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On Emigration and the State of the Highlands
Appendix T.


See Third Report of the Highland Society on Emigration.

The long detail of uninteresting circumstances contained in the Report would be tedious if extracted at full length, and a short summary of the material points will render them sufficiently intelligible.

The ground of the whole is a complaint which is stated to have been made by some tenants in Benbecula to the justices of the peace, against two men of the names of M’Lean and M’Lellan, whom they accused of having enticed them to sign agreements for going to America,of the import of which they were not aware.

It must be observed by the way that allegations of this kind are very frequently made by the common Highlanders without any foundation. All written transactions are in the English language, which is understood only by a small proportion of the people; and any one who repents of a bargain he has made, has so obvious an excuse in this pretence, that it ought always to be received with some degree of jealousy. On this occasion, however, the justices seem to have been perfectly well disposed to believe the tenants on their word.

It is further mentioned that M’Lean and M'Lellan had conversed with the people assembled at a place of religious worship about America, and among other observations had said, that they were not troubled with landlords or factors, but that all the people were happy, and on an equal footing, and that there were no rents paid there. One of them also read a letter from a settler in Canada, exhorting his countrymen to throw off the yoke of bondage and the shackles of slavery, and to quit the land of Egypt and come to this land of Canaan adding, How can I say otherwise when I never knew what actual freedom or the spirit of equality was till I came to Canada? We have wholesome laws and impartial judges; we have the blessings of the gospel, and peace in the midst of plenty.—Here are no landlord, no factor, no threatening for your rents at Martinmas.

Such appears then, says the Reporter, to be the train of sentiments, such the deceitful hopes, and serious discontents, which the emigrant traders make a liberal use of,—He goes on to comment on the circumstances above noticed, and to observe that when to this traffic draws into its service the preaching of sedition, and even the calumniating landlords, factors, and still more the magirastry of the country, in such a way as to irritate the people, and thereby put the public peace in hazard, there is at common law, full power vested in the magistrate to restrain and punish such irregularities.

Those who will not take the trouble of investigating the real origin and effective causes of any evil they observe, are generally inclined to cut the Gordian knot by some such short hand remedy as this gentleman hints at.

A more accurate examination would have shown him, that the circumstances on which he insists as the prime causes of the disorders of the country are the mere symptoms of its morbid state. However mistaken on this head, the reporter has given us facts that are important, as an example of that irritation which has been already insisted on, as prevalent among the lower orders in the Highlands, in consequence of the change in the system of the country.

It cannot escape notice, that the language of M’Lean and M’Lellan, however objectionable, derived all its force from the previous existence of discontent in the minds of the people whom they addressed. If the same language had seen used in the days of genuine clanship, how differently would the people have received the idea of going to a country, where they could have no protection from the chief/—The topics of complaint brought forward are all founded on the peculiar circumstances of the Highlands, and totally different from those which a preacher of sedition in any other part of the kingdom would have dwelt upon. Not a word is said of the Government or Laws of the kingdom; nothing is spoken of but the harshness of the landlord, and the unusual burden of rents.

The praises bestowed on the government and judicature in Canada, may seem indeed to imply a censure on that of our own country; but this would not be a fair construction, when we consider little the advantages of the British constitution have yet reached to these people.—This may not be understood by those who are accustomed to the regular administration of justice in all the southern parts of the kingdom, and who imagine that things are every where conducted in the same manner.—The law, indeed, is the same as in the rest of Scotland; the heritable jurisdictions are abolished nevertheless, the circumstances of the Highlands still give the proprietors of land a degree of power over their immediate dependants, which is not seen in the more commercial parts of the kingdom. This cannot be said equally of all the Highlands; for, in the southern and more improved districts, things are approaching to a similarity with the rest of Scotland but in remoter situations there is still a considerable remnant of the arbitrary spirit of the feudal times.

