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Scottish Reminincenses
Chapter I


SOCIAL changes in Scotland consequent on the Union of the Crowns. Impetus given to these changes after Culloden in the eighteenth century, and after the introduction of steam as a motive power in the nineteenth. Posting from Scotland to London. Stage coach travelling to England. Canal travelling between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Loch Katrine in 1843. Influence of Walter Scott. Steamboats to London. Railroads in Scotland. Effects of steamboat development in the West Highlands.

When on the 5th of April, 1603, James VI. left Edinburgh with a great cavalcade of attendants, to ascend the throne of England, a series of social changes was set in motion in Scotland which has been uninterruptedly advancing ever since. Its progress has not been uniform, seeing that it has fluctuated with the access or diminution of national animosities on the two sides of the Tweed, until, as these sources of irritation died away, the two nations were welded into one by the arts of peace. Looking back across the three centuries, we can recognise two epochs when the progress of change received a marked impetus.

The first of these dates from the failure of the Jacobite cause in 1746. At Culloden, not only were the hopes of the Stuarts finally extinguished, but a new period was ushered in for the development of Scotland. The abolition of the heritable jurisdictions, the extension of the same organised legal system over every part of the kingdom, the suppression of cattle-raids and other offences by the Highlanders against their lowland neighbours, the building of good roads, and the improvement of the old tracks, whereby easy communication was provided across the country, and especially through the Highlands between the northern and southern districts —these and other connected reforms led to the gradual breaking down of the barrier of animosity that had long kept Highlander and Lowlander apart, and by thus producing a freer intercourse of the two races, greatly strengthened the community as a whole, whether for peace or for war. On the other hand, the landing of Prince Charles Edward, the uprise of the clans, the victory of Preston-pans, and the invasion of England could not fail to revive and intensify the ancient enmity of the English against their northern neighbours. This animosity blazed out anew under the Bute administration, when fresh fuel was added to- it from the literary side by Wilkes and Churchill. Nevertheless the leaven of union was quietly at work all the time. Not only did Scot commingle more freely with Scot, but increasing facilities of communication allowed the southward tide of migration to flow more freely across the Border. English travellers also found their way in growing numbers into that land north of the Tweed which for centuries had been at once scorned and feared, but which could now be everywhere safely visited. What had been satirised as

The wretched lot
Of the poor, mean, despised, insulted Scot,

came to be the subject of banter, more or less good humoured. The Englishman, while retaining a due sense of his own superiority, learnt to acknowledge that his northern neighbour did really possess some good qualities which made him not unworthy of a place in the commonwealth, while the Scot, on his side, discovered that his ‘ auld enemies ’ of England were far from being all mere ‘pock-puddings.’ As the result of this greater intimacy of association, the smaller nation was necessarily drawn more and more to assimilate itself to the speech and ways of its larger, wealthier, and more advanced partner.

But the decline in Scottish national peculiarities during the hundred years that followed Culloden was slow compared with that of the second epoch, which dates from the first half of last century, when steam as a motive power came into use, rapidly transforming our manufacturing industries, and revolutionising the means of locomotion, alike on land and sea. Scott in his youth saw the relics of the older time while they were still fairly fresh and numerous, and he has left an imperishable memorial of them in his vivid descriptions.

Cockburn beheld the last of these relics disappear, and as he lived well on into the second of the two periods, he could mark and has graphically chronicled the accelerated rate of change.

Those of us who, like myself, can look back across a vista of more than three score years, and will compare what they see and hear around them now with what they saw and heard in their childhood, will not only realise that the social revolution has been marching along, but will be constrained to admit that its advance has been growing perceptibly more rapid. They must feel that the old order has indeed changed, and though they may wish that the modern could establish itself with less effacement of the antique, and may be disposed with Byron to cry,

Out upon Time! who for ever will leave
But enough of the past for the future to grieve,

they have, at least, the consolation of reflecting that the changes have been, on the whole, for the better. Happily much of the transformation is, after all, external. The fundamental groundwork of national character and temperament continues to be but little affected. The surface features and climate of the country, with all their profound, if unperceived, influences on the people, remain with no appreciable change. Even the inevitable wave of evolution does not everywhere roll on with the same speed, but leaves outlying corners and remote parishes unsubmerged, where we may still light upon survivals of an older day, in men and women whose ways and language seem to carry us back a century or more, and in customs that link us with an even remoter past.

