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Tartan Ferret

The Founding of Dunedin

A short history of the settlement by of Dunedin by Brian Nicholls, with thanks to the "Hocken Library" for the use of the historic photos and to www.visit-dunedin.co.nz/historyscots.html

The 'John Wickliffe' and the 'Philip Laing' landed with the first settlers in 'Dunedin' in 1848 at the end of a period of intense activity at 'Home' and in New Zealand. But not entirely the end - the people working in Dunedin learnt only at the last minute that the settler ships would soon be there, so there was nothing much for the new arrivals to live in when they arrived.

Ships in DunedinThe first organised European settlements of New Zealand had been organised by the New Zealand Company, under E.G. Wakefield, in 1839-1840, at Wellington, and around that Central area. It was Wakefield's idea of the 'class settlement' (transposing a cross-section of the Old Country to NZ, from the labouring peasant to the capitalist) which inspired further settler movements in Britain, including in Scotland, where it at first centred around George Rennie, MP who, in 1842, first proposed the establishment of a Scottish settlement:
"We shall found a New Edinburgh at the Antipodes that shall one day rival the old", he predicted. It would be a 'class settlement' all right, but one founded upon the 'Free Church'. Which is where Rennie eventually bowed out. The reins were enthusiastically taken over by the future 'leader' of the new town, Captain William Cargill, who had fought in the Peninsula War, and who was now in his sixties. His 'Free Church' religious organiser was to be the Rev Thomas Burns, nephew of the bard, who had forsaken the Established Church after the 1843 Disruption. Although the problems were mighty, there were also favourable circumstances - it was 'the hungry forties', landlordism was stripping the Highlands, the people needed fresh beginnings and NZ was one of the chosen lands.

A Lay Association of the Free Church of Scotland for the NZ settlement was established, and they entered upon an arrangement with the NZ Company in which the Company would make available 144,600 acres of land, divided into 2,400 properties.

* Town allotment 1/4 acre
* Suburban allotment 10 acres
* Rural allotment 50 acres

The cost would be £2 (2 pounds) per acre which was intended to make people town-dwellers, and give them a start as farmers. A priority had been to find a place for people to settle in the South Island and the NZ Company surveyors inspected many areas. Edward Shortland, the government's Protector of Aborigines, entered the Harbour with local Maori guides and proceeded to the upper reaches, then, over a period of days, walked what was to become the "Otago Block". It's probable that the word 'Otago' came from the Southern Maori pronunciation of the village at the Heads, 'Otakou', which was an abandoned whaling station.

Dunedin from Little Paisley

The party arrived at the hills overlooking a heavily-wooded harbour - this was the area that Frederick Tuckett, commissioned by Wakefield, came to consider in 1844. He had been told to find a site for settlement, initially Banks Peninsula, in what was to become Canterbury. The site was to be called 'New Edinburgh' and Tuckett surveyed the South Island's east coast on land and from the chartered ship Deborah. He was looking for useful harbours and explored with, or without, local guides. He tried Port Cooper (Lyttelton), didn't like it, went to Otago, walking the last miles overland - at that time, a very rough trip. He found the 'Deborah' waiting for him in the bay which, ever since, has been called after the little vessel. He and his team of surveyors (Barnicoat and Davidson) walked the territory and came back, minds made up. On such trips is history set up.

The local Maori were now involved: the land had to be bought and the locals wanted a high price. Wakefield came down from Wellington with Government officials, and distributed 2,400 pounds in cash to the chiefs for disbursement, and four-penny pieces into out-thrust hands. It was a very large block of land, from North of the Harbour, right down to the Molyneux (now Clutha) River, and inland by several miles. Surveying began, and the movement to gather financial backers, capitalists, and other settlers, began in Scotland. The plan suffered setbacks however, amongst which was the , the NZ Company experiencing financial difficulties. Everything slowed down, Tuckett returned to England, those NZ settlers who came to the future city site to help with preparations (including setting up an hotel!) languished in hope.

