How do Americans see Scots

Scots Emigration - Where Did All The Highlanders Go?

With the union between England and Scotland in 1707, the Scots gained access to a world empire with colonies. A wave of emigration followed. But why did so many Scots leave their homeland?

One term always comes up in this context: the Highland Clearances. The picture: Greedy landowners are driving out the poor population in the north-west of the country to replace them with sheep.

But as is so often the case, the truth is more complex.

When did the emigration take place?

It started from the 17th century and ended in the early 20th century. The peak of emigration was around 1850. It subsided when the world economic crisis began in 1920, which then no longer offered any prospects in the new countries.

Why was there emigration from Scotland?

The structural change in Scotland from the 17th century onwards brought emigration with it. There was definitely something positive about it. Schools and universities, for example, which in the south of Scotland favored an educated middle class. However, the school leavers found no prospects in the weak domestic economy. They emigrated and sought their fortune as missionaries in Africa or as traders in the Far East.

From around 1730, many Highlanders left their homeland, recruited by agencies to supply workers and settlers for the new world. So it wasn't necessarily just displacement at work. From 1815, Lowland residents joined the stream across the pond.

Many of the emigrants promised themselves freedom and a better life. They usually paid for the boat crossings to North America, Australia or New Zealand themselves. The local large landowners were not at all happy about this at first, after all their workers and tenants left with it.

Later, the attitude of many landowners changed. Because in 1846 the potato blight struck Scotland, which had already caused devastating conditions in Ireland a year earlier. Now the landlords had to fight hunger on their lands. High costs that have been paid over the years. So some found it more sensible to solve the problem with a one-off payment for a passage of their land tenants or workers across the Atlantic or even the Pacific. There people could take care of themselves. Both had theoretically won.

For this purpose, the Highland and Island Emigration Society was even founded, which encouraged emigration to Australia, where shepherds were urgently needed.

Was emigration forced by force?

It was not until 1840 that the landowners saw emigration as a means of getting rid of the surplus rural population. Partly they supported this by paying for the passage. The landlords were by no means always cruel; emigration was often based on mutual consent. Especially since part of the family often lived in the new lands across the seas.

Only a few cases were associated with violent loading on ships. Usually when land tenants had already agreed to leave the country on the ship and then - on the day of departure - no longer wanted to.

But there was of course the pressure that landowners drove their tenants away and they simply saw no other way out than to migrate.

Either way: Leaving home or having to leave was not easy for the Scots.

How did a crossing to the new country go?

The journey of the Hector is an exemplary story for a - dangerous - crossing. It is precisely because so much went wrong that we know a lot about it today.

The Hector was a Dutch cargo ship owned by John Pagan. It was probably more than 50 years old and the wood was rotten. Pagan bought with his partner Dr. John Witherspoon a piece of land in eastern Canada, now Nova Scotia. The country lacked settlers, so emigrants were attracted from the Highlands. The promise: free passage, food on board and, moreover, for a year in the new country.

In 1773, 189 Highlanders boarded the Hector at Loch Broom, heads and hearts full of dreams of a better life on strange shores. Dreams that quickly burst and were replaced by a harsh reality.

Because the circumstances on board were inhumane. They slept in shifts: half of the passengers stayed up on deck, the other half lay down in the bunks. The sleeping places were only about half a meter high. People in piles, hygiene as a foreign word. A breeding ground for disease. 18 settlers died of chickenpox during the crossing.

At least there was food. But some of the passengers were not satisfied with it. The rusk was too dry for them, they threw it away. After all, a clever Highlander collected the pastries again. Did he know what was going to happen?

The trip should take eleven weeks. But near Newfoundland - almost there - a storm threw the ship back by 14 days. The rations were not calculated for it. The result was hunger. After all, the rusks that were thrown away saved lives.

When the Scots finally disembarked near what is now Pictou, they almost hit the blow. The promised land was forest. Nothing was prepared here. And tree felling - the farmers knew little about that - there were hardly any trees back home. The promised one year's provisions were not on site either.

Nevertheless, the settlers made it at some point. They made a life for themselves in "Nova Scotia". The Hector is now considered the symbol of Scottish immigrants to Canada and is a replica in the port of Pictou. So many Highlanders were to follow in the next few decades that violin, bagpipes and Gaelic were widespread on Cape Breton and the Pictou area.

By the way: a story like this is an excellent template for a novel. In “Piper”, author Jacqueline Halsey describes the crossing of the Hector from the eyes of a 12-year-old passenger.

What did the Scots find in the new world?

Many settlers found what they were looking for: fertile farmland and new opportunities. They were involved in the construction of the new world, but also in the destruction of the cultures that had resided there up to that point.

In the last few years the Scots have been working critically on their involvement in the slave trade. That too is part of the expansion of the Scots all over the world.

Today Scotland shines almost everywhere - at least by name. Calgary in Canada takes its name from a bay on the Isle of Mull. Inverness is then also once again on Cape Breton. There is also Aberdeen in Australia. In New Zealand, many Gael settled in the south. The city of Dunedin in the southeast takes its name from the Gaelic word for Edinburgh: Dùn Èideann.

How did the emigration end?

Around 1930, after more than 200 years, emigration subsided. For one thing, crofters were finally protected and the large landowners were put in their place. On the other hand, the world economic crisis set in, which even caused some emigrants to return to Scotland.

But the countries to which the Highlanders had emigrated were no longer colonies of the Crown. USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand ... they all made themselves independent.

But that did not detract from the cohesion of the Scots. Today there are Highland Games all over the world and many Scots in exile make a pilgrimage to their families' roots at clangatherings. And in Nova Scotia the Celtic Colors take place annually, the Gaelic music celebrates with local musicians and Scottish guests.