The Complete Guide To The Scottish Empire

From the Americas to the Antipodes, the influence of the Scottish diaspora can be felt in cultures around the world. Frank Partridge follows the trail


WAS THERE A SCOTTISH EMPIRE AS DISTINCT FROM A BRITISH ONE?

There was, for short periods before Scotland and England unified in 1707, but to call it an "empire" is pushing it a bit. In the 1620s, Scotland gained a toehold in what is now known as Nova Scotia, but it was captured by the French, who also had designs on the area's rich fishing grounds. In the 1680s, 700 emigrant Scots established a colony in New Jersey, before merging with their English neighbours 20 years later. Scottish dissidents built a settlement at Stuart's Town, Carolina in 1684, but were quickly wiped out by the Spanish.

In the 1690s Scotland attempted to set up a free port and colony in the New World. They chose an unoccupied, inhospitable spot on the isthmus of Panama, called Darien.

WHY THERE?

The narrow isthmus separating the Atlantic and Pacific was a halfway house between Asia and Europe. William Paterson, the Scottish merchant who dreamt up the Darien scheme, envisaged a free port called New Edinburgh, in Caledonia, becoming the world's greatest trading centre. Having helped set up the Bank of England, he persuaded Scotland's monied class to buy into the project, raising half a million pounds - about half the nation's available capital. The adventure began in July 1698, and ended in disaster 14 months later. During that time, 11 ships carried nearly 3,000 settlers to Darien, but mostfell victim to tropical disease, heat, humidity, and the Spanish military, who saw the area as theirs. The settlers used up valuable resources by stocking their ships with items such as wigs, woollens and stockings.

A few survivors limped home, and 300-400 resettled across the West Indies, but the damage to Scotland's treasury and self-esteem was immense, and the disaster almost certainly hastened the union with England seven years later.

WHAT DOES DARIEN LOOK LIKE NOW?

Few outsiders venture there because it's so inaccessible. The Spanish abandoned the mosquito-blighted Atlantic coast when Panama City was founded on the Pacific, and the area has now been reclaimed by jungle. The road runs out at Yaviza, after which you need to hire a local canoe, a piragua, to negotiate the waterways feeding into the former Bay of Caledonia, through the Americas' second-largest tropical rainforest. In 2003, an expedition by Bristol University and the BBC uncovered part of the New Edinburgh township and Fort St Andrews, and reclaimed tools, a communal oven and a pocket sundial. Remnants of the Spanish offensive included cannonballs and a grenade. Connecting flights from the UK to Panama City are available from Continental via Houston or Newark, American Airlines via Miami or Iberia via Madrid. Low-season fares start at around £650 return through agencies such as South American Experience (020-7976 5511; www.southamericanexperience.com).

Once in Panama City, the same company offers a two-night package trip to the San Blas Islands, close to the site of the settlement, for £262 per person. It includes return flights from Panama City as well as accommodation at the Dolphin Island Lodge. You can also buy a trip passage on a boat from the harbour of Colon to take you to the islands.*

*WAS THAT THE LAST FLING AT EMPIRE-BUILDING?

Not quite. Thomas Drummond, a Darien survivor, took the rest of the Scottish fleet to Africa, hoping to establish trading posts along Guinea's coast. That failed too, so he headed for Madagascar, but his ship disappeared in the Indian Ocean. Dreams of a Scottish empire sank with him, but after unification Scotland played a pivotal role in the expansion of the British Empire. And it wasn't the last of Darien.

SURELY THEY DIDN'T TRY AGAIN?

Mercifully, they turned away. But in 1736, 177 Scottish highlanders were granted land in Georgia to protect it against the Spanish. Initially named New Inverness, they built a fort and held the line. They renamed the settlement Darien, which survives today as a flourishing shrimp fishing centre. Flights to Savannah, which is 60 miles away, are available on several airlines via East Coast cities, and fully-inclusive car rental is available for as little as £20 a day.

A "WEE BIT HILL AND GLEN" IN GEORGIA DOESN'T AMOUNT TO MUCH. WHAT WAS THE SCOTTISH IMPACT ON AMERICA?

It's estimated that 50 million Americans have some Scottish blood (including 40 in present-day Darien), and Scotland is widely credited with the philosophical foundation of the US. America's Declaration of Independence was undoubtedly influenced by the Declaration of Arbroath, drawn up 450 years earlier by Scottish noblemen and clergy. For the first time, the will and wishes of the people were given precedence over the king. The document is at the National Archives Building in Washington DC (001 866 272 6272; www.archives.gov), due to reopen this weekend after a flood. The Rotunda and Exhibition Hall open daily except Sundays; 10am-5.30pm in winter, to 9pm in summer; free entry.

