If Australia is the immigration nation, then Scotland is the emigration nation. Until the 1990s, Australia was second only to Israel in terms of the number of migrants it took in per capita. Conversely, from the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century, Scotland’s level of population loss through emigration was one of highest in Britain and Europe. For much of this time Scotland has had too many people; Australia not enough.
The first period of Scottish immigration to Australia was the initial settlement and convict period. The beginnings of settlement in Australia attracted about 5200 Scots between 1788 and 1832, while the transportation era brought out nearly 9000 Scottish convicts between 1788 and 1868.
When the famous Scottish explorer Thomas Mitchell found the vast pastoral land of ‘Australia Felix’ in the late 1830s, Scots came in droves; over 31% of all Scottish emigrants chose Australia as their destination in the late 1830s. Between 1833 and 1850, a total of about 23 000 eager Scottish migrants came to Australia.
In the early 1850s, gold was discovered in Australia, and this attracted record amounts of settlers to Australian goldfields. Throughout the 1850s, approximately 90 000 Scots came to Australia, and many of them were searching for fortunes in famous gold towns such as Ballarat, in Victoria. Because of the goldrush, Australia was a hugely popular destination for Scots and in 1853, for example, half of all Scottish emigrants went to Australia. Within this period of history was also the emigration of large numbers of Highlanders, who had been evicted from their small farms in Scotland and sent on boats to the New World – North America and Australasia.
Over the next fifty years from 1860 to 1914, the Australian colonies consolidated their populations and grew their economies, and over 175 000 Scots came to Australia. Important years for the relationship between Scotland and Australia were from 1860 until 1864, when 59% of Scottish emigrants selected Australia as their destination, and from 1875 to 1879 when 44% chose to come to the Antipodes.
This was mostly due to the economic boom in Australia that peaked in the 1880s, which offered urban Scots gainful employment, good living conditions, and the opportunity to own a house of their own in the suburbs. The boom was over by the 1890s, and somewhere between 35-40% of Scots in Australia decided to head home and try their luck back in Scotland again.
From 1914 until 1939, around 61 000 Scots came to a growing Australian nation. They contributed their skills to Australia’s industrial development in this period, and gave lives in the First World War. When Europe was recovering from the war in the 1920s, between 18% and 25% of Scottish emigrants sought opportunities for a better life in Australia. Their hopes were soon dashed when the Great Depression hit Australia particularly hard in the early 1930s. Not surprisingly, immigration almost entirely stopped during the recession.
The next great period of Australian immigration was the postwar era, which changed the demographic make up of Australia from a mostly British population to a vibrant multicultural society. In the forty years between 1940 and 1980, 172 000 Scots came to Australia. Many of our Australian readers were part of this historic period of mass immigration. The number of immigrants to Australia was exceptional – after Second World War, net migration was over 100 000 people in some years. Just under 900 000 came from Britain between 1956 and 1960 alone.
From 1980 up until the present day between 45 000 and 50 000 Scots have migrated to Australia. The most recently arrived Scots have been part of a new, unprecedented, but mostly unheard of immigration revolution. There were eight years between 1949 and 1980 in which net migration was larger than 100 000 people, but since 1995 there have only been two years in which net migration was not over 100 000 people.
Since 1788, around 600 000 Scots have come to Australia for reasons that have changed over the years. Their numbers have fluctuated, often linked with the changing fortunes in Scotland and in Australia. Today, over two million Australians say that they have Scottish ancestry. Scotland, the emigration nation, has certainly given many of her sons and daughters to Australia, the immigration nation.