Reasons for emigration

There were a number of factors that forced or encouraged people to leave Scotland after 1830.

The factors that forced people to leave Scotland can be referred to as ‘push factors’.

The factors that encouraged people to move abroad can be referred to as ‘pull factors’.

Criminal convictions

Scots who committed crimes risked being sent to convict colonies. Until 1776 they were sent to the USA, but in 1787 the first prison ship left Britain for Australia.

Australia was used as a convict colony until 1867. Convicts were forced onto transportation ships for a variety of serious crimes such as stealing and repeated minor crimes. They were often sentenced to 7 years, 14 years or life in the colonies and had little chance of returning to Britain.

Financial incentives


From the 1870s, orphaned children were sent to new families in the New World by William Quarrier. The YMCA was active in helping boys emigrate in the first half of the 20th century. The British Women’s Emigration Association was founded in 1901 to help middle-class educated women emigrate.

The British Government

The government contributed £10,000 to help crofters migrate in the 1880s. After World War One, it set up the Overseas Settlement Committee to help ex-soldiers emigrate. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Empire Settlement Act provided funds for those who wanted to emigrate. For example, colonial governnments were interested in settling emigrants in new places, such as Otage or New South Wales.


Some landowners were willing to provide money to pay crofters to leave their lands. After 1847, they could receive government help to do this. One such example was on Harris, where the landowner gave clothing and money to those leaving for Canada.