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David Finkelstein follows the trail of the Scots-born printers and compositors who crossed borders to take their skills around the world, finding themselves in particular demand in newly-settled towns, where they helped keep the populace informed during times of growth and change


Sandy Hossack, one of the thousands of Scottish printers and compositors who took their skills overseas in the early 20th century. Image from Printers’ Saga: A History of the South African Typographical Union

In 1903, 28-year-old Scots-born Alexander (Sandy) Hossack made a momentous decision.

A compositor by trade, he had worked for almost fifteen years alongside his brother James in their father’s print shop at 68 Bristo Square in Edinburgh, serving his apprenticeship there and helping build up business with the nearby University of Edinburgh community.

During that time, he had also become a stalwart member of his union, the Scottish Typographical Association, quietly amassing knowledge and putting together a small amount of savings. It was time to move on, to follow new directions and new opportunities overseas. In May 1903, with help from a union emigration grant, he set sail for South Africa, travelling to Johannesburg, where over the coming decade he would work as a compositor and become heavily involved in trade union politics. He became a founding member of the Transvaal Labour Party in November 1904 (a socialistleaning political organisation aimed at representing white artisanal labour union trade interests) and served as its first secretary.

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About History Scotland

In this packed issue we continue our pioneering new series which focuses on the Stewart queen consorts, exploring the life of Arabella Drummond (c.1350-1401) who played a significant role in governing the country following the incapacity of her husband Robert III of Scots. Also in this issue: · The ‘richest commoner’ and his Barra tenants · Excavations beneath the streets of Inverness · New reconstruction of St Andrew’s Cathedral Plus: Family history advice, archaeology dig reports and finds analysis, National Records of Scotland column and lots more…