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General History of the Highlands
The Living Conditions in the Highlands after 1745 - Part 1


As we have said already, the Highlanders, chiefs and people, were so confounded, and prostrated by the cruel proceedings and stringent measures which followed Culloden, that it was some time ere they could realise the new position of affairs. Little alteration appears to have, for some years, been effected in the relationship subsisting between people and chiefs, the latter being now simply landlords. The gentlemen and common people of the clans continued to regard their chief in the same light as they did previous to the abolition of the jurisdictions, for they did not consider that their obedience to the head of the clan was in the least dependent upon any legislative enactments. They still considered it their duty to do what they could to support their chief, and were still as ready as ever to make any sacrifice for his sake. At the same time, their notions of the chief’s duty to his people remained unaltered; he, they thought, was bound as much as ever to see to it that they did not want, to share with them the land which belonged to the chief not so much as a proprietor, but as the head and representative of his people. The gentlemen, especially, of the clan, the tacksmen or large farmers, most firmly and sincerely believed that they had as much right to a share of the lands as the chief himself, their relation; he was as much bound to provide for them as a father is bound to make provision for his children. There is no doubt also that many of the chiefs themselves, especially the older ones, held the same belief on this matter as their subordinates, so that in many instances it was not till the old laird had passed away, and a new one had filled his place, that the full effect of the measures already described began to be felt. Of course, many of the chiefs and gentlemen who had taken part in the rebellion had been compelled to leave the country in order to save their lives, and many of the estates had been forfeited to government, which entrusted the management of them to commissioners. It was probably these estates upon which changes began to be first effected.

All the accounts we have of the Highlands from travellers and others down to the end of the 18th century, show the country in a state of commotion and confusion, resulting from the changes consequent on the rebellion, the breaking up of old relationships, and the gradual encroachment of lowland civilisation, lowland modes of life, and lowland methods of agriculture. Up to the end of the century, the positive changes do not appear to have been great or extensive, they seem more to have been of a tentative experimental kind, attempts to find out the most suitable or profitable way of working under the new regime. The result of these experiments of this unsettling of many-century-old customs and ideas, and of the consequent shifting and disturbing of the people, was for a long time much discontent and misery. The progress of change, both with regard to place and in respect of the nature of the innovations, was gradual, beginning, as a rule, with those districts of the Highlands which bordered on the lowlands, and proceeding in a direction somewhat north-west. It was these border districts which got first settled down and assimilated in all respects to the lowlands, and, although in some instances the commotion was felt in the Western Islands and Highlands a few years after 1746, yet these localities, as a rule, were longest in adjusting themselves to the new state of things; indeed, in many western districts, the commotion has not yet subsided, and consequently misery and discontent still frequently prevail. In the same way it was only little by little that changes were effected, first one old custom giving way and then another, their places being filled by others which had prevailed in the lowlands for many years before. Indeed, we think the progress made by the Highlands during the last century has been much greater than that of the lowlands during the same period; for when, in the case of the Highlands, the march of progress commenced, they were in many respects centuries behind the rest of the country, whereas at the present day, with the exception of some outlying districts above mentioned, they are in almost every respect as far forward and as eager to advance farther as the most progressive districts of the south. This is no doubt owing to the extra pressure which was brought to bear upon them in the shape of the measures which followed Culloden, without which they no doubt must have progressed, but at a much slower rate. Perhaps this is the reason why certain outlying districts have lagged behind and are still in a state of unsettlement and discontent, the people, and often time lairds, refusing to acknowledge and give way to the necessity for change, but even yet attempting to live and act in accordance with the old-fashioned clannish mode of managing men and land.

