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The Highlanders of Waipu

Fair-haired, blue-eyed, his aspect blythe,
His figure tall, and straight, and lythe,
And every feature of his face
Revealing his Norwegian race.

So sings Longfellow, and his picture applies to the Waipuans of to-day. They are of the Celto-Nordic breed common to the whole north of Scotland. The young men and maidens are strikingly handsome, with ruddy cheeks, and much activity of mind and body. If one were suddenly dropped amongst them one might readily imagine oneself in Lochbroom or the Reay Country of McKays. All the older people speak Gaelic fluently, while the young, if they do not speak it, readily understand it. Owing to the influx of strangers, intermarriages, and the progress of trade, it is probable that in another generation or two the Gaelic language will have disappeared. It is hopeless to expect that in a small country such as New Zealand different languages and different races can survive.

The Waipuans of to-day never saw Scotland, while their ancestors left it over 100 years ago. It is, therefore, strange how they have retained so much of their Highland customs and speech.

They are an exceedingly hospitable people, but readily resent any imposition. None of their own people ever suffer from want, for it is an unwritten law amongst them that the strong must help the weak. Should a farmer be behind in his work from illness or poverty, or should the widow and orphan be in want, then their neighbours come to their rescue. They are all their own lairds, while master, visitor, or wanderer sit around the one table. This phase of life is a relic of their early days when distinctions were nonexistent and everyone sang "We’re a’ John Tamson’s Bairns."

Excepting a few Anglicans, which business and inter-marriages have introduced, the whole community belongs to the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand. All the people have comfortable wooden houses, and if they are not a rich community they have abundance of the common necessaries of life.


The people apply the name Centre to the area comprising and surrounding the township of Waipu. It is situated at the spot where the five streams join which go to form the Waipu River (see map). Here the first settlers took up their abode, built their church and school, and so laid the foundation of what some day may be an important town. At present the township consists of some three dozen houses sheltering some 200 people and at present governed by the Whangarei County Council. It has the makings of a very pleasant country retreat. An excellent and abundant supply of water can easily be had from the main branch of the river as it careers madly down the slopes of Maungaturoto. Up this wild and beautiful gorge runs the public road to the Maungaturoto railway station, some 15 miles west of Waipu. The word Waipu is said to mean murmuring waters, or the meeting of the waters, and if the old Maoris gave it that name as characterizing the waters rushing down this stream it is most appropriate. Strange to say, most of the business places in the township are controlled by strangers. It boasts of a bank, a post and telegraph-telephone office, a police station, a garage, a boarding house, otherwise an hotel without a license, for the people never had any licensed premises within their bounds, and they are determined to keep such places outside their bounds as long as possible. The main street, otherwise Culloden Road, runs in a southerly direction from the church to near the spot which originally was Norman’s home. At the northern end of this road, and directly opposite the church, runs Canada Road on through the gorge and ending at the Maungaturoto railway station. At its southern end branches off Assynt Road, where still stand the ruins of Norman’s home. Around this area there extends some 10,000 acres of flat and rich alluvial soil, the product of the various streams in bygone ages. Here grape vines, orange and lemon trees, tobacco, and a multitude of other plants grow well in the open. Here, also, the original settlers who arrived in the "Highland Lass" made their homes, and here their descendants still remain. They are engaged in mixed farming, and life seems to run smoothly with them. One of their principal products is brown top seed, for which they receive from 1s. 6d. to 2s. per pound for all they can grow.

During the ‘seventies and ‘eighties of last century a wonderful industry sprang up in gum digging. The country originally was one dense kauri forest. This tree belongs to the pine family and lives from 1,000 to 5,000 years. It exudes enormous quantities of juice or gum, which gradually solidifies, falls to the ground, and remains there unspoiled for ages. This gum is a valuable article of commerce, and many of the Waipu people received as much as £100 to £200 per acre for the privilege of digging their land in search of this gum. These were the gold-digging days of Waipu, and they laid the foundations of many prosperous farms of to-day. Mr. John R. McKay, of Assynt Road, has a splendid collection of gum specimens, one of them weighing about 20 pounds. John lives under the shadow of Mount Pisgah, and still climbs it to view the Maori Pah and the Sacred Vale of Ares.


