Change In History
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Lesson Plan Overview
World History: The West and the World
(Ontario Curriculum Course CHY4U)

Change in History
The Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions

This Lesson is one of Several that Use the
Scarborough Immigrant Experience as a Learning Resource
(Copyright D. B. McCowan, P.Eng.)

Agenda: Feb. 14 2005
Grade 12, Woburn Collegiate, Scarborough


Handout 1:
--"Change in History: 1700-1920" (Raw Curves - minimal text) -- Students to add further text during class
--Keywords List -- Students to add definitions where blank

8:45 to 8:50 -- Introduction

  • Scottish Immigrant Families in Scarborough
  • Why did these families emigrate to Canada in the early 19th century?

8:50 to 9:15 -- Class Discussion of the "Raw Curves"

  • Students to take notes from the discussion
  • The Fit in the Curriculum
  • The "Essence of Change"
  • Changes in Two Inter-Related Economic Sectors
  • Forces, Trends and Relationships Between the Curves
  • Efficiency
  • 3 Obvious Upset Conditions
  • Lowland Clearances
  • Responses
  • Cause and Effect: Repeal of the Corn Law

Handout 2:
--Five Different In-Role Scenarios (1 page each approx.)

9:15 to 9:30: Groups plan their short enactment of the scenario

  1. Agricultural Improvement -- Who's "Good" Ideas Were They Anyway? -- 1713
  2. Options and Responses to Change -- 1800
  3. The Courts: Support for Agriculture Over Industry -- 1821
  4. Implementor Of Change: James McCowan, Individualist -- 1834
  5. Regulator of Change: David McCowan -- Fallout From Change and the Social Safety Net -- 1880

9:30 to 9:55: Group enactment of their scenarios and class discussion (app. 5 min. each)


Handout 1
Change in Lowland Scotland


Handout 1A -- Keywords
Significant Scots, Key Concepts and Events
(Some Not in Textbook)
(Students to Add Definitions)


Agricultural Revolution (1750-1830 app)
-- Dramatic changes in landuse management, land occupation patterns and understanding of soil science. Characterized by a profound decline in the number people directly dependent on agricultural activity.

Burns, Robert (1759-1796)
-- Scottish Poet. Hero of common folk worldwide. Sympathized with the French Revolution.

Cause and Effect --

Efficiency --

Enable / Enabler --

Feedback --

Force --

Great Reform Bill (1832)
-- Gave the right to vote to some of the middle class tenants, thus profoundly modifying Parliament.

Implement / Implementor --

McCowan, David (1826-1908)
-- Wealthy marine insurance broker and prominent philanthropist in Glasgow. A regulator in the process of social change.

McCowan, James (1773-1834)
-- One of many local implementors of change. In no small way, he brought aspects of agricultural improvement from Cumnock, Ayrshire to Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire. Representative of hundreds of enlightened lower class lowland Scots who embraced the new capitalism and technologies with a passion. An ambitious industrialist who ultimately failed to make his fortune. Emigrated to Scarborough, Canada, in 1833. His brother, David, became an architect in Trinidad.

Owen, Robert (1771-1858)
-- Born in Wales. Part owner of the New Lanark Mills. Founder of the cooperative movement. Regarded by some as the father of socialism in Britain. One of his most well-known publications was "A New View of Society".

Regulate / Regulator --

Repeal of the Corn Law (1846)
-- Ended the era of protectionist policy for British agriculture, essentially putting industry ahead of agriculture in Constitutional importance.

Somerville, Mary Fairfax (1780-1872)
-- Mathematician of extraordinary talent. One of her publications was "The Connection of the Physical Sciences".

Trend --

Upset Condition --

Watt, James (1736-1819)
-- Key developer of steam technology. Adapted the centrifugal governor to the steam engine. Thus, a great enabler of the Industrial Revolution.



Handout Two -- In-Role Scenarios

  • Students are divided into groups of 4 or 5.
  • Fifteen minutes to plan their enactment using the reference information below and their class notes.
  • They will act out each scenario in front of the class.


