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The Highlanders of Waipu
Chapter XX - Isolation of the People

For many years the Waipu settlers remained a very isolated community. They had no near European neighbours, as the bulk of the land belonged to the Maoris. They had neither roads, railways, nor telegraphs, and could hold no communication with the outside world except by sea. They retained their Gaelic speech, and this acted as a deterrent to the Maoris. The latter were told that these strange Pakehas came from a land called Nova Scotia, but this conveyed no meaning to those who knew not where that land lay or the language of its people. As these new Pakehas had settled upon land that had been sold, and were sufficiently numerous to defend themselves, they were not disturbed. Gradually, however, the Maoris died out or removed to other localities, and so left room for the extension of Waipu. In his contact with the Pakeha the Maori copied all his vices, but rarely his virtues. As a result, the vices rapidly decimated them, and the few remaining joined some more distant tribes. As the Maoris departed the Europeans entered, and this gradually brought outsiders into Waipu. These strangers described them as a strange people who spoke an unknown tongue and practised strange habits. They were very religious, and went to church morning and evening in their own homes (family worship). They said long prayers before and after each meal, while their homes were open to every visitor. There were no hotels, no boarding houses, no shops, no places of amusement, no police, and no locks. Every home and all goods seemed to be the common property of all the people. They were indeed a simple rural people, whose lives and methods were ideal, and whose trust and hospitality were boundless. They were governed by their own traditions of mutual help, mutual trust, and mutual goodwill. Their church was their common rallying centre, while their minister was to them as one of the prophets of old.

Social isolation could not last indefinitely. Strange young men gradually found their way into Waipu. The maidens of the land soon bewitched them, so the gallants carried them off as did Young Lochinvar of old. Gaelic was no bar where Cupid was concerned. Old Mother Nature makes sport of the conventions of men, so that nothing can thwart her purposes. Asking one old lady how it was all done when she could not speak English and he could not speak Gaelic, she replied: "Ach, laddie, he gied me a wink and I gied him a wink. He gied me a squeeze and I gied him a squeeze. I said, ‘Ian mo gaol’ (John my love), and I taught him to say ‘Shonad mo gaol’ (Jessie my love), and it was done that way as easy as anything." Ah, Adam and Eve over again; for the old Mother is infinite in her resources when her purposes are at stake.


Religion is a human instinct. Every race, savage or civilized, practise some form of it. It seems to have been the dominating influence in the lives of these people. Both at St. Ann’s and at Waipu it was their opiate, and it is incomparably superior to the alcoholic and tobacco opiate of so many of our people. It was much the same in the Highlands of Scotland, for there religion soothed all their woes. In their tribal days they expended their energies in fighting or raiding one another. The ‘45 ended all that, and some new outlet became necessary. The State Church was in no ways controlled by them, and towards it they were somewhat indifferent. They had no interest in the politics of the country, as they had no votes; hence they were at a loose end in their lives. The great Pitt perceived this and drafted them into the Army. Then the disruption in the Church of Scotland came and with it the Free Church.

Now the people had something of their own to talk about, quarrel about, and expend their energies. They accepted the position, and through it vented their ill-will or good-will upon foe or friend as the occasion demanded. People seem to find it necessary to have something to talk about and fight over. The human mind cannot rest. It wants problems to solve and objects upon which to spend its energies, affections, and animosities. Close every such outlet and the social fabric soon explodes. In this respect, work, religion, politics, games, and amusements are safety valves, and we ought to accord them every reasonable liberty.