The unsettled state of the Highlands, and the fact that many Highlanders were leaving the country, attracted attention so early as about 1750. For in 1752, a pamphlet was published by a Mr John Campbell, pretending to give "A Full and Particular Description of the Highlands," and propounding a scheme which, in the author’s estimation, would "prove effectual in bringing in the most disaffected among them." There is little said in this book of the actual condition of the Highlanders at that time, only a few details as to their manners, funeral-customs, marriages, &c., and a lamentation, ever since repeated, that so many should be compelled to leave their native land and settle among foreigners. The author does not mention emigration to America; what he chiefly deplores is the fact that so many Highlanders, from the unkindness of their superiors at home, should have taken service in various capacities, civil and military, in other European countries, frequently fighting in foreign armies against their fellow-countrymen. However, from the general tone of his remarks, it may be gathered that he refers mainly to those who were compelled to leave the country on account of the part they took in the late rebellion, and not on account of any alterations which had yet taken place in the internal affairs of the Highlands. Still it is plainly to be inferred that already much misery and discontent prevailed in the country.

Pennant made his two tours in Scotland in the years 1769 and 1772. His travels in the Highlands were confined mainly to the Western Islands and the districts on the west coast, and his account is little else than a tale of famine and wretchedness from beginning to end. What little agriculture there was, was as bad as ever, the country rarely producing enough of grain to supply the inhabitants, and in many places he fears "the isles annually experience a temporary famine." In the island of Islay a thousand pounds worth of meal was annually imported, and at the time of Pennant’s visit "a famine threatened." Indeed, the normal state of the Western Highlands at least appears for long to have been one bordering on famine, or what would have been considered so in any less wretched country; and periodically many seem to have died from absolute want of food.

Here is a sad picture of misery; Pennant is speaking more particularly of Skye, but his remarks might have been applied to most of the Western Islands. "The poor are left to Providence’s care; they prowl like other animals along the shores to pick up limpets and other shell-fish, the casual repasts of hundreds during part of the year in these unhappy islands. Hundreds thus annually drag through the season a wretched life; and numbers, unknown, in all parts of the Western Highlands, fall beneath the pressure, some of hunger, more of the putrid fever, the epidemic of the coasts, originating from unwholesome food, the dire effects’ of necessity."’ No change for the better to record in agriculture, the farms still overstocked with horses, black cattle and men, the fishing still all but neglected, hovels wretched as ever, and clothes as tattered and scanty—nothing in short to be seen but want and wretchedness, with apparently no inclination in the people to better their condition. Johnson, who visited the Western Islands in the autumn of 1773, has a very similar report to make. Everything seemed to be in a state of transition; old relationships were being broken up, and a spirit of general discontent and feeling of insecurity were abroad. As to the poor condition of the people generally, Johnson essentially confirms the statements of Pennant, although he hints that they did by no means appear to be unhappy, or able to realise their wretched condition.

At the time of Pennant’s and Johnson’s visits to the Highlands, the new leaven of change had fairly begun to work. Already had depopulation and emigration begun, and to some extent sheep-farming on a large scale had been introduced.

Emigration from the Highlands to America seems to have fairly commenced shortly after 1760, as, in a pamphlet published in 1784, it is stated that between the years 1763 and 1775 above 20,000 Highlanders left their homes to settle on the other side of the Atlantic. The first apparently to suffer from the altered state of things in the Highlands, the decreasing value of men and the increasing value of money, were the tacksmen, or large farmers, the relations of the old chief, who had held their farms from generation to generation, who regarded themselves as having about as much right to the land as the lairds, and who had hitherto been but little troubled about rent. After a time, when the chiefs, now merely lairds, began to realize their new position and to feel the necessity of making their land yield them as large an income as possible, they very naturally sought to get a higher rent for the farms let to these tacksmen, who, in most cases, were the only immediate holders of land from the proprietor. These tacksmen, in many cases, appear to have resented this procedure as they would a personal injury from their dearest friends. It was not that the addition to the rents was excessive, or that the rents were already high as the land could bear, for generally the addition seem to have been trifling, and it is well known that the proprietors received nothing like the rents their lands should have yielded under a proper system of management. What seems to have hurt these gentlemen was the idea that the laird, the father of his people, should ever think of anything so mercenary as rent, or should ever by any exercise of his authority indicate that he had it in his power to give or let his farms to the highest bidders. It was bad enough, they thought, that an alien government should interfere with their old ways of doing; but that their chiefs, the heads of their race, for whom they were ready to lay down their lives and the lives of all over whom they had any power, should turn against them, was more than they could bear. The consequence was that many of them, especially in the west, threw up their farms, no doubt thinking that the lairds would at once ask them to remain on the old terms. This, however, was but seldom done, and the consequence was that many of these tacksmen emigrated to America, taking with them, no doubt, servants and sub-tenants, and enticing out more by the glowing accounts they sent home of their good fortune in that far-off land.

