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

Continued from Part 2...

From the establishment of the colony in 1788 up to 1820, the Scots who came out fell mainly into three categories. The first consisted of military officers and soldiers, both in their serving capacity and as officials of the colonial Government. Examples were John Murray, Major in the Seventy-third Regiment and Commandant at Hobart from 1811 to 1814; John Drummond, Naval Officer at Hobart from 1814 to 1817; Captain John Piper, Naval Officer at Sydney; Colonel George Molle of the Fortysixth Regiment; Lieutenant-Governor from 1814 to 1814 and James Erskine, Lieutenant-Colonel commanding the Fortyeighth Regiment, Lieutenant-Governor from 1817 to 1821.

There is evidence that these officers and officials encouraged their relations to come out to the colony, often in posts under the Government. In April 1816 R. S. Piper, a captain in the Royal Engineers, cousin of Captain John Piper of Sydney, applied for the post of engineer in the colony, and Colonel Stewart was assiduous a few years later in supporting the applications for land and commissary posts of his kinsman, Stewart Ryrie.

The second group, small but influential, was to be found in the entourages of Governors Bligh and Macquarie, a group ranging from Robert Campbell, the merchant who held several official appointments, to Lieutenant John Maclaine, Macquarie’s aide-dc-camp. Their influence is extremely difficult to assess.

The third group, likewise small, but undoubtedly important, were the Scots who came out, especially from about 1818-20, to man the colonial commissary service. These men, by their success, whether on a greater or lesser scale, attracted others. In the wars that ended in 1815 many Scots had been attracted to the army commissary service, possibly because of the interruption of accustomed lines of trade with the Continent and the suspension of certain manufactures. As commissary officers they could look for an assured occupation in a branch that grew steadily, and the service held out good prospects of advancement and, occasionally, of personal profit. With the Peace of 1815 many army commissaries, like other officers, found themselves without employment, and it was natural that they should find their way to the colonies. Some had already served in this attractive branch of the service. In the early 1790s John Jamieson went out as a storekeeper, and James Williamson was an Assistant Deputy Commissary-General in 1806—8.

David Allan arrived in Sydney in June 1813 as Deputy Commissary-General, and set the pattern, for he held his post until February 1819. Through Allan’s encouragement other Scots sought places in the department. In October 1818 Thomas Walker came out to take up an appointment, and by 1821 was Deputy Assistant Commissary-General at Parramatta.’ William Lithgow arrived in 1820 as acting Commissary-General, and in 1821 the most outstanding of the chiefs of the commissariat arrived in the colony. This was William Wemyss, who held the post of Deputy Commissary-General for the greater part of the decade, and was commended in 1822 by Brisbane for his ‘zealous co-operation’.

Under Wemyss the Scots element dominated the commissariat. In 1824 Thomas Walker was serving under him as Deputy Assistant Commissary-General at Windsor, William Lithgow was Assistant Commissary-General in charge of the Commissariat of Accounts at Sydney, and Affleck Moodie was Assistant Commissary-General at Hobart. Within a few months Stewart Ryrie had joined his countrymen as an additional Deputy Assistant Commissary-General at the Sydney headquarters. In the lower echelon Scots were also predominant. William Innes was in charge of the stores establishment at Newcastle, Alexander Still at Bathurst, George Lang at Parramatta, James Scott at Emu Plains. In Van Diemen’s Land Adam Thomson controlled the Central Stores establishment in Hobart, and Andrew Allan, son of the former Deputy Commissary-General, was in charge at George Town. Patrick Dalrymple, who had arrived in Hobart in June 1823, was Commissariat Clerk at Launceston. The total establishment of the commissariat was six officers of the upper rank—the Deputy Commissary-General, the Assistant Commissary-General, and four Deputy Assistants: the two senior positions were held by Scots, Wemyss and Moodie, and two of the four deputy assistantships by Lithgow and Walker—a total of four posts out of six. All of the six posts as officer in charge of stores were held by Scots, making a total of ten posts out of twelve in these upper grades of the service.

Such appointments led to relatives coming out to the colony. The case of the Reverend John Dunmore Lang, first Presbyterian minister in Sydney and brother of the stores officer George Lang, is only one instance. Abraham Walker, brother of the Deputy Assistant Commissary-General, Thomas Walker, ventured out to Van Diemen’s Land in 1822, four years after his brother had arrived, and George Thomson arrived in Hobart with his sons Adam and Henry in March 1821. The brothers of Innes came out in 1824—5, and Ryrie’s father and brother in 1826. Andrew Lang, another of George Lang’s brothers, followed John Dun.-more Lang in 1827, and a further group of Inneses in 1829—30. All of these duly received grants of land. The officers of the cornmissariat themselves received grants.

With these inducements, it was natural that the Australian settlements should appeal to men who were learning of the good fortune of their former comrades. In August 1817, eight months after Deputy Commissary-General Allan had received his grant of 2,200 acres in the Illawarra, Henry Beaumont, a native of Fife with farming experience who had served in the Commissariat Department from 1813 to 1816, when he was ‘reduced’, applied for a grant in New South Wales, and throughout the next few years many who were similarly placed made approaches to the Colonial Office. In 1822 three Scottish commissary officers made application. Two had recently been ‘reduced’; the other, Stewart Ryrie of Edinburgh, a Deputy Assistant Commissary-General on half pay who had served at Wellington’s headquarters in the Peninsula, was in more fortunate circumstances. He had a capital of at least £5,000 and was anxious for a large grant.

Between 1817 and 1829 ten commissary officers or ex-commissary officers made application as intending settlers to the Colonial Office, eight of them applying in the peak period of 1820—4. With the applications of the forty-four half-pay officers of the army and navy, and the six naval surgeons who asked for land grants during the 1820s, they are an indication of the serious consequences of the Peace of 1815 for yet another section of the Scottish people. But this response was slight in comparison with the increase in applications from England, and with the great rush of applications from Ireland. The inducements of Canada were no doubt partly responsible for this comparative lack of enthusiasm for Australia among Scottish officers. Only from the commissary branch was the number of Scottish applicants proportionally great, and the fact that there were already so many of their countrymen in the service in the colony appears to have been responsible in part for this development.

