Homecoming in the 1920s

homecomingIt’s another year of Homecoming – a good opportunity to explore an earlier example of it in the early twentieth century. It was then that a growing number of organised group returns took place, with trip planning often facilitated by Scottish associations such as St Andrew’s and Caledonian societies. One such group return, that of over 600 Australians of Scottish descent, took place in the summer of 1928. Described by Australian newspapers as a ‘national pilgrimage to Scotland’, the visit was jointly organised by the Victorian Scottish Union and similar bodies in other Australian states. The idea for the trip was first discussed in 1927, when the hope was expressed that 200 to 500 people of Scottish descent would go on the trip for the purpose of making Australia better known in Scotland. The trip thus served a dual purpose: it was designed as a homecoming to Scotland, but also as an advertising ploy for Australia, with each Scot travelling to Scotland meant to directly encourage Scots to migrate to Australia.

The trip’s chief organiser was Archibald Gilchrist, the general secretary of the Victorian section of the New Settlers League. Scotsmen interest in going could submit their names for consideration to be included in the travelling party to Mr Gilchrist, with selections then being made on the basis of state quotas. A reduced fare for the passage was offered, with the trip’s itinerary developed around the following milestones:

The delegation is to leave Brisbane on March 27, 1928; Sydney, April 3; Hobart, April 7; Melbourne, April 11; Adelaide, April 14; and Fremantle, April 19. The journey will be via Colombo, Suez, and Port Said, arriving in London on May 18. The party will leave for Scotland on the morning of May 23. From May 24 to May 30 will be “Australia Week” in Edinburgh, and a similar week will be held in Glasgow from May 30 to June 5. After leaving Glasgow the cities to be visited will include Perth, Dundee, Aberdeen, and Inverness, where the main tour will end on June 15.

A piper was present on the group’s arrival in England, ‘playing “The Road to the Isles”‘, and famous Scottish singer Sir Harry Lauder sent a welcome message. The group boarded the Flying Scotsman for Edinburgh at 8 am on 23 May at King’s Cross, stopping at York and Newcastle en route. As one Australian correspondent noted, ‘It was 9.30 p.m. as we entered Edinburgh and 10 p.m. by the time we were standing on the platform … Luckily my hotel was just over the Railway Station, the North British Station Hotel’. The correspondent then went on to describe that banners stretched across the streets of Edinburgh saying ‘Welcome Australia’, and that shop windows displayed Australian products prominently. The group went to lay a wreath at the National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle, visited the Leith shipyards, and a civic reception was held under the auspices of the Lord Provost and Town Council.

Later in the twentieth century, such organised return visits focused more specifically on particular areas in Scotland. The Wellington Shetland Society, for example, organised its first Hamefarin in 1960—a return home that proved successful enough for the Society to organise further trips in 1985 and 2010, as well as a special ‘Millenium Hamefarin’ in 2000.

Organised returns were, for many, the culmination of their lifelong passion for their roots, and one perhaps expressed in the New World through membership of a Scottish association, a Scottish sports club, the Presbyterian church or an interest in genealogy. This passion for heritage is even more evident at present, traceable, in fact, in the growing number of descendants of Scots who actively seek to explore their ancestry in Scotland.

Are you going home as part of Homecoming Scotland this year? Do you feel connected through your Scottish roots? Tell your story here.

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