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The Highlanders of Waipu
Chapter XII - Off to Maoriland

The Argonauts of the "Margaret" would probably have sailed for New Zealand almost immediately on the return of Mr. John McKay. It is probable, however, that they had not the means wherewith to finance another expedition. It is true that some of the more capable men left for the gold-fields and accumulated considerable sums of money. Much of it would necessarily be spent in the support of their friends at Melbourne. It is also probable that owing to their rubbing shoulders with so many miners they would be less inclined to further wanderings and the spending of their means on fresh expeditions. When, however, the "Highland Lass" arrived their outlook was changed. Here was a ship owned by the people on board just as they had owned the "Margaret." All that was necessary, therefore, was that the "Highland Lass" should continue her journey for a few more days. With so persuasive an intercessor as Norman and one who was venerated by most of them almost to the point of worship, the persuading of the "Highland Lass" Argonauts was a comparatively easy task.

Mr. John McKay gave a most glowing account of the land he was sent to spy out, and that, coupled with the invitation of Governor Grey, were powerful influences in helping them to come to a decision. It was, therefore, agreed that upon the refitting of the "Highland Lass" she should continue her journey to their land of promise. Such of the heads of families as were at the gold-fields were soon acquainted of the new venture, and they returned to Melbourne with large sums of money prepared to join in the new quest for the Golden Fleece.

The day before they sailed Norman called them together at the Yarra camp and preached another farewell sermon. There was no sadness at the leaving on this occasion, but rather a note of gladness that God had opened a door for them. They were still wandering in the wilderness, but had received commands to proceed on their journey. The Promised Land had been seen by one of their number, and with faith and trust in God all of them would see it in due time. Then he called upon Captain Duncan McKenzie to lead the people in singing the 51st Psalm to the grand old tune of Dundee

"Dean trocair orm a Dhia nan gras"

After Thy loving kindness, Lord,
Have mercy upon me;
For Thy compassion great blot out
All mine iniquity.

Then in fervent prayer he implored the blessings of God upon the people and His protection of them during their journey to the Promised Land.

Early in December, 1852, the "Highland Lass" departed upon the final stage of her journey. Now she was a crowded ship with some 300 souls on board. Each was willing to help the other, and as the journey was expected to be completed in about 20 days no particular routine was practised. December was mid-summer in southern latitudes, so that they experienced long days and a warm sun. Gradually they rounded the North Cape and sailed down the east coast of their intended home. Early in January, 1853, they cast anchor one night under the shelter of Rangitoto Island in the Auckland harbour. Mr. John McKay, who had already visited the harbour, knew the locality and directed the ship to her anchorage. There was no wharf, and hence they were compelled to anchor in the stream. Auckland in those days was a mere village, with a few wooden and ferntree huts nestling around the bay. When the inhabitants awoke on this fateful morning they saw a strange craft crowded with people lying in their harbour. Who could she be? Where_did she come from? What was her business? These were questions that flew from one to the other. They knew of no ship that was expected to carry so many people. Whalers frequently visited the port, but their boats were of a different build and carried only a limited crew. Thoughts of piracy ran round the settlement and spy glasses were brought to bear upon the stranger. Then the national colours were hoisted, and a party went out to reconnoitre. In due time they returned and reported that here was a shipload of Nova Scotians roaming the world in search of a new home. Governor Grey invited their leaders to come ashore and discuss their business. This they did, and then they were shown several areas of land around the infant settlement that was open for them to purchase. Three hundred people would require a considerable area of fertile land so as to enable them to make a successful settlement. They also wished to settle in the one locality, and this added to their difficulties in settlement. They spent several days looking around the infant city. Meantime Sir Donald McLean, of Hawke’s Bay, and Mr. James Macandrew, of Dunedin, heard of their arrival and their desire for suitable lands upon which to settle. Each of these gentlemen sent them pressing invitations to come to their respective districts where abundance of fertile land awaited them at a nominal price. They were inclined to accept Mr. Macandrew’s offer of land in the Oamaru district, but upon hearing that it was treeless and no port available they declined the offer. Governor Sir George Grey was anxious that they should remain in the Auckland district as European settlers were greatly desired there as a check upon the Maoris. Here was a compact body of people who could readily defend themselves, and at the same time were expert bushmen who could easily adapt themselves to all the pioneering difficulties. Towards this end he bethought himself of the Waipu block of land which had recently been the subject of inquiry by the government. It lay along the east coast about 100 miles north of Auckland. It was said to have been purchased by a trader named Busby from the Maori owners for three bales of blankets. By this purchase he was said to have acquired a right to about 60,000 acres. The purchase was considered invalid by the government, but to avoid litigation it offered him one shilling per acre. For many years afterwards Mr. Busby presented his claim to the government but was denied a hearing.