Scottish officials were also numerous in other departments. William Hamilton, a former naval purser, who arrived in Hobart in April 1824, was Naval Officer and Collector of Internal Revenue until 1826, when he held the post of acting Colonial Secretary for nearly a year. Charles Robertson, one of the many Scots arrivals of 1822, was chief clerk in the Lieutenant-Governor’s secretary’s office, and made up the general statements of receipts and expenditure for the colony. Thomas Scott, of Glasgow, who came out and secured employment as a commissary clerk in 1816, and developed an interest in the cultivation of sugar, was appointed in 1823 ‘overseer’ of experimental sugar and tobacco plantations at Port Macquarie. He was acknowledged officially in 1871 as the originator of the idea of sugar cultivation in Australia.

Most important was Alexander Macleay, member of an influential Caithness family, who arrived in 1826 to take up the new post of Colonial Secretary, which he held until 1836. Macleay commanded a vote and some influence in his native county, and was a dependable upholder of Melville’s System, his family being connected with that of Pitt’s influential Secretary to the Treasury, George Rose. He created the Australian Library in 1826, and helped found the Australian Museum in 1828. In 1839 he brought out his nephews, William and John Macleay, of the house of Keiss—the former becoming one of the greatest of the squatters of the 1840s and one of Australia’s first full-time scientists. Alexander Macleay’s sons, William Sharp and George, both made important contributions to natural history and exploration.

Another member of an old Caithness family to hold a high official post was Colonel (later Major-General) William Stewart, who arrived in Sydney with a commission as Lieutenant-Governor in April 1825. In the following two years he earned from Governor Darling commendation as ‘an indefatigable officer’ for his part in suppressing bushranging in the outlying areas, and he returned to New South Wales in 1832 after a term of service in India to become a great landed proprietor in the Bathurst district, with a large tenantry of rent-paying farmers on his estates. Neil Stewart, and several other cousins of the General, came out in the 1830s. They appear to have been the younger Sons of Perthshire landowners.

On the financial side of administration Scots were also prominent. In 1828 William Macpherson was appointed Collector of Internal Revenue, and he discharged his duties with great efficiency for several years, regularizing and reforming many of the practices that had grown up haphazardly over the years. When the proposal to merge the collectorship with the treasurership was made in 1831, Howick, at the Colonial Office, wrote to Governor Bourke of Macpherson’s ‘ability and correctness of judgment’, and stated that Goderich was particularly anxious that he should be retained in official employment. It was suggested soon afterwards that Macpherson should take over the running of the Church and Schools Corporation, but in 1836 he became Clerk of the Councils, and held this post until 1842.

There were others who were to hold high office right into the period of responsible government, in both the executive and financial sides of administration, and in other departments. In 1829 Campbell Riddell came out as Colonial Treasurer in Sydney, a post which he held for twenty-seven years, and in 1828 Edward Deas Thomson came out to Sydney as clerk to the Legislative and Executive Councils. In 1837 he succeeded Macleay as Colonial Secretary and held the post until 1856. Thomas Mitchell arrived in 1827 as Deputy Surveyor-General, becoming Surveyor-General in the following year and holding the post until 1855. Another official whose Scottish background and Caithness connexions helped him to obtain colonial appointments was Major Archibald Clunes Innes, of the family of the Inneses of Thrumster in Caithness. Innes arrived in the colony in 1822 as commanding officer of a transport guard, and in 1824—5 he was employed in the suppression of bushranging in Van Diemen’s Land. In 1826—7 he commanded at Port Macquarie; on his retirement from the army in 1828 he married the daughter of Alexander Macleay and was granted extensive tracts of land in New England, and at Port Macquarie. Superintendent of police at Parramatta in the late 1820s, and later a pioneer settler, merchant, shipowner, police magistrates and gold commissioner, he was regarded as one of the most prosperous and influential colonists in the country until his death in 1857.

In the judiciary, too, the Scottish influence was strong, in the person of Francis Forbes, who was appointed the colony’s first Chief Justice in 1823, a post which he held for fourteen years until 1837—a most crucial period in the development of the Australian legal system, for Forbes used his influence to counteract the arbitrary trends in colonial government and to establish the status of the Supreme Court.

When the Scots in the colonial commissary are considered together with the other officials appointed before 1832, it is dear that the proportion of posts in the government service held by them during the period was far greater than that of Scots in the population of the United Kingdom or of the Australian colonies.

Clergymen of both the established Church of Scotland and secession churches formed another small but important element in the emigration. The Scottish settlers in the Van Diemen’s Land districts of Bothwell, Kirklands, and Glengarry were holding services according to the ordinances of the Church of Scotland in 1821 and 1822, and a group of Scots in Sydney, among whom William Wemyss, of the Commissary Department, was prominent, were likewise meeting regularly to hold services. As early as 4 December 1821 a requisition from Van Diemen’s Land came before the Associate Presbytery of Edinburgh, and Archibald Macarthur, a licentiate of the Presbytery, volunteered to go out, ‘at his own risk, without aid from the Presbytery, or any Missionary Society, viewing himself as called in Divine Providence to undertake this important mission’.

On his arrival in Hobart in January 1823, the missionary was provided with a room for services in the Government factory, where he preached to ‘numerous and respectable’ gatherings of Scots settlers. Although he was a ‘Voluntary’, and opposed to State aid, his congregation secured from the Government an annual grant of £100, and later of £150, towards his salary. By September 1824 a substantial church was opened, and Macarthur was urging the United Associate Synod to send out more ministers.

