Marjory Harper, Professor of History at the University of Aberdeen, explores the history of the Scots in Australia.
This talk explores narratives of adventure and exile in Scottish emigration to Australia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, examining the participants’ motives, the different ways they came to Australia, and the
consequences of their relocation.
As well as using documentary sources, the talk draws on Australian examples from interviews with post-Second World War Scottish emigrants and would-be emigrants who returned to Scotland.
Opportunity or Exile
10 June 2015
National Library of Australia
Speaker/s: Marjory Harper
Marjory Harper: Thank you very much for that introduction and thank you to everybody for coming this evening and particular thanks to all the staff who’ve been helping me today looking ... guiding me around and showing me all the wonderful collections, it’s been an ambition of mine to come to Canberra for a long time and to see your wonderful collections and I’m fulfilling that today, it’s been great. So the picture at ... behind me is of the quayside in Greenock which is the location ... the embarkation port from which a lot of Scots left. Route map for this evening then, the original subtitle of the lecture was simply Snapshots of Emigration to Australia but I’d like to take a wider lens and route the Australian narrative in the context of Scottish emigration per se, in particular looking at North America which for most of the two centuries I’m concerned with absorbed the vast majority of emigrants. But I’m going to concentrate particularly on the 20th century and the period after the second world war because there’s quite a bit of oral history coming into the talk. So the structure is a comparative context and it’s a concentration on the 20th century. That means that the 19th century narrative which was promised in the flyer will have to take a back seat because otherwise you’d be here all night.
And I’ll begin by sketching in very briefly some of the perceptions of opportunity and exile among 19th century Scottish emigrants to Australia but we’ll pass fairly quickly onto the later period and in passing onto that later period I’d like to really compare two periods in respect of emigrants’ motives and experiences and the interwar era, the 1920s and ‘30s and the se ... post second world war era of the 1950s and ‘60s. I think there are some interesting parallels between those two periods and I’ll approach the comparison mainly by introducing you to the voices of a cast of characters whose testimony I think illustrates some of the themes of opportunity and exile which provides the overarching context for the talk. And I’m not an oral historian, I’m a historian who uses oral testimony and mixes that with documentary sources and particularly for the earlier part of the 20th century I’m mixing it but mixing oral testimony with many more documentary sources because of course I don’t have many talking heads for that period.
So exile and opportunity in 19th century Scotland in Australia, 20th century motives and expectations looking at comparisons and then looking at the wider context through the voices of emigrants. So finally in setting the context and in interrogating the testimony in terms of scene-setting. Can I flag up maybe a few generic questions that you might like to think about in question and answer session and as you listen to the individual case histories? The first point I’ve already mentioned, that is identifying similarities and differences between the two periods and within that comparative framework some of the specific questions might be for example were the emigrants’ decisions the product of austerity or prosperity? Backgrounds of austerity or prosperity and then next how significant were government subsidies in shaping the decision first of all to emigrate full-stop and then in shaping the actual destination?
Then how far did the rhetoric and the reality correspond? How far did the reality correspond to the rhetoric when they actually arrived at their destinations? How do we measure success and disappointment in a self-selecting group and that’s a particular issue of course with oral testimony and indeed with much written testimony. And what determined the variety of migration? The bullet point there I’ve got settlement, sojourning and migrancy. What determined whether people stayed permanently, returned home or became serial migrants, restless wanderers on the face of the earth like Cain in the Bible. What’s the relationship between identity and identifications? I’ll maybe unpack that a little more later. Identity as something that is maybe more crucial and identification as something that’s maybe more cosmetic. And then finally what about the impact of technology on migration and on attitudes. What’s the relationship for instance between homesickness and modern instant communication? Do people actually become more homesick because of things like Skype and the internet? I think possibly they do. So that’s the route map and some of the questions we might think about as we proceed.
So first of all then setting the context and spend a little time on Scottish emigration to Australia in the 19th century. The salient features of emigration to Australia were the three points mentioned there, it was a late starter, the outflows were sporadic and there was more government involvement than in its ... than in the north American equivalent so it started much later for obvious reasons than the north American equivalent, it wasn’t a steady movement, it was sporadic rather than steady, and it was marked by much more government involvement than transatlantic emigration. And if you look at the statistics of almost two million Scots who emigrated in the century before 1914 approximately 13% came to Australia compared with 26% to Canada and 41% to the United States. The United States kicked in as the favourite destination of Scots after 1847. With British emigrants as a whole it was much earlier or a decade ... 15 years earlier or so.
Now interest may ... in Australia may have been more sporadic not just because of distance but because would-be emigrants received more mixed messages and more caveats about Australia than about any other destination. They also received more stereotypes, I think, stereotypes of a scorched land that was heaving with convicts ... swarming with convicts and that was you know a lot of the 19th century British publicity.
Okay was it opportunity or was it exile? Obviously the convicts were exiles although Scots actually didn’t feature very prominently in that category. They did feature very prominently among the early entrepreneurs and administrators and explorers. Mark, you mentioned the Leslie brothers earlier. Well they did, they were Scottish pastoralists, the Leslie brothers from Aberdeenshire. The picture there is of Patrick Leslie who was the first of the brothers to come out to Australia and the picture on the right is of the family estate at Wart Hill in Aberdeenshire taken about six weeks ago. Perhaps the state of the state suggests it was a good idea that they came to Australia.
