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The Highlanders of Waipu
Chapter IV - Norman McLeod

On September 17, 1780, there was born at Stoir Point, Assynt, Sutherland, Scotland, a child who was destined to play a wonderful part in the lives of many of his countrymen—this was Norman McLeod. His people followed the time-honoured occupation of fishermen and cultivators of the soil. The McLeods are a very ancient Highland family, and received a charter from David II to the lands of Assynt. They also held lands in Skye and Lewes. It may, therefore, be concluded that Norman’s people were inhabitants of Assynt for some centuries. It was McLeod, Laird of Assynt, who caught and betrayed Montrose in 1650. It was another McLeod, one Malcolm, who was guide to Prince Charlie during his wanderings in the Hebrides. He, however, belonged to the Skye branch of the McLeod family.

The people of Caithness and Sutherland took little part in the affair of 1745, as the Earls of these respective counties were Royalists, and this acted as a check to the Jacobite proclivities of their clansmen. The rent-crofting system was also a little late in appearing in these counties. The Earldom of Sutherland is one of the oldest in the kingdom. There were Thanes and Jarls in Caithness and Sutherland from the days of the early Nordic invasion in the ninth century. The whole northern coastline of Scotland and much of the interior was Scandinavian territory for centuries. In 1228 Alexander of Scotland created William, Jarl of Sutherland, as first Earl of Sutherland under the Scottish Crown. As a consequence of this long dominance of the Nordics, the people of Caithness and Sutherland and all the Hebridean Isles are as much Nordic as they are Celtic. This explains the large number of fair and red-haired, high cheek-boned, grey-eyed people found in these localities.

In 1758 Assynt was purchased by the Earl of Sutherland, and thus the McLeods lost their footing upon the mainland of Scotland. About the same time the estates of Sutherland fell to a female of the line. This lady in 1785 married an Englishman named Leveson-Gower, and in 1833 he was created the first Duke of Sutherland. Under him, from about 1800-1840, began that series of cruel evictions in Sutherland known as the " Sutherland Clearances."


The 1745 rebellion made an enormous difference to the Highland clans. Previous to 1745 no clansmen could be evicted from their homes, as they held them by feudal right; while the land was the common property of the tribe or clan, and hence of no single individual. The affair of 1745 swept all feudal rights out of existence. The lands were then invested by Sheepskins (deeds) in the loyal chiefs, landlords, and successors of the rebels. The government knew it could control the landlords who held their lands from the Crown, but it could not control thousands of clansmen who held their lands by feudal right. The people felt they were wrongfully dispossessed of their lands, but being nominally rebels—for they were all classed alike—they could not resist. The common people have never admitted the legality of the act, and to this day they claim the land as theirs, even though it may have passed by purchase to several owners.

The people of Sutherland had a double grievance. They took little or no part in the rebellion. They looked upon the Earl as their father, into whose hands they had committed the keeping of their lands, as for mutual protection. He had merely to say the word and every man would rush to arms in protection of their common property. Now he had disowned them, threw them out of their homes, and razed them to the ground so as to prevent a reentry. It is said that sick and dying people were forcibly carried out and left to perish. So terrible were the harsh scenes of these days that they have indelibly burned themselves into the memories of the people, and they have never forgiven the Highland Lairds. To make matters worse, many of the men, whose homes were being burnt, were at the time fighting the battles of their country under Wellington at Waterloo. All this work was carried out by factors or land agents. They were strangers who had no sympathies with the local people. Most of them were Englishmen, and so the words "factor" and "Sassenach" became anathema to the people. By such means are ill feelings, hatreds, and national antipathies aroused which centuries cannot eradicate.

The local poets of the day satirized the factors in song and story. One popular ditty ran as follows :—

Or yet a factor, fat and proud,
Burning a Hieland bothy;
Swearing at the hapless crowd
Whom he has made unhappy.
Oh; heavens hide me from that sight,
A father void of means,
Compelled to view his burning home,
His weeping wife and we-ans.

