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New Zealand - Dunedin


Dunedin! It's impossible to imagine any city more remote from Scotland and yet, at the same time, so quintessentially Scottish. The architecture, the street names, the beautiful setting by the sea, the long blue arm of Otago Bay reaching up to the spectacular green hills that cradle the city: it's all so familiar to the eyes of a Scot. And no wonder. Dunedin proudly claims to be the the most Scottish city in New Zealand. It's very name is Gaelic for Edinburgh.

With the Otago Settlers Museum in Dunedin's Queen's Gardens, a very large room with great vaulted ceilings, is devoted entirely to the framed photographic portraits of the men and women who pioneered the city and its surrounding districts. Wonderful sepia-toned images line the walls from floor to ceiling, rank upon rank of stern, bearded men and their solemn, determined looking wives. There are the Scots who came in their thousands about the middle of the 19th century and who made Dunedin for many years, the biggest, wealthiest, most impressive city in New Zealand. Their influence, their work ethic, their values are still very much alive and well in the lovely, leafy university city today.

The first settlers, who arrived in 1848 after a cramped and tortuous passage aboard the John Wickliffe and the Philip Laing, were members of the newly formed Free Church of Scotland which was established after the great split with the Presbyterian Church. They came seeking freedom of worship in a land untouched by religious strife. They were led by two dynamic individuals, the Reverend Thomas Burns, a nephew of the poet, Robert Burns, and William Cargill, of the 74th Highlanders. In 1844, Burns wrote to Cargill: "If it shall be God's will that we shall succeed in establishing this colony, I persuade myself, with His blessing attending us, we may be instrumental in planting down in these favoured islands a well ordered, God-fearing community that may stand in these remote regions a sample of the Kingdom of Christ which like a light burning in a dark place, shall bear no indistinct testimony to the Truth".

Many of the Scots who journeyed out with Burns and Cargill were stockholders in the New Zealand Company which had purchased title to the land around Otago Harbour from the Maori people who had lived there for thousands of years. For 13 years they had the place pretty much to themselves. But in 1861 all that was to change. Gold was discovered just 60 miles away and within months Dunedin was swamped by hundreds of thousands of get-rich-quick miners. The population doubled and, when more gold was discovered in 1862, even more rough and ready miners, many of them Australians, flooded in from across the Tasman. By 1871 Otago has a population of 70,000. Twenty three million pounds worth of gold was won from the Otago goldfields in the first tumultuous decade. A further 23,000 arrived with the stimulus to growth created by huge public works schemes. Streets were paved and lit and a town gas supply laid on. Grand Victorian buildings, most of which still stand, mirror the prosperity and confidence of the era. And, as befits the vision of Burns and Cargill, the most splendid of them all was the new Presbyterian First Church opened in 1873. Industrial and commercial enterprises flourished, the agricultural and pastoral sectors expanded and Dunedin's merchants and shipping agents imported raw materials and luxury items for the whole country.

Evidence of that great wealth is to be seen throughout the city today from the extraordinary grandeur of its Victorian railway station to the confident, solid, granite towers of Otago university.


 

 


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