This week I managed to see the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry on its brief visit to Edinburgh. This is a fine complement to the Great Tapestry of Scotland and was initiated by the same team. The panels were designed by the same artist, Andrew Crummy, so there is a clear underlying unity to both tapestries. The fabric, linen, and the threads, Appleton wool are the same. This one has more panels, just over 300, but each is smaller – a 50cm square.
The Diaspora Tapestry started in 2012 and has involved stitchers from 34 countries, all with a living Scottish connection. The project is a celebration of Scottish heritage and culture, the people and places which connect Scotland to its global diaspora.
With the opportunities that the British Empire opened up to Scots to leave their homeland and settle elsewhere, it is not surprising that the majority of panels come from countries that were once part of that empire. However long before then, while Scotland was still an independent country, Scots had ventured far and wide in Europe. The tapestry provides a fine visual record of this part of our history.
Scotland in the middle ages had developed alliances and trading links with most of Europe. Scots have played an important role in the cultural, economic and military development of many countries, including the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Russia. The first panel shows one of the most celebrated of these alliances – the auld alliance with France.
I was aware of some of the important contributions of Scots to other European countries, but was pleasantly surprised by some of them. For example I did not know that two Scots were among the select band who founded the Swedish city of Gothenburg.
However with the Union of the Crowns with England and later with the Treaties of Union, Scots began to venture much further afield. First to the American colonies, and not always as free men, as this panel shows. Defeated soldiers could be taken as prisoners and sent to New England to be sold for between £20 and £30 each.
Thankfully most Scots who went to America were not taken as slaves, though not all went willingly. A happier recollection of this movement of people is the town of Alexandria in Virginia, founded by Scots. Alexandria, along with Nablus, Wurzburg and Orleans, is one of Dundee’s twin cities.
Scots were also to be found in other parts of the Americas, though in much lesser numbers. However they were often just as successful and important. The first panel above illustrates one of the large estates founded by Scots in Argentina, while the following shows how Scots succeeded in many different sectors in Chile, including football.
Scots have also played an important role in many Asian countries and not always for the good, alas. This is the case with trade with China. Many Scots worked for the East India Company which led this development in the 18th century. Not just silk, tea and porcelain were in demand, but also opium. A trade that was very profitable and that Britain was desperate to continue. A determination that would directly lead to the infamous Opium Wars of the 19th century.
Scots were also active in maintaining British military rule over India. My paternal grandfather was a regular soldier in the British army and was stationed for many years in Kanpore in northern India. My father and his elder brother were both born there. So I have always felt a kind of affinity for India. Luckily not all of the Scottish involvement was of a military nature. The following panel shows the beginnings of tea planting in Darjeeling, which owed a lot to Scots. We can all drink to that!
In addition to the USA, most Scots who emigrated to settle, did so in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Many ended up in Adelaide in South Australia, taken there by the City of Adelaide clipper. Between 1864 and 1887 the ship made 23 voyages to Adelaide. In 2014 this fine ship was was restored and transported from Irvine in Ayrshire to Australia to become a museum ship.
New Zealand was another popular destination for many Scots and many ended up in Otago, on the southern of the two large islands. Dunedin from Dùn Èideann (Gaelic for Edinburgh), the Edinburgh of the South, was founded in 1848. It is the capital of Otago and Scots shaped the city’s spiritual life, education, and architecture.
Canada is probably the country with the greatest Scottish connection. The first Scottish settlers in Canada came after Sir William Alexander, Earl of Stirling, was granted land there by King James VI in 1621. This was to become New Scotland or Nova Scotia to give it its official name. Many of the settlers were gaelic speakers and the language remains alive and well in parts of Nova Scotia.
Ontario was another province with a strong Scottish presence. The second panel above is a lovely illustration of the move from rural Scotland to rural Canada.
This short selection of panels from the Diaspora Tapestry began with Scotland’s links with Europe. It is only fitting that it should end with another illustration of this continuing link. Though many Scots have left to settle elsewhere, Scotland has always been at the same time a destination for others. People from all over the world have come and made Scotland their home, and have enriched the lives of all of us in the process. The panel above illustrates the arrival of Italians from Barga in the 19th century. Let us hope that all who want to come to live in Scotland can do so.