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Emigrants’ tales captured

AS PART of the forthcoming celebrations to mark Shetland Hamefarin 2010, Shetland Museum and Archives is hosting a special summer exhibition appropriately named ‘From Old Rock to New Life’.

The exhibition traces the story of emigration through biographies of selected settlers and items that they owned.

For over a century thousands of islanders left to seek better lives elsewhere. Subsequently the isles’ population dropped from 31,000 in 1850 to around 19,000 in 1950.

As there was not enough land to support Shetland’s population, hardship, hunger, and homelessness forced many to leave.

However other Shetlanders left by choice, because the Empire offered chances that Shetland could not give, so people sought their fortune abroad.

Many Shetlanders sent money back to their relations in poorer circumstances back home, and their letters encouraged more people to leave.

Newspapers regularly carried advertisements for emigration, and colonial governments appealed for folk to go.

As hard-working protestants, Shetlanders were regarded as the ideal type to succeed in emigration.

Assistant curator Ian Tait said the exhibition was broken up into the main areas of emigration.

“Shetlanders were drawn to Canada by agriculture, especially to British Columbia, in the early 20th century. Huge numbers went to the 1850s gold rush in New South Wales and Victoria, and later the government appealed for people to settle in Australia.

“In New Zealand, Shetlanders were drawn in the 1860s to the south-east, especially Dunedin in Otago, and Stewart Island.  Many were gold prospectors and farm servants.

“Africa attracted people to mine precious minerals in the Transvaal and Cape Colony, as other Shetlanders worked as missionaries or nurses throughout the continent.

“Resettling in mainland Britain was no less an emigration as going abroad, and people commonly went south to work and ended up marrying; they were accidental migrants,” he said.

From Old Rock to New Life will be in the museum’s exhibition space Da Gadderie from 12 June until 25 July. Entry is free.


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