As this land transaction throws light upon the early modes of land dealing in New Zealand, we may quote here the words of one of the original Nova Scotians who settled there:-

Mr. Bedlington, the government surveyor who conducted the survey of the block after we had taken possession, told us that 30,000 acres of the Waipu block had been secured by Mr. Busby for three bales of blankets. The Provincial Government of the day seized this block by paying Mr. Busby one shilling per acre. Whether this was a purchase or an option it is hard to say at this distance of time. The "Highland Lass" people paid ten shillings per acre for their land, but of course they had their choice and most excellent land it was. Mr. Busby fought his case before the Provincial Government for several years, and eventually, during Mr. Gillies’ superintendency, was permitted to bring his case before Parliament. The seat of government had been removed to Wellington in 1865, and the first parliament sitting there granted Mr. Busby Ł30,000 for the block granted to the Nova Scotian people.


Norman formed a party and led them into the wilderness in search of Waipu. They could not travel by land as there were no roads, and, further, the country was occupied by a savage and hostile people who resented the land hunger of the Pakeha (white man). In those circumstances he hired a long boat, and accompanied by Captain Duncan McKenzie, John McKay, John Fraser, and Kenneth Ding-wall they sailed up the coast to the Hen and Chicken Islands, which lie opposite to the country which they wished to explore. All went well, and they landed at the mouth of the Waipu River which at that time entered the sea near to a low rocky headland named Bream Tail. Here they found a beaten track which led inland. This they followed through the bush until they arrived at a forest-clad hill of about 1,000 feet in height up which the track led. Ascending this hill a glorious panorama spread itself before them. Higher and higher they climbed until they arrived at its summit. Here they found the ruins of a deserted settlement. This evidently was the home of the Maoris who had bartered their land to Mr. Busby, while the pathway up which they had travelled was the Maori trail to and from the beach. Here was a palisaded enclosure of about one acre in extent. A deep trench surrounded it, and at each corner of the square were high watch towers. All around the ground was covered with shells, bones, stone weapons, timber, and other refuse which formed the kitchen middin of its native inhabitants. What a glorious view unfolded itself from this point of vantage. Immediately below them lay the sacred Vale of Ares. On their left arose the silvery peak of Maungaturoto. On the right the purple isles of the ocean (Hen and Chickens), while in the distance rose the bold black headland known as Bream Head (Whangarei Heads). North and south rose range upon range of glorious mountain scenery that immediately appealed to these sons of the mountains. Close by them arose a giant Kauri tree, and on scanning its branches Norman beheld the Golden Fleece hanging from its topmost boughs. He advanced, climbed the tree, secured the Golden Fleece, and was happy. As he descended there arose from the most northerly watch-tower the form of a charming dusky maiden who thus addressed him :—" Stranger, you have come from afar. You have sailed many seas, encountered many dangers, endured many disappointments, and now you have your reward. I led you thither, and now the Sacred Vale of Ares is for you and your people. I am Medea, but of that more anon; follow me." Then she led him to a spot in the sacred Grove of Ares where three rivers met. " Here," said she, "you shall build your altar and name it Waipu, or, in your own tongue, Ranhurn (ran, roaring; burn, water)." Then they returned to the hill which Norman christened Mount Pisgah in commemoration of the hill from which another great leader viewed his Promised Land. Fearing some treachery Medea urged him to hurry away with the Golden Fleece and, leading the way, she ran down the hill to "Colchis" (Bream Tail) where the "Argo" lay. When they boarded the craft she waved her hand. Then a breeze sprang up which rapidly carried them to Auckland.

What joy there was on board the "Highland Lass" when the Argonauts returned. Their task was accomplished and here was the Golden Fleece. The heroes were crowded with laurels, the pipers played the Highland Laddie, the "Highland Lass" spread her skirts to the winds, danced over the waves, and arrived at the "City of Colchis."

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