Well the Leslie brothers played a big part in developing commercial sheep-farming in northern New South Wales and what became southern Queensland and they were the sons of big landed families but Australia also attracted tenant farmers and farm servants from much lower down the social scale. Men whose security and prospects, ambitions were being threatened by structural changes in agriculture in Scotland, in land management and in farming practices in Scotland. Far more of them it has to be said went to Canada, the vast bulk of them went to Canada but some were attracted to Australia by the assistance schemes, the so-called bounty schemes that were on offer intermittently from the 1830s ... not the Leslie brothers, they came out independently.
The Leslie brothers didn’t come out on their own, they ... one of the reasons that they were interested in Australia was because there was a kind of network of northeast Scots who had interests out here. Manar and Logie were two neighbouring estates to the Leslies. I must say their stately homes were in a slightly better state of repair than the Leslie property. Hugh Gordon of Manar came out to the same area of Queensland and the Elphinstone ... or the Elphinstone Dalrymples of Logie and one of them accompanied Patrick Leslie ... no, sorry, Walter and George Leslie out in 1839 so those are the estates back in Scotland. Another family that had pastoral interests in the same area were the Leith Hays of Leith Hall in again another estate in western Aberdeenshire. All these estates are really in the same little corner of the county and Hugh Gordon of Manar came out but so did another Gordon from another part of Aberdeenshire, Rhynie, which is a little bit further west which is ... I don’t know if you can tell that from the picture but it’s a pretty bleak upland part of the county. But those guys came out mostly in the 1830s and 1840s.
Now we move on just to another dimension of the story. We’ve got the tenant farmers and the farm servants who were coming out because of unacceptable social and economic changes in Scottish agriculture, we’ve got the sons of big landed families who were coming out very much for adventure but we also have in the same era people who were coming out mainly from the highlands of Scotland as a result of distressing economic conditions, particularly potato famine. I think everybody’s heard of the Irish potato famine, not everybody’s heard of the potato famine in Scotland in the highlands that was really a smaller version of what happened in Ireland. Actually two potato famines, one in the 1830s and a much more devastating one in the 1840s.
Australia’s bounty emigrants from Scotland in the ... from the 1830s to the 1850s were more likely to come from the highlands of Scotland. The potato famine had brought great hardship in those two decades and most particularly the biggest in ... well there were ... about 5,000 came in the late ‘30s but the most ... the more notable influx I think was in the years 1851 to 1858 when and organisation called the Highland and Island Emigration Society sponsored the removal of about another 5,000 highlanders particularly from the Isle of Skye out to Victoria. The idea ... well New South Wales and Victoria ... the idea was that they would replace the labour which had skedaddled off to the goldfields.
Now arguably many of those highland emigrants were what we might call economic exiles and the pictures that you’ve got on the screen there, the top left is of a place called Bororague [11:08] in the Isle of Skye, Lord McDonald’s estate, cleared in 1852 ... a cleared ... the one on the top right, a ruined cottage, possibly people who were victims of clearances and then the three pictures at the bottom sort of iconic images of enforced highland emigration. Thomas Fyed’s [? 11:27] painting, the last of the clan the image in the middle is called Loch Harbour no more, the woman is distraught at leaving her homeland and the image on the right is called Coronoch [? 11:41] in the Back Woods and that’s actually from Canada.
As I said one of the reasons that the Highland and Island Emigration Society brought all these highlanders out to Australia was to ... in the hope that the emigrants would replace the labour that had gone off to the goldfields. During that decade of gold fever from 1851 about 90,000 Scots came to Australia. Now that was 15% of the British total and that was more than the percentage of Scots in the British population so the Scots had a particular interest in searching for gold. And Scots were alerted to opportunities in Australia by battalions of recruitment agents who first appeared in the 1830s, John Dunmore Lang being sort of prominent among them. And throughout the succeeding decades they competed with the similar activities of agents who canvassed for Canada, the United States and New Zealand and as we’ll see when we get onto the test ... oral testimony in a minute that the role of recruitment agents continued to be very important well into the 20th century.
And that’s ... I don’t have ... this is ... I would like while I’m in Australia to see if I can source some Australian posters of a similar nature but all these are from my Canadian collection and if you were thinking about emigration in the period from about 1870 to the first world war and you went to a post office or a railway station or any sort of public place you might well see posters like that or actually some of those are from the 20th century from the post-war period but you know looking at the top left one for example, even the farmyard looks well-scrubbed and there’s never a cloud in the sky and of course that was a big draw to British people who lived under grey skies the whole time or seemed to anyway. So I think you know all the different destinations were competing for recruits and these recruitment agents were active from very early in the 19th century.
Well as I mentioned at the start I’d like to compare roughly the two post-war generations. I’ve just given you a very brief background of 19 ... the 19th century story. I could spend several hours talking about the 19th century but as I say I don’t want to keep you here all night so I want to move on now to the 20th century and compare roughly the two post-war generations although I should say that my definition of generations is fairly elastic because my Australian illustrations as well as some of my North American ones tend to come from the 1960s and 1970s rather than from the immediate post-war period.
