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Scots Australian History
Scotland Emigration to Australia 1815 - 1832
by David S MacMillan
Below are extracts taken from this book.


You will descend into a temperate and delicious clime, differing only from your own by its salubrity and mildness. Instead of encountering, with other missionaries, all the difficulties of a barren, ungrateful soil, you go to sojourn in a land where the grateful earth only waits the hand of the husbandman to guide its luxuriant energies in the most pleasing or advantageous direction. Instead of a savage population, suspicious of your purposes, and hostile to your religion, you have thousands to welcome you in your own language, and educated in all respects in habits similar to your own.

THE REVEREND JAMES SIMPSON, minister of the United Associate Synod, Potter-row, Edinburgh, in his ordination charge to the Reverend Archibald Macarthur, missionary, the first minister to Van Diemen’s Land, 22 January 1822.

THE flow of Scottish emigration to Australia in the first fifty years of the nineteenth century reflected the economic state of Scotland, the growing interest in, or disillusion with, the Australian colonies at various times, and the force of attraction of other emigration fields.

The slumps that affected many districts in the post-war period, the great financial crash of 1826 and the bad times that followed it, the difficult depression years of the late 1830s and the mid 1840s, were all marked by waves of emigration to Australia and other lands. Similarly, the development of a strong public interest in Australia in the early 1820s and later 1830s may be considered as partly a cause, and partly an effect, of the movement. Disillusion with the Cape, and the bursting of the bubble South American emigration schemes in the 1820s, also inclined many to Australia, as did the financial collapse in the United States and the political troubles in the Canadas in the late 1830s.

In the earlier part of the period, before 1832, the most remarkable feature of the Scottish emigration was the rapidity with which it developed on a large scale in 1820. Before that date there were, proportionally, very few Scottish settlers. In 1818 Australia was still regarded with prejudice in Scotland, and Captain Patrick Wood of Fife, a retired East India officer petitioning in 1820 to settle in Van Diemen’s Land, referred to a previous application in 1818 and described how ‘the plan met with such decided hostility from my relations as to force me for a time to relinquish it’. Official thinking on emigration was still along the lines propounded by Lord Sidmouth in 1816, when he stated that Upper Canada and the Cape were the promising fields for those affected by the ‘bad times’.

By 1821 a completely different attitude prevailed, and reports like that sent to Edinburgh by the captain of the emigrant ship Westmorland were circulating freely. ‘All the young men have got good situations of £100 or £130 per annum. Mr. --- got £200 for himself and wife to manage stock and a dairy farm. I have such a high opinion of the country that I intend to settle here. In the following two years, bad reports of crop failures and distress among the Scottish settlers at the Cape made many intending emigrants consider Australia instead.

The population of Scotland at the census of 1811 was estimated at 1,800,000—between an eighth and a ninth of the combined populations of England and Ireland, and between a ninth and a tenth of the total population of the United Kingdom. Apart from some officials and military officers, the proportion of Scots among the free settlers prior to 1820 appears to have been negligible, and the same applied to the Scottish element among the convicts. According to Professor Manning Clark, only 70 Scots were transported between 1788 and 1800, and by 1823 the number of Scots to be transported since 1788 was only 855 (764 men and 91 women), or about 3½ per cent, of the total to that date.

The return of land grants for the eight and a half years between August 1812 and March 1821, rendered by Governor Macquarie in November 1821, shows only 34 grants made to Scots out of a total of 380 grants of more than 100 acres—less than a tenth—but the Register of Land Orders for the period of Macquarie’s governorship from 1810 to 1821 presents a rather different picture. It records that Scots received fully one-sixth of the grants of 250 acres and over given out in the mainland colony, a larger proportion than the return would suggest. According to the register, about one-tenth of the smaller grants were in favour of Scots, a figure that tallies with the evidence of the return.

The Journals of the Land Commissioners for Van Diemen’s Land, giving an account of their survey of lands in the colony in 1826—8, contain references to 23 Scots settlers who had arrived prior to 27 November 1820 (the date of arrival of the Skelton), and to 130 English and Irish settlers who had arrived before that date. Assuming that the number of Scots who had arrived to take up land prior to November 1820 and who had abandoned, sold, or forfeited their grants by the time of the Commissioner’s survey was roughly similar in proportion to that of English and Irish settlers who did the same, it appears that about a sixth of the total number of free settlers in Van Diemen’s Land prior to November 1820 were Scots. The figures show that even before 1821 the number of Scots receiving large grants in both settlements— many of them officials and army officers—was relatively high, while the number among the lesser folk, receiving smaller grants, was relatively low in proportion to the Scottish as against the British population.

