Thanks to a Visiting Fellowship at the Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University (Canberra), and a grant by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, I got to spend the last two months in Australia, giving me time for some further explorations of the Scots who settled there for my next book, as well as for a new project in which I am investigating the material culture of Scottish associations. So on my departure from Australia I thought I’d write a post about the Scots here.
Overall, between 1861 and 1945, the Scots made up a good 15% of the UK-born migrants in Australia – the Scots were, therefore, the third largest migrant group after the English and Irish. While a larger number of Scots, almost a quarter, settled across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand, the percentage for Australia is remarkable too. This is the case because, on average, 15% is a higher proportion of Scots than in the UK itself at the time, where Scots made up only about 12%. The Scots were overrepresented down under – which perhaps supplies one reason why they were quick to leave visible marks in Australia.
Before we come to the Scots’ legacies, however, it is important to remember that Australia was, of course, first put on the Scottish diaspora map not as a destination migrants chose to move to, but as a penal colony for convicts. However, of the estimated total number of convicts sent to Australia and Van Diemen’s Land (present-day Tasmania) – nearly 155,000 – only a little over 8,000 were Scots. This was a direct result of the Scottish penal system, in which transportation was a punishment almost exclusively reserved for the most serious crimes or repeat offenders. In England, by contrast, even smaller crimes could receive a sentence of transportation. Yet despite their comparatively small number, many an interesting story can be told of the Scottish convicts who came to Australia. If you are interested in finding out more about some of them have a look at the Convict Transportation Registers Database and search for a few Scottish names to learn more about where convicts came from and their sentences.
But early Australia was not entirely comprised of convicts: the Scottish military played an important role for security, and many of the early colonial administrators were Scots. Among them was Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821. Born on the island of Ulva in the Inner Hebrides in 1762, Macquarie volunteered for the army in 1776 – a decision that first brought him to North America and then to the West Indies, from where he decided to move east. He eventually made it to India in 1788, being posted to Bombay, and spent the next two decades there and in other imperial arenas to pursue his military career. It was somewhat by chance, and perhaps in part due to his boldness, that Macquarie became governor of New South Wales. He was following in the footsteps of deposed governor William Bligh – infamous for his connection with the mutinous Bounty. In his new role as governor, Macquarie was paramount to Australia’s transition from a penal colony to a free settlement, focusing on the promotion of trade, agriculture, public works and the re-integration of ex-convicts into society proper.
There were also many Scottish botanists, surveyors and explorers, the latter group including famous John McDouall Stuart who, from South Australia, set out to traverse the continent from south to north. Born in Dysart, Fife, in early September 1815, Stuart was educated at the Scottish Naval and Military Academy in Edinburgh. He came to Australia in 1839, and joined a surveying party bound on exploring the outback. This became Stuart’s lifelong passion, and saw him embark on a number of expeditions in the 1850s and 60s. Despite his significant achievements, Stuart did not receive particularly much recognition – he was a controversial character throughout his life, dying a sick and relatively poor man in London in 1866. Partly as a result of this, members of the Adelaide Caledonian Society sought to make sure Stuart would eventually get the recognition he deserved, setting up a campaign for a memorial to him in the mid 1890s that eventually financed a Stuart statue (although this too caused significant controversy – for an image of the unveiling of the statue, click here).
Apart from the history of such prominent Scots in Australia, I have also learned a lot about many a family history. There were, for instance, the Haigs of Mt Gambier who were deeply involved in Scottish activities ever since their first foot-fall down under. And then there’s the lovely story of Alice and William Granger who arrived in Australia wearing kilts – a moment that was captured retrospectively in this marvellous image. What makes the Granger story so remarkable is that the kilts are still in the possession of the family, and are occasionally worn now by the grandchildren of William Granger. Isn’t that brilliant? Perhaps there is a similar story behind the kilts worn by Harry and his sister Angela, who arrived in Brisbane in 1960 (click here to see the image). Stories such as these make up the very fabric of the Scottish diaspora and deserve our recognition.
Speaking of kilts: a large collection of them and the relevant accessories can also be found at the Australian War Memorial. Scottish regiments played an important role in Australia and although wearing the kilt was outlawed for a time, it always remained a strong symbol (for an example click here). In Australia too there was an intrinsic connection between the kilt, Scottishness and military culture the built on the valour and reputation of the Scottish soldier. The image on the right depicts a group of soldiers of a Scottish unit gathered around the graves of their fallen comrades. The original caption of the image reads ‘The burial place at Modder River, of the Highlanders who fell at Maagersfontein, S Africa.’
The story of the Scots in Australia is, of course, much richer than the few examples I have given here – and much is still to say about it! If you are interested in learning more, here are a few resources you might like to look at:
The Scottish Diaspora contains a chapter with material on Australia
The Scots in Australia by Malcolm Prentis
Trove – Australia’s brilliant search engine for all sorts of records; most interesting should be the picture search and the newspaper search
National Archives of Australia – has some online records
Migration Museum, Adelaide
Immigration Museum, Melbourne
Finally: Special thanks to the member of the Scottish community I have met while in Australia, and to the Migration Museum in Adelaide, especially Catherine Manning, for the hospitality and sharing your expertise.