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This article was written by the late Hugh Campbell, a historian in Tasmania who was descended from some of the Coigach people mentioned on my website (see index.htm and mcnab 517). It was published in the Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Papers and Proceedings, volume 34 (1987), pages 37-50.

The article, and correspondence with Hugh, are credited in the book "Cromartie: Highland Life 1650-1914".(SOURCE INFO) A file based on a passenger list of the emigrants is at mcnab.htm. That file refers to the Cromartie book, and its credit to Hugh Campbell. The file was built around a passenger list of the Sir Allan McNab that Gwen Smith in Tasmania (sadly, also now deceased) had mailed me.

Gwen was a great help in gathering the info that has found its way onto my web files, she has contacted her cousin's husband, Greg Wighton (CONTACT INFO), who is very much wired up. Greg had a copy of the article, and decided to try out his new scanner on Hugh Campbell's article. He scanned the article, ran it through an optical character recognition program, cleaned up obvious errors that crept in during the process, and emailed me the results. I have added internal hypertext links to Hugh's notes at the end of the file.

I contacted Hugh, and he kindly granted his permission to post this article onto the web. Hugh mentionned that the letter from the local factor regarding the part of the journey from Ullapool to Glasgow surfaced since he wrote this article, an excerpt of that letter, taken from the Cromartie book, is included in my notes on the McNab passenger list; mcnab.htm#notes

Hugh did much research on the McNab emigration, and he sent a file based on the hiring lists of the emigrants upon their arrival in Tasmania. I have converted that file, which includes Promissory notes signed by many of the emigrants, into HTML, and posted it here; hire.htm

Any comments please contact me, Donald MacDonald-Ross, at


The Highlands and Islands Emigration Society and Van Diemen's Land, 1853-4

by Hugh Campbell


The characters in this story are fifteen poor crofter and cottar families from the far northwest of Scotland and some of the officials, great and small, who helped them come to Tasmania.

Highland Scots emigrated in the nineteenth century because their region could not support its rapidly rising population. Crops could not be grown on a large scale; cottage industries could not compete with mechanised ones; fishing, even where it was established, did not give full employment; and there were few towns to attract the surplus rural population.

... The old cattle economy - a peasant-based, labour-intensive industry - was rapidly overtaken by the more lucrative sheep economy controlled by great capitalist sheepfarmers and their shepherds . . . The Highlands was left with a two-sector economy: the great sheep farms on one side, and a congested peasantry on the other, eking out its living on potatoes, oatmeal, fish and the income of a few head of cattle, on the small crofts to which they had clung.(1)

John Prebble, best known for the television drama made from his book about the battle of Culloden, wrote a sequel about the Highland Clearances.(2) More in sorrow than in anger, he denounces the Establishment for what he saw as the betrayal of the common people. He tells how, between about 1790 and 1855, the highland landlords evicted thousands of their tenants, in order to sell or lease the vacant inland holdings to sheep farmers - and to a few wealthy, gun-loving sportsmen. The displaced people either resettled on poor coastal lands or emigrated. Many resettled first and emigrated later.

When blight ruined the potato crops in 1846 and succeeding years, the crofters, whether affected by clearances or not, faced poverty even deeper than they had faced before. An Edinburgh Relief Fund was generously supported both at home and abroad - the Launceston Caledonian Society sent 237(3) - and the money given to the Fund lasted almost five years. Nevertheless, many highlanders and islanders faced starvation, and some died of it.

The landlords thought themselves to be doubly burdened: not only did they find it costly to support their tenants in times of distress, but they also found the value of their land reduced by the presence of large numbers of tenants who could not pay their rents. Consequently, landlords were still undertaking clearances in the 1850s.

The Clearance at Coigach

Near the end of his book, Prebble gives a brief account of tenants at Coigach burning their writs of eviction in 1852.(4) I remembered it when I found that in 1853 the London-based Society for Assisting Emigration from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland had helped sixty-five 'Coigach people', including some of my forebears, to go to Van Diemen's Land.

The Barony of Coigach contained a number of townships: it was part of the Marquess of Stafford's estate, occupying a rocky promontory stretching some thirty or forty kilometres west of Ullapool along the northern shore of Loch Broom. Loch Broom parish, of which Coigach was a sizeable part, had a population which by 1850 had increased some fifty per cent since the beginning of the century; in 1841 it had more than 4,500 people(5)

The Coigach people who embarked for Van Diemen's Land in 1853 had been living in the townships and islands surrounding Badenscallie, where the writs were burned: some might even have taken part in the unrest, but none of them came from that township. Nor did they face immediate eviction in 1852, although they might have feared it was coming. For them, as for thousands of other Highlanders, 'sheer hunger and the depression of opportunities were the most potent forces for emigration'.(6) When the Emigration Society gave the Coigach families a chance to go to Australia, they hesitated for several weeks and then, reluctantly yielding to the twin pressures of their own want and their landlord's persuasion, they went.

The Society for Assisting Emigration from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

The Highlands and Islands Emigration Society grew out of the short-lived Skye Emigration Society(7) established in Edinburgh in 1851 and still active in March 1852, but engulfed two months later by a bigger Society with headquarters in London. In May 1852, the new Society issued a pamphlet announcing that its patron was Prince Albert, and asking the public for donations.(8) In June it released a second pamphlet, renewing its appeal to the public and listing the first subscribers to the Fund, headed by the Queen with 300 and Prince Albert with 150.(9)

The Society's managers in London moved remarkably quickly to turn their publicity into action. In the July pamphlet, they were able to name five ships on which the Society had secured passages for '635 adults, equal to at least 800 souls'; and the first ship, the Georgiana, carrying Society emigrants to Melbourne, sailed in mid July. In mid-July, too, the Chairman was asking the Australian Colonies to support the Society's work.