In some cases, the farms thus vacated were let to other tacksmen or large tenants, but in most instances, the new system was introduced of letting the land directly to what were formerly the sub-tenants, those who had held the land immediately from the ousted tacksmen. A number of these sub-tenants would take a large farm among them, sub-dividing it as they chose, and each becoming liable for his proportion of the rent. The farms thus let were generally cultivated on the run-rig system, the pasture being common to all the tenants alike.

That certain advantages followed these changes there is no doubt. Every account we have of the Highlands during the earlier part of the 18th century, agrees in the fact that the Highlands were over-peopled and over-stocked, that it was impossible for the land to yield sufficient to support the men and beasts who lived upon it. Hence, this drafting off of a considerable portion of the population have that which remained breathing-room; fewer people were left to support, and it is to be supposed that the condition of these would be improved. Moreover, they would probably have their farms at a cheaper rent than under the old system, when the demands of both tacksmen and laird had to be satisfied, the former of course having let the land at a much higher rate than that at which they held it from their superior. Now, it was possible enough for the laird to get a higher rent than before, and at the same time the people might have their farms at a lower rent than they had previously given to the tacksmen. There would also be fewer oppressive services demanded of these small tenants than under the old system, for now they had only the laird to satisfy, whereas previously they had both him and the tacksman. There would still, of course, be services required by the laird from these tenants, still would part of the rent be paid in kind, still would they be thirled to particular mills, and have to submit to many similar exactions, of the oppressiveness of which, however, it was long before they became conscious; but, on the whole, the condition of those districts from which emigrations took place must to have some extent have been the better for the consequent thinning of the population. Still no alteration appears to have taken place in the mode of farming, the nature of tenures, mode of paying rent, houses, clothes, food of the people. In some parts of the Highlands and islands, no alteration whatever appears to have been made on the old system; the tacksmen were allowed to remain undisturbed, and the people lived and held land as formerly. But even in those districts from which emigrations were largely made, little, or no improvement seems to have been the consequence, if we may trust the reports of those who saw how things stood with their own eyes. Pennant, Johnson, Buchanan, Newte, the Old Statistical Account, all agree that but little improvement was noticeable from 1745 down till near the end of the 18th century.

One reason why emigration made so little difference in the way of improvement on the condition in the way of improvement on the condition of those who remained in the country was, that no check was put upon the overstocking of the farms with men and animals. In spite of emigration, the population in many districts increased instead of diminished. A common practice among those tenants who conjointly held a large farm was for a father, on the marriage of a son or daughter, to divide his share of the farm with the young couple, who either lived in the old man's house or built a but for themselves and tried to make a living out of the share of the pendicle allotted to them. To such an extent was this practice carried, that often a portion of land of a few acres, originally let to and sufficient to maintain one family, might in a few years be divided among six or eight families, and which, even if cultivated in the best manner possible, would not support its occupants for more than two or three month a year. On account of this ruinous practice, Skye, which in 1750 had 15,000 inhabitants, most of whom were in a condition of misery and want, in 1857, in spite of large and repeated emigrations, had a population of about 23,000. This custom was common in many Highland (chiefly western) districts down to the late 19th century, and was fruitful of many consequences - of frequent famines, the constant impoverishing of the soil, the over-stocking of pasture-land, and continual wretchedness.

