In the 1850s a remarkable band of settlers arrived in New Zealand. Their migration had begun in the Highlands of northern Scotland and the Hebrides Islands more than 30 years before, at the time of the "Highland Clearances". Large farms and small crofts alike were abandoned, to be replaced by sheep farms and deer runs, and the evicted residents sought new lives overseas.
One group of migrants, led by their strong-minded minister Norman McLeod, sailed to Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Canada. As the years went by they were joined by others from the Highlands, until the Rev. McLeod's flock numbered almost a thousand. For 30 years this close-knit, Gaelic-speaking, hardworking and God-fearing community toiled to make their way in what was then a wilderness. The hard winters, however, and several crop failures and other difficulties were a trial, and about 1850 a glowing report of Australia and concern for the prospects of their descendants set them planning another migration.
From 1851 to 1859, they undertook the lengthy voyage in ships mostly built, provisioned and crewed by themselves, still led by the indomitable McLeod (by then aged 71). On arrival in Australia they decided their prospects of settling as a community were better in New Zealand, and from 1853 they began to settle in the Waipu district south of Whangarei in northern New Zealand. There they rebuilt their community, self-sufficient and isolated. There were then no roads, or even bullock-tracks; the only way in or out was by sea or on horseback.
Among the passengers on "Breadalbane" which arrived in December 1858 was Roderick Fraser, who had been a child at the time of the initial voyage to Nova Scotia. Like the other settlers, he was well equipped with practical skills, and it seems that he had had a mill in Nova Scotia. With the help of the community he soon built the first mill in Waipu, to the great joy of the women whose task it had been to grind all their flour by hand. Thereafter he was commonly known as "Roderick the Miller".
Several sources record that he was also a maker of furniture and spinning wheels. Spinning and knitting were important domestic arts in Waipu, though the weaving which had produced much adult clothing in Scotland had now been abandoned in favour of ready-made clothes. Socks and stockings, however, were knitted from handspun yarn, either a blend of white and natural black wool or dyed with local lichens. "At one time there was a great demand for Waipu socks at 3s 6d a pair" (N.R. McKenzie "The Gael Fares Forth" p.108).