A theory put forth by those in authority at the time was that the evictions were an economic necessity. There were too many people settled along the river valleys or Straths for their size or fertility. Hence, more or less, poverty and starvation faced them every winter. They had plenty hill pasture for their stock during the summer time, but not sufficient winter keep. There may have been some truth in this theory, but it does not appeal to one as being a good reason for depriving them unrewarded of their age-old inheritance. The chiefs of old acquired their lands not by payment, but by discomfiting in battle some local chief or tribe; but the surviving people were not deprived of their land, only their allegiance was transferred to the new chief; while his warriors were settled amongst them. This was their feudal right, so that economic sophistication cannot enter into the question unless by mutual consent and compensation.

The Sutherland family at this time practically owned the whole county extending to about 1,200,000 acres. The people were permitted in some instances to form new settlements along the coast and find their living from the sea. The whole interior of the county was depopulated. Hundreds perished from cold and hunger. Hundreds more trekked to the neighbouring counties or towns, or were shipped as so much lumber to the wilds of America. It was a period of national disgrace and a blot upon British history. Not even rebellion could justify the cruelties and hardships of these sad times. The Highland people have never forgotten them, while the wail of 1745 and its consequences still reverherates around the world.

Norman McLeod and his people were probably amongst those who suffered in those barbarous days. The sword and dirk had been cast aside, and men were no longer required to fight for their chiefs. Swords must now he converted into ploughshares and brawn into brain. Yellow Gcordies (sovereigns) now served all purposes. They made foes; they made friends; they made battle; they made slaves; yea, even they were not beyond the attempting of Simony. Norman was a lad of parts. He cultivated brain, and observing the ease and comfort of the local parish clergyman he thought that he too could fill that position. Indeed, it is surprising to witness the number of Celts in the British Isles who adopt the Church as their career. Visit the principal cities and towns in them, and everywhere one finds Celts filling the principal pulpits in the land. As ready speakers they cannot he excelled while, where persistence and sound judgment are necessary, they have no superior. They do not appreciate being hewers of wood or drawers of water, hence they strive to leave such work for less ambitious individuals. Norman went to Aberdeen, and in due time became a graduate in Arts of that ancient seat of learning. One may well wonder how lads with no money could enter a University. The old proverb has it "that where there is a will there is a way." Many poor lads in Scotland have passed through a brilliant college career with the slenderest of incomes earned while attending college. The slothful say that they carry a sack of oatmeal on their backs to the nearest University town, and turn to this as the ox to his stall when hunger compels. The picture is overdrawn, but there is a germ of truth in it. They work continuously at whatever they find convenient, and learn their lessons by the street lamp-post. They are policemen, clerks, teachers, labourers, shop-keepers, indeed, anything by which they can arrange to attend classes and eke out an existence. Once they set their minds upon some career there is no denying them. A few fall by the way, but that is common to all victories. Of such stuff was Norman. He worked at any suitable job during the College session. That over, he found no difficulty in finding work as a school teacher or private tutor during the vacations. He filled various offices in Ross and Sutherland as parish schoolmaster, while some other ambitious lad filled his position during the session.


During all this time he was undergoing a process of religious awakening. Under the old Church of Scotland dispensation every parishioner had the right of partaking of Communion and the having of his children baptized. The conduct of some of the clergy and communicants jarred upon Norman’s rising intelligence. He was naturally gifted with the power of speech and also with the courage of his convictions. These qualities led to his rebuking in public such as came under his displeasure as persons who were "eating and drinking unworthily." In choosing a school in which to study theology he selected Edinburgh. The latter city has for ages been a great seat of learning, and draws to its schools some of the best brains in the British Isles. Here his religious awakening still further deepened, so that the whole of his spare time was occupied in missionary work and preaching. Various charities and churches have established missions in and around the city, so that a capable and willing student can be readily occupied all the year round. Professors of Divinity, like all other mortals, are weak and fallible. They may succeed in hiding their weaknesses from the common herd, but the keeneyed, mentally-alert, observing student can and does penetrate the closest of veils. In his third and final year at the Divinity Hall Norman is said to have found fault with and rebuked one of his teachers owing to his loose mode of life. For this grave offence he was rusticated, and so became what is known in Scotland as a "Stickit Minister." This term in Scotland is generally applied to any professional man who has failed to qualify or to pass the necessary examinations. It was an approbrious but a useful weapon, for it lashed many a lazy student to diligent study.


