Waikato Immigration Scheme

The Stewarts of Kilbarchan Scotland Have Arrived!

The Stewarts of Kilbarchan Scotland Have Arrived!

Waikato Immigration Scheme

By Dr Michelle Ann Smith


On the 14th March1 1865 the Resolute, the last of the Waikato Immigration Scheme ships, slid down the river Clyde (Glasgow) thus beginning its long journey to New Zealand. 358 passengers disembarked in Auckland on 24th June 1865 after a relatively quick journey of 102 days. Compared with the horrendous journeys experienced by other immigrant ships, the Resolute’s journey was fairly uneventful.2


One family destined to settle on the Kirikiri Block at Papakura were the Stewarts from Kilbarchan, near Paisley (Renfrewshire).3 Robert Stewart from Crosslee, Renfrewshire married Margaret Kearns from Campbeltown, Argyllshire, c.1845, and the couple went on to have eight children. The 1851 census gives some clues about the family who were living at Barbush, No.1 Napier Street, Linwood village, Kilbarchan. Robert and Margaret were in their mid-twenties with two young children. Robert was a cotton spinner, most likely at the Barbush Cotton Mill, with the family living in workers’ accommodation.4 In 1861 the family were still living at Barbush – a tiny space (only two rooms were described as having windows) in which two adults and five children now resided. No.1 Napier Street accommodated no less than twelve families; each family group had, on average, 5-7 members, making for very cramped living conditions. Most of the Stewart’s neighbours were cotton factory workers, with some as young as 10 years old.5

Opportunities to escape Paisley’s increasing industrialisation, and the worsening living conditions, were few. With an immigration agent recruiting in the Glasgow and surrounding areas, it is little wonder Robert and Margaret decided to take a chance on a new life with potentially better prospects. And so, the Stewarts arrived in Papakura in June 1865 with six children aged between 9 months and 18 years.6

Resolute passengers joined those from the Viola in tents and raupo whares at Kirikiri and began preparing their 10-acre holdings. Robert Stewart’s 10-acre block was lot 79, and his town section was lot 81 (Onslow Road).7 Times were tough - many of the immigrants had never farmed before. Moreover, little could be done to make ten acres economically viable. Some gave up, but many persevered riding out the hard times by working their land, finding employment, or setting up residence on their allocated town lot. As local identity, Alf Willis, was to later note, the Scottish settlers had little in the way of material goods, but ‘they had mighty big hearts and plenty of grit.’8 The Stewarts were one such family who showed resilience, strength and grit. They overcame the loss of home and possessions to fire, at a time when they were reliant on every penny they made, as well as the early and unexpected deaths of family members.9

Margaret was 40 when she gave birth to their last child, Douglas Brown Stewart, in February 1867. By 1870, while running after a toddler and a five-year old, both her daughters had married and moved out of home – a situation not uncommon in the mid-nineteenth century.10 In April 1886, 19 year old Douglas married Ellen Theresa McMillan, daughter of Waikato War veteran and Cambridge resident, Alexander McMillan, and his wife Maria McGuiness.11 Ellen was about six months pregnant with her first child at the time of her marriage. Douglas was a butcher working in Shortland Street, Auckland; an occupation spanning 40 years.12

What makes Douglas and Ellen interesting is that they had fifteen children between July 1886 and January 1915: eight sons and seven daughters. Ellen was 45 when she gave birth to twins and 49 when she bore her last child, Cecil. Fifteen children (over 28½ years) was a significant number in the late nineteenth century; a time when New Zealand women were beginning to have smaller families.13 What is more extraordinary is that, at a time when childhood diseases or accidents could claim the lives of young ones, all of the couple’s children lived to adulthood. In fact, ten of them lived into their 80s and 90s. Nonetheless, one wonders how a butcher’s salary could sustain such a large family.

Eldest son Douglas jnr, and his brothers Charles and William, became ministers involved with the Presbyterian Home Mission. Robert became a grocer, and Edward became a constable; one involved in a tale of high drama in September 1933 when trying to stop a criminal stealing a car. He was proclaimed a hero, having put his life at risk by clinging on to the side of the vehicle in order to apprehend the offender. He suffered a broken leg, broken thumb and abrasions after being flung through the air when the stolen sedan crashed into a parked car. Edward spent some time in hospital, and was awarded £100 by the Automobile Association as a gift of gratitude from motorists.14 Douglas jnr, was called up during WWI, and based at Awapuni camp (Palmerston North) where he attained the rank of Lance-Corporal. He fell ill with a ‘moderately severe’ case of influenza during the 1918 pandemic, but fortunately survived.15 Youngest son, Cecil, served in WWII while elder brothers, Edward and Charles, were balloted for the Home Guard.

Even with his large brood of children, Douglas snr was fully involved in the community. His services included membership of the Papakura Town Board (including time as Chairman); Papakura Road Board; Papakura School committee; Patriotic Farewell committee (Chair); Kirk’s Bush committee; and the Athletics committee. He also belonged to the Masonic Order, and the Papakura Orphans Club. He was passionate about Papakura’s library and the establishment of a local pound. All in all, Douglas snr was a well-respected gentleman of the town.16

On his retirement from the Town Board, Douglas was praised for his ‘long and faithful services’ and the ‘various reforms he had advocated and supported’. He would be sorely missed.17 However, in July 1920, as a concerned ratepayer, Douglas attended a Town Board meeting with ‘a sheaf of complaints’ covering the lack of lighting around the town; inadequate metal on the roads around the Kirikiri settlement; and the Board’s spending of ratepayers’ money.18 While no longer on the Board, his concern for the town and its people ran deep.

