Scottish Ethnicity and the Making of New Zealand Society, 1850-1930

Scottish Ethnicity and the Making of New Zealand Society, 1850-1930

Scottish Ethnicity and the Making of New Zealand Society, 1850-1930

Scottish Ethnicity and the Making of New Zealand Society, 1850-1930


The Scots accounted for around a quarter of all UK-born immigrants to New Zealand between 1861 and 1945, but have only been accorded scant attention in New Zealand histories, specialist immigration histories and Scottish Diaspora Studies. This is all the more peculiar because the flow of Scots to New Zealand, although relatively unimportant to Scotland, constituted a sizable element to the country's much smaller population. Seen as adaptable, integrating relatively more quickly than other ethnic migrant groups in New Zealand, the Scots' presence was obscured by a fixation on the romanticised shortbread tin façade of Scottish identity overseas. Uncovering Scottish ethnicity from the verges of nostalgia, this study documents the notable imprint Scots left on New Zealand. The book examines Scottish immigrant community life, culture and identity between 1850 and 1930, and:
• explores informal and formal networks, associational life and transferred cultural practices to capture how Scottish immigrants negotiated their ethnicity, but also how that ethnicity fed into wider social structures in New Zealand;
• argues that Scottish ethnicity in New Zealand functioned more as a positive mechanism for integration into the new society than as a protective and defensive source of reassurance and comfort; and
• contends that Scots contributed disproportionately to the making of New Zealand society.


The Scots in New Zealand, observed Staunch Englishman, were ‘mean, close, bigoted… and in every way far below the standard of any Englishman… porridge-eating and minding the “sixpences” ‘. Part of a heated exchange through the letter pages of Dunedin’s Otago Daily Times, these remarks were a response to Cosmopolitan’s earlier declaration that the English in the colony were ‘overbearing, self-asserting, obtrusive and aggressive’. While Briton maintained that ‘the boast of an enlightened Britisher should be that he carries a heart large enough to love and live beside any countryman in the British dominions’, national stereotypes continued to feed strongly into ensuing contributions. Underlying the debate were questions concerning national identity. With Scots and English thus lampooning one another in faraway climes, the stereotypes drawn upon fuelled an increasingly bitter exchange that continued for several weeks.

Accurately reflecting the prevailing sentiments of the inhabitants of Dunedin or not, letters to the editor from one newspaper are suggestive only of patterns of migrant identity. But the way in which national stereotypes took centre stage is notable: both Scottish and English contributors held strong sympathies for their respective old homes, drawing upon them for the purpose of positioning themselves in their new home, New Zealand. The examples attest to the ubiquity and persistence of such sympathies and hint at the type of ‘cultural baggage’ that many migrants arrived with abroad, never fully abandoning the life and country they had left. Yet, while migration neither necessarily nor automatically marks a clear-cut break with the old life, migrants did not inevitably fall back into prescribed cultural continuities either. Continuities and the persistence of ethnic ties, however, are often assumed, easily masking more than they might reveal about immigrant life.

This and the previous quotes were found in the University of Otago Medical Library Newspaper Clippings Book, n.d., Hocken Library, Dunedin [Hocken], MS-1653.

Migration was not, as John Bodnar has argued, primarily an uprooting experience, see The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants in Urban America (Bloomington, 1985), where Bodnar takes on the idea of ‘uprooting’ as first stipulated by Oscar Handlin in The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations that Made the American People (Boston, 1951); see also L. Fraser, To Tara via Holyhead: Irish Catholic Immigrants in Nineteenth-Century Christchurch (Auckland, 1997), 4.

This has been a particular problem with respect to Irish communities abroad, for example A. O’Day, ‘Imagined Irish Communities: Networks of Social Communication of the Irish

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