A Wee Slice of Scotland in New Zealand

A Wee Slice of Scotland in New Zealand

We arrived at Port Chalmers (South Island of New Zealand) aboard the cruise ship MS Noordam on Wednesday 8th January 2020 at around 7.30 am, to visit the “New Edinburgh”.

Dunedin MapGoogle Map of Otago Harbour – Port Chalmers in the middle of the map, 10 kms from the harbour’s entrance; Dunedin at bottom left, 15 kms from “The Port”.

Port Chalmers (or Koputai as it was called at the time) was the first attempt at a “New Edinburgh” in New Zealand. Lead by Frederick Tuckett, a Scottish “free church” group, who were also members of the newly formed Otago Company, purchased the land from Maori in 1844 and renamed it Port Chalmers, after the leader of the Free Church movement in Scotland, Dr Thomas Chalmers.

DSC06322Fishing village on south side of Otago Harbour – Otago Peninsular

DSC06350Arriving at ship’s birth (left), Port Chalmers NZ

DSC06352Iona Presbyterian Church, Port Chalmers – sister church to Knox Presbyterian in Dunedin

In 1848, dissatisfaction with life at Port Chalmers caused some members of the Free Church Movement – together with one of their clergyman from Port Chalmers – to pack their belongings and walk to the head of Otago Harbour and settle there, calling their new location Dunedin (or Dùn Èideann, which is Gaelic for Edinburgh). This is what I remember of the account provided by a very reliable source, our tour guide / bus driver.

Though the founding date and naming of the new settlement can be corroborated, I cannot find any evidence to support this version of the founding of Dunedin. However, it could be considered an informal, “folk version” of Frederick Tuckett’s “official” founding of Dunedin.

Tuckett, a representative of the Lay Association of the Free Church of Scotland and The New Zealand Company/Otago Company, together with his colleagues initially did settle at Port Chalmers in 1844. Despite that, Tuckett continued to explore the surrounding areas and in 1848 came to the conclusion that the land at the head of Otago Harbour was a more suitable location for their dream city.

DSC06358View of Port Chalmers’ dock from our stateroom balcony – Logging & reforestation is an important industry in New Zealand

Port Chalmers is now a suburb of the final “New Edinburgh”, Dunedin and that city’s main port.

Around 8.30 on the morning of 8th January, we travelled to Dunedin by bus. We first explored the open park area in the centre of Dunedin’s business district, known as the Octagon.

DSC06370Robert Burns honoured in the Octagon, a link to his nephew Thomas Burns, who was Reverend/leader of the early “Free Church” in Dunedin. St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral is in the background

DSC06367St Paul’s Cathedral main entrance

DSC06377Maggie demonstrating how to use a public telephone box (pay phone)

The Railway Station and Dunedin Trains are a big attraction in Dunedin.


Another important attraction in Dunedin is a restored “castle” from the late 1800’s.

During the 1860’s a gold rush in the Otago province brought a dramatic increase in wealth and population to Dunedin. As a result it became NZ’s largest and wealthiest city of the time. One banker, William James Larnach was particularly advantaged by the inrush of money.

DSC06463Larnach’s “Castle”, high on the Otago Peninsular

Larnach constructed this family home between 1871 and 1874. After the Larnach family occupied the house, the local press dubbed it Larnach’s “castle”.

DSC06413Larnach conducted most of his business transactions in this room of the “castle”

Our Scottish expert guide, Alex, led us through the various rooms, telling the story of Larnach’s success and downfall.


Larnach’s business associates and their spouses were accommodated at the “castle” to be wined and dined. At the appropriate time the women would retire to the “drawing room” and leave the men to conduct business.

DSC06418DSC06420DSC06422DSC06429Tiled entry foyer – notice the name Larnach gave to his “castle” in the tiles, The Camp

DSC06434DSC06435DSC06439DSC06443Larnach slept alone in this bed

DSC06445Bed of wife #1 or was it for wife #2 or #3?

When Larnach’s wife died, he married her half sister, who had been living with them. She then ran every aspect of his household, just as his first wife had done. When she died he married for a third time.


In addition to being a rich banker, Larnach became a member of parliament and rose to the position of Treasurer of New Zealand.

DSC06450View of Otago Harbour from a top storey window


As the gold rush faded and some of his business dealings turned “sour”, Larnach encountered severe financial difficulties. To add to his woes, he discovered his 3rd wife and his eldest son were having an affair. Humiliated on both counts, he committed suicide.


Larnach’s “castle” was abandoned. His third wife was ruled ineligible to receive any inheritance and his sons and daughters couldn’t agree on what to do with it. All of the furniture was sold and it fell into disrepair. Eventually they sold it.

“The castle” passed through many hands, until Barry and Margaret Barker purchased it in 1967. They have and are still carrying out restorations, along with the retrieval of original furniture. Tourism funds their work.

DSC06469A view of Otago harbour and a glimpse of the South Pacific Ocean, from the gardens

In addition to a tour of Larnach’s “castle”, one can stay in the Lodge.

DSC06472DSC06476Maggie inspecting some of the accommodation cottages


As you might expect, there is much more to Dunedin than we saw. For example, there’s The University of Otago, New Zealand’s oldest, founded in Dunedin in 1869; and a Super Rugby team, named The Highlanders (for reasons of Scottish heritage) is based here.

We loved Dunedin (or should it be D’need’n) and hope to return, as part of an overland trip in the South Island.

Please join us at our next port, Akaroa Harbour, for the long bus trip to Christchurch.

And feel free to leave a comment below.

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