Influence of Scotland in the World: Trade, Work and Travel

This is the second post looking at the influence of Scotland on the world. This time we are focusing on trade between Scotland and other countries, as well as Scots traveling and working abroad.


Scotland, at the time of the Statistical Accounts, was very much a sea-faring nation, with many ports situated not just around the country’s coastline, but also inland on its river banks. These included: Campbelton, Kirkcaldy, Port Glasgow, Grangemouth, Alloa, Inveresk, Leith, Prestonpans and Banff, with many of these no longer operating. It was primarily through these porst that goods were imported and exported in Scotland.

Many of the parish reports contain excellent records of its ports, containing information on the type and number of ships stationed there, what was imported and exported and other activities based there, for example the carrying of passengers on steamboats. Very detailed tables are given for Port Glasgow, County of Renfrew (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 67), Inveresk, County of Edinburgh (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 293) and Stromness, County of Orkney (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 447).

At Campbelton, in the County of Argyle:

“There are thirty-three registered sloops and schooners belonging to this place, employed in the coasting trade, besides a number of fishing-boats. There is also a ship of 515 tons register, the property of Messrs Nathaniel MacNair and Company, employed in carrying timber from Canada. In 1840, five ships, and in 1842, two ships from foreign parts landed cargoes at Campbelton. In 1842, there were 646 vessels with cargoes inwards, and 365 with cargoes outwards, and, besides these, two steam-boats belonging to the port ply regularly between Glasgow and Campbelton with goods and passengers. The principal imports are barley, yeast, coals, timber, iron, and general merchandise, and the exports are whisky, malt, draff, black cattle, sheep, and horses, potatoes, turnips, beans, butter cheese, and fish. The quantity of barley and bear imported in 1842 was 41,735 quarters, 5 bushels.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 464)

At Kirkcaldy, in the County of Fife:

“Two vessels are engaged in whale-fishing; the rest in trading to North and South America, the Mediterranean, France, the Baltic, and occasionally beyond the Cape of Good Hope. The foreign ships which usually trade to this port are Norwegian, Danish, Hanseatic, Hanoverian, Prussian. On an average of years there have been 92 vessels from foreign parts. The principal articles of import are flax and timber; of export, coals and linen yarns.” (NSA, Vol. IX, 1845, p. 756)

A painting called 'The Ship 'Castor' and Other Vessels in a Choppy Sea' by Thomas Luny. Dated 1802.

The Ship ‘Castor’ and Other Vessels in a Choppy Sea. Thomas Luny, 1802. Thomas Luny [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Scottish exports included:

“The manufacture of golf balls has long been carried on here, to a considerable extent. Above 10,000 are made annually. A good workman can make from 50 to 60 a-week. Nearly one-half of the product is required for the use of the cultivators of the amusement in St Andrews. A market for the remainder is found in other places. Some have been sent as far as Calcutta and Madras.” (NSA, Vol. IX, 1845, p. 476)

Imports included:

Changes in Trade

Even during the time of the Statistical Accounts, great changes were taking place in trade, both within Scotland itself and in other countries. For example, in the parish of Borrowstowness, County of Linlithgow, it was reported that:

“Between 1750 and 1780, Bo’ness was one of the most thriving towns on the east coast, and ranked as the third port in Scotland. But since the opening of the Forth and Clyde Canal, and especially since the erection of Grangemouth into a separate port, the commerce of this place has decreased, and at present it is in a very languishing condition.” (NSA, Vol. II, 1845, p. 138)

In the parish report for Perth, County of Perth:

“During a great part of the eighteenth century, trade was carried on to a considerable extent between the port of Perth and the principal ports, not only of Britain, but of Russia, Germany, France, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Spain, and Italy. This foreign intercourse, however, has, particularly of late years, been very much diminished. Various causes have operated in producing the decline, such as a total change in the description of the manufactures of the place; a successfully pushed competition on the part of other ports which are free from the inconvenience of river navigation; the establishment of extensive general agencies, through which our merchants now obtain the products of other countries. But the most powerful of all causes has been the natural obstructions to navigation which have arisen in our river itself.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 101)

The American War of Independence also had an effect on trade, especially that between Glasgow and North America. (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 499)

Scottish Strengths Abroad

In our last post, we referred to the hardships endured by whole families, who then decided to emigrate for the chance of a better life. The lack of opportunities was also keenly felt by young Scots. In the parish of Kilbride, County of Bute, as in many other places in Scotland, there were “increased habits of industry in the rising generation, who, instead of following the old practice of loitering half idle at home, go to trades or service in the low county, or engage as sailors in merchant ships.” (NSA, Vol. V, 1845, p. 26).