Finally, led by 25-year-old Charles Kettle, the surveyors came back in 1846 to lay out the site. He brought with him a new wife, 11 surveyors and 25 labourers and having spent time in Edinburgh was able to reproduce some of its characteristics and names in the new Edinburgh of the South. By the end of 1846 the pegs were being established. At that time, the sea covered much of the level ground, the swamps were fed from descending streams, and what was to be the principal street (Princes St through the Octagon to George St) was cut in two by a steep hill. Of course, it wasn't Kettle's task to make the streets, just lay them out! Rennie's plan had been to have builders and labourers follow behind, but he was no longer a member of Lay Association in Scotland. To add to the difficulties of preparation, communications were so slow between the UK and NZ, and Wellington and Otago, that Wakefield found out the departure date of the two first ships only just before they left, and the boat he sent to Otago with stores and building materials arrived not long before the settlers. The name Dunedin had been chosen instead of New Edinburgh: It was the Celtic form of 'Edinburgh', and was part of the movement against establishing 'new' cities which had been current, e.g. New York.

Cargill's monument at the OctagonThe two ships had sailed separately, the John Wickliffe leaving Gravesend on the 24th November, 1847, and the Philip Laing leaving Greenock three days later. The former carried Captain Cargill, 97 emigrants and a large quantity of stores. A majority of her passengers were not Free Kirkers, but Church of England, showing how difficult it had been to sell the idea to enough Scots of leaving everything for a foreign country. The Philip Laing was only a little boat (450 tons), carrying 247 passengers. In charge was the Rev Thomas Burns. It would be a voyage of 117 days, during which there was no land in sight! She finally arrived on the 15th April, 1848, three weeks after the John Wickliffe.

The John Wickliffe had arrived off the coast opposite Saddle Hill on the 21st March, and finally entered the harbour on 23rd accompanied by Kettle and Richard Henry Driver, the pilot. The women and children stayed for a time on board while the men made their way to the town site to hastily erect barracks on the beach, a jetty, a store (although a lot of the cargo had to stay covered in tarpaulins on the beach for a time). While building went on, the men lived in the bush, or in tents. Thankfully the weather was settled. One labourer wrote: "If I had been in Scotland, I would have been dead. I lived several nights in the bush, but found no ill effects from it." Two sets of barracks were eventually built, one for the Scottish, the other for the English colonists. The Philip Laing barracks were much larger, and divided into three: married couples in the middle, unmarried men and women at separate ends. Partly prefabricated cottages had been brought out for the leaders, and these were erected.

The first note for the new settlement was struck by Captain Cargill, the 'father' and leader, when he addressed a united meeting of his pioneers: "My friends, it is a fact that the eyes of the British Empire, and I may say of Europe and America, are upon us. The rulers of our great country have struck out a system of colonisation on liberal and enlightened principles. And small as we now are, we are the precursors of the first settlement which is to put that settlement to the test."














Dunedin Peninsula






The marvellous natural harbour










Beach near Dunedin











Sandfly Bay









Onboard the Philip Laing

Life on board the Philip Laing was disciplined and ordered. The emigrants rose at 6.30 am, roll-call was at 7.30 am, then quarters were cleaned. Breakfast followed, then morning worship at 10.30 am. There were 93 children under 14, so they had school at 11 am under the supervision of the schoolmaster, James Blackie. Lunch followed, then, after free-time, school was recalled at 4 pm. Steerage passengers had tea at 5.30 pm, the cabin party at 6.30 pm. Evening worship brought the day to a close. And weekly rations for the steerage passengers were:

5 1/4 lbs hard ship's biscuits; 3 1/2 lbs flour; 1lb beef; 1 1/2 lbs prime mess pork; 1lb preserved meat; 1lb rice; 1lb barley; 1/2 lb raisins; 3 oz suet; 1 pint peas; 1 oz tea; 1 1/2 oz coffee; 3/4 lb sugar; 7 oz butter; 1/2 pint vinegar or pickles; 2 oz salt; 1/2 oz mustard; 21 quarts water; 3 1/2 pounds potatoes.
Steerage passengers had paid 16 guineas for passage, cabin passengers from 35 guineas upwards.




A statue of Rabbie Burns in Dunedin


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