Norman seems to have been thoroughly imbued with the ideals of Christian Socialism. He taught his people to help each other as the occasion demanded. If sickness, disaster, or accident overtook anyone then the others were morally bound to help. It is related that he even borrowed money from such as had it and used it to help those who required it, or even for the Common good. If they could repay the debt, good and well; if not, all was forgiven, and the community had to bear the brunt. His rule was patriarchal, his office priestly, and his word law. This Christian Socialism with which they began the settlement was an experiment in New Zealand, and it may have justified itself. There are many evidences of it still in existence in the settlement, but owing to the building of a township, the influx of strangers, railways, motor cars, and shops, it is doomed to extinction. While a people are isolated without money, and dependent upon the good-will of their neighbours, this form of life works quite satisfactorily; but as colonization advances, and money, goods, and strangers pour into the country, then the simple life of Christian Socialism fails to satisfy the people so that changes are inevitable. The young people of to-day laugh at the antiquated modes and manners of their ancestors and will not endure them. They move into the towns and cities, they travel around the world, they see and learn new ideas, and to them money is essential in every phase of life. The old people regret the change. They speak of the "good old days" with the greatest affection; but they cannot stem the rising tide. A few more years and all of them will have crossed the Jordan, then Waipu and its story will be but a page in the history of New Zealand, and their Christian Socialism will have died with them.


During Norman’s day family worship was universal in Waipu. In his day the practice was general throughout Scotland. The people carried it with them to Canada and subsequently to New Zealand. Burns’ "Cottar’s Saturday Night" was as applicable to Waipu as to Ayr morning and evening :—

They, round the ingle, form a circle wide;
The sire turns o’er wi’ patriarchal grace,
The big ha’ Bible, once his father’s pride,
And, "let us worship God," he says with solemn air.


They tune their hearts, and chant in artless notes,
Perhaps Dundee’s wild warbling measures rise,
Or plaintive Martyrs worthy of the name.
The priest-like father reads the sacred page,
Then kneeling down to Heaven’s Eternal King,
The saint, the father, and the husband prays.

All this we witnessed one night at Waipu. We gathered round the table. as fires are unnecessary in sub-tropical Waipu. Then the aged father reached for the "Big Ha’ Bible" from off the shelf and, speaking in Gaelic, said, "Let us worship God," or in the Gaelic vernacular, "bithith sinn gabhal an leabhar," or taking the books. He read a portion of the 51st Psalm :—

"Dean trocair orm a Dhia nan gras"
(Be merciful to me O God)

in which the whole household joined. After this he read a portion of the Sermon on the Mount, and then we all knelt and repeated in Gaelic The Lord’s Prayer. This procedure has been the custom of the household ever since their arrival at Waipu.

The proceedings recalled to memory precisely similar ones in dear old Scotia, and while upon our knees we felt as children transported to the scenes of youth and of other days and lands. What a fine institution this is, and what a pity it has fallen into general disuse. Proud man, wicked man, thoughtless man on these occasions realizes his own insignificance and his dependence upon a higher power.


Offences of any kind were rare events. The people knew that if any such things were reported to Norman they would be chastened from the pulpit. They were there as brothers, the children of one family, and they must learn to honour each other. No one had locks, hence everyone’s property was at his neighbour’s mercy. It was, therefore, unwise to offend or quarrel, for yourself and your goods were common property. The people had to depend upon each others’ good offices and assistance; hence good relations were essential.

Moral offences were practically unknown. So severe was the social ostracism and church discipline that the offender might just as well retire into the wilderness. Wide as was his parish, Norman frequently rode to every corner of it, and preached to the people at any hour or any day. He urged them to attend church on Sundays, and as a consequence a hundred or more horsemen and horsewomen from the outlying districts rode every Sunday into Waipu. These Sunday gatherings resembled Sacrament Sunday in the Highlands, where hundreds of horsemen and vehicles of many kinds from the neighbouring parishes wended their way to some hillside where Communion was being celebrated. In the days of Robert Burns these gatherings were common throughout Scotland, and he referred to them as the "Holy Fair," but to-day they can only be witnessed in some remote Highland parish. The older Waipuans carried these old customs with them from Scotland and Nova Scotia, but with their departure so also have departed these great Church gatherings.