It would be far beyond my purpose to enter into any discussion of the connection between the causes that have given rise to these social changes and the effects that have flowed from them. The far-reaching results of the introduction of steam-machinery in aggregating communities around a few centres, in depopulating the country districts, and in altering the habits and physique of the artizans, open up a wide subject on which I do not propose to touch. My life has been largely passed in the rural and mountainous parts of the country, where increased facilities for locomotion have certainly been the most obvious direct source of change to the inhabitants, though other causes have undoubtedly contributed less directly to bring about the general result. It has been my good fortune to become acquainted with every district of Scotland. There is not a county, hardly a parish, which I have not wandered over again and again. In many of them I have spent months at a time, finding quarters in county towns, in quiet villages, in wayside inns, in country houses, in remote manses, in shepherds’ shielings, and in crofters’ huts. Thrown thus among all classes of society, I have been brought in contact with each varying phase of life of the people. During the last twenty years, though no longer permanently resident in Scotland, I have been led by my official duties to revisit the country every year, even to its remotest bounds. I have also been enabled, through the kindness of a yachting friend, to cruise all through the Inner and Outer Hebrides. T hese favourable opportunities have allowed me to mark the gradual decline of national peculiarities perhaps more distinctly than would have been possible to one continuously resident. As a slight contribution to the history of the social evolution in Scotland, I propose in the following chapters to gather together such reminiscences as may serve to indicate the nature and extent of the changes of which I have been a witness, and to record a few illustrations of the manners and customs, the habits and humour of the people with whom I have mingled.

My memory goes back to a time before railways had been established in Scotland, when Edinburgh and Glasgow were connected only by a coach-road and a canal, and when stage-coaches still ran from the two cities into England. I may therefore begin these reminiscences with some reference to modes of travel.

Probably few readers are aware how recently roads practicable for wheeled carriages have become general over the whole country. In the seventeenth century various attempts were made to run stage-coaches between Edinburgh and Leith, between Edinburgh and Haddington, and between Edinburgh and Glasgow. But these efforts to open up communication, even with the chief towns, appear to have met with such scant support as to be soon abandoned. The usual mode of conveyance, for ladies as well as gentlemen, was on horseback. A traveller writing in 1688 states that there were then no stage-coaches, for the roads would hardly allow of them, and that although some of the magnates of the land made use of a coach and six horses, they did so ‘with so much caution that, besides their other attendance, they have a lusty running footman on each side of the coach, to manage and keep it up in rough places.’ It was probably not until after the suppression of the Jacobite rising in 1715 that road-making and road-repair were begun in earnest. For strategic purposes, military roads were driven through the Highlands, and this important work, which continued until far on in the century, not only opened up the Highlands to wheeled traffic, but reacted on the general lines of communication throughout the country.1 By the time that railways came into operation the main roads had been well engineered and constructed, and were fitted for all kinds of vehicles.

Before the beginning of the railroad period, the inhabitants of Scotland had three means of locomotion into England. Those who were wealthy took their own carriages and horses, or hired post-horses from stage to stage. For the ordinary traveller, there were stage-coaches on land and steamboats on the sea.

With a comfortable carriage, and the personal effects of the occupants strapped on behind it, posting to London was one of the pleasant incidents of the year to those who had leisure and money at command. Repeated season after season, the journey brought the travellers into close acquaintance with every district through which the public road passed.

In 1773, when Mrs. Grant of Laggan, as a girl, had to make the journey from Inveraray to Oban there was ‘no road but the path of cattle,’ ‘an endless moor, without any road, except a small footpath, through which our guide conducted the horses with difficulty.’—Letters from the Mountains, 5th edit., vol. i., p. 4. Half a century later the conditions do not seem to have altered much in that region, as shown in Dr. Norman Macleod’s Reminiscences of a Highland Parish.

They had a far greater familiarity with the details of these districts than can now be formed in railway journeys. They knew every village, church, and country-house to be seen along the route, and could mark the changes made in them from year to year. At the inns, where they halted for the night, they were welcomed as old friends, and made to feel themselves at home. This pleasant mode of travelling, so graphically described in Humphry Clinker, continued in use among some county families long after the stagecoaches had reached the culmination of their speed and comfort. My old friend, T. F. Kennedy of Dunure, used to describe to me the delights of these yearly journeys in his youth. Posting into England did not die out until after the completion of the continuous railway routes, when the failure of travellers on the road led to the giving up of post-horses at the inns.