The following selection of the Society's own words gives the case for helping the common people emigrate from the Highlands to the Australian colonies:

The breakdown of the system of small holdings and potato cultivation ... left a large proportion of the Island of Skye and other overpopulated Highland and Island districts destitute of the means of subsistence. .. The people [have] been supported for five years by the subscriptions following the famine of 1846, but that fund is now exhausted ... No part of the [new] fund will be used for giving relief at borne, which would prolong and aggravate the present distress ... Emigration is the only complete and final remedy ... Those who are a burden to the British community in the mother country, will become a support to it when they are transferred to the Colonies ... But it is not contemplated that the aid should be gratuitous ... the emigrants should be required to repay, within a specified time, the sums advanced to them. Thus ... the funds will be applied over and over again to the same benevolent purpose ...(10)

The Bishop of Argyle and the Isles, inspired by the Emigration Society's pamphlet, preached a lengthy sermon from it.

Still we behold an increasing population, in a 'rocky, cold and misty territory'. which will not permit the raising of sufficient crops, struggling with continuous want and misery. Is there no remedy?

None permanently satisfactory, we believe, save that suggested by our text:

Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another? And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither ... (Genesis XLII, 1-2)

The remedy must be Emigration. A remedy which has been resisted to the last by these people, but which is now desired, yea, eagerly demanded by them.(11)

Many of the Bishop's contemporaries, (for instance, the Ministers of the Free Church of Scotland), would not have agreed that the people were eager to emigrate. And the Bishop cheated by dropping from his text the final words, 'and buy for us from thence'. in fact, nothing had been further from Jacob's mind than emigration, but no matter. The collection realised 36-1-1 1 for the Fund. The Bishop had already given 10 from his own pocket, and also had his sermon printed, with a note on the cover: "The proceeds of the sale of the Sermon will be appropriated in aid of the Fund. Price 1 shilling."

In its first pamphlet, the Emigration Society published the rules by which it intended to work. In shortened form, they were:

1. The Emigration will be conducted, as much as possible, by entire families, and in accordance with the rules of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners.

2. Passages to Australia are provided by the Commissioners, from Colonial funds, for able-bodied men and women of good character.... on production of a stated quantity and description of clothing, and on payment of a deposit ...

3. The Society will advance the sum necessary to make good whatsoever may be deficient for these purposes.... The emigrants will he required to repay to the Society the whole of the sums advanced to them, which will again be applied in the same manner as the original fund.

4. The owners or trustees of the properties from which the emigrants depart will be expected to pay one-third of the sum disbursed on account of the emigrants by the Society.(12)

Because of that fourth rule, many regarded the Highlands and Islands Emigration Society simply an agent of the proprietors. They pointed out accusingly that it gave its services only to those estates whose owners had agreed to pay for the Society's help by meeting their third of its expenses.(13) Only from the estates ready to pay were emigrants then chosen according to 'the degree of distress which would be relieved by emigration'.

The Society was not being underhand in accepting contributions from landlords: it had published its intention of doing so. But, as Richards says in his 1985 history of the Clearances, 'the operations of the ... Society were clouded by its alliance with landlords wanting to divest themselves of small tenantry who were no longer economic'.(14)

Prebble, ever ready to find fault with the Establishment, was more forthright. He bitterly begins one of his chapters thus:

Helped by the Highland Emigration Society and by the Commissioners for Emigration - the one finding the money and the other the ships - the lairds of the Isles were now clearing their estates with sickening haste.(15)

The Shortage of Labour in Van Diemen's Land

In Van Diemen's Land, Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Denison wanted more people, not fewer. By despatch in May 1852, just when the Society was publishing its first pamphlet, he told the Secretary of State for the Colonies that Van Diemen's Land was losing many of its able-bodied and hard-working men to the Victorian gold-fields, and the intake of free and convict labour combined was not making up for the loss. By his reckoning, in the first four months of the year the colony's 'working population' had fallen by 5,300. 'I therefore beg most earnestly', he wrote, 'that some steps may be taken, with as little delay as possible, to pour into the colony as large an amount of labour as it may be in the power of Her Majesty's Government to forward'.(16)

Opening the June 1852 session of the Legislative Council, he encouraged the members to devise a plan for immigration, assuring them that he would 'gladly concur in any measure, either legislative or administrative, by which the introduction of immigrants, and their retention when introduced, may be facilitated'.(17)

The Council took the hint and set up a Select Committee on Immigration.(18) At the end of September it adopted the Committee's Report and asked Denison to 'place upon the Supplementary Estimate for the current year the sum of 12,500 from General Rev enue' for the purpose of obtaining 'adult male Mechanics and Labourers'. It also recommended spending the balance of the Land Fund to bring out 'Female Domestic Servants and the Wives and Children of Male Emigrants, as well as free Married Persons and their Families'.(19)

In his reply, Denison endorsed the use of General Revenue, but doubted that the Land Fund should be used in the way proposed.(20) Nevertheless, early in October 1852, he despatched the Council's full recommendations on Immigration to the Secretary of State, and followed them at the end of the month with a detailed 14-page set of regulations for spending the $12,500.(21)

No sooner had Denison sent these despatches than he received a circular letter,(22) dated July 1852, from Sir Charles Trevelyan, formerly Assistant Secretary to the Treasury, but now writing as Chairman. of the Emigration Society, a role he played with energy and enthusiasm. (His enthusiasm was infectious: the Society's first subscription list contained the names of no fewer than nine Trevelyans.) In his packet, Trevelyan enclosed some 150 printed pages of information about the Society. In his covering letter, he suggested that the Legislative Council might 'grant a moderate sum ... to be employed in making advances... for the purpose of assisting [Emigrants] to pay their Deposit and Outfit and where necessary the whole or portion of their Passage money, especially with the view of enabling entire families to embark'.