The Waipu people have all along displayed a great love of public games. Many of the original settlers were Scottish born, and they no doubt would wish to perpetuate the games of their youth. Each country has its own particular games, and in the Highlands feats of strength such as wrestling, putting the stone, tossing the caber, vaulting, running, and dancing were the popular modes of amusement. All these took root in Waipu from its earliest days, and there the Caledonian Society has been firmly established. The public games are held on New Year’s Day, and attract large bodies of competitors and people from the surrounding districts. Tartans, pipers, and athletic youths make a gallant show, while the language of Eden is universal. The old people grace the occasion, and think of the days that are gone. Many a stiff back and bent leg itches to join in that Scottish Reel and shout "hooch, hooch" as in the days of old, but infirmity debars. They, however, feel rejuvenated, are made happy, and love to think themselves boys and girls once again.


The early Waipuans built quite a number of trading and fishing cutters of from 20 to 50 tons. Mr. Archibald McMillan, Mill Creek, built one of them, which he named the "Thistle," and she proved an excellent asset to the settlement. The sea around the Hen and Chicken Islands abounded in fish, but the work demanded a staunch sailing boat and a capable crew. Frequently the bar at the mouth of the Waipu River was both dangerous and uncertain, but with the "Thistle" they could run to Whangarei Bay in any state of the weather. This bay is a long narrow estuary, and splendidly adapted for boating or shipping. At Mars-den Point on the south side of the estuary is a fine natural landing basin, and here boats can land in any weather. Marsden Point is some 15 miles distant from Waipu, but a few miles on foot in these days were matters of little concern. The "Thistle" gradually became the general messenger to Auckland, and frequently ran down to that rising city with sick people or anyone who had important business to transact. On one of her trips she left Auckland on a Sunday, having some half a dozen passengers on board. As they sailed homewards the wind veered to the north and raised a choppy sea. This entailed much tacking, with the result that night overtook them ere they descried Whangarei Heads. There were no lights along the coast in those days, so that coasting boats had frequently to take shelter in the nearest known port. The Waipu crew knew the coast so well that darkness did not deter them. On they came; here were the Heads, and here the entrance. They were congratulating themselves upon their good luck when a fierce squall and a blinding shower came on. The bay was narrow and tacking in it dangerous. Suddenly a rock loomed up and crash went the "Thistle." They were nearby their landing place at Marsden Point, but in the darkness and commotion a lady and gentleman and one member of the crew were drowned. The Maoris at Kaiwai turned out, but owing to the darkness and gale not a stick of the "Thistle" could be seen. The incident cast a gloom over Waipu. Norman was profuse in his sympathies and comforting the bereaved. As the poignancy of the incident subsided he dilated on the gravity of the event, and expressed the opinion that the incident was a judgment from God for the breaking of the Sabbath Day, and called upon his people for repentance and reformation.


Superstition is as old as man. More or less of it is common to all people and to all nations, and the Waipuans have their share of it. They are not singular in this respect, for all classes and all nationalities in the British Isles have their modicum of it. Learning and intelligence are great aids in keeping it in check, but in spite of these aids it crops up in the most learned breasts. In general it is probably due to ignorance, for no human being knows everything; while heredity plays its part. Indeed, the most learned know only a fraction of what is capable of being known, and so superstition will continue indefinitely. The Waipuans are familiar with the "evil eye," "evil wishing," "mis-calling," "death warnings," "hot ears," "itchy palms," "fortune telling," "cup reading," "love philters," "ghosts," "witches," "wraiths," " fairies," "kelpies," "beltanes," "mermaids," and other forms of these world-wide follies. Second sight is also a common accomplishment. It is looked upon as a prophetic gift bestowed upon holy men and women. When analysed there is little superstition in this gift, for it largely, if not entirely, consists of the processes of induction, or the marvellous powers some people possess of reading signs and the making of safe deductions from those signs. The Waipuans know these things do not exist, but such is the effect of generations of belief and repetition that the most intelligent people find it difficult to completely discard them.

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