In some cases, the farms vacated by the old tacksmen, instead of being let to the old sub-tenant, were let to whatever stranger would give the highest offer. On farms so let, the condition of the sub-tenants who were continued on the old footing, appears often to have been miserable in the extreme. These newcomer tacksmen or middlemen cared nothing either for chiefs or people; they paid their rent and were determined to squeeze from those under them as large a return as possible for their outlay. In confirmation of these statements, and to show the sad conditions of many parts of the Highlands in their state of transition, we quote the following passage from Buchanan's Travels in the Hebrides, referring to about 1780. Even allowing for exaggeration, although there is no reason to believe the writer goes beyond the truth, the picture is almost incredibly deplorable:

"At present they are obliged to be much more submissive to their tacksmen than ever they were in former times to their lairds of lords. There is a great difference between that mild treatment which is shown to sub-tenants and even scallags, by the old lessees, descended of ancient and honorable families, and the outrageous rapacity of those necessitous strangers who have obtained leases from absent proprietors, who treat the natives as if they were a conquered and inferior race of mortals. In short, they treat them like beasts of burden; and in all respects like slaves attached to the soil, as they cannot obtain new habitations, on account of the combinations already mentioned, and are entirely at the mercy of the laird or tacksman. Formerly, the personal service of the tenant did not usually exceed eight or ten days in the year. There lives at present at Scalpa, in the Isle of Harris, a tacksman of a large district, who instead of six days work paid by the sub-tenants to his predecessor in the lease, has raised the predial service, called in that and in other parts of Scotland, manerial bondage, to fifty-two days in the year at once; besides many other services to be performed at different though regular and stated times; as tanning leather for brogues, making heather ropes for thatch, digging and drying peats for fuel; one pannier of peat charcoal to be carried to the smith; so many days for gathering and shearing sheep and lambs; for ferrying cattle from island to island, and other distant places, and several days for going on distant errands; as many pounds of wool to be spun into yarn. And over and above all this, they must lend their aid upon any unforeseen occurrence whenever they are called on. The constant service of two months at once is performed at the proper season in the making of kelp. On the whole, this gentleman's sub-tenants may be computed to devote to his service full three days in the week. But this is not all: they have to pay besides yearly a certain number of cocks, hens, butter, and cheese, called Caorigh-Febbin, the Wife's Portion! This, it must be owned, is one of the most severe and rigorous tacksmen descended from the old inhabitants, in all the Western Hebrides: but the situation of his sub-tenants of those places in general, and the exact counterpart of such enormous oppression is to be found at Luskintire".

Another cause of emigration and of depopulation generally, was the introduction of sheep on a large scale, involving the junction into one of several small farms, each of which might before have been occupied by a number of tenants. Those subjects of the introduction of sheep, engrossing of farms, and consequent depopulation have occupied, and still to some extend do occupy, the attention of all those who take an interest in the Highlands, and of social economists in general. Various opinions have been passed on the matters in question, some advocating the retention of the people at all costs, while others declare that the greatest part of the Highlands is fit only for pasture, and it would be sheer madness, and shutting our eyes willfully to the sad lessons of experience, to stock a land with people that is fit only to sustain sheep, and which at its very best contains more specks of arable ground, which, even when cultivated to the utmost, can yield but a poor and unprofitable return.