1 -- Agricultural Improvement:
Who's Good Ideas Were They Anyway? -- 1713

Date: 1713

Place: Dumfries Estate, Old Cumnock Parish, Ayrshire

Characters: Four

  • William McOwan, tenant of the neighbouring farms of Orchardtoun, Netherhouse and Robertoun. He is also a Church Elder. (Four other McCowans also rented adjacent farms in the first half of the 18th century.)
  • Lord Dumfries, the wealthy landlord
  • Mr. Ferguson, Lord Dumfries' property manager or "factor"
  • John Vallance, the evicted sub-tenant of the cottar's (peasant) cottage of Netherhouse, now a paid labourer, working for William McOwan

Lord Dumfries and Ferguson ask why McOwan wants to rent both of these adjacent farms

William McOwan will describe to Lord Dumfries and his Factor some of the improvements that he plans to make to his now larger consolidated farm: enclose his cattle with fences; put lime on the fields as fertilizer; spread cattle manure on all of the land, let some fields rest for a few years; reinforce his plough with an iron shear. He states what he'd heard about his ancestor, John McCowan.

John Vallance will state that he is better off being paid in cash by William McOwan than as a cottar on his own small plot of Netherhouse eating what he raised himself.

Reference Information:

The consolidation of small farms into larger holdings was a fundamentally important element in the game-plan of landlords as the agricultural revolution "took off" in the Lowlands in the last half of the 18th century. There is evidence that it may have actually been some of the more progressive tenants themselves who first "discovered" the inherent efficiencies of larger farms. This should not come as a surprise, for...

  • It was the working farmer who could first see the abundant fruits of individual labour and keeping cattle fenced.
  • It was the rural communicant who questioned religious dogma and spoke out against deviation from the agreed path.
  • It was the middle class thinker who led the Scottish enlightenment.

Of course, once the landlords caught onto the notion of consolidating farms into larger units (and the benefits of evicting tenants) so that overall income would increase, they were only too happy to promote the process more widely -- so began the Lowland Clearances.

McCowans leasing adjacent farms include:

  • "Orchyardtoune ... together with that cottar [subtenant] tack called the nether house of Mure", 15 years, William McOwan, 1700
  • Barmilkhill, 19 years, Robert McCowan in Robertoun, 1702
  • Robertoun, 13 years, William McOwan in Orchyardtoun, 1713
  • Little Kairn, Craighouse and Glengyron, 13 years, David McCowan in Glengyron, 1728
  • Barmilkhill and Orchyardtoun, Hew McCowan, 1742
  • Burnockmiln and Hillhead, 19 years, Andrew McCowan, 1751

The landlord-generated "consolidation" of farms did not begin in earnest in Cumnock until after 1750. Could these five tenants have been part of an earlier tenant-driven consolidation process? Did some aspects of local agricultural improvement begin, not with the Laird, but with his progressive tenants?

In 1614, 150 years before sheep began to displace people, John McCowan had about seven times as many sheep as he should have had, had he been in the "business" of displacing people during the tenant clearance period.

John McCowan was renting two farms about a mile and a half apart directly from the landlord. He owed cash wages of 11 to five people -- for harvest fees and for herding. This, at a time when one would have expected cottars to simply perform herd and field work in simple exchange for the use of a small plot of ground beside their cottage.

It could very well have been that John McCowan’s numerous sheep had displaced cottars and their gardens from his pasture land fully 150 years before Lord Dumfries started to do the same. Perhaps John had recognized that the old feudal arrangement between tenant and cottar was not sustainable, that some farms in the Parish were simply over-populated and that crops were sub-standard because of it and that a larger farmer could be more prosperous in a part-cash local economy.


2 -- Options and Responses to Change -- 1800

Date: Dec. 6 1800, the day that David McCowan emigrates

Place: Port Glasgow, beside a sailing ship

Characters: Four ambitious young men born near Cumnock, Ayrshire. The fifth is happy to be a well-paid weaver.

  • David McCowan: 25 year old mason ready to embark for Trinidad the year after his emancipation from Lord Dumfries' coalmine. He became an importer and architect in Trinidad.
  • James McCowan: David's 27 year old brother, also recently emancipated and now an entrepreneur "Coalmaster" running his own coalmine in Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire. Many landowners were rather afraid of the risk of running coalmines.
  • Hugh McCowan, their 23 year old cousin, a millwright (mechanical engineer) at the cotton mills in Neilston, part of Scotland’s new industrial heartland.
  • William McCowan, another cousin. This 22 year old "carrier": was in the transportation business with his father -- a "growth" industry in the broadening economy. He later became "a man of capital" and the preferred tenant of several farms. He eventually actually "owned" property in Cumnock.
  • Hugh McCowan, a 31 year-old weaver in Cumnock.

