Between 1853 and 1870 Scottish immigrants made up around 30% of New Zealand’s fledgling population, which was more than any of the other UK immigrants. Up to half of these were agricultural labourers from the highlands seeking cheap land for sale, and ultimately, a better way of life.
Bringing with them traditions, sports, poetry, recipes, music, and of course language, the Scottish settlers made an indelible impression on the New Zealand way of life. Southlanders especially hark back to their Scottish roots, and still roll their ‘rrr’s’ and use words like ‘crib’ and ‘wee’.
Some of the Scottish immigrants were artisans and small traders who came from in and around Edinburgh. This is the place where many Kiwis feel a kinship to the Scots, especially those from its sister city of Dunedin. Dunedin is the South Island’s second largest city and its name, Dùn Èideann, is the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh.
As a New Zealander, visiting Edinburgh is always akin to a kind of pilgrimage, as I feel I come home to the source of part of my culture. Even though most Scots congregated in Southland, the rest were pretty much evenly spread throughout New Zealand. In Auckland I grew up eating porridge, scones and shortbread, spent hours of my childhood knitting and watched pipe bands parading down Queen Street whenever there was a special event. Perhaps this is why Edinburgh feels familiar to me, and why I chose to live here for a year when I was doing my two year overseas stint in the UK.
I was recently given the opportunity to do a two week house-sit in Edinburgh, so I jumped at the chance to visit my Scottish home away from home once again. If anything, this trip has solidified my attachment to Edinburgh even more. I’ve been: on a walking tour learning precious nuggets of history, up the 287 steps of Scott’s Monument taking in the 360 degree views, to the Writer’s Museum, the National Musuem, the Bank of Scotland Museum, an exhibition on Scottish film, reading about Edinburgh’s lost architectural heritage, appreciating bagpipers, eating shortbread, and getting drenched in the unpredictable weather.
I’ve been listening to that lilting burr on buses, trains, in streets, in shops and it reminds me of all the Scottish people who gave up homes, friends, loved ones to travel half-way round the world to a tiny, unformed country to start a new life.
But then some of Edinburgh’s best known writers left this fair city in search of adventure. Robert Louis Stevenson, he of Treasure Island fame, was born and bred in Edinburgh and ended up living in Samoa. He had a love/hate relationship with Edinburgh, its climate didn’t agree with him but when he was away he thought of it constantly.
He wrote in his book Travels With A Donkey in 1879 – “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move”.
I think this Scottish pioneering spirit has inextricably found its way into the Kiwi mindset. For many of us, as much as we love our homes, we also need to be constantly on the move, discovering, experiencing and enjoying life. And if there’s one thing the Scots know how to do, it’s how to have a good time, whiskey or no whiskey!