Time of migration and Scottish ancestry since 1940

Census data can help us to delve into the nature and composition of the Scottish diaspora in great detail. Let’s look at one specific feature of the diaspora today: the time of arrival of first generation migrants who claimed Scottish ancestry.

In my previous post, I suggested that maintenance of Scottish cultural identity over the last quarter of a century has become more widespread among Scottish Australians, and that rates of Scottish cultural identification are becoming comparable to Irish identification. While second or later generation Australians are contributing the most to growth in numbers of those identifying with Scottish ancestry, a closer look at first generation migrants may yield a better understanding of cultural identification over time.

The following graph illustrates the number of individuals by decade of arrival in Australia for first generation migrants who claimed Scottish ancestry.

The largest cohort are those individuals who arrived in Australia between 1961 and 1970, accounting for 22.4 per cent of first generation migrants claiming Scottish ancestry, followed by those who have arrived in the last decade since 2001, who accounted for 19.7 per cent.

What can such information tell us about cultural identification in the Australian Scottish diaspora?

Between 1940 and 1981, approximately 172 000 Scots arrived in Australia, and between 1982 and 2006 the figure was around 45 000. Without more details on how many of those who migrated between 1940 and 1980 are still alive, it is difficult to ascertain the proportion of them who still identify with Scottish heritage. Around 48 per cent of arrivals between 1940 and 1981 have claimed Scottish ancestry, while the remaining 52 per cent either did not respond, did not claim Scottish ancestry, or have passed away.

My hunch at this stage is that, given that maintenance of Scottish cultural identity over the last quarter of a century has become more widespread among Scottish Australians, rates of Scottish identification among post-1980s arrivals are also higher than among pre-1980s immigrants. Close to 100 per cent of the post-1980 arrivals have identified as having Scottish ancestry.

With specific reference to migrants who arrived between the 1940s and 1970s, Al Thomson and A. James Hammerton’s oral history of postwar British migrants, Ten pound Poms: Australia’s invisible migrants, noted that

For British migrants in Australia issues of national identity have often been secondary to perceptions of their individual sense of struggle and accomplishment, an awareness heightened by the act of migration.

Such an observation could be reinforced with more detailed information regarding the self-identification of Scottish migrants who arrived in Australia in the postwar years, although the data here vaguely hints at Thompson and Hammerton’s conclusion.

What this all may mean is that, in addition to the findings of my previous post, not only is ‘Scottishness’ on the rise among second and later generation migrants in Australia, but it has also become the major category of self-identification for first generation migrant Scots in the diaspora who have arrived since the 1980s.



  1. My grandfather came to Australia in 1920 at the age of 16 as a child it didnt seem important but now hes long gone and I have no knowledge of his family left behind. He had a great life in Australia and Ive got Scotland in my blood. I would love to visit but Im 60 so I dont know but I hope to find him in records somewhere. Sadly all I know is his DOB and that he was born in Dundee. Bring your history with you if you come to Australia or it may be lost one day! All the Best

  2. My family arrived in Australia from Scotland in 1961. My father died this year (Sept 2012), leaving his wife and two daughters, 5 grandchildren (1 decd) and 5 g grandchildren. I have been researching both my parent’s family using scotlandspeople and have made some very surprising discoveries. My only regret is that there is nowhere to record the details of my father’s death in Scotland so that in the future they can be accessed by other people.

  3. Hi Vivienne, I also have Scottish grandparents who came to Australia in the early part of the 20th century. I have researched these families for years now with great success using Scotlands people and Ancestry.com. Don’t let your age stop you from traveling to Scotland. I have had two trips there now on my own and can’t wait to go back. Kind regards, Ruth.

  4. I have my 3 x great grandparents Henry & Janet MOON nee CRICHTON as well as my 2 x great grandparents William & Margaret CRICHTON nee MOON.
    The MOON family arrived in the year 1840 & Janet’s nephew William CRICHTON in the year 1848. He married the Moon’s eldest child and daughter Margaret in 1855 12 months after the last of four siblings of his had arrived in the colony.
    All of my Scots research has been completed thanks to ScotlandsPeople and I am very grateful for the work they have put into their website.

    • Hi Geoff I’m Megan Moon, my father is James Donald Moon he is 86 and has dementia, all I know is his mothers name was Mary and has a brother called Peter who has a son called Brendan who played rugby union for Ausralia. My father played the bagpipes and LOVED his Scottish heritage, if you know anymore please contact me

    • I am Megan Moon daughter of James Donald Moon he is brother of Peter, son of Mary Moon I’m not sure of my grandfathers name as we never met Peter his son Brendan who played Union for Australia or his siblings or my grandparents, my father is 86 and I would love to find some history for him; he has adv dementia

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