Migration and Empire 1830–1939 1. Background In terms of industrialisation Scotland was a late starter compared to England. However, from 1830, the country experienced a massive surge in the expansion of an interlocking economy based on heavy industry, that is coal, iron, engineering and shipbuilding. In a very short space of time, Scotland became more industrialised than the rest of Britain; indeed, it became the workshop of the world. The main ingredients in the creation of this powerhouse economy were cheap and plentiful supplies of raw materials and energy, a vast reservoir of low cost but reasonably well-educated labour, entrepreneurial dynamism and a university system that developed close links with industry. Rapid industrial growth led to the mass migration of labour to the cities in search of work and accommodation. Such a movement of peoples saw Scotland rise from fourth place in the world urban league in 1800, to second only to England and Wales by 1850. However, the unplanned growth of the cities and towns created squalor and over-crowding on a massive scale. Even as late as 1911, two-thirds of Scots were living in one- or two-roomed houses compared with only 7 per cent in England. Poverty was widespread, wages were low in comparison with other parts of the UK and infant mortality rates were alarmingly high. Furthermore, these social problems in a pre-welfare society were intensified in times of economic depression. Scotland's economy was based on exports, mainly to the British Empire, thus, boom and bust were core elements in the economic story of its development. This culminated in the late 1920s and early 1930s in a catastrophic economic collapse which saw around a quarter of the working population of the west of Scotland unemployed. One of the ways out of the economic and social problems in which many Scots found themselves trapped was migration.
2. The Migration of Scots Migration is the movement of people within a country. Normally it is associated with the shift of people from the countryside to the towns, but it can also be a useful term to describe the movement of population from a depressed economic region to an active one. In this section it is the first type of population movement that will be considered.
The first movement to be examined is that which took place within Lowland Scotland. Population pressures had been building up in the rural Lowlands since about 1750. By 1800, rural parishes were facing the prospect that the growth in population at 10 per cent per decade might soon lead to famine. In the period
1800–1851, that horrendous prospect was avoided by the achievement of a balance between land and people. This was facilitated by alterations to the pattern of ownership and hiring of labour. The hiring and land-tenure systems which developed led to the use of less labour in the rural Lowlands, with the exception of the south-west and north-east. Displaced farm labourers headed for the nearest town in search of work and accommodation. By 1851, 15 per cent of the population of Peebles-shire had made its way to Edinburgh.
After 1840, the process of rural depopulation was accelerated in the Lowlands by the introduction of labour-saving technology. In 1840 it took 22 man-days to tend an acre of barley; by 1914 it was down to 12 and by 1951 it had dropped to three. This process was reinforced by the higher wages to be earned in urban areas. On moving to a town, a former agricultural labourer might earn 50 per cent more in industrial work, although he was less well protected from the impact of economic depressions. Of equal importance in moving to the towns was the prospect of a more varied social life and an end to the isolation of living on the land. Towns provided higher wages, shorter hours, more leisure and freedom in the evenings and weekends away from the employer. Perhaps because of a combination of these factors, between 1861 and 1891 rural employment in the Lowlands fell by around a third in spite of rising wages. This pattern continued into the 20th century and by 1914 only 14 per cent of males were employed in agriculture; by 1951 it was less than 10 per cent.
The exodus from the Highlands to the southern Lowlands of Scotland has traditionally been seen as a result of the employment opportunities opening up in industry. However, recent research has shown that not all migration was permanent. Whether migration was permanent or temporary depended on the social and economic conditions in which the Highlanders lived. Thus, migration from the south and east Highlands was higher than migration from the north-west Highlands and Islands, in spite of the fact that the distance from growing Lowland towns was the same.
In the south and east Highlands there was a fall in the number of tenancies, which created a large pool of landless labourers dependent on wages. The growth of industries such as fishing in Argyllshire soaked up some of the surplus labour, as did the growth of small towns such as Campbeltown and Tarbert. Education also played its part in weakening the attachment to the land by raising expectations and improving skills. By 1826, 70 per cent of the population of Argyll could read, while only 30 per cent of Hebridean population were literate. Thus, the peasant values of the Highlander in the south and east were broken by the growth of commercialism and the improvement in education, which removed the barrier to permanent migration to the south.
The north-west Highlands and Islands did not develop the same spirit of commercialisation as did the south-east and dependency on the land was intensified. It remained a peasant society. The population was sustained until the 1840s by the cultivation of the potato and by temporary migration to the Lowlands. Out of a population of 10,000 in Mull, 8000 were living on potatoes. However, from the 1850s, temporary migration allowed the peasants to buy grain and pay rentals on the crofts. It was estimated that in the 1850s, a half to two-thirds of the income of the inhabitants of Skye came from agricultural work in the Lowlands. In the 1870s, the herring industry drew in migrants with as many as 5000 men and women arriving in the fishing ports of Caithness and Aberdeenshire during the catching season. By 1891, three out of four of the population depended directly or indirectly on fishing alone or a combination of fishing and crofting.
