Feature

Jan 2011

Scotland’s connections ‘Down Under’

Whether they went to escape religious persecution, take up the offer of free land or serve time, the many thousands of Scots who emigrated to Australia and New Zealand in the early 19th century left a lasting impression. Not least in the names they gave to their 'nova scotias'. Indeed, a map of the antipodes reads like Scotland, with place names like Dundee - not the 'City of Discovery' - but one in New South Wales. Dunbar has a namesake in Queensland, as does Ayr, and you'll find no less than three Aberdeens dotted around the region (still rare compared to the 14 or so in America). Edinburgh too has an opposite number and its Gaelic form, Dunedin, is New Zealand's oldest city, complete with the capital's street names, topography and natural setting.

Great Scots Down Under

Scotland's contribution to Australia's and New Zealand's development goes much deeper than just place names. Here, as elsewhere, Scots' belief in hard work and education led to them filling positions of authority in just about every enterprise they put their minds to. Australia's first Scotsman, for example, Captain John Hunter was appointed Governor of New South Wales in 1795. Lachlan Macquarie from Mull was put in charge of the penal settlement of Botany Bay. Practising an enlightened form of rehabilitation, he helped to build the area into a community, setting up schools and building roads. The inscription over his grave on Mull reads 'Father of Australia'.

The Scots who emigrated, or in one particular case re-emigrated all the way from St. Ann's in Nova Scotia, brought with them all kinds of talents. Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell, Surveyor General of New South Wales, is credited with starting the great gold rush of 1851. Fife-born John MacDouall Stuart, who hated sleeping indoors and preferred not even to camp in the same place twice, explored Australia from south to north. Famous engineers made the 100 day trip too: pioneers like David Lennox, a master mason from Ayr, who became Superintendent of Bridges in 1833; and John Busby, whose legacy, 'Busby's Bore', provided Sydney with its first piped water.

Other members of this hall of fame include Edinburgh-born John Anderson who founded the Canterbury Ironworks; Thomas Reid Fleming, a school inspector, who founded Victoria University College; and the famous anthropologist John Mathew. Robert Gordon Menzies, meanwhile, was Prime Minister of Australia for 16 years.

In the area of culture too, Scots played a leading role. Glasgow-born Peter Dodds McCormick, who arrived in 1855, composed Australia's National Anthem, 'Advance Australia Fair'. Its 'unofficial anthem', 'Waltzing Matilda', was composed by a first generation Scottish Australian, A B 'Banjo' Paterson, a talented war correspondent.

Culture, education and business

Today, there are all kinds of links between the three countries. On top of all the individual St. Andrew's societies, Gaelic groups and Highland Games, Australia and New Zealand celebrate their own national Tartan Day on 1st July each year. Held on the anniversary of the repeal of the Act of Proscription which made it an offence to wear Tartan, it's a celebration of all things Scottish and tribute to the pioneer ancestors. The date is all the more significant since it coincides with Australia becoming a Federation on 1st July 1901 and the restoration of the Scottish Parliament on 1st July 1999.

The cultural, educational and business exchange isn't all one-way, of course. ECAT, (Edinburgh Contemporary Arts Trust) presents a regular festival of music from New Zealand. Many Scottish performers tour Australia in their turn. And on the educational front, the University of Stirling has particularly strong links with the universities of Sydney, South Australia, Central and Southern Queensland.

Finally, a word or two on some of those who've come back to Scotland. Born in Dunedin on 1st April 1895, Alexander Aitken was the greatest mathematician of his time. Returning to teach at Edinburgh University, the 'human computer' astounded undergraduates with his ability to recite Pi to 707 decimal places and multiply two nine digit numbers in his head in under 30 seconds. More recently, Edinburgh has become home to two of the antipodes' brightest literary talents Australian novelist Meaghan Delahunt who won a Scottish Arts Council Bursary in 2000 and Scottish Arts Council Book Award in 2002 for 'In the Blue House'; and New Zealand born novelist Kirsty Gunn who was awarded a Scottish Arts Council Writers Bursary in 2001.

What comes around, goes around the globe as they say.

Interested in tracing your Scottish ancestry?

Go to Ancestral Scotland for more information

Learn more about Scotland's links with Australia and New Zealand

Dunedin, New Zealand

Advance Australia Fair

Alexander Aitken