From the observations that have been made on the general state of society in the highlands, it will be understood that no man can live there as an independent labourer; that every inhabitant of the country is under an absolute necessity of obtaining a possession of land; and as the competitors for such possessions are so numerous that all cannot be accommodated, every one who is not determined on quitting the country feels himself very much at the mercy of the proprietor, on whom he depends for the means of remaining. To this is to be added the poverty of the lower orders; the great extent of particular estates; the remote insulated situation of many; their distance from the ordinary courts of justice, and the great expense which must on that account be incurred by an attempt to procure redress for any wrong. All these circumstances combine to give a landlord in these remote situations an extraordinary degree of personal weight; and the regular authority of a magistrate being superadded, no individual among his dependants can venture to contest his power.

The laws passed after the year 1745, for abolishing the feudal jurisdictions in the Highlands, were certainly useful in so far as they had an effect, but were of much less consequence than they have sometimes been supposed. The substantial change on the state of the Highiands has arisen from other circumstances already sufficiently explained. To extend the spirit as well as the forms of the British constitution through these remote distrjcts, it is necessary that the progress which has been going on ever since the year 1745, should come to maturity; that a commercial order of society should be fully established, and complete the subversion of the feudal system.

In the present state of things, it is not perhaps too much to say, that in a great part of the Highlands the proper administration of justice still depends less on the regular checks of law, than on the personal character of the resident gentry. The power that is in their hands is in a great proportion of the country exercised with a degree of moderation and equity highly honourable to individual gentlemen; but unless the proprietors of the Highlands were a race of angels, this could not be without exceptions. Above all, when it is considered that many extensive estates are scarcely visited by their owners once in the course of several years, and that the almost despotic authority of the landlord is transferred to the hands of underlings, who have no permanent interest in the welfare of the people, it is not to be supposed that abuses will not prevail; and that oppressions will not be practised.

The complaints of the common people are in many parts as loud as they dare to utter them; but the instances of injustice which they may occasionally experience, produce on their minds an aggravated impression, from the great and constant sources of irritation arising out of the general state of the country; and hence perhaps their complaints are too indiscriminate.

That there is some ground, however, for complaint, does not rest on the authority of the common people alone. In Knox’s Tour through the Highlands, p. 191. we find the following remark on one of the Hebrides

"The fishery of the island has long been monopolized by the factor, who pays the fishermen thirteen pounds per ton for the ling, and gets, when sold on the spot, eighteen. When to these advantages we add the various emoluments arising from his office, and his traffic in grain, meal, cattle, etc. his place is better than the rent of many considerable estates in the Highlands."

It may perhaps be imagined that Mr. Knox, being a stranger, has been misled by exaggerated representations; but this cannot be supposed of the patriotic authority of the Agricultural Survey of the Northern Counties of Scotland, who, in laying down a plan for the management of a Highland estate, particularly insisting on the factors being restrained from exacting services, accepting presents, or dealing as drovers in the purchase of cattle, under any pretence whatever.  p. 166,

Of the prevalence of abuses we have also the testimony of a resident clergyman, Mr. Irvine, in his Inquiry into the causes and effects of Emigration.

"‘Were it consistent," he says, " with my inquiry, I would willingly pass over the conduct of the factors in silence." p. 41.

"If a person is so unfortunate as to give any one of them offence, no matter how, he either privately or publicly uses every artifice to render him odious to his neighbours or his landlord, tili in the end he finds it necessary to withdraw.

It would be tedious and irksome to enumerate the various methods by which a factor may get rid of a person whom he hates, or let in (as it is termed) one whom he loves." p. 42.

Mr. Irvine goes on with various other observations, and concludes with saying:—"He that could bear the tyranny of such masters, might have been born a Mahometan." p. 45.

The power with which the factors of many Highland estates are invested, seems to carry with it temptations almost too great for human nature: but though it is on this class of men that the weight of popular odium chiefly falls, ought not the blame in just reason to lie with those, who suffer such abuses to be committed in their name?

Taking things, however, as we find them, it will not appear extraordinary. that the crime, newly laid down in the code of the Highland Society under the title of calumniating factors, unknown as it is in the laws of England, should in some places be deemed the most dangerous and unpardonable of all species of sedition.


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