Whatever opinion may be passed upon the general question, there can be no doubt that at first the introduction of sheep was fruitful of misery and discontent to those who had to vacate their old home and leave their native glens to find shelter they knew not well where. Many of those thus displaced by sheep and by one or two lowland shepherds, emigrated like the discontented tacksmen to America, those who remained looking with ill-will and an evil eye on the lowland intruders. Although often the intruder came from the South country, and brought his sheep and his shepherds with him, still this was not always the case; for many of the old tacksmen and even sub-tenants, after they saw how immensely more profitable the new system was over the old, wisely took a lesson in time, and following the example of the new lowland tenant, tool large farms and stocked them with sheep and cattle, and reduced the arable land to a minimum. But, generally speaking, in cases where farm formerly subdivided among a number of tenants were converted into sheep farms, the smaller tenant had to quit and find a means of living elsewhere. The landlords in general attempted to prevent the ousted tenants from leaving the country by setting apart some particular spot either by the sea-shore or on waste land which had never been touched by plough, on which they might build houses and have an acre or two of land for their support. Those who were removed to the coast were encouraged to prosecute the fishing along with their agricultural labors, while those who were settled on waste land were stimulated to bring it into a state of cultivation. It was mainly by a number of such ousted Highlanders that the great and arduous undertaking was accomplished of bringing into a state of cultivation Kincardine Moss, in Perthshire. At the time the task was undertaken, about 1767, it was one of stupendous magnitude; but so successfully was it carried out, that in a few years upwards of 2000 acres of fine clay-soil, which for centuries had been covered to the depth of seven feet with heath and decayed vegetable matter, were bearing luxuriant crops of all kinds. In a similar way, many spots throughout the Highlands, formerly yielding nothing but heath and moss, were, by the exertions of those who were deprived of their farms, brought into a state of cultivation. Those who occupied ground of this kind were known as mailers, and, as a rule, they paid no rent for the first few years, after which they generally paid the proprietor a shilling or two per acre, which was gradually increased as the land improved and its cultivation extended. For the first season or two the proprietor usually either lent or presented them with seed and implements. In the parish of Urray, in the south-east of Ross-shire, about the year 1790, there were 248 families of this kind, most of whom had settled there within the previous forty years. Still the greater number of these, both tacksmen and sub-tenants, who were deprived of their farms, either on account of the raising of the rents or because of their conversion into large sheep-walks, emigrated to America. The old Statistical Account of North Uist says that between the years 1771 and 1775, a space of only four years, several thousands emigrated from the Western Highlands and Islands alone. At first few of the islands appear to have been put under sheep; where any alteration on the state of things took place at all, it was generally in the way of raising rents, thus causing the tacksmen to leave, who were succeeded either by strangers who leased the farms, or by the old sub-tenants, among whom the lands were divided, and who held immediately from the laird. It was long, however, as have already indicated, before the innovations took thorough hold upon the Hebrides, as even down almost to the present time many of the old proprietors, either from attachment to their people, or from a love of feudal show, struggle to keep up the old system, leaving the tacksmen undisturbed, and doing all they can to maintain and keep on their property a large number of sub-tenants and cottars. Almost invariably, those proprietors who thus obstinately refused to succumb to the changes going on around them, suffered for their unwise conduct. Many of them impoverished their families for generations, and many of the estates were disposed of for behoof of their creditors, and they themselves had to sink to the level of landless gentlemen, and seek their living in commerce or elsewhere.