Well why choose these two periods? I think there are interesting parallels. Both followed on from devastating wars when people were looking for new starts. Both were characterised by government-sponsored relocation schemes in a way that had never been the case in previous generations. Thirdly both were shaped ... third bullet point, both were shaped by innovations in communications technology that affected the way that opportunities were mediated, in other words you’ve got newsreel film, you’ve got movie film, you’ve got modern technology employed in the recruitment and then effected also at least from the 1950s by the mechanisms by which emigrants were able to take advantage of those opportunities you know I’m thinking there of the transition from ship to air travel.
Now the 1920s was a key decade in the annals of Scottish emigration in particular. That was the decade when the loss of population from Scotland exceeded the natural increase of the population so in other words in the 1931 census there were fewer people in Scotland that there had been in 1921 and that was because so many people had emigrated and it was an exodus, a haemorrhage that caused huge concern right across the political spectrum from the far left, from the Communist to the far right. The 1930s of course saw things move into different gear, after the depression people were coming back and certainly were not able to move out of Scotland. So that was the period of the ... after the first world war then if we fast-forward to the period after the second world war at the end of the 1940s emigration from Britain as a whole was again taking place against an economic backdrop of austerity, of rationing that went on until the middle of 1954, of ongoing war weariness and of housing shortages. The Suez crisis in 1956 also seems to have been part of a cumulative sense of disillusionment and restlessness, a sense that Britain was losing its role in the world. So those were the negative factors that brought people out. Conversely of course there was also the lure of high wages and the lure of a standard of living that promised emigrants access to amenities that would be well beyond their reach if they’d stayed at home. So that’s the background. Scottish emigration in the 20th century, comparisons and contrasts of those two periods after each of the wars.
So if we think of the interwar period first of all and then I’ll come onto the later period later. The two very elderly interviewees to whom I’m going to introduce you now demonstrate I think some of the broader themes. They’re both women which is ... in itself is interesting which tells you something about life expectancy. This is Morag Bennett who was 91 when I interviewed her over the phone so the quality of what you’re going to hear in a minute isn’t very good because it was a phone interview with just my office phone. The other lady from who you’ll hear was interviewed three weeks before her 101st birthday so she was my star interviewee.
Now Morag here was ... I photographed her at her home in British Columbia in 2007. I didn’t interview her then but I’d interviewed her earlier. Now in April 1923 at the age of 10 along with her parents and six siblings Morag emigrated from Benbecula, the Isle of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides to Alberta in Canada and the family was among 291 emigrants on the Canadian Pacific Liner, the SS Marloch that you see up the top of the pic ... the top picture there. And the Marloch was one of two famous Canadian Pacific ships which took around 600 emigrants away from the Hebrides in a single week in April 1923. The other one, the better known one is the Marloch ... is the Metagama, sorry, the bottom one and it’s an exodus that’s become very well-known and the next three slides are just images from actually the embarkation of emigrants on the Metagama. This is emigrants waiting on the quayside at Stornoway in the Isle of Lewis but that’s my favourite picture from that story because it shows you how public an event it was, that’s the crowd that gathered on the quayside at Stornoway to see the emigrants leave.
Well why did this come about? The first point to make I think is that from the 1860s the vast majority of Scottish emigrants were coming not from the highlands but from the urban industrial central belt, from the area around Glasgow and Edinburgh, particularly around ... behind Glasgow but it was still the haemorrhage from the highlands and islands that continued to have the biggest impact on public imagination and public awareness not least in the 1920s and most especially in that year of 1923 which was the peak year of interwar departures from the country. And at first glance it might seem that those highland emigrants were conforming to the longstanding stereotype of exile. The state of the highlands after the First World War was very similar to its state after the end of the Napoleonic wars a century earlier. There was the spectre of famine, there was severe economic crisis, there was financial assistance to emigrants and there was active work by recruitment agents and Morag Bennett when I spoke to her was very emphatic that there was no future in the islands. What she actually said was there is ... there was nothing in Benbecula for the family. That’s Benbecula, she went back a few years just before I interviewed her, she said there still wasn’t anything for them so I can say that with safety out here because presumably there’s nobody from Benbecula. I’ve been to Benbecula, I think it’s quite nice but I don’t know if I’d like to live there.
On top of that, on top of the economic problems there was the psychological impact of the loss of the troop ship, Iyalare [? 20:57]. Does that mean anything to anybody? One or two people know what it ... yeah. If you were ... if I was in Lewis and said that every hand would go up ‘cause it’s still very much remembered in the islands. What happened was that in the early hours of the morning at 2am on New Year ’s Day 1919 the troop ship Iyalare which was bringing back men who’d survived throughout the first world war went down, was wrecked within sight of Stornoway Harbour. The men were rushing to get home to be reunited with their families for New Year. 205 were drowned and 175 of those men were from the Isle of Lewis and the families which ... the family members how’d been expecting to celebrate new year’s day with their families had gathered on the shore, saw the ship wrecked and spent ... actually spent new year’s day pulling the bodies out of the sea.