He also asked about current wages for farmhands and shepherds, and the prospects of work for emigrants.

Denison responded promptly, confident that both his proposal for spending 12,500 on immigration, and his conditions for spending it, would be approved by the Secretary of State. In fact, much to the subsequent annoyance of the home authorities, he had already issued a Government Notice putting the scheme into effect in Van Diemen's Land.(23) (Officials in London were put out when intending emigrants wanted to use vouchers issued in Hobart Town as part payment for their passages. The Secretary of State sharply reminded Denison that, although he did not expect to approve all decisions of the Van Diemen's Land Government before they were implemented in the Colony, he did expect to be consulted about decisions calling for action at home).(24) But because Denison's precipitate action allowed him to see the scheme in operation, he was able to tell the Secretary of State in January 1853 that 'as the applications on the part of employers of labour in this colony, in accordance with these conditions, have not been numerous, I suggested to the Legislative Council that a proportion of the sum above stated should be transferred to the [Emigration] Society ... The Council adopted my suggestion, and decided that a sum of 3,000 should be placed at the disposal of the Society'. He asked that the Land and Emigration Commissioners be directed to hand this sum over to the Society 'for the part payment of the passage of free male immigrants'.(25)

At the same time he wrote to Trevelyan, telling him of the grant and answering his question about wages:(26) 'Our wages ... are quite high enough to satisfy any reasonable person; from 12s. to 15s. per week for the common labourer who lodges and finds himself and from 12 to 15 per annum for the one who is boarded and lodged by his master'. He conceded, however, that 'prices at Victoria were higher' and that, once men have broken their ties with home, they are easily tempted to emigrate a few hundred miles further; he therefore proposed that emigrants should pledge themselves to remain in Van Diemen's Land by signing a note of hand for a sum to be reduced annually and to be cancelled at the of three years. 'The note of hand should be required of every one sent out . . .'

Turning next to the sort of emigrants needed, Denison said the colony wanted mechanics of all sorts, masons, rough carpenters, agricultural labourers and shepherds; 'in fact, you cannot go wrong sending out persons able to work'. He admitted that married persons were not so readily hired, but, in them, 'we get people who are less likely to move about in search higher wages, who have given a sort of guarantee to society: you get rid of persons who are likely to add to your population'. He added that 'we are in want of females ... You do not, I suppose, want women so much'.

Denison now had two related proposals before the Secretary of State: the spending of $12,500 on adult male immigration, and the diversion of 3,000 of this sum to the Emigration Society's family scheme. He had to wait nearly a year for answers.

In London, the Secretary of State took some time to consider Denison's first proposal. By March 1853 the Land and Emigration Commissioners had written a report criticising the regulations arising from it: they objected in particular to bringing out male immigrants without their families and to binding immigrants to the employers who first engaged them. At last, in a letter to Denison at the beginning of May 1853, the Secretary of State vetoed the entire scheme.(27) Accordingly, the Treasury instructed that the 12,500 should not go to the Emigration Commissioners, but should be invested instead, until the Van Diemen's Land Government had put up a suitable plan for using the money.(28)

The 3,000 for highland emigration, however, was paid to the Emigration Society: but because the Van Diemen's Land Government's plan for immigration had not been approved, the Emigration Commissioners had not been given their funds for providing passages to the Colony in the current year. Trevelyan, profiting from his Treasury experience, broke the impasse. Writing to Denison, he pointed out that funds given to the Emigration Society were intended for use mainly in collecting the emigrants and helping them to buy clothes and pay their deposits, and not in paying fares. There was therefore a problem, '. .. unless our society would consent to the grant of 3,000 being advanced for the payment of passages. Under these circumstances we did not hesitate to consent to the temporary application of your Grant to a purpose which was obviously beneficial to the Colony'. He added that he expected the advance to be repaid to the Society.(29) Of course, by writing on 5 October, only three weeks before emigrants sailed, he had presented Denison with a fait accompli.

Selection of Society Emigrants

Mr. Chant, the Land and Emigration Commissioners' agent in Scotland, part of whose job was selecting suitable emigrants, also undertook that task for the Society. The arrangement was a sensible one, since the Society worked within the Commissioners ' rules. Chant had been accused of 'favouring the Commissioners' instead of 'relieving destitution' when he chose the emigrants for the Society's first ship.(30) He was again encouraged to give more weight to the emigrants capacity for work than to the severity of their need when he was choosing emigrants for the Sir Allan McNab. In June 1853 Sir John McNeill, Chairman of the Board of Supervision of the Scottish Poor Law Act, and also of the Edinburgh Committee of the Emigration Society, wrote to Trevelyan:

... it strikes me that we might with advantage take the Rothiemurchus families ... as part of our consignment ... They are more energetic than the people of the west coast generally, and practised at both felling timber and at agricultural labour. The families are strong and well constituted, and I think they would probably be the elite of the batch. We owe the Van Diemen's Landers a good selection, for they have trusted us. The remainder may be taken from Coigach or Sutherland, but as yet we do not know what the Coigach people may do.(31)

A fortnight later, McNeill realised that he would find it hard to make up the Society's quota of emigrants for the 'season': news trickling in to Edinburgh showed that Chant's visits to the northern estates, and McNeill's own letters to their factors, were not resulting in the expected flood of emigrants. Accordingly, McNeill proposed that the Society should extend its operations to the Southern Hebrides, the mainland of Argyleshire, and especially to Kantire [sic]. Explaining the scarcity of emigrants from Skye and Harris, he said that 'the people there are, I believe, better off than they have been for at least a dozen years, perhaps for twenty. The same is true almost everywhere in the Highlands'.(32) Yet tenants at Knoydart were being forcibly shipped to Canada a month after McNeill was saying conditions in the Highlands had improved. Prebble(33) and Richards(34) both give accounts of the Knoydart clearance in their histories - the one lurid and the other restrained.

But the reference above to Knoydart is a side track, serving only to show how confused things were at the time. In reply to McNeill's letter, Trevelyan immediately took it upon himself to approve the extension McNeill had suggested.(35) Consequently, 65 men, women and children from the Marquis of Stafford's Coigach estate, 41 from Gibson Craig's Rothiemurchus estate, and 45 from the Duke of Argyll's Kintyre estate finally made up the Society's 'consignment'.

At Ullapool in September 1853, after the Coigach people had at last made up their minds to emigrate to Van Diemen's Land, McNeill wrote to the 'tenant or cottar' who was head of each of the fifteen Coigach families, saying that he had that day advanced a certain sum 'in loan from the Funds for Aiding Emigration from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland', acknowledging the promissory notes he had received in return, and setting out the conditions for repaying the loans.(36)

For the Coigach emigrants, but not for the others, Fraser, the Colonial Treasurer, later drew up a table showing the several costs to be met from each loan.(37) Passages cost 19/19/9 (children half fare); deposits for families varied according to the number of children and the number of adults over 45 years of age; the allowance for outfits varied according to needs - one family of three adults needed nothing, one family of eight needed 2/7/8 and another family of eight needed 15/3/9. Conveyance to the Clyde cost either 8/3d or 8/6 per person; no reason is given for the difference.

In accordance with the Society's rules, Trevelyan had promised 'to ensure that the emigrants brought forward the whole of their available property in payment of their deposits and outfits, so that assistance may be given from the grant only to the extent to which they have not the means of defraying these charges themselves'.(38) Accordingly, when everything was done, the Society deducted from the loans any cash the emigrants could pay. The deductions were trifling; twelve families had no spare cash , one had 1/1/-, one had 1/4/-, and one had -/17/5. Clearly these highlanders were poor but, as Trevelyan said, they had some advantages:

Mr. Chant, who selected these Emigrants, reports them to be of a very superior class - healthy, robust people - and most of them speak English tolerably well...(39)

Chant wrote brief comments about each family he selected; 'excellent family'; 'strong healthy couple'; 'desirable couple'; 'poor but good family'; 'very good family', 'Susan appointed matron'; 'excellent young people'; and so on.(40)

As often happened, the Society had been allotted part of the accommodation on one of the Land and Emigration Commissioners' ships - in this case the Sir Allan McNab; a new, metal-sheathed ship of 840 tons, sailing from Liverpool. How the Coigach emigrants went from Ullapool to Liverpool is not known: the Society seems to have earmarked funds only for 'conveyance to the Clyde'. The best guess is that they left Ullapool in around mid-September 1853. Presumably they went by coastal packet to Liverpool, either directly or by way of the Clyde. The only information about events before the Sir Allan McNab sailed is that, five days before it left Liverpool, Mrs. Jane Leckie, one of the Commissioners' emigrants from Glasgow, gave birth to a daughter on board.(41) She had probably been living on the ship for some days while it made ready to sail. Or had it gone first to Greenock to take on its Scottish passengers?

The Voyage to Van Diemen's Land

When the Sir Allan McNab cleared Liverpool, its 'port of final departure', on 28 October 1853, half of the 300 emigrants on board had been aided by the Emigration Society. The other half, all 'ordinary' Land and Emigration Commissioners' emigrants, was made up of English, Irish and lowland Scottish families, and forty young, unmarried Irish women.(42) Nothing could have done more than the presence of the Irish girls to bring out the difference in outlook of the Scottish and the Irish emigrants. The Highland Emigration Society preferred to sponsor whole families, but for this voyage it had been persuaded to allow unmarried sisters to travel under the 'protection' of unmarried brothers.(43) After the soul-searching that had led to this decision, the Scots must have been surprised, to say the least, to meet the young Irishwomen with no protection at all.

The ship's Master was Ralph Renner, and the Surgeon Superintendent was John James Evans, who was making his third trip. There was nothing extraordinary about the 99-day voyage. Three days out, the infant daughter of an Irish couple died of marasmus, and a baby born a fortnight out to a Highland couple died five weeks later of 'convulsions and cough'. Four more girls and a boy were born during the voyage. The master registered their births on arrival at Hobart Town. The boy was named after the ship, Allan McNab Innes.

The ship encountered very heavy weather in the Channel for seven days. She 'spoke' the Wigghams', from London to Victoria, on the 59th day of the voyage., at the time, she was just east of Tristan da Cunha - much less than halfway to Hobart Town. The ship's arrival in Hobart Town only 40 days later shows why captains welcomed the rouring forties in January.