The ranks of the Nova Scotians are rapidly dwindling, and now only about a score of them can be found around the township; while Mr. John R. McKay estimates that about three-score of them still survive throughout New Zealand. Excepting about half a dozen, all of them were infants or in the early teens when they left St. Ann’s. Two of them, Mrs. Flora McLennan and Mr. Alex. Kempt, are almost centenarians. They all delight in talking of the early days, the building of the ships, the voyage to Australia and New Zealand, the arrival at Waipu, life in the tents, the Maoris, and the primitive conditions of their existence. It is most interesting to listen to their story while recounting the amazing sights and novel experiences encountered. Mrs. Isobel McKay and Mr. John M. McKay, better known as "The Chief," were just entering their teens as they arrived. These two and Mr. Murdoch Fraser, New Plymouth, are the sole survivors of "The Margaret," while each of them can recount incidents that occurred from the date of their leaving St. Ann’s even until to-day. All of these old people are comfortably situated and make light of their early struggles. Their kindness and hospitality is unbounded, and without their assistance this story could never have been written. Now they sit and croon and say with Lady Nairn:

I'm wearin’ awa’, John,
Like snaw-wreaths in thaw, John,
I’m wearin’ awa’ to the land o’ the leal.
There’s nae sorrow there, John,
There’s neither cauld nor care, John,
The day’s aye fair i’ the land o’ the leal.


The Gaelic language seems doomed to extinction as a spoken language throughout the British Empire. No language is a permanent institution in any country. It must undergo changes to suit the times and conditions under which we live. How few Saxons can read Chaucer, and conversely how few Gaels can read the original Gaelic of Ossian! The Celts, Saxons, Nordics, and Normans have lost themselves in the general mixture. Change and amalgamation has been the order of time. This is as it should be in the welding of a nation, so that regrets are vain. Traces of various languages, manners, and customs can be found in every country. In the same way certain physical and mental qualities will last indefinitely no matter how a people may mix. The English language is full of Celtic words, but owing to changes in spelling and pronunciation it requires a scholar to elucidate them. Professor Watson, Professor of Celtic Language, Literature, and History and Antiquities in Edinburgh University, has shown this very clearly in his book, "The Celtic Place Names of Scotland," and what applies to Scotland applies with equal force to England and Ireland. It is impossible for the British people to eliminate from their blood or traditions or language all traces of their Celtic origin: atavism is a thing beyond their power of elimination. The old people of Waipu sadly regret the passing of their language, but they can comfort themselves with the knowledge that changes are inevitable; while complete destruction of a people and a language is an almost impossible task.


There were several men who played a prominent part in the lives of these people, and amongst them were the two brothers Captains Duncan and Murdoch McKenzie, Messrs. John Fraser, John McKay, and John Munro.

Captain Duncan McKenzie—now better known as the "Prince," so as to distinguish him from his brother, Captain Murdoch McKenzie—shortly after his arrival set up as a storekeeper and ship chandler at Auckland. In this capacity he was most useful to his compatriots at Waipu, for he it was who acted as agent betwixt them and the business community of Auckland. When the people had surmounted their preliminary difficulties, he removed to Mars-den Point, Whangarei Harbour, and set up there in the same capacity. Seeing the necessity of some safe means of transit to Auckland, he it was who financed the building of the cutter "Flora Macdonald." With her he carried on all the trade betwixt the Waipu people and Auckland. Then, as their numbers increased and trade improved, he removed to Waipu, and financed the building of the cutters "Thistle," "Jessie," and "Cambria." When the weather and bar were suitable, these vessels traded betwixt Waipu and Auckland; and, when unsuitable, they went on to Marsden Point, where there was safety in all weathers. This man was of inestimable value to the people. It was his knowledge of business and seamanship that enabled them to build and sail the "Margaret." He it was who, by his business acumen, enabled them to overcome their pioneering difficulties at Waipu. The older people of the settlement speak of him with the utmost pride and affection. If they were in need of anything and had no money, they simply went to the "Prince" who supplied all their wants without bond of any kind. His home at Auckland, Marsden Point, and Waipu was famed for its hospitality. Indeed, it served the purpose of a free boarding-house for all travellers. His wife, who was a native of Ross-shire, went out with Norman in the " Frances Ann,’ and the people describe her as an ideal hostess. She survived her husband for several years, and died at Whangarei in her ninety-fifth year.

