Much has been written about the migration of the Highland Scots who founded the settlement of Waipu, north of Auckland in New Zealand.  The community proudly celebrates its Scottish origins and the Waipu Museum is dedicated to preserving this heritage.  Many Clan Matheson Society members also support this museum.  This article records the many publications about this epic migration story.

The 1920s saw the first books about the Waipu migration, though both are more romantic than scholarly accounts.

Idyll of the shipbuilders (Custom)McLeod, Samuel (1922) Idyll of the shipbuilders: being a brief account of the life and migrations of the families from the Highlands of Scotland that finally settled at Waipu, North Auckland.  Clark and Matheson; Auckland; 36 pages (facsimile edition published by the Waipu Centennial Trust Board in 1995).  On sale at the Waipu Museum.

The publisher, Clark and Matheson, was a well-known printing and publishing firm in Auckland for much of the 20th century.  Founders John Clark and brothers Hector and Colin Matheson, John’s cousins, all had family links to the Waipu migration.



Highlanders of Waipu (Custom)MacDonald, Gordon (1928) The highlanders of Waipu, or echoes of 1745: a Scottish odyssey.  Coulls, Somerville, Wilkie; Dunedin; 182 pages.  Available free on the Electric Scotland website.

The publishers Coulls, Somerville, Wilkie merged in 1971 with the publishers of the next volume in this list, Whitcombe and Tombs, to create the prominent New Zealand bookselling and publishing firm Whitcoulls.  Hector Matheson, who co-founded Clark and Matheson, at one time worked for Coulls, Somerville, Wilkie before establishing his own publishing firm.




The 1930s to 1950s produced two scholarly publications, the first of which is more analytical and benefited from personal contact with many of the settlers.  Both can be found from time to time in second hand bookshops and  on Trade Me.  Lion of Scotland is more common because it was reprinted more recently.

McKenzie, Norman (1935) The Gael fares forth: the romantic story of Waipu and her sister settlements.  Whitcombe & Tombs; Wellington; 320 pages.  Reprinted 1942.  A modern facsimile edition is available from the Waipu Museum.

Gael fares forth

Lion of Scotland (Custom)Robinson, Neil (1953) Lion of Scotland.  Hodder and Stoughton; London, UK; 155 pages.  Reprinted 1974 with lists of migrants.

The central figure in Lion of Scotland is the Rev Norman McLeod, often (but not entirely accurately) regarded as the spiritual leader of the Waipu migration.






Watchman against the world (Custom)The 1960s saw another account of the migration centring on Rev Norman McLeod: McPherson, Fiona (1962) Watchman against the world: the story of Norman McLeod and his people.  Whitcombe and Tombs; New Zealand; 189 pages.

This has recently been reprinted and is available from the Waipu Museum.

Watchman against the world










In the 1970s the renowned New Zealand author James McNeish (later Sir James McNeish) was commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to write a radio documentary about the Waipu migration.  A story told during his interviews, about a woman locked in an attic because she had drowned her baby, led him to write the play The rocking cave.  The tale of a young girl locked up for breaking the taboos of an authoritarian minister and his community made a successful play, but one that was not performed in Waipu for another 40 years.


In the 1980s the well-known New Zealand author Fiona Kidman (now Dame Fiona Kidman)  wrote a novel set among the migrating Highlanders, inspired by the migrants’ stories she had heard as a teenager living in Waipu.  The book won the fiction prize at the New Zealand book awards.  You can buy a copy from the Waipu Museum.

Book of secrets (Custom)Kidman, Fiona (1987) The book of secrets.  Heinemann, Auckland, 274 pages.

The book was reprinted for the 2013 Waipu Grand Pageant, and Dame Fiona autographed copies in the Waipu Museum over the pageant weekend.  First published in 1987, The book of secrets has been in print ever since, a record equalled only by one work of Witi Ihimaera.  In February 2013 it reached number one on the New Zealand best seller list!




Those who speak to the heart082 (Custom)


In the 1980s a Canadian studied kinship links in the Waipu community for her PhD, and in the early 1990s wrote up her work as a book that can sometimes be found in secondhand book shops:

Molloy, Maureen (1991) Those who speak to the heart: the Nova Scotian Scots at Waipu, 1854-1920. Dunmore Press; Palmerston North; 171 pages.





To the ends of the earth084 (Custom)Later in that decade Neil Robinson, author of the Lion of Scotland, wrote an account of the Waipu migration:

Robinson, Neil (1997) To the ends of the earth: Norman McLeod and the Highlanders’ migration to Nova Scotia and New Zealand.  Harper Collins; Auckland; 260 pages.




A few years later Neil Robinson published a novel set in Waipu that he had written some 50 years earlier while working on Lion of Scotland:

Robinson The river of no return (Custom)Robinson, Neil (2002) The river of no return.  Samahani Press; Auckland; 273 pages.






Waipu The search for paradise dvd


Before we leave the 1990s, that decade also saw a documentary that is available on video: “Waipu–the search for paradise: the story of Norman McLeod and  the Scottish Highlanders who, during the 1800s, sailed the great oceans of the world in search of a better life”.  Available from the Waipu Museum.



The 2000s saw another novel woven around the Waipu story:

Scrimshaw secretCowley, Wanda McKenzie (2007) Scrimshaw secret.  Enclosure Bay books; 331 pages.   It tells the story of family obligations placed on younger people in a migrating Highland Scots family.  Available from the Waipu Museum.




2010 saw a fresh and scholarly account of the Waipu migration: Sailors and settlers.  The author, John McLean, is the great-great-grandson of John and Mary McLean who arrived on the Ellen Lewis, the last of the six ships that brought Nova Scotian Highlanders to New Zealand.  An accomplished writer, he has devoted his research and writing skills to the Waipu migration.  This book is a must-have for anyone with an interest in the remarkable story of the Highlanders’ migration to Waipu.

Sailors and settlers

Sailors and settlers is a hardback with 444 pages of text plus 24 pages of photos.  Almost one-third of the text comprises useful lists and accounts of the individual settlers.  The book is now out of print, but might be available from second-hand bookshops or on Trademe.

McLean, John (2010)  Sailors and settlers: the migration of Highlanders from Nova Scotia to New Zealand in the 1850s and 1860s.  Winter Publications; Wellington, New Zealand; 444 pp.




The most recent book about the migration takes an unusual approach.  Waipu artist Patricia Couper has produced 70 paintings to tell the story, each of which is reproduced in the book and accompanied by a narrative or caption.The Waipu Settlers - Pat Couper

Couper, Patricia (2012) The Waipu settlers: an illustrated story.  Mill Stream Books.

You may be able to borrow these books from your local library.  If not, to find out which library does hold copies use the National Library catalogue and borrow them through the interloan service.