Temporary employment, therefore, allowed the peasant to remain attached to the land. This lifestyle did not collapse until after the First World War. The Russian Revolution saw an end to the massive export trade in herring to eastern Europe. Mechanization of the harvest in the Lowlands also saw the demand for migrant labour decline sharply. Between 1911 and 1951 the population of the Highlands fell more steeply than at any time in its history, despite the fact that the crofters had been assured security of tenure. The Hebrides, for instance, lost 28 per cent of its population in this period.
Where in Scotland did the Highlanders settle? Before the railways, the main form of transport was by sea. Migrants from Caithness, Orkney, Shetland and the north-east were channelled to the eastern Lowlands. Other Highlanders and the Hebrideans settled in the western Lowlands. This pattern generally maintained itself throughout the period 1840–1940. Highlanders tended to settle in and around Edinburgh, Glasgow and its satellite towns, rather than in other urban centres in the east of Scotland, like Dundee or Dunfermline. As early as 1801, Highlanders constituted 29 per cent of the population of Greenock.
3. Emigration and Scottish society Emigration is the movement of people from one country to another. It is the result of push and pull effects. The push comes from poor economic conditions or political oppression at home; the pull effect is generated by the attracting powers of the other country, including the promise of higher wages, political freedom and economic opportunity.
In 19th-century Scotland, emigration was the result of both force and persuasion. Until about 1855, a number of the emigrants from the Highlands were actually forced to leave the land because of evictions. In the Lowlands, the decision to move abroad was nearly always the outcome of the desire to improve one’s living standards. Whatever the reason, Scotland lost between 10 and 47 per cent of the natural population increase every decade. The scale of the loss was only greater in two other European countries: Ireland and Norway. However, even these countries were dwarfed by emigration from Scotland in the years 1904–1913, and again in 1921–1930, when those leaving (550,000) actually exceeded the entire natural increase and constituted one-fifth of the total working population.
The eviction of Highlanders from their homes reached a peak in the 1840s and early 1850s. The decision by landlords to take this course of action was based on the fact that the Highland economy had collapsed, while at the same time the population was still rising. As income from kelp production and black cattle dried up, the landlords saw sheep as a more profitable alternative. The introduction of sheep meant the removal of people. The crofting population was already relying on a potato diet and when the crop failed in the late 1830s and again in the late 1840s, emigration seemed the only alternative to mass starvation.
The policy of the landlord was to clear the poorest Highlanders from the land and maintain those crofters who were capable of paying rent. The Dukes of Argyll and Sutherland and other large landowners financed emigration schemes. Offers of funding were linked to eviction, which left little choice to the crofter. However, the Emigration Act of 1851 made emigration more freely available to the poorest. The Highlands and Islands Emigration Society was set up to oversee the process of resettlement. Under the scheme a landlord could secure a passage to Australia for a nominee at the cost of £1. Between 1846 and 1857, around 16,533 people of the poorest types, mainly young men, were assisted to emigrate. The greatest loss occurred in the islands, particularly Skye, Mull, the Long Island and the mainland parishes of the Inner Sound.
After 1855, mass evictions were rare and emigration became more a matter of choice than compulsion. Between 1855 and 1895 the decline in the Highland population was actually less than in the rural Lowlands and certainly much lower than in Ireland. The Highlands experienced a 9 per cent fall in population between 1851 and 1891, while Ireland in the same period faced a 28 per cent fall. The Crofters’ Holding Act of 1886 gave the crofters security of tenure and this
also slowed down the process of emigration. Between 1886 and 1950, over 2700 new crofts were created and a further 5160 enlarged.
However, despite the increase in the number of crofts, the exodus from the Highlands continued. In 1831, the population of the Highlands reached a peak of 200,955, or 8.5 per cent of the total population of Scotland. In 1931, the comparable figures were 127,081 and 2.6 per cent. In the west Highlands, for every 100 persons in 1831 there were only 59 in 1951.
Although much of the decline in population as the result of permanent migration south, a substantial number left for the New World. Indeed, those who were removed from the land in the phase of evictions of the 1840s and 1850s generally refused to move to Lowland Scotland. They preferred to settle in Canada in places such as Ontario and Nova Scotia (New Scotland), where they could remain in touch with the land and maintain their style of life. In Nova Scotia in the first half of the 19th century, 59 per cent of UK settlers were Scots-born. From 1853, the USA became the main destination for over 50 per cent of emigrating Scots, although in some years New Zealand seemed a better choice and by 1850 Scots made up a quarter of the population there.