Now that had a huge, huge psychological impact on the Isle of Lewis and many of the ... some of those who emigrated later said that they went ... or their relatives said to me that they went because they couldn’t stand being in Lewis and meeting day by day the widows and the children and the parents of those who had not survived. It was ... it was survivors’ guilt so some of them actually emigrated away from haunting memories. So there was that negative sense of why emigration was taking place from the Hebrides but if we scratch a little bit below the surface we find also a new attitude among some of those Hebridean emigrants, an unprecedented sense that emigration didn’t have to be exile, it could be the door to a better life, it could be opportunity and not exile. Well why was that the case? I mean what had changed after the war? Well I think the war itself had broadened the horizons of the islanders particularly those who’d served in the forces. They were able to compare the subsistence lifestyles back in the islands with apparently better conditions elsewhere and they’d begun to realise that some of the problems in the Hebrides were simply the result of the sheer physical limitations of their environment.
This is one of my favourite slides because there was clearly ambivalence among the emigrants and I think the ambivalence is reflected rather obviously in the faces, the expressions on the face and when you compare them, the expressions with the placard. The positive sentiments on the placard say it’s the crofter’s trail to happiness and then you look at the expressions and you think well were they really all that happy? Okay we’ll move on, that’s at Greenoch.
I want to introduce you to two more characters and try and unpack this idea of the crofter’s trail to happiness. This is William Knoxson who was agent general for Ontario, he recruited the Metagama’s passengers and that’s Andrew Mack Danelle who was the creator and director of the Scottish Immigrant Aid Society which was an organisation that he created in order to get the Mar ... get the passengers on the Marloch out to Alberta. Now William Knoxson and Andrew Mack Danelle were the successors of the 19th century agents, the guys who I mentioned earlier and they were joined in the Outer Hebrides in 1923 and 1924 by William Stillman who was the Chief Clerk of the Australian Government’s Migration and Settlement Department. He was sent up from London. Now I don’t have a photograph of William Stillman but I’d like one so that’s a hint. So if anybody has a photo of William Stillman I would like one.
Included in the New South Wales bicentennial oral history collection here at the National Library is an interview with Angus McDonald from North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. North Uist is just north of Benbecula. The interview was conducted in 1987 by Paula Hamilton when Angus was 82. Now he didn’t mention William Stillman by name but he was clearly referring to him when he recalled how he, Angus, had been lured out to New South Wales in 1923 by the combination of an agent’s visit to Lochmaddy, the advance of his fare, the £33 and the encouragement of his father. And for Angus emigration was clearly opportunity and not exile.
“Well now why did you decide to come to Australia?
Oh adventure. A local man came up out to see ... out to the Lochmaddy and he was a man of immigration from Australia House and I signed up to come out. [unclear 25:37] country [unclear 25:42] country. [unclear 25:44] place of the future.”
William Stillman was not actually a local man, he didn’t belong to Lochmaddy, he’d gone up specially from London to Lochmaddy so there’s a slight error there but that’s how Angus remembered it. Agents like Stillman and Knoxson and Mack Danelle had a new weapon in their canvassing arsenal and that was a weapon that also helped to soften the highlanders’ traditional hostility and antagonism to emigration and that weapon was the availability of unprecedented state subsidies to selected emigrants who would go to the four dominions, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, subsidies provided through the Empire Settlement Act of 1922.
Now farm workers and domestic servants would be given financial assistance of around 75% and sometimes assistance with training and land settlement and virtually all the emigrants on the Marloch and the Metagama who went to different parts of Canada in 1923 were assisted under the Empire Settlement Act and Angus McDonald in coming to New South Wales was assisted under the same legislation. And the reason that the highlanders felt more comfortable with the Empire Settlement legislation than with other charitable assistance in the 19 ... such as the Highland and Island Emigration Society in the 19th century was because it was applied across the whole of the UK. They didn’t feel that they were being singled out for special charity as charitable cases, it was something that was applied right across the board and that made them a little bit more comfortable with it.
Okay having glimpsed then the general motives and expectations of highland emigrants and some of the mechanisms like the Empire Settlement Act that facilitated their going let’s return briefly to Morag Bennett for an excerpt from her recollections of what it was actually like to settle in Clandonald out in Northern Alberta so this is back to the point of you know did the ideal and the real coincide? Did the rhetoric and the reality match up? And in this clip she’s reflecting in old age about how hard it must have been for her parents, I mean she’s reflecting about other things as well. It’s a long clip so I think I’ll probably cut it a little bit short because as I say I don’t want to keep you hear ‘til midnight so I’ll just play a little bit of it.
“I remember the blasting of the foghorn for sure, I can still hear it. And of course we didn’t ... we were put in the staterooms you know to sleep and that and we never had running water in Benbecula as you know, it was just a well and we didn’t know what the bowl and the taps and all these sort of things were, you know. Oh well you know I was young and I thought it was great especially the winter, I loved the snow you know big drifts and playing in the snow but you must remember I was just 10 years old but my parents ... my mother brought a few plants from Benbecula and of course she didn’t know that the winter was so cold and they all froze the first frost in the winter. The houses were very small ‘cause they all had big families, that was the idea, to bring out the big families and get the prairies settled and the houses were just sort of like a square box and not insulated at all. You can imagine.”
