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Mini Biographies of Scots and Scots Descendants (C)
Cullen's of New Zealand


James Cullen - (1818-1905) - Farmer

Born at Lochwood Farm near Coatbridge in 1818, he was the third youngest son of William Cullen and Margaret Murray who married at Hamilton in 1799. In 1839 he went to a meeting in Glasgow sponsored by the Duke of Hamilton, the Duke of Argyll and the Lord Provost of Glasgow to encourage colonisation schemes to New Zealand, which led to him being selected as one of the first 89 emigrants and 33 children who sailed on the ‘Bengal Merchant’ from Greenock on the 31st October 1839. It was not until the 10th February 1840 that they sighted the Southern Alps of South Island, but they first anchored off D’Urville Island on the entrance to Cook Strait, before arriving at Port Nicholson, near Wellington, 113 days after leaving Greenock.

At that time there were probably no more than 1,000 Europeans living around New Zealand, and Wellington was then a very primitive little town, with a hut which had neither windows or doors being the only ‘boarding house’. When other passengers told their tales of Wellington winds and the howling at night of the wild dogs, he was glad enough that he had decided to stay on board the ‘Bengal Merchant’. For three weeks the passengers still living on the ship went ashore daily to build their own huts. After cutting down tree ferns, they rammed them into the ground, laced them together with bark, then daubed the interiors with clay to make them watertight.

In spite of the many privations for these pioneers, they did enjoy the pleasures of the unspoiled natural beauty of the ancient forest. This tranquil beauty was regularly broken by the ring of axes as the forest was cleared, the fallen trees burned and wheat and potatoes planted among the charred logs. With the benefit of the woodash and the compost from many centuries of fallen leaves, the potatoes grew to the most enormous size and were of the finest flavour. ….. There were of course many Maoris, not all of them friendly, and in those days the hakas were full of real meaning. James found himself working with a Maori named Topi in his first employment, sawing timber to build a house for a local lawyer. It is said that Topi was surprised to find that such a small man could keep pace with him at the end of a saw. Indeed the only assets which James Cullen had were his youth, his good health and his willingness to work hard.

He went on to do survey work around Wellington with one Charles Kettle, but lack of funding by the New Zealand Company caused the suspension of this work, and in 1843 he took up storekeeping with another ‘Bengal Merchant’ passenger, Archibald Anderson. This store was at Thornton on the north end of the beach, selling groceries, wines and spirits, oil and lamp wicks and men’s working clothes, but in 1845 both men decided to move south to Dunedin. At that time Dunedin was an isolated spot with more wild pigs than domestic stock, but Cullen was enchanted with the beauty of the virgin bush. Archibald Anderson established a farm at Kelvin Grove overlooking the harbour at Koputai (Port Chalmers), and James Cullen helped with the cattle and crops. The following year Charles Kettle returned from England to survey the Otago Block and both men assisted him with this work, but in April 1848 another ship arrived at Dunedin with imigrants from Glasgow. This was of course a day of great excitement for the settlers, and on board the ‘Philip Laing’ was the matron, Isabella Stevenson from Kilsyth with her four sons and two daughters Jane and Ann. James Cullen and another friend Hopper Clearwater were among the crowd gathered to greet the new arrivals, and were immediately attracted to the Stevenson sisters. With his eight years experience in the colony, James was able to show many of the settlers how to go about building their tree-fern cottages, which was essential before the winter set in, and he certainly helped the Stevenson family to build their house of pungas. Both Cullen and Clearwater were regular visitors at the Stevenson house during that first very severe winter, and in December 1848 Hopper Clearwater married Ann Stevenson.

James Cullen continued to work with Archibald Anderson, but in 1849 he went into business as the first carrier in Dunedin. He set up a stable in what is now Manse Street and had a cart sent out from Britain. This business prospered and he was involved in the building of the first jetty at Dunedin, but his aim was to have a farm of his own. March 1849 was the first anniversary of the Stevenson’s arrival and after the Thanksgiving service James proposed to Jane. They married the following autumn in March 1850, and their first home was in Dunedin where he developed his business of carting and ploughing for local farmers. It was when one of these farmers returned to Australia that James got his opportunity to purchase a farm at East Taieri. This was on the Taieri plain, north west of Dunedin and apart from the farm produce they soon developed Owhiro farmhouse to provide accommodation for travellers.

In 1860 he sent to Scotland for a number of Clydesdale horses, which his youngest brother Peter Smith Cullen brought with him when he emigrated to Dunedin in 1860. Soon after he arrived in New Zealand, gold was discovered near Dunedin and the brothers worked together, supplying their produce to the large number of prospectors who arrived in the area.

James Cullen and Jane never returned to their native Scotland, but they had a family of seven sons and two daughters and many of their descendants still live in New Zealand. This information and the quotations are taken from research done by their grand daughter, Pearl Watt, between 1950 and 1970, which was published in a book entitled ‘The Advance Guard’.

James Cullen and Jane Stevenson in 1900
James Cullen and Jane Stevenson in 1900

Peter Smith Cullen – (1826 – 1918) - Farmer

The youngest son of William Cullen and Margaret Murray who lived at Lochwood Farm near Coatbridge until about 1840, when they moved to Kilsyth. Peter is recorded as having been a Wine & Spirit merchant in Glasgow in the 1850’s, but in 1860 he emigrated to New Zealand to join his brother James. On the 26th April 1860 he left Greenock on the ‘Pladda’ with a consignment of Clydesdale horses for his brother, arriving at Dunedin on the 24th August. These were in fact the first stud horses to be shipped from Scotland to New Zealand. At first he helped his brother on his farm at East Taieri, near Dunedin, but in 1863 he married Ann Raeburn Russell who had emigrated with her family from West Calder in 1857.

For 17 years they had their own farm at North Taieri where they had eight sons and four daughters between 1864 and 1881. They continued farming in that district until 1891, and had another son and daughter before they moved to Pine Bush Farm, near Gore in Eastern Southland. Peter died in 1918 and Ann in 1922, and both are buried at Gore Cemetery. Peter and Ann never returned to Scotland, but there are many descendants who are still living in New Zealand.

David J Hodgeton


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