Was ‘being Scottish’ more important in New Zealand than in Scotland?

This essay argues that ‘being Scottish’ was more important in New Zealand than in Scotland. The question is analysed in two parts. Firstly how ‘being Scottish’ constructed and for what reasons. The construction of the identity of the Scottish settler in New Zealand is explored. Demographic information and the reason for particular symbols becoming synonymous with Scottish identity are explained. Secondly the reasons for why ‘being Scottish’ became more important to Scottish migrants are explored through Scottish Associations, Caledonian games and the celebration of the Scottish national poet Robert Burns.

The demographic information collected by Jock Phillips and Terry Hearn of those who emigrated from Scotland and the regions they came from add evidence to the argument. In datasets beginning with 1840-1852 and ending with 1916-1945, those Scots who emigrated from the two Lowlands categories never make up less than a combined 59.9 percent (1853-1870). The strongest contingent of Lowlanders arrived in the first period of settlement, 1840-1852 making up 73.3 percent of all Scots immigrants. Nearly three quarters of the first Scots in New Zealand were from the industrial, urbanising Lowlands. Most Scots were not Highlanders. Highlanders made up a tiny number in comparison being 10.3 percent of immigrants in 1840-1852 period and at the most 16.0 percent in the 1853-1870 period.[1] Phillips and Hearn further comment on the popular image of Scots migrants in conflict with the statistics stating that as most Scots immigrants were from the Lowlands, the evidence is “rather contrary to the popular image of Scot immigrants, which associates them with Highland shepherds”.[2] As for the cause for the exodus of Scots to New Zealand from 1848, Michael King attributes this to an economic recession and split in the Presbyterian church at the time driving many Scots to look for a new home. [3]

Scottish identity was adaptable in New Zealand, much like the Scottish people themselves. People negotiated how Scottish they wanted to be on a daily basis. While keen to integrate into the new society they were proud to display Scottishness.[4] On the surface however, manifestations of Scottishness could seem to be “concentrated on the superficial and romanticised aspects of Scottishness”.[5] Tanja Beultmann states that “national origins are not necessarily key to understanding ethnic identity: A large number of Scots in New Zealand opted for a circumstantial/instrumental interpretation of their Scottish identity…they did so in a fully conscious act of manufacture” (Emphasis mine).[6] What Scottishness offered to Scots so far from home was a “common denominator”.[7] Scottish identity in New Zealand represented a collective ideal from which Scots interpreted differently based on their circumstances.[8] In commenting on the Scots construction of ‘being Scottish’, Tom Brooking wryly notes that “No one seems bothered that (Robert) Burns hated the bagpipes, distrusted Highlanders, spoke in a dialect completely alien to Gaelic speakers, and addressed the haggis to take a democratic swipe at the pretensions of aristocratic, would-be patrons”.[9]

John M. MacKenzie argues that a coherent unified Scottish identity only came into being during the nineteenth century, and that it was the creation of political elites. The creation of a unified Scotland in collective memory served the purposes of the British Empire. Before the nineteenth century Highlanders, Lowlanders and those from the outlying Islands of Scotland saw themselves as belonging to very different regions.[10] Scots were willing participants in the construction of the British Empire. In exchange for the loss of their own parliament in 1707 following the Act of Union, elite Scots were allowed to maintain control over civil institutions in Scotland. These institutions, particularly Scottish associations may have been replicated in New Zealand to secure control over public life.[11] Migrating to a new country did not destroy old ethnic identity. Migrant Scots would focus on what separated ‘us’ from ‘them’ creating a new Scottish identity focussed on ethnicity in a new place.[12] Beultmann further states that “For them, the Scottish nation was not just a political entity they left when they emigrated; it was also a construct comprised of a distinct culture, ancestral myths and memories”.[13]

Clothing was a powerful symbol and so was religion amongst New Zealand Scots. The kilt was “symbolic of rebellion and resistance”, in particular during the traumatic Highland Clearances. The dispossession of Highlanders of their land entered collective memory and so the kilt became a powerful symbol of Scottishness for New Zealand Scots.[14] During the colonisation of New Zealand in the nineteenth century, kilts were seen to be a symbol of “authority and tradition”.[15] Scottish Catholics practiced a form of Christianity that was a distinct minority both at home in Scotland and among Scots in the Otago colony. What enabled them to integrate successfully without sectarian strife was the Scottishness they shared with Presbyterian Scots and the long history of comparative religious tolerance in the Scottish Highlands. [16] Families migrated in groups taking their local networks with them and reassembling them in the new country. They would signal their continued Scottishness to others by displaying the familiar symbols of Scots Gaelic, bagpipes and whiskey.[17]

