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Understanding the Legacy of Early Scottish Migrants

May 03, 2016 2 min read

Understanding the Legacy of Early Scottish Migrants

Scots made up approximately 20 percent of immigrants to New Zealand as at 1920. However, until recent times, their precise origins have remained relatively blurred. 

The book by Rebecca Lenihan, From Alba to Aotearoa - Profiling New Zealand's Scots migrants 1840-1920, seeks to shed light on the details of early Scottish migrants. This includes addressing the fundamental questions of: from where in Scotland did the settlers come, who came, when did they come and in what numbers, and where did they settle?

In describing the findings contained in her book, Lenihan notes that a vast majority of early Scottish migrants came from the Lowlands and Borders, as opposed to the Highlands, and that a majority of those emigrating had an agricultural background. She also highlighted that, while certain regions such as Otago received a great number of Scots during early European settlement, every region in New Zealand was settled by a more-or-less geographically perfect cross-section of Scots. 

It is undoubtedly because of this geographic spread, as well as the sheer number of Scots in the early New Zealand migrant population (which was proportionately larger than the number of Scots in Britain), that elements of Scottish culture impacted greatly on the cultural and social development of New Zealand. Lenihan points to the New Zealand education system as being one of the foremost examples of early Scottish social influence, which from an early stage followed the egalitarian Scottish model, ensuring education for all, as opposed to the English elitist model. In addition, the doors of New Zealand Universities were open to women from their inception, and followed the Scottish model of higher education. 

From Alba to Aotearoa is a comprehensive book that offers a great insight into the origins and impact of early Scottish migrants to New Zealand society, and certainly a must read for history buffs!

For more information on Rebecca, as well as information on how to purchase her book, head to:


(Victoria University of Wellington article)


(Otago University Press) 

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