In the parish of Ronaldshay and Burray, County of Orkney, it was noted that:

“The passion of the young men for a sea faring life nothing can exceed, except their aversion to a military one. Four or five young men have this winter voluntarily entered on board his Majesty’s navy. Every year several young men go to Greenland or Iceland fishing, to Hudson’s Bay, or on board some merchant ship: All of them prove to be excellent sailors. And it is believed, that they are more industrious abroad than at home. In no country are the people more tenacious of their old customs than here.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 311)

Along with it’s great seafaring capabilities, Scotland has always had a very strong fishing tradition. An excellent account of fisheries and the trading of fish can be found in the report for Thurso, County of Caithness. (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 522) and the report for Boindie, County of Banff. (NSA, Vol. XIII, 1845, p. 236) It is, therefore, no surprise that some decided to work with the Iceland or Greenland fishermen, “with whom they only continue for 3 or 4 months”, but, according to the report of Kirkwall, County of Orkney “when they return, the money which they have earned, instead of furnishing the means of industry, is almost always spent in idleness, and often in dissipation.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 551)

Despite the seafaring nature of  the Scots, not all wanted a life on the open seas. In the parish of Drumblade, County of Aberdeen, the decrease in inhabitants was attributed to “young men, such as masons, shoemakers, wrights, slaters, etc. going abroad to improve themselves in their respective crafts; and to the enlisting of some in the army, particularly in the artillery”. (OSA, Vol. IV, 1792, p. 53)


There are several mentions of the Highland Fencible Corps in the Statistical Accounts. Fencibles were British regiments raised to fight in numerous wars abroad during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In the parish of Stromness, County of Orkney, 200 Fencibles were raised (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 444), while in the parish of Golspie, County of Sutherland, a regiment was raised and sent into service in the space of just 4 weeks! (OSA, Vol. XXI, 1799, p. 231) Even Rev. Dugal Campbell, the writer of the report for the parish of Kilfinichen and Kilviceuen, County of Argle, enlisted in a Highland Fencible Corp (“the late West Fencible regiment, raised by the Duke of Argyll”). (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 210)

In the report for Rosskeen, County of Ross and Cromarty, there is a wonderful story about Mr George Macintosh and his role in not just raising a Fencible regiment in Glasgow, but also commanding (with respect) a regiment based abroad – the Canadian Fencibles!

“When war recommenced in 1803, it was mainly through his exertions that the Glasgow Highland Volunteer Regiment was raised and organized; and when, about this time, the regiment of Canadian Fencibles, then stationed in Glasgow, evinced symptoms of mutiny Mr Macintosh, at the desire of General Wemyss, then commanding the district, hastened to their quarters, and addressed the soldiers in their native tongue; – the effect was electrical.”

With such authority, the troubled host he swayed,

(NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 269)

The Hudson’s Bay Company

As mentioned above, a large number of young Scottish men, especially those from Orkney, went to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company, which, since 1670, had an exclusive charter to trade at Hudson Bay. Back in 1795, the Company had three ships which carried over “provisions, guns, powder, shot, hatchets, cloths, etc. to be exchanged with the Indians for beaver, and other furs. These vessels usually arrive at the harbour of Stromness about the first of June, where they stop for two or three weeks to take aboard men for their settlements. They engage usually from 60 to 100 men, natives of this country, to go to these settlements, every year… The Company’s ships usually return to the harbour of Stromness about November, to land those men who choose to return home.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 442)

An image of a Hudsnn's Bay Company settlement, 1848.

