The New Zealand Connection:

Mathesons and Rev. Norman MacLeod

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Recent discussion regarding our clansmen in New Zealand brought to mind the wanderings of the famous pioneer clergyman, Norman MacLeod. We usually associate the MacLeod movement with the St. Anns area of Cape Breton. However Rev. MacLeod's initial labours in the New World were in Pictou County, Nova Scotia.

Norman MacLeod was born in 1780 at Clachtoll in the Parish of Assynt, Sutherlandshire. This was a fishing and crofting community in which Norman toiled for his first twenty seven years. Various contemporary writings reveal that the appointed minister, Rev. William MacKenzie, was interested in his calling only for the money and became alcoholic in his later years. Having been brought up under such contemptable leadership, it is not surprising that MacLeod later sought to denounce his native Church of Scotland.

At the age of 27 he entered the University of Aberdeen and excelled in the arts and moral philosophy. He entered into the final training for the ministry but it became apparent that he would never reconcile himself with the moderate sway of his church. After two years he left University life and moved with his bride to Lochbroom in Ross to teach school. While there he began to preach his uncomprimising brand of Calvinism much to the annoyance of the parish minister. The rift further developed when his son was denied baptism. He subsequently lost his job which led to his decision to emigrate.

In 1817 he boarded ship for Pictou, a trip wrought with bad weather. During the trip he won several followers who shared his concern over the loose attitudes of the Kirk. They were to become the backbone of his movement. He found refuge on the Middle River of Pictou near Rocklin, (Kerr's Mills). A log church in a state of disrepair already existed nearby. MacLeod wandered into the community just as a rift was gaining momentum between the long established families of the lower settlements and the recent immigrants of the upper settlements. Not surprisingly the settlers of Gairloch, New Lairg, Millbrook and Upper West River chose to associate with their fellow Sutherland and Ross preacher. His strong personalily and severe interpretation of the Bible appealed to the Gaelic speaking community.

By 1820, Rev. MacLeod became disillusioned with Pictou County. He felt that the majority of the County was too set in its ways to embrace his vision of religion and were repeating many of the mistakes made by the Kirk in Scotland. Accordingly he pulled up stakes and set sail for Ohio. During a sea storm the boat had to find shelter in St. Anns Bay in Cape Breton. The area was largely unsettled and showed economic promise away from the temptations of Pictou. A fair number of his followers chose to join him and left their original holdings on the Middle River.

The "Normanites" flourished in this new home for over 30 years. Norman MacLeod continued to dish out his rebukes, deny baptisms and forbid communion to his sinful flock. However the promise of a more isolated parish caused him to lead his people around the world first to Australia and then to New Zealand where his followers founded Waipu.

Many of our Matheson families were already established around Millbrook and New Lairg when Rev. MacLeod arrived. No doubt they were adherants to his church. Matheson's were among his followers around St. Anns and later in New Zealand. Unfortunately our early records are incomplete as to the relationships between the Mathesons who chose to remain in Pictou County and those who moved to Cape Breton. A tradition exists that one of the Mathesons of Millbrook chose to relocate to St. Anns while his brothers remained at Millbrook to begat the Lovat, West River Stn., Brookfield, Tatamagouche and Plainfield lines. Hopefully we will someday discover the missing link.

Copyright (C) 1993; Glen M. Matheson
Published in: Newsletter: Clan Matheson Society, Vol. 8; April 1993
Included with kind permission of Glen Matheson
Comments to Glen Matheson

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