Scotlands History

Scots and the Empire

Scots and the Empire

It was once boasted that without the input of Scots businessmen, engineers, explorers and soldiers, there would have been no British Empire.

Glasgow was called the Second City of the Empire. Glasgow’s lavish City Chambers, opened by Queen Victoria in 1888, are a testament to this claim.

Scots thought of themselves as natural empire builders. It seemed there were endless opportunities: from exporting railway engines and ships around the world to opening up rubber and tea plantations.

Highland regiments fought with pride in campaigns in India, Africa and Afghanistan, commanded by Scottish generals. Between 1885 and 1939, one third of colonial governors-general were Scots.

Many Scottish doctors specialised in tropical medicine, and missionaries explored great swathes of Africa. Orcadians became the main labour force for the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada. Canada’s first Prime Minister - Sir John MacDonald (born in Glasgow) - was influential in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Governor Lachlan Macquarie (born in Ulva, Mull) transformed the penal colony of New South Wales, Australia.

It was said that ‘the sun never set’ on the British Empire. More than a quarter of the world map was once coloured pink to show the extent of the Empire. Britain grew rich from tobacco, fur trading, guns, tea and slavery.

  • photograph of the inside of City Chambers, Glasgow
  • photograph of the Albert Memorial, London

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