An image from page 7 of “Hudson’s Bay, or, Every-day life in the wilds of North America, during six years’ residence in the territories of the honourable Hudson’s bay company”. By Robert M. Ballantyne. (1848). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

As reported by the parish of Orphir, in the County of Orkney:

“It was long the practice of many of the young men to go to Hudson’s Bay as labourers and mechanics, as carpenters, blacksmiths and brick-layers. Few have gone in later times, though the wages have been raised. A labourer receives L. 16 a-year annually, for the first three years, with maintenance, while employed at the factories. A mechanic. L. 25 a-year. The engagement is now for five years, and at the end of three years everyone is advanced according to his merit. The great object was to save as much as might render his future days at home, easy and comfortable.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 25)

In the report Section on the county of Orkney from volume 15 in account 2 there is a table showing the sums received in Orkney in 1833, from farm-produce, manufactures, fisheries, etc. This includes the sum of about L. 1500 that the Hudson’s Bay Company paid annually for the men employed in Hudson’s Bay. (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 215) When you compare this sum with other figures in the table you can get a sense of the men’s value at that time.

The writer of the report from the parish of Orphir, Rev. Mr Liddell, was very scathing about those who went into the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company, as well as the company itself. (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 406) However, he then goes on to praise that same company who had just agreed to increase wages, writing:

“At the same time it must be acknowledged, for the honour of the Hudson’s Bay Company, that no men ever acted with more integrity, or fulfilled their agreements more honestly, than those gentlemen have uniformly done; and further, upon a representation from the present incumbent of this parish, they have been pleased to augment the wages to L. 10; by which means above L. 1000 Sterling per annum is added to the income of Orkney.”

As well as looking at the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, you can find out what it was actually like to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company by reading Robert M. Ballantyne’s fascinating account, from which the above image is taken.

The East India Company

Another large and well-known company that should be mentioned is the East India Company, which at first focused on trade, but then went on to build an empire in India. Many Scots were employed by the company in various roles, including those in the military, medical and civil service departments, spending several years of service in India before returning home to Scotland. Such people included Brigadier-General Alexander Walker of Bowland (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 415), Alexander Macleod, Esq and his son; natives of the parish of Harris, County of Inverness (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p. 365) and David Scott, Esq. of Dunninald, along with his nephew David Scott, Esq. “to whose memory a monument has been erected by the Supreme Government in India”. (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 250)

Eminent Scots Abroad

In the Statistical Accounts, there are also many mentions of Scots well-known outside of Scotland. One fascinating story is that of the celebrated botanist and traveler Mr David Douglas who was born in Scone, County of Perth. He firstly worked as an apprentice gardener before becoming a botanical collector. Between 1823 and 1827 he traveled throughout America, Canada and South America, collecting plants and seeds. “After remaining two years in London, he again sailed for Columbia in the autumn of 1829. Here he continued his favourite pursuit. Afterwards he visited the Sandwich Islands; and when his return was expected, intelligence was received of his death in very shocking circumstances…” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 1068)

An image of David Douglas, Scottish botanist and North America's first mountaineer (1799 – 1834).

David Douglas, Scottish botanist and North America’s first mountaineer (1799 – 1834). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Other fascinating people to search for in the Statistical Accounts include:

  • James Francis Edward, who entered into military service abroad (including Spain and Russia) and whose great qualities outshone his bad ones – leading him to become a Field Marshal for the King of Prussia. (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 152)
  • Archie Armstrong who, after having been a sheep-stealer, “had the honour of being appointed jester to James I. of England”, but was later dismissed for being obnoxious. (OSA, Vol. XXI, 1799, p. 244)
  • Dr John Hutton, a one-time sheep-herder, who studied medicine in Edinburgh, and later saved the life of Mary, Princess of Orange. (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 30)


In reading The Statistical Accounts, it is clear that to see that Scotland was not an insular country. It’s interwoven links with other countries and cultures are varied and fascinating.  Their influences can still be felt within Scotland and beyond. This post just gives you a taster of what you can discover in the Statistical Accounts. We hope that it will encourage you to explore it for yourself. You never know where the journey will take you!