From 1820 there was a remarkable increase in the number and in the proportion of Scottish settlers, and this was particularly marked in Van Diemen’s Land. The Land Commissioners’ Journals show that by 1828 there were 190 Scottish settlers holding land in the island, many of them with considerable holdings. Of these, 167, or 88 per cent., had arrived since November 1820. As many of these landholders brought out not only their families, but domestic and farm servants as well, the figure indicates the importance of this largest group among the Scottish settlers— the men with sufficient ‘capital or property’ to qualify for land grants, and who intended to become agriculturists.

As against the 190 Scots referred to in the Journals as holding land in 1826—8, a total of 368 persons of English or Irish origin was recorded. The proportion of Scots among landholders had therefore risen from less than a sixth to more than a third. While English and Irish landholders had increased by between two and three times in the first eight years of the decade, Scottish landholders had increased almost sixfold.

In New South Wales there was a similar increase, though it was less marked, owing to the fact that the population was larger and the number of settlers, both those established by 1821 and those who arrived later in the 1820s, much greater. As against the 29 grants of land to Scots in the previous nine years listed in Macquarie’s return of November 1821, no fewer than 26 grants of 250 acres or more were recorded in favour of Scots in the Register of Land Orders for the thirteen months between 1 December 1821 and 31 December 1822. All of these were in New South Wales, and they constituted 39 per cent. of the larger grants made in the period. In 1823, 28 such grants were made to Scots out of a total of 91, and in 1824, 51 grants were recorded in favour of Scots out of 164. In the great ‘granting year’ of 1825, no fewer than 100 grants were made to Scots out of a total of 340.

In the ten-year period between 1821 and 1831, Scots obtained a consistent average of just under a third of the grants of over 250 acres made annually. Out of a total of 1,439 grants recorded for the decade, Scots obtained 436 grants—or 30 per cent. of the total. The following table details the figures for each year and the percentage of grants in favour of Scots. They do not necessarily represent new arrivals, as settlers often received additional grants at intervals during this period.

The evidence of the Land Commissioners’ Journals and of the Registers of Land Orders indicates that by 1830 slightly more than a third of the persons holding sizeable grants of land in Van Diemen’s Land were Scots, as were about a quarter of those holding such grants in New South Wales. This conclusion must be qualified by the consideration that the Land Commissioners’ Journals report actual tenure of the land, while the New South Wales Registers record grants, which may not have been taken up by the grantees, as well as additional grants made to those already holding land. Yet the salient features of this first wave of

Table 1

Scottish emigration are traceable in the figures above—the great exodus of 1820-2, sustained in 1824 and 1825, but with a falling off in departures in the latter year due, possibly, to the prosperity of 1824—5, and the optimism that went with the speculative boom of the time; the much slighter flow of emigrants occasioned by the financial collapse of 1826 and ‘the year of the short corn’, and a gradual falling off again towards the end of the decade as reports of depression in Australia were published in Scotland. These trends can also be ascertained from the Colonial Office records and from the passenger lists and shipping records.

In May 1828 the Sydney Gazette stated that ‘emigration to Van Diemen’s Land is falling off’,’ and the evidence of the island colony’s Land Commissioners’ Journal of 1826-8 certainly corroborates this. By far the greater number of Scots landholders referred to in the Journal had arrived by 1825. In New South Wales the number of Scots receiving larger land grants in the period from 1826 to 1829 inclusive was considerable—no fewer than 152 such grants being recorded. This suggests that Van Diemen’s Land was particularly popular with the Scots settlers up to about 1826, and thereafter fell heavily from favour. While New South Wales attracted fewer settlers after 1826 than before, the proportionate fall in the Scottish influx was not so great. Yet the New South Wales figures must be considered with reservations, for they reflect the changing attitudes and policies of the Governors Macquarie, Brisbane, and Darling with regard to land grants, as well as the rate of the Scottish influx.

The figures based on the petitions and applications sent into the Colonial Office by intending settlers provide a surer indication of the trend of Scottish emigration to Australia that set in suddenly in 1820. In the five years from 1815 to 1819 inclusive there were only 25 Scottish applicants, as against 323 from England and Ireland. In 1820 the number of Scottish applicants increased more than tenfold from 7 in 1819 to 79, as against a total of 237 from the whole of the United Kingdom—a proportion of exactly one-third. This was a phenomenal year, but until 1823 the proportion of Scottish applicants to settle, and to have land grants, remained just under one-third of the total. The table opposite gives the exact figures for the period, and illustrates the surprising increase of 1820. It also shows that in 1824 Scots made up two-fifths of the total number, and that for the five years from 1820 to 1824 inclusive the average number of Scots applying had risen to seventy-three each year, about a third of the total.

