- Unpacking the Kists: The Scots in New Zealand by Brad Patterson et al.
This book is the result of a long-standing collaborative enterprise within New Zealand and abroad, especially centred at Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Otago. The five authors have produced not only a comprehensive study but a cohesive one, and the first of its kind on the Scots in New Zealand.
The book covers the period from 1840 to 1920, when Scottish immigration to New Zealand was at its peak (this is fair enough; the pattern was different from that in Canada and from Australia, where immigration continued very strongly in the two post-war periods). It charts the size and shape of Scottish migration to New Zealand, the sort of people who immigrated, the parts of Scotland they came from, and the parts of New Zealand they preferred. Rebecca Lenihan navigates us through the data with a sure hand. Otago and Southland still feature strongly, but other areas—especially on the north island—get fair treatment as well. The overwhelmingly lowland makeup of New Zealand’s Scots is crystal clear, although the zealous Norman McLeod’s small Waipu colony and Southland’s highlanders are noted.
The first three chapters provide a strong narrative and descriptive spine for their own analysis as well as for the book as a whole. Case studies of a variety of successful and not-so-successful immigrants enliven the analysis. Chapters four to nine, among other things, trace the Scots’ influence on the economy, the environment, religion, political life and thought, and education.
Research into nineteenth-century settler colonies and the great migrations from Europe needs to engage actively with both the resources and the findings of family historians, and this research team has consciously done that. Excellent use is made of digital databases, one of over 6,000 Scots immigrants, derived from the work of family historians, and another of 2,503 Scots in the Cyclopedia of New Zealand (1897–1908). Family historical data is more useful than one might think, because it tends to be quite random and does not focus only on “the successful,” a common critique of the genre. The authors analyse the data assiduously and critically, showing us how to render such data more productive. Detailed scrutiny of the mechanics, nature, and identity of migration is thus possible in ways that were out of reach for earlier scholars.
A chapter on the environment is a welcome novelty in this genre. It draws together stories that, often enough, are left scattered and neglected. Farmers, graziers, “improvers,” acclimatizers, botanists, agricultural scientists, gardeners, and foresters are here analysed for their impact on the landscape and environment of the new land. The folkways and interior [End Page 426] life of Scots families—culture, religion, and leisure customs—are not lost to sight. A strong chapter on “associational culture” (by Tanja Bueltmann, author of Scottish Ethnicity and the Making of New Zealand, 1850–1930) illustrates the point that the Scots made contributions to the formation of New Zealand life by retaining their connections while adapting to and interacting with other ethnic groups. Caledonian games, for instance, quickly became general community events, taking in cycling and other non-Scottish sports.
The reception of this book in its homeland has been somewhat polarized. Some have found fault in that the book neglects internal comparison with other ethnic groups in New Zealand. Though it is not systematic, it is there. Even the title has offended but, surely, kists is an apt metaphor. As for scholarship, there are fifty-one pages of notes, a thorough bibliography, and a large and usable index, along with many tables, diagrams, and maps, although no pictures.
The final chapter locates the New Zealand experience within the broader context of Scottish emigration, making systematic comparisons with Canada, the United States, Australia, and South Africa. Though rather uneven (the reviewer found some errors regarding Australia, for instance), the conclusion is sound if undramatic. There were...