Summary Block
This is example content. Double-click here and select a page to feature its content. Learn more
Summary Block
This is example content. Double-click here and select a page to feature its content. Learn more





Like The Thistle Seed: The Scots Abroad

Like The Thistle Seed: The Scots Abroad

Book excerpt


       Scotland is a small country on the western fringe of Europe. She has a seventy-mile land frontier with England while the rest of her thrusts into the sea, as if attempting to escape the confines of her own geography. Two thirds of her land is rock, bog or rough grazing. The remainder grows some of the finest crops on earth. At one time, with one-eighth the population of her southern neighbour, she had twice as many universities and one of the most literate populations in the world, yet her people were frequently regarded as barbarous. She had a fearsome military reputation yet as an independent nation had no standing army and no history of national aggression. The national dress and international perception of Scotland is based on a caricature of the Gaelic culture that was once banned and frequently feared by the Lowland population. Scotland, then, is a land of contrasts.

         Is it any wonder that such a nation should produce so many wanderers, men and women who helped create the new countries of the world, as their ancestors had blossomed in Europe? And is it any wonder that these same people should compose some of the most heart-wrenching laments for the land they left behind, even as they encouraged others to board the emigrant ships? Is it any wonder that this complicated nation should also produce a fine a collection of odd balls and eccentrics as any on Earth?

        As the prickly, ubiquitous thistle is the symbol of Scotland, then the people may be likened to the thistle seed, which spreads so well over the land. Typical of the thistle seed were the hundreds of thousands of un-named emigrants who sailed from Scotland to become the backbone of the new countries. Gold diggers and bankers, farmers and factory workers, lawmakers and lawbreakers, the Scots slid from their homeland like snow off a dyke. While most settled into ordinary, respectable jobs, others rose high in their chosen profession, helped guide their adopted country to its destiny or slotted into a nether world of non-conformity.

         There is no part of the world where Scots have not made some impact. Scots have wandered in the most inaccessible parts of Asia, struck out for North and South Pole, crossed Australia and Canada and loomed large in the field of African exploration. For much of the 19th century, Western Canada was a Scottish enclave, South Australia was seen as the most Scottish part of Australia, Scots settled Otago in New Zealand, and numerous remote islands were strongly Scottish. There were innumerable Scottish colonial governors and governor-generals, while Scottish engineers built bridges, harbours and roads that connected the world. It was a Scotsman that helped draft the United States Declaration of Independence and Scots who helped tame the West, when they were not making it even wilder.

         Tens of thousands of Scots took to the sea with thousands becoming shipmasters and many founding shipping lines whose vessels crossed the globe. Fighting Scots admirals founded navies in South America, reformed the Russian fleet and gave the United States a fine nautical tradition. Highly educated, the Scots exported their thirst for knowledge, taught in Europe, and founded innumerable universities while Scottish missionaries spread the Word across half the world. Militarily, the Scots had a reputation for courage and loyalty that was rarely matched and never exceeded. As well as fighting for Scotland and Britain, Scottish soldiers participated in some of Europe’s bloodiest wars, often on both sides, and helped forge the independence of the United States and many South American nations. Sometimes they were defeated but they were never disgraced.

         Other Scots gave different gifts to their new land. It was a Scot who introduced camels to Australia, a Scot who brought Aberdeen Angus cattle to America. There were Scots born American Chess Champions and a Scots born Canadian Speed Skating champion. A Scotsman created the English John Bull, and Scots cast the first dollar sign and designed the flag of Hawaii. Other Scots were more notorious than famous. The treasure of Captain Kidd has never been located, while James McPherson the bushranger hunted the back roads of New South Wales and Alexander McClung was one of the most dreadful of the killing gentlemen of the United States.

         Scattered like thistle seed they may have been, but the Scots seemed seldom to forget their roots. Caledonian Societies, St Andrews Day Parades and Burns Clubs flourish across the globe. There is even a Tartan Day in New York. The descendants of Scots retain and enhance their Scottish culture, generation by generation.   Often the Scots abroad seem more Scottish than those at home do, and Old Scotland could learn much from their passion and knowledge of a country that their ancestors were often only too anxious to leave.

         This book will list some of the Scots who became known in their new country. There were too many prominent Scots for any book to include them all. As the selection in here is a personal choice, many Scots will disagree with those personalities included, while offering excellent reasons for including others. Such disagreement is expected: diversity of thought was always a Scottish characteristic.

         However, this book is intended to give a fair cross section of those Scottish professionals and workers who forged new nations, while not forgetting the eccentrics and outlaws that also claimed Scotland as their birthplace.  It does not attempt to list the thousands of prominent people who can claim Scottish blood in a distant ancestor. To do so would include United States Presidents such as Ronald Regan, whose ancestors included the Scottish Revolutionary David Downie who was transported for sedition. Other United States presidents with Scottish ancestors include Nixon, McKinley, Roosevelt and Grant, while U.S. soldiers, seamen, academics and businessmen and women would total many thousand, and that is only in one country. The Scottish contribution is immense and undervalued.

         The names in this book are listed alphabetically, and where the names and initials are the same, chronologically.


Adams, Captain Alexander (1780 – 1870)

Admiral of Hawaii

       Born in Angus, Alexander Adams went to sea on a Geordie brig at the age of 12 and served in the Royal Navy from 1807 until 1810.  He was working on the Boston vessel Albatross when he arrived in Oahu, Hawaii in 1811, at a time when the islands were independent of any other power. Settling in Hawaii, he married three times and fathered fifteen children. King Kamehameha seemed to take a liking to the wandering Scot and presented him with land.