In 1826 the Scots settlers on the Macquarie River established a congregation, and in 1829 the Reverend John Mackersey, a minister of the Established Church of Scotland, began his ministry at Kirklands, in that district. By this latter date another congregation had formed, at Bothwell on the Clyde River, under the ministry of James Garrett, who, like Macarthur, was sent out by the United Associate Synod. By 1831 there were three congregations in the island with ordained ministers, all receiving salaries from the Government.

In New South Wales, where the Scottish element was smaller and less concentrated, there was a similar, but slower, development. John Dunmore Lang arrived in Sydney in May 1823, and the Scots’ Church congregation was established in 1824. Until Lang returned to Sydney in October 1831 with two Presbyterian ministers in the Stirling Castle, he was the only ordained Scots Presbyterian minister in the mainland colony, and nothing indicates the comparative importance of Van Diemen’s Land as a field for Scottish settlement in the 1820s more clearly than the fact that there were three flourishing congregations there, with ordained ministers. In 1831 another strong congregation was established in the island, at Launceston, and the Reverend John Anderson, one of Lang’s Stirling Castle clergymen, was wooed away from Lang’s ‘Australian College’ in Sydney to become its minister. By 1841 there were seven congregations in Van Diemen’s Land and nineteen in the colony of New South Wales, where the population was some 150,000 as against the island’s 35,000. It was not until 1835, when Lang was the prime mover in establishing the Presbytery of Van Diemen’s Land with himself as Moderator, that he came to be regarded briefly as the leader of the six Scottish congregations in Australia. In the 1820s the ministers of the thriving congregations in Van Diemen’s Land were not overshadowed by this restless, ‘disturbing’ personality.

An interesting feature of the applications by Scottish merchants, manufacturers, tradesmen, and professional men was the number of persons who desired or planned to carry on their own specific occupations or lines of business, rather than merely to avail themselves of grants of land and the supply of convict labour and other privileges to become agriculturists. Some specific examples of this were the Leith merchants referred to above, who made their inquiry in 1820 about the Government’s attitude to their plans to set up mercantile houses in the colony. In 1821 James Edington, a Glasgow iron-founder who proposed taking out his workmen, obviously contemplated establishing a foundry or workshop, and James Anderson, the Edinburgh fish-curer who applied in 1820 stated specifically that he intended to carry on his business in the colony, ‘being informed that the coast abounds with fish of various kinds’.

Similarly, schoolmasters stated their intentions of establishing their own schools, and shipmasters who owned their vessels envisaged entering the colonial shipping trade. Clearly, to many, the idea of working at their accustomed occupations, as their own masters, was an important consideration. Often they found that it was necessary to change their plans. For example James Hume, a distiller who arrived in Hobart in January 1823 and leased Major de Gillern’s distillery, apparently found it more profitable to manufacture bark extract in the next few years. In view of the plentiful supply of cheap imported spirits this change in plan was hardly surprising.

The artisans and craftsmen among the settlers were an important group, but they are much more difficult to analyse, since comparatively few made formal applications to settle—only 38 between 1815 and 1830. Of these, 23 described themselves, or were described, loosely, as craftsmen, 11 as mechanics, and only a few were described specifically—2 house-builders, an implement-maker, and a saddler. From the testimonials of the craftsmen, however, it appears that several were ‘wrights’ or ‘mill wrights’, and it is probable that a number of the 79 ‘unspecified’ (who make up about a seventh of the total number of 524 applicants between 1815 and 1830) were craftsmen of various kinds.

The thirty-eight applications of the artisans, craftsmen, and other ‘lesser folk’ reflect the widespread distress of the time, especially after the wholesale decline of crofting had begun in the Highland and adjoining areas, and after the prices of agricultural produce had fallen. The craftsmen of the small towns and villages were badly affected by these developments. In September 1818 John Lamont of Crathie, Aberdeenshire, ‘where trade and employment have been so bad in the last two years that your petitioner could not obtain a livelihood’, asked for a free passage, and the group of forty Perthshire weavers and artisans who applied in that year were obviously victims of the same economic pressures.

Perthshire and the other areas which fringed the Highlands, including the westward parts of Aberdeenshire and Dunbartonshire, were badly affected, and provided many applicants and inquirers. It was from Blairgowrie in Perthshire that John Campbell of Chapeltown wrote in February 1820 asking for passages for himself and a group of his neighbours, ‘artisans and labourers’, repeatedly referring in his letter to the unemployment and poverty which beset them.

For the same reasons as the merchants of Edinburgh and Leith, the working class of that district were also feeling the pinch of the times. In October 1820 John Cumming wrote on behalf of a group of Edinburgh mechanics to inquire if it would be possible to go out as indentured workers in return for free passages, since he and his neighbours would gladly go anywhere to better their condition. The reply was apparently unfavourable, but it is interesting to note that John Broadfoot, the Leith shipbroker who was interested in promoting emigration to Australia, was inquiring of the Colonial Office about some means of obtaining passages for ‘sober and industrious persons’ of the working class. Within three years the Australian Company of Edinburgh and Leith was in fact to provide a system of free passages in its ships in return for indentured or bonded service in the colonies. Other trades in the Edinburgh—Leith district that were affected by the depression and provided applicants were boat-building, shipbuilding, and milling.

John Dunmore Lang’s success in recruiting skilled craftsmen for his enterprising Stirling Castle experiment in emigration in 1831 showed that there were many among the working classes who would gladly have availed themselves of the opportunity to go out to Australia, if some means of providing them with passages could be devised. The references to such people going out in the service of wealthier colonists or under the ‘bond or indenture’ system instituted by the Australian Company of Edinburgh and Leith are sufficient proof that working-class emigrants formed a sizeable part, possibly as much as a quarter, of the total Scottish emigration before 1832. With official encouragement and cheaper passages, or under a free or bounty passage system, the total numbers and the proportion would have been greater.