In 1825 the Scottish applications began to fall off, proportionally as well as numerically. For the three years from 1826 to 1828 inclusive they made up about 20 per cent. of the total for the British Isles, but in 1829, with only ten applicants, they slumped back to about an eighth, or 12 per cent. of the total of propertied persons applying for grants and settlers’ privileges. Miss Margaret Kiddle, in her Men of Yesterday,’ has ascribed the change in the type of emigrants arriving in Van Diemen’s Land after 1830 to the introduction of ‘assisted emigration’, which enabled people of the working class to go out. This was undoubtedly one reason for the change, but another, as far as the Scottish emigration flow is concerned, was the severe depression of the late 1820s, which discouraged many Scots of the middle class from venturing to settle in Australia, especially in view of the unfavourable reports reaching them from the colonies. The discontinuance of

Table 2

the land-grants system also contributed to the decline in middle-class emigration from Scotland to Australia in the early 1830s.

By 1827 emigration had become a controversial topic in Scotland. That influential Church leader, Thomas Chalmers, was urging in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine that ‘Home Colonisation’ —intensified agriculture on the Scottish wastelands—would be more beneficial to the nation than assisted emigration. With J. R. McCulloch taking the opposite view, in the Edinburgh Review, that assisted emigration was preferable to large-scale poor relief; there was much uncertainty among the potential emigrants of the middle class, of the type who had embarked in such numbers and so confidently for Australia in the earlier part of the 1820s. By 1829 even the Edinburgh Courant was expressing doubts about emigration, and reprinted statements from the London Globe on ‘the vice of the present system of colonising... the facility with which large grants of land are obtained, and the temptation which emigrants impregnated with the notions of aristocratic importance attached to the possession of land in old countries feel to obtain them’. By 1830 emigration had few supporters.

Chalmers felt strongly that ‘emigration, absolutely and of itself; can do no permanent good’, though he was prepared by 1831 to regard it as ‘worthy of all the attention of government if regarded as subsidiary to other schemes’. It is interesting to note that he even outlined a scheme by which the expense would be ‘advanced by the Government on the security of land and repaid after a period of years by the emigrants. . . or by the parishes’. This was a suggestion that had been contained in the report of the Select Committee on Emigration in 1826, but it had little chance of being implemented in a country which had no poor law.

In the peak period of Scottish emigration in the 1820s, the five years from 1820 to 1824, there were over 360 applications. The total is not numerically impressive, but it must be remembered that these were the substantial settlers who were almost invariably accompanied by their families, and, very often, by servants, agricultural labourers, and, occasionally, by craftsmen employees as well. Allowing an average of five dependants and servants for each applicant, the number of people affected was about 2,000.

In the following five-year period, from 1825 to 1829 inclusive, the total number of Scottish applicants was 160. The year 1825 saw a marked fall in the number to 32, from 77 in 1824, and the fall continued until 1829 when only 10 persons made application. The flourishing boom conditions, and the wave of prosperity and business confidence in Scotland in 1825 and the early part of 1826, may account for the drop in those years, and the reports of depression in the colonies were certainly responsible for the continued decline of the emigration, for the evidence of the Edinburgh newspapers shows that the enthusiasm of 1822 had died out by 1828.

Estimating on the basis of each applicant taking out five other persons, about 1,000 went out between 1825 and 1829, making the total for the ten years from 1820 to 1829 inclusive some 3,000 Scottish emigrants, and roughly 75 per cent. of these went out in the peak period of 1820—4.

The figures indicate that before 1821 the Scottish element in the Australian population, apart from the official and military class, was numerically negligible, while by 1831 it was considerable, especially among the propertied class. Some of the contemporary pressures on the Scottish upper and middle classes have already been referred to in a general way. In ascertaining exactly which sections of the Scottish population were induced to emigrate to Australia in the 1820s, the correspondence of the applicants for the right to settle in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land and for land grants there is invaluable. From the series of Colonial Office letters, designated ‘Settlers’ and ‘Individuals’, it is possible to build up, in considerable detail, a picture of this first important wave of emigration to a distant land which had previously lacked appeal for the Scottish emigrant.

