Scotlands History\|Scots and Australia

Immigrants - Scottish Australians

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For hundreds of years Scots have packed up their families and their belongings and sailed to Australia to start a new life.

When Australia needed workers between 1832 and 1850 about 16,000 Scots became ‘assisted immigrants’. They boarded chartered ships, like the 50-ton ship Stirling Castle, chartered from Alan Kerr and Company, Greenock, alongside skilled stonemasons, engineers, carpenters, blacksmiths and even professors. In the same period more than 20,000 Scots travelled to Australia as unassisted immigrants.

The majority of Scottish emigrants were from the Lowlands but around 10,000 Highlanders boarded chartered ships to Australia between 1837 and 1852.

Among them was Allan Cameron, who was born in Ardnamurchan in 1837. As a small boy Allan was shipped to Australia aboard the ‘Brilliant’. He later recalled the journey and his life in Australia.

I will tell you a haphazard account of our ship and what I remember of many of the passengers. We sailed from Tobermory, Scotland about middle of August... The ship had too many passengers for her size, heard them say that most of the males had to live and sleep on deck during the length of the voyage. Ship kept very clean. Some sickness. 10 children died . No grown people. All the passengers except two families were from Argyllshire and we arrived in Sydney 19th January 1838...

...I often think of the courage of the old pioneers coming to a new land full of convicts and very little money in their pockets and what we went through. Every soul on our ship was Scottish.’

Allan Cameron (1837-1923), New South Wales

One of Allan’s descendants is Valerie J Cameron Smith, President of the Scottish Australian Heritage Council.

In 1839 Catherine Helen Spence emigrated to Adelaide. She had been born in Melrose in the Scottish Borders. Catherine Spence became Australia's first female political candidate and first woman journalist. She campaigned for women's suffrage and was often called 'Australia's Greatest Woman'. She appears on the Australian $5 bank note.

Between 1852 and 1857 the Highland and Island Emigration Society responded to the potato blight by sending about 4910 Highlanders, many from Skye and the Hebrides, to Australia. The society aimed ‘to promote measures for aiding persons in some parts of the Highlands and especially in the Island of Skye, who desire to emigrate to the British Colonies, but who are prevented by the want of sufficient means’. Among the list of benefactors were Queen Victoria, who gave £300, and Prince Albert, who contributed £105.

In 1895 Christina Rutherford Macpherson played a tune to the Australian poet Banjo Paterson.

...one day I played (from ear) a tune which I had heard played by band at the Races in Warrnambool, a Country town in the Western District of Victoria. Mr Paterson asked what it was - I could not tell him, & he then said he thought he could write some lines to it. He then & there wrote the first verse.

'Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited 'til his billy boiled
'You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me.' '

Banjo Paterson wrote the song ‘Waltzing Matilda’ to the tune of the traditional Scottish song ‘Thou Bonnie Wood Of Craigielea’. The famous bush ballad Waltzing Matilda has been called ‘Australia’s unofficial national anthem’.

Australia’s official National Anthem ‘Advance Australia Fair’ was written by Peter Dodds McCormick, who was born in Port Glasgow, Scotland.

A photograph of the Sydney Opera Bridge

The 20th century continued to see Scots migrate to Australia. In the 1920s Scots stonemasons helped to build the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Scots miners from Lanarkshire, Fife and Ayrshire worked in coal mines in New South Wales in the '20s and '30s. In 1929 Alexander MacRae, originally from Loch Kishorn in the Highlands, first produced the famous Australian swimming ‘cossie’ - Speedos.

In 1930 MacRobertson Chocolates created Freddo Frog. Macpherson Robertson, the founder of ‘Mac Robertson Steam Confectionery Works’ that later became simply MacRobertson Chocolates, was the son of a Scottish carpenter. He spent many of his early years in Leith and became an apprentice at a confectionery company. When his family moved back to Melbourne he started making sweets in his mother’s bathroom.

Robertson became a great philanthropist as well as a hugely successful chocolate maker. He sponsored the MacRobertson Air Race from London to Melbourne, and financed a combined British, Australian and New Zealand expedition to the Antarctic. A part of the Antarctic was named ‘Mac Robertson Land’ in his honour.

Today Freddo Frog is the most popular children’s chocolate in Australia.

After the Second World War thousands of Britons set sail for Australia. Between 1947 and 1981 more than a million Britons took advantage of an assisted passage scheme introduced by the Australian Government. Around 170,000 Scots left Britain to become ‘Ten Pound Poms’ and start a new life Down Under.

Among the Scots that moved to Australia were the Young family from the East End of Glasgow. In 1963 the Youngs, including brothers Angus, Malcolm and George, began a new life in Sydney. They were a musical family. In 1973 Malcolm and Angus Young formed the rock band AC/DC. The band took off when they recruited Bon Scott on vocals. Scott had been born in Kirriemuir in Angus. His family had emigrated from Scotland to Melbourne in 1952. AC/DC were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.

In 1971 singer-songwriter Eric Bogle wrote the song ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’. Eric was born in Peebles in the Scottish Borders. He emigrated to Australia in 1969.

‘And the band played Waltzing Matilda,
As the ship pulled away from the quay,
And amidst all the cheers, the flag-waving and tears, we sailed off for Gallipoli.’

The song tells of a young Australian soldier, an ANZAC, who lived through the horrific Battle of Gallipoli in the First World War. ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ has been honoured as one of the top 30 Australian songs of all time.

Scots still migrate to Australia. Now they fly in a day rather than spend weeks or months in a ship. They can speak to their relatives and friends on a webcam and post photos on social networks.

Scots have played a major part in shaping Australia from the time of Captain Cook and convicts to the Ten Pound Poms and 21st century migrants. Australian history is full of stories of Scots explorers and outlaws, convicts and politicians, musicians and chocolate makers.