In 1823 the British Parliament approved the spending of £10,000 on emigration to the Cape. In the following year there was provision for an expenditure of £5,000 for emigration from Ireland to Canada and the Cape. In 1825 the expenditure on Irish emigration to Canada rose to £30,000, and in 1827 emigration from the United Kingdom was sponsored to the extent of £20,480. This provision was made for Canada alone, and scant assistance was given to working-class emigrants from Scotland who wanted to go out to Australia. Although the first report in 1826 of the Select Committee on Emigration noted the ‘redundancy of population’ in Scotland, and referred to the ‘extensive unoccupied tracts in Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales and other colonies’, the third report in 1827 expressed the view that overpopulation in Scotland was not serious, except when due to the Irish influx, and despite well-presented evidence of distress from Glasgow, Renfrewshire, and Dumfriesshire, no scheme for government-assisted emigration to Australia resulted in the late 1820s. In spite of the meetings and resolutions of emigration societies in 1827, and the approaches of individuals interested in promoting working-class emigration, little effective was done by the Government before 1837.

Comparison of the passenger lists of ships on arrival at Hobart, and on subsequent arrival in Sydney, indicates that the majority of the artisans went out as steerage passengers and disembarked in Van Diemen’s Land, which was only natural, for it was a longstanding grievance in the island that convict artisans and skilled men were seldom sent there. The keen demand for their services enabled a number of the craftsmen to launch out into business on their own account on arrival, like Thomas Scott of Edinburgh, ‘formerly saddler to His Majesty’s Honourable Board of Ordnance’, who set up a saddlery establishment in Hobart in 1823.

The published passenger lists of the time, in both Scottish and Australian newspapers, almost invariably listed the cabin passengers in detail, but steerage passengers were not often named, and their occupations were seldom given. Similarly, the Port Lists of Sydney for the period from 1826 gave very scant information about steerage passengers, often specifying the number alone. Nor do the Lists of Ships and Passengers Arriving, compiled in the Colonial Secretary’s office in Sydney between 1828 and 1832, provide reliable details of steerage passengers. A few isolated entries for July to December 1828 recorded the arrival in Sydney of a number of Scottish artisans, ranging from coach builder and smith to cooper and tailor, but in the case of most arrivals, whether from Scotland or England, the occupations of steerage passengers were frequently omitted and the countries of origin wrongly stated. In the entry recording the arrival of the Australian Company’s ship Triton in July 1829, for example, James McKillop and Robert Patterson, both Scots, were both noted as English, and there were many such inaccuracies.

The Board of Emigration assisted some tradesmen to go out from Scotland in 1825/32, and a return submitted to Parliament in 1833 showed that 550 persons, including families, had sailed from Leith and 97 from Greenock—a small number compared with the English total of eleven thousand. The cost of the whole assisted emigration to Australia in 1825/32 was only £16,237.

The first list of craftsmen and artisans appeared in the List of Ships and Passengers in October 1831, when the Stirling Castle reached Sydney with John Dunmore Lang’s experimental group of 143 emigrants, and, since this was a novelty, the first entire shipload of Scottish artisans to be brought out, the details were accurately recorded. Apart from the ‘professional’ element in the group—two Presbyterian ministers, five teachers, and a surgeon— there were the following craftsmen, with their families:

1 master builder, 2 rope spinners, 1 master mechanic, 2 coopers, 19 stonemasons, 3 plasterers, 18 carpenters and joiners, 1 tinworker, 4 cabinet makers, 1 gardener, 2 blacksmiths and 1 agriculturist.

 Lang was prompted to try this experiment by the lack of craftsmen in the colony and by the distress prevailing in Scotland. It is possible, too, that his fears of an Irish Catholic predominance in the colony were partly responsible for the project, as well as the fact that he had just secured from Goderich a grant of £3,500 for the establishment of a college. Whatever his motives, the scheme was highly successful. The emigrants undertook to repay the passage money of £25 per adult in weekly instalments, Lang guaranteeing twelve months’ paid work on arrival.

During the previous decade, in the ships ‘handled’ by John Broadfoot of Leith and operated by the Australian Company, there were probably at least two or three hundred Scottish artisans, accompanied in most cases by their families. Those among them who made formal application to settle certainly outnumbered the English applicants of equivalent status, and those who came out formed an important part of the Scottish emigration, even though their number is difficult to determine. They were a most useful addition to a population where there was a perennial dearth of skilled tradesmen.

The Colonial Office and the Scottish emigrants, 1815—32

The Colonial Office correspondence relating to the Australian colonies throws interesting light on Scottish political conditions in the 1820s. It confirms the view that the Melvillite System was strong until the second Viscount retired from public life in 1827. It is clear that under the System, even in its last fifteen years of existence, in a truncated form, applicants for colonial appointments and grants of land, and favours generally, often made their approaches to the Secretary of State with the support of Melville and other Scottish notables of his party. For example, when William Molle of Maines sought the governorship of New South Wales for his brother, Colonel George Molle, in February 1815, it was to Melville that he addressed himself, and he stressed his loyalty to the party:

I have been induced to make this application to Your Lordship from the honour of being known to your Lordship’s relations, My Lord Chief Baron, and General Francis Dundas, and from our family, which belongs to Berwickshire, having always supported Mr. Home of Wedderburn’s interest, which was your late illustrious father’s interest in that county. . . . We have always considered your Lordship and the House of Arniston as the Head of that political party in this free country whose principles and conduct we approved, and as our channel of communication with the great authorities of the State.

He also mentioned that he was a Deputy Lieutenant of Berwickshire and a Lieutenant-Colonel of the militia; and had his belief that Macquarie was about to give up the governorship not been erroneous, it seems probable that these approaches would have secured it for Colonel George Molle, for Melville duly transmitted the letter to Bathurst, and the Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of York, was moving on Molle’s behalf a few months later.