Keeping in touch with the land was not a consideration for the urban emigrant from the Scottish Lowlands. The decision to emigrate from this part of Scotland was purely voluntary. Indeed, emigration was seen by trades unions and other voluntary groups as a practical solution to unemployment and economic depression. Lowlanders were moved to leave their birthplace by a combination of low wages, poor housing conditions and unemployment. The high points in emigration statistics corresponded with years of severe economic depression. These occurred in the late 1840s and early 1850s, the mid-1880s, and the period 1906–13. Emigration was so heavy in the period 1871–1931 that it more than offset the increase in the population due to new births. This trend was brought to a halt in the 1930s as the world trade depression saw emigrants returning home. Indeed, the numbers leaving Scotland in the 1930s were at their lowest for a century.
Many emigrants of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were from middle-class backgrounds. Historians have commented on the ‘high quality’ of early Scottish settlers, among them doctors, merchants, farmers and a host of other occupations. But as concerns grew at home over the ‘surplus population’, the social status of emigrants underwent a significant transformation: from the Highlands it was landless peasants; from the Lowlands it was unemployed craftsmen, labourers and small farmers. The country of settlement tended to be
Canada. In fact, in the period 1825–1835, over 70 per cent of emigrants from Scotland settled there.
By the 20th century, things had changed substantially. The skilled worker was the largest category of all those social groups who emigrated from Scotland. Indeed, in 1912 and 1913, 47 per cent of adult male emigrants from Scotland described themselves as skilled, compared with 36 per cent of those from England and Wales. Only 29 per cent classed themselves as labourers. It seems also that, as the 19th century wore on and emigration became more of an urban phenomenon, with one’s social standing determining the country in which one settled. Unskilled labourers tended to opt for Canada and Australia, while skilled workers preferred South Africa and the USA. The middle classes strongly preferred South Africa.
Of course, many Scottish emigrants found a place nearer home, in England, particularly after the 1920s. In the period 1841–1931, around 749,000 Scots moved to other parts of the UK compared with over two million who emigrated abroad. It was during the economic depression of the inter-war years that there was a shift from emigration overseas to migration to other parts of the UK, mainly to England. By 1931, the number of Scots in England equalled those from Ireland, whereas 60 years earlier, the Irish outnumbered the Scots by a margin of two to one.
However, for the best part of the period 1830–1939, the opportunities were seen as being greater abroad, particularly in North America and Australia. The outflow of people was made easier by the revolution in transport. The steamship did not dramatically alter the cost of passage from Scotland to the USA, but it did reduce greatly the travelling time. In the 1850s it took around six weeks to cross the Atlantic; in 1914 it took only a week. The reduction in travelling time allowed for temporary migration as well as permanent; something unthinkable in the days of sailing ships. Also, if things did not work out in the New World then the price of a steamship ticket brought you back to your native land in a week; indeed, by 1900, a third of those who had left had returned. Emigration seemed less risky in the age of the steamship.
4. The experience of immigrants in Scotland The Irish were by far the largest group of immigrants to settle in Scotland. With fares from as little as 6d for a deck passage from Ireland to Greenock, emigration to Scotland was a regular feature of Irish life before 1830. In the 1820s, 6000–8000 Irish per year were making the harvest migration. By the 1840s this had
grown to 25,000 over the agricultural season. Most of the emigration, however, was on a temporary basis, peaking during important times in the farming calendar, such as harvest. In the summer of 1841, 57,651 Irish, mainly male labourers, crossed to England and Scotland to work on the harvest. There was no attempt to form permanent settlements, although with the development of cotton weaving, the construction of railways and the general expansion of the economy, the foundations of Irish settlement were beginning to be laid in Scotland. Prior to the great famine of 1846–7, emigration from Ireland could best be described as a trickle. After the famine it became a flood.
According to the census of population, the Irish-born population of Scotland stood at 126,321 out of a total of 2,620,184 in 1841, or 4.8 per cent. Ten years later it stood at 207,367, or 7.2 per cent, out of a total of 2,888,742. This compared to 2.9 per cent for England and Wales. During 1848, the average weekly inflow of Irish into Glasgow was estimated at over 1000, and the figure for January to April of that year was put at 42,860. Between 1841 and 1851 the Irish population of Scotland increased by 90 per cent. As the century progressed the numbers of Irish immigrants dwindled to 3.7 per cent in 1911, or 174,715; the respective figures for England and Wales were 1 per cent, or 395,325. The census figures, however, underestimate the total strength of the Irish community in Scotland as they record only those people who were Irish-born; children of Irish immigrants born in Scotland were classified as Scottish.
