from the Scotsman
A far-flung people
|THE Scots have always been wanderers, from
the days of the itinerant Celtic monks. During the late 18th and 19th
centuries, Highland regiments, recruited from a wrecked, post-Culloden
clan system, were often in the vanguard of imperial expansion. The
Scottish soldier found favour as a mercenary in the armies of Sweden,
Denmark, Bohemia, France, and as far back as the Hundred Years’ War,
Joan of Arc’s triumphant soldiery is said to have sung the tune later
used for Scots Wha Hae.
But it was in the past three centuries that emigration reached endemic
proportions. Romanticised images such as Thomas Faed’s The Last of the
Clan or grainy photographs showing emotional farewells on packed
quaysides have embedded themselves in Scottish iconography .
Other waves of migration that tend not to come under the romanticising
spotlight are the 17th-century "plantation" of Ulster, for
instance, which helped sow the seeds of today’s divisions in Northern
Ireland; or the spread of our "forgotten diaspora" along trade
routes into the Baltic countries and eastern Europe, with Scots
merchants, soldiers and others stepping ashore and putting down roots in
places such as Riga, Gdansk, Gothenburg and Archangel.
Emigration of large numbers of Highlanders began in the 1730s, when the
Duke of Argyll got rid of the "tacksmen", the farmer-soldiers
who had been integral to the clan system.
The years following Culloden made life untenable for many Highland
communities, and between 1763 and 1773, some 20,000 Gaels crossed the
Atlantic . Whole communities might emigrate, such as the 33 families and
25 single men from Ullapool who sailed to Pictou, Nova Scotia in 1773.
The landowners’ drive for agricultural improvement advanced the
displacement , most notoriously during the clearances when thousands
were evicted from their townships, often to non-viable coastal sites. In
Sutherland, between 1807 and 1821, almost 10,000 people were cleared.
There were other ways out - the emerging Highland regiments, or the lure
of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which by 1800 was recruiting more than
three quarters of its personnel from Orkney.
Meanwhile, Australia started to beckon. In 1839 Melbourne was described
as "almost altogether a Scotch settlement" . The diaspora
infiltrated every corner of the globe, which is why you can still hear
Gaelic spoken in Tierra del Fuego .
While the songs of the Gael echo the anguish of exile, the oppressed
weren’t beyond oppressing either. The songs neglect the shameful
episodes, such as the Warrigal Creek massacre in Victoria, when 100-150
Aboriginals were herded into a river and shot dead by Highland settlers.
Similar atrocities occurred in Tierra del Fuego, where Scots were among
those responsible for the genocide of the Ona Indians. Elsewhere,
cultural contact was more amicable.
An inordinate number of Scots found themselves at the sharp end of
empire-building, as soldiers or administrators - during the second half
of the 19th century, a third of all colonial governors were Scots.
Emigration continued well into the 20th century. While many simply moved
south, some half a million Scots left for foreign shores. In talent,
enterprise and expertise it was Scotland’s loss but the world’s
gain, immeasurably so.
Thursday, 13th September 2001
to Stories from the Scotsman