The food on board was ample and good, except for flour, which was short according to the Commissioners' scale. Preserved meat was seldom drawn during the voyage, and the Surgeon Superintendent would have preferred preserved milk to concentrated milk, the latter being difficult to prepare properly.

Only trifling sickness occurred, chiefly diseases of the throat and glands, which the Surgeon thought might have been caused by the ship's being lined with salt to preserve its timbers.

The Surgeon reported that the behaviour of the emigrants was generally good. Although the form he filled in had a space where he could comment especially about the conduct of the single females, he wrote nothing in it.

In his general remarks, he said:

I should, from what I have observed this voyage, consider it very undesirable to put any considerable number of Highlanders and Irish in the same ship - the least religious event tending to cause disturbance among them, and it requires constant care and attention on the part of the Superintendent to hinder the most serious consequences.(44)

The Immigration Agent at Hobart Town touched on this subject in his report, too:

... their behaviour is favourably reported of by the Surgeon Superintendent; with the exception of a hostile feeling, of a National character, between the Scotch and Irish women which on one occasion led to so serious a contention, as to induce the Surgeon Superintendent to erect a partition between them on the Passenger Deck, and subsequently the women would not even eat or associate together.(45)

The Surgeon reported that Divine Service was regularly performed, weather permitting. But he said school was irregularly attended, the numbers were variable, and he found it impossible to say if there had been any results. In fact, the Immigration Agent noted that 'the duties of the Schoolmaster ... have not been satisfactorily performed - (Mr Hector Munro) is represented by the Surgeon Superintendent to have had indifferent health, but to have neglected his duties more than was warranted by this cause , and they have in fact been principally performed by Mr Murdo McKenzie, in consequence of which the Surgeon Superintendent has recommended that the gratuity of 10 be equally divided between these persons'. Murdo McKenzie was one of the group from Coigach. His sister-in-law, Susan, was the ship's matron.

Arrival and Employment

The Sir Allan McNab arrived off Hobart Town on Thursday, 1 February 1854. Soon after it berthed, the single women were taken ashore to the Immigration Depot, under the charge of the Matron, who received an extra gratuity of 2 for helping with the hiring procedures at the depot.

John Loch, the Immigration Agent, advertised the ship's arrival in the newspapers, advising that 'the following persons will be for engagement on board the Vessel on MONDAY the 6th instant and following days, and between the hours of Eleven and Two:

Married men, about ....... 41

Single men ............... 23

Single women under charge
of relatives ............. 50

And also some useful lads(46)

He said that the men 'may generally be described as shepherds, farm and ordinary labourers, some of whom are also fishermen' that 'the number of Mechanics is small, including 1 cabinet maker, 1 carpenter, 2 shoemakers, 2 tailors and 1 coal miner'; and that 'the single women not under charge of relatives . . . will be hired from the Depot, by Admission Orders which will be sent by post in the usual manner'.

John Loch and a few others chose servants before the Monday advertised. Twenty of the single women were hired during the weekend. Loch himself hired two on the preceding Friday, as did Mrs Champ, the Colonial Secretary's wife.(47))

On the Saturday, a reporter from The Advertiser inspected the ship. He found that 'every part of the vessel is remarkably clean and the greatest order and decorum prevails'. He thought the emigrants 'all bear an excellent character, and appear to be healthy and well adapted to the labour of the colony'. He also reported that the City Missioners held divine service and gave a discourse on board in the morning, the curate of St. David's read prayers and preached a short sermon in the afternoon, and the Missioners returned in the evening to give out tracts and also 'availed themselves of addressing the children, who at that time were assembled on deck; concluding by singing a hymn'.(48)

Ten days after the ship's arrival, Loch was able to report that 'the Emigrants were all engaged with the exception of one Irish family: the wages for married men ranging from 40 to 70, those for single men from 20 to 52, and those-for single women from 14 to 28. The matron was engaged at 40 [as housekeeper for R.Q. Kermode of Mona Vale, who also took her son as an apprentice], and one young girl: was employed at 12'.

In the same report, Loch noted that 'there appear to be about eight families of Exiles, (his unusual euphemism for convicts), but these are not distinguished in the Ship Lists, and as the people supposed to be such showed a disinclination to give information on the subject I did not press them to do so'. His respect for their privacy was commendable, but his educated guess was right. The names of several women with children, whose employment is shown on the Hiring Lists as 'To husband', are in fact to be found in the record of approvals for convicts to have their families brought to Van Diemen's Land.(49)

He also reported:

Judging from the appearance and demeanour of the Scotch Emigrants, I beg to express the opinion that they will prove trustworthy and serviceable. The women are accustomed to farming pursuits, and have not, so far as I have observed, manifested the anxiety too common among female Emigrants to obtain high places.(50)

The hiring lists show that some of the Colony's largest landowners engaged emigrants from the Sir Allan McNab - Kermode, Dry and Bethune are just three of the names.

