Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Southland Times 13 April 1998 Who was William Cargill?

A Monday article from Christine McKenzie Fortrose for 13 April 1998 Southland Times

InverCargill -- the values of Wm Cargill

Coming from near Inverness, one had heard that Inver means ‘river mouth’.

But who was this chap Cargill? How did he come to have a city named after him? He’s not been a subject of everyday conversation, not even in our current celebrations of 150 years of settlement. I went to a book called ‘And Captain of their Souls’ by Tom Brooking, and found that he was indeed a character to remember, and one who provides links across time and space.

One of the interesting things about Cargill is that he set sail for New Zealand when he was about 63, when most people in those days would be thinking of carpet slippers and pipe.

He had already had two careers, one as an army officer fighting in Spain with the Iron Duke against Napoleon. He’d recovered from horrific wounds at the age of 26, soldiered on for some years, sold his commission and gone on to become a banker.

Not only had he had two careers, but his marvellous wife Mary Ann, like Queen Anne, had 17 children. Unlike Queen Anne, who lost every one in infancy, Mrs Cargill reared 12 of hers to adulthood.

Most men would then have retired satisfied to have their grandchildren climbing on their knees. But Cargill was a restless Scot who had strong ideas about right and wrong, especially about religion. There were many aspects of life in Britain that were unwholesome to him. There was a lot going on in the 1840s.

He really started pursuing the idea of a Scottish settlement for Southern ‘Middle Island’ of NZ in 1842 but it wasn’t till 1847 that the two ships Philip Laing and John Wickliffe set sail with their cargo of settlers. He had built on ideas and worked with many others over those five years but it is fair to say that he was the one with the tenacity to see it through to the end.

His co-leader when they finally set sail was the Reverend Thomas Burns, nephew of the Robert Burns and the poet’s exact opposite in attitude to life. Cargill was a man with strict ideas but he was a liberal compared to Thomas Burns. They were both Free Church which frowned on just about anything that constituted fun or ceremony, even instrumental music. They didn’t even celebrate Christmas or Easter.

Cargill’s title was Superintendent of Dunedin. It became a large Scottish settlement with 7500 people having arrived by 1860. They had an uneasy relationship with the ruling group in Auckland headed by Governor Grey. They also had an uneasy relationship with Southland which was in the throes of breaking away from Otago in 1859, when Cargill visited Invercargill for the first and last time, to try to stop the separation.

The collective memory of Cargill is probably coloured by the age he was when he got to New Zealand. Our city’s name, through him, takes us back further than the 1850s, back to the late 1700s when he was born, then to the Napoleonic wars. Through his name we are taken not only back in time but across the world to Scotland. We are reminded of the kind of people who first settled the south: educated, strictly Christian, hard-working and practical.

Cargill above all wanted to run his own show, and by tenacity and doggedness, he succeeded to a large extent. His dream of a self-sustaining southern Scottish settlement was realised, in that while he couldn’t keep it isolated and separate for very long, he had brought in a core of people who gave the south and its people the character for which they are still known.

What I find after reading Cargill’s story is that settlement would not have happened that way without his dreams and his actions. So we can fairly call him the father of the Scottishness of the south with its egalitarianism and family values, the soft burr of its accents and the practical hands-on attitude of its people.

Invercargill is, after all, well-named.


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