Pleased that they have found solid options to farming, they will discuss why they are taking the career paths that they are on. William recalls story about how his father lost the lease on the farm that had been tenanted by his ancestors for at least 200 years. The 31 year old Hugh is rather smug about earning quite a good wage as a weaver under his Glasgow "agent". They lament the plight of their old aunt Jean.

Reference Information:

What happened to the people who were evicted from their small plots of land? Some became farm labourers on the larger consolidated farms. Others became "weavers in the village", that is cottage hand-loom weavers. A significant number went to work in the large power mills in Glasgow, Paisley and other centres. A great many, however, were deprived of gainful employment and suffered into old age.

If I had the honor of seeing your Lordship, I intended to have spoken for a poor woman residing in the village of Ochiltree. I beg to recommend her to your Lordship, as a Pensioner on the meal list. Her name is Jean McCowan. She is a needy and deserving person. She is often in great want but she will take no assistance from the Poor funds. She will not become, she says, a Parish Pauper but she will most thankfully receive meal from your Lordship if placed on the List. I hope your Lordship will excuse me for the liberty I take in bringing the case of this poor woman before your Lordship.

Rev. James Boyd, Ochiltree


3 -- The Courts:
Support for Agriculture Over Industry -- 1821

Date: 1821

Place: Stockbriggs Estate, Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire


  • John Lawson, Judicial Factor on the Estate. Essentially, the Estate is under court protection.
  • David Robertson, merchant in Edinburgh and creditor of the estate.
  • James McCowan, tenant of East Auchanbeg farm.
  • William Pait, another tenant on Stockbriggs estate.

Lawson praises the Court of Session for supporting his decision to re-invest in the farms on the estate. He claims that Britain's unwritten constitution gives priority to the land and agriculture over mercantile and industrial activity.

Robertson is an angry creditor of the Estate of Stockbriggs. He cannot understand why the payments for improvement and repairs to the farms should take precedence over his own claim on the estate's revenue.

McCowan argues that he should be getting some funds for repairs too.

Pait points out that this litigation has been very troublesome for all of the tenants.

Reference Information:

The Court of Session supported the actions taken by the Judicial Factor of Stockbriggs Estate between June 1817 and May 31 1820. Consequently, the Factor continued his work with the Estate: 130 pounds from the estate income were given to the tenants for improvements and repairs between May 31 1820 and May 31 1821.While recognizing the rights of the other two owners of the estate, Kerr and Balfour, the Court encouraged improvements and repairs to the estate’s farms. Only through reinvestment in the land and buildings would it be possible for all creditors to eventually get their money back. We should indeed give Mr. Lawson, the Judicial Factor, some credit for his vision. However, it is very probable that he had little choice but to make legally binding promises to invest in the land and buildings: otherwise he may have been unable to obtain good tenants at adequate rents. The leases signed in 1818 evidently stated that at least the following sums be allowed the new tenants for repairs and improvements to farms: William Johnston, Cleughbrae, 5 pounds; John Greenshields, Todlaw, 19 pounds; James Wilson, Whitesidehill, 9 pounds, John Fleming, Upper Stockbriggs, 12 pounds. On average, two months' rent was thus intended to go directly back to the farms. In spite of the long-term benefits of reinvesting in the estate's farms, at least one creditor (David Robertson) was openly critical of allowing such expences to take precedence over his own interest.
Catching Up with the Market Economy


4 -- Implementor Of Change:
James McCowan, Individualist -- 1834

Date: Aug. 28 1834 at the funeral of James McCowan, born 1773

Place: Scarborough, Canada

Characters: James' wife, Margaret Porteous, and their eldest children Robert (20), James (20) and Margaret (18)

They reminisce about James' career and stories that they had heard about him. They resolve that he had left them an important legacy -- a new life in Canada and a value system that would help them succeed profoundly. They are looking at his library of books -- the many religious texts are balanced by books on history, mathematics and other cultures such as Hindooism. Margaret remarks on how articulate he was on so many subjects.