Norman, on being rusticated, returned to Assynt a disappointed man. There were some compensations. however. Ever since school days he and a neighbour girl named Mary McLeod were great friends. They were classmates. and often times vied with each other as to which would be top of the class. Norman, with that gallantry of the Celt towards women, never disputed Mary’s right to be dux. If he were second that was sufficient. As the years rolled on they continued their mutual interest. Every year as Norman left for College Mary had always prepared such presents as her limited purse could afford. They might be socks or jumpers, shirts or plaids, carded and knitted by her hand. These were love-philters of a kind, and the gallant Norman readily responded to them. Letter-writing in those days was somewhat uncommon, at least in remote districts. The post was irregular, very costly, and not established as we know it. Rowland Hill had not as yet arrived, and so most letters in those northern districts were sent by chance carrier. It was quite common for people from the most northerly point of the mainland to travel on foot to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, or Glasgow, a distance of from 200 to 400 miles. One Christmas Mary and a companion are said to have walked from Assynt to Aberdeen to carry presents to her beloved Norman. Such devotion was irresistible, and Norman was responsive in every fibre. Any class prizes or appointment success of Norman were equally appreciated by Mary. He was Gold Medallist in the Moral Philosophy class, and this trophy Mary treasured as a brooch until death parted them. There was only one Presbyterian Church in Scotland in his day, and its doors were barred to him; but as a University graduate he could easily obtain a parish school appointment. Mary and he discussed the situation, and it was agreed that if Mary would turn housekeeper Norman would become a dominie. The bargain was sealed, two life-long lovers were united, and Norman became parish schoolmaster.


The minister of the parish at the time was the Rev. Wm. McKenzie (1765-1816). It is said that Mr. McKenzie was almost everything a clergyman ought not to be. He was addicted to drink, and frequently absented himself from duty for weeks on end. Possibly his people were somewhat to blame for some of his lapses. It was the custom then for every household to have some whisky in the cupboard for the use of visitors. Hospitality demanded that visitors be entertained, and what more convenient than the whisky bottle. The minister was the honoured guest in every home and frankly accepted such as was placed before him. As a consequence he was almost compelled to drink from six to twelve glasses of whisky per day on such days as he went visiting. The people knew of his weakness, but loyalty and the awe of his office prevented them from making any complaint. As a man and neighbour he was all that could be desired, and these things in the estimation of his people covered a multitude of sins. Habits of this kind were not unknown in comparatively recent times in New Zealand. divine, who shall be nameless, resolved to renounce all forms of liquor and became an advocate of total abstinence. One day he had occasion to visit a parishioner, and the laws of hospitality had to be obeyed. The good lady of the house prepared a cup of tea for him. As the day was cold, and the divine aged, she added some whisky to his tea. The good divine, suspecting nothing, drank the tea, and turning to his hostess said, Lord, woman, that’s whisky." "Never mind, dear doctor, the day is cold, and you need it." The habits of generations are not easily eradicated, whether in land—holding or social customs.

