Craig and Emigration

While the vast majority of the correspondence in Craig’s letter books comprises letters written by himself, his clerk, or his partner William Rutherford, occasionally letters written by others have been preserved there. One such is reproduced below. It is a reminder of the fact that emigration from the Borders was far from unusual and that, while much attention has rightly been devoted to the Highland Clearances, depopulation affected much of rural Scotland. Craig occasionally refers to assistance which he rendered to people emigrating to America or, in particular, to New South Wales where shepherds and sheep farmers, struggling in Scotland, were in demand. He was able to help through providing financial advice as well as arranging letters of introduction from his clients to existing settlers. It was in Australia that these young men might find the opportunity to make money and perhaps establish their own farms.

The letter reproduced here clearly shows the importance of local connections in the Borders, connections that could easily stretch to Australia as well as other parts of the Empire. It is written by John Horsburgh, a tenant farmer at Caddonhead, to his landlord, the laird of Torwoodlee, who had already interceded with Sir Henry Hay Makdougall of Makerstoun (c. 1750-1825), 4th baronet of Alderston, to obtain advice. Sir Henry’s daughter, Anna Maria (1786-1862), had in 1819 married Major-General Sir Thomas Brisbane (1773-1860) who later added her surname to his. Makdougall-Brisbane was appointed governor of New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land in November 1820.[1] Having arrived in New South Wales to take up office at the end of 1821, he was keen to encourage immigration from Britain and it was one of his aims to expand sheep farming further inland.

As the government’s commissioner of inquiry, John Thomas Bigge, reported in 1823, ‘delusive statements’ had been made to the previous governor, Lachlan MacQuarrie, about the quantity of capital which prospective settlers claimed to have available to them. He pointed out, however that sheep farming had steadily been on the increase in the colony. The settled districts in New South Wales and Van Dieman’s land both had government herds of sheep and Bigge saw opportunities for using these to develop a flock of pure Merino sheep that might be distributed to incoming settlers who could afford to purchase them.[2]

Horsburgh, a tenant without capital, was able, by easy steps, to benefit from a network of connections which included Makdougall who was best placed to obtain information about New South Wales. He wanted to leave because of the ‘peculiarly hard times the farmer has experienced for years past in this country’, a refence to land improvement and development of new agricultural techniques over the previous generation, such as better drainage, crop rotation, enclosure of land, improved machinery, better animal feed, leading to improved efficiency resulting in less need for as many tenant farmers as there had been in the past. This added the number of emigrants from Scotland. According to one historian of migration, Borders ‘experienced levels of depopulation comparable to the Highland experience’ and Horsburgh’s circumstances both reflect the reasons why and also the aspiration to find better circumstances elsewhere.[3]

Craig’s correspondence mentions a number of individuals who had emigrated, such as John Fairburn jr,the only son of a tenant of the Baillies of Mellerstain, who intended ‘trying his Fortune in America’. An able farmer, Craig had often had ‘an opportunity of witnessing his skill & activity at Greenknowe’, the estate of one of his major clients, George Fairholme. Craig’s services were often at the disposal of those who sought advice about emigration and he himself had a network of lawyers and bankers on whom he could rely to forward such aspirations. One family which he assisted was that of the former schoolmaster in Stow, the late James Paris, with whom he had been professionally involved for many years. Paris’ daughter, Margaret married George Lee and emigrated in 1836. Their sons, who grew up in Canada, were prolific inventors. James Paris Lee (1831-1904) developed munitions, including the famous Lee-Enfield Rifle used by the British Army.

As a footnote, Brisbane (created in 1836 Baronet of Brisbane and Makerstoun) was a keen astronomer. When he returned from Australia in 1826, he established an observatory at Makerston House, on the north bank of the River Tweed.[4]

John Horsburgh to James Pringle (d. 1840), ninth laird of Torwoodlee, 1 September 1823


I have received your letter enclosing one from Sir Henry Hay McDougal in answer to the application you have been so good as make to him regarding my going out to New South Wales. I cannot express how much I feel obliged to you for the trouble & interest you have taken in this matter, & also to Sir Henry McDougal who, tho indisposed has written a long & particular letter on the subject which shows his desire to comply with your wish to forward my views. 

I see from Sir Henry’s letter that settlers going out without capital labour under great disadvantages - & no doubt it must be do. I have already fully explained to you my situation in that respect. My capital is all exhausted & I trust & believe you are satisfied that it has been so, not from any want of industry or attention but solely from the peculiarly hard times the farmer has experienced for years past in this country. It is therefore impossible for me to go to New South Wales with the outfit necessary for a settler who is to stock & farm land on his own account. But I understand Government occupies large tracts of land for agricultural & grazing purposes, & as these will of course be managed by means of overseers or superintendants [sic], my view in going out would be to procure a situation of that kind. 

I was in hopes that such an appointment might have been made in this country, & that the person appointed would then have been taken out at the expense of Government but from what Sir Henry McDougal says I suspect that will not be the case. As the expense of the passage is great it would be with no small inconvenience that I could get out – but I believe I could accomplish that if I had a good prospect of employment when there. I have been endeavouring much to procure information on that point but I have not been able to learn any thing satisfactory or on which I could rely. It would, however, be far from advisable for me to go to such a distant country unless I have some authentic information that I would succeed in my views. I can think of no other channel through which I can procure such information than thro Sir Henry McDougal. In presuming however to ask him to procure it direct from Sir T. Brisbane the Governor (which his & Sir Henry’s near relationship could alone have suggested to me) perhaps I ask what is in itself improper, or what would be giving Sir Henry too much trouble. But as in my situation, information which I would rely on so well as that of the Governor himself would be of the utmost importance to me. I trust & hope that if Sir Henry does not think the application improper he will be so kind as write to Sir T. Brisbane & enquire what prospect of employment either as a Superintendant [sic] of Government farms, or in any other ways, a young man would have who has no capital, but has received a good education – has been regularly bred to farming - & could procure most ample testimonials of character, & of knowledge & experience of farming in all its branches, particularly the management of sheep stock as most approved in this country. I would also wish to be informed what sort of remuneration such a person might be expected probably to receive. 

I observe Sir Henry says that as it would be long before an answer could be received from Sir T. Brisbane, the loss of time might be disadvantageous to me. But as I do not quit my farm till Whitsunday first, the loss of time would not be so great, & I would at any rate be amply compensated by obtaining information on which I might act with a degree of confidence I could not otherwise acquire. 

In these circumstances my I ask the favour of your again writing to Sir Henry in such terms as you may think proper – I am &c. 

[1] Sweetman, John, and Anita McConnell. "Brisbane, Sir Thomas Makdougall, baronet (1773–1860), colonial governor and astronomer." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004; Accessed 12 Oct. 2021.
[2] Report of the Commission of Inquiry, on the State of Agriculture and Trade in the Colony of New South Wales (London, 1823).
[3] M. Harper, Adventurers and Exiles: The Great Scottish Exodus (London, 2003), 62.
[4] Reminiscences of General Sir Thomas Macdougall Brisbane, Bart (Edinburgh, 1860), 68.