Similarly, Colonel Andrew Geils set about his attempt to secure the governorship of Van Diemen’s Land in 1821 by approaching John Buchanan of Ardoch, Member of Parliament, a local stanchion of the System in his own part of the country. Buchanan forwarded Geils’s application to Montrose, observing:

I believe the appointment is with Lord Bathurst. I am not at all aware of the value of what he wants. To me it appears next door to banishment!! It is but justice to him to say that he gave me every assistance in his power during the late contest, as did his two brothers. ...They have now taken steps to get both their votes brought forward, and Colonel Andrew means to be a bidder for a vote that is to be sold on the 28th of this month. I really think them very much attached to your interest, and this, if it can be got, might bind them to you.

The Duke wrote immediately to Bathurst on Geils’s behalf, adding to Buchanan’s encomium on party grounds the recommendation that in 1820, at the time of the Radical War, Geils had ‘offered to throw himself into the Castle of Dumbarton with volunteers’ to defend it.

This appears to have been the usual method of applying for colonial appointments, the lesser as well as the greatest, for in December 1822 George Scott of West Moriston in Berwickshire, asking for the post of Surveyor-General in Van Diemen’s Land for his son, Thomas Scott, mentioned that the young man had already secured the post of Deputy Surveyor-General ‘on the application of My Lord Binning’. Scott referred to the support of the local Melvillites, Baillie of Jerviswood and Spottiswoode of Spottiswoode, for his son’s claim. Five years earlier, in 1817, William Adam, Lord Chief Commissioner of the Jury Court in Edinburgh, a former ultra-Tory Member of Parliament, and a key figure in Melville’s machine of political management, wrote to Bathurst asking for an Australian appointment for a supporter, a merchant whose business in Leith had collapsed. By way of recommending his candidate for any likely position, Adam wrote that ‘Sir Alexander Cochrane and Sir William Forbes interest themselves in Mr. Panton as well as myself.’ Both Cochrane and Forbes were also pillars of the Melville party.

In the matter of land grants and the securing of favours for settlers, political ties were also an important consideration. Recommending Ross Nairne, a Paisley merchant and intending settler, to Bathurst, Boyd Alexander of Southbarn, the Member for Renfrewshire, wrote: ‘From my having supported Government in two Parliaments, as well as from the great exertions which I have lately made, and in which I trust I have been successful in wresting this county from the hands of the opposition, I have presumed to recommend this gentleman,. . . several of my most strenuous supporters feel most interested in his success.’ Other Melvillite notabilities who supported or forwarded applications were Archibald Colquhoun of Killermont, Member of Parliament for Dunbartonshire and a former Lord Advocate, Sir Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck, an ultra-Tory, Robert Downie, M.P., Lord Kellie, and Alexander Coiquhoun of Killermont, the Lord Register. Lord Melville himself occasionally wrote to Bathurst, forwarding applications for grants from intending settlers which had been made to him direct. In December 1821, for example, he sent an application from Robert Watson of Edinburgh, described as ‘land-owner’, and apparently a person of substance, for his capital was stated as £3,000. In many of the cases where an influential man applied on behalf of a ‘client’, it was minuted that the letters of recommendation from the Colonial Office were to be sent to the landed magnate, Member of Parliament, official or supporter of the System so that he might in turn pass them to the ‘client’—a sure way of demonstrating the influence of, and of ensuring support and respect for, the patron. This practice was particularly marked in the early 1820s.

Political considerations of the kind referred to above figure to a certain extent in the requests for colonial posts and land grants made by English and Irish applicants and their sponsors, but the Scottish examples are more numerous, and they indicate the strength and exclusiveness of the Dundas System. Electoral support for the Government was the sure path to preferment, and to other favours like the rapid granting of letters of recommendation for colonial land grants.

Many of those who sent in applications stressed their loyalty to the Government, their ‘veneration for the constitution’, and their abhorrence of ‘radical reforming notions’, and others referred to their services in quelling disturbances, not only during the riots of the Radical War of 1820, but also during the clearances and evictions in the north. In September 1820 Captain John Grant, a half-pay officer seeking a Naval Officer’s post in Van Diemen’s Land, reported that he had been ‘afforded the means of discovering the acts practised by the disaffected to inflame their minds [i.e. of the ‘cleared’ crofters] and instigate them to resist the civil authorities, and that he had duly passed on this information to the Sheriff of Ross.

Some of the men of substance who applied, tacksmen, and members of the gentry, offered their services to the Government in the colonies as well as mentioning services which they had already given in the times of unrest. H. McIntosh, for example, offered, ‘since morals are at a low ebb, and cattle stealing, robbery and murder are frequent in Van Diemen’s Land, if our gratuitous services are worth accepting, in suppressing disorder or anything else. . . to tender them’. By the mid 1820s there were no more of such offers, and applicants made fewer references to their services to Government or their attachment to the Administration. The political climate had changed in Melvillite Scotland. The change was also seen in the decline of the practice of granting free passages as a form of patronage. In the early years of the emigration, Melville, at the Admiralty, was able to allocate free passages in the convict transports which came under his jurisdiction. By 1825 the allocation of such passages, even to missionaries, officials, and pensioners, was strictly regulated, and cases like that of 1820, when an influential Scottish landowner could successfully recommend a ‘client’ for a land grant after Melville had awarded him a free passage, simply did not occur.

The Colonial Office records also show that the Scottish emigrants were often confronted by official attitudes and requirements that were far from encouraging. Through their remoteness from London, they probably faced more difficulties of this kind than emigrants from England. In the earliest years of the colony free passages were offered to settlers, but by 1815 a policy had been formulated by the Colonial Office of providing land grants and expecting the settlers to pay their own passages. In certain favoured cases, however, settlers continued to be given free passages, and it is in this matter, where there was a certain scope for the officials and for the Secretary of State to use their discretion, that their attitude to potential settlers is shown as uncooperative.