That’s ... that last point about the houses not being insulated intrigues me because of course in Australia the hous ... the tin hostels weren’t insulated but the problem wasn’t that they were freezing cold, it was that they were roasting hot so we’ll maybe come back to that. I’ve actually got a comment from a hostel dweller a little bit later on. As I say I won’t pay the whole of Morag’s point, her in ... her last point about the Russians having the good farms and knowing how to farm is an interesting one because of course on the prairies there was this tendency to have ethnic settlement and if the Hebrideans had been willing to talk to their Russian neighbours who’d come from the Steppes they might have fared better as farmers. There were other reasons why they didn’t succeed.
Anyway Hebrideans are only part of the story. I don’t have any interviews from the main supply area which was the economic wasteland of Scotland’s urban industrial central belt, I haven’t got any interviews in my collection from that but the National Library’s collection from the New South Wales bicentenary does and this ... the one I might play ... it didn’t play very well in the practice so it might not be loud enough and if it isn’t I’ll just move straight on but it’s from somebody called ... well Jim Comerford and Jim Comerford’s father’s experience as an emigrant to Australia was much more negative. His decision to leave Scotland in 1921 was triggered, so his son recalled later, by his political militancy and alleged victimisation during the miners’ lockout during that year. So he came partly because of bitterness but he wasn’t ... bitterness wasn’t the only ingredient in an apparently hasty decision because Jim Comerford had worked as a miner in the United States and Nova Scotia for a short time after war service so he was one of these rolling stone-type migrants. Like many of his countrymen he was very comfortable with playing the emigration card wherever it took him so we’ll see if it plays.
“He was a member of the Independent Labor Party and during the lockout he was in the local pub selling the Independent Labor Party’s paper, the Glasgow Forward. The mine manager was there and the old man breasted up to him and said would you like to buy the Forward, Dave? And as he told it to me the manager spun ‘round and said you bastard, you’ll never work here again and he didn’t. That’s what he was victimised for. And so we came out here, I’m glad he was victimised.
Would he have left Scotland if he hadn’t been, do you think?
I ... not sure. See there was going to sea, the period in America, the period in Nova Scotia and if we move forward a bit the move from here to New Zealand later on. Possibly but my mother was such a thrusting type I don’t think she’d have been content to have stayed in Scotland either, the state it was in after the end of the first war.”
And the state it was in ... you probably can’t see from the thumbnail pictures at the bottom but that’s some of the housing conditions in Scotland in the interwar period. So ... and that experience of going to several locations was by no means uncommon. Now as I say I don’t have any of my own interviewees who came from the central belt but I do have a star performer from the southwest of Scotland. This is the lady whom I mentioned earlier and it’s an indic ... she indicates that emigration was very much an adventure triggered by personal networks and mutual encouragement and this was my lady who was 101 three weeks after I interviewed her. In 1930 she emigrated to New York as a domestic servant and that in the first place reminds us that although the official spotlight was on the dominions large numbers of people went to the United States, the US continued to be a very powerful magnet despite the States’ increasingly stringent gatekeeping policy. Now Agnes was born on a farm in the southwest at Whithorn in Wigtownshire and in 1924 she went to Liverpool to work as a domestic servant ... she had an aunt there and she worked in private service. And then in 1927 she moved with her employers to London and it was through her friend and workmate, Gladys, that she put her name down for the United States because you had ... there were quotas of course by ... after 1921 and you had to get your name in early so this is what she said.
“By that time you see this friend, Gladys, had cousins home from Connecticut from the States and he was a farm manager there and they told her they didn’t know why she was working for seven and six a week or something like 10 [unclear 34:15]. Yeah, I’m ... she should go out there and immediately I said well you put your name on the waiting list and I’ll follow on and so that’s what we did.”
And her motive in going was clearly to have fun which comes out very clearly in the next extract.
“I went there and then I sent my brother the address right away and he wrote back and said what are you playing at? This is the fourth address you’ve had in two years, why are you not staying in your jobs? But that [unclear 35:04] one had to stay on duty until 10:00 and you could do as you like after that ‘cause you got your key. Well I went to more musicals and more theatre and more everything.”
So she had great memories at 101 of what it had been like people-watching in Broadway with her friend, Gladys, so she ... the bit ... I should have explained at the beginning of the quote, she said this was her fourth job and she wrote home and said to her brother you know I’ve moved house and he says what are you playing at? You know you won’t stay in your jobs. Anyway I asked her about what it was like during the depression and she made a ... this is the final extract from Agnes ... she commented very interestingly about the family she worked for.
“They had decided like everybody else that they were cutting down expenses because they had to. They didn’t have to, the Coreys didn’t need [unclear 36:04] like a lot of other people like then who lost everything in 1929 crash but ... but the Coreys thought they better look as though they had lost and so they closed the country house just then.”
So it’s very much images of The Great Gatsby, I think but I thought it was an interesting comment by Agnes and a different perspective on the depression. The Coreys didn’t need to close things up but it was ... they thought they’d better give the appearance of being impoverished.
