The Douglases abroad

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Camilla and the tapestry   


The Great Scottish Tapestry tells the story of Scotland since time began through a series of 160 panels.

The Douglases, as a family or clan, are not particularly mentioned, but some of the panels explain why so many of the extended family found themselves exiled - voluntarily or otherwise.

How this section works  
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This section of the Douglas Archives forms part of our 'Places' collection of articles and photographs.


Here I hope to explain why Scots, and Douglases in particular, traveled to far flung places seeking fame or fortune.


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The Scots in India  
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India became a vast source of raw materials for British industry and a large market for created goods, This was after the British won the Seven Years War under the skills of Robert Clive and the armies of the East India Company.

Until the mid-1800s this private company controlled the subcontinent. It could seal treaties fight wars and defy governments. Henry Dundas was the president of the Board of Control and recruited many Scots to India. By 1792, one in nine working for the company and a third of all the officers in its armies were Scottish.

Scots invested so heavily in in the India tea trade that production outstripped that of China. Dundee became a centre for processing jute. This vegetable fibre was used for making sacking, carpet and linoleum backing and many other purposes. So many Scots lived in Calcutta, now Kolkata, that a regiment called the Calcutta Scots was raised for the Indian army.


Many Douglases took the opportunity to better themselves by taking a career in the East India Company, or its army.  However, the harsh climate took its toll.

The Scots in North America  
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In the 1800s, several Scotsman played leading roles in shaping the USA. Born in 1835, Andrew Carnegie emigrated with his family at age thirteen in America. He was fanatically hard working and self-improving (through the use of libraries). He rose quickly through the ranks of the Pennsylvania Railway Company. Carnegie made huge profits investing in railways after the American Civil War (1861-1865) in 1901 he formed US Steel. It became the first company to be worth more than a billion dollars. Carnegie's philanthropy was huge. Perhaps his greatest legacy is the libraries he founded in Scotland.

john Muir was very different. He was a naturalist and helped set up Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. The Sierra Club, which he founded, is one of the most important conservation groups in the USA.

Originally from Orkney, John Ray explored and mapped Northern Canada in the mid-1800s. His work was consolidated by Sandford Fleming, a Scottish born surveyor and map maker. After missing a train in Ireland, Ray produced a plan for worldwide time zones based on the Greenwich Meridian. By 1919, it had been adopted.

Scott's pioneered much in and beyond North America.


Notable Douglases who emigrated to the Americas include James Douglas, the first Governor of the Colony of British Columbia, and George Douglas who was one of the co-founders of the Quaker Oats Company.


However, many who arrived in America came from poor backgrounds but nonetheless founded a dynasty.

Scots in Africa  
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Despite their involvement with the infamous slave trade, Scots made a positive contribution in Africa in the 1800s and early 1900s. David Livingston was a medical missionary and explorer in search of the sources of the River Nile. His meeting on 10th November 1871 with H.M. Stanley is immortalized in the quote "Dr Livingston, I presume?".

Mary Sleser was a missionary in the Calabar region of West Africa. It was difficult but her gender made her less threatening. She preached against witchcraft, human sacrifice and the abandonment of twins.

Archbald Gordon Laing was the first European to reach the fablef city of Timbuktu in 1826. He was murdered soon afterwards and his valuable papers lost. Tragedy was mixed with Scottish dourness.

Mungo Park discovered the middle reaches of the River Niger. He was born near Selkirk in 1771 and came back home in 1793. After many years abroad his mother and brothers heard a knock at the door. 'Aye' said one of his brothers 'that'll be Muongo'. How'd you know?' asked his mother. 'I saw him get off the coach in Selkirk'. No matter how renowned, no one gets above themselves in Scotland.

Scotland and the drive for Empire
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The British Empire expanded in the second half of the 1700s and Scots were at its forefront. Many, especially Highlanders, served in the British Army. The Prime Minister, William Pitt, encouraged the recruitment of two regiments of clansmen. He sorely needed them to fight in the Seven Years War against the French. Much of the British Empire was bought by the blood of the clans. More peacefully, Scots became involved centrally in the East India Company. tTis was especially true after it came under the control of Henry Dundas, himself a Scott

Many Orcadians in particular work in Canada for the Hudson Spay Company as it opened up the vast interior of the north.

What cannot be ignored either is the involvement of many Scots in the infamous triangular trade. Ships took manufactured goods to West Africa where they were traded for slaves. These were then shipped in 'the middle passage' to the Caribbean and to the USA. There, so called cash crops such as sugarm rumm molassesm tobaccom hemp and cotton were loaded for the return voyage to Britain.

The Tobacco Lords
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The Act of Union may have been deeply unpopular in Edinburgh but it helped Glasgow to become a very busy port. The trade winds first hit Europe in the west of Scotland. This gave ships sailing out of Glasgow for the American colonies a two-to-three week advantage.

From 1710 till about 1760 the city boomed because of the trade in tobacco. The wealthiest and most enterprising merchant was John Glassford. Thomas Buchanan, Archibald Ingram and John Glassford were known as the Tobacco Lords or sometimes the Virginia Dons. They and others built huge mansions that gave their names to the city streets

The American Revolution of 1776 caused great difficulties. The Glasgow merchants had lent vast sums to the planters of Virginia and Maryland. After the break with Britain, few of these debts were ever repaid, But ever adaptable, the Tobacco Lords switched their trade to cotton in the British West Indies. Their most lasting legacy is in Glasgow's Georgian architecture.

Highland and Lowland Clearances
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In the late 1700s and throughout the 1800s both the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland slowly emptied of people. Landlords wanted to make profits from sheep or sporting estates in the Lowlands. They evicted smallholders when farms grew larger and more cost effective. The growing cities of the central belt offered work for many and a significant number of others reached the quaysides of Glasgow, Greenock and elsewhere and kept going. They sought new lives in North America, Australia, New Zealand and other developing countries.

It may be that the Highland Clearances are better understood because of the actions of what seemed like a brutal aristocracy. There was resistance at the Battle of the Braes in Skye. In 1882, crofters faught with the police. But the Napier Commission met and reformed the law. It increased the security of tenants and limited the ability of landlords to evict families.

Not all those who left the land were evicted. Life in the countryside was hard and when famine came, the the towns and cities, and foreign lands, seemed more attractive.

Dawn of the Ulster Scots
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In 1606, two ambitious Ayrshiremen would change the course of Irish and British history. Hugh Montgomery of Braidstane and James Hamilton from Dunlop set up Scotland's first 'colony'. It was in Ulster across the Northern Channel from Scotland.

In 1605 they had obtained two-thirds of a huge land holding in Down and Antrim. Irish chieftain Con O'Neill was facing execution for alleged rebellion against the crown. In exchange for a pardon he agreed that Montgomery and Hamilton would each take one-third of his land. It was to be settled by Scots loyal to King James

The following year, thousands of Scots began moving to eastern Ulster to settle and work the lands. They were mainly Protestant farming families from the southwest who became known as the Ulster Scots. Ulster-Scots later contributed heavily to many other countries through migration. Seventeen presidents of the United States have had Ulster Scots or Scotch-Irish ancestry.



Sources for this article include:
  • The Great Scottish Tapestry Exhibition

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    Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024