From Tiree to the ends of the earth

Sir Donald McLean was born at Kilmaluag on Tiree in 1820. He emigrated to the Antipodes aged 18, first settling in New South Wales, Australia. Employment brought him to Auckland in 1840, from where he eventually found his way further south.

Settling the land

McLean was appointed to the Protectorate of Aborigines, later serving as police inspector in Taranaki, land purchase agent, and Member of the House of Representatives in the mid-1860s. He was well-regarded by many Maori tribes, thus becoming not only one of the most influential figures in mid-nineteenth century New Zealand, but also the key figure in Maori-settler relations.

A keen conversant in Gaelic, McLean enjoyed meeting fellow Highland settlers, ‘’swapping stories and songs’’. As much is indeed in evidence in McLean’s diary entry that relates to his engagement with Highland sports at Kaiwarra, Wellington in 1848. With a good many other Highlanders present, the Games were well-conducted, displaying neither strife nor enmity, as ‘’all in perfect unison played their part with animation and cheerfulness – the bag pipes playing at the end of each game’’. Once the games, which had included hammer throwing and wrestling, were over, McLean and many of the other patrons of the gathering repaired to Barrett’s Hotel. Perhaps it was the whisky, this being liberally dispensed, that led McLean to observe that it was

‘a sincere pleasure to meet so many people of the same land the same descent and origin met together to call to remembrance the sports of our parent land and not forget them. Do not forget your country and your loyalty – Highlanders, your meeting together shows the energetic spirit that animates and whatever zealously undertake you will – yes, Highlanders, you will do it.’

While pursued by a group of emigre Highlanders in 1848, the promotion of Scottish Games became the primary object of New Zealand’’s Caledonian societies rather than their Highland counterparts. Thus commonly referred to as Caledonian rather than Highland Games, it took until the early 1860s that they became a regular fixture in New Zealand, proliferating in connection with the Caledonian societies then established. The Games McLean was involved in in 1848, however, were the first of their kind for which evidence has survived.

Sports of Caledonia stern and wild

Turakina was one of the first European settlement centres to be established in the Rangitikei in the lower North Island of New Zealand in the mid-nineteenth century. Many of the early settlers were Scots who had originally arrived in Wellington on the Blenheim, a ship from the New Zealand Company that arrived in December 1840.
How Caledonian sports became a New Zealand staple

After establishing the small settlement of Turakina, the resident Scots soon began gathering together. A Caledonian Society was founded in 1864. In December of that year the Wanganui Chronicle ran advertisements for ‘rural sports’ to be held in the field next to the Ben Nevis Hotel in Turakina, with the events advertised including many a Scottish one, for instance the Highland fling and caber tossing. Newspaper reports published after the events praised the activities, noting that ‘a numerous gathering of the inhabitants of Turakina and the neighbourhood’ had gathered for the sports. Thankfully the weather had also been good, and the games were ‘keenly contested’. Of one thing the reporter was certain: that ‘this will be the precursor of numerous happy meetings in future years’. And how right that assessment was! The Turakina Highland Games have come a long way since the early 1860s and there have been periods of low attendance and problems. But overall the tradition has remained strong – the result in no small part of the committment of the descendants of the Scots who first settled in Turakina in the 1850s.

Even in the early days the games were community events that involved local volunteers. This also ensure that the games retained their Scottish character. But Caledonian Games in New Zealand were much more than that: they became a staple in the country’s sporting and holiday culture, becoming an integral part of the annual events calendar of many communities. As a result, the Games aided the development of athletics—no mean feat, and a factor that effectively safeguarded not only Scottish culture throughout the country, but also facilitated its very wide permeation. For although pipers clad in Highland costume who played Scottish tunes undoubtedly delighted ‘spectators hailing from Scotland, Caledonian Games had a much wider appeal and function.

Leading the world on women's rights

New Zealand became the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote in 1893. This was thanks in no small way to Kate Sheppard, the leading figure in the New Zealand suffrage movement.

A story of onward migration

Born in Liverpool in early March 1847 to Scottish parents, Kate made her way to New Zealand together with her mother and several of her siblings, arriving at Lyttelton in February 1869. The family remained close by, settling in Christchurch, where Kate also got married in 1871. Kate soon began to be actively involved in the Trinity Congregational Church, for instance through fund-raising and acting as the secretary of the Ladies Association. Together with other members of her family, she also began to engage in the temperance movement. It was through that movement that she was to leave a lasting legacy in New Zealand society. As her biographer, Tessa K. Malcolm, notes in Te Ara:

In 1885 Mary Leavitt, an evangelist delegate from the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of the United States of America, commenced her mission in New Zealand and Kate Sheppard became a founding member of the New Zealand Women’s Christian Temperance Union. It was quickly realised by the union that proposed social and legislative reforms concerning temperance and the welfare of women and children would be more effectively carried out if women possessed the right to vote and the right to representation in Parliament. In 1887 franchise departments were formed within the local unions and Sheppard was appointed national superintendent of the franchise and legislation department. In this position she was responsible for co-ordinating and encouraging the local unions: she prepared and distributed pamphlets, wrote letters to the press and stimulated debate within the WCTU, church meetings, and temperance and political societies. An accomplished public speaker and writer, she had a clear, logical intellect, and could also conduct argument without rancour. Kate Sheppard was motivated by humanitarian principles and a strong sense of justice: ‘All that separates, whether of race, class, creed, or sex, is inhuman, and must be overcome’. Hers was a quietly determined, persuasive and disarmingly feminine voice. […] The franchise department of the WCTU took the first of three major petitions to Parliament in 1891. The petition was presented by Sir John Hall, and strongly supported by Alfred Saunders and the premier, John Ballance. It was signed by more than 9,000 women, and the second in 1892 by more than 19,000. In June 1891 Kate Sheppard inaugurated and began editing a women’s page in the Prohibitionist, the national temperance magazine. With the formation of franchise leagues in many centres, and the increasing activity and growth of the WCTU auxiliaries in the smaller centres, the largest petition ever presented to Parliament was collected in 1893 with nearly 32,000 signatures. The small band of 600 women members of the WCTU had successfully roused public opinion to the extent that Parliament could no longer ignore their demands. The Electoral Act 1893 was passed on 19 September and Kate Sheppard received a telegram from the premier, Richard Seddon, previously her political enemy in the House, conceding victory to the women. The governor, Lord Glasgow, honoured Kate Sheppard as a political leader, by symbolically presenting to her the pen with which the bill granting womanhood suffrage had been signed.

This all happened with only a little more than two months to go until the next New Zealand election, so the WCTU commenced enrolling women so that they would actually be able to vote. An incredible 65% of all New Zealand women over 21 voted in the first election. Kate continued her work for the suffragist cause by meeting leaders of movements abroad – in 1894, for instance, she went to England – and by continuing her efforts for wider political reform.


Once New Zealand’s largest city, Dunedin – Gaelic for Edinburgh – became the home of a large number of Scottish immigrants with a Free Church background, including Thomas Burns, Robert Burns’ newphew. Dunedin has George and Princes streets, which became its axis.