Because of their poverty and poor state of health, Irish immigrants tended to settle in or around their point of disembarkation, which meant the west coast of Scotland. The nearest counties to Ireland, Wigtownshire and Kirkcudbrightshire, had substantial Irish populations by 1841. The famine pushed the numbers up to 16.5 per cent of the population in the former. Dumfries-shire saw its Irish-born population stand at 5.9 per cent in 1851. The Irish also made their way to the east coast, particularly to Dundee, where a large female Irish community was established. Edinburgh had only a small Irish community of 6.5 per cent of total population in 1851. However, it was the industrial areas of the west of Scotland which saw the largest concentrations of Irish immigrants, with almost 29 per cent of all Irish migrants settled in Glasgow, but the smaller industrial towns of the west also had substantial Irish communities. The population of Coatbridge in 1851 was 35.8 per cent Irish.
On the whole, the Catholic Irish settled wherever muscle and strength was in demand, and as such they found their way into coalmining, dock work and labouring of all kinds. It was estimated that in Great Britain in 1851, somewhere between a half to three-quarters of all dock-labourers and two-thirds of miners
were Irish. Many also found their way into the less skilled jobs of handloom weaving and other textile work. Irish women, for instance, made up 44.3 per cent of female textile workers in Greenock in 1851. However, due to the operation of sectarianism, their lack of education and, in many cases, their language (which was Gaelic), the Irish were under-represented in the more highly paid skilled trades.
Their lowly occupational status and their willingness to work for less than the going rate did not endear Irish Catholics to the Scottish working class. Indeed, their religion was a factor which gave rise to discrimination from all sections of Scottish society. Since the Reformation, Scotland had been a Protestant country and Catholicism was largely anathema. The popery of the Irish was, therefore, detested by the Presbyterians of Scotland. Attacks on the Irish became commonplace in newspapers, pulpits and on the streets. As late as 1923, the Church of Scotland could still publish a pamphlet entitled ‘The Menace of the Irish race to our Scottish Nationality’. The Irish were seen as drunken, idle, uncivilised and undermining the moral fibre of Scottish society. They were also seen as carriers of disease. Typhus, for example, was known as ‘Irish fever’. Although the accusations had some force, they had nothing to do with ethnicity and more to do with poverty. The incidence of fever among the Irish was due to their unsanitary housing. It was also because many of the immigrants who arrived fleeing the famine were so weak that their resistance to disease was low. The Irish-born in Dundee constituted 20 per cent of all burials in 1848, whereas seven years earlier they had only constituted 5 per cent.
In spite of the hostility of the host society and their poverty, Irish Catholics demonstrated a tremendous capacity to build sustainable local communities. One study of Dundee showed that in the early 1860s there were only two Catholic churches and three schools, one of which the Dundee Advertiser described as a ‘cellar under the Chapel’, serving a community of around 20,000. Within 10 years the number of churches and schools had doubled, all financed to a large degree out of the contributions of low-paid workers. However, the situation was still dire as in 1876 there were only 192 Catholic schools staffed by 171 teachers and 357 pupil teachers. The Catholic Church also provided other services of a recreational and social kind. Indeed, there was little need for Catholics to go beyond the bounds of the Church since all their needs were catered for. Even the late 19th-century working class obsession with professional football was catered for by the setting up of Hibernian FC in Edinburgh and Celtic FC in Glasgow. The Irish Catholics had become a community within a community and this was strengthened by the degree of inter-marriage. In Greenock it was found that in 1851 80.6 per cent of Irish men and women had found marriage partners amongst
their own kind. Forty years later the numbers were still high at 72.4 per cent. Such a situation made it difficult for the Irish Catholic to assimilate into the mainstream of Scottish society.
The same charge could not be levelled at the Protestant Irish. As Catholic Irish immigrants declined in number in the late 1870s and 1880s, the Protestant Irish took up the slack. Most of these new immigrants came from the most Orange counties of the north, such as Armagh. There had been historic links of an economic and religious kind between the west of Scotland and Ulster. Even the Church of Scotland recognised that in their 1923 attack on the Catholic Irish ‘[no complaint can be made about] the presence of an Orange population in Scotland. They are of the same race as ourselves and of the same Faith, and are readily assimilated to the Scottish race’. Thus, the Protestant Irish faced nothing like the level of discrimination endured by the Catholic Irish.