Gradually, however, most of the proprietors, especially those whose estates were on the mainland Highlands, yielded, in general no doubt willingly, to change, raised their rents, abolished small tenancies, and gave their lands up to the sheep farmers. The temptation was, no doubt, often very great, on account of the large rents offered by the lowland grazers. One proprietor in Argyleshire, who had some miles of pasture let to a number of small tenants for a few shillings yearly, on being offered by a lowlander who saw the place £300 a year, could not resist, but, however ruefully, cleared it of his old tenants, and gave it up to the money-making lowlander. It was this engrossing of farms and the turning of immense tracks of country into sheep-walks, part of which was formerly cultivated and inhabited by hundreds of people, that was the great grievance of the Highlanders during the latter part of the last century. Not that it could aggravate their wretchedness to any great extent, for that was bad enough already even before 1745; it seem to have been rather the fact that their formerly much-loved chiefs should treat them worse than they could strangers, prefer a big income to a large band of faithful followers, and eject those who believed themselves to have as great a right to the occupancy of the land as the chief themselves. "The great and growing grievance of the Highlands is not the letting of the land to tacksmen, but the making of so many sheep-walks, which sweep off both tacksmen and sub-tenants all in a body". The tacksmen especially felt naturally cut to the quick by what they deemed the selfish and unjust policy of the chiefs. These tacksmen and their ancestors in most cases had occupied their farms for many generations; their birth was as good and their genealogy as old as those of the chief himself, to whom they were all blood relations, and to whom they were attached with the most unshaken loyalty. True, they had no writing, no document, no paltry "sheep-skin", as they called it, to show as a proof that they had as much right to their farms as the laird himself. But what of that? Who would ever have thought that their chiefs would turn against them, and try to wrest from them that which had been gifted by a former chief to their fathers, who would have bitten out their tongue before they would ask a bond? The gift, they thought, was none the less real because there was no written proof of it. These parchments were quite a modern innovation, not even then universally acknowledged among the Highlanders, to whom the only satisfactory proof of proprietorship and chiefship was possession from time immemorial. Occasionally a chief, who could produce no title-deed to his estate, was by law deprived of it, and his place filled by another. But the clan would have none of this; they invariably turned their backs upon the intruder, and acknowledged only the ousted chief as their head and the real proprietor, whom they were bound to support, and whom they frequently did support, by paying to him the rents which were legally due to the other. In some cases, it would seem, the original granters of the land to the tacksmen conveyed it to them by a regular title-deed, by which, of course, they became proprietors. And we think there can be no doubt, that originally when a chief bestowed a share of his property upon his son or other near relation, he intended that the latter should keep it for himself and his descendants; he was not regarded merely as a tenant who had to pay a yearly rent, but as a sub-proprietor, who, from a sense of love and duty would contribute what he could to support the chief of his race and clan. In many cases, we say, this was the light in which chief, tacksmen, and people regarded these farms tenanted by the gentlemen of the clan; and it only seems to have been after the value of men decreased and of property increased, that most of the lairds began to look at the matter in a more commercial, legal, and less romantic light. According to Newte - and what he says is supported to a considerable extent by facts - "in the southern parts of Argyleshire, in Perthshire, Aberdeenshire, Moray and Ross, grants of land were made in writing, while in Inverness-shire, Sutherland-shire, the northern parts of Argylshire, and the Western Islands, the old mode was continued of verbal or emblematical transference. In Ross-shire, particularly, it would appear that letters and the use of letters in civil affairs had been early introduced and widely spread; for property is more equally divided in that country than in most other counties in Scotland, and than in any other of the Highlands. Agreeably to these observation, it is from the great estates on the northern and western side of Scotland that the descendants of the original tacksmen of the land, with their families, have been obliged to migrate by the positive and unrelenting demands of rent beyond what it was in their power to give, and, indeed, in violation of those conditions that were understood and observed between the original granter and original tenant and their posterity for centuries". These statements are exceedingly plausible, and we believe to a certain extent true; but it is unnecessary here to enter upon the discussion of the question. What we have to do with is the unquestionable fact that the Highland proprietors did in many instances take advantage of the legal power, which they undoubtedly possessed, to do with their land as they pleased, and, regardless of the feelings of the old tacksmen and sub-tenants, let it to the highest bidders. The consequence was that these tacksmen, who to a certain extent were demoralized and knew not how to use the land to best advantage, had to leave the homes of their ancestors; and many of the small farmers and cottars, in the face of the new system of large sheep-farms, becoming cumberers of the ground, were swept from the face of the country, and either located in little lots by the sea-side, where they became useful as fishers and kelp-burners, or settled on some waste moor, which they occupied themselves in reclaiming from its native barrenness, or, as was frequently the case, followed the tacksmen and sought a home in the far west, where many of them became lairds in their own right.

These then are the great results of the measures which followed the rebellion of 1745-6, and the consequent breaking up of the old clan system - extensive sheep-framing, accompanied with a great rise in the rent of land, depopulation and emigration. as to the legality of the proceedings of the proprietors, there can be no doubt; as little doubt is there than the immediate consequence to many of the Highlanders was great suffering, accompanied by much bitterness and discontent. As to the morality or justice of the laird's conduct, various opinions have been, and no doubt for long will be, expressed. One side maintains that it was the duty of these chiefs upon whom the people depended, whom they revered, and for whom they were ready to die, at all events, to see to it that their people were provided for, and that ultimately it would have been for the interest of the proprietors and the country at large to do everything to prevent from emigrating in such numbers as they did, such a splendid race of men, for whose services to the country no money equivalent could be found. It is maintained that the system of large farms is pernicious in every respect, and that only by the system of moderate sized farms can a country be made the best of, an adequate rural population be kept up, and self-respect and a high moral tone be nourished and spread throughout the land. Those who adopt this side of the question pooh-pooh the common maxims of political economy, and declare that laws whose immediate consequences are wide-spread suffering, and the unpeopling of a country, cannot be founded on any valid basis; that proprietors hold their lands only in trust, and it is therefore their duty not merely to consider their own narrow interest, but also to consult the welfare and consult the feelings of their people. In short, it is maintained by this party, that the Highland lairds, in acting as they did, showed themselves to be unjust, selfish, heartless, unpatriotic, mercenary, and blind to their own true interests and those of their country.