A month after the last of the Emigrants was engaged, the matter of repaying the Emigration Society's promissory notes cropped up. The efficient Loch seems to have raised it by writing on 24 March 1854 to Mr Bethune of Hamilton, Rev. Campbell of Oatlands, Mr Nicholson of Campbell Town and Mr Colin Campbell of Launceston, pointing out the need or the Society's loans to be repaid, 'requesting the exertion of their influence in this respect', and asking them to receive such payments as may be made in their districts and to forward them to the Colonial Treasurer.(51)

Ten days later, he wrote also to the people shown on the Hiring Lists as employers of the Society Emigrants, asking them to use any means in their power 'to influence and assist the Emigrants in the repayment of these loans, one mode of effecting which would be by reductions from their wages made with their consent'.(52)

Meanwhile the Lieutenant-Governor, having received Trevelyan's letter asking him to refund the emigrants' passage money to the Society, was composing his message on the subject to the Legislative Council. On 5 April, Fraser, the Colonial Treasurer, prepared his summary of the promissory notes(53) and by 17 April, Denison had decided to recommend to the Council that the colony should refund to the Society the cost of passage money, and that the Emigrants and the Society should then work out between themselves how to repay the rest of the loans.(54) The Council agreed that the passage money should be refunded immediately.(55)

Someone in authority seems to have taken Loch to task: it could have been either for his zeal in sending out his letters about the promissory notes or for his neglect in not dealing with the notes before the emigrants had dispersed. On 20 April he wrote a testy report to the Colonial Secretary about what he had done, and sent him copies of the letters. He observed that neither he nor the Colonial Treasurer knew what to do following the decision that the Emigrants need not repay the costs of their passages. He also explained that the Emigrants by the Sir Allan McNab had arrived 'merely as Commissioners' Emigrants' and pointed out that this was not the first time the Emigration Society had failed to give immigration officials enough information. It had happened in Victoria, too. In 1852 the Immigration Agent there had reported that 'Emigrants sent ... by the Society had been hired and scattered over the Colony before the engagements they had entered into had been received'. Loch ended by saying, '. . . though by examining the promissory notes and questioning individuals, particulars might have been ascertained, this would have required time and attention which on the arrival of a ship cannot at this office be spared from other duties'.(56)

Then one of the Emigrants produced his copy of the letter McNeill had given all of them when they signed their promissory notes in Scotland.(57) Quoting its contents, Loch wrote on 26 April that 'it appears a sum of not less than 5 is to be deducted from the amount of their Promissory notes for each adult member of a family at the end of each year the whole family may remain and work in the Colony - and that if all the members of a family shall remain three years in the Colony the note is to be cancelled'. That is precisely what Denison had suggested to Trevelyan more than a year earlier.(58) Loch ends his letter with the air of a man pleased to be having the last word: 'It thus appears that measures for collecting the amount of the promissory notes were unnecessary, and it is to be hoped that in future full information will accompany the Emigrants forwarded by the Society'.(59)

In the end, the Emigrants repaid nothing. One provision of the promissory notes they had signed for McNeill in Ullapool was that the whole of each loan would be cancelled at the end of three years. As Loch said in his half-yearly report on Immigration, even the repayments to the Society for deposit and outfits could not be enforced.(60) So much for the officials. What about the Society's Emigrants?

The Winkleigh Settlers

The Highlanders on the Sir Allan McNab arrived here in the prime of life: the oldest were handful of family men in their early forties; most were in their twenties or thirties; several of the young couples were childless. Without Chant's notes about each family,(61) their relationships would be a genealogist's nightmare: two McKenzies were part of a McLeod family, and one was with the Stewarts; one Campbell was with the McCallams; and several women in their twenties and thirties were sisters and sisters-in-law of married couples. Such tangled families were common among Highland emigrants: similar relationships are reported among those who went to Victoria.(62) But even Chant did not uncover all the emigrants' secrets. For instance, Alexander Campbell, aged 20 and single, would have been denied help from the Emigration Society on the score of both his age and his marital status, had he not come in his uncle's family as an 18-year-old son.

From the ship the immigrants scattered from one end of the colony to the other, but most went to Hobart and the northern midlands. Nearly all were engaged as farm servants or house servants, for periods of from three to twelve months. There is no detailed information about where most of the emigrants went after their first engagements ended. But ten years after arriving in Van Diemen's Land, the older men from Coigach, with their families, began to congregate on the West Tamar. The names of the fifteen Coigach families who emigrated on the Sir Allan McNab were McKenzie (8), McLeod (3), Campbell (1), Stewart (1) and Kerr (2). From 1863 onwards, the first four names appear more and more frequently on valuation rolls for Westbury, which then embraced the West Tamar, on electoral rolls, and in Titles Office records: the Coigach migrants were buying land in the West Tamar hinterland at Silver Mines, now known as Winkleigh, and at Glengarry. Again, Highland emigrants in Victoria are reported to have clustered in the same way, after having been dispersed for about ten years.(63) Not all the Coigach emigrants settled at Silver Mines, but the names of six of the family heads, and several of their sons, can be found - enough to form a significant part of the community. They acquired their land at auctions conducted under the Waste Lands Act, having saved enough money for their deposits in the ten years following their arrival at Hobart Town. They had worked as labourers and servants, and had tried their hands at other things, too. In the 1860s Alexander Campbell, for instance, went briefly to the goldfields in New Zealand, and he also served with the Municipal Police in Launceston and Longford.

Mr. Chant, in a letter to Trevelyan, had referred to the poor reputation western highlanders had earned as workers: in the same letter, he affirmed his own faith in them:(64)

It may be true that the Western Highlander is not quite so industrious at home as he might be, and that he allows the female members of his family to perform the drudgery of the field while he looks listlessly on. But it is so with all the Celtic race. I believe that when removed from wretchedness.... with the inducement of good wages, sufficient food, and the prospect of independence, he will not be wanting in energy and industry.