One of my early recollections is to have seen the London coaches start from Princes Street, Edinburgh. Though railways were beginning to extend rapidly over England, no line had yet entered Scotland, so that the first part of the journey to London was made by stage-coach. There was at that time no line of railway, with steam locomotives, leading out of Edinburgh. Stage-coaches appear to have been tried between London and Edinburgh as far back as 1658, for an advertisement published in May of that year announces that they would ‘go from the George Inn without Aldersgate to Edinburgh in Scotland\ once in three weeks for ^4 10s., with good coaches and fresh horses on the roads.’ In May, 1734, a coach was advertised to perform the journey between Edinburgh and London ‘ in nine days, or three days sooner than any other coach that travels the road.’ An improvement in the service, made twenty years later, was thus described in an advertisement which appeared in the Edinburgh Evening Courant for July 1st, 1754:

‘The Edinburgh Stage-Coach, for the better accommodation of Passengers, will be altered to a new genteel two-end Glass Machine, hung on Steel Springs, exceeding light and easy, to go in ten days in summer and twelve in winter; to set out the first Tuesday in March, and continue it from Hosea Eastgate’s, the Coach and Horses in Dean Street, Soho, London, and from John Somerville’s in the Canongate, Edinburgh, every other Tuesday, and meet at Burrow-bridge on Saturday night, and set out from thence on Monday morning, and get to London and Edinburgh on Friday. In the w’inter to set out from London and Edinburgh every other Monday morning and to go to Burrow-bridge on Saturday night; and to set out

thence on Monday morning and get to London and Edinburgh on Saturday night. Passengers to pay as usual. Performed, if God permits, by your dutiful servant,

‘Hosea Eastgate.

‘Care is taken of small parcels according to their value.’

Before the end of the century the frequency, comfort, and speed of the coaches had been considerably increased. Palmer, of the Bath Theatre, led the way in this reform, and in the year 1788 organised a service from London to Glasgow, which accomplished the distance of rather more than 400 miles in sixty-five hours. Ten years later, Lord Chancellor Campbell travelled by the same system of coaches between Edinburgh and London, and he states that in 1798 he ‘performed the journey in three nights and two days, Mr. Palmer s mail-coaches being then established ; but this swift travelling was considered dangerous as well as wonderful,—and I was gravely advised to stop a day at York, “as several passengers who had gone through without stopping had died of apoplexy from the rapidity of the motion.” The whole distance may now (1847) be accomplished with ease and safety in fourteen hours.’

Passengers between Edinburgh and Glasgow before the days of railways had a choice of two routes, either by road or by canal. As far back as the summer of 1678, an Edinburgh merchant set up a stage-coach between the two cities to carry six passengers, but :t appears to have had no success. In 1743, another Edinburgh merchant offered to start a stage-coach on the same route with six horses, to hold six passengers, to go twice a week in summer and once in winter. But his proposal does not appear to have met with adequate support. At last, in 1749, a kind of covered spring-cart, known as the ‘ Edinburgh and Glasgow Caravan,’ was put upon the road and performed the journey of forty-four miles in two days. Nine years later, in 1758, the ‘Fly,’ so called on account of its remarkable speed, actually accomplished the distance in twelve hours. The establishment of Palmer’s improved stage-coaches led to a further advance in the communications between Edinburgh and Glasgow, but it was not until 1799 that the time taken in the journey was reduced to six hours. In my boyhood, before the stage-coaches were driven off by the railway, various improvements on the roads, the carriages, and the arrangements connected with the horses, had brought down the time to no more than four hours and a half.

Much more leisurely was the transit on the Union Canal. The boats were comfortably fitted up and were drawn by a cavalcade of horses, urged forward by postboys. It was a novel and delightful sensation, which I can still recall, to see fields, trees, cottages, and hamlets flit past, as if they formed a vast moving panorama, while one seemed to be sitting absolutely still. For mere luxury of transportation; such canal-travel stands quite unrivalled. Among its drawbacks, however, are the long detentions at the locks. But as everything was new to me in my first expedition to the west, I remember enjoying these locks with the keenest pleasure, sometimes remaining in the boat, and feeling it slowly floated up or let down, sometimes walking along the margin and watching the rush of the water through the gradually opening sluices.

