[Bernie McPhee at February 2015 Meeting]

From the Scotish Highlands to Australia - Bernie McPhee Tells How His Family Fared

The situation on the Isle of Skye, Scotland in December 1850 was so dire that a meeting was held at Portree, to discuss what could be done to improve the lot of the population. A commitee under the chairmanship of the Sheriff Substitute of the Island, Thomas Frazer, was formed and in the summer of 1851 the people of Skye were asked to seriously consider their position and to give thought to the idea that they should leave the Island for distant shores.

Four hundred heads of families representing two thousand people intimated their willingness to depart, and so the 'Skye Emigration Society' was born to assist people to apply for passages to Australia, under the conditions of the 'Colonial Land and Emigration Committee.' Another Society was formed in Edinburgh and ultimately both came under the umbrella of the 'Highland and Islands Emigration Society.'

Other societies brought emigrants out to Australia such as the Bounty Scheme, in which assisted passengers, usually newlyweds or single men and women, were chosen by recruitment agencies in Britain and brought out by ship owners who were paid a sum for each person who arrived in a healthy state.

John Dunmore Lang brought out ship loads of Presbyterians in his bid to encourage free settlers and to counter the growing numbers of Roman Catholics.

Earl Grey's 'Pauper Immigration Scheme' brought out over four thousand 'poor girls only' from Ireland. These young women came mostly from the Workhouses, although some were orphans. Earl Grey, British Secretary of State for the Colonies, thought this idea was wonderful. It rid Britain of the permanent dead weight of looking after these women and at the same time it assisted in alleviating the gender imbalance and labour shortages in the Colonies. Unfortunately the girls had a poor reputation. Some settlers believed that anti-Irish and anti-Catholic elements in society would cause problems and thus the scheme ended fairly quickly.

From the time of the defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the Highland Clan culture in Scotland was in decline. The clearances in the Highlands due to the change from arable farming to sheep grazing produced devastating effects as people were physically removed from their land and cottages where they had been loyal tenants for generations. Sometimes houses were destroyed so that tenants could not return and many people were forcibly dragged on to ships and transported to the New World. Highlanders moved to cities and the lowlands but were not always able to find work especially as many were unable to read or write.

As in Ireland there had been ten years of famine in Scotland and although Scotland society cared for its people more successfully than Ireland had, the money needed to help the starving people was not improving their plight. Even people with a little money could not afford to buy food as prices were so high.

There was the argument that as the woollen mills in England desperately needed wool and as there was an acute shortage of farm labour in Australia, the answer lay in emigration.

The 'Highlands and Islands Emigration Society' offered the chance for respectable families to start a new life in Australia. It was not a scheme for single people, nor in general was it available for a family where there was no bread winner, but there were some exceptions. Bernie McPhee has one connection amongst the one hundred McPhees who travelled to Australia: Hugh Donald McPhee of Lachaline. He had died before they set sail so his wife Ann travelled as a widow with children. She did however continue on to New Zealand.

There was a huge send off for the first passengers on their voyage. No place would be like Scotland for these people, but the chance to escape from the misery they endured was enough to make leaving a not too sad an occasion. A ground officer accompanied the migrants, many dressed in new clothes provided for them, to Glasgow where they boarded the "Utopia."

There were eighty-four individuals, made up of seventeen families, some of whom paid their own way whilst others paid deposits. Archibald McPhee paid £36/12/4 - this was a 'poor family' but his children were 'very eligible.' Mr. Cameron paid a deposit of £3/0/0 - the remainder to be paid within twelve months as this money would be used to help others who were unable to pay their way. All the passengers appeared to be 'excellent' according to comments against the names in the passenger list. Some were even 'very excellent.'

Settled in their new country the migrants mostly employed by Scottish land owners, wrote home indicating how well they were doing. They spoke of the amount of food they ate, and the good wages they received. John McKinnon wrote that 'there is not a beggar to be seen here.' Even Caroline Chisholm became involved with a group who went to Little River.

Funds for the scheme actually came from the sale of Crown Land in Australia but many notable people in England had made donations. The Queen had donated three hundred pounds, and all together ten thousand pounds had been raised. In what looks to have been a successful enterprise, five thousand Highlanders and their families travelled to Australia under this scheme.

( The above is a report on Bernie McPhee's address at the General Meeting on 14 February 2015 )

( Contributed by Jan Hanslow. PPPG Member No. 1057 )

[Bernie McPhee's Handout]

The 16 page illustrated booklet that Bernie provided to all those present.

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