On the other hand, it is maintained that what occurred in the Highlands subsequent to 1745 was a step in the right direction, and that, it was only a pity that the innovations had no been more thorough and systematic. For long previous to 1745, it is asserted the Highlands were much over-peopled, and the people, as a consequence of the vicious system under which they had lived for generations, were incurably lazy, and could be roused from this sad lethargy only by some such radical measures as were adopted. The whole system of Highland life and manners and habits were almost barbarous, the method of farming was thoroughly pernicious and unproductive, the stock of cattle worthless and excessive, and so badly managed that about one half perished every winter. On account of the excessive population, the land was by far too much subdivided, the majority of so-called farmers occupying farms of so small a size that they could furnish the necessaries of life for no more than six months, and consequently the people were continually on the verge of starvation. The Highlands, it is said, are almost totally unsuited for agriculture, and fit only for pasturage, and that consequently this subdivision into small farms could be nothing else than pernicious; that the only method by which the land could be made the most of was that or large sheep-farms, and that the proprietors while no doubt studying their own interest, adopted the wisest policy when they let out their land on this system. In short, it is maintained by the advocates of innovation, the whole body of the Highlanders were thoroughly demoralized, their number was greater by far than the land could support even if managed to the best advantage, and was increasingly every year; the whole system of renting land, of tenure, and of farming was ruinous to the people and the land, and that nothing but a radical change could cure the many evils with which the country was afflicted.

There has been much rather bitter discussion between the advocates of the two sides of the Highland question; often more recrimination and calling of names then telling argument. This question, we think, is no exception to the general rule which governs most disputed matters; there is truth, we believe, on both sides. We fear the facts already adduced in this part comprise many of the assertions made by the advocates of change. As to the wretched social condition of the Highlanders, for long before and after 1745, there can be no doubt, if we can place any reliance on the evidence of contemporaries, and we have already said enough to show that the common system of farming, if worthy of the name, was ruinous and inefficient; while their small lean cattle were so badly managed that about one half died yearly. That the population was very much greater than the land, even if used to the best advantage, could support, is testified to by every candid writer from the Gartmore paper down almost to the present day. The author of the Gartmore paper, written about 1747, estimated that the population of the Highlands at that time amounted to about 230,000; "but", he says, "according to the present economy of the Highlands, there is not business for more than one half of that number of people... The other half, then, must be idle and beggars while in the country".
"The produce of the crops," says Pennant, "very rarely are in any degree proportioned to the wants of the inhabitants; golden seasons have happened, when they have had superfluity, but the years of famine are as ten to one." It is probable, from a comparison with the statistics of Dr Webster, taken in 1755, that the estimate of the author of the Gartmore paper was not far from being correct; indeed, if anything, it must have been under the mark, as in 1755 the population of the Highlands and Islands amounted, according to Webster, to about 290,000, which, in 1795, had increased to 325,566, in spite of the many thousands who had emigrated. This great increase in the population during the latter part of the 18th century is amply confirmed by the writers of the Statistical Accounts of the various Highland parishes, and none had better opportunities of knowing the real state of matters than they. The great majority of these writers likewise assert that the population was far too large in proportion to the produce of the land and means of employment, and that some such outlet as emigration was absolutely necessary. Those who condem emigration and depopulation, generally do so for some merely sentimental reason, and seldom seek to show that it is quite possible to maintain the large population without disastrous results. It is a pity, they say, that the Highlander, possessing so many noble qualities, and so strongly attached to his native soil, should be compelled to seek a home in a foreign land, and bestow upon it the services which might be profitably employed by his mother country. By permitting, they say, these loyal and brave Highlanders to leave the country, Britain is throwing away some of the finest recruiting material in the world, for—and it is quite true—the Highland soldier has not his match for bravery, moral character, and patriotism.