Both the stage-coaches and the passenger boats on the canal were disused after the opening of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway in the spring of 1842. A few weeks subsequent to the running of the first trains, the Glasgow Courier announced that ‘ the whole of the stage-coaches from Glasgow and Edinburgh are now off the road, with the exception of the six o’clock morning coach, which is kept running in consequence of its carrying the mail bags.’

Steamboats had not yet been introduced upon the large freshwater lakes of Scotland, except upon Loch Lomond, when I visited the Trossachs region for the first time in 1843.

I was rowed the whole length of Loch Katrine in a boat by four stout Highlanders, who sang Gaelic songs, to the cadence of which they kept time with their oars. It was my first entry into the Highlands, and could not have been more impressive. The sun was almost setting as the boat pushed off from Stronachlachar and all the glories of the western sky were cast upon the surrounding girdle of mountains, the reflections of which fell unbroken on the mirror-like surface of the water. As we advanced and the sunset tints died away, the full autumn moon rose above the crest of Ben Venue, and touched off the higher crags with light, while the shadows gathered in deepening black along the lower slopes and the margin of the water. Before we reached the lower end of the lake the silvery sheen filled all the pass of the Trossachs above the sombre forest. The forms of the hills, the changing lights in the sky, and the weird tunes of the boatmen combined to leave on my memory a picture as vivid now as when it was impressed sixty years ago.

No more remarkable contrast between the present tourist traffic in this lake region and that of the early part of last century could be supplied than that which is revealed by an incident recorded as having occurred about the year 1814, four years after the publication of Scott’s Lady of the Lake. An old Highlander, who was met on the top of Ben Lomond, said he had been a guide from the north side of the mountain for upwards of forty years.

If this indignant mountaineer could revisit his early haunts, his grandchildren would have a very different story to tell him of the poets influence. For one visitor to his beloved mountain in his day there must now be at least a hundred, almost all of whom have had their first longing to see that region kindled by the poems and tales of Scott. No man ever did so much to make his country known and attractive as the Author of Waver ley has done for Scotland. His fictitious characters have become historical personages in the eyes of the thousands of pilgrims who every year visit the scenes he has described. In threading the pass of the Trossachs, they try to see where Fitz James must have lost his ‘gallant grey/ In passing Ellens Isle, they scrutinise it, if haply any relics of her home have survived. At Coilan-togle Ford they want to know the exact spot where the duel was fought between the King and Roderick Dhu. At Aberfoyle they look out for the Clachan, or some building that must stand on its site, and their hearts are comforted by finding suspended to a tree on the village green the veritable coulter with which Bailie Nicol Jarvie burnt the big Highlander’s plaid. So delighted :ndeed have the tourists been with this relic of the past that they have surreptitiously carried it off more than once, and have thus compelled the village smith each time to manufacture a new antique.

Before steam navigation was introduced, packet ships sailed between Leith and London carrying both passengers and goods. But as the time taken on the journey depended on winds and waves, these vessels supplied a somewhat uncertain and even risky mode of transit. Thus in November, 1743, an Edinburgh newspaper announced that the Edinburgh and Glasgow packet from London, ‘after having great stress of weather for twenty days, has lately arrived safe at Holy Island and is soon expected in Leith harbour.’

The first steamboats that plied between Leith and London were much smaller in size and more primitive in their appointments than their successors of to-day. Mineral oil had not come into use, and animal and vegetable oils were dear. Hence the saloons and cabins were lighted with candles, and, as wicks that require no snuffing were not then in vogue, it may be imagined that the illumination could not be brilliant, and that candle grease was apt to descend in frequent drops upon whatever happened to lie below. The Rev. Dr. Lindsay Alexander used to tell that when he once accompanied a brother clergyman in the steamboat to London, they were unable to obtain berths in any of the state-rooms, and had to content themselves each with a sofa in the saloon. In the middle of the night he was awakened by a groaning which seemed to come from the sofa of his elderly friend. Starting up, he enquired if the doctor was in pain. The answer came in a shaky voice: ‘I’m afraid—I’ve had—a stroke—of paralysis.’ In an instant the younger man was out of bed, calling for a light, as the candles had all burnt themselves into their sockets. When the light came, the reverend gentleman was seen to have been lying immediately below the drip of a guttering candle, and the drops of tallow, falling on his cheek, had congealed there into a cake that had gradually spread up to his eye. As he could not move the muscles of his face, the poor man’s imagination had transferred the powerlessness to the rest of his side. With the help of the steward, however, the hardened grease was scraped off, and the doctor, recovering the use of his facial muscles, was able once more to drop off to sleep.

