People of Scottish ancestry have played an important role in the development and life of Melbourne. The first Scots immigrants arrived during the mid-1830s with many more Highlanders and Lowlanders following over the next two decades. A large number of Highlanders emigrated as a result of the clearances in Scotland, while during the 1850s many Lowlanders also settled in Melbourne after working on the gold diggings. From the 1860s, the overwhelming majority of Scottish settlers in Melbourne came from the urban areas of the Scottish Lowlands. The growing city fast became the favourite Australian destination of Scottish immigrants. After the English and Irish, they constituted Melbourne's third largest immigrant group, accounting for around 15% of the population. Nineteenth-century visitors commented on this Scottish presence. Niel Black, later a prominent Western District landowner, remarked on arriving from Argyll in 1839 that the people of Melbourne were 'altogether Scotch in their habits and manners'. To a later commentator Melbourne was 'almost a Scotch colony'. Scots immigration continued throughout the 20th century, but the proportion of Scottish-born residents in the population was progressively reduced.
Better educated than other immigrant groups, Scottish men applied themselves to all sorts of industry in their new home. For Scotswomen the occupational opportunities were more limited. Like other immigrant women in the 19th century, they worked mainly as domestic servants and, once married, as housewives and mothers. Their opportunities expanded gradually from the late 19th century as education, professions and factory and clerical work became more accessible to women.
The Scots in Melbourne, noted a commentator in 1892, 'control affairs and give the prevalent tone to society'. Scotsmen were prominent in politics, media, investment and business. Before 1900 they were over-represented in parliament, with 35% of Victoria's premiers being of Scottish heritage. They also dominated the Melbourne press, owning or editing most of the city's major newspapers, such as the Port Phillip Patriot, Argus and Age. Scots were also disproportionately involved in the development of the Melbourne business world, particularly in banking and investment, manufacturing (ironworks, breweries, confectionery factories), shipping and building. Scottish defence forces such as the Gordon Highlanders were also established in Melbourne in the colonial period.
The majority of Scots who settled in Melbourne were Presbyterians; a minority were Episcopalians and Catholics (the most notable of whom was Mary MacKillop, born in Melbourne in 1842 to Highlander parents). The Presbyterians built their first church in Collins Street in 1838; in 1841 a larger church was erected further to the east to accommodate a growing congregation. Gaelic-speaking services in this early settlement period were held in churches such as at St Andrew's Church, Carlton, and various Presbyterian denominations coexisted. In 1859 most of these groups united to form the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, which quickly became the most important Scottish institution in Melbourne, prospering through the support of wealthy Western District squatters. In 1874 the Presbyterians built a new Scots' Church in Collins Street. This became their principal church in Melbourne and was the centre of a public sensation in 1883, when its minister, the Rev. Charles Strong, was deposed because of his theological liberalism.
Believing that learning was of great practical importance for all members of society, the Scots were active in establishing educational institutions. The Presbyterians founded many primary schools attached to local churches, as well as secondary schools for both boys and girls. The Melbourne Academy (1851, later Scotch College), the first of Victoria's independent schools, and Presbyterian Ladies' College (1875), became highly successful. There was also a significant Scottish involvement in the instigation of Mechanics Institutes. The Working Men's College was founded in 1887 under the directorship of Scots-born engineer F.A. Campbell, with money donated by the Scottish philanthropist Francis Ormond, who was also the benefactor of the Presbyterian University College. Named Ormond College in his honour, it was built in the Scottish architectural style and opened in 1881. Ormond and other Scots philanthropists were also prominent benefactors of the University of Melbourne.
Concerned to maintain their cultural heritage, many Melburnian Scots embraced Highland culture as a way of distinguishing themselves from other immigrant groups, even though most were Lowlanders. The St Andrew's Society was established in 1846, followed by the Caledonian Society of Victoria in 1858. Rejuvenated in 1884, the Caledonian Society of Melbourne assisted poor Scottish immigrants, organised large gatherings with bagpipes, dancing and sporting events, and arranged balls and concerts. The Scots founded the first golf club (at Flagstaff Hill in 1847) and lawn bowls club (1864) in Melbourne. Burns and Thistle clubs and the Melbourne Highland Pipe Band (1898) were among other Scottish associations formed throughout Melbourne and its suburbs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. To preserve the Gaelic language, which had nearly died out after the death of the first generation of Highland immigrants, the Scottish Gaelic Society of Victoria was founded in 1905 and still holds Gaelic classes and regular Ceilidhs (gatherings). A statue of Robert Burns was erected in the Treasury Gardens in 1904.
Despite such attempts to promote a distinct Scottish culture, Melburnian Scots and their descendants increasingly merged with other immigrants in the 20th century. This integration was eased by their British status and adaptive skills. At the beginning of the 21st century a significant minority of Melbourne's inhabitants are of Scottish ancestry, but it is now difficult to distinguish the Scots as a distinctive ethnic group.