The arrival of Ulster Protestants with their Orange traditions increased the pace of sectarian rivalries. The Catholic Irish had, of course, borne the brunt of attacks from all quarters of Scottish society since the 18th century but the assaults tended to be unsystematic and random. Even the arrival of the Irish in large numbers after 1846 only provoked occasional skirmishes between the rival communities at sensitive moments in the religious calendar, rather than full-scale conflict. As the Irish made few inroads into skilled employment and kept themselves very much to themselves, there was little for the native population to fear. Although certain parts of Glasgow and other towns became associated with Irish Catholics, there never occurred a process of ghetto-isation as had developed in Liverpool or Belfast. Residential mixing created a shared sense of grievance among slum dwellers, whether Catholic or Protestant, and this did much to reduce tensions. Moreover, there was little political danger from the Irish in the 19th century. Most Irish males did not qualify for the vote as they failed to put down roots long enough in any one constituency to satisfy residential qualifications. Disqualified in large numbers from voting until reform of the franchise in 1918, the Irish, with the encouragement of the Catholic hierarchy, directed their political energies towards Home Rule for Ireland. Those that could vote gave it to the Liberal Party as the only party which might deliver on the subject of Home Rule.
With the partition of Ireland in 1921, the Irish became more embroiled in the politics of their adopted country. They overwhelmingly supported the Labour Party and this allowed them access to mainstream political life in Scotland. As part of this concord, the state provided for segregated religious schooling out of income from the rates, which led to numerous protests from Protestant churches
about putting ‘Rome on the rates’. The greater the progress of Irish Catholics, the greater it seems was the paranoia of the Protestant community. In the 1930s, Protestant extremist groups, such as the Scottish Protestant League (SPL) in Glasgow and the Protestant Action Society (PAS) in Edinburgh, made significant short-lived political capital out of sectarian rivalries. In Glasgow, the SPL won 23 per cent of the total votes cast in the 1933 local elections, and similar impressive gains were made in Edinburgh by the PAS a few years later.
The Second World War brought an end to sectarianism as both communities put themselves behind the war effort. After the war there was a greater spirit of ecumenicalism and in this atmosphere sectarianism was pushed to the margins of Scottish society. Scots of Irish Catholic descent were able to make their way in Scottish society and many took advantage of the greater opportunities opening up in education. Moreover, the economic supports of sectarianism were breaking down as the old heavy industries went into decline and new companies, usually of foreign ownership, adopted religiously blind hiring policies.
Sectarian rivalries still exist in Scottish society, but on a much reduced scale. However, the assimilation of Irish immigrants into Scottish society has taken place without the level of violence found in other places, such as Liverpool, and this remains one of the major achievements of modern social history.
Although other immigrant groups in Scotland have been less visible and have had less impact than the Irish, they have enriched Scottish society on an economic and cultural level. Until the 1890s the scale of overseas immigration was small, with only a few thousand migrants resident in Scotland. After 1891 it grew quite rapidly before slowing down in the early 1900s. By 1914, Scotland had nearly 25,000 European residents. Most came from southern and eastern Europe. A quarter of the newcomers between 1891 and 1901 came from Italy. However, the majority of the new arrivals came from Eastern Europe, particularly Russia and Poland. Most were male, with a ratio of 173.6 males to every 100 females in 1911. They settled overwhelmingly in the west of Scotland, where their industrial skills were useful in finding work. Nearly half of the occupied males were in coalmining in 1911, with the next largest group (12 per cent) in tailoring. Italians crowded into the restaurant and the wholesale and retail trades. However, dwarfing the number of overseas immigrants were English migrants, who came north of the border looking for industrial and commercial opportunities. As one might expect, the experiences of these different groups varied greatly. Some found acceptance, while others had to struggle to establish themselves.
The most prominent migrant group has been the English, and yet this is the group we know the least about. At each census until 1921 the English-born increased their numbers, growing from 1.5 per cent in 1841 to 4.0 per cent in 1921. Of course, in certain parts of Scotland the figure for English settlement could be much higher than the national total given in the Census. There were more English-born residents than Irish-born in Edinburgh and this increased as the 19th century wore on. In 1881 there were 11,514 English-born residents and 7875 Irish-born. Forty years later the respective figures were 28,187 and 6382.
The attractiveness of Edinburgh for professionals no doubt accounted for the large numbers of English in the city, but the latter were also involved in the industrial development of Scotland. It was English know-how and skill which was behind the development of the Scottish cotton industry. Many of the early skilled workers and managers were of English origin. In more recent times the increasing trend towards foreign ownership of industries in Scotland has seen more English firms establish branches north of the border. The growth of government too has provided more civil service positions for English migrants. In spite of English involvement in the Scottish economy it remains a fact that we know more about the Lithuanians in Scotland than we do about our nearest neighbours.