Okay let’s move on to the post-war period then. In making the transition from the 1920s and 1930s to the era after the Second World War I’d like to introduce you to a family whose experiences straddle both eras. This is the Murray family from the Isle of Lewis pictured in 2005. On the right front you have Callum, the late Callum, on the left his late wife, Jessie. The two elderly ladies at the back are Callum’s sisters, Chrissie and Cathy and the person in the middle is just a friend who brokered the meeting. Now before the First World War Callum, Chrissie and Cathy’s father had worked on grain elevators at Thunder Bay, it was then called Fort William out in Canada. He did some ... came back for war service, married back in the Isle of Lewis and then re-emigrated in 1924, this time to Prince Rupert on the west coast. And in 1927 he was joined by his wife and the family including a number of other siblings but he was killed in an industrial accident in 1932 and his widow brought the children, Callum and Cathy and Chrissie and the others back to Lewis to be brought up. But the interesting point is I think that the wanderlust gene had been inherited because Callum spent 30 years as a transatlantic commuter. Between 1953 and 1983 he would spend six months of the year out in Canada freighting grain on the Great Lakes and when the seaway froze up, the lakes froze up in the winter, he would come back to Lewis to be with Jessie and the children and he was by no means alone in doing that, this regular sort of transatlantic commuting was very common. And so he was following in his father’s footsteps in a way.
Now meanwhile Cathy, the one with the red cardigan, she opted ... well she didn’t opt to go to New Zealand, it was actually quite fortuitous the way that she ended up in New Zealand and I’ll let her tell her own tale.
“So anyway while I was over in Germany ...”
Where she worked with a naffy [? 38:41].
“[unclear 38:43] little girl but meanwhile I thought I was aiming for Canada all the time and I wrote Canada House, got no answer so this Betty, she says to me, you’ll go to New Zealand, you see what they’re doing there so to cut a long story short they answered right off and all I had to do was fill the forms and you could go over there for £10 and I was ... of course you had to work with them for two years which was the best 10 years ... £10 I ever spent.”
So she was a New Zealand £10 pom. When I'm using that quote with students or other groups and I'm trying to illustrate why I like oral testimony I say well if you just read that in a book and you read it was the best £10 I ever spent you won’t get the sense of how excited she was even you know several decades later about how wonderful it was to have got to New Zealand for £10. Anyway she would have been there yet if her mother hadn’t hauled her home after 16 years to look after her.
Cathy clearly regarded emigration as adventure, not as exile. The next clip that you’re going to hear is from a lady called Ena McDonald. She’s also from North Uist. That’s Ena pictured about three years ago. Now Ena was consumed with homesickness and one of the most striking features of the interview I did with her was the frequency with which she reverted to that theme of homesickness. She emigrated to Australia as a newlywed in 1961, she came out on a £10 passage. She went back to Scotland in 1964 in the hope that a visit home would assuage the homesickness, it didn’t, she came back to Australia for 10 months and then she returned permanently to North Uist in 1965. Now it’s ... when we played this earlier it was very quiet but I hope we can hear it because just the anguish in her voice even after all this time I think is quite striking.
“I was homesick before I even went, it was crazy, absolutely crazy. I should never have ... I should never have gone, I was forever homesick, homesick, you know? I can remem ... when I came back here and Angus was born and then it came to the time of going back and I was dreading going back, absolutely dreading it and I can still remember, I think everybody in the village came down to say cheerio to me when just going out the gate to there and I looked behind and my father running after the car. Oh I nearly just said stop, I’m not going. I remember when I went on board and oh my appetite just disappeared, I couldn’t eat. I lost a stone in about 10 days and the stewards were so nice and they said is there nothing I can give you? You must eat, you must eat. I says I’m not hungry, homesickness. Oh I was just miserable, oh I was just wishing I was back you know I didn’t want to go, yeah. I was seeing my father run after that car, oh I was just ... it was just awful.”
And that was Ena speaking in 2011 about events of the ni ... mid-1960s and it was still very painful. I mean we were both sitting in her kitchen, we were both crying when she was telling me that ... those memories.
Now the £10 passage scheme that took Ena and her husband to Australia accounted as you’ll well know for around one and a half million British emigrants between 1947 and 1972. We’ve seen it from the emigrant’s eye view, most recently there from Ena but I’d like to introduce you now to one of the recruitment agents who interviewed people like Ena albeit at a slightly later date. This is Gordon Ashley who from 1969 to 1972 worked for the Australian Department of Immigration based in Glasgow and he singlehandedly interviewed and processed applicants or applications mainly from the west of Scotland and as you’ll hear it was hard work.
“This was repeat work where you were asking questions as to the motivation of people and also trying to give information at the same time and trying to crowd that into that period of time, a timeslot. Given that they also had other written information but no one can be sure how much a person had actually read or not so it was not an easy thing to do and I remember at one stage once in Glasgow doing 44 interviews in a row without anyone not turning up and it was when people did not turn up that you had a break, could catch your breath and could actually write some sort of reasonable report.”
I think that contextualises Ena's story a little bit, it perhaps explains why some people who maybe should never have been selected slipped through the net because just the workload of the agents was so phenomenal and Gordon said that the main reason for people going was economic and here he tries on his Scottish accent.
“Most if was can I get a decent job here? Or we want a better life for our kids. It was that kind of motivation.”