The White House was almost certainly built by Edinburgh stonemasons. The original building was grey, but during the War of 1812 the roof was damaged by fire, and the whole place was whitewashed to conceal the scorch-marks.

Andrew Carnegie was certainly the wealthiest and possibly the most generous of the Scots who helped shape the country. The man who launched the steel industry in Pittsburgh sold his company for $480m in 1900, and then gave most of it away in good causes. Among his lasting legacies is a string of free libraries, and the Carnegie Hall in New York ( www.carnegiehall.org), the music venue he financed in 1890. Call 001 212 903 9765 for details of guided tours.

AND NORTH OF THE BORDER?

Canada experienced 10 waves of Scottish emigration from the Hebrides alone, and by 1850 there were 30,000 settlers along the eastern seaboard, with the heaviest concentrations in Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, and eastern Ontario, where the first sizeable settlement, Glengarry, was established in 1784 by migrants from Inverness-shire.

Every summer Glengarry stages a Highland Games which attracts more spectators than any equivalent Games in Scotland. This year's event takes place on 4-5 August; you can reach Glengarry easily from Toronto or Ottawa, which both have good links from the UK on Canadian Affair (020-7616 9814; www.canadianaffair.com) and other airlines. A first-generation Scot from Ontario, who later moved to Nova Scotia, was Alexander Graham Bell. The mother nation has left its mark all over Canada. In Saskatchewan, there are towns called Saltcoats, St Andrews and Benbecula; Alberta's largest city, Calgary, is named after a bay in Mull.

WHY DID THE SCOTS TARGET CANADA?

Many were attracted by colonisation programmes which subsidised their passage and offered them land and a better life. Others came from British regiments after the War of Independence was lost. The influx continued into the 20th century, as the empire-building middle classes forged west towards British Columbia and Vancouver. Their progress over the Rockies was helped by the completion in 1885 of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the brainchild of Sir Donald Smith, whose rags-to-riches story epitomises Scotland's huge contribution to Canadian life. Arriving from Aberdeenshire as a teenager, he worked his way from apprentice clerk to positions of enormous wealth and influence. At Craigellachie in British Columbia, he drove the last spike to complete the line that linked the Atlantic and Pacific, just as the settlers in Darien had tried to do.

The trip across the Rockies is one of Canada's travel highlights. Starting in December, Great Rail Journeys (01904 521980; www.greatrail.co.uk) runs 10-day all-inclusive packages, from Toronto to Vancouver, from £1,495 per person under the "Canadian in Winter" banner.

DOES A SCOTS PLACE-NAME MEAN A SCOTS CONNECTION?

Not at all. Simply picking out Scottish names in the atlas will lead you along numerous false trails. In the South Pacific, for example, New Caledonia is so called because when Captain Cook first sighted the main island, Grande Terre, in 1774, its mountainous skyline reminded him of the Scottish Highlands. It's belonged to France since 1853.

On the same voyage Cook named the New Hebrides. These became a British-French condominium until they gained independence in 1980 and it was renamed Vanuatu.

The South Shetland Islands, 120 miles north of the Antarctic Peninsula, are claimed by the UK, Argentina and Chile, but their sovereignty is frozen. One of the main islands, Livingston, is almost entirely covered by an ice cap, and, like the others, has no Scottish footprints whatsoever.

WHERE NEXT?

The chances are that Scots passed through and left their mark on any lonely land in any ocean. McLeods, Morrisons and Mackays arrived on the Falkland Islands in the late 19th century, and their descendants are still there. (Falklands Islands Tourist Board: 00500 22215; www.tourism.org.fk.)

In 1821, a soldier from Kelso, Corporal William Glass, took his wife and children to Tristan da Cunha, a volcanic outpost 1400 miles west of Cape Town, to establish another settlement. The Glass name is still prevalent among the 300-strong community. The only village, Edinburgh, has a grocery store, radio station, café, video shop, swimming pool, and a police station with a single officer. You can reach the island via St Helena, accessible on RMS St Helena - which you can pick up from Portland (Dorset), Cape Town or Tenerife. For more on the island and getting there call 00 290 2158 or see www.sthelenatourism.com. For more benign and easy-to-reach places, try Australia and New Zealand. From Perth in the west - which was founded by a Scot and has 70 Scottish place-names in the suburbs alone - to Sydney in the east, Australia's links with Scotland are indelible. Lachlan MacQuarrie, the "Father of Australia", arrived from Mull, and became the governor of New South Wales in 1809. He determined to clean up the drunken, sexually permissive society, and laid out the grid of downtown Sydney.