The Scottish settlers—background and motivation

From the year 1814, when the first applications began to reach the Colonial Office from Scotland in what may be described as a ‘trickle’, until 1832, three types of applicants predominated— farmers or landholders, merchants or manufacturers, and military or naval officers, retired, ‘reduced’, or on half pay.

Agricultural improvement was well under way in most parts of the country by 1810. In the Lowlands it took the form of ‘high’ or capitalist farming, on larger holdings, and in the Highland areas it was marked by the introduction of sheep and the replacement of the old crofting system in which tacksmen had been the intermediaries between the landowners and the small crofters. This process had begun as early as 1810 in the southernmost part of the west Highlands, in Knapdale, and in the 1820s and 1830s it spread north to Skye and beyond. In the Lowlands farm rents were increasing, and owing to the increased size of farms there were fewer available for rent. It was natural that to young men, of the tenant-farmer class in particular, Australia should seem attractive with its prospect of free land. By 1814, according to Halévy, quoting the Corn Laws Report, farm rents in the more fertile districts of Scotland were higher than those in the best districts in England, and the Scottish tenant farmer’s profits were equal to about half the rent, while in England a farmer’s profits tended to be about equal to the whole rent. A proportion of the soldiers who were being discharged or ‘reduced’ after the wars were also looking for farms, and, like so many farmers’ sons, looking in vain.

Among the Colonial Office applications there are numerous illustrations of the problems facing Highland tacksmen who were being displaced, Lowland tenant farmers who were experiencing losses through the fall in prices, and owner-farmers who lacked the means to improve their land or had overextended their borrowings to do so. The son of Alexander McDonald, tacksman of Vallay, in North Uist, stated in his petition in 1820 that ‘the termination of a beneficial lease held by your petitioner’s father and his ancestors for many generations compels him to remove’. Donald Campbell, another tacksman, of Craig, by Dalmally in Argyll, applied in 1823 ‘in view of the high rents and the low price of cattle in this country’. In the Lowlands in the same year Joseph Butler, who owned a farm which he had improved from a peat-moss, admitted that he had been compelled to sell it to pay off his borrowings for improvements.

The petitions and applications of Scottish farmers show that they were almost without exception possessed of sufficient means to qualify under the ‘conditions’ required for official approval for their plans. Richard Downward, applying in January 1819, had a capital of £2,000, and this was not unusual. Most of the Highland tacksmen who applied were persons of considerable wealth, judged by the standards of the time, though their capital was often supplemented by their salaries, half pay, or savings as military officers or officers of the East India Company. Donald Campbell of Glenstockadale in Appin, who applied in August 1820, was a half-pay lieutenant and had £3,000. Campbell had apparently been engaged in agriculture on the lands he held on ‘tack’ or lease for some time, for he stated that he had a good working knowledge of farming in all its branches.

There were few among the Highland tacksmen, or half-pay officers who had taken up agriculture, to admit that they were in difficult straits. Examples were Mungo Renton of Inverness, a former captain of the Lochaber Fencibles who admitted in 1820 that he could not support his large family, and a tacksman, Donald McDonald of Balure, Appin, a half-pay lieutenant, who complained that he was unable to support his family ‘in a manner befitting his rank’. More typical were those with pretensions to capital and plans to take out small retinues of servants, like Alexander McNab of Degnish, near Oban, with his claim to have between one and two thousand pounds available in cash; and even young Donald McLeod of Talisker, a half-pay lieutenant, while pleading ‘distressed circumstances’, stated that he could take out several Highlanders, probably retainers who served his family.

The Highland element among the Scottish settlers varied considerably in number from year to year, unlike such groups as the Lothian and Fife farmers and the Edinburgh and Leith merchants, who figured prominently and consistently. In the first three years of the emigration surge, from 1820 to 1822, about a dozen applications came in each year from Highland landowners, tacksmen, and half-pay officers, the number then decreasing to four in 1823, and recovering to ten in 1824, owing to applications by a group of seven people in the district of Lochalsh. The fact that most of the Highland applicants were comparatively well-to-do has already been referred to, yet many doubtless suffered from the depression that was spreading over the Highlands, although their reasons for emigrating were often given as the lack of military employment and the falling in of tacksmen’s leases.

