Robert Burns and the Scots in Shanghai

BurnsShanghaiBurns anniversaries have been celebrated around the world for a long time, proliferating in the nineteenth century. In Shanghai, where China’s first Scottish association, the Shanghai St Andrew’s Society, was established in the mid-nineteenth century, however, the anniversary, as the North China Herald reported in 1902, ‘has gone without public celebration’. But it was all about to change, thanks in particular to Charles Stewart Addis, the new president of the St Andrew’s Society. Addis, together with other members of the Society’s committee, was ‘determined that the reproach of neglect of Scotia’s favourite son should no longer be justly cast on his fellow-countrymen’ in Shanghai.

Consequently, a celebration was organised, and approximately one hundred members of the Society ‘met to eat a Scottish dinner, sing Scottish songs, listen to Scottish …

Celebrating Robert Fergusson: A New Zealand Connection

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 16.29.05Scottish poet Robert Fergusson died on 16 October 1774. At times described as the lesser brother of Robert Burns, Fergusson too left his mark in the Scottish diaspora. Let’s look at the story of New Zealand Burns enthusiast James Craigie in a bit more detail to see what role Fergusson played for him.

Born at Coupar Angus, Perthshire, in 1851, Craigie arrived in New Zealand at the age of fifteen together with his parents. He was an apprentice to a painter in Dunedin, later setting up a small business in Timaru in 1873 as importer and general decorator; he also owned a farm at Kingsdown, situated 6 miles to the south of Timaru. Perhaps it was his Scottish upbringing that fostered in Craigie a strong civic spirit. He was involved …

Migration and Poetry

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 16.42.34While exploring personal testimonies of migrants and their families back at home in Scotland, as well as records from Scottish clubs and societies, I have come across numerous examples of poetry written by Scots at home and abroad that relates to migration and the feelings associated with it. As it is National Poetry Day today I want to look at some of those poems and share them with you.

In many cases poems were a means to counter loneliness and feelings of sadness. Once the decision to leave had been made, the process of bidding farewell to friends and family began. The prospect of reunion was unlikely. The prevailing sentiments are expressed to the point by Robert Shennan when writing to his son John on his departure for New Zealand …

Robert Burns – Scottish Diaspora Icon

Piping in the haggis (Calgary, Canada, c1927-1933; image from Glenbow Museum Archive)

St Andrew’s Day undoubtedly was one of the main celebrations in the annual events calendar of the Scots abroad. On equal footing stood, however, the celebration of Burns Night in honour of Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns. Burns societies and clubs were formed all around the world to organise events, and it was their activities that contributed to making Robert Burns a central Scottish Diaspora icon.

Burns celebrations have their origin in early nineteenth century Scotland. The years when the Burns cult first developed in Scotland were a time of great change. Early nineteenth-century Scottish society was a society in upheaval: industrialisation and the associated modernisation processes brought major dislocation. As a result, many people tried to hold …