Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 18.04.55I recently wrote a post on Scottish emigrant letters from New Zealand, explaining at the end that post could get lost and that, obviously, it was less reliable in the nineteenth century. It was partly in response to the practical limitations of these communication flows that ethnic ties, be it through direct kith and kin or more removed through shared Scottish descent generally, proved a crucial safety net for many Scottish migrants. It is why many Scots, as can be seen on the picture on the left, ‘clubbed together’. When the Jack family left Scotland, for example, several passengers on the Iona were familiar faces from Edinburgh, accompanying them to London. New friendships were then quickly formed aboard the ship to Wellington, particularly with other fellow Scots; the sharing of cultural pursuits and the death of a fellow passenger contributed to the emergence of a firm bond and a collegial spirit. With all passengers bound for a new life and venturing into the unfamiliar, points of contact were welcome. And, as it turned out, the Jacks immediately benefited from a new acquaintance in their quest to secure suitable lodgings on arrival in Wellington. Facilitated by a fellow cabin passenger’s contacts, the Jacks settled in their new home in Wellington’s Mowbray Street on 25 February 1884, almost exactly four months to the day after their departure from Edinburgh.

In addition to new contacts made aboard ships, friendships and exchange networks could be utilised before departure, or instantly on arrival, by means of testimonials. In some instances, these relied on family connections, using letters to introduce family members to new immigrants. Yet testimonials also worked within a wider net of contacts, for instance to the benefit of William Ogilvy Duthie, the first teacher at Highcliffe School on the Otago Peninsula. Born in Edzell, Kincardineshire in 1853, family history has it that Duthie’s parents moved to the Shetland Islands around 1863, establishing a farm at Tingwall. It was there that William met his future wife Grace, who worked as the family servant. When William’s parents expressed their dismay at the relationship and dismissed Grace, she decided to leave for New Zealand and William followed her. Both left London on the Christian McAusland on 13 September 1872 and arrived at Port Chalmers on 5 December of the same year. As noted in chapter one, the 1870s were marked by ambitious state-funded immigration schemes, as part of which New Zealand emigration agents were canvassing Shetland. Domestic servants were especially sought after. As the shipping list of the Christian McAusland shows, the twelve women from the Shetland Islands aboard were all assisted immigrants, and all gave their occupation as domestic servant; Grace Nicolson was one of them. Apart from the wish to follow his future wife, William Ogilvy Duthie’s emigration may also have been influenced by the previous departure of one of his former instructors, Robert Stout. It was Stout’s father, Thomas, who provided an important testimonial for Duthie. Addressed to his son in New Zealand, Stout senior wrote:

The bearer of this, Mr William Ogilvy Duthie, has been a pupil teacher with Mr Grey, Master of the Episcopal School here; and I have every reason to believe he is a deserving young man, and bears a high character here. If you can give him assistance in obtaining employment I hope you will do so.

Duthie’s notebook, with further testimonials, demonstrates that he must have quickly found his way to Robert Stout. A letter written to the Revd E. G. Edwards by Stout is dated 17 December 1872 and confirms their contact:

I take the liberty of introducing to you Mr Duthie, a young man who has been a pupil teacher in St Magnus Episcopal School in my native town. He bears a high character, and my father states he has been successful as a teacher. He will show you his testimonials, and by then you will see that he is in full communion with your Church. I have no doubt that you could, perhaps, use your infl uence for obtaining him a situation as assistant master in some of the public schools. Excuse the liberty I have taken in introducing Mr Duthie to you.

Stout and Duthie remained in contact even when Stout served as Premier a decade later. In a letter sent in 1885 to provide a character reference, Stout praised Duthie’s attention to detail and noted that he had known him ‘since he was a lad’.

Documents relating to the earlier encountered Jack family offer further evidence of the key purpose testimonials served, particularly in the form of introduction letters. A specific type of letter, with the designated purpose of contact facilitation, the Jacks’ letters were intended to open opportunities and help ease settlement in the new world. All of John Jack’s letters are addressed to particular individuals, helpfully to people from Auckland to Dunedin, thereby providing the family with contact points across New Zealand. While some only give the name and an address of a person that ‘will show you kindness’, other letters indicate that patronage flows were utilised. Shortly before the Jack family’s departure, for example, John received a letter from William Duysdale that was addressed to Thomas Brydone, Dunedin. Mr Duysdale wrote:

This will be presented to you by Mr Jack who is going out to New Zealand with his wife and two sons. . . . John Jack has not yet made up his mind to what he may turn his attention but if he goes in for land I have advised him to apply to you. . . . Mr Jack is a relative of a friend of mine . . . a Kirkcaldy Banker and I shall be glad that you do what you can for him.

Brydone was a useful contact to have in Dunedin. He arrived in New Zealand in 1868, via Melbourne, and had previously been the superintendent for the New Zealand and Australia Land Company Ltd in Edinburgh. He continued his work in Dunedin, but was also involved in chartering vessels to carry frozen mutton from New Zealand to the United Kingdom, hence was extensively connected locally in Dunedin, as well as nationally and internationally. The Jack family, however, did not settle in Dunedin, but remained in Wellington, subsequently drawing on the two letters addressed to Wellingtonians in their bundle.

One letter with a Wellington addressee was written to the Revd James Paterson. The Jacks had all been heavily involved in church activities in Scotland, and would have valued this particular contact facilitation. Perhaps emphasising the centrality of the church in their lives, they could further present the Revd Paterson with a statement provided by their Scottish local minister that confirmed the family’s commitment to church – a document suitably comparable to a modern certificate of good conduct.

The role of testimonials for Scottish migrants
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2 thoughts on “The role of testimonials for Scottish migrants

  • 18 August 2016 at 10:43 pm

    William and Grace Duthie are my great grandparents. Their youngest daughter, Ivy, was my grandmother, and her oldest child, William James Nisbet MacIntosh was my father.

    • 27 August 2016 at 5:39 pm

      How lovely to learn about this from you! Thanks so much, Barbara, for sharing this. I always love to hear from the decedents of those Scots I come across in my research.


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