When the first Scottish applications were made in 1815, they were few in number. In that year applications were made by or on behalf of only six persons for permission to settle in Australia, and one of these was the wife of an applicant. In the same year there were twenty-five English and two Irish applicants. Art example, verging on obstruction, of the official attitude occurred in the application of William Molle of Maines, brother of Colonel George Molle, then Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales. In October 1815 Molle of Maines, who was an agricultural improver in his own district of Berwickshire, applied for free passages and permission to settle for John Black and James Ewart, experienced ploughmen who had been recruited at the request of Colonel Molle, presumably for his service. The Colonel had written asking for ‘five ploughmen, or upper servants, acquainted with the Berwickshire husbandry’ (which was acknowledged to be among the most advanced in Scotland). Within two years Lieutenant-Governor Molle was to acquire no less than 4,000 acres at Minto, the Illawarra, and elsewhere, and with this in the offing his need of skilled agricultural workers was obvious. Despite this, and the need of the colony for settlers of this description, the application was refused and tersely minuted by Goulburn: ‘Cannot deviate from the general rule in favour of any individual.’ 

An even more striking example of lack of co-operation occurred in the same month, in the application of John Malcolm, apothecary and surgeon, of Brechin in Forfarshire. Malcolm had previously been assistant surgeon at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island for five years, and he wished to return to the colony and combine his professional practice with agriculture. His first application elicited the curt and unnecessary reply that free passages were refused, and when he applied again, pointing out that he was not only prepared to pay for passages for his wife and himself, but would ‘assist the sick on the passage gratis if His Majesty’s Government will accept of Mr. Malcolm’s service’, he received scant encouragement.

In that same year, through the intervention of influential members of the London Missionary Society, its secretary, George Burder, was able to obtain from Bathurst free passages in the transport Atlas for the missionary Lancelot Threlkeld and his wife. Yet in 1822, when the United Associate Synod sent out the first Scots Presbyterian minister, Archibald Macarthur, from Leith to Van Diemen’s Land, his passage was paid by a private benefactor. Macarthur’s application of June 1822 for permission to settle and for ‘leave.. . to dispense the ordinances of religion to any congregation which may request him to minister to them according to the Presbyterian forms’ bore the signatures of, and had the backing of, Dr. James Peddie, leader of the powerful United Associate Synod, and Dr. James Hall, another prominent divine. Not content with this strength of recommendation for their cause, the United Associate Synod simultaneously sent in another application through Lord Meadowbank, who had ruled Scotland as Lord Advocate in the Government interest from 1816 to 1819. At the same time Peddie was writing to Alexander Waugh, minister of the Scots Church in London, and securing the backing of William Wilberforce for Macarthur’s application.

It is not surprising that Wilberforce, while agreeing to recommend Macarthur to Sir Thomas Brisbane, should observe to Waugh that he ‘feared that this might be overdoing the recommendations’, and should advise that a direct approach by Peddie to Bathurst would be better, ‘since it could not then be stated that the request was either made or granted on any political ground’. The affair of Archibald Macarthur’s application is illuminating, for it shows how differently placed with regard to the Colonial Office were the Scottish religious leaders in comparison with those, like the leaders of the Missionary Society, who could easily bring influence to bear in official circles in London. The metropolis was still a distant and unfamiliar place to the majority of educated Scots, and even an important body (by Scottish standards) like the United Associate Synod felt the need to mount a considerable campaign in order to obtain the consideration that the London Missionary Society and its influential supporters would have expected as a matter of course.

A careful anxiety to be rigidly correct at all costs in their dealings with officialdom characterized most of the Scottish applicants throughout this period. In 1815, for instance, Francis Purvis, a young Scot who had been given an order for a land grant in the colony, declined to take it up because he found that, from accounts he had heard, ‘my funds are inadequate to my becoming a settler there’. Such doubts of financial ability to take up land were most unusual among the general run of applicants, and there is considerable evidence that Scots were particularly scrupulous in assessing their property or capital for the purpose of qualifying as settlers.

In 1822 Dr. Peddie reported, with shocked surprise, in his letter to Alexander Waugh in London, that ‘Captain Dixon states that the valuation of property is commonly made by including books, furniture, clothes, etc., even to a snuff box.’ The applications of the period show that, generally, the Scots were slow to realize how to ‘present’ their assets to the best advantage for the purpose of securing land grants on arrival. The records also show that a much larger proportion of the Scots applicants than the English had a working acquaintance with agriculture, a feature that is possibly not surprising, since Scotland was still essentially an agricultural country. Even the townsfolk of Edinburgh and Glasgow were, to a much greater extent than their London equivalents, connected with the soil, and to a far greater degree than in England the people in the Scottish urban concentrations were comparatively recent arrivals from the country districts.

The conclusion that emerges from a study of the applications, both Scottish and English, is that more Scots had farming, experience and were, in fact, bona fide applicants. The evidente of the Colonial Land Commissioners in Van Diemen’s Land confirms this, as does the statement of a settler there who was out from Greenock in 1823, ‘One thing is certain, . . . that many; have come out here as agriculturists who are very unfit for the task.’ Of the 180 Scottish settlers in Van Diemen’s Land referred to by Roderic O’Connor in his Journal as Land Comissioner in 1826—8, favourable mention is made of more than 40 for their agricultural improvements, their importations of stock, and their general proficiency as settlers. Particularly commended by O’Connor were men like Captain Patrick Wood at Bothwell, who had ‘expended a large sum in improvements and built a capital stone house, fenced and cleared a large quantity of land, and imported the Fifeshire breed of cattle, which will become valuable stock for the colony’; George Espie, at Cross Marsh—’A capital farm. He has built a good brick granary, coach house and stable. He grows a great quantity of wheat and barley, and has a good six horse power threshing machine’; Benjamin Home, at Rosso, former Hamburg and Leith merchant; and Lewis Gillies, his son-in-law, who had brought out Saxon sheep at great expense and ‘improved considerably’. Others like Captain Robert Hepburn had been ‘indefatigable in their exertions’ in improving on a considerable scale.

