day the bridegroom became the property of his bride and
no longer joined in the merrymaking of his former friends.
On the wedding day the bride and bridegroom marched
each with separate parties headed by a piper to the local church. Here the
ceremony was performed, and after that they marched arm in arm, headed by
the pipers and followed by all the wedding guests, to the bride’s home,
where the wedding festivities were partaken of. The young men fired guns,
while the girls flew ribbons as emblems of joy.
According to the social status of the individual these
festivities continued for one, two, or three days. There were no wedding
trips and no necessity for them. On the Sunday following the wedding all
the guests reassembled at the bride’s home and followed the young couple
to church. This was known as the day of "beachdaichu," or kirking, or
viewing. After church, the procession was reformed, and they returned arm
in arm to the bride’s home. This occasion was generally the last time that
this man and woman would be seen walking arm in arm. The two were now
publicly constituted man and wife, so that death alone could part them.
All those quaint habits have disappeared from Waipu, but they still
persist in the more remote parts of the Highlands.
Shortly after the wedding, Mr. and Mrs. Anderson
removed to Auckland where he established a shipping business which throve
immensely. For many years Mrs. Anderson was a prominent figure in church
and social affairs. Many old Aucklanders still speak of her as a most
kindly and charitable woman. They reared a family of one daughter and
three sons, some of whom still reside in Auckland. When it came to the
laying down of their burdens, this romantic couple departed honoured and
beloved by everyone who knew them.
AUCKLAND WHARFBUILDING AND HARVESTING.
Wharfage accommodation at Auckland in 1853, when the
"Highland Lass" arrived, was non-existent; but shortly thereafter
improvements began. The government of the day decided to begin operations,
and at this work several of the Waipu men found employment. They were well
fitted for this job, being handy men with tools and any woodwork. The sea
at this period of the city’s history lapped the foot of Shortland Street,
so that it required much reclamation and a long jetty to make conditions
comfortable for the sailing ships that visited the harbour. Timber was
handy, as little settlement had as yet taken place in the surrounding
country. The wages of these days were small (2s. per day), but a raupo
(reed) hut served as a home, while fish and flesh were cheap. Then, too,
the work of harvesting gave considerable employment. There were no large
fields of grain and no reaping machines, so that all reaping had to be
performed by the common reaping hook. At this work the Waipu men were
experts, and numbers of them came every autumn to the Auckland district to
work in the harvest fields. This employment enabled them to extend their
holdings and supply their families with absolute necessaries, while land
clearing and food growing proceeded. Some of the Waipu families still
treasure the tools with which their fathers built the first wharf in
Auckland. Such things would be welcome exhibits in an "Old Settlers’
Museum," but scattered as they are they will soon disappear.
Ceileidh (chat) (sounds Kaley) is a very ancient
Highland institution. How old it is is probably unknown, but it is
referred to as early as the Norman Conquest, and doubtless is as old as
man. In those early days, and even still in remote districts, it served
the part of newsvendor or newspaper. To acquire information regarding the
doings and sayings of other people is a very primitive human instinct.
Vendors of news in various guises tramped the country and were welcome
guests in many homes owing to the information they were supposed to
possess. The origin of the word is uncertain, but it may have originated
from "ceil-de," a preserver of the fire, or otherwise a "culdee." These
were the early collectors and purveyors of news. From this word comes
‘ Caileir," or the story-teller, or warbler;
while the thing itself is called " Ceileidh."
Whatever its origin, the system has come down through the ages as a
meeting at which news, music, and enjoyment are dispensed to the
inhabitants of a district. In this latter sense it still exists, and in
early Waipu the " Ceileidh" "
was a recognized institution. There were no local newspapers and no
travelling newsvendors to satisfy human curiosity, so the "Ceileidhs" took
their place. In much the same way all over the civilized world we have our
social gatherings, our dinners, our afternoon teas, our smokes, our
drinks, and our visitings, at which all manner of news is purveyed. In
every town, village, and district there springs up some individual or some
house which acquires fame as a news centre. Owing to their isolation and
being strangers in a strange land, the people of Waipu were needful of
some common centre of conversation and communication. The "ceileidh," or
corroboree, shifted from house to house according to circumstances. The
evening was generally spent in reciting the news of the district or the
contents of letters and any newspapers received from abroad. Excepting
Maoris they had no neighbours, but the language bar effectually shut them
off from Maori intercourse. Music, songs, story-telling, and dancing were
the common means of whiling the time away. It is truly said that man is a
gregarious animal. He loves the company of his fellows, and in this
company food, conversation, and amusement play the principal part.
Look at the map of New Zealand, and on its far
northeastern coast look for latitude 36 S., where lie Whangarei Heads and
the Hen and Chicken Islands. The great navigator, Captain Cook, gave
Whangarei Heads the name of Bream Head from its resemblance to the bold
black head of the bream fish, so common to British waters. From Bream Head
to Bream Tail is a distance of some 20 miles, and close to the shore lies
a group of half a dozen islands called the Hen and Chickens. All those
islands are uninhabited. The largest (The Hen) is about 10 miles in
circumference, while the others are much smaller. They lie at from two to
three miles from the shore, and are completely bush-clad, and the home of
A DELIGHTFUL SITUATION.
Waipu Bay runs in a curved inland fashion all the way
from Bream Head to Bream Tail. It is a great low-lying sandy beach covered
with a great variety of large and small shells. The islands shelter it
beautifully, so that one might travel the world over and not find a more
delightful spot. No wonder "Moses and Aaron" (Captain Duncan McKenzie and
the Rev. Norman McLeod) chose this spot, for it strongly resembles much of
the west coast of Scotland. Standing on the beach and looking landwards
and westwards, Maungaturoto (mountain between two seas) raises its crown
some 3,000 feet in the air. From either end of the mountain runs in a
crescent shape towards the sea a chain of hills, the northern one being
named Maungapai and the southern Maungawai. Maungaturoto is about 15 miles
inland, and along its slopes rises the Waipu River, which runs in an
almost straight line eastwards into the sea. In the course of ages it has
scooped out for itself a level plain of about 15,000 acres surrounded by
low undulating hills. Here, on the sea end of this plain, is located the
original settlement of Waipu. The river enters the sea through a long
sandy beach, and as a consequence it frequently changes its outlet. The
Cove is the name given by the Waipu people to the Tail of the Bream. Here,
when they arrived in 1853, the river entered the sea. It is a low rocky
headland which gives little protection to the river mouth. The name "Cove"
is of Nordic origin. It is common in the north of Scotland, and there it
means a sheltered nook on a rock-bound coast where a boat can find
shelter. It was the name of Norman’s home in St. Ann’s, and no doubt to
this cause it owes its transference to New Zealand.
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