Of the overseas immigrants the Jewish community have had the highest profile in Scottish, if not across the whole of Great Britain’s society. Although it was estimated that there were only 300 Jews in Glasgow in 1883, the overseas population of Scotland increased substantially between 1881 and 1911. Most of these foreigners were Russian Jews fleeing poverty and pogroms in their native lands. In 1881, there were 225 Russians in Scotland, which constituted 3.5 per cent of the total foreign population of Scotland. By 1901 the Russian [overwhelmingly Jewish] population was 6102, or 24.7 per cent of the total foreign population. In Glasgow, the rise was even more dramatic. The number of Russian Jews relative to other foreigners increased to 45.9 per cent from 19.1 per cent in 1881. The main area of settlement was the Gorbals in Glasgow. There were estimated to be 6500 Jews living in the Gorbals in 1901 and 18 years later there were 9000. The Gorbals was attractive because of its cheap accommodation, but once roots had been established and individuals began to prosper there was a movement towards Pollockshields.
Many of these immigrants were involved in the tailoring trade, but equally they were important in the development of the cigarette industry in Glasgow. Hawking and peddling were also popular among Jews in Glasgow and Edinburgh, where 10 per cent were involved in this occupation. In industry, Jews had a
reputation for both undercutting wages and for militancy. Such a combination of different views laid the basis for scape-goating. Jews were seen as ‘sweaters’: masters employing labour for long hours in terrible conditions at low wages, but there is very little evidence to connect Glasgow Jews with the sweating system. Nor was there any evidence to connect them with diseases such as cholera, which in the late 19th century were said to have been exclusively connected with Jewish communities.
Anti-Jewish organisations failed to make any headway in Scotland and the press refused to be caught up in the general London hysteria about alien immigrants. Trades unions were briefly involved in opposing immigration in the early 1890s, although this sentiment was aimed at all groups coming into Great Britain and not just the Jews. However, by 1895 the Glasgow Trades Council opposed an anti-immigration resolution at the Scottish Trades Union Council (STUC).
The Aliens’ Act of 1905 did much to halt the number of immigrants coming into Great Britain, and the whole immigrant question declined in importance. Free from being the subject of controversy, the Jewish community in Scotland prospered and made a substantial contribution to Scottish society, particularly in the legal profession. Such was the integration of Jews into Scottish society that attempts by the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s to spread anti-Jewish propaganda were largely unsuccessful. Few Scots took any notice. There is little evidence today of anti-Semitism in Scottish society.
The story of integration, however, was not always as optimistic. Lithuanian immigrants began entering Scotland in serious fashion in the early 1890s. Most were agricultural workers who had been pushed off the land by poverty. Indeed, the depression in agriculture saw one in four Lithuanians, around 650,000, leave their homeland for other parts in the period 1870–1914. Not all were economic immigrants; some fled Tsarist oppression. While most were bound for the USA, a number settled in the west of Scotland. They were persuaded by agents of the large iron and steel combines, such as Bairds and Dixons, to come to Scotland to dig coal in company-owned mines. As a result a small Lithuanian community was established in the west of Scotland, particularly in Coatbridge where some 5000–6000 immigrants congregated.
The newcomers were received with hostility and suspicion by the local mining community. Indeed, the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union offered to support any strikes against the Lithuanian presence in the area. Although the main reason for opposition by the miners was the undercutting of wages and decline in safety measures, part of the problem lay also with their religion. The Lanarkshire
coalfields had a history of sectarian rivalry, and the Catholicism of the Lithuanian and Polish incomers only added to the opposition from Protestant miners. Complaints about the undercutting of wages in which Lithuanian miners were working became the subject of STUC attention at its 1892 Congress in Glasgow. There were also major discussions in the Glasgow Trades Council and controls on the entry of immigrant labour were demanded.
The local media took up the anti-immigrant protest. Like the Jews, the Lithuanians were accused of being ‘most filthy in their habits of life’ and a danger to the health of the local community. Drunkenness was also highlighted. In this respect the immigrants were no different to the local miners, but their appearance before the sheriff created more publicity because of their ‘alien’ status. Part of the problem with drink lay in the customs of the newcomers. Christenings generally lasted three days and weddings a week. It was therefore little wonder that a few of the guests ended up drunk and disorderly!
Once settled, the Lithuanian miners began to join with their fellow Scottish miners in fighting to improve conditions in the mining industry and as such were accepted into the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union. They also won respect from locals for their community spirit. Very quickly, the Lithuanians had their own clergy, two newspapers, insurance societies, shops and other recreational groups.
The advent of the First World War brought about the collapse of the Lithuanian community in the west of Scotland. Seeing themselves as Russian rather than Scottish, some 900 men refused to fight for Britain and as such departed for Archangel in 1917. Nevertheless, there was also a sizeable number which did fight on the side of Britain. Those who left for Russia did not return and, after the hostilities, the British authorities began to repatriate those who remained. Women and children were offered repatriation in lieu of poor relief and many accepted it rather than starve. Some 400 women and children left for Lithuania in 1920 and after this the community disintegrated. Those who were left were assimilated into Scottish life and only a few traces of this once vibrant community remained.
