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Information on the village of Lochinver in Scotland.

Rev Norman MacLeod of Stoer


The Story of the Rev Norman MacLeod & the Normanites.

At the side of a sand dune about seven miles north of Lochinver, overlooking his beloved Clachtoll Bay, stands the monument to Norman MacLeod. This large white marble rock, erected to his memory, was unveiled on 2nd August 1994.

He led his people over 14,000 miles of ocean
To Nova Scotia, Australia and New Zealand

The Norman MacLeod Memorial

Born on 29th September 1780, to David and Margaret MacLeod 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 Aberdeen University 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 MacLeod, 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 with a stipend of 25 per annum. 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. Their disgreements were basic, so much so, that when the McLeod's wished their son John Luther baptised, they took him to Lochcarron, 40 miles to the south. As Norman even refused to attend services taken by Dr Ross, his living was put at risk. His stipend was stopped and in 1815 he went to Wick where he spent a year at the fishing. Planning to emigrate to Canada, it took him until 1817 to find a suitable passage for the family.

July 1817 saw the family boarding the barque 'Frances Anne" and setting sail for 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, Patrick Sellar doing his worst, 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, so Norman and his flock moved about a hundred miles, to St Ann's, 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. In 1829, he built a school, which to this day is the centre of Gaelic learning in Canada. Whilst by the early 1840's 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 North East, St Ann's Bay suffered the worst of severe winters, and access to the town was frequently blocked by 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 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 typhus struck and carried off three of his six sons, 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.

In early 1853, he wrote to the Governor of New Zealand, Sir George Grey, asking for a grant of land for his people. They purchased a schooner the 'Gazelle', and set off. On 21st September 1833, their group is reported to have landed in 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 Whangerai 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 on 14th March 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.

Waipu Heritage Centre

In St Ann's his memory is kept alive by a memorial stone, and in Waipu there is a fine timbered Presbyterian church to this day. It is only fitting that now, so long after his death, one of the great presbyterians should have a memorial where he was born.

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 MacLeod and his Normanites.

They have their own website at: www.waipumuseum.com

Back to: History of Lochinver