Most of Australia's Scottish settlers (who numbered roughly 250,000 by 1914) went there out of choice or economic necessity, whereas the first English and Irish colonials had their legs clamped. The 10th Duke of Hamilton, who helped develop Western Australia, built a mausoleum for his family at Hamilton Hill, near Perth, said to be the largest in the world after the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal.

New Zealand's first recorded European settler (in 1809) was a Scot named George Bruce, and by the 1850s 30 per cent of its non-Maori population were of Scots descent. Most settled in the Otago region of the South Island, where the main river, the Clutha, is the ancient name of the Clyde, and Invercargill commemorates its Scottish founder, William Cargill (see box).

AND THE NORTH ISLAND?

The North Island's main Scottish settlement came from Canada. Around 1850, after a famine in Nova Scotia, four ships carried 900 emigrants to the Antipodes. After a lukewarm reception in Adelaide and Melbourne, they landed in Waipu, and laid down roots so strong that the town has a Caledonian Society, a Scottish-flavoured Heritage Centre ( www.waipumuseum.com), and every year's first Highland Games. The 2007 Games kick off on 1 January.

FROM THE WESTERN ISLES TO THE WORLD...

Scotland's traditionally hearty and heavy fare rarely appears in the gastronomic cookbooks, but at least two Scottish delicacies are exported all over the world. Salmon (left) and sea trout reared in the Western Isles, can be hard to find in Highland restaurants because of worldwide demand. On North Uist, the Hebridean Smokehouse (01876 580209; www.hebrideansmokehouse.com) raises its fish in eco-friendly tanks. The ingredients of haggis (right) might turn your stomach - sheep's offal, beef suet and oatmeal cooked inside a sheep's stomach - but no Burns Supper would be complete without one. Charles Macsween & Son (0131 440 2555; www.macsween.co.uk), turns out a ton of it every day.

THE NAME SOUNDS FAMILIAR...

The majority of Britons who settled in far-flung places before jet travel knew they would never see their birthplaces again. One of the first things they did upon arriving in an alien environment was to give it a familiar name. When Free Church of Scotland followers founded a settlement in Otago, New Zealand, in 1848, they wanted to call it New Edinburgh, and the city surveyor was instructed to incorporate features from the Scottish capital into the main town. At the time, however, there was resistance to adding the word "new" to places in the Old Country, so the city fathers settled for a corruption of the Gaelic word for Edinburgh: Dunedin.

These days, Dunedin (aided by its damp, cool climate) retains a distinctively Caledonian feel: Scottish architects designed most of its historic buildings, notably the magnificent railway station with its. three-way clock tower. Not that everything was rosy in the Scottish empire. In 1866 a European visitor described Dunedin as being "inhabited by a population consisting chiefly of rigidly righteous but whisky-loving, unprincipled Scotsmen."

Unlike Dunedin, other Edinburghs have lost their Scottishness down the years. Edinburgh, Indiana, and Edinburgh, a suburb of Ottawa, are devoid of tartan trappings, and there are scores of similar examples throughout the Commonwealth. The hilly, northern region of Barbados is called Scotland, and from Mount Hillaby you can see three coastlines, but no physical remnants of the mother country. In Jamaica, Culloden, Craigie and Aberdeen are Scottish in name only. The South African city of East London has districts named Bonnie Doon, Morningside, Stirling and Abbotsford. Cape Town has Bonnie Brook, Clunie, Crawford, Dunoon, Lochiel, St Kilda and the Glen. There's even a Dundee and a Glencoe in KwaZulu-Natal. St Kilda crops up again as a southern suburb of Melbourne. The capital of Bermuda, and New Zealand's fourth largest city, are both called Hamilton, while Perth, Western Australia, has grown to 20 times the size of its Scottish namesake, building skyscrapers over its Celtic foundations.

MOTHER TONGUE

Despite a revival of interest at home, Scottish Gaelic is in decline around the world. It was once the third most spoken language in Canada, after English and French, and two Gaelic dialects are still used by several hundred, mainly older inhabitants of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island and Prince Edward Island. Cape Breton is home to the only Gaelic College in North America, and Scottish music and dance is celebrated every autumn at the island's Celtic Colours International Festival. Among this year's attractions (6-14 October) are the Barra MacNeils, a folk band who hail not from the Hebridean island, but from Nova Scotia. More information can be seen at www.celtic-colours.com.

Elsewhere, Gaelic is kept alive by expatriate societies and the dwindling number of its native speakers. The Scottish Gaelic Association of Australia, for example, organises "conversation circles" in Sydney every fortnight to encourage the continued use of the language.

Additional research by Vicky Woollaston

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