Captain Murdoch McKenzie, better known as the "Captain," began trading between Auckland, Australia, and the South Sea Islands. He continued at this work for several years, while his family lived at Waipu. On his home visits he brought many South Sea Island curios to his friends at Waipu. These things were objects of great interest, and they are still treasured by their descendants. On retiring from the sea he took up his abode at Waipu, and his home was the centre of interest to all people who loved to hear of tales of travel and foreign lands and peoples.

These two men were born navigators, and their sons followed in their footsteps. It is said that during the ‘seventies and ‘eighties of last century no less than ten Captain McKenzies, all related to each other, sailed their ships into Auckland. The sea was in their blood; and it was said of them, give them a log and they would rig and sail it when other men were helpless. Their craft in seamanship was extraordinary, while their skill in overcoming difficulties was simply marvellous.

Messrs. John Fraser and John McKay were skilled tradesmen and bushmen. They were practically the builders of the "Margaret," and came to New Zealand to spy out the land. They were men of iron will, indomitable courage, and boundless perseverance. No difficulties could damp them. Give them a knife or hatchet, a string and a pannikin or billy (small pale or bucket) and they would go anywhere and live anywhere. These were the men who, innured to danger, knew no fear, and could live in the forest or on the coast where other men starved. They were typical pioneers, who could snatch success out of any circumstances.

Mr. John Munro was the diplomatist of the party. He had some training in diplomacy whilst a member of the Nova Scotian Legislature. This experience served him well at Capetown and at Auckland. It was a shrewd move on his part to call upon Governor Grey at Capetown and get the government to put its terms of land settlement upon paper. It was still shrewder in him to exhibit this paper to Governor Gore-Brown and Superintendent Williamson on his arrival at Auckland and ask for better terms or the alternative that his party would return to Capetown. He evidently understood how to work the political lever, and he used it with much success. Of course the land was valueless without settlers, but it is clear he stole a march upon less astute settlers. He eventually became a New Zealand politician, and was a member of New Zealand Parliament for several years.

Thus amongst these men we find intrepid seamen, iron-willed pioneers, and diplomatists of no mean order. With men of this type pioneering becomes play, while difficulties vanish as if by magic.


In the early days of the settlement education went no further than the simple rules, as the children, where possible, were required to attend to domestic and farm duties. As a consequence, the first generation of young New Zealanders was unable to distinguish itself in the various fields of learning. The Province of Otago, which was established by Scotsmen in 1848, made provision for schools, church, and university from the very start of the settlement. The people set apart large areas of land as endowments for each of the above purposes, and this gave an impetus to educa— tion in Otago that was denied to the other provinces. As population increased, a high school was established; and in 1869 they established the Otago University at Dunedin.

In 1877 the New Zealand Government passed an Education Act which made the common school education free, secular, and compulsory. Hence every child in New Zealand was favoured with a good common school education. Shortly afterwards the Government established high schools, and at the same time instituted a large number of competitive scholarships whereby poor, but clever children, could receive a high school education, and thence pass on to the University. As a consequence, any child of good capacity can to-day obtain the highest education the country provides at practically no cost to its parents. The money spent by the Government last year amounted to the large sum of £3,247,130, or about £3 per head of the population; and the people look upon this large expenditure as money well spent.

