Battle of Worcester

On this day in 1651, the Battle of Worcester was fought between the Royalist forces of Charles II, most of them Scots, and the Parliamentarian forces of Oliver Cromwell and his New Model Army. Cromwell’s forces outnumbered the Royalists by at least two to one. It was the final battle in Charles’s attempt to retake his father’s kingdom, and Charles’s defeat marked the end of the civil wars that had been going on in England, Scotland, and Ireland for nearly a decade.

Until 1649, Scotland’s political establishment had considered the English Parliamentarians to be their allies. Both parties sought to limit royal control: the Parliamentarians believed that the king should be subject to Parliament (or at least willing to work with it), and the Scottish Covenanters believed that he should be subject to God (by which they meant the Assembly of the Presbyterian kirk). However, when the Parliamentarians tried and executed Charles I, Scots of all political stripes were outraged. Charles was, after all, not only King of England – he was King of Scotland, too, and his Scottish subjects felt that England had no right to execute Scotland’s king without a Scottish trial.

In response, the Scots proclaimed Charles’s son, currently in exile on the Continent, King Charles II.  Cromwell then gathered an army and marched into Scotland, where on 3 September 1650 – a year to the day before the Battle of Worcester – he defeated the Scots at Dunbar and took control of Edinburgh. The younger Charles was brought back to Scotland and crowned at Scone on New Year’s Day, 1651. Like the later Stuart exiles, however, the new king intended to rule all of Britain, not just Scotland. Although his general, David Leslie, urged him to remain in Scotland, where he had the greatest support, Charles decided to take his army into England. Cromwell left part of his forces in Scotland and turned south in pursuit. The Royalists’ march toward London was halted at Worcester.

Initially, the Royalists appeared to be getting the better of their enemies at the Battle of Worcester, but in the end Charles’s army was utterly defeated. Malcolm Atkin, in his study of this battle, says that “2,000-4,000 Scots [were] killed in the battle. Many more were wounded and a considerable number of these must have died in the following days or weeks. Most of the survivors were captured.”[1] With the help of English sympathisers, Charles himself escaped[2], but few of the Scots who had fought for him ever made it home. Thousands of them were shipped to the colonies – Barbados, New England, and Virginia – and sold as indentured servants, among them at least three Macalisters who landed in Boston early in 1652. (Another three of this name were sent to Virginia a few months earlier, but it’s possible they had been captured at Dunbar, which also produced many transportees, the previous year. These are the earliest Macalisters on record in the New World.)

Macalisters at home, too, were affected by this defeat. After Worcester, Cromwell quickly conquered all of Scotland outside the Western Highlands. Scotland was declared a protectorate of England, and the government in London hoped to unite the two countries formally. Discontent among the Western clans (who as Episcopalians and Catholics were excluded from the newly decreed religious toleration) and resistance to military occupation led to Glencairn’s Rising (1654), but after that had been put down, Cromwell’s General Monck “established a measure of law and order in the Highlands which had not been seen for centuries, enforcing it with the active co-operation of the clan chiefs. By offering them treaties of surrender to sign, Monck . . . implicitly recognised their own authority over their clansmen, so bolstering their positions of power.[3] In fact, in some ways the Highlanders were better off under Cromwell than they ever had been. Certainly the restoration in 1660 of Charles II “saw a return to widespread disorder”.[4]

Still, for nine years after the defeat at the Battle of Worcester, Scotland was a conquered nation, subdued by a military presence and ruled directly from London. 

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2014

[1] Cromwell’s Crowning Mercy: The Battle of Worcester, 1651 (Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 1998), p. 113. 

[2] An entertaining and informative account of Charles’s escape back to France can be found in Richard Ollard’s book, The Escape of Charles II after the Battle of Worcester (London: Robinson, 1966, 1986). It is well worth reading if this era is of interest.

[3] John Roberts, p. 127

[4] Ibid., p. 134

Macalisters in the Second Anglo-Boer War

On this day in 1899, the second Anglo-Boer War began. This war was the culmination of nearly a century of conflict between the British settlers and colonial authorities in South Africa and the Boers, descendants of Dutch traders established there for centuries. Many Macalisters fought for the empire.

