To the Ends of the Earth: Scotland's Global Diaspora

September 22, 2011

With this book, Tom Devine, Scotland's best-known historian, completes a trilogy of surveys of Scotland at home and abroad. The Scottish Nation, 1700-2000 (1999) examined the rise of modern Scotland; Scotland's Empire, 1600-1815 (2003) explored Scotland's role in the shaping of the first British Empire and in the dawning of the second. In his third volume, he turns to the epic migrations that made Scotland, along with Ireland and Norway, proportionately one of the three great migratory nations in modern European history.

And indeed, this is an opportune moment to take stock of Scotland's case. For decades, much more was written about the Irish case. But latterly, scholars such as Marjory Harper have made a major contribution to this field. Here, Devine uses the pages of this very large book to bring together our knowledge of the phenomenon and to put his own spin on the subject.

He begins with the fiscally inspired Act of Union in 1707 and leads us from taxation (and smuggling and tax evasion) through tobacco importation and processing, to the early integration of the Scots into the emerging (and by then British) imperial trade networks, exploring the opportunities they seized to become "partners", rather than mere foot-soldiers, of Empire.

Slavery features prominently in Devine's early discussions. Scotland benefited from slavery and tobacco, and yet ironically was also central in the growing moral argument against the subjugation of millions of Africans.

Scottish companies, banks, trading houses and investors were prominent in forging the Empire and making money from it. One marvels at the Scot, Sir George Simpson, overseas governor of the Hudson Bay Company, being feted in Norway in 1828 as "the head of the most extensive dominion in the world, 'the Emperor of Russia, the Queen of England, and the President of the United States excepted'".

As Devine tells us, the company's territories were "ten times the circumference of the Holy Roman Empire at its height". At the dawn of the 19th century, Scots were embedded in the Sugar Islands, tied into trading human and material resources, and heavily involved in the East India Company, which was the foundation stone for the "swing to the East", when, after losing the American colonies, the British began to exploit even more eagerly the resources of India, and of the wider area of Asia. To the Ends of the Earth is littered with compelling and, to fellow scholars, highly usable facts. A social and economic historian by training, Devine is at his best in capturing the sheer size, range and complexity of historical phenomena with prescient points.

The book is also good at integrating the homeland with new lands. In 1914, one-third of British ships (and one-fifth of the world's) were built on the Clyde. Empire and colonisation may have been a project of settlement for Scottish people, but the engines of all that mobility were forged in the fires of Scottish industrialism.

Scottish migration encompassed all parts of the Empire and colonies. From the 1680s, Scots were settling fast in the Americas. The West Indies was a major site of Scottish trade and settlement. India, Hong Kong and Singapore harboured Scottish businessmen, soldiers and sailors. Canada took on a particularly Scottish character; and the population of New Zealand, the last colony of settlement, comprised, in the epic days of the 1860s to 1880s, around one-quarter Scots.

Devine captures the Scottish influence on all these places with both detail and a broad brush. And in the process of mapping the emigrant experience, he challenges the notion that the Scots were "invisible ethnics". Throughout the British world, Burns Nights, Caledonian clubs, pipe bands and Highland Games attested to the cultural prominence of the Scots.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this book is its engagement with a larger British vista. Gently chiding Scottish historians in their ghettos and English/British historians for their Anglocentrism, Devine spends a considerable amount of space examining not just Scotland, but Scotland within Britain and its Empire. This is not simply a study of migration. Indeed, much of the early part of the book is an exploration of imperial development, and he returns repeatedly to the impact of Empire and migration on the home society.

This book is thus a complement to Devine's earlier study of the Scots and Empire, as well as serving as a study of Scotland's diaspora. Locating its analysis within the economics of Empire and the culture of the British world, it is a welcome study that will be appreciated by historians of imperialism and migration alike.

To the Ends of the Earth: Scotland's Global Diaspora

By T. M. Devine. Allen Lane, 416pp, £25.00. ISBN 9780713997446. Published 25 August 2011

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