5. The impact of the Scots emigrants on the Empire Liberal MP Sir Charles Dilke, writing in 1888, remarked that: ‘In British settlements, from Canada to Ceylon, from Dunedin to Bombay, for every Englishman that you meet who has worked himself up to wealth from small beginnings without external aid, you find ten Scotchmen’. This was made possible by the Treaty of Union in 1707, which made Scotland a full partner in
the largest free trade empire in the world. The Scots almost immediately took advantage of the situation and there were large outflows of men and women looking for a new life and a new beginning, mainly at this time in North America. Between 1763 and 1777, 50,000 Scots from (mainly) the west of Scotland settled in North America. Their drive and education saw them quickly dominate the tobacco trade and other areas of economic life, such as fur-trapping in Canada. Education and religion were other areas of cultural life where the Scottish influence was overwhelming. Such was the strength of the Scottish presence in America that 19 of the 56 delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence came from Scotland and/or Ulster; indeed, 75 per cent of US presidents, including Barack Obama, could claim some Scottish ancestry. Although America ended its colonial status in 1783, cultural and economic links were maintained with the mother country. Even today, Scottish food, culture and athletics are celebrated in the many Highland gatherings, Burns Clubs’ and Caledonian Societies’ meetings in Canada and the USA. Scots and those of Scottish descent made important contributions to the development of the American economy, for example Andrew Carnegie, David Dunbar Buick and William Blackie. In Canada, Lord Mount Stephen was behind the creation of the great Canadian Pacific Railway, and other Scotsmen dominated the economy to the extent that one-third of the country’s business elite were of Scottish origin. The Scot John Muir was the driving force behind the establishment of the National Parks Movement. Even American Gospel music, which has been traditionally linked to Africa and slavery, is now seen to have been the outcome of a combination of influences. Some historians have highlighted the impact of Scottish Gaelic speakers from North Uist on the development of Gospel over the last few centuries.
The Scottish presence was also strongly evident in India. When Henry Dundas became President of the Board of Control in 1784 he ‘Scoticised’ India and through his agencies Scots came to dominate the activities of the East India Company (EIC); a private company which administered and defended territory claimed by the British until 1857. By 1792, Scots made up one in nine EIC civil servants, one in eleven common soldiers and one in three officers. The first three Governor-Generals of India were Scots. Vast fortunes were made by imperial administrators and entrepreneurs. However, there were also scholars and scientists who made important contributions to Indian culture and society. Colin Campbell completed the first geographical survey of India; Alexander Kydd created the Botanic gardens in Calcutta; and others such engineers developed the infrastructure of India. Even after the dissolution of the EIC in 1857 and the introduction of competitive entry into the British administration, Scots still played an important part in the running of India. Seven of the 12 viceroys were
Scottish and many Scots served as judges, district commissioners, and so on. Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was added after the Scottish 73rd Regiment defeated the Dutch in 1815. Ceylon became synonymous with tea, a product developed by James Taylor but brought to world renown by the Glasgow businessman, Sir Thomas Lipton. India became a massive market for the British economy, but more importantly for the metal industries of Scotland. Practically all the railway engines in India were built in Springburn in Glasgow. The east of Scotland was also strongly linked economically through the jute trade. Dundee became the centre of jute making in the world and the Camperdown works of the Baxter Brothers the largest mill in the world.
But it was not always trade that was the driving force behind emigration. Religious impulses were behind the desire to populate New Zealand and to create ‘little Scotlands’. The Otago settlement in the South Island and the Waipu settlement in the North Island were the products of two Scottish ministers. Dunedin (Gaelic for Edinburgh) became the capital of the former and already had a university by 1869. In Waipu, Gaelic was the first language in their homes until the 1880s and many still spoke it in the 1920s.
The defence of territories from equally acquisitive foreign powers, such as France, saw the chance for Highlanders to redeem themselves in the eyes of British state after the 1745 Rebellion. Highland regiments fought with great distinction in the wars of Empire, from Europe to Canada and to Asia, with around a quarter of men of military age engaged in some kind of service in the period 1792–1815. They became an integral, almost indivisible, part of the imperial project. They had established Britain as the undisputed master of the globe and, during the 19th century went on to build an empire on which the sun literally never set.
Not all territorial expansion involved war, at least not against major powers. The empire’s growth was dependent on the suppression of local peoples and their cultures. This was graphically illustrated in Australia with the brutal treatment of the Aborigines. The Scots were at the forefront of this assault on native peoples, showing themselves to be as ruthless as any other ethnic group when it came to land grabbing. This was also true in New Zealand, where the Maori population fell from around 150,000 in 1800 to 37,000 in 1872 as a result of a protracted struggle with the settlers over land rights. Thus, while the Scots also distinguished themselves as businessmen, professionals and administrators, the story of conquest was not always a pretty one.
