The settlement of Dunedin, in New Zealand, was founded on the 23rd of March, 1848.
The date of the arrival of the emigrant ship, ‘John Wickliffe’, is celebrated in Otago Province as the founding day of what was to be called New Edinburgh. Instead, the place was named Dunedin, after the ancient Welsh-Britonic name for Edinburgh – Dun-Edin; 'the fort on the steep face of a rock' as per the bard, Aneurin. Edinburgh was called Edwinesburch or Edenesburg by the Saxons and the earliest mention of its name as such, apart from the epic poem, occurs in the Annales Ultonienses, an MS in the British Museum, in which the following passage appears under the year A. D. 637, “Bellum Gline Muresan et Obsessio Edin.” The change of heart regarding the name came about after a letter appeared in the ‘New Zealand Journal’, in which the publisher, William Chambers, suggested that
the prefix ‘New’ had been overused already in American place names.
The 'John Wickliffe' and its 97 passengers had sailed from Gravesend, four months previously, almost to the day, and its arrival was followed, three weeks later, by another ship, the ‘Philip Laing’, which had departed from Greenock, with 247 settlers. Those two ships brought the first of the Otago Association's immigrants to New Zealand. Those Scottish settlers were escaping an economic depression and seeking a fresh start – it was 'the hungry forties' and the ‘clearances’, begun in the aftermath of Culloden, in 1746, were stripping the Highlands – and New Zealand was one land chosen as a destination.
The first organised European settlements were organized by the New Zealand Company, in 1839-1840, around Wellington and that Central area. Those settler movements from Britain were inspired by E.G. Wakefield’s idea of transposing a cross section of people, labouring peasants to laborious capitalists, to New Zealand. Before that, the settlement of Otakou, on Otago Peninsula, which was to have become New Edinburgh, but ended up being called Dunedin, was a fishing village. There had been a whaling station there once, but by 1848 it had been abandoned.
The plans to create “a New Zealand settlement for Scotland” were proposed, in 1842, by the Scottish architect and politician, George Rennie, MP. He was concerned at the English domination of the first New Zealand Company settlements and not particularly about fish. “We shall found a New Edinburgh at the Antipodes that shall one day rival the old,” he predicted.
However, his plans were highjacked, and the enterprise turned into a Free Church enterprise, by Thomas Burns and William Cargill. This came about, because of a significant split within the Church of Scotland, which led to the formation of the ‘Wee Frees’, the new Free Church of Presbyterians, in the ‘Disruption’ of 1843. Burns and Cargill were religious émigrés who saw Otago as a new home and a new beginning for the new Free Church of Scotland.
A man called Frederick Tuckett was commissioned to find a site for settlement on the South Island. He tried a few places, eventually arriving at Deborah Bay (named after his ship) with a team of surveyors, and after walking the territory, settled on this area for the settlement. The land was bought from the local Maori for £2,400 pounds, paid to the Chiefs in cash.
It took two years for surveyors, led by a Charles Kettle, to finally came back and lay out the site, but by the end of 1846, the pegs were being established. Kettle had some knowledge of Edinburgh and this enabled him to plan some of its characteristics for New Edinburgh, despite having to contend with the near-vertical slopes of the new town's hills. His job, though, was just to lay out the site, difficult enough in itself. At that time, the sea covered much of the level ground, there were swamps on the flat, and what was to be the principal street (Princes St. through the Octagon to George St.) was cut in two by a steep hill.
After the ships arrived, the men erected two sets of barracks, one for the Scottish, the other for the English colonists, a jetty, and a store. While the building went on, the men lived in the bush, or in tents. 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".
Burns and Cargill came to Otago as settlers, the former in the 'Philip Laing' and Cargill, first to arrive, in the 'John Wickliffe'. Captain William Cargill, who had fought in the Peninsula War, and who was then in his sixties, was the designated 'leader' of the new town. The Rev. Thomas Burns, nephew of 'The Bard', was the ‘Free Church' organizer, who preached his first sermon on the day of his arrival. By the end of the year, land was allocated, and modest houses were constructed, as were a store and a school, which was also used as the church. There was also a four page newspaper, the ‘Otago News’.
Two-thirds of the original Otago settlers were Free Church Presbyterians. The non-Presbyterian settlers were referred to by Burns as, “the little enemy”. In August, 1848, over half of Otago’s UK-born population of 403 was Scottish. Today, 50% of Greater Dunedin’s 78 suburbs are readily identifiable by name association in Scotland and 43.6% are unique to Scotland.
Here’s a final titbit to make you smile: in 1866, Dunedin was considered by one European pamphlet-writer to be, “a little township, something like a small fishing village …inhabited by a population consisting chiefly of rigidly righteous, but whisky loving, unprincipled Scotsmen.” You don't know if you should be fended or offended.