Tensions in South Africa had worsened considerably since the end of the first Anglo-Boer War (1880-1). The Boers felt increasingly insecure in their two nominally self-governing republics. They objected to the sudden influx of ‘uitlanders’ (non-Boer settlers) that followed the discovery of gold in Transvaal (one of the Boer republics), and recent movements of British troops appeared sinister to many of them[1], especially in light of an attempted 1895 coup by Cecil Rhodes. On its part, in an era of competing empires the British government was nervous about attempts by Germans in the southwest of Africa to link up with the Boer republics[2] — particularly with potential profits from the Transvaal mines up for grabs.

An ultimatum was presented to the British government on the 9th of October listing the demands of the Boers; the British government, to whom the demands seemed very much like a declaration of independence, replied that “the conditions demanded by the Government of the South African Republic are such that Her Majesty’s Government deem it impossible to discuss”.[3] To the Boers, this refusal amounted to a declaration of war.  

Ultimately, the result of the war that began on this day was a united South Africa under British rule. But things got pretty nasty before then. The Boers resorted to guerrilla warfare, for which imperial forces were ill prepared, and quickly inflicted several defeats which stunned the British public. In return, British authorities undertook a scorched-earth policy that destroyed Boer farms and sent thousands of displaced civilians (mostly women and children) to concentration camps, where epidemics wiped many of them out. These tactics cut Boer forces off from needed supplies, and the widespread suffering that resulted eventually brought the Boers to negotiation.

However, the immediate result of Britain’s rejection of Boer demands was a Boer offensive on Natal, one of the areas under British control.[4] Before long, imperial forces from Britain and several colonies were headed for South Africa. Even with limited access to South African records, I have found nearly 100 Macalisters (of various spellings) among them. This number included Charles Godfrey Somerville McAlester, the future clan chief, who was captain of the 3rd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers.[5]  Two McAllisters, both named William (but with different service numbers), arrived from Australia with the Army Medical Corps, and there were several of the name from New Zealand and Canada. Others of this clan fought with imperial units from Britain, Ireland, and British South Africa itself.

Macalisters were among the early casualties as well. Lance Corporal A McAllister of the Scots Guard was wounded in November, and Private D McAllister of the Highland Light Infantry was wounded 11 December; Private J McAllister and Private P McAllister of the Royal Irish Rifles were the first of quite a few of this name to be taken prisoner when they were captured on 10 December.  (Their fate is unclear, although most of the Macalisters captured during this war appear to have been released.) Over the course of the three-year war, nearly twenty Macalisters were wounded, five of them fatally: Trooper Angus Ian Macalister (Imperial Yeomanry), Private A McAllister (Liverpool Regiment), Private J McAllister (Royal Irish Rifles), Private W McAllister and Private J McCallister (both of the Cameronians, or Scottish Rifles). Additionally at least one, Corporal Arthur McAllister of the Imperial Yeomanry, died in an accident, at Standerton in September 1901. Less gloriously, Trooper H McAllister of Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry was discharged for misconduct on the 8th of December 1899.[6]

The second Anglo-Boer War ended on 31 May 1902 with the Treaty of Vereeniging.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]Hugh Williams & Frederick Charles Hicks, eds., Selected Official Documents of the South African Republic and Great Britain: A documentary perspective of the causes of the war in South Africa, 1900 (available on line at Project Gutenberg and the Anglo Boer War website), preface.  
[2] The Boer Wars; see Lawrence James, Rise and Fall of the British Empire (New York, 1994), pp. 263-5.
[4]The Transvaal‘, the Guardian, 13 October 1899
[5] War Service of Officers, 1905. In addition, W Macalister Hall, 4th regiment of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, and E J McAllister, Army Service Corps, were captains of their units.
[6]Most of this information is taken from the Anglo Boer War website, which is an excellent source of information about this conflict, and UK, Casualties of the Boer War, 1899-1902 at Ancestry.com.

Archibald McAlister, Remittance Man

On this day in 1888, a prohibition order was granted in New Zealand against Archibald McAlister. McAlister, a remittance man, had been ‘wasting his substance’, and the agents to whom his money was sent wanted it stopped.[1]

‘Remittance man’ is not a term heard very often anymore, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries he was a well-known figure throughout the British Empire. Usually from well-off middle class or aristocratic families, these were men who for various reasons were sent abroad and literally paid not to go home. Many of them had disgraced themselves in one way or another, and their families hoped to avoid further scandal. But others have been described as ‘extraneous‘ sons, those who through no fault of their own simply could not be provided for in Britain, where traditional disdain among the upper classes for business or labour was clashing with new realities like the drop in child mortality: Many well-off families found themselves with too many adult children to provide for in socially acceptable ways. 