Owing to the circumstances surrounding Mr. McKenzie, the people desired Norman to hold religious services. They knew that he had been a missionary in Edinburgh for three years and accustomed to preaching, so that in Assynt he would he merely continuing the work he had begun at College. It was the custom, however, in the Highlands in those days for young Christians to remain silent. Preaching was an ordinance reserved for the trained clergy or aged Christians who were approved of by the clergy. Mr. McKenzie had not given his approval to Norman as a preacher, and hence he deemed it courteous to remain silent.


in 1806 the Rev. John Kennedy was appointed as assistant to Mr. McKenzie of Assynt. Mr. Kennedy belonged to a family of divines who were remarkably prominent in the northern counties. He was a young man of uncommon piety, and soon made his mark as a leader in the church. Thoroughly evangelical and profoundly interested in the spiritual and temporal welfare of his people, he was the right man for the Assynt parish. A wave of religious enthusiasm swept over the district and rapidly spread to the adjoining counties. His fame was somewhat similar to that of the Great Apostle, for almost every parish in the north sent him the message: "Come over into Macedonia and help us."

All this religious enthusiasm aroused the zeal of Norman. Contrary to the wishes of Mr. McKenzie and Mr. Kennedy, he began to preach. To enable him to do so he cut himself adrift from the Church of Scotland, and set up a kind of Free Church of his own. In this he anticipated the Disruption of 1843. The Church of Scotland was a State institution to which the government or some local landowner had the sole right of selecting a clergyman. The people had no voice in the election of their minister. In this they were treated as children, or as slaves, who must accept that which their masters were pleased to offer them.

The time was opportune, and apparently Norman seized the opportunity. He soon gathered a large following, and as a consequence there was division in the parish church. He had a marvellous gift of speech, an attractive manner, and a clearness in presenting truth that was irresistible. He paraded the foibles of the clergy and the autocratic methods of the church proprietors so clearly that the people were aroused. Neither Mr. McKenzie nor Mr. Kennedy could stem this revulsion of feeling. The facts were so patent that Mr. Kennedy elected to depart for pastures new. Norman held the field and the parish church was emptied.

Mr. Kennedy subsequently became parish minister of Kilearnan, Ross-shire, and there he became the father of that great and distinguished divine, the Rev. Dr. John Kennedy of Dingwall. It is curious to relate how in after years this Dr. Kennedy became a zealous Free Churchman. Apparently he saw things much as did Norman, and followed in his footsteps.

Dr. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. John Macdonald, who was known as the "Apostle of the North," laboured in two adjoining parishes, the one in Dingwall and the other in Ferintosh. These two men were literally worshipped in their day by the people of the northern counties. Such was their fame as preachers that people travelled many miles to hear them preach. During their summer peregrinations at the various Sacrament seasons in the north, numbers of people followed them from parish to parish as if their salvation depended upon the presence and words of these men. We may truly say that in a religious sense these two men were magicians, and the people were helpless.

In his book, "The Fathers of Ross-shire," Dr. Kennedy, in writing of Norman, says :-.--

His power as a speaker was such that he could not fail to make an impression, and he succeeded in Assynt and elsewhere in drawing many people after him. His influence upon those whom he detached from a stated ministry was paramount, and he could carry them after him to almost any extent. Some of the pcople of Assynt were drawn into permanent dissent. Some, even of the pious people, were decoyed by him for a season, but eventually escaped from his influence. The anxiety and disappointment of this trying season were particularly painful to my revered father.

From the above testimony it is apparent that some at least of the clergy thought that they alone could present the truth. Norman was evidently a magician, such as in subsequent years were two other Ross-shire divines.

Lay-preaching was not a profitable occupation where a family was concerned. Assynt was a poor district and money was scarce. Gratitude and popularity he had in abundance, but they failed to provide him with food and shelter. In 1815 the parish school of Ullapool fell vacant. Norman applied for the post and was appointed. Ullapool was in the parish of Lochbroom, almost adjoining to Assynt, and the Rev. Dr. Ross was the parish minister. In those days the parish minister was virtually the master of the parish teacher. Dr. Ross was a man of violent temper and autocratic manners. While teaching here a son was born to Norman, and as Dr. Ross was neither evangelical nor popular in the parish Norman decided that he would have his son "John Luther" baptized by the far-famed Rev. Lachlan McKenzie of Lochcarron. To this end he and his wife carried their child over bog and moor some 50 miles to Lochcarron Manse. On arriving, whom should they meet but their own clergyman, the Rev. Dr. Ross. He forbade the Rev. Mr. McKenzie to baptize the child, as Mr. McLeod, as parish teacher, had not asked him (Dr. Ross), the parish clergyman, to perform the ceremony. Norman’s journey of about 100 miles was of no avail, and he returned to Ullapool very crestfallen.