The powerful created mythology of the distinctive Highlander being forced from his lands and leaving for lands far away throughout the British Empire obscured Scots who were not as distinctive, like the more numerous Lowland Scot.[18] During the nineteenth century when the British Empire was at the height of its power, Scottishness was reflected in Scotland’s unique educational, legal and religious institutions. Scottishness was redesigned to fit in with the greater scheme of Britishness while remaining unique. This uniqueness was symbolised by symbols appropriated from the Highlands to add distinctiveness to Scots throughout the Empire.[19]  The Highlander symbols with were used to display Scottishness included clothing like Tartans, stereotypes of frugality, and shared common Scottish history. Compared to symbols used by Irish settlers which were perceived negatively as something alien, Scottish symbols were seen as being a part of the British whole. [20]

In Scotland, associations served to allow middle class Scots to control Scottish civil society. The founding of settlements in the New Zealand of Scottish saw a natural replication of the institution of Scottish Associations, though they came to serve a different purpose over time. [21] Scottish associations sprang up all over the country, though given that Scots gravitated toward Otago and Southland there were more in those regions. Of the 154 clubs still existing in 1930, 101 were Caledonian societies. The rest were Scottish Societies, Burns Clubs and Gaelic societies.[22] Scots upon arriving in New Zealand organised themselves along the factor common to all of them, Scottish ethnicity. Caledonian Societies, Gaelic Societies, Burns Clubs and other Scottish societies formed as the centre of emigrant Scottish communities in New Zealand.[23]

The formation of Scottish associations and ethnic clubs served two purposes in New Zealand. Firstly, maintenance of Scottish identity. Secondly, adjustment to a new life in the colonies while allowing regular interactions with other Scots.[24] By the early twentieth century, Scottish associations of all kinds were experiencing internal tensions. The conflict came between older members who believed that Scottish associations were created for the purposes of emphasising Scottishness and the next generation who just wanted to fit in with other New Zealanders. The next generation did not want to be Scottish New Zealanders, but rather New Zealand Scots.[25] Although initially set up to conduct charitable works and to integrate new immigrants, the main function of Caledonian societies over time became the organisation of successful annual Caledonian games gatherings around the country of which there will be more of later in the next section.[26] Over time, traditionalists who were focussed on the role of the associations in preserving Scottishness came to value dinners and balls as more culturally pure. Caledonian games by the twentieth century were put on for profit, not for the recollection of cultural and ethnic memory. The wider appeal of Caledonian games proved to both alienate traditionalist Scots and bring modernising Scots closer to other New Zealanders.[27]

Caledonian games were first organised in conjunction and with the help of Scottish ethnic clubs, particularly in the Otago and Southland heartland of New Zealand’s Scots populations.[28] In respect of such organised sporting activities as Caledonian Games, “arguably, given the comparatively low numbers of Highlanders among New Zealand’s immigrants, such activities were as much about confirming a sense of Scots identity as perpetuating activities they enjoyed at home”.[29] Beginning in 1863 the Caledonian Society circuit came to life. Bagpipe bands would perform at Caledonian events on weekends and public holidays, adding Scottish authenticity to proceedings. Performance of Scottish culture attracted the crowds, particularly in the most Scottish parts of New Zealand in Southland and Otago.[30] Caledonian games were not just for Scots however, and in the eyes of traditionalists that was part of the problem. The games were increasingly professionalised and modernised to make them more appealing to the general New Zealand public. Eventually the Caledonian games faded in popularity but not before helping in “forming instead an intrinsic part of a larger, New Zealand-wide culture of organised sport and leisure”.[31]

Caledonian games served as both an expression of Scottishness and an attempt at integration with other ethnicities in the colony through the broad appeal of sports and games.[32] Modern sports and the clash of ideas proved to be the beginning of the end for large, well-attended Caledonian game meetings. Traditionalists in Scottish societies wanted to preserve the flavour of Caledonian games as distinctly Scottish to hold on to a “romantic, perhaps invented, past”. Turning a profit was a secondary consideration.[33] Ultimately, Caledonian games both entertained those who were not Scottish, and provided a site of collective memory for those Scots who wanted access it.[34] Caledonian games, much like celebrations of the poet Robert Burns were powerful sites of collective memory for Scots in New Zealand.[35]

