History of immigration from Scotland

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Map of Scotland
Map date: 2013
Poverty, famine and epidemics in Scotland in the 1820s and 1830s caused the first significant Scottish emigration to Australia. Victoria was the most popular colony in which to settle. Scottish squatters and rural workers established farms, and urban settlers worked as skilled artisans and professionals.

In the first Victorian census of 1854, Scotland-born people were the third largest group after the English and Irish, with 36,044 people. Within three years a further 17,000 had arrived, many hoping to make their fortunes on the goldfields. Immigration assistance schemes also swelled the number of Scottish arrivals. By 1861 the Scotland-born population of Victoria reached 60,701 – the highest level it would ever reach.

As the gold rush declined, many Scottish immigrants moved on to farming, industry or commerce. Growing community organisations such as Presbyterian churches and highland societies provided a focus for social and cultural activities.

In the early 20th century, assistance schemes for British immigrants promoted Scottish immigration. By the 1940s, recession and war affected Scotland’s economy, prompting increasing numbers to emigrate. The Scotland-born community in Victoria grew from 23,442 in 1947 – its lowest level since the early years of white settlement – to 41,923 by 1966.

In the decades that followed, fewer Scotland-born people chose to settle in Victoria. By 2011, the community numbered 29,804, although those with Scottish ancestry make up a far greater proportion of the Victorian population.

The community today is relatively old, with over one third aged over 65. Almost 70% are Christian, half of whom identify with Presbyterian and Reformed churches. Over one third of those working are employed in professional roles; many others work in trades, production and transport.

Reflecting the long history of the Scottish community in Victoria, their population today is spread across urban and rural areas, with concentrations in Geelong, Bendigo, Gippsland and the Mornington Peninsula. Scottish customs and folklore are maintained through Caledonian Societies and Highland Games, church activities, and organisations such as the Victorian Scottish Union, Council of Clans and the Victorian Pipe Band Association.

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