Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
A Brief History of Scotland

Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.

Chapter 18: Scots Down Under

In addition to Canada, Australia and New Zealand, countries referred to in Britain as "down under" profited enormously from the arrival of Scottish immigrants. Though a great deal of the influence their forbears had on the development of the country has been subsumed under the title British, in the 1990's, almost 14 percent of white Australians claim Scottish descent.

For most of the 18th century, even after the Act of Union in 1707, so much of Scotland's national character, unique social structure (especially in the Highlands) and its economic regionalism survived intact. By the time of the period of emigration, one hundred years later, there had been a great acceleration in Scotland's political, economic and social assimilation into that of Britain as a whole. Scottish attitudes towards the colonies, trade and emigration still differed remarkably from the English. The Scots highly deserve their place of honor in the roll of those who did so much to develop Australia and New Zealand into prosperous, modern states whose sobering influence has added so much to the world in general.

As they did in Canada, the Scots had an enormous influence upon the lands they settled "down under." They filled positions of authority in just about every enterprise they put their minds to. Scotland's loss was the colonies' gain. Their energy, imagination and sheer know-how guided them well in their new homes overseas.

Following the peace of 1815 at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, there was a great increase in the population of the British Isles, so much, so that a feeling of alarm spread through government ranks. A growing population, which had before been regarded as one of the nation's strengths now found itself, looked on as something of a curse. There were simply too many people to feed (and control). Increasing pauperism and distress, along with monstrously bad harvests, massive unemployment and public debt severely strained the limited resources available. Therefore, the folks at Westminster sought drastic remedies.

Perhaps the easiest remedy was emigration. In 1822 James Mills' article on "Colonization" in the "Encyclopedia Britannica" offered emigration as a solution for over-population. It was eagerly read and avidly discussed by M.P.'s such as Robert Horton, who spent quite a few years of his life in the House of Commons trying to convince his colleagues of the merits of his emigration schemes. In the years 1823-25, attempts were made to put his plans into practice, especially because the Government wished to settle British people in new lands that could be contested by other nationalities. Though most of the emigrants chosen for government-assisted passages in these early years were Irish (one way to get rid of those troublesome Catholics) many Scots were attracted by the offers of free land overseas.

Despite its reputation as a penal colony, in the very early years of the 19th century, Australia had begun to appear more and more as a practical proposition for settlement (only three percent of the deported convicts had been Scottish). After the United States had won its independence, Australia slowly began to offer an alternative to the vast wildernesses of loyalist Canada. Attitudes in Parliament began to shift with the publication of Captain Alexander McConochie's recommendation that Britain should look to the Pacific Ocean to expand its commerce. He particularly advocated a settlement of New South Wales that would open up new markets as well as absorb what he termed Scotland's "superabundant population." McConochie's "A Summary View" of 1818 gave the people of power in Scotland, especially those with commercial interests, an awareness of the potential awaiting them in Australia.

Although Tasmania (Van Dieman's Land) was the main destination of the first Scottish emigrants, many also went to New South Wales. The populations of both colonies rose by one third during the 1820's. The advantages of both countries had been published in 1822 in the first book produced in Scotland to deal specifically with Australia, Captain James Dixon's "Narrative," an account of his voyages on the "Skeleton." "If a man must emigrate," he wrote, "Australia is the best quarter he can choose." Of more influence however, was the 1827 publication of Scotsman Peter Cunningham's "Two Years in New South Wales." He painted a picture that was irresistible to many -- a free land with available unpaid convict labor, where a staple export, merino wool, was already developing rapidly.

Chapter 18: Scots Down Under continued