Mr. Chant's judgment is vindicated in the following long quotation from The Presbyterian Magazine, in which their Minister gives a picture of the life of his flock at Winkleigh in 1880.

Here and there fertile spots have attracted emigrants ... in the hope of having a steading of their own where they and their children might live and work together ... The crops this year, although a little above the average in point of yield, have been almost unsaleable, indeed have hardly paid for taking off the ground. The inland settlers have also had peculiar difficulties to contend with. Starting often, on their arrival from Scotland, with little or no means, upon land covered with dense timber and undergrowth, they have had to pay off the value of their land, as well as support their families, whilst they got their ground little by little cleared for cultivation. To do this they were obliged to take contracts for road-making, harvesting, shearing, and splitting, etc., so as to get funds sufficient to carry on with, while engaged in the unproductive labour of cutting down the giants of the forest during the rest of the year. Their progress consequently has been very slow. Bush fires have tried them all, destroying often in one hour the labours of many months, and the maintenance of the family for the coming year. The shadows of the surrounding bush and mountains increase tenfold the liability of the grain to rust, and so diminish the returns. Add to this the difficulty of using machinery among the stumps and roots of the trees, the extra cost of harvesting with the sickle, the long cartage over bush roads, axle deep in mud, and you will have some idea of the hardships and difficulties which these men experience, compared with farmers who live in the open, accessible country, with roads and railways to conduce to their convenience. Nowhere, however, does the visiting minister meet with a warmer welcome ... than among these people, and few perhaps tax themselves so willingly according to their means that they may have the Word of God taught in their midst.(65)

Roads were a persistent theme in newspaper reports about Winkleigh. The Examiner in 1885 carried an account of a ride taken through Westwood and the West Tamar by Mr J. Millar, the Chairman of the Westwood Road Trust, and Mr Duffy, the Government Engineer of Roads.(66)

Of the visit to Silver Mines, the report said:

There are about forty residents at what I may term the Silver Mines proper - I mean in the vicinity of the post-office ... The people seem anxious to have a polling-place established at the school house, and it does seem somewhat hard that they should have to travel all the way to Westbury to record their votes ...

In passing, the reporter explained how the district got its name, although there had never been any silver mines there:

... It seems that in the early days, when the gold diggings were at their zenith in Victoria, the splitters in those parts realised considerably more than the average wages in consequence of the great demand for the timber that they produced so easily, and used to say that 'if they had gold mines in Port Phillip, they had silver mines in their timber there'.

A deputation, including three of the Coigach emigrants, waited on Mr Duffy, seeking a road link with Beaconsfield, the nearest market for their produce; as they pointed out, they had to travel six miles in a directly opposite direction in order to come upon the road to take them to Beaconsfield. The engineer 'made a courteous reply, and advised the residents to communicate in writing with the Minister of Lands' (!)

Yet, for all their hardships and isolation, the Coigach people who went to Winkleigh made a better life for their children than the one these people had left in Scotland. They had land of their own where they had none before; they were well fed instead of being close to starvation; they had the respect of the people about them. Their future was in their own hands. They could make gestures like Alexander McKenzie's donation of the land for building a church; and the McKenzie and Campbell patriarchs would have been proud if they could have seen their grandson, Neil Campbell, elected to the Tasmanian Parliament in 1923.

I think the older Campbells, McKenzies, McLeods and Stewarts would have been glad that an agent for the Emigration Society in the middle of 1853 had persuaded them to go to Van Diemen's Land. But despite all the Coigach emigrants best efforts, the kinship bonds they sought to transplant lasted barely two generations in their new Tasmanian setting.

So much for the emigrants. What happened to the Society for Assisting Emigration from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland?

Highland and Island Emigration Society Ships

Between 1852 and 1858, when the Society was wound up, it sent 5817 souls to Australia(67) in more than 30 ships. 39 people went to Van Diemen's Land in the 1852 season, 151 in the 1853 season, and 201 in the 1857 season, the last in which the Society operated - a total of 391 people.(68) The total was close to the 300 adults Denison had expected from his grant.(69) Nevertheless, the Highland and Island Emigration Society contributed only a drop to the flood of immigrants who came to Tasmania.

Who can judge whether or not the colony had good value for its 3,000?


Unless otherwise indicated, numbers refer to holdings at the Archives Office of Tasmania.

1 . Richards, E.: 'Varieties of Scottish Emigration in the Nineteenth Century', Historical Studies, Vol. 21, No 85, October 1985, p. 473

2. Prebble, John: The Highland Clearances, Secker and Warburg, London, 1985

3. CSO 24/213/8064. Learmonth, Caledonian Society, Launceston, to Trevelyan, 27 January 1853.

4. Prebble, J.: op. cit., pp. 313-4

5. Richards, Eric; 'Problems on the Cromartie Estate, 1851-3', Scottish Historical Review, Vol. L11, Oct. 1973, quoted at p. 155

6. Richards, E.: A History of the Highland Clearances, Vol. II, Croom Helm, London, 1982, p.263

7. GO 1/85, page 93ff.: Emigration from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, pp. 2-9

8. GO 1/85, page 93ff.: Pamphlet, May 1852, page 97

9. GO 1/85, page 93ff.: Pamphlet, June 1852, page 129

10. GO 1/85, Pamphlet, May 21, 1852, page 97

11. GO 1/85, Sermon preached in St. Matthews Church, Spring Gardens, London, 13 June 1852, pages 103-26

12. GO 1/85, Paraphrase of May and June Pamphlets above

13. GO 1/85, p. 93ff.: Emigration from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Trevelyan to McNeill, 18 June 1852, page 74