The decline of the kelp-burning industry in the 1820s was removing a source of rents and income, for it affected many of the small crofters in the western Highlands and the islands, on whom the tacksmen depended for labour and rents in money and kind. This was not the only failure. In 1800 the British Society for Extending the Fisheries had established settlements at three places in the west Highlands, but by 1820 the villages had grown only very slightly. As early as 1805 David Macpherson wrote, ‘There is reason to apprehend that the fisheries, restricted as they are, can never afford any very flattering prospects to the people’, and the next twenty-five years confirmed his fears. In 1822 H. Bains, a half-pay army lieutenant, applying for a grant in Van Diemen’s Land, could write: ‘This is the only thing I can think of, having already tried some speculations in Fisheries in the north of Scotland, which unfortunately. . . has now become a losing concern owing to the fisheries being overdone.’

The depopulation of the area, from Sutherland in the north with its clearances and evictions to Perthshire and the Lennox in the south, was well under way. The pattern of applications in the 1820s from within the Highland area is surprisingly even, with the exception of the small concentrations in Appin in 1820 and in Lochalsh in 1824. Otherwise the Highland applicants were scattered evenly throughout what were then the most populous districts of the area—northern Argyll, Mull, Skye, and the Great Glen, with a few in the inner glens of Perthshire and Inverness-shire. This evenness is symptomatic of the general decline that was taking place all over the Highlands in the traditional basic industry of cattle-grazing.

The Highland element was prominent in the very earliest stage of the emigration, and this was probably due to Governor Macquarie’s great range of acquaintance and kinship among the tacksmen and gentry of the Western Isles. Young Alexander McDonald, son of Major Alexander McDonald, tacksman, of Vallay in North Uist, stated in his application for a grant in 1820 that he was ‘known to His Excellency, Governor McQuarie, and prefers going to New South Wales to any other colony’. Of the fifty-seven Scots passengers who sailed from Leith in the Shelton in June of that year, thirty-six were Highlanders (including eighteen children), all members of the family or household, or in the service, of Major Donald McLeod of Talisker. McLeod’s application had been backed by a letter to Bathurst from his father-in-law, Alexander Maclean of Coil, a distant relation of Lachlan Macquarie.

In 1827—30 there were only two Highland applicants, and the fact that the distress in the Lowlands at this time was matched by utter destitution in many Highland areas may have been responsible. The great mass exodus, of both crofters and the tacksmen, to Canada was resumed at this time, and one of the two applicants for an Australian grant, Simon Fraser, a half-pay army lieutenant, wrote from the island of Mull: ‘If His Majesty was aware of the great distress among the lower tenantry in this country I am convinced he would wish to relieve them. . . . He should send a corp [sic] of Highlanders to that country’ (i.e. Australia).

Between 1815 and 1830 there were fifty-nine applications from the Highlands, fifty of them before 1825. Since most of these settlers took out servants, shepherds, and other workers from their home districts, this was an important element in the Scottish emigration. Unfortunately, as with the craftsmen and artisans of the Lowlands, the Highland ‘retinues’ sailed in the steerage, and it is impossible to estimate the size of this largely Gaelic-speaking influx into Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales in the 1820s.

The Highland Society, formed in 1800 by Highland landowners with the discouragement of emigration as one of its aims, was still in existence in the 1820s, but its views had altered. Sheep-farming now offered attractions, and the clearing off of tenantry was accepted by many landlords as necessary and desirable. The cheapest way of removing the crofters was by encouraging them with free transport to Canada, and the number of lesser Highland folk who went out to Australia in the 1820s was insignificant compared with the efflux to North America.

The Highlanders brought to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land considerable experience of the sheep-farming which, since about 1800, had been becoming an increasingly important feature of the Highland economy. In 1817 the woollen manufacturers of Aberdeen and Yorkshire sponsored the Inverness Wool Fair, which was to be an annual event. Many of the Highland half-pay officers and agriculturists who applied to the Colonial Office between 1815 and 1830 claimed to have experience of sheep-farming, and though the number of shepherds they took out with them is difficult to estimate because of the dearth of reliable information about steerage passengers, shepherds and their families probably made up a considerable proportion of the emigrants from Scotland who went out in the employ of their wealthier fellow countrymen.

The emigration of Lowland farmers also reflects conditions in that area. Margaret Kiddie, describing the social origins of the settlers in Australia before 1840, has overstressed the importance of the tenant-farming element, the ‘poor farmers’ sons’, among the Scots settlers prior to 1832. Her statement that ‘Although less markedly than amongst the Scots, farmers seem also predominant among the English emigrants’ is scarcely borne out by the evidence of the Colonial Office records of applications, but her further observation that ‘A few members of the gentry can be identified. They were not Scots’ is disproved by the records, for the landed gentry, both Highland and Lowland, figured to a very marked degree among the Scottish applicants in the 1820s, and a good proportion of applicants of this category did, in fact, proceed to the colonies.