Shortly thereafter Dr. Ross returned to his parish, and decided to punish the teacher for his want of decorum towards the parish minister. To this end he found fault with Norman for certain religious views he taught the children. Norman was patient, and endured the reprimand with great composure. His teaching, however, went on along the old lines. Then Dr. Ross secured the reduction of his salary by one-half. This was the signal for rebellion. Norman defied him and ultimately resigned his situation. Then he began preaching, and in a short time the parish church was empty, and ever afterwards remained divided. At this time the parish clergymen in the north were mercilessly castigated by the people. A general rot set in, their people left them, and they have never returned. This was Norman’s second attack on the Church of Scotland, and so it was unlikely that further parish schools would be open to him. In this dilemma he turned to his old occupation of fisherman, and for two seasons was skipper of a herring boat fishing from Wick in Caithness. Here he was in his element, for there were several hundreds of his countrymen and women engaged in the same occupation. None of these people would work on the Sunday, so Norman established himself as the local preacher for all the Gaelic-speaking people. As a result he became very popular and well known in Caithness and Lewes, as well as in his native Sutherland and adopted Ross-shire.

Some seasons the herring fishing is a remarkably profitable occupation. so that in six weeks to two months crews of from four to six men can earn sufficient, with the aid of their crofts, to live in moderate comfort for the remainder of the year. Norman was successful as a fisherman, and decided to return to Stoir and resume crofting and fishing as his life’s occupation.

Plan of Waipu Block

The old adage has it "that man proposes and God disposes." The "factors" became busy with their clearances. There was wailing in the land, and men’s eyes were turned towards America. The people were being forcibly driven from their homes, and in their desperation cursed the government, the lairds, the caora-glas (grey sheep) and the "Yellow Geordies." They said :—

For thee insatiate chief, whose ruthless hand
Forever drives me from my native land;
For thee I leave no greater curse behind
Than the fell bodings of a guilty mind.
Or what were harder to a soul like thine
To find from avarice thy wealth declined.

The mills of God grind slowly but surely. The Shennachies (wise men) declared that retribution would come. A woman betrayed them and a woman would be the avenger. These Shennachies were credited with the powers of second sight. They prophesied that a time would come when ruin would overtake the Highland Lairds. That men and women would come from the far west who would cause dismay amongst the perpetrators of these cruelties. That the God of War would ride rough-shod over the land, leaving only the shrill cry of the curlew or the moan of the shochat (lapwing) to be heard in the glens.

Ever since those days some people have been looking for the fulfilment of these prophesies, and they have not been entirely disappointed. Owing to the vicissitudes of fortune and the exigencies of the Great War, the Highland Lairds to-day own only a part of their ancient territories. An Assynt boy, who is an American engineer, owns the Assynt parish. Other natives from abroad, and also some strangers, own several of the other parishes. Many of the old Highland Lairds have lost their estates throughout the Highlands, so who can deny the possibility, nay the probability, of the truth of the Shennachies’ second sight. If one may judge from the economic and political turmoil of the day, it looks as if the great landlord system of the British Isles is doomed to extinction. What the next phase of the land question may be we leave for the Shennachies to foretell.

One of the great Lord Bacon’s aphorisms was: "it is an evil hour for the State when its treasures and money are gathered into few hands."

The poet modified these words into the lines—

Ill fares the State, to hastening ills a prey,
When sheep do multiply and men decay.

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