Whatever his story, the hope was that the remittance man would make something of himself in his new home, and some of them certainly did. Some were able to adapt to an entirely new mode of existence and with perseverance and a bit of luck became successful ranch owners, entrepreneurs or businessmen; at least one who went to Canada ended up in local government.[2] A new start in the far-flung empire was no guarantee of a better life, however, and the stereotype of a well-bred wastrel was in many cases well founded. In 1894 a New Zealand newspaper article complained that “Many otherwise sane and intelligent persons in the Old Country are firmly impressed with the belief that the man who has failed utterly to make his mark (or even his bread and cheese) in England, has only to set foot in Greater Britain to straightway become a dazzling success”.[3] Those who had already developed bad habits, or who had never lived without luxury and convenience, were ill equipped to face the demands of their new lives. In many cases these men conformed to expectations, frittering away their lives and money in drink, running up gambling debts, even falling afoul of the law. They did not work – perhaps some didn’t know how to do – and resented their situation. Quite a few of them ultimately took their own lives.[4] Even for those who accepted their lot and came to love their new homes, it must have been a bittersweet contentment, as illustrated in The Rhyme of the Remittance Man.

The fate of our Archibald McAlister is unclear. There are several of the name in New Zealand in the early 20th century, and I was unable to trace him with any certainty, but the name appears in news reports repeatedly over the next twenty years, mostly in the north island, almost always in connection with prohibition orders and drunkenness.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013 

———————-

[1] Mataura Ensign, Volume 10, Issue 757, 23 March 1888, p. 5; thanks to Helen Leggatt, whose blog Hunting Kiwis first directed me to the article about Archibald. 

[2]M. Harper and S. Constantine, Migration and Empire (Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 311 

[3]Papers Past: Observer, Volume XIV, Issue 786, 20 January 1894, p. 3 

[4]Many of the articles I found about remittance men in my research for this post were obituaries for suicides. 

Thanks, but Can’t We Just Go Home?

In December of 1651, Alister MacAllister, Daniel (probably Donal) MacAllister, and John MacAllister arrived in New England, becoming the first Macalister immigrants to the future United States on record, as far as I know.  This does not mean, of course, that they were the first to arrive:  Many 17th-century Scots who arrived in the colonies did so as indentured servants, and their arrival went unrecorded.

Emigrating was costly, and some of those who had the best reasons to leave were the very ones who couldn’t possibly afford to do.  Indentured servitude – essentially a form of temporary slavery – made emigration possible.  Indentured servants contracted with a master who would pay their passage for them; in return they would work for the master for a specified amount of time (often seven years).  There was no escape clause; the indentured servant was stuck no matter how bad the situation turned out to be.  Still, at the end of the indenture the individual usually would be given a small parcel of land and the basic tools to start his or her new life.  Many of those who hoped for a better or less uncertain future took the long view and decided it was worth the price.

But indentured servitude – even emigration itself – was not always voluntary.  When there were entire continents out there with land that cost almost nothing (to the Europeans, anyway), transporting undesirables to far-off places offered the authorities both a solution to crime and a workforce for the colonies.  It was a solution they made good use of.  In these cases, emigration itself was part of the punishment:  Those being sent to the New World didn’t necessarily want to go, and many of them would never be able to afford a return home.

Apparently the arrival of people headed for indentured servitude was not always deemed worthy of recording.  But those who were sent to the colonies for some crime or another were more likely to be noted, and the Macalisters who arrived in December of 1651 fall into this category.  They came not as criminals but as prisoners of war.  Like many of the West Highland clans, the Macalisters had fought for Charles II in Scotland’s civil war; evidently some of them followed the king into England to fight on in theirs. After the Royalists were finally defeated at Worcester, these Macalisters were among the many taken prisoner and transported.[1] How they felt about this is unknown.  They might have spent the rest of their lives as broken, disillusioned men.  Or they might have seen it as a wonderful opportunity to start anew.  But the fact that they came to the New World as prisoners of war may well be the only reason we know they existed at all.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2011


[1]Their arrivals specify that they were prisoners of war, but they might have been taken at Dunbar the previous year.  Most of the Dunbar prisoners seem to have been shipped out in 1650, though.