Railroads have been unquestionably the most powerful agents of social change in Scotland. From the opening of the first line down to the present time, I have watched the yearly multiplication of lines, until the existing network of them has been constructed. Had it been possible, at the beginning, to anticipate this rapid development, and to foresee the actual requirements of the various districts through which branch-lines have been formed, probably the railway-map would have been rather different from what it now is. Some local lines would never have been built, or would have followed different routes from those actually chosen. The competition of the rival companies has led to a wasteful expenditure of their capital, and to the construction of lines which either do not pay their expenses, or yield only a meagre return for the outlay disbursed upon them. A notable instance
of the effects of this rivalry was seen in the competition of two great companies for the construction of a line between Carnwath on the Caledonian system and Leadburn on the North British. The country through which the route was to be taken was sparsely peopled, being partly pastoral, partly agricultural, but without any considerable village. When the contest was in progress, a farmer from the district was asked to state what he knew of traffic between Carnwath and Dolphinton, a small hamlet in Lanarkshire. His answer was, ‘ Od, there’s an auld wife that comes across the hills ance in a fortnicht wi’ a basket o’ ribbons, but that’s a’ the traffic I ken o’.’ The minister of Dolphinton, being eager to have a railway through his parish, set himself to ascertain the number of cattle that passed along the road daily in front of his manse. He was said to have counted the same cow many times in the same day. The result of the competition was a compromise. Each railway company obtained powers to construct, a new line which was to run to Dolphinton and there terminate. And these two lines to this hamlet of a few cottages, and not as many as 300 people, were actually constructed and have been in operation for many years. Each of them has its terminal station at Dolphinton, with station-master and porters. But there were not, and so far as I know, there are not now, any rails connecting the two lines across the road. This diminutive village thus enjoys the proud preeminence of being perhaps the smallest place in the three kingdoms which has two distinct terminal stations on each side of its road, worked by two independent and rival companies.

Not long after the opening of the North British line to Dolphinton, I spent a day at the southern end of the Pentland Hills, and in the evening, making my way to the village, found the train with its engine attached. The station was as solitary as a churchyard. After I had taken my seat in one of the carriages, the guard appeared from some doorway in the station, and I heard the engine-driver shout out to him, ‘Weel, Jock, hae ye got your passenger in?’

The opening of a railway through some of these lonely upland regions was a momentous event in their history. Up till then many districts which possessed roads were not traversed by any public coach nor by many private carriages, while in other parishes, where roads either did not exist or were extremely bad and unfit for wheeled traffic, the sight of a swiftly-moving train was one that drew the people from far and near. Some time, however, had to elapse before the country-folk could accustom themselves to the rapidity and (comparative) punctuality of railroad travelling. When the old horse-tramways ran, it was a common occurrence for a train to be stopped in order to pick up a passenger, or to let one down by the roadside, and it is said that this easy-going practice used to be repeated now and then in the early days of branch-railways. An old lady from Culter parish, who came down to the railway not long after it was opened, arrived at the station just as the train had started. When told that she was too late, for the train had already gone beyond the station, she exclaimed, ‘Dod, I maun rin then,’ and proceeded at her highest speed along the platform, while the station-master shouted after her to stop. She was indignant that he would not whistle for the train to halt or come back for her.

Railway construction in the Highlands came later than it did in the Lowlands, and entered among another race of people with different habits from those of their southern fellow-countrymen. The natural disposition of an ordinary Highlander would not often lead him to choose the hard life of a navvy, and volunteer to aid in the heavy work of railway construction. The following anecdote illustrates a racial characteristic which probably could not have been met with in the Lowlands. During the formation of one of the lines of railway through the Highlands a man came to the contractor and asked for a job at the works, when the following conversation took place :

‘ Well, Donald, you’ve come for work, have you? and what can you do?’

