The Social and Economic Condition of the
Highlands of Scotland Since 1800
THE genesis of this little
book was a Prize Essay written for the Gaelic Society of Inverness in 1888:
it afterwards appeared as a serial in the "Celtic Monthly Magazine." Since
then I have revised and extended the matter to its present form, which I now
publish, partly through representations made to me that its value as a work
of reference would be enhanced in book form, but chiefly from a long and
ardent desire I have had of placing before the public a scheme evolved by me
fifteen years ago for developing the many natural resources of the Highlands
of Scotland, which from common-place familiarity have been overlooked by
keen business men and speculators alike.
The glamour of gold and
diamonds blind most men, and the common-place resources of their native
country are too often neglected for doubtful ventures in foreign lands. Thus
in the Highlands of Scotland, where millions of tons of water, capable of
generating incalculable energy, have been running to waste for ages, only
recently one industry has taken advantage of this economical form of power.
In a country where thousands
of acres of land are practically lying waste, few have deemed it a good
investment to plant trees or sub-divide tillable land into small townships
except in a half-hearted fashion, and without any specific general scheme
for future developments. In a country surrounded by a seaboard, whose waters
are teeming with fish, no adequate harbours exist; and fishing generally is
now prosecuted in practically the same primitive manner as it was two
True, the Fishery Board of
Scotland has done something towards scientific investigation; and it and the
Congested District Boards have helped in a feeble manner in the direction of
providing harbours and piers; but a very great deal remains yet to be done.
The Government should issue
much larger grants both for harbours and fishing equipments. Since the
passing of the Congested Districts Board, in 1897, up to the end of March,
1905, the amount spent on works and land migration, but excluding the
purchase of lands, roughly represented £130,000, of which amount nearly
£12,000 were expended in administrative charges. It is, therefore, apparent
that the present system of making grants in dribbling doles is anything but
an economical policy.
The half-hearted modes of
procedure hitherto adopted must be changed into vigorous action. The waste
uplands must be re-afforested; the straths and glens must be cultivated.
Harbours, piers, and creeks must be constructed. The fishing industry must
be conducted, extended, and worked on more scientific and economic
principles. Light railways should intersect districts now devoid of
reasonable means of access. The existing principal harbours should have
railway connections to admit of the rapid transit of fresh fish to the large
consuming centres, and curing stations, constructed on the latest scientific
lines, should be established at all important fishing stations. Then there
would be an outlet for overcrowded labour, and a remedy for our congested
Who has yet given any real,
practical, or scientific consideration to the utilisation of the great peat
deposits of the Highlands? Here is a fuel containing a large percentage of
combustible material, dug out in the crude manner of almost pre-historic
days, in a climate sodden with damp, in which desperate efforts are made to
dry a still more sodden peat in an atmosphere already overburdened with
moisture, when a simple mechanical process of compression and artificial
evaporation would produce 66 per cent. of combustible material little
inferior to the best coal, and apart from many valuable by-products.
These, briefly, are a few of
the many points which I am anxious to bring before the reader's notice in
this book, and, although in several cases I have only hovered around the
outskirts of the subject, I hope to arouse sufficient interest in the
problems, and to awaken the public from their apathy towards the starving
masses of our large cities, and by co-operation obtain for them honourable
employment and comfortable homes in the Highlands they so fondly cherish,
instead of allowing them to be expatriated to foreign lands and climes
unsuited to their temperament.
Were these schemes, which I
have so imperfectly outlined, carried into effect, they would go a long
way—a very long way—towards the amelioration of our compatriots, whose
ancestors or themselves have been driven from their native soil, and the
land they love so well.
I cannot close this Preface
without expressing my gratitude to the Rev. John Sinclair, Parish Minister
of Kinloch-Rannoch, for the many valuable hints given to me during the final
getting-up of this book,, and for his kindness in revising the proofs during
my absence in South Africa.
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