Chisholms Down Under

Chisholms came first to Australia and later, from the 1840’s, to New Zealand.


A Chisholm arrived early in Australia’s history.  James Chisholm from Mid Calder (outside Edinburgh) had come to the colony in 1790 as a member of the New South Wales Corps to keep the peace.  He elected to stay after his service was completed, having acquired property and a family.  He was one of the settlers to be granted a “rum license” (rum being the only liquor in the colony and a more important commodity than money).   James set up an inn, the Thistle Inn, in Sydney and prospered so much that he was able to buy and receive grants of land in the expanding colony. 

By the 1830s, he held vast sheep-rearing lands in the Goulburn district, 200 kilometers south of Sydney.  The home that he and his son James had built there, Gledswood, stayed with the family over the next hundred years.

Emigration to Australia came in waves, starting with the early settlement days and progressing on.  The first settlers were amongst the early pioneers who endured the rigors of the early days of New South Wales in an isolated and harsh corner of the world to establish their families and livelihoods.  The second wave came in the 1830s when Australia was encouraging immigration. In this group were two young newly-weds, William and Christine Chisholm, who arrived from Scotland on the Lady East in 1833. 

Perhaps the best-known Chisholm of this period was one who didn’t stay, Caroline Chisholm.  She had married Captain Archibald Chisholm in 1838 and moved to Australia where she observed single girls being dumped on the Sydney wharves.  So she set up a Female Immigrants Home with the help of the clergy.  However, her attempts to encourage Catholic immigration to Australia were met with resistance from the mainly Protestant colonists there and she died in poverty and obscurity in England.

Later Arrivals.  In the gold rush period of the 1850s and 60s, a number of Chisholm families, many with a mining background, came to Australia.  They suffered the hardships of life in the mining settlements  Many went on to open farming areas in the remoter Victorian and New South Wales areas.  Lachlan Chisholm from Inverness was one of the first farmer settlers in Queensland.   Colin Chisholm, born in Victoria, raised eight children, the seventh of which, Alec (born in 1890), later became a well-known Australian journalist in the inter-war years.

New Zealand

It was not until the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 that systematic British settlement of New Zealand began.  In that year, two single Chisholm men, John from Fort William and Adam from the Edinburgh area, arrived in New Zealand within a month of each other.

Adam moved to Auckland, setting up a slaughterhouse and butcher's shop in O'Connell Street.  He sought cattle land around Auckland.   But it took him fifteen years to secure the legal rights to these lands.   The struggle clearly affected him.  When he died in 1873, the New Zealand Herald observed with regret “how during his life Adam descended the social ladder until he reached the last rung, and how at the end those who knew him in his more prosperous days had come to shun him.”  It was from what is thought to be his younger brother Robert, who had arrived later in 1858, that most Chisholms from these roots are descended.

The Chisholm immigrants between 1850 and 1880 included a mix of single and family men.  Some like Joseph Wilson Chisholm, a miner from Yorkshire, had arrived via Australia.  A number settled in that “Edinburgh of the South.” Dunedin South Island.  Robert Chisholm came there from Kinross in 1858.  He joined up with a fellow Scotsman Arthur Scoullar in a furniture business.  They beame local dignitaries as first Arthur Scoullar and then Robert Chisholm, at the turn of the century, were mayors of the city.  Today, Chisholm Park, laid out in the 1930's in the outskirts of Dunedin, is one of New Zealand's foremost golf courses.