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

Many of those who left were Highlanders, encouraged through the direction of John Dunmore Lang, first Presbyterian minister in Sydney, New South Wales. His visit to Britain in 1836-7 encouraged the London deputation of the Highland relief committees to accelerate their activities. His important "Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales" was published in 1834, followed by the equally influential "Transportation and Colonization" three years later. Another important Australian in the scheme was James Macarthur, who commended the Scots "religious disposition, good sense and orderly habits." In contrast to the Irish laborers, he claimed, the Scots Highlanders would be more likely to "furnish the description of families most urgently required in New South Wales."

An August 1838 letter sent from a Scottish settler in Van Dieman's shows only too well the reasons that poor Highland families, already dispossessed in the mad rush to enclose lands to benefit their lairds, were taking their meager transportable belongings and head for the nearest port of embarkation:

However his love of country, the man who prefers a dear farm and a life of unrequited toil amid the bleak cold mountains of Caledonia to the certain and almost immediate prospects which this country holds out to him, cannot be under the guidance of reason.
Such letters accomplished their mission. They were assisted by two books that were most complimentary of the conditions existing for settlers: Thomas Walker's "A Month in the Bush of Australia" and John Matheson's "Counsel for Emigrants," both widely distributed by their Edinburgh publishers. In March 1837, the good ship John Barry sailed from Dundee with a full complement of emigrants, mainly poor Highlanders, under the government-organized bounty system. It was followed by many more during the next few years.

In June 1840, the Perfect sailed for Port Phillip. Aboard was the Highland chief Macdonald of Glengarry, his family and entourage "the most wealthy emigrants we should suppose that ever left the Clyde" along with his cattle and herdsmen. Three months later, the John Cooper left for New South Wales with almost one hundred of "the most wealthy and respectable description, taking out an immense capital in money, besides livestock of valuable kinds."

The economic crisis of 1841-2 ended the government bounty system. As Irish emigration was almost two-thirds of the total from the British Isles during the period in question, the importance of the Scottish contribution to so many areas of Australian life becomes even more marked. One outstanding example out of so many, is that of Sir James McCulloch, who left Scotland in 1853 to open a branch office in Melbourne for his mercantile firm and who became minister of trade and customs and treasurer in 1859 progressing to prime minister of Victoria in 1863.

Other Scots became equally successful in New Zealand; Britain's other colony "down under." It was another area chosen to alleviate Scotland's growing population in the early 19th century. In fact, if we discount the native Maori peoples, the most striking difference between the population of the British Isles and New Zealand is the great over-representation of Scots in the latter. In the mid-19th century, Scots made up a quarter of New Zealand's population.

The Scots have been described as being to New Zealand what the Irish were to Australia. One historian has seen them as "the chief lieutenants of settlement" in these beautiful Pacific islands. Though we have mentioned the huge number of Irish who emigrated to Australia (they will be discussed in later chapters of "The Celtic World"), it was New Zealand that drew the majority of Scots. In peak years, more than one third of all Scots emigrants went to New Zealand. At first, they clustered in Otago and its offshoot, Sutherland, in the South Island. Both places were half-Scottish in 1871.

In conclusion, we can proudly boast that, in proportion to its population, financial strength and available resources, the contribution of the Scots to the commercial development of Australia and New Zealand was far greater than that of any other people of the British Isles.

Return to the Scotland Home Page