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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

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Christian Auer

XII. Emigration

XII. Emigration

Texte intégral

  • 1 T. M. Devine, Nation, op cit., p. 468.

1In the words of one historian, Scotland was the “emigration capital of Europe”1 for most of the nineteenth century. It has been estimated that around a hundred thousand Scots left their country in the seventeenth century alone and that eighty thousand people emigrated in the course of the decades that followed the battle of Culloden in 1746. At the end of the eighteenth century emigration slowed down; most landlords vehemently opposed emigration since they feared that it would dry up the source of cheap labour and thus slow down the movement of modernisation that had begun to spread in the Highlands. Highland landlords came to be more and more convinced that only government measures were likely to curb the exodus that was perceived as highly detrimental to the economic growth of the region. Landlords’ untiring efforts eventually bore fruit when, in June 1803, the British Parliament voted the Passenger Vessels Act, an Act that raised the price of transatlantic crossings dramatically. It was only in the 1820s, when the economic situation became less favourable, mainly because of the spectacular fall of the prices of kelp and cattle that coincided with the return of the thousands of Highlanders who had fought in the Napoleonic wars, that the ruling classes of the Highlands began to consider that emigration could solve the problem of overpopulation. Landlords increased their pressure on the government to obtain an emigration scheme, which was achieved in 1827 when the restrictions on emigration that had existed since the 1803 Passenger Act were abrogated. The Highlander, whose presence had been essential twenty years before to cater for the needs of a developing economy, had become an outcast, or “redundant”, to quote a favourite expression of improvement enthusiasts. The economic situation of the Highlands continually deteriorated in the following two decades.

  • 2 Quoted in T. M. Devine, The Great Highland Famine, Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers, 1988, p. 250

2In 1851, when the structure that had been created four years earlier to afford relief to the destitute inhabitants of the Highlands, the Central Board of Management of the Fund for the Relief of the Destitute Inhabitants of the Highlands (see introduction to chapter 11), ceased its activities, landlords were left on their own to support their peasants, who had been further impoverished by several consecutive years of disastrous harvests. Parliament reacted rapidly by voting, on 22 July 1851, the Emigration Advances Act that enabled landlords to obtain loans at reduced rates to help them finance emigrants’ expenses. Under the pressure of Highland landlords who considered that large-scale emigration had become inevitable because of the state of utter destitution of an important part of the population, a new structure was created in 1852, the Highland and Island Emigration Society, whose remit was to provide financial help to those of the landlords who committed themselves to paying one third of the price of the transatlantic crossing. One landlord went as far as to say that “it would be absolute insanity not to take advantage of the present opportunity of getting rid of our surplus population.”2

  • 3 British North America became the Dominion of Canada in 1867.

3Up to the early 1840s large numbers of Scots emigrated to British North America3. Australia and New Zealand became popular destinations especially during the gold rush of the early 1850s when about 90,000 Scots left for Australia. But the United States remained the favourite destination for Scottish emigrants. It would be wrong to consider that Scottish emigration was only linked to poverty and destitution. Many Scots left their country because they felt they would have better opportunities abroad and quite a large number of them made a deep mark on the development of their new countries. This is what one historian wrote about the Scots who emigrated to New Zealand:

  • 4 T. Brooking, “‘Tam McCanny and Kitty Clydeside’ The Scots in New Zealand”, p. 156-190 in R. A. Cag (...)

The endeavour of Scottish farmers, manufacturers and businessmen outweighed their numbers. The entrepreneurial contribution of the Scots was certainly proportionately greater than that of the more numerous English.4

4In November 1911 Whitelaw Reid, the American ambassador gave a lecture at the Institute of Philosophy of Edinburgh. He underlined the deep links that existed between his country and Scotland:

  • 5 Whitelaw Reid, “The Scot in America and the Ulster Scot”, pp. 289-317, in The Celtic Review, vol. (...)

I am here to acknowledge with gratitude our large indebtedness to the Scottish race and blood for its inspiration and success […] We have grown into a nation of ninety millions, beyond comparison the largest body of English speaking people in the world. We have not forgotten our origin or our obligations. In all parts of the Continental republic, hearts still turn fondly to the old land, thrilling with pride in your past, and hope for your future, and joining with you, as we have reason to join, in the old cry ‘Scotland for ever’.5

Notes

1 T. M. Devine, Nation, op cit., p. 468.

2 Quoted in T. M. Devine, The Great Highland Famine, Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers, 1988, p. 250.

3 British North America became the Dominion of Canada in 1867.

4 T. Brooking, “‘Tam McCanny and Kitty Clydeside’ The Scots in New Zealand”, p. 156-190 in R. A. Cage (ed.), The Scots Abroad: Labour, Capital, Enterprise, 1750-1914, London: Routledge, 1985, p. 172.

5 Whitelaw Reid, “The Scot in America and the Ulster Scot”, pp. 289-317, in The Celtic Review, vol. 7, February 1911 to January 1912, p. 317.

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