'Scottish migration since 1750: reasons and results' by James C Docherty (Hamilton Books, New Jersey)
Anyone who has traced a Scottish family history back to the 17th century or further is likely to find evidence of migration. In my own case, my ancestors moved from Edinburgh in 1750 to rural Perthshire. They also moved from apparent prosperity to making a living as handloom weavers for the next three generations, and in the early 1790s moved to Calton in Glasgow, the weavers’ village.
One of eight children, my great grandfather studied medicine in Anderson’s University and migrated to England to become a surgeon in Leeds. My own father moved to Liverpool and I to the USA and Cardiff and finally brought the family back to Scotland, also pursuing our medical trades. This vignette illustrates two things – that people move primarily for work or to escape persecution, and that studying migration patterns and their causes in populations is likely to be complex. People do not necessarily just migrate; they may come back permanently or temporarily to bring back family members, or stay and make their lives in the new country. This is what the author found when he started to trace his family history, and the book is the result of his extensive investigations and calculations.
James Docherty is a historian of Scottish parentage born and living in Australia. He set out to answer the question for the family historian, where do you go to discover how your personal findings fit into the main historical trends? His own ancestors pop up occasionally in the text.
The theme of the book is thus to link family history to historical demography by examining long-term economic and social trends. In order to do so, he has searched available records not only in Scotland but in the main countries to which Scots have migrated: England, North America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. In many cases, especially in the earlier years, records were absent or at best incomplete, and he has used ingenious modelling methods from life tables to estimate likely population numbers.
The result is a book that is heavy with results and numbers, perhaps rather testing for most people of the age at which one becomes interested in family history. However the overall story (as one might suspect) is of the dominant influences of a persistently weak economy, and a tendency to engage in warfare, in causing Scots (and our Irish neighbours) to seek gainful employment elsewhere. The book sheds light on earlier endeavours to describe population trends and on some characters who are less well known that they deserve to be.
For the enthusiast he provides ample references and helpful appendices and tables, including a useful population timeline. For the pernickety the book has far too many typographic errors, some of which are confusing – I suspect the proof-reader became bemused by all the facts and figures and lost concentration.
In 1776, two Scots were signatories of the American Declaration of Independence while, at the same time, thousands of Scottish soldiers were fighting on the British side. In Glasgow the same year, James Watt patented his improved steam engine and Adam Smith published 'The Wealth of Nations'. Scots were at the beginning of the world’s greatest economy and the Industrial Revolution, leading now to climate change and a need for reassessment of the mechanisms of a sustainable economy.
This book is not about the better known story of the great and successful migrants from Scotland, from Andrew Carnegie in the US to Patrick Manson in China, who have influenced the development of the world; rather it illuminates the issues that have driven ordinary folk in large numbers to leave their birthplace and seek to survive and sometimes flourish in more favourable environments.
The author does not discuss the dreaded independence issue, but a non-expert reader such as myself cannot help feeling that there is a message here. For much of Scotland’s post-16th century history, it has relied on loss of people by warfare and migration to sustain its population with the resources available to it. Reduction in resources, agricultural or industrial, results in starvation or emigration, while occasional increases lead to immigration, mainly from Ireland and more recently elsewhere, ensuring wages are kept low. Migration is likely to have helped the economy also by return of money to dependents by men who have left.
What differentiated Scotland from other small and relatively poor countries has been universal education and the presence of its great universities, allowing the population to be more literate and numerate than those in most other countries and thus more employable elsewhere. Therein lies the dilemma for the more hard-headed nationalists; climate change is forcing upon us the need to eliminate further exploration for and use of fossil fuels and Scotland has been largely de-industrialised.
The proportion of elderly in our population is growing and our well-educated young are attractive to employers elsewhere. Is it possible to improve the Scottish economy sufficiently to sustain our changing demographics if we vote eventually for independence and put ourselves in competition with England? England has now voted for its own (and apparently our) independence from the EU and has precisely the same dilemma. But now there is a new problem – world-wide migration forced by climate change and warfare, so it is likely that future population stability in the UK cannot easily be achieved as it has in the past by migration.
Development of a sustainable carbon-free economy and investment in education, especially the arts, science and technologies which lead to the creation of new jobs, seems likely to be necessary. If this is achievable a large inflow of immigrants to Scotland, as came in the past from Ireland, would likely be necessary to sustain the service sectors and replace the loss of our best educated to more attractive climes. An independent Scotland competing economically with an aggressively independent England outwith the European Community does not sound like a good idea to me.
Finally, does this book achieve its aim of providing insight into the findings of the family historian? In my case it does. My Jacobite ancestors lost their properties and livelihoods in the early 1700s, a likely consequence of being rebels and Episcopalians. Thereafter, the family trade of weaving would have been affected by the forced eviction of people from the Highlands and the general population drift to the burgeoning industrial city of Glasgow. However, the work of handloom weavers was gradually taken over by mechanical looms and ultimately by the use of water then coal power in factories like New Lanark, leading to my great grandfather taking advantage of the excellent educational opportunities in Glasgow and the employment opportunities in the great English cities to become a surgeon.
As I pointed out in a previous essay, we are all migrants and need to view this for what it is, a biological response to a changing environment, neither necessarily good nor bad but something we can accept and take advantage of or resist, as Canute tested his royal powers against the tide.