Much of the justification for imperial expansion was based on the idea of the civilising mission of higher racial groups towards more backward and racially inferior peoples. British rule was extended throughout the less developed world through a mixture of the bible and gunpowder. However, it was not as settlers that Scots played a significant role in British expansion in Africa but as individuals working through the Scottish Presbyterian missions. The explorer and missionary David Livingstone inspired many others to follow him to Africa, the ‘dark continent’. Mary Slessor, a mill girl from Dundee, was one of them. She, like her idol, went ‘literally where no white man had gone before’ in her quest to save souls in the Calabar region of Nigeria. However, by driving into the uncharted interiors of the continent and encouraging trade between the natives and British traders they opened up the territories to further imperial expansion. They were largely unsuccessful in attracting converts to Christianity. Still, men and women such as Livingstone and Slessor helped in the long run to change deeply entrenched notions regarding the divine right to rule ‘lesser races’, to a more ethical position on foreign policy. They felt the native population to be only inferior to Europeans in the sense that they were without God. Their desire to bring education to Africans led to national independence movements in central, eastern and southern Africa, as well as India. Moreover, it was the educational work of Presbyterian missionaries that was largely responsible for creating the widely held belief that Scottish education was the best in the world.
Thus, the Scots were important to the development of the Empire in diverse ways: as businessmen, as educators, as missionaries, as imperial administrators and soldiers. Their contribution was so substantial that it has led some historians to refer to ‘the Scottish empire’. While the Scots were hugely important to the global growth of British influence, to argue that the Empire was essentially their creation would be to ignore the role of the British state and other national groupings such as the English and the Irish. The Scots may have run the Empire, and profited by it, but at the end of the day it was London that decided its fate. It was English laws and civil institutions that the Scot was to uphold and live by.
6. Conclusion: migration, identity and Empire The tradition of the movement of Scots continued well into the 20th century. Until 1989–1990 there had been only one year (1932–3) in which Scotland experienced a greater inflow than outflow of people. During the 19th century and again in the 1920s and 1930s, the principal aim of the emigrants was to find work and wages and to escape unemployment at home. This trend has generally most affected the age group 16–29, skilled rather than unskilled workers, and men rather than women. Although most of the emigrants were able to make a
better life for themselves and their families abroad, the impact on Scotland has been less favourable. Many of the most productive and talented Scots have left their birthplace to enrich, both economically and culturally, other countries at the expense of their own. The empty glens of the Scottish Highlands are an eloquent testimony to this process. And although these out-goers have been replaced to a certain extent by newly arriving immigrants, the movement into Scotland from elsewhere has never been enough to seriously balance the numbers.
Emigration acted as a safety valve for modern Scotland. Large numbers left for England but many went abroad in a world-wide dispersion. The British Empire was the main beneficiary of this process, but Scotland also benefited in terms of wealth and profit. The great commercial palaces of Edinburgh and Glasgow were built on the back of the colonial trade. It was not only profits but also jobs that were dependent on Empire. Indeed, Empire provided the economic glue which held the Union together. Politically, it allowed for the creation of Unionist electoral bloc in Scotland from 1884 onwards, based on Presbyterianism, patriotism and empire. The collapse of the Empire after 1945 has not only forced Scotland to undertake a painful transition from an economy based on heavy industry to one reliant on services and electronics, it has also led to a redrawing of the political map as the Unionist vote has evaporated. The Union is now the focus of political debate as national identity has become less British and more pronouncedly Scottish.
But what of those ethnic groups who made the reverse journey? Their experience in Scotland has been little different to that of other immigrants in other countries. Discrimination and hostility gradually gave way after a protracted struggle to assimilation. Apart from the skirmishes between Irish Catholics and native Protestants, the process was accomplished in a relatively peaceful manner. High-level violence played little part in the immigrant experience in Scotland.
People have been Scotland’s greatest export. Why they left, and why they failed to return in any numbers, is a complicated story that does not easily unravel in a simple, one-sided explanation. But they made their mark wherever they settled as farmers, merchants, soldiers, scholars and administrators. The existence of a vibrant Scottish culture in these faraway lands is a testimony to the continuing influence of a dispersion that can be traced as far back as the wanderlust of Scots in medieval times. The Scots are a restless people keen to better themselves, but also more tolerant than the English in the 19th century in their acceptance of other peoples and their cultures. The egalitarianism of Presbyterianism encouraged Scots missionaries to fight for the rights of native peoples, and for education for women. However, there is now little left of the Empire, apart from
some street names, the odd statue, a growing Asian population and the existence of curry houses. The collective memory of the days when the sun never set on the British Empire has faded into oblivion.
W W J Knox, Institute of Scottish Historical Research,
University of St Andrews, 2009
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