‘’Deed, I can do onything.’

‘Well, there’s some spade and barrow work going on; you can begin on that.’

‘Ach, but I wadna just like to be workin’ wi’ a spade and a wheelbarrow.’

‘O, would you not? Then yonder’s some rock that needs to be broken away. Can you wield a pick?’

‘I wass never usin’ a pick, whatefer.’

‘Well, my man, I don’t know anything I can give you to do.’

So Donald twent away, crestfallen. But being of an observing turn of mind, he walked along the rails, noting the work of each gang of labourers, until he came to a signal-box, wherein he saw a man seated, who came out now and then, waved a flag, and then resumed his seat. This appeared to Donald to be an occupation entirely after his own heart. He made enquiry of the man, ascertained his hours and his rate of pay, and returned to the contractor, who, when he saw him, good-naturedly asked:

‘What, back again, Donald? Have you found out what you can do?*

‘’Deed, I have, sir. I would just like to get auchteen shullins a week, and to do that ’ —holding out his arm and gently waving the stick he had in his hand.

A desire to select the lightest part of the work, however, is not peculiar to the Celtic nature, but comes out, strongly enough, sometimes, in the Lowlands, as was illustrated by the proposal of a quarry man to share the labour with a comrade. ‘If ye ram, Jamie,’ said he, ‘I’ll pech’; that is, if his friend would work the heavy iron sledge-hammer, he himself would give the puff or pant with which the workmen accompany each stroke they make.

The unpunctuality of the railways, the dirtiness of the carriages on branch lines, and the frequent incivility of the officials are only too familiar to all who have to travel much upon the system of at least one of the Scottish companies. A worthy countryman who had come from the north-east side of the kingdom by train to Cowlairs, was told that the next stoppage would be Glasgow. He at once began to get all his little packages ready, and remarked to a fellow-passenger,

‘I’m sailin’ for China this week, but I’m thinkin’ I’m by the warst o’ the journey noo.’ It must be confessed, however, that the railway officials often have their forbearance sorely tested, especially in the large mining districts, where the roughness and violence of the mob of passengers can sometimes hardly be held in check, and where the temptation to retaliate after the same fashion may be difficult to resist. Having also to be on the watch for dishonesty, they are apt to develop a suspiciousness . which sometimes, though perhaps needlessly, exasperates the honest traveller. Occasionally their sagacity is, scarcely a match for the knavery of a dishonest Scot. Thus, a man, when the ticket collector came round, was fumbling in all his pockets for his ticket, until the official, losing patience, said he would come back for it. When he returned, noticing that the man had the ticket between his lips, he indignantly snatched it away. Whereupon a fellow-passenger remarked, ‘You must be singularly absent-minded not to remember that you had put your ticket in your mouth.’ No sae absent-minded as ye wad think,’ was the answer; 'I was jist rubbin’ oot the auld date wi’ my tongue.’

Perhaps the most striking evidence of the effect of increased facilities for locomotion and traffic upon the habits of the population is presented by the western coast of the country, or the region usually spoken of as the West Highlands and Islands. Few parts of Britain are now more familiar to the summer tourist than the steamboat tracks through that region. Every year thousands of holiday-makers are carried rapidly and comfortably in swift and capacious vessels through that archipelago of mountainous land and blue sea. They have, as it were, a vast panorama unrolled before them, which changes in aspect and interest at every mile of their progress. For the most part, however, they obtain and carry away with them merely a kind of general and superficial impression of the scenery, though the memory of it may remain indelibly fixed among their most delightful experiences of travel. They can have little or no conception of the interior of those islands or of the glens and straths of the mainland, still less of the inhabitants and their ways and customs. Nor, as they are borne pleasantly along past headland and cliff, can they adequately realise what the conditions of travel were before the days of commodious passenger-steamers.