Robert Burns was the summit of Scottishness for New Zealand Scots. The memory of Burns and his work served the purpose of being a common symbol that all Scots could revere. The reverence however could be adapted to fit a purpose, like Scots in the colonial world adjusting to their new lives away from the old homeland of Scotland. Robert Burns made for a centralised piece in the framework of Scottish remembrance and celebration in New Zealand.[36] Clearly, the committees and societies that were created in the 1860s to organise the events operated as an organised outlet for ethnic identity to be celebrated and culturally transferred.[37] Efforts by people to maintain a Scottish society during this period helped to encourage the development of celebration of the work of Robert Burns. Burns’ work depicted Scotland as pure, romantic and uncomplicated, making it easy for Scots to identify with his work.[38] The Chairman of the first Burns dinner in Dunedin in 1855, John Barr observed the differences in celebrating Burns in Scotland, and celebrating Burns in New Zealand, “While ‘some half-dozen of his [Burns] admirers might be seen skulking to some obscure tavern in a back street, as though they were doing an act they were ashamed of [in Scotland]’, there were now many respectable gentlemen, openly and appropriately displaying their admiration for the poet in Dunedin.”.[39] In Scotland it was an odd thing to be an open admirer of Robert Burns, in New Zealand it was the activity of enlightened and privileged gentleman. In the colony Burns had become a conduit for “linking directly to a not so distant past, Burns anniversaries became an adaptive strategy, facilitating continuity”.[40]

Being Scottish was more important to New Zealand Scots in New Zealand than in Scotland. Demographically most Scots were Lowland Scots, but symbols of Highland culture were more distinctive. These better known Highland symbols were adopted by all Scots as markers of their collective ethnicity and identity. The collective representation of Scottishness was however something created and artificial. The British Empire for its own purposes facilitated this creation of an artificial but unifying Scottish identity for its own purposes. It was considered safe as it fitted inside the construct of Britishness. Scottish Associations modelled on those in Scotland allowed Scots to both maintain Scottish identity as they constructed it and to help new migrants. The charitable works and social gatherings put on by Scottish Associations helped to reinforce Scottish identity. Caledonian Games and collective readings of the poetry of Robert Burns served the same purpose. The constructed Scottish identity created by the collective of New Zealand Scots was designed to unify the community around mutual ethnicity and to help them create new lives in the colony.

Bibliography

Beultmann, Tanja, Scottish ethnicity and the making of New Zealand society, 1850 to 1930, (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2012).

Beultmann, Tanja ‘The Image of Scotland which We Cherish in Our Hearts’: Burns Anniversary Celebrations in Colonial Otago, Immigrants and Minorities, 30:1, 2012, pp.78-97.

Beultmann, Tanja ‘No colonists are more imbued with their national sympathies than Scotchmen’, New Zealand Journal of History, 43: 2, 2009, pp.169-181.

Beultmann, Tanja ‘Manly games, athletic sports and the commodification of Scottish identity: Caledonian gatherings in New Zealand to 1915’, Scottish Historical Review, 89: 2 2010, pp.224-247

Brooking, Tom, ‘Scots miners in the goldfields, 1861-1870’ in Brooking, Tom and Coleman, Jennie (eds.) The heather and the fern : Scottish migration & New Zealand settlement, (Dunedin, Otago University Press, 2003).

Brosnahan,Sean ‘Being Scottish in an Irish Catholic Church in a Scottish Presbyterian Settlement: Otago’s Scottish Catholics, 1848–1895’ Immigrants & Minorities, 30:1, 2012, pp.22-42.

Coleman, Jennie, ‘Heather and Fern’ in Brooking, Tom and Coleman, Jennie (eds.) The heather and the fern : Scottish migration & New Zealand settlement, (Dunedin, Otago University Press, 2003).

King, Michael, The Penguin History of New Zealand, (Auckland, Penguin, 2003).

MacKenzie, John.M., ‘The last of the clan and other highland emigrants’ in Brooking, Tom and Coleman, Jennie (eds.) The heather and the fern : Scottish migration & New Zealand settlement, (Dunedin, Otago University Press, 2003).

McCarthy, Angela ‘Scottish National Identities among Inter-War Migrants in North America

and Australasia’ The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 34: 2, 2006, pp. 201–222.

McCarthy, Angela, ‘Frugal and Thrifty, Hard-Working and Sober’:

Representations of Scottishness in New Zealand, Immigrants & Minorities, 30:1, 2012, pp.1-21.