Now Gordon Ashley’s experiences related to late 1960s, early 1970s. I want to backtrack now for a couple of clips from the 1950s and 1960s in which the emigrants explain what it was that triggered the decision to leave. I mentioned earlier poor housing conditions, rationing, bad weather. Well I don’t think I mentioned the bad weather but I’ll mention it now. All that had a part to play on the negative side and the lady from whom you’re going to hear now is Cathy Donald. She and her parents emigrated to Dunedin in New Zealand from near ... from Burntisland which is near Edinburgh in 1953 and they emigrated for better prospects. Here’s Cathy.
“My father had two aims, he wanted me to be educated which for someone who was really quite a chauvinist that was a huge thing for him but he had a ... he believed in education that he hadn’t got. He didn’t see that I would get to university in Scotland but 10 years later it might have been different, I think. And the other thing was that housing was a difficulty. Because we had this little extra box room and only one child the co ... it was a council flat ... they said that we don’t ... we’re not going to rehouse you because you’ve got enough space.”
So the housing issue came up time and again, it was actually very difficult to get council houses in Britain after the war.
Now a year before Cathy and her parents emigrated 23 year old Annie Mathieson left the Isle of Lewis for Detroit and her story is a familiar one. There she is. While growing up in the village of Coll on the east side of Lewis she’d been fascinated by stories of the United States told by neighbours whose sons and daughters and siblings had emigrated and she contrasted her meagre wages in a clothing store with the apparently untold riches of the States where she said the perception was that earnings were 10 times that amount. And again she talked about post-war blues and rationing in Britain and that reinforced her decision to spread her wings. But she didn’t want to go anywhere else except the States. This is what she said:
“I never wanted to leave Lewis except ... unless I could go to America, I didn’t want to go to Glasgow or London to work, I’d far rather stay here but America was first. Oh everything was better than I could ever have imagined, I can’t think of anything that was ... I thought the American accent was so lovely.”
Well just a couple of words of explanation there, when she says I’d rather stay here I interviewed her when she was back in Lewis ... she comes back regularly but I don’t know if you could pick up from her ... the way she spoke, she’s been in Detroit since 1953 but she sounds as if she has just left the Isle of Lewis, she has not lost her Scottish accent and ... well she says she thought the American accent was so lovely but she didn’t pick it up.
Okay she ... I could tell you more tales about her but a decade later Joan and John Noble left Aberdeen for Vancouver Island when they were infected with a restlessness that Joan Noble said was prevalent in the 1960s so here’s John and Joan Noble pictured outside their home in Van ... Victoria.
“We came out because we needed to, John was Deputy of that school in Aberdeen and we had a lovely life in Aberdeen but I don’t know, there was some kind of restlessness in the air in the ‘60s, a lot of people came to Canada in the middle ‘60s. And the weather had become a ... absolutely abysmal, we could never get a nice summer, our children were never outside playing the way I wanted them to be and then by quite extraordinary serendipity just as we were talking about that in November of 1965 the Canadian government sent immigration officers to Britain ...”
... too far. But the weather comes into it there and the weather comes into a lot of emigrant testimony. And I had one lady say to me when I was interviewing in New Zealand everything was grey, the people were grey, the streets were grey, the houses were grey. And then interestingly last week in Queensland one of my interviewees said ... used exactly the same terms, he said everything was grey so greyness comes into it.
Six years later Shona Howarth came to New South Wales. Now sometimes the decision as to where you went was serendipitous or fortuitous. Her first goal had been western Canada where she had relatives but she wouldn’t have come to New South Wales if it hadn’t been for the £10 passage.
“I just thought it’d be nice to go to Canada and I actually applied to ... I was going to go on my own and I applied to go to Canada and Australia and Australia was just as a second choice, I really wanted to go to Canada and I got in [unclear 49:35] and while my application was being processed my cousin who was 19 at the time said that she’d like to come with me so she applied to go to both Canada. They turned her down ‘cause she wasn’t ... she wouldn’t have been 21 but Australia took her so that’s how I ended up going to Australia.”
So the accidental emigrant.
Now not surprisingly given that they’re a self-selecting group most of my interviewees have been talking positively about their experiences. Some of those who came to Australia and were initially accommodated in migrant hostels found that the reality didn’t quite match the rhetoric. I was talking earlier about the freezing cold conditions in uninsulated cabins in Canada, well as I say the opposite applied here but the ne ... my next interviewee was not too critical. This is Sandra Munroe. Sandra was seven when she emigrated with her parents from Paisley near Glasgow in 1965 after her father got a job in the Port Kembla steel works. So this is Sandra talking about the hostels.
“My mum wasn’t too happy with the accommodation which was two ... what she described as a tin shack cut in half and we settled in the hostel for two years, was kind of the waiting list for council house. Obviously people with more money could buy a house and moved from the hostel because like I say I really enjoyed the hostel, I enjoyed the experience but there was people that just wouldn’t stay there. We all moved to the same ...”
Okay, the ... just .. I’m drawing towards a close now so don’t worry. Alice Moffitt was another emigrant to Australia, she came out from Fyfe, the County of Fyfe or the Kingdom of Fyfe in 1967 with her husband and children and she found a well-established network of people from her home area and I think that helped her to settle in, I think one of Ena McDonald’s problems was that she had no network and I can come back in question and answer if you like to why I think Ena didn’t settle. But Alice Moffitt was in no doubt that Australian living conditions surpassed those in Scotland. So here she is telling us about ...