When Johnson and Boswell landed in Skye in the year 1773, there was not a road in the whole island practicable for a wheeled carriage. Locomotion, when not afoot, was either on horseback or by boat. The inland bridle-tracks lay among loose boulders, over rough, bare rock, or across stretches of soft and sometimes treacherous bog. The boats were often leaky, the oars and rowlocks unsound, the boatmen unskilful; while the weather, even in summer, is often boisterous enough to make the navigation of the sea-lochs and sounds difficult or impossible for small craft. And such continued to be the conditions in which the social life of the West Highlands was carried on long after Johnson’s time. During the first thirty or more years of last century the voyage from the Clyde to Skye was made in sailing packets, and generally took from ten to fifteen days. It was not until steamboats began to ply along the coast that the scattered islands were brought into closer touch with each other and with the Lowlands. To the memory of David Hutcheson, who organised the steamboat service among the Western Highlands and Islands, Scotland owes a debt of gratitude. The development of this service has been the gradual evolution of some seventy years. Half a century ago it was far from having reached its present state of advancement. There were then no steamers up the West Coast to Skye and the Outer Hebrides, save those which carried cargo and came round the Mull of Cantyre. During the herring season, and about the times of the cattle-markets, the irregularities and discomfort of these vessels can hardly be exaggerated. When the decks were already loaded perhaps with odoriferous barrels of herring, and when it seemed impossible that they could hold anything more, the vessel might have to make a long detour to the head of some mountain-girdled sea-loch to fetch away a flock of sheep, or a herd of Highland cattle. At most of the places of call there were no piers. Passengers had accordingly to disembark in small boats, sometimes at a considerable distance from high-water mark, to which, perhaps in the middle of the night, they scrambled across sea-weed and slippery shingle.

As a steamboat called at each place in summer only once, in later years twice, in a week, and in winter only once in a fortnight, the day of its arrival was eagerly looked forward to by the population, in expectation of the supplies of all kinds, as well as the letters and newspapers, which it brought from the south. You never could be sure at what hour of the day or night it might make its appearance, and if you expected friends to arrive by it, or if you proposed yourself to take a passage in it, you needed to be on the watch, perhaps for many weary hours. In fine weather, this detention was endurable enough; but in the frequent storms of wind and rain, much patience and some strength of constitution were needed to withstand the effects of the exposure. The desirability of having waiting-rooms or places of shelter of any kind is even yet not fully realised by the Celtic mind.

The native islander, however, seemed never to feel, or at least would never acknowledge these various inconveniences. It was so great a boon to have the steamers at all, and he had now got so used to them that he could not imagine a state of things different from that to which he had grown accustomed. Nor would he willingly allow any imperfections in David Hutcheson’s arrangements, on which he depended for all his connection with the outer world. I remember a crofter in the island of Eigg, who, when asked when the steamer would arrive, replied at once, ‘Weel, she’ll be cornin’ sometimes sooner, and whiles earlier, and sometimes before that again.’ The idea of lateness was a reproach which he would not acknowledge.

William Black, the novelist, used to tell of an English clergyman who, having breakfasted and paid his bill at Tobermory, was anxious for the arrival of the steamboat that was to take him north. He made his way to the pier, and walked up and down there for a time, but could see no sign of the vessel. At last, accosting a Highlander, who, leaning against a wall, was smoking a cutty-pipe, he asked him when the Skye steamer would call. Out came the pipe, followed by the laconic answer, ‘That’s her smoke,’ and the speaker pointed in the direction of the Sound of Mull. The traveller for a time could observe nothing to indicate the expected vessel, but at last noticed a streak of dark smoke rising against the Morven Hills on the far side of the island that guards the front of the little bay of Tobermory. When at last the steamer itself rounded the point and came fully into sight, it seemed to the clergyman a much smaller vessel than he had supposed it would be, and he remarked to the Highlander, ‘That the Skye steamer! that boat will surely never get to Skye.’ The pipe was whisked out again to make way for the indignant reply, ‘She’ll be in Skye this afternoon, if nothin’ happens to Skye.’ The order of nature might conceivably go wrong, but Hutcheson’s arrangements could be absolutely depended upon.

The captains of these steamers were personages of some consequence on the west coast. Usually skilful pilots and agreeable men, they came to be on familiar terms with the lairds and farmers all along their route, whom they were always glad to oblige and from whom they received in return many tangible proofs of recognition and good-will. At the end of a visit which I had been paying to friends on the south coast of Mull, the captain, to whom my kind host had previously written, brought his vessel a little out of his way in order to pick me up. The shore being full of rocks and reefs, my boat had to pull some distance out to the steamer, so that the tourist passengers had time to gratify their curiosity by crowding to one side to see the cause of this unusual stoppage. When the boat came alongside its cargo was transhipped in the following order: first a letter for the captain, next a live sheep, then a portmanteau, and lastly myself. There were many inquisitive glances at the scantiness of my flock, but the sheep had been sent as a present from my host to the captain, in recognition of some little services which he had lately been rendering to the family.

