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

A wave of emigration from Scotland then began. Who could not have been enticed by reports in the "Edinburgh Courant" of a land with "the climate of Italy, the mountain scenery of Wales and the fertility of England?" Later editions reporting "distress, moral misery and vice" were conveniently ignored. There were too many opportunities available in Van Dieman's Land. Notable early arrivals were the Imlay Brothers from Aberdeenshire who soon owned large properties and businesses. In 1839, Melbourne was described as a "Scotch Settlement." Pockets of Scotch communities were formed throughout the mainland. Among the first to settle in Queensland was a Scots family, the Archers.

As Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular, held a high reputation for its educational institutions, many of which specialized in medicine, it is no wonder that among the surgeon-superintendents of the early convict ships, Scots figured prominently. Many of these doctors applied for land grants and continued their professions as civilians. Other groups to become prominent, in addition to retired army officers, small merchants and farmers, were surveyors and engineers, landowners, distillers of brewers (these were Scots, after all), shipbuilders and manufacturers.

In the first half of the 19th century, the Scottish enterprises in Australia were not only promoted and financed in Scotland, but also were operated from Scottish headquarters (unlike the mining, pastoral and investment companies of the latter half of the century that were quartered in London). They were essentially Scottish companies energized and stimulated by emigration from Scotland. A rise of a new commercial class in the cities of Edinburgh, Leith and Aberdeen were anxious to develop strong trading links with the new colonies. From them, a specifically Scottish contribution to colonial development came into being -- the Joint Stock Investment Company.

More than one historian has pointed out the "high quality" of the early Scots settlers. Their participation in Australian development coincided with the most vital stage in Scotland's own commercial and industrial growth in which the nation was emerging from an almost purely agricultural economy to one that was largely mercantile and industrial. A large influx of poorer classes of Scottish settlers did not arrive until the bounty schemes at the end of the 1830's. Those who came earlier were much more suited to undergo risks, utilize resources and aspire to commercial enterprise on a large scale.

In protest to the monopoly of three existent chartered banks in Scotland, a group of merchants and manufacturers got together in 1810 to found the Commercial Bank of Scotland. The country already had a reputation as one of Europe's leading banking centers. The new bank marked the rise of the new business class of Edinburgh. They were the same group that formed the Australian Company of Edinburgh in 1822 to explore trading possibilities with Australia.

The Company was forced to disband in the 1830's because Canada and Nova Scotia were attracting most of the Scottish settlers. There was a considerable lack of homeward cargoes from the still-undeveloped wheat and wool industries of Australia. In the later 1830's, with bounty emigrants aplenty to fill the ships, and available cargoes of wool to be brought back, the company might have survived. It was simply a few years ahead of its time. Yet early on, the company's successful activities and strong links with Australia served to encourage many Scots to emigrate to that country to take a more active part in trading with their fellows back home.

Perhaps the Australian Company of Edinburgh's most lasting achievement is summed up by Henry Widowson, a contemporary critic who saw the greatest benefit to the Colony as the encouragement of emigration of industrious artisans and their families from Scotland as settlers. In addition, the publicity, which it provided for Australia, especially in southeast Scotland, coupled with the shipping facilities, it provided, helped to swell the flow of middle-class emigrants with useful skills and business experience in the 1820's.

Many of those who undertook the long sea journey were from a middle-class or gentry background, traveling with their retainers. They played a significant part in the commercial enterprise of the country. In addition, and this point is often overlooked, Scottish interest in Australia was responsible for several important contributions including: the first regular shipping service between Britain and the colony; the first influx of settlers well-suited to meet the problems of the new environment, and the providing of the necessary loan funds to make pastoral development possible on a large scale. The joint-stock companies of Aberdeen were to set the pattern, not only in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but also in London.

A large-scale movement of emigration from Scotland began after 1832 just as the country had entered the most important phase of its industrial revolution. Neilson's revolutionary hot-blast techniques helped transform the Scottish iron industry, which took advantage of the ready supplies of fuel. There were extensive foreign markets available for cheap Scottish iron (priced about ten shillings a ton below its nearest rivals for about 40 years). In the 1840's, nine-tenths of British iron exports were from Scotland.

At home, cheap iron made rapid industrialization possible. A network of railroads began to link the mines, iron-works and factories to the ports. To the existing cotton and linen mills were added the newer industries of ship-building and boiler-making--all propelling Scotland along in a surge of commercial and industrial activity that split asunder the country's still largely agricultural society. The leading iron works expanded their business into Australia; exports of Scottish iron and manufactured goods were matched by imports from the rapidly growing Australian woolen mills.

Increased mutual trade, the rapid expansion of capital in the hands of Scottish investors and the population movement in Scotland had their inevitable effects upon emigration. The huge increase of population that accompanied industrial progress meant that no part of Scotland was now unaffected by the rush to emigrate. Social upheaval probably had as much to do with it as the availability of free or assisted passages to Australia after 1832. Economic setbacks in the late 1830's and early 1840's also contributed to the outward flow of emigrant ships from Scottish ports.

A new class of emigrants streamed into the Colony, this time drawn from the near-destitute working class, aided by the Government's bounty system. In 1831, Lord Gooderich initiated the system for assisted female emigration to New South Wales. This was expanded in 1835 when an additional scheme encouraged the emigration of skilled agricultural workers in addition to unmarried women and mechanics. In 1837, the number of Scots leaving for Australia began to match those leaving for North America.

Chapter 18: Scots Down Under continued