       The King put Adams in command of the Hawaiian fleet of nine square- rigged and fifteen small vessels, although he apparently needed only the 260-ton brig Kaahumanu to remove an unwanted Russian presence from Kauai in 1816. Adams has also been credited with the design of the Hawaiian flag. Employed as the first ever Honolulu harbour pilot from 1817 to 1844, Adams saw many changes in the islands; he was present when the first American missionaries arrived in 1820 and persuaded the king to allow them to remain.  He is also rumoured to have brought the mango to Hawaii from India and was thought of as a very colourful man.


Alexander, Sir William (c1567 – 1640)

Colonist, poet, courtier

       Born in Menstrie Castle near Stirling, Alexander was educated at Glasgow and Leiden in the Netherlands.  He used this education to become tutor to the Earl of Argyll on his travels through Europe. His writing career began in 1604 when he composed a hundred sonnets on love. Three years later he wrote Monarchick Tragedies, which criticised power and pride and in 1614 he completed his long, complicated poem Doomsday.

       In 1613 William Stirling became an usher of the court of Prince Charles, later King Charles I. Knighted in 1614, that same year Alexander was also appointed Master of Requests. In 1621 he used his influence with the king to obtain an area of land in North America that he named Nova Scotia. This grant was far more extensive than present day province of the same name, extending from New Brunswick to Cape Breton Island. It was the intention of King Charles to populate these lands with Scottish ‘younger brothers and mean gentlemen, who otherwise must be troublesome.’

       Unfortunately there were few takers when Alexander attempted to find Scottish colonists, for at that time most footloose Scots preferred to head for Ulster or northern Europe. As inducement and to finance his idea, Stirling created the Order of Knight Baronets of Nova Scotia in 1624, with the knights accepting their lands at the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle. Each new landowner had to part with one thousand merks. To swell the trickle of colonists, in 1625 Stirling wrote An Encouragement to Colonies, but still obtained little results.

       There were a few Scottish settlers in Nova Scotia by 1629 and a small settlement at Charlesfort until 1632, when King Charles handed the land to the French.

       Alexander, however, had other strings to his idealistic bow. As the sole printer to King James VI, he printed the Psalms; he became Secretary of State for Scotland, Earl of Dovan and Earl of Stirling, but still managed to die in poverty. His legacy remains in the name Nova Scotia in Eastern Canada.

Allan, Sir Hugh (1810 – 1872)

Canadian Shipowner and railwayman

       Born in Saltcoats in Ayrshire, Allan was the son of a ship owner. He immigrated to Canada in 1826, where he worked with the shipbuilding firm of John Millar and Company, later becoming a partner. In 1839, together with a Mr Edmonstone, he formed a shipping company that later became the Allan Line. By the end of 1852 the government had awarded the company the contract for a line of screw steamers on the St Lawrence, which also became known as the Montreal Ocean Steamship Company.

The line grew from four to eight vessels, with a weekly service. During the Crimean War of 1864 to 1856 and the Ashanti War of 1874, the British government leased Allan Line vessels as troop transports.

       As well as shipping, Allan was heavily involved in railways, being one of the original proponents of the Canadian Pacific Railways. He was also involved in the Montreal financial sector. He funded the election campaign of John Macdonald, the Scot who became premier of Canada. Possibly Allan was returning a favour, for Macdonald had granted him the charter to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Unfortunately when this arrangement leaked out, Macdonald’s government fell.

       In 1844 Allan married Matilda and their union produced nine daughters and four sons.   Despite his transport links, it is the Allan Memorial Institute of Psychiatry in McGill University that is perhaps Allan’s best memorial today.


Anderson, John (1820 – 1897)

New Zealand engineer, politician and shipping magnate

       Scots born, Anderson served an apprenticeship as a blacksmith before working in both Edinburgh and Liverpool. Married with one son, he immigrated to Christchurch in New Zealand in 1850. Eventually, now with two growing sons, Anderson established his own foundry. He sent his sons to Scotland to be trained as engineers and set to work to supply the burgeoning colonial economy with iron goods. Anderson made everything from boilers to ploughs, bridges to dredgers and even railways. He also built viaducts and bridges so that his firm became one of New Zealand’s major engineering works.

       It was not surprising that Anderson should become the first mayor of Christchurch in 1868, a position that only enhanced his popularity. Not content to remain in a single track, Anderson also founded the New Zealand Shipping Line and was one of the first directors of the Christchurch Press.


Anderson, John Henry (1814 – 1874)

Professional magician who burned down Covent Garden Theatre

       Born in Craigmyle, John Anderson made his mark in London. Known as ‘Professor Anderson, Wizard of the North’, he was a professional magician who pioneered advertising to spread his fame. Anderson was perhaps the first magician to send out hand bills and display his name on posters, but he is probably best remembered for his exploits in clearing the Covent Garden Theatre of a drunken crowd in 1856. When he lowered the gaslights he miscalculated his distances, set fire to the ceiling and burned the theatre to the ground. Just like that.

Chasing Darkness

Chasing Darkness

Dance If Ye Can: A Dictionary of Scottish Battles

Dance If Ye Can: A Dictionary of Scottish Battles