Saturday, 29 March 2014

Scots in Australia - Ballarat art exhibition opening in April

From 11 April to 27 July the Art Gallery of Ballarat will have an exhibition on images of Scottish Australia from the beginnings of European settlement to Federation. I am a volunteer guide at the Gallery and we have been studying up on all things Scottish for this exhibition.

Anne Eliza Duff with her daughter, Jessie c.1847  by Martha Berkeley from the Art Gallery of South Australia
This image was used on the front cover of a recent issue of Antiques and Art in Victoria.

The exhibition will highlight the contribution to Australia of emigrants from Scotland. For example, the Australian Dictionary of Biography has 1591 entries of people with Scottish heritage, 12.6% of all 12,590 entries.

Measuring ancestry is tricky - I have lots of ancestors ;) and some of them are Scottish - although my husband's family tree seems to contain no Scottish forebears. About three quarters of my fellow volunteer gallery guides can also claim a Scottish forebear. It is a small sample and not at all representative. Claiming a Scottish forebear does not mean identifying as someone having Scottish ancestry.

Estimated percentages of the ethnic origins of the Australian population 1861-1987

Graph of figures in Table 1.1: Estimated percentages of the ethnic origins of the Australian population 1861-1987 in  Prentis, Malcolm D. (Malcolm David) The Scots in Australia. University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 2008. Prentis sourced his figures from C. A. Price et al. Birthplaces of the Australian Population 1861-1981, Working Papers in Demography, No. 13 (1984); S. E. Khoo & C. A. Price, Understanding Australia's Ethnic Composition (Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, 1996), 11.

Despite having some Scottish forebears, I would not be counted in the 11.9% of those who had Scottish ancestry in 1987.

Malcom Prentis remarks in his book The Scots in Australia that, unlike some groups which came predominantly at particular moments in the history of their home societies and of Australia, the immigration of Scots has been sustained at a consistent and substantial level for the last 200 years.

The Scots have been a very successful ethnic group but largely ignored in the history of Australia which has paid more attention to our Irish forebears.

The forthcoming exhibition looks at a number of themes, including politics, indigenous relations, business endeavours as well as artistic contributions. It will be a great opportunity to learn more about Australian history and the contributions of our Scottish forebears.

Martha Berkeley who did the painting above of Ann Duff was my great great great aunt. She wasn't Scottish but the painting is included because it depicts a Scottish woman. You can learn more about the Duff family at

I have been inspired to review my Scottish family history and intend to publish some more stories on my blog about emigration, where my forebears came from and what they did when they arrived in Australia. Before I do that though, I plan to participate in the A to Z blogging challenge - my first time - and it will keep me busy for the next month. It is not only genea-bloggers who participate but there are a couple of other family historians who have put their names down for the challenge.


  1. Interesting stats, on Scottish ancestors. I have quite a few Scottish ancestors on my fathers side of the family, McGregor, McDonald and McPherson. It would be great to see the exhibition!

  2. I enjoyed reading very much about Scottish ancestors in Australia. Good luck with your exhibition - your opening photograph is so lovely.


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