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TITLE
What are the similarities/differences between the emigrant experience today/early 19th century? - Douglas Gibson
EXTERNAL ID
AB_SGI_09_DOUGLAS_GIBSON_Q_05
PLACENAME
Inverness
OLD COUNTY/PARISH
INVERNESS: Inverness and Bona
DATE OF RECORDING
2009
PERIOD
2000s
CREATOR
Douglas Gibson
SOURCE
Am Baile
ASSET ID
1511
KEYWORDS
conferences
emigration
lecturers
audio
audios
emigrantexperience

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As part of Homecoming Scotland 2009, a three-day international conference - Scotland's Global Impact - was held at Eden Court theatre, Inverness from 22-24 October. Prominent academics, historians and other experts came together to provoke healthy discussion on the history of migration and the influence of Scots abroad.

Am Baile interviewed several of the speakers during the conference. In this audio extract, Douglas Gibson answers the question:

'Could you list some of the similarities and differences between the emigrant experience today and, say, the early nineteenth century?'

'I think the main difference is the finality of the early nineteenth century; you didn't come back. That was largely because people didn't think of coming back, because just to survive the voyage was a major achievement. You know, people died on, on every voyage. And one of the things I didn't realise, but Jim Hunter's book emphasised it for me, was how later, in the real times of the Highland Clearances, the very worst ships in the world were the ones that were used for the transatlantic voyage from Scotland to Canada. By the worst ships I mean the least, the leakiest, least seaworthy, and they were on the return trip from the, the lumber trade. The Canadian lumber trade was a huge business in the early nineteenth century and you filled up the ships, usually in Quebec, with lumber and sometimes the ships were so leaky that they actually ran a chain over the deck, and then around the hull, just to try to keep it together.

So you can imagine those ships, after they'd been delivered their load, usually to London, they were looking for something that would, would be a cargo on the way back, and they couldn't send anything 'valuable' (quotation marks around it) because they were so leaky, they were so risky, and so the only cargo they could find were desperate Scots or Irish people from the famine. And that was why so many of the ships went down or why, with captains of terrible ships who were themselves not the, the flowers of the flock, you know, they were, they tended to be crewed by bad, un-seaman-like people who just didn't care about their passengers.

And there are stories of people being, in effect, thrown overboard on the Canadian side and just told to wade ashore and good luck. So it's, it's a terrible story. So, to get back to the difference now; the main one was that the voyage was a horrendously risky experience and there was no return. You were leaving forever. And, of course, nowadays you're jumping on a plane and, if you change your mind, you jump on another plane and it's just a matter of hours rather than risky weeks at sea where starvation was always a threat. So that's the main difference, I suspect.

The other one is that in the early nineteenth century you really didn't know what you were going to, in the sense that we know now. You can, you can look at photographs, you can look at film, you know, you can get a very precise sense of exactly what house I'm going to live in and so on. In those days all they had was rumour, or letters home, or worse, accounts from emigration agents who were promising them that the sun was always going to shine, and there would be gold there for picking up on the streets, and you know how reliable that sort of information was. So, you know what you're going to and, as I say, you have a chance of coming back if it doesn't work well.'


BIOGRAPHY

Douglas Gibson, born and educated in Scotland, is a graduate of St. Andrews and Yale. He has spent over forty years as an editor and publisher in Canada, working with many of that country's finest writers.

© Photo by Lois Siegel

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What are the similarities/differences between the emigrant experience today/early 19th century? - Douglas Gibson

INVERNESS: Inverness and Bona

2000s

conferences; emigration; lecturers; audio; audios; emigrantexperience;

Am Baile

Scotland's Global Impact

As part of Homecoming Scotland 2009, a three-day international conference - Scotland's Global Impact - was held at Eden Court theatre, Inverness from 22-24 October. Prominent academics, historians and other experts came together to provoke healthy discussion on the history of migration and the influence of Scots abroad. <br /> <br /> Am Baile interviewed several of the speakers during the conference. In this audio extract, Douglas Gibson answers the question:<br /> <br /> 'Could you list some of the similarities and differences between the emigrant experience today and, say, the early nineteenth century?'<br /> <br /> 'I think the main difference is the finality of the early nineteenth century; you didn't come back. That was largely because people didn't think of coming back, because just to survive the voyage was a major achievement. You know, people died on, on every voyage. And one of the things I didn't realise, but Jim Hunter's book emphasised it for me, was how later, in the real times of the Highland Clearances, the very worst ships in the world were the ones that were used for the transatlantic voyage from Scotland to Canada. By the worst ships I mean the least, the leakiest, least seaworthy, and they were on the return trip from the, the lumber trade. The Canadian lumber trade was a huge business in the early nineteenth century and you filled up the ships, usually in Quebec, with lumber and sometimes the ships were so leaky that they actually ran a chain over the deck, and then around the hull, just to try to keep it together. <br /> <br /> So you can imagine those ships, after they'd been delivered their load, usually to London, they were looking for something that would, would be a cargo on the way back, and they couldn't send anything 'valuable' (quotation marks around it) because they were so leaky, they were so risky, and so the only cargo they could find were desperate Scots or Irish people from the famine. And that was why so many of the ships went down or why, with captains of terrible ships who were themselves not the, the flowers of the flock, you know, they were, they tended to be crewed by bad, un-seaman-like people who just didn't care about their passengers. <br /> <br /> And there are stories of people being, in effect, thrown overboard on the Canadian side and just told to wade ashore and good luck. So it's, it's a terrible story. So, to get back to the difference now; the main one was that the voyage was a horrendously risky experience and there was no return. You were leaving forever. And, of course, nowadays you're jumping on a plane and, if you change your mind, you jump on another plane and it's just a matter of hours rather than risky weeks at sea where starvation was always a threat. So that's the main difference, I suspect. <br /> <br /> The other one is that in the early nineteenth century you really didn't know what you were going to, in the sense that we know now. You can, you can look at photographs, you can look at film, you know, you can get a very precise sense of exactly what house I'm going to live in and so on. In those days all they had was rumour, or letters home, or worse, accounts from emigration agents who were promising them that the sun was always going to shine, and there would be gold there for picking up on the streets, and you know how reliable that sort of information was. So, you know what you're going to and, as I say, you have a chance of coming back if it doesn't work well.'<br /> <br /> <br /> BIOGRAPHY<br /> <br /> Douglas Gibson, born and educated in Scotland, is a graduate of St. Andrews and Yale. He has spent over forty years as an editor and publisher in Canada, working with many of that country's finest writers.<br /> <br /> © Photo by Lois Siegel