Waipu has taken advantage of this liberal educational system of the country, and now it sends out a large body of well-equipped men and women into the world of affairs. As illustrating this, one of their number compiled the following table of men and women occupying useful positions in life:—

Sea Captains, 20
Doctors, 3
Dentists, 2
Engineers, 5
Inspectors (School), 2
Lawyers, 5
Ministers (Presbyterians), 3
Missionaries (Presbyterian), 3
Merchants, 15
Trained Nurses, 19
Public Men, 12
Parliament, 2
School Teachers, 95
Civil Service, 55


When the call for men came in 1914 the Waipu boys were amongst the first to offer their services. This was characteristic of the race, for whenever danger threatens they are ever ready for the fray. What splendid war material the Motherland lost when she cast out the ancestors of these brave warriors. They know her only by tradition, but the latent fighting spirit of the Celt was aroused. They, in effect, said the Old Mother did not treat our people too well, but all the same we won’t see her let down, for blood is thicker than water. Then the fiery cross was lit on every hilltop, the warpipe sounded "gather, gather, gather," while the clansmen of Waipu buckled on their swords and marched into camp. Three hundred and twenty men and three trained nurses heard the call, and marched shoulder to shoulder to meet the enemy. They played a very gallant part in the various fields of battle. Some thirty of them paid the last penalty, while a number were maimed and rendered unfit for further service. To the fallen the people of Waipu have erected a splendid memorial in Church Square, adjacent to that of the old settlers. These two pillars, standing side by side, form an imperishable story of the bravery, resource, and boundless patriotism of the people of Waipu. They proclaim to the ages the words of the poet when he says

By that dread name we wave the sword on high,
And swear for her to live, with her to die.


The probable end of Waipu as a Highland settlement is gradual extinction. Highland names will last there indefinitely, but the native tongue and certain racial characteristics are doomed to disappear. New Zealand is a young and small country with an ever-moving and increasing population. This means the introduction of new blood and the blending of all its people. The Waipuans have multiplied rapidly, but their sons and daughters are scattered over the whole of New Zealand, and even into foreign lands. Trade, education, ambition, and the matrimonial market are compelling circumstances. If they attempted to live within themselves and become a peculiar people, old Mother Nature would soon extinguish them, for constant interbreeding means gradual degeneration and final extinction. They owe their present sound mental and physical qualities to the blend of which they are composed. The richer classes and the intellectual classes in all countries gradually tend towards degeneration or become sterile. To counteract this, they procure mates from amongst the humbler toilers as fertility and physical fitness seems to shun the haunts of wealth and great mental activity. Poverty, or comparative poverty, has its advantages as well as the limelights of wealth, honours, and intellectualism. There always have been rich men, intellectual men, and great men in the world; but they as a class or as a nation have lacked permanence. The older people regret the changes which they see around them, but they are inevitable. Their love of Caledonia is great, and they love the words of the poet who says

Ged tha mise air a Ghalldachd,
Tha mo chridhe’s an Taobh-tuath,
Tir mo bhreath is m arach,
Tir mo chairdean’s mo sluagh,
Tir nan beanntajchean carrach,
Tir nan lochan ‘s nan bruach,
Tir nan cailleagan boidheach,
Tir nan oigrann suaire.

Literal Translation.

Though I’m in the Lowlands,
My heart’s in the North-
Land of my birth and my rearing,
Land of friends and my people,
Land of bold craggy mountains,
Land of lakelets and braes,
Land of lovely young maidens,
Land of gallant young men.

The following is a list of migrants prepared by Mr. John Munro, of Marsden, Point, Whangarei Bay. It appeared in the "Northern Advocate" of February 6, 1903. Some of the survivors state that it is not absolutely correct, but that it is the only record of its kind in existence, and hence we give it as the best evidence procurable. Mr. Munro died several years ago, and so far as is known left no record of the migration. His photograph faces page 17.

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