Among the less wealthy settlers commended for their tenacity and enterprise were William Ross, at Old Beach, who had cleared forty acres ‘with great exertion and one assistant’, and the brothers Robertson, who had created a fine farm at Campbell Town, by ‘uncommon industry and perseverance’. O’Connor noted in favour of many Scots that they resided on their grants, were careful and frugal, and tilled the soil as well as running sheep. Even those who combined commerce with agriculture did not neglect the latter. John McLeod at Campbell Town had a good flock on his sheep-walk, and his store, ‘established on a liberal scale’, was, in O’Connor’s opinion, ‘of infinite service to the surrounding settlers. He sells goods at a lower rate than the Launceston merchants and he takes wool, wheat, sheep and cattle in payment. He certainly deserves great credit, and we wish his venture every success.’

Among the English applications there were cases of people friendly to or associated with the applicants writing on their behalf as referees, a practice unlikely to provide an impartial view. Some English applicants submitted false statements of their financial resources, and occasionally referees would deny knowledge of the financial assets or character of applicants who had given their names as referees. A typical example of this occurred in March 1821, when Charles Danvers stated that he had no knowledge of the means at the disposal of the applicant, his former footman. There was even a case in 1821 when a number of London applicants made use of ‘false but apparently satisfactory recommendations’ to obtain credit for goods which they shipped out to the colony. 

The official attitude to applications by groups of intending emigrants was also discouraging. Before 1822 there were several instances of collective approaches by groups of persons in Scotland who seriously entertained the idea of emigrating to Australia, and who received scant encouragement from the Colonial Office. This was a phenomenon that apparently did not occur in England, though in 1819 there was an inquiry on behalf of poor families in the north of Ireland. In March 1818 John Niven, wright, of Cottymill, by Blairgowrie, Perthshire, penned a proposal to the Earl of Bathurst that he and some forty others, with their families, ‘by advice of some of our friends already settled in New South Wales’, should ‘go out in one body and unite there in cultivation of a grant of land’. The group of signatories induded five weavers, a ploughwright, a tailor, a smith, a ‘wright’, a shoemaker, and a ploughman, and they were apparently desperate to go abroad, for Niven, when he received the ‘usual answer’ outlining the regulations, wrote: ‘If His Majesty, or those acting under him, do not dispensate with these conditions, we shall be under the necessity of indenting ourselves to the South American Provinces.’ Niven reported that eight others in his district who had contemplated emigration had taken this step ‘on seeing the printed regulations for North America and the Cape’ The proposal was rejected.

Another fruitless joint request came from a group of between twenty and thirty Dumfriesshire farmers, on whose behalf Joseph Butler, ‘a small proprietor farming his estate’, wrote in November 1821. Like so many others, they were faced with the problem of their leases falling in without an opportunity of renewal. With the craze for ‘improvement’ in the form of larger, consolidated holdings at its height, the petitioners, ‘whose forefathers had been tenants and possessors of farms differently situated upon the banks of the River Nith’, were the victims of a gradual and inexorable process. They had apparently given thought to their Australian project, which was a proposal to the authorities rather than a mere inquiry. They ‘intended to take some necessary young men as mechanics, a clergyman or two of the Presbyterian persuasion, two or three young men of the medical profession and two or three other young men who might be schoolmasters’.

They were specific in their inquiries, desiring to know under which ‘system of a station of justice’ they would be in Australia, and whether the salaries of their clergy would be paid or assisted. They were also anxious that they should be settled as a colony—’placed as nearly as possible to one another, both for mutual advice and improvement to one another, mutual connexion in commerce, and, ultimately, by marriage alliances’.

The official reply was again discouraging, for, despite the fact that many of the applicants must have been persons of means, it omitted to rehearse the inducements—the fairly rough and ready method by which the capital of applicants was assessed, the fact that convict labour and rations would be available. The numerous testimonials submitted by the group apparently made little impression in London.

Another example of officialdom’s failure to encourage useful emigrants occurred in the same year. When James Edington, proprietor of the Eagle Foundry, Glasgow, decided to go to Australia ‘through pressure of the times’, he wrote in his application, ‘provided I could get passengers conveyed out free of charge, I should take out a great many of my workmen as artificers’, only to receive the usual formalistic reply. In Edington’s case free passages were being sought for workmen, and there was possibly some justification for refusal in view of the increase in the flow of such emigrants after 1820; but in the case of the Perth-shire mechanics in 1818, and of the Dumfriesshire farmers in 1821, the Colonial Office’s reluctance to co-operate can only be considered as unhelpful.

The most successful of the ‘joint approaches’ in this early period was that of the Leith merchants in March 1820, but they applied as individuals and their command of considerable capital put them in an entirely different category from those other groups of farmers and artisans, who presented petitions, and from men like Edington, who sought concessions to enable them to take out numbers of skilled artisans. Inquiries from ‘agents’ and estate managers like James Baird of Glasgow, who sent a letter through Lord Sidmouth in 1820, on behalf of groups of ‘weavers and mechanics’ in this part of the country, met with the usual response Since they lacked the means for their passages, no encouragement was offered,’ though a subsequent approach by Baird on behalf of two Ayrshire farmers with dairying experience and capital of some £200 apiece was minuted ‘This will do.’ Apparently the farmers were prepared to pay their own way to the colony, and their capital was accepted as sufficient qualification for land grants, though the sums were below the official minimum of £500.