Phillips, Jock and Hearn, Terry, Settlers : New Zealand immigrants from England, Ireland & Scotland, 1800-1945 (Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2008).

Pickles, Katie, ‘Kilts as costumes: identity, resistance and tradition’, Bronwyn Labrum, Fiona McKergow and Stephanie Gibson, (eds.), Looking Flash. Clothing in Aotearoa New Zealand, (Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2007), pp.41-58 and 249-251.


[1] Jock Phiilips and Terry Hearn, Settlers : New Zealand immigrants from England, Ireland & Scotland, 1800-1945 (Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2008) p.107.

[2] Phillips and Hearn, p.108.

[3] Michael King, The Penguin History of New Zealand, (Auckland, Penguin, 2003) p.170.

[4] Tanja Beultmann, Scottish ethnicity and the making of New Zealand society, 1850 to 1930, (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2012) p.10.

[5] Beultmann, Scottish Ethnicity, p.203.

[6] Beultmann, Scottish Ethnicity, pp.204-205.

[7] Beultmann, Scottish Ethnicity, p.209.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Tom Brooking ‘Scots miners in the goldfields, 1861-1870’ in Tom Brooking and Jennie Coleman (eds.), The heather and the fern : Scottish migration & New Zealand settlement, (Dunedin, Otago University Press, 2003) p.49.

[10] John M.MacKenzie, ‘The last of the clan and other highland emigrants’ in Tom Brooking and Jennie Coleman (eds.),The heather and the fern : Scottish migration & New Zealand settlement, (Dunedin, Otago University Press, 2003) pp.25-26.

[11] Beultmann, Scottish Ethnicity, pp.39-40.

[12] Tanja Beultmann, ‘No colonists are more imbued with their national sympathies than Scotchmen’, New Zealand Journal of History, 43: 2 ,2009, p.169.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Katie Pickles, ‘Kilts as costumes: identity, resistance and tradition’, Bronwyn Labrum, Fiona McKergow and Stephanie Gibson, (eds.), Looking Flash. Clothing in Aotearoa New Zealand, (Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2007), p.43.

[15] Pickles, p.45.

[16] Sean Brosnahan, ‘Being Scottish in an Irish Catholic Church in a Scottish Presbyterian Settlement: Otago’s Scottish Catholics, 1848–1895’ Immigrants & Minorities, 30:1, 2012, pp.23-24.

[17] Brosnahan, p.35.

[18] Angela McCarthy, ‘Scottish National Identities among Inter-War Migrants in North Americaand Australasia’ The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 34:2, 2006, p.203.

[19] Angela McCarthy, ‘Frugal and Thrifty, Hard-Working and Sober’: Representations of Scottishness in New Zealand’, Immigrants & Minorities, 30:1,2012, p.2.

[20] McCarthy, ‘Frugal and Thrifty’, pp.14-15

[21] Beultmann, ‘No colonists are more imbued’, p.169.

[22] Beultmann, ‘No colonists are more imbued’ pp.170-171.

[23] Beultmann, Scottish Ethnicity, pp.92-93.

[24] Tanja Beultmann, Tanja ‘Manly games, athletic sports and the commodification of Scottish identity: Caledonian gatherings in New Zealand to 1915’, Scottish Historical Review, 89: 2, 2010, p.229.

[25] Beultmann, Scottish Ethnicity, p.23.

[26] Beultmann, ‘No colonists are more imbued’, p.173.

[27] Beultmann,  ‘No colonists are more imbued’, p176.

[28] Beultmann, ‘Manly Games’, p.225.

[29] Phillips and Hearn, p.169.

[30] Jennie Coleman, ‘Heather and Fern’ in Tom Brooking and Jennie Cleman (eds.) The heather and the fern : Scottish migration & New Zealand settlement, (Dunedin, Otago University Press, 2003). Pp.149-150.

[31] Beultmann, Scottish Ethnicity, p.153.

[32] Beultmann, ‘Manly Games’, p.226.

[33] Beultmann, ‘Manly Games’, p.246.

[34] Beultmann, ‘Manly Games’ p.247.

[35] Beultmann, Scottish Ethnicity, p.154.

[36] Tanja Beultmann, ‘The Image of Scotland which We Cherish in Our Hearts’: Burns Anniversary Celebrations in Colonial Otago, Immigrants and Minorities, 30: 1 (2012) p.79.

[37] Beultmann, ‘The Image of Scotland’, p.80

[38] Ibid.

[39] Beultmann, ‘The Image of Scotland’,p.81.

[40] Ibid.

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