There were many reasons why Scots did not permanently settle overseas. One group of returnees among which the Scots are disproportionately highly represented is that of military pensioners, especially in the early nineteenth century. Existing scholarship has largely focused on soldiers settling in the colonies at the end of their service, for instance in North America or South Africa—a pattern related to the provision of land grants in these locations. Soldiers were perceived as valuable settlers, securing frontiers and supplementing colonial populations in areas where settlement was only sporadic. While the Empire Settlement Act of 1922 was the first act to specifically facilitate the settlement of ex-servicemen, with the UK government co-operating with governments in the Dominions to provide assisted passages and land settlement schemes, there had been earlier initiatives that soldiers could utilise after being discharged if they were keen on remaining abroad. Overall, however, Scottish soldiers settling overseas were outnumbered by those who chose to return home.
In the early nineteenth century, approximately 16 per cent of soldiers from the British Isles were Scottish—a percentage disproportionate in terms of the Scots’ population share within the British Isles at the time, which was around 10 per cent. As is also observed in other chapters of this book, the over-representation of Scots is a common characteristic of the Scottish diaspora more broadly. What is notable, however, is that although the number of soldiers serving in the British army was disproportionate, the number of Scottish soldiers settling abroad after being discharged was not. As Cookson estimates on the basis of soldier pensioner data, only a good eight per cent of pensioners living in India in the early nineteenth century were Scots—a figure similar to that of Scottish veterans in Upper Canada, which stood at seven per cent. While the low percentage of Scottish ex-servicemen remaining in India may be explained, at least in part, by the fact that departure to the East was, as we have seen, very much perceived as a sojourn only, this does not explain the even lower proportion settling in Canada. The point is that Scottish pensioners in the early nineteenth century generally ‘were indisposed to settling overseas … [and] continued to be under-represented among “colonial” pensioners even with the next generation of soldiers.’ This reluctance of Scottish soldiers to settle in the Empire is the result of a number of factors.
First, it is important to consider the general social circumstances of soldiers at the point of discharge. Scottish soldiers tended to be single men when they joined the army. By the time they were discharged from service, many had reached their forties and were keen to marry and find employment. In the colonies, however, there generally was a deficit of females, contributing to unfavourable sex ratios. While Irish pensioners, who settled abroad in larger numbers than their Scottish counterparts, were part of a migratory stream among which single adult females were more prominent, the same cannot be said for the Scots. In combination, the soldiers’ age and the lack of single females in their age range thus ‘impeded the marriage prospects of pensioners’. Moreover, age patterns also restricted the pensioners’ opportunities for finding employment because many of the colonies that would have been options for settlement were, at the time, small economies with limited job markets. Secondly, it is also worth noting that many of the Scottish soldiers returning home did not only return to Scotland, but to their county of birth or a county close by. As an analysis of soldiers’ settlement patterns in Scotland after discharge of a number of regiments shows, well over 70 per cent of the returnees resided in their respective region of birth in both the period 1814 to 1816 and 1840 to 1845. Regional, even local, connections and kinship networks in Scotland appear to have played a vital role in the wish of soldiers to return home. Kinship and local networks were also important in chain migration and migratory patterns to particular destinations overseas—a trend that we can now identify as equally relevant in the reverse. Finally, Scottish soldiers who went back to Scotland were generally warmly received: hailed as builders of Empire, Scottish veterans were deemed respectable and law-abiding, and were, therefore, able to live in relative prosperity. Hence, and in terms of weighing up advantages and disadvantages of remaining in the colonies or returning home, many Scottish soldier pensioners decided that the return was the preferable option, with the economic rationale speaking largely in favour of Scotland.