During the 1850s about 900 Highland Scots settled at Waipu, north of Auckland in New Zealand, a district that to this day is very proud of its Scottish origins.  Many had earlier tried to establish a Gaelic-speaking Highlanders’ settlement in Nova Scotia, which today is part of Canada.  Their later move to warmer climes in Australia failed, and they eventually found their way to New Zealand.  Others followed from Nova Scotia, once news of the infant settlement in New Zealand reached them, and still others came independently from Scotland.

Southern Cross 20 September 1853

Southern Cross 20 September 1853

On 17 September 1853 the first of these intrepid travellers arrived in New Zealand.  The Gazelle, a ship owned by the brothers Duncan and Murdoch McKenzie and commanded by Murdoch, arrived in Auckland with more than 120 migrants from Nova Scotia who were later to settle at Waipu.

This new article on the Clan Matheson Society New Zealand website outlines this extraordinary migration and links to resources that tell more of this amazing story.

 

 

 

 

The epic migration of Scottish Highlanders to Waipu in Northland is an important part of the family history of a number of Mathesons in New Zealand.  This story is being kept alive by the community in the area settled by the Highlanders, and the 2013 Waipu Grand Pageant was an important contribution to that effort.

The pageant was spectacular.  Over two pleasant summer evenings thousands of visitors and locals sat in a natural amphitheatre on the banks of the Waihoihoi River, just behind the Presbyterian church in Waipu and very close to where the first settlers landed, to enjoy the show.

The migration story told in the Waipu Grand Pageant (photo by Peter Davies, Northern Advocate)

The migration story told in the Waipu Grand Pageant (photo by Peter Davies, Northern Advocate)

The pageant started with a narrative by Dame Fiona Kidman, whose novel The book of secrets is set in Waipu.  Her perspective and the use of her book as a focal point for the introduction was a unique feature of this pageant.  The first part of the performance sketched the history of Waipu since the settlers arrived, following which the narrative went back to the original Maori inhabitants of the land, the settlers’ roots in the Scottish Highlands and their move to Nova Scotia.  The story then followed their journey to New Zealand, and ended up where it began with the landing at Waipu.

There was plenty of action: a burning crofter’s house, horses, cows, vintage cars and tractors, a waka and clinker-built dinghies.  The cast numbered around 300, with many performing multiple roles, so this was a pageant on a grand scale.  We left having really enjoyed the performance.

Waipu settlers at the 1903 commemorations who arrived on the 'Gertrude'

Waipu settlers at the 1903 commemorations who arrived on the ‘Gertrude’

The Grand Pageant was an important part of remembering and respecting this famous migration story.  Fifty years of Waipu settlement were marked with a community gathering in 1903 and a reunion of many who travelled on the six ships that contributed to the settlement.

In 1953 the centenary included a re-enactment of the landing of the first settlers — and the youngest descendant to attend, Lachie McLean, is now the director and driving force behind the Waipu Grand Pageant.  The 150th commemoration in 2003 was the first pageant, and this year’s production begins what is hoped to be a pattern of repeating the pageant every decade.

The settlers' arrival is re-enacted at the 1953 centenary celebrations

The settlers’ arrival is re-enacted at the 1953 centenary celebrations

Lachie McLean and the people of Waipu are to be congratulated for their efforts.  If you missed out this year, make plans to attend in 2023!