This is also reflected in the Stewarts strong bond with the local community in social, educational, religious, and marital contexts. They participated in Papakura’s Patriotic League, Papakura’s Plunket Committee, horse racing, cricket, bowls, the Papakura Musical Society, highland dancing, and the Papakura Flower show (a number of the Stewart women won prizes for their sponges and cakes). Many family members were strongly committed to the First Presbyterian Church, and active in its Sunday School, Bible class, Women’s Fellowship, Women’s Missionary Union, and the choir.

However, the Stewarts were not saints, and a number occasionally crossed the Town Board. Some Stewarts, and their in-laws (Croskery and St George), were sternly written to by the clerk of the Board in 1884 and told to register their dogs at once! Moreover, Douglas Stewart was repeatedly told to tidy his road frontage, cut back his gorse and sort out his drainage – long before he became a member of the Town Board.19

Robert and Margaret Stewart succeeded in transplanting their family in a new land even though at times life was difficult, becoming an integral part of Papakura’s social, political and religious fabric.


1. Apologies for the error in date given in the E-local edition 163, October 2014, p. 21, stating the Resolute set sail from Glasgow on 1st March 1865. This is entirely the author’s error.

2. There were seven (mainly infant) deaths, nine births, and a marriage ceremony.

White Wings; NZ Herald 22 June 1865; 23 June 1865; 24 June 1865; 26 June 1865; Daily Southern Cross, 24 June 1865. Some references state there were 354 passengers.

3. The Kirikiri Block was land confiscated from Ihaka Taakanini and his people in 1864, and cut into 10-acre blocks. The boundaries were Clevedon Road, Settlement Road (and further out to Boundary Road), Dominion Road and Opaheke Road.

4. Barbush Mill was owned by John and William Napier and had approximately 13000 spindles at work and employed between 100 and 400 people at any one time, during its long history. See: New Statistical Account for Scotland, 1838 and 1945.

5. See: 1851 census and 1861 census. Incidentally, the Stewart’s 10 year old son Peter was a cotton factory worker in the 1861 census. See: www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

6. Interestingly there is a 6 year gap between children, and while I have found no records, it could be supposed that there may have been 1 or 2 more children born in the intervening years who either died, were stillborn or miscarried.

7. 1880 Electoral Roll.

8. Elsdon Craig, Breakwater Against the Tide, Auckland, 1982, p. 130.

9. The house fire in 1880 destroyed everything the family had. See: Auckland Star, 6 December 1880.

Margaret died in 1884 aged 59 and Robert died in 1893 aged 69. Mary died aged 2 in 1860; Robert died aged 40 in 1893 in 1895; Emily Jane died aged 48; William died aged 38 in 1902. Peter was 65 when he died.

10. Emily Jane married William Montgomery St George, a gumdigger, in 1868 and remained in Papakura. Margaret married William Eggerton, a shipwright, in 1869.

11. McMillan was ex 99th Regiment, 40th Regiment and 3rd Waikato Regiment. He had also been employed by the Hobart Police prior to coming to New Zealand.

12. Auckland Star, 21 July 1928.

13. www.teara.govt.nz. New Zealand women were now giving birth to seven children or less, on average.

14. NZ Herald: 12 October 1933, p. 8; 19 October 1933, p. 10.

15. Military Personnel Record, Archives NZ. There were 7 deaths at Awapuni during November 1918, although the Evening Post reported 100 military personnel were in the camp hospital suffering influenza on 9th November. Douglas was sick from 8 November until the 14 November.

16. Douglas had been a member of the Papakura Town Board for 8 years. See: Auckland Star, 21 July 1928.

17. Pukekohe & Waiuku Times, 29 November 1916. Also see: 10 November 1916.

18. Pukekohe & Waiuku Times, 6 July 1920.

19. Papakura Town Board Minutes, vol I, 1882-1890, p. 41. See also: entries for 7 March 1898; 6 February 1899; 6 April 1903; 5 September and 7 November 1904.

My thanks to Kara Oosterman for her assistance in the research of this article.

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“What makes Douglas and Ellen interesting is that they had fifteen children between July 1886 and January 1915: eight sons and seven daughters”

“Times were tough - many of the immigrants had never farmed before. Moreover, little could be done to make ten acres economically viable”

Photo and captions

Stewart Family: Douglas Brown Stewart (snr), Ellen McMillan and fourteen children, 1911. Photograph reproduced courtesy of the Papakura Museum Photographic Archive.

Douglas Brown Stewart (snr). Photograph reproduced courtesy of the Papakura Museum Photographic Archive.

Douglas Brown Stewart (jnr), 1917. Photograph reproduced courtesy of the Papakura Museum Photographic Archive.

The Stewart Homestead, Settlement Road, Kirikiri, c.1914. Photograph reproduced courtesy of the Papakura Museum Photographic Archive.