The Scottish Shop
1 George St, Dunedin, New Zealand 9016
Phone/Fax +64 3 477 9965
Freephone 0800 86 46 86

The History of Dunedin - Edinburgh of the South

Dunedin's Scottish heritage

One aspect that makes Dunedin unique is its Scottish heritage. The city's Scottish beginning gives it a special flavour which makes it quite different from anywhere else in New Zealand or Australia.

Late nineteenth century visitors, like the French political scientist Andre Siegfried, the Irish land radical Michael Davitt and the inimitable Mark Twain, were struck by the city's Scottish character. Although immigration from Scotland has declined to almost nothing, the Scottish character of the city remains intact.

Dunedin is the old Gaelic name for Edinburgh, yet Dunedin is nothing like the Scottish capital except for the street names and the entrancing "Juliet" towers which grace some of the older houses. Dunedin is hillier, smaller, nearer the sea and has better climate than Edinburgh.

Yet the place somehow reminded the founding settlers of the Midlothian countryside from which the majority came. Its rugged hills were familiar and they were delighted to discover that a bracing winter's frost was usually followed by a still, blue day, that the surrounding country was ideally suited to running sheep and growing oats, wheat and barley and that the river water was clear and clean. Dunedin seemed tailormade for settlement by Scots.

Scottish nature flavours Dunedin

These Scots would make three major contributions to Dunedin's distinctive character.


They brought with them a passionate enthusiasm for education. The wealth generated by the gold rushes was soon put to good use in setting up Otago Boys' High School in 1864, the University of Otago in 1869 and Otago Girls' High School in 1871. Girls' High was one of the first state run secondary schools for girls in the world. New Zealand's oldest university has gone on to become the second largest in the country and boasts a range of special schools, including the first medical school in New Zealand. Today, education is one of the city's biggest industries and the Scots were instrumental in establishing the first three institutions which made this growth possible.


The Scots' leaders also had a passion for their religion. This enthusiasm was not shared by all the settlers but it did produce several fine church buildings and the elegant spires of First Church and Knox remain as reminders of the idealism which fired the city founders. This idealism also included a concern for democracy and social justice which helped shape actions taken in the 1890s to end exploitation of labour and to promote a fairer distribution of land.


The rather stiff "tone" of Dunedin's early settlers gave later generations something to kick against. The dour faces glaring down from the walls of the Otago Settlers Museum seem to have inspired much creative rebellion. Dunedin has produced more than its fair share of writers including James K Baxter, whose reaction against Calvinism resulted in some of our finest poetry. Robert Burns, uncle of the Reverend Tom Burns, would have understood and approved Baxter's challenge.

Dunedin - a city with its own style

Dunedin has many Scottish traits other than the performance of the haggis ceremony - fine golf courses, pipe bands, the finest range of malts and whiskies in New Zealand. Yet it is not a carbon copy of a Scottish city. It is rather a place where Scots came to start again and in interacting with a new environment, an indigenous people and other migrants from an overcrowded Europe, made a special city with a Scottish flavour all of its own.

Dunedin Tartan

The Dunedin Tartan was designed and first worn by Vilma Nelson. It was adopted by the Otago Scottish Heritage Council in 1988, and officially registered as the Dunedin District of New Zealand Tartan by the Scottish Tartan Society in Crieff, Perthsire. This is a body set up in the 1960s by Lord Lyon, Keeper of Arms, to sort out the squabbles arising over various tartans.

The small white stripes represent the first two ships; the blue strips the sea they crossed; the green for new pastures; the gold for crops grown. The red signifies blood ties left behind; and the black sadness for loved ones missed.

It is called the 'Dunedin District of New Zealand tartan" because Dunedin, Florida, USA, has its own tartan as well.

Robbie Burns

Robert Burns, of course, is a venerated figure throughout the world and Dunedin is proud of this highly visible Scottish link. Burns is said to have composed the "Address to a Haggis" as a novelty party piece, little knowing at the time that his wonderful words from the heart would become a regularly acted ritual, steeped in tradition.

Since his death people have gathered to listen to readings of Robert Burns' poems. On one such evening in 1805 someone suggested having a haggis for supper. Prior to eating the meal the poem "Address to a Haggis" was read. It was such a success that the "Burns Club" adopted the tradition and today's ceremony evolved around the poem.

The wonderful literature and ritual associated with this ceremony has been adapted over the many years since the first Dunedin "Burns Supper" held some five years after the arrival of settlers in 1848. The Burns Club of Dunedin was founded in 1891.

The Dunedin Haggis Ceremony

Dunedin evolved its own Haggis Ceremony - one that suits our local way of doing things. It incorporates the colour of local Scotsmen, the skill of the local bagpipers, a haggis made of Otago lamb and good oatmeal, and the golden 'Usque Bae'. This last vital ingredient, the golden whisky, was made by Wilson Distillers in Dunedin until the distillery ceased operation. Leckie's Butchers in South Dunedin are renowned for fine haggis making. It is their haggis that is prepared at the venues - to be addressed then tasted.

A feature of the ceremony is the involvement of the visitors (not without some hilarity) in the haggis ceremony duties of carrying the tray of Wilson's whisky and glasses, the sword, and the haggis itself, while cheerily bedecked with colourful tartan hats. Visitors leaving Dunedin take with them a tangible reminder of southern hospitality ... and a damned good whisky!

Dunedin's special haggis ceremony is a mobile event and can be staged at any social or dining venue the client desires. Being from only 20-30 minutes long, it generates a festive and friendly welcome for any occasion.

Dunedin is famous for its strong links with Scotland and many locals take their Scottish responsibilities - and Dunedin's own whisky - very seriously. Haggis ceremonies (not for the faint-hearted!) are held regularly.
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