Andro Linklater

To the Ends of the Earth by T.M. Devine

When Scotland’s rugby team landed in Invercargill for the World Cup, they were greeted by a piper in full Highland fig and a cheering crowd of more than 500 New Zealanders, bedecked in tartan and waving St Andrew flags. The significance of both welcome and dress went beyond sport or nationality. Two important currents of modern life were at work, the ancient ability of the British empire to create societies in its own image, and the new power of the heritage industry to invent the past. Together they have made it necessary to update the old formula, ‘history is written by the winners,’ with the qualification, ‘but heritage is created by the losers’.

As Professor Devine demonstrates in his sharply written history of the overseas migration of the Scots, the unmistakable winners were the Presbyterians, who as slavers, financiers, shippers and industrialists surfed the imperialist wave further and more profitably than any other cultural group in the United Kingdom. Best known were the likes of Willliam Jardine, half of eponymous Jardine Matheson, and kingpin of the opium cartel that created Hong Kong, Andrew Carnegie, whose American steel company made him the richest industrialist in the world, Thomas Glover, co-founder of Japan’s Mitsubishi engineering business, and Thomas Sutherland, chairman of P&O shipping and founder of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank.

But behind them came a host of others who relied first on superior education — five universities to England’s two in the 18th  century — then on networking through innumerable Caledonian and Burns clubs, and finally on the sheer weight of accumulated capital to advance towards wealth and authority. The world encirclement of Scottish finance at the end of the 19th century prompted one Australian banker to complain that Edinburgh was
honeycombed with agencies for collecting money, not for use in Australia, but for India, Canada, South America — everywhere almost, and for all purposes on the security of pastoral and agricultural lands in Texas, California, Queensland and Mexico.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.

Or

Unlock more articles

REGISTER

Comments

Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in