14. Richards, E.: A History of the Highland Clearances,Vol. 11, Croom Helm, London, 1982,p.261

15. Prebble, J., op. cit., p. 284

16. GO 33/76, p. 262, Denison to Grey, 3 May 1852

17. Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Council, 15 June 1852 - Governor's Opening address

18. Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Council, 24 June 1852

19. Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Council, Report of the Select Committee on Immigration, 24 September 1852

20. Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Council, Governor's Response to Addresses, 5 October 1852

21. GO 33/77, p. 452, Denison to Grey, Despatch No. 223, and reference to No 199 (missing)

22. GO 1/85, p. 93, Trevelyan to Denison, 20 July 1852

23. Pearce, I and Cowling, C: Guide to the Public Records of Tasmania, Part Four, Records Relating to Free Immigration, Archives Office of Tasmania, Hobart, 1975, Government Notice No. 110/1852, p. 58

24. Legislative Council Votes, Proceedings and Papers, 1853. Attachment to Paper No. 27. Letter from Newcastle to Denison, 15 March 1853.

25. CSO 24/213/8064, printed papers, Denison to Pakington, 10 January 1853

26. CSO 24/213/8064, printed papers, Denison to Trevelyan, 8 January 1853

27. GO 1/88, Newcastle to Denison, Despatch No. 63, p. 70, 4 May 1853

28. GO 1/88, Peel to Barnard, p. 117, 26 May 1853

29. CSO 24/213/8064, printed papers, Trevelyan to Denison, 5 October 1853

30. GO 1/85, p. 93ff., Emigration from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Haly to Trevelyan, 13 July 1852, page 86

31. CSO 24/213/8064, printed papers, McNeill to Trevelyan, 21 June 1853

32. CSO 24/213/8064, printed papers, McNeill to Trevelyan, 1 July 1853

33. Prebble, J., op. cit., p. 296

34. Richards, E.: A History of the Highland Clearances. Vol. 1, p. 450-2

35. CSO 24/213/8064, printed papers, Trevelyan to McNeill, 2 July 1853

36. CSO 24/243/9609, McNeill to Tenants and Cottars, 14 September 1853

37. CSO 24/243/9609, table of promissory note details, P. Fraser, 5 April 1854

38. CSO 24/213/8064, printed papers, Trevelyan to Denison, 4 July 1853

39. CSO 24/213/8064. printed papers,.Trevelyan to Denison, 5 October 1853

40. NS 386, Highlands and Islands Emigration Society List of Ships, 1852-1857

41. CSO 24/243/9609, Surgeon-Superintendent's Report, Sir Allan McNab, 14 February 1854

42. CB 7/12/1, p. 166, Sir Allan McNab

43. CSO 24/213/8064, printed papers, McNeill to Trevelyan, 29 June 1853, and Trevelyan to Denison, 4 July 1853

44. CSO 24/243/9609, Surgeon-Superintendent's Report, Sir Allan McNab, 14 February 1853

45. CSO 24/243/9609, J.D. Loch. Immigration Agent's Report, Sir Allan McNab, 11 February 1854

46. For example, Hobart Town Daily. Advertiser, 3 February 1854

47. CB 7/16/1 Bk 4A, Hiring and Disposal Register, Sir Allan McNab

48. Hobart Town Daily, Advertiser, Tuesday 7 February 1854, page 3

49. CO 386/154, Approvals for the families of convicts to emigrate

50. CSO 24/243/9609, Immigration Agent's Report, Sir Allan McNab, 11 February 1854

51. CSO 24/243/9609, Loch to Bethune and others. 24 March 1854

52. CSO 24/243/9609, Loch to employers of Immigrants, printed circular letter, 3 April 1854

53. CSO 24/243/9609, Summary of Promissory Notes, P. Fraser, 5 April 1854

54. CSO 24/243/9609, Marginal note on promissory notes, Denison, 17 April 1854, and also Legislative Council Votes, Proceedings and Papers, 1854: Message No. 6, 18 April 1854.

55. Legislative Council Votes, etc, 1854: 20 April 1854, Item 4, Immigration.

56. CSO 24/243/9609, Loch to Colonial Secretary, 20 April 1854

57. CSO 24/243/9609, McNeill to Tenants and Cottars, 14 September 1853

58. CSO 24/243/9609, Denison to Trevelvan, 8 January 1853

59. CSO 24/243/9609. Loch to Colonial Secretary, 26 April 1854

60. Legislative Council Votes, etc, 1854. Paper No. 28, 10 July 1854, page 6.

61. NS 386, Highlands and Islands Emigration Society, List of Ships, 1852-7

62. Hellier, Donna 'The Hummblies'. Highland Emigration into nineteenth century Victoria: in Families in Colonial Australia, (ed) Grimshaw, P., McConville. Chris, McEwen, Ellen, George Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1985, p.9-18

63. Hellier, Donna: op. cit.

64. GO 1/85, Documents p. 93ff., Chant to Trevelyan, 5 July 1852 p. 177

65. The Tasmanian Presbyterian Magazine and Missionary Record, August 1880, 'One of Our Mission Districts'. p. 30

66. The Examiner, 11 March 1885, p.3

67. Hellier, Donna, op. cit.

68. NS 386, Highlands and Islands Emmigration Society List of Ships

69. CSO 24/213/8064, Denison to Trevelyan, 8 January.

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