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Rev. Norman McLeod

Norman McLeod, (17 September 1780 – 14 March 1866), was a Presbyterian minister from Scotland who led a significant settlement of Highlanders to Nova Scotia and finally to Waipu, New Zealand.



Born in Lochinver to David and Margaret McLeod of Stoer, Norman spent his childhood days amongst the hills, lochans and peat bogs of remote Assynt. At the age of twenty-seven, he went to the University of Aberdeen to study for a Master of Arts degree. On graduating in 1812, he was awarded the Gold Medal for Moral Philosophy. To enable him to enter the ministry and be guaranteed a presbytery, he had to go to Edinburgh to complete a theology course. Before going to Edinburgh, he married Mary McLeod, who had long been his sweetheart and who would accompany him on his travels.

On completion of the course, Norman and Mary moved to Ullapool, where he had been appointed as teacher at the SPCK school. Teachers with the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge also doubled as lay preachers, and he soon came into conflict with the established minister Dr Ross. Norman refused to attend services taken by Dr Ross. When the McLeods wished their son John Luther baptised, they took him to Lochcarron, 40 miles to the south. Norman's stipend was stopped and in 1815 he went to Wick where he spent a year in the local fishing industry. Planning to emigrate to Canada, it took him until 1817 to find a suitable passage for the family.

Nova Scotia

July 1817 saw the family boarding the barque 'Frances Ann' and setting sail for the town of Pictou on the north coast of Nova Scotia. There was already a thriving Highland community there, mostly emigrants from Loch Broom. As the Highland Clearances were under way another 150 followed Norman to Pictou the following year.

As no church had ever been set up in Pictou, although a building had been started in 1804, he found a community waiting on him to establish a church. Here he preached the Word, 'pure and incorrupted', as God intended. As his fame spread, his followers were dubbed Normanites. By 1820, Pictou was becoming overcrowded, and Norman was invited to Ohio to preach to a group there. The decision was tough, but finally he convinced his followers to go, they set out building a ship for the voyage, also known as the Ark.

Though they initially set out for Ohio, a storm forced them to come ashore at St. Ann's on Cape Breton Island. They were the first Scots to arrive, but were soon followed by boatloads of others, from the Hebrides as well as the mainland. Soon he was surrounded by Gaelic speaking Presbyterian crofters and fishers, and their modest womenfolk who with their God-fearing ways kept the Sabbath holy and packed his church.

Back in Pictou, the Presbyterian ways were under threat from Anglican and Roman Catholic chapels, but the Normanites remained true to their beliefs. As he had still not been ordained, he travelled to New York State in 1827 to be ordained at a Presbyterian Church there. Thus, at last, he was a sanctioned minister to his flock and in 1829, he built a school. Whilst by the early 1840s his meeting house with seating for 1200 was overflowing every Sabbath, his home church had been riven apart and the Free Church of Scotland had broken away.

Facing as it does northeast, St Ann's Bay suffered the worst of severe winters, and access to the community was frequently blocked by sea ice, stopping all trade in or out. When potato blight struck in 1847-48, the hardships were too much for many who felt the need to find greener pastures elsewhere. One of Norman's sons, sailed back to Scotland, and then on to Australia, where he found work as a journalist. His letters describing the wonderful life he had found there unsettled the folk in St. Ann's. So, at the age of 68, Norman decided to pack up and go down under.

The first priority was to build ships and throughout 1850 and into 1851, the skills of the highland boatbuilders were put to full use. By October 1851, the 'Margaret', a barque of 236 tons was afloat, and the smaller 'Highland Lass' was nearing completion. In early November, Norman and Mary with seven of their children, and 150 other Normanites set sail. Having called at Cape Town en route, they arrived in Adelaide in April 1852. 'Highland Lass', carrying another 155 parishioners, arrived in October.

Adelaide, Australia

Adelaide was in the grip of a goldrush. Gold had been found at Ballarat, near Melbourne, and the accompanying greed and violence made Adelaide a misery for the Normanites. As they had sold the 'Margaret', they were trapped. When three of his six sons died of typhus, Norman believed that the Old Testament prophesy of plague and pestilence as a punishment for the worship of false gods was coming true, so they had to get out of what was becoming a hell-hole.

Waipu, New Zealand

In early 1853, he wrote to the Governor of New Zealand, Sir George Edward Grey, asking for a grant of land for his people. They purchased a schooner the 'Gazelle', and set off. On 21 September 1853, their group is reported to have landed in the North Island. They settled on the far North east coast, between Auckland and the Bay of Islands, in the area around the Waipu River and Whangarei Heads. This land was virgin bush and forest, and being coastal, the skills of the Highlanders could be fully employed. The Normanites had found a permanent home. By the end of 1859, four more shiploads had arrived. It is reckoned that by 1860 there were 883 people there representing 19 Scottish clans.

Norman lived happily in Waipu until his death in 1866. His flock continued in their Normanite ways, but as the years passed and they intermarried and moved away, their Gaelic roots dwindled as they became New Zealanders.


There are memorial stones to Norman McLeod's memory in Clachtoll near Lochinver, Scotland and St Ann's, Novia Scotia. The House of Memories in Waipu is a museum to the memory of all the Scots who went along the route taken by Rev Norman McLeod and his Normanites.

MacLeod's property on St. Ann's Bay in Nova Scotia was developed into the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts during the 1930s. The Gaelic College is the centre of Gaelic education in Canada.

Contemporary Bibliography

  • John Dunmore: Wild Cards: Eccentrics from the New Zealand Past: Auckland: New Holland: 2006: ISBN 1-86966-132-X
  • Flora MacPherson: Watchman Against the World: The Story of Norman McLeod and His People: Wreck Cove, Nova Scotia: Breton Books: 1993: ISBN 1-895415-20-9
  • Neil Robinson: To the Ends of the Earth: Norman McLeod and the Highlanders Migration to Nova Scotia and New Zealand: Auckland: HarperCollins: 1997: ISBN 1-86950-265-5
  • Neil Robinson: Lion of Scotland: Edinburgh: Birlinn: 1999: ISBN 1-84158-009-0 (originally published 1952)

External links



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