Many Scots found the slow workings of the Colonial Office obstructive. In January 1821 James Goldie of Edinburgh wrote to Goulburn, criticizing ‘your establishment’ and complaining that he had been unable to arrange a conference at Downing Street with some knowledgeable official on ‘the prospect of settling young men as agriculturists, merchants and tradesmen in Van Diemen’s Land’. Similarly, in 1821 Edward Donellan of London, who had in vain sought information for some friends in Scotland, complained of ‘a person in the Hall’ who had told him that it would be necessary to write. This he had done without result. English applicants faced the same obstructions, but the distance of most parts of Scotland from London caused greater, delays and increased uncertainty.

The difficulty of communication with the more remote of the Highlands and the lack of information there about application procedure was another difficulty in the way of intending emigrants, even those of considerable local position and means. In February 1822 Alexander McDonald of Vallay, a tacksman, complained of ‘the delay in communication with these isles’, which had caused him misgivings over his plans to emigrate with a capital of some £2,000. A few months later Alexander Macrae, tacksman, of Achnagort, by Lochalsh, wrote asking for information about passages and land, since ‘in this part of the country I have no way of having my doubts solved’. It was not until the end of January 1822 that short notices about procedure for intending settlers appeared in the Scottish press, and these did not contain any references to land grants, the subject which was of vital interest to most intending emigrants.

In the early 1820s many of the Scottish settlers were ignorant of the procedure necessary to obtain permission to settle on grants of land, and a good number did not apply until they reached the ports of embarkation, where shipping agents urged upon them the need for formal application to the Colonial Office. It was quite usual for intending settlers to apply on the very eve of sailing, and a few applications were even sent ashore by pilot cutter or at ports of call. An example was Andrew Bruce, a Roxburghshire farmer who sent in his petition from Portsmouth in June 1820, having embarked at Leith two weeks previously. Bruce claimed that he had been totally ignorant of the procedure to be followed. Unlike many others in the same predicament, he did not choose to proceed to Australia without his letters of introduction from the Colonial Office, and disembarked to wait for this official sanction—an expensive and wearisome business, for, according to the minute on his second application, he was not spared the full, tedious process of reference, even though he gave the Earl of Minto as his referee. Occasionally the regulations regarding capital or property were relaxed in favour of Scottish applicants, as for certain English applicants. Even when the stated capital or property was below the £500 stipulated, dispensations could be given, as in the case of the Ayrshire applicants cited above. This concession was apparently reserved for bona-fide farmers or persons with agricultural experience, and when the applicants had influential people or Members of Parliament to write on their behalf.

The authorities were prepared on occasion to allow that passage money should be considered as part of the stipulated capital, though such concessions were apparently reserved to the Secretary of State. Although such cases were infrequent, the practice is interesting, since, in effect, it meant the acceptance of the principle that John Dunmore Lang was to urge without success in the 1840s—that passage money should be considered as a ‘partial payment’ for land. It seems that the intending settlers from Scotland had more difficulties to face than intending emigrants from England. The lack of reliable information, especially in the early 1820s, and the unfamiliarity of the Colonial Office officials with Scottish conditions, also led to misunderstandings on both sides. There seems to have been a tendency for the officials to assume that approaches by artisans, small farmers, and professional men entailed requests for free passages when this was not the case. But in the later 1820s, when Scottish applicants were better acquainted with the conditions and procedures relating to land grants and passages, and when reliable information was obtainable in Leith and other ports, these difficulties were largely overcome.

Emigration and the Leith shipping interest, 1820—2

It was natural that the sudden increase in the flow of Scottish emigration in 1820, especially from the south-east, should prompt shipbrokers and shipowners in Leith to participate in the Australian trade. In view of the difficulties facing the Leith shipping interest, which will be considered in the following chapter, the prospect of profitable participation in such a new and promising field was an attractive one. Dixon’s voyage in the Shelton was a stimulating example of what could be done, and in Glasgow James Finlay, merchant and shipowner, was deeply engaged in the emigrant traffic to Canada. Finlay’s activities had the approval and co-operation of the Colonial Office.

The first of the Leith shipbrokers to move was John Broadfoot, who made an approach to Bathurst in July 1820. The Skelton was about to sail from Leith, and Broadfoot had been impressed by the speed with which Dixon had obtained a full quota of passengers—’about seventy, some of whom are persons of considerable property... . From the success attending this experiment, I have been induced to advertise the ship Westmorland of 420 regular tons.’ Broadfoot’s advertisement had resulted in many applications from both ‘gentlemen’ and ‘persons of sober and industrious habits’. The official reply was favourable as far as the propertied emigrants were concerned, but it was made plain that ‘to persons not possessing these qualifications, Lord Bathurst cannot afford any encouragement’. This was to be a constant theme throughout the 1820s, when Broadfoot and the Scottish shipowners were never able to secure any assistance in sending out artisans and labourers.

Within the next four years Broadfoot dispatched five ships, all English vessels on charter, and his example, and the increase in emigration encouraged others in need of employment for their ships and capital. In May 1822 James Stirling, merchant and shipowner of Leith, sought permission from Bathurst, through Captain R. Wemyss, M.P., to charter out his brig Urania to a group of emigrants. Since the vessel’s tonnage, only 176, was below that prescribed in the East India regulations, special permission was necessary for the voyage to Australia. Stirling intended ‘to keep the vessel in that country and give her a chance of employment in that New World’. His request was referred to Commissioner Bigge and subsequently granted, and this first Scottish vessel soon sailed for Hobart. The chartering of vessels in Leith for Australian voyages in 1821-2 probably helped to encourage a more ambitious project, for, in the latter months of 1822, the first moves were being made towards forming a chartered company, with a large capital, that would bring an important sector of Scotland’s industrial and commercial capacity into direct contact with Australia. The rapid increase in the flow of emigrants in 1820, sustained in 1821 and 1822, was the chief factor in bringing about this new and spirited venture.

...Return to Part 1



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