Apart from military men of old landed families who became settlers while in the colonies, like Colonel George Molle and Colonel William Stewart, Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales under Governor Darling, there were numerous examples among the free settlers from Scotland who went out from 1820 onwards. These included George Ranken, a scion of the ancient house of the Rankens of Whitehill in Ayrshire, who applied in March 1821 with the recommendation of Sir Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck, intending to take with him his own ploughman, shepherd, servant-maid, and livestock. The following also applied in 1821: Roderick Forbes, son of Major Donald Forbes of Milness, described by the three ministers of the Tongue district as ‘a descendant of respectable and honourable ancestors’, and by John Dunlop of Balnakeel, writing on his behalf, as ‘one whose family has very long held a respectable place amongst the gentry of Sutherland and are connected with the families of Reay and Bighouse’; Colin Urquhart of Rosskeen, in Ross-shire, described in a testimonial as ‘a descendant of the ancient family of Urquhart of Cromarty’; Donald Mackay, brother of Lord Reay, and commissioner for that nobleman’s Sutherland estates; Hugh McIntosh, of an influential Inverness family, with a capital of more than £5,000 and a half-share in the ship Hope, with six years of a general’s command in Persia behind him, intending to take out his fine merino sheep and Yorkshire cattle and a selection of French vines; Allan McKinnon of Struan, in Skye, less wealthy, but well connected to the families of McLeod of McLeod and McLean of Coil; Alexander McDonald of Vallay, with his estimated capital of £2,000, and Archibald Macleod of Sky; with his capital of £3,000, and his intention to take out six servants. Hugh Murray, who applied in the same year and went out with his family and six other Scottish families, as well as artisans, ploughmen, and shepherds in their employ, had chartered the brig Urania for the voyage and was obviously a man of substance.

In 1822 there were more applications from the gentry. David Brodie of Caithness had disposed of his estate and intended to take out over £3,000. There were also: Alexander Ferguson of Baledmund, Perthshire; Francis Irvine, son of the influential Aberdeenshire laird, Irvine of Drum, with his capital of £8,000 and his request (granted) for an unusually large grant of 2,000 acres; Alexander MacKenzie, kinsman of Alexander MacKenzie, an influential Member of Parliament, with a capital estimated at £3,000; Alexander Macrae of Glenshiel, descendant of a long line of influential tacksmen. Among the Lowland applicants in that year was William Little of Cressfield, near Ecclefechan, in Dumfriesshire, who stated that his capital amounted to between £7,600 and £8,000.’ The same amount of capital had been declared in 1820 by John Campbell, ‘for the last twenty-three years a practical farmer and grazier in the counties of Perth, Argyll and Inverness, and a magistrate in all three counties... a Deputy Lieutenant in Inverness and a Freeholder in Perth’. This applicant, who had managed some of the largest landed estates in Scotland, intended to take out with him, in addition to his eight sons and five daughters, no fewer than fifteen men and five women servants, including shepherds, ploughmen, gardeners, smiths, cabinet makers, and other tradesmen.

Even after the flow of emigration from Scotland to Australia slackened in 1825, there were several applications from landed proprietors. In 1831 George Mercer of Rosslyn, near Edinburgh, outlined his plans for ‘forming an establishment for some of the younger members of my family in Van Diemen’s Land’, and made detailed inquiries about fishing rights in the rivers passing through granted lands, which showed he envisaged a system of landlordship in the colony that would be very similar to that existing in the Scottish Lowlands. Applicants from among the old landed gentry in this period included James Hay of Belton, a member of one of the oldest families in East Lothian and a retired naval captain. Like others of his class, though more particularly among the English applicants, Hay intended to send out a young farmer from his own district to take possession of the grant and work it. Another member of the same family, Peter Hay of Melrose, who had apparently accumulated considerable wealth in the Indian service, had applied in 1825 for a grant of 6,000 acres, and from the same locality two younger sons of the family of Campbell of Treeshanks made application in that year. Their capital amounted to £2,000.

Throughout the 1820s it is the rank, the standing, and the wealth of the Scottish agriculturist settlers that is impressive. In the following decade (perhaps as early as 1829, when Scotland saw its first marked efflux of poorer settlers) there were ‘poor farmers’ sons among the Scottish emigrants, but it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this class of Scot only made his appearance on the colonial scene in strength in the 1830s.

