¡Feliz Cumpleaños! (or, Macalisters in Argentina)

¡Feliz Cumpleaños! to argentino footballer Carlos Javier MacAllister, who represented his country three times in international matches during his career. He was born in Santa Rosa, La Pampa, Argentina, on this day in 1968.

As his name suggests, MacAllister is one of an estimated 100,000 argentinos of Scottish descent. According to a recent article in the Scottish Times, Argentina has the largest such population outside the English-speaking world.[1] Scots began to settle in Argentina in the first quarter of the 19th century. Some of the earliest, more than 200 people, arrived in 1825 as part of a planned settlement, only to discover that the arrangements made for them had fallen through and they would have to fend for themselves. There were no Macalisters in that unhappy group, but the name begins to appear in local records not long afterwards. In 1832, for example, Parlane M’Alister & Co. donated $1000 towards the building of the Scotch Presbyterian Church in Buenos Aires – the ‘& Co.’ suggests that this M’Alister had business as well as spiritual investments there.[2] Two years later Robert Macalister of Paisley, Scotland, married Anne Downes at the British Episcopal Church in the same city. Both parties gave Buenos Aires as their regular residence.[3]

By 1850, Macalisters were being born in the province, most of them with Spanish names. Some of them were the children of people whose own names have obviously been ‘Spanished’ and were probably immigrants, but others have at least one parent who appears to be Argentine, suggesting that the Macalister settlers were already marrying into the local population. In fact, most of the Scottish immigrants to Argentina appear to have assimilated quite thoroughly. Their descendants are argentinos – but their names, like that of Carlos Javier MacAllister, give them away.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]John Fitzpatrick, ‘Scots in South America: The Forgotten Diaspora‘, in the Scottish Times, 3 April 2012. 
[3]Jeremy Howat, ‘St. John’s Marriages, 1833-1839’, from British Settlers in Argentina and Uruguay, Studies in 19th and 20th Century Emigration, accessed 3 March 2013.

McAllister Convicts Bound for Australia

On this day in 1836, the convict ship Elphinstone left England for Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) carrying 240 transportees to punitive exile in Australia. Aboard were three McAllisters – Archibald and John, brothers from northeast Scotland who were convicted of assault and robbery[1], and another John, from England, convicted of stealing some clothes and cash from his lodgings.[2] All three were sentenced to transportation for 14 years.[3]

Transportation of criminals (and in some cases other ‘undesirables’) to Australia had been going on since 1788. The idea was not new. As early as the mid-1600s, prisoners of war as well as convicted lawbreakers were being transported to the North American colonies. In the mid-1700s, thousands of Jacobite prisoners were shipped off to Barbados and Antigua. Regardless of destination, transportation served several purposes: It got troublemakers out of Britain’s prisons and off the streets, it provided man- (and woman-)power to develop the resources of an enormous continent, and the threat of it was believed to deter crime. But in one respect, transportation to Australia was unique. Unlike the North American and West Indian colonies, and despite the presence of non-convict settlers, Australia was specifically “designed to be a vast penitentiary”.[4] The Australian government estimates that before the practice ended in the 1860s, roughly 162,000 convicts were transported. About 20 percent of them were women.[5]

What happened to the McAllisters who sailed for Van Diemen’s Land on this day in 1836 is not clear, but they probably spent the rest of their lives in Australia. Although in theory transportees were allowed to return to Britain once their sentences had been served, most lacked the means to return from so far away, and not all of them wished to do so anyway. Instead, many former convicts joined the free population of the growing colony and built a new nation out of what had been their prison.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]Tasmanian Archive & Heritage Office, Founders & Survivors: Archibald McAllister & John Allister Mc; Archibald’s wife and child followed on a later ship. 
[2]Tasmanian Archive & Heritage Office, Founders & Survivors: John Allister Mc
[4]Devine, Scotland’s Empire, p. 271
[5]australia.gov.au, ‘Convicts and the British Colony in Australia; the website Convict Records of Australia lists 28 Macalisters of various spellings, 5 of them women.