I have known a number of these captains, and have often been struck with their quiet dignity and good nature in circumstances that must have tried their temper and patience. They had much responsibility, and must often have had anxious moments in foggy or stormy weather. Now and then a vessel met with an accident, or was even shipwrecked, but the rarity of such always possible mishaps afforded good proof of the skilful seamanship with which the Hutcheson fleet was handled. There was always a heavy traffic in goods. Scores of cases, boxes, barrels, and parcels of all conceivable shapes and sizes had to be taken on board and distributed at the various places of call. Live stock had to be adequately accommodated, and the varying times and direction of the tides had to be allowed for. Then there was the tourist-traffic, which, though small in those days compared with what it has now grown to, required constant care and watchfulness. Not improbably the human part of his cargo gave a captain more trouble than the rest. The average tourist is apt to be selfish and unreasonable, ready to find fault if everything does not go precisely as he wished and expected. He is usually inquisitive, too, and doubtless asks the same questions that are put to the captain and seamen of the ship season after season. He has formed certain anticipations in his own mind of what he is to see, and when these are not quite realised he wants to know why. A common hallucination among travellers south of the Tweed clothes every Highlander in a kilt, and surprise is often expressed that the ‘ garb of old Gaul ’ is so seldom seen. The answer of one of David Hutcheson’s officers should suffice for all who give vent to this surprise: ‘Oh no, nobody wears the kilt here but fools and Englishmen.’

Various anecdotes are in circulation about the passengers and crew of these western steamboats. One of these narratives, of which different versions have been told, relates how on a dull, drizzling, and misty evening, when every attention had to be given to the rather intricate navigation, a lady began to ask questions of the man at the wheel. He answered her as briefly as possible for a time; but, as she still plied him with queries, he at last lost his temper and abruptly desired her to go to the nether regions. She retired in high dudgeon and sought out the captain, insisting that the man should be discharged, and that she would report the matter to Mr. Hutcheson. The captain tried to soothe her, expressing his own regret at the language that had been used to her, and assuring her that he would make the man apologise to her for his conduct, She thereupon went down to the saloon and poured out her indignation to some of her fellow-passengers. In the midst of her talk, a man in dripping oilskins and cap in /hand appeared at the door, and, after some hesitation and looking round the company, advanced to the irate lady and said, ‘Are you the leddy I tellt to gang to hell? Weel, the captain says ye needna gang yet.’ Such was the apology.

I well remember, when as a lad of eighteen I first visited Skye, that the steamer carrying the usual miscellaneous cargo in the hold and on deck, after rounding the Mull had made so many calls, and had so much luggage and merchandise to discharge at each halt, that it was past midnight of the second day before we came into Broadford Bay. The disembarkation was by small-boat, and as we made our way shorewards, the faces of the oarsmen were at every stroke lit up with the pale, ghostly light of a phosphorescent sea. The night was dark, but with the aid of a dim lantern one could mount the rough beach, where I was met by a son of the Rev. John Mackinnon of Kilbride, with whom I had come to spend a few weeks. We had a drive of some five miles inland, enlivened with Gaelic songs which my young friend and his cousin screamed at the pitch of their voices. At a certain part of the road they became suddenly silent, or only spoke to each other in whispers. We were then passing the old graveyard at Kilchrist; but when we had got to what was judged a safe distance beyond it and its ghosts, the hilarity began anew, and lasted until we came to our destination between two and three o’clock in the morning.

The introduction of the electric telegraph naturally aroused much curiosity in the rural population as to how the wires could carry messages. A West Highlander who had been to Glasgow and was consequently supposed to have got to the bottom of the mystery, was asked to explain it. ‘Weel,’ said he, ‘ it’s no easy to explain what you will no be understandin’. But I’ll tell ye what it’s like. If you could stretch my collie dog frae Oban to Tobermory, an’ if you wass to clap its head in Oban, an’ it waggit its tail in Tobermory, or if I wass to tread on its tail in Oban an’ it squaked in Tobermory—that’s what the telegraph is like.’


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