Of the twenty-one applicants in 1821 who may be described as agriculturists in Scotland at the time of their applications, one was a considerable landowner, two were the sons of landowners, three were farmers with considerable capital, three were Highland tacksmen of means, one was a nobleman and factor, or ‘Commissioner’, for his brother’s estates, one was a farmer’s son whose means were unspecified, two were ‘farm managers’, and another commanded sufficient means to take out a farm servant and a capital of £650. Four others, the Taylors, were a farming family, a father and his sons, who had difficulty in finding rentable farms, but they possessed at least enough capital to qualify them all for land grants. On the whole, the impression given by the applications is that few poor farmers, and fewer poor farmers’ sons, considered the serious step of going out to settle in Australia in the 1820s. The property qualification alone would have barred such applicants, and their only means of going out would have been in the service of the men with some capital. A few did go out in this capacity, and soon attained their independence— William Brown of Haddington, about to go out to Van Diemen’s Land as a ‘land-steward’, who wrote asking about the possibility of a land grant in two or three years’ time, was an example, but it is an exaggeration to state that ‘amongst the Scots, men of substantial capital were fewer than farmers’ sons who set off armed only with "a light purse" and "brave heart" ‘.

Among the Scots settlers, particularly those who had been engaged in agriculture as tacksmen, landowners, or tenant farmers in their own country, men of substance predominated—men with capital and livestock to take out with them, and sometimes with capitals that were considerable judged by the standards of the time. It was not so much personal ruination and the general depression in farming that made so many turn to Australia, but the changes in the structure of Scottish agriculture—the decline of the tacksman system in the Highlands and the higher rents and growing scarcity of rentable farms in the Lowlands.

Evidence of this is found in the inquiry cited below made in November 1823, on behalf of between twenty and thirty Dumfriesshire farmers whose leases were due to expire, and in other applications and inquiries of the early 1820s. The Dumfriesshire group were apparently fairly prosperous, for they planned to take out mechanics, clergymen, and schoolmasters. The difficulty of finding farms for their Sons made some farmers send them out to the colonies, and occasionally, as in the case of the Taylors in Fife mentioned above, the father was also prepared to emigrate. In 1822, to give another example of this, Hugh Robertson, a prosperous land steward resident in Dunbar, in the most advanced and ‘improved’ district in the country, stressed in his application that he had five sons under twenty years of age, as well as the sizeable capital of £1,200. In the same year John Sindair of Taynuilt in Argyil applied for grants for his two younger brothers, both experienced in agriculture. The brothers had ‘been possessed of an extensive grazing and arable farm in this county for some years, but in consequence of the great fall in the value of farm produce they find they cannot continue’, but there was none among the twenty-three Scottish farming applicants in that year who described themselves, as the English applicant Thomas Godwin did in 1821, as ‘ruined farmer’, and the Sinclairs’ complaint is one of the few references in the applications to the depressed state of agriculture. References to leases expiring and to the difficulty of finding rentable farms in the applications of Lowland farmers and Highland tacksmen of substance and their sons are much more numerous. They all indicate that the changes in agricultural methods and organization, in both Lowlands and Highlands, rather than the current fall in agricultural prices, were the motivating factors for this group of emigrants.

The two Scots settlers recorded in the Colonial Office records as having purchased their own vessels in order to proceed to Australia in 1823 were both farmers—Robert Ralston of Wigtownshire and David Brodie of Hopeville in Caithness. Brodie’s brig was valued at £4,000, and he and Ralston took out farm servants, stock, implements, and supplies. Obviously these were men of considerable wealth, and though the general run of Lowland farmers who emigrated did not command such means as Ralston or Brodie, their stated capitals were still impressive, and often exceeded by far the requisite sum. William Lang of Largs, a ‘feuar’ engaged in agriculture in Ayrshire, took out £1,500 in 1823.’ In the same year John Sutherland of Forres took out £1,000, and Alexander Tulloch, a farmer of Forres, had between £2,000 and £3,000. Of the eight Lowland farmers who applied four had over £800 of capital, including the two referred to above, and the same prevalence of wealthy or substantial men among the Scottish farmer applicants is found throughout the early years of the emigration. In writing to Wilmot Horton on Ralston’s behalf, William Maxwell, the Member of Parliament for the shire of Wigtown, made a point of stressing that ‘Mr. Ralston is not leaving through necessity, but thinking it a good speculation to improve his condition’. The same remark could have been applied to a good proportion of the Lowland farmers who settled in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land.

