You are here: Home > History

Emigration from Perthshire to Canada in the early 19th century

The fact that many Scots emigrated to the North American continent is widely acknowledged, both in print and within the popular consciousness of the nations involved. From the early settlements at East New Jersey and South Carolina, and before, through to the present day, The United States and Canada (as they are now) have had large influxes of Scots at various stages, their reasons for emigrating being many.

Between 1821 and 1915 Europe experienced emigration over an estimated forty four million. Of that figure, two million were Scots. That figure puts Scotland alongside only Norway and Ireland in terms of emigration as a proportion of the national population. Within the same period there were surges in emigration, the first being around the 1850s.

In the 1840s the Emigration Society of Perth petitioned Sir Robert Peel and other members of the Government for assisted passages for emigrants. Keen to stress the 'respectability' of its members, numbering 86 men and 68 women, the document also focus on the importance of the family to the emigrant as a means of support and the community support offered within their emigrant groups. These emigrants were not portrayed as people likely to be a drain on government resources once they were in Canada as they had savings with which to purchase land and equipment.

Despite the fact that the petition was unsuccessful , it is evidence of some eagerness amongst a layer of Perthshire inhabitants towards the possibilities Canada offered. It is also telling somewhat of the economic circumstances of such people. They were not the impoverished or destitute nor were they the extremely affluent. Rather they were of limited means looking for a means of advancement.

In 1844 the British American Land Company were offering unimproved lots of fifty acres and above as well as established farms in the Eastern Townships . The former was priced at ten shillings per acre and a free passage was offered from Scotland for each fifty-acre plot that was paid for before departure. Moreover the company declared a high success rate, in terms of a very minimal amount of land having been returned to the company, amongst those who had already purchased land from them.

Both push and pull factors were therefore present. Knowledge of opportunities available in Canada, combined with the possibility of worsening conditions at home worked together. These were not the impoverished emigrants of other periods.

Extracted from: Grant Buttars, 'Emigrant Families' (MA Hons Dissertation, University of Dundee,2000)
This version, Grant E. L. Buttars, 2001

This website © Grant E. L. Buttars