The University’s earliest connections with New Zealand come through John McFarlane, a student in the 1820s, who became minister of the first Scottish Congregation in 1839.

By 1861, a third of the New Zealand population were Scots, and during the next 100 years over 300 students born in this new country attended the University of Glasgow.

The first New Zealand-born student was Gilbert Burns Ellis (or Elles), who enrolled in 1871-73. He was born at Dunedin, son of Andrew Jamieson Ellis, Captain of the Philip Laing which took out the first settlers to Otago, arriving at Dunedin on 14 June 1848 from Greenock. Gilbert's mother, Clementina, was a daughter of one of the first settlers, Thomas Burns, the first minister to the new settlement of New Edinburgh (Dunedin, Otago) and a nephew of the poet Robert Burns.

University of Glasgow students were also among the earliest missionaries to the Maoris. James Duncan, who studied for two years from 1836 to 1838, became the Presbyterian church’s first missionary to the Maori, arriving in Wellington in April 1843. Joining him in 1845 was Arts and Divinity student John Inglis, who arrived in Wellington in January 1845. By 1860, Duncan had built a church at Te Awahou and was convenor of the Maori and Foreign Missions Committee of the Presbyterian Church.

The University of Glasgow also holds strong botanical connections with New Zealand, with plants being named after two students in particular: Joseph Dalton Hooker, the younger son of Sir William Jackson Hooker, graduated MD from the University in 1839, and became an expert on New Zealand Flora and Fauna, publishing Flora Novae-Zelandiae (1853) and a Handbook of the New Zealand flora (1864-67), which was a standard text for over 40 years. The pokaka tree (Elaeocarpus hookerianus) is one of several New Zealand plants named after him. One of Hooker’s companions on his 1841 New Zealand trip was Andrew Sinclair; a student of Medicine (1814-18), a ship’s surgeon in the Royal Navy, reluctant colonial secretary of New Zealand from 1844 to 1856, and a prolific botanical and zoological collector, who sent his specimens to the British Museum and the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. Sixteen New Zealand plants are named after him, the puka (Meryta sinclairii) being the most notable.

Glasgow graduates also extended their reach in to the areas of civil engineering, politics, education and philanthropy within New Zealand.

Ivan Sutherland, Professor of Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, and a renowned ethnologist and honoured friend of the Maori people, was the University’s first overseas PhD student in 1924.