Even among the farmers’ sons who went out, a good number had considerable wealth. While a few doubtless went out in the service of wealthier settlers, many more made application for land grants, probably with the financial backing of their families, like young William Gray, son of Charles Gray of Carse, who was described in the testimonial drawn up by local clergymen as ‘the greatest landed proprietor in the parish of Rescobie’, and Thomas Brock, a young man with farming experience, who had the backing of his uncle, Sir William Fettes, the Edinburgh banker.

Many of the young men of farming stock and with capital who applied in the 1820s had experience of the ‘high farming’ that was being practised in the Lothians. George Galbraith, son of a landed proprietor in Stirlingshire, had been farming ‘in that part of the country where the best system of husbandry prevails’, and Walter Black, a farmer’s son from Banff in the north-east, made particular mention of his ‘Lothians experience’. It was from this progressive, aspiring element among the Scottish farming class that a considerable number of the settlers came, rather than from the less progressive farmers of the more backward districts.

Miss M. Harris has written: ‘In 1829, farmers with capital had not yet joined the stream of migrants yearly leaving Britain’, a statement that is not bone out by the Colonial Office applications from Scotland in the 1820s. Yet some conclusions she reached regarding the emigration to Western Australia apply very forcefully to the first wave of Scottish emigration to Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales between 1820 and 1830. ‘Nothing was done’, states Miss Harris, ‘to encourage persons prepared to pay their own passages to the Swan River in 1829.. . men who, risking all they possessed to gain independence, might well have made reliable workers and staunch settlers.’

There were undoubtedly applications in the 1820s from distressed farmers who lacked the property qualification to go out to Australia, and they would in many cases have been a useful accession to the colonial population. In 1819 a vote of £50,000 had been secured by the Colonial Office to assist emigrants going to the Cape, and in 1815—16 Scottish settlers had been given free passages to Upper Canada, land, and rations while clearing it. If such inducements had been offered in Australia in the 1820s, the less prosperous Scottish farming class might well have figured much more prominently among the settlers, but the considerations of strategy and policy that affected these assisted emigrations were not applicable to Australia. The numerous petitions sent to the Committee of Enquiry into Emigration in 1827 from agricultural districts in Scotland—there were no fewer than eleven ‘group’ petitions in addition to petitions from individuals—indicate that the urge to emigrate was strong in the later 1820s. Yet a surprisingly small part of the emigrant flow from Scotland between 1826 and 1831 was directed towards Australia, and it was the comparatively prosperous rather than the distressed among the Scottish emigrant farmers who made it their destination.

The professions and occupations of the applicants of 1820, and the references by merchants and manufacturers to the state of their fortunes, give a sure indication of the sudden worsening of economic conditions in the country in 1819 and the early months of 1820. In the latter year, merchants actually outnumbered farmers among the Scottish applicants, and no fewer than six of the thirteen merchants were in business in Edinburgh and Leith. Only one was in business in Glasgow, and another in Greenock, and the relatively flourishing state of trade on that side of the country is indicated by the fact that the Greenock applicant’s inability to carry on his business was due to losses in Buenos Aires and Trinidad during the war rather than to depressed local conditions.

Merchants figured almost as prominently as the group of tacksmen, farmers, land-stewards, and gentlemen of the landed class among the applicants, and their petitions and letters provide proof of the widespread trade depression in Scotland in the period 1815-22. In March 1826 the Glasgow Chronicle, reviewing the period since 1817, stated that ‘the number of bankruptcies. . . in proportion to the trade of the respective countries, have been much greater in Scotland than in England’, and according to figures quoted, the rate in Scotland in 1819—20 was proportionally almost twice as high as that in England. The application of Thomas Callam, a Leith merchant, in March 1820 explains why so many of the earliest settlers of means in the first great wave of emigration to Australia that began in 1820 were merchants of Edinburgh and Leith, and why the first commercial ventures in Australia originated among them. Callam referred to ‘the long and continued stagnation of trade of this port, without even a distant prospect of its improving, which has induced many of those who were once its respectable merchants to emigrate to the British colonies or to foreign countries’. Here he was referring to the failure of Leith to re-establish its traditional Baltic and German trade after the war, for reasons that will be considered in the following chapter. What differentiated Callam’s approach, made not only on his own behalf, but for a group of merchants in Leith, from the general run of Scottish and English applications was the Leith group’s stated intention of becoming merchants in the colony. ‘Uncertain about their prospects of success in agriculture’, since they lacked experience, they wished to follow their accustomed occupation of trade, and asked if there were any prohibitions on taking out certain classes of goods as stock with which to start up their businesses.

...continue to Part 2


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