Reference Information -- Some Snapshots of James McCowan’s Life:

  • 1797, A veritable serf -- "belonging to the works" -- toiling at the coal-face in Cumnock
  • 1799, Emancipation of Scottish Colliers
  • 1799, Serf-turned-capitalist secures the lease of his own coalworks in Lesmahagow -- he is now a Coalmaster. Brings at least five families from Cumnock to work for him.
  • 1813, Erects one of the first steam engines in that part of the Lanarkshire coalfield
  • 1816, All tenants dragged into estate litigation through no fault of their own -- financial woes for all, including the Coalmaster
  • 1817, Installs an underground railway and, convincing others of his abilities, he secures more financial backing
  • 1818, Competition for renewal of the Auchanbeg Coalworks lease is too fierce, but he carries on as coalmaster at his other coal and limeworks in Blackwood
  • 1821, Bankrupted as a coalmaster and must continue as a farmer on only marginal land
  • 1829, Four-fold increase in rent of the farm of East Auchanbeg
  • 1831, Bankrupted again but somehow carries on as a cattle breeder
  • 1834, Barely a year after arriving in Canada to start a new life, he dies of cholera on Aug. 28.

This is the story of an ambitious and industrious man of very humble rank who took risks that even the landed gentry would not take. At the dawn of the modern market economy, the story of this collier, coalmaster, grocer, general contractor, lime merchant, farmer and cattle breeder is the story of hundreds of lowland Scots who came, oh so close, to great success. Perhaps James McCowan did not become a successful industrialist because the cartel of big coal owners down the Clyde prevented him. This cartel had enormous political and financial clout.

The Lowland Clearances were somewhat of a silent land-use revolution during which thousands were displaced -- including James McCowan. At the same time, displaced common people were instrumental in another silent revolution that permeated every weave of the socio-economic fabric. This is my one criticism of the BBC series -- there should have been more emphasis on how common lowland Scots led the Scottish enlightenment. The wealthy may have endorsed these efforts in literature, science, industry, democracy and other socio-economic endeavours -- but it was ordinary folk who took much of the risk and did a huge percentage of the actual work. James McCowan was one of those people, at least in industry.


5 -- Regulator of Change: David McCowan
Fallout From Change and the Social Safety Net -- 1880

Date: 1880

Place: Glasgow

Characters: Four prominent business men: John Stewart; Henry Brown; David Smith; Thomas McCrone

These four men are nominating David McCowan (born 1826) for a special award in appreciation of his generous philanthropy and his tireless volunteer work on behalf of many charitable institutions. They will explain why people like David McCowan were so important in the great economic changes of the past century.

Reference Information:

A risk manager by profession (marine insurance), David McCowan fully understood that socio-economic change also entailed risks. His own grandfather and other relatives had lost their place on the land due to a massive re-organization of the economy. Some were thrust into poverty, a risk that late 18th century leaders deemed acceptable. The clearances in the Lowlands were now being applied more forcefully in the highlands. The urbanization of Scotland had some horrific health and welfare consequences. What Glasgow society needed were people capable and energetic enough to manage the risks of socio-economic change. David McCowan was one of those who held -- and financed -- the social safety net.

Mr. McCowan's name has been synonymous for all that was liberal in action and lofty and pure in motive. Outside his business he was ever on the alert how he might best benefit his fellowman, and if ever a man "did good by stealth, and blushed to find it fame", it was Mr. McCowan, for his great aim was to do the action for the action's sake, and not that the breath of popular applause might waft his name and his good deeds abroad. But it is well known that his donations to the great public charities and other excellent institutions of the city were princely and that his more private gifts were as frequent as they were unstinted and frankly given. Many were the honours which the city which he had benefited so much wished to heap upon him, but these he all refused. Until at last, he was induced to receive that of Doctor of Laws from the University.

Mr. McCowan belonged to a rare class of men of whom the world holds but few. To a splendid faculty for business he joined a large-hearted generosity, which won for him distinction not only in the commercial, but in the philanthropic circles of the city. If we were asked to describe him in a word we would say that he was a philanthropist and would use that word not in any narrow or limited sense, but in its noblest and broadest meaning. Mr. McCowan was a rich man, and he acquired his wealth by diligence and by business ability. That he derived great pleasure in it's acquirement may not be doubted, but he had even greater pleasure in giving expression to the philanthropic impulses which were forever actuating his heart and mind. Of him it might truly be said that although one of the most modest and most unobtrusive of men, yet he had at all times the courage to avow his sentiments with a tongue which was really the herald of his heart. Truth and honour were his consistent guides and rule of life, and a kindly benevolence had its home in his bosom.



With a month's notice, Bruce McCowan, P.Eng.,
is available to teach this Lesson.

The Scarboro Heights Record V13 #2