“Oh it was definitely well ahead, it was well ahead of Scotland without ... I don’t even ... well I don’t know anything about England but our friends felt the same way and they came out from Bradford and they said it was you know and that’s what got them and was high standard of living when we first came to Australia, couldn’t believe it, you know?”
So I’ll come back to her for another couple of quotes just as we finish. And this is ... just to round it off I said at the beginning I was going to talk about identities and identifications. The emigrants’ verdict on whether their experience was one of adventure and opportunity or of exile and disillusionment depended to a large extent on their personal circumstances and their personalities and whether their attitude towards their emigration was to adapt or to integrate or to assimilate. Those whose identities and roots remained in Scotland were more likely I think to be vulnerable to crushing homesickness like Ena McDonald. Those who integrated still nurtured their Scottish identity but they didn’t in term ... in the sense of ... that it was a more cosmetic identification, something that they could don and shed at will rather than something that was an isolated and all-embracing defining identity so in other words they made practical and cultural use of their ethnic networks to integrate yet at the same time remain distinctive.
And here’s one of my favourite examples for which we go back to Canada and this is Murdo McIver or McEever, another native of the Isle of Lewis and since 1953 he’s lived in Vancouver. He initially found himself there literally by accident when a back injury that he’d sustained during his days with the merchant navy meant that he had to be under the surgeon’s knife in the hospital in Vancouver and when he got out of hospital his ship had sailed. Oh he knew that was going to happen, he was quite happy about it. He was able to stay in Vancouver and he ... and get a job. He ultimately became Chief Fire Master in Vancouver Harbour. He was able to do that thanks to the good offices of a couple of fellow highlanders. Murdo is Gallic speaker, he’s a bard, he’s a precenter [?] in the Church and for more than 50 years he’s maintained strong connections with the Gallic Society of Vancouver. It was clearly important to him that in finding a home in the Pacific Northwest it was a home where he was able to nurture his Scottish networks and as you’ll hear from this extract Scotland’s longstanding global diaspora was the trigger for his own desire to see the world.
“What a great place to grow up, everybody knew one another and our house was the centre of the village and there was caylies [? 54:59] there every night from Monday to Saturday and I heard all the stories from Canada, Australia, South America, Falklands, South Africa and a lot of the people that was there had come back from Canada in the early 1930s because of the depression and some of them had gone back in the first world war and was gassed in France so they didn’t bother coming back to Canada so their stories were fantastic. And I think that’s maybe why I’m here today in Canada.”
I mean that introduces a whole new theme which we haven’t time to go into which is the story of return migration so that’s for another day.
Okay just to finish off with, Alice Moffitt and a couple of ... well a couple of quotes from Alice and one poem with which I want to finish. Alice Moffitt in Australia like Murdo McIver in Canada has put down roots in her adopted land but she still cherishes her Scottish identity. She still has pangs of homesickness and homesickness can be triggered by familiar rites of passage being celebrated in an unfamiliar environment, notably Christmas and New Year and I’ve got one quote about each.
“First Christmas, ‘cause we got there in November, when the first Christmas, oh, oh it as terrible. We’ve got some friends to come over to the flat ‘cause we were in a flat so of course I’m doing everything that you do in Scotland and England you know roast potatoes, mince pies you know all the trimmings, Christmas dinner. Nobody could eat it, it was too hot. That was pretty upsetting. But I’ll tell you something, even after all this year ... all these years in Australia I still don’t like Christmas, it’s not the same you know it’s too hot.”
And then about New Year she said:
“Even to this day I still get homesick at new year. Especially when you watch the Tattoo and things like that. Yes, still play the Scottish music and ... but the thing is now all the grandkids are there now, you know what I mean? But some ... I’ve got Scottish friends that said oh I don’t think about Scotland, you know? No ... but I do, my husband and I both do.”
She didn’t have hiccups and neither did I. The funny sound there is .. it’s been dulled down fortunately but I was doing it on Skype and for some reason the Skype call appeared to have hiccups.
Okay, my final quote is from a lady who went to Canada for three years in the 1950s. Homesickness and nostalgia can strike unexpectedly even among those who fulfilled their goal of adventure and capitalised successfully on the opportunities that were offered by emigrating. And I think perhaps it is expressed most eloquently in this poem with which I’ll close and it’s a poem by a lady called Margaret Gillus Brown. She spent three years on the Canadian prairies in the 1950s before she returned to Scotland with her husband to take up the family farm. And here’s Margaret.
“Exile. It’s no easy option, exile from land of birth and heritage. Whether it be self-imposed or forced for whatever reason it’s not easy. The lilt of a voice, the trick of a vision, the touch of a hand and transportation is immediate, back to wild seas, greening fields, the rushing burn, love of a motherland. You thought with the great sea sail, the umbilical cord cut, you would be free from persecution perhaps or living in a tight inherited box, you would bleed for a while surely, tears of real salt but this new land would become your land, her people your people, surpassing all others. Tell me, what is the whisper?”