Forwards and backwards

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 06.39.27In July 1909 the love story of Gabriel R. Gibson of Kilsyth – a small town halfway between Stirling and Glasgow – and Myrtle MacIntyre made headlines in the San Francisco Call. Gibson had fallen in love with MacIntyre and ‘wooed his sweetheart’ during his school days in Kilsyth. But, in 1903, Gibson left for the United States, seeking to make a better life for himself in Berkeley, California. His departure from Scotland did not put an end, however, to his love for Myrtle: the two kept in touch, corresponding regularly by sending many a letter across the Atlantic Ocean. But ‘[s]ix years of correspondence’ eventually ‘proved unsatisfactory to Gabriel . . . and he left for his native land . . . to wed Miss Myrtle MacInyre, the woman of his choice.’ Together the newly-wed couple then made home in Piedmont, California.

One story of transatlantic ties maintained between Scotland and the United States says little, of course, of the wider Scottish emigrant experience of the return home – be it temporary or permanent. What the story points to, however, is the fact that emigration was not as fi nite and ‘conclusive in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as perhaps it had been half a century before.’ People, their culture and their ideas fl owed between places of Scottish settlement overseas and the old homeland, and the return home, made for a multiplicity of reasons that included factors such as Gabriel’s desire to wed his school sweetheart, but also illness or family obligations, was more common than one might assume. The return movement of Scots remains, however, an under-explored aspect of Scottish diaspora history although Scots have been returning to Scotland as sojourners or for business since their fi rst foot-fall abroad, contributing to the signifi cant number of emigrant Scots who did not permanently relocate overseas. This much holds true from the late nineteenth century in particular, when improved and increasingly cheaper means of transport made the return more viable even from places in faraway Australasia. The mother of nationalist Douglas Young, for example, braved yearly sailings  between India and Scotland in the early decades of the twentieth century, numbering twenty-six in total.

Estimates suggest that the proportion of Scots returning home was higher than a third between 1870 and 1914, and they had diverse reasons for venturing home, including returning in mind but not body, the temporary return, and early roots-tourism.

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