These statements are no doubt true; it certainly is a pity that an inoffensive, brave, and moral people should be compelled to leave their native land, and devote to the cultivation of a foreign soil those energies which might be used to the benefit of their own country. It would also be very bad policy in government to lose the chance of filling up the ranks of the army with some of the best men obtainable anywhere. But then, if there was nothing for the people to do in the country, if their condition was one of chronic famine, as was undoubtedly the case with the Highlanders, if the whole productions of the country were insufficient even to keep them in bare life, if every few years the country had to contribute thousands of pounds to keep these people alive, if, in short, the majority of them were little else than miserable beggars, an encumbrance on the progress of their country, a continual source of sadness to all feeling men, gradually becoming more and more demoralised by the increasingly wretched condition in which they lived, and by the ever-recurring necessity of bestowing upon them charity to keep them alive,—if such were the case, the advocates for a thinning of the population urge, whom would it profit to keep such a rabble of half-starved creatures huddled together in a corner of the country, reaping for themselves nothing but misery and degradation, and worse than useless to everybody else. Moreover, as to the military argument, it is an almost universal statement made by the writers of the Old Statistical Account (about 1790), that, at that time, in almost all the Highland parishes it was scarcely possible to get a single recruit, so great was the aversion of the people both to a naval and military life. Besides, though the whole of the surplus population bad been willing to volunteer into the army, of what value would it have been if the country had no use for them; and surely it would be very questionable policy to keep thousands of men in idleness on the bare chance that they might be required as soldiers.

The sentimental and military arguments are no doubt very touching and very convincing to men in whom impulse and imagination predominate over reason and clearness of vision, and are fitting subjects for a certain kind of poetry, which has made much of them; but they cannot for one moment stand the test of facts, and become selfishly cruel, impracticable, and disastrous, when contrasted with the teachings of genuine humanity and the best interests of the Highlanders. On this subject, the writer of the Old Statistical Account of the Parish of Lochgoilhead makes some remarks so sensible, and so much to the point, that we are tempted to quote them here. "It is frequent," he says, "with people who wish well to their country, to inveigh against the practice of turning several small farms into one extensive braziner and dispossessing the former tenants. If the strength of a country depends upon the number of its inhabitants, it appears a pernicious measure to drive away the people by depriving them of their possessions. This complaint is very just with regard to some places in Scotland; for it must be greatly against the interest of the nation to turn rich arable land, which is capable at the same time of supporting a number of people, and of producing much grain, into pasture ground. But the complaint does not seem to apply to this country. The strength of a nation cannot surely consist in the number of idle people which it maintains; that the inhabitants of this part of the country were formerly sunk in indolence, and contributed very little to the wealth, or to the support of the state, cannot be denied. The produce of this parish, since sheep have become the principal commodity, is at least double the intrinsic value of what it was formerly, so that half the number of hands produce more than double the quantity of provisions, for the support of our large towns, and the supply of our tradesmen and manufacturers; and the system by which land returns the most valuable produce, and in the greatest abundance, seems to be the most beneficial for the country at large. Still, however, if the people who are dispossessed of this land emigrated into other nations, the present system might be justly condemned, as diminishing the strength of the country. But this is far from being the case; of the great number of people who have been deprived of their farms in this parish, for thirty years past, few or none have settled out of the kingdom; they generally went to sea, or to the populous towns upon the Clyde. In these places, they have an easy opportunity, which they generally embrace, of training up their children to useful and profitable employments, and of rendering them valuable members of society. So that the former inhabitants of this country have been taken from .a situation in which they contributed nothing to the wealth, and very little to the support of the state, to a situation in which their labour is of the greatest public utility. Nor has the present system contributed to make the condition of the inhabitants of the country worse than it was before; on the contrary, the change is greatly in their favour. The partiality in favour of former times, and the attachment to the place of their nativity, which is natural to old people, together with the indolence in which they indulged themselves in this country, mislead them in drawing a comparison between their past and their present situation. But indolence was almost the only comfort which they enjoyed. There was scarcely any variety of wretchedness with which they were not obliged to struggle, or rather to which they were not obliged to submit. They often felt what it was to want food; the scanty crops which they raised were consumed by their cattle in winter and spring; for a great part of the year they lived wholly on milk, and even that in the end of spring and beginning of winter was very scarce. To such extremity were they frequently reduced, that they were obliged to bleed their cattle in order to subsist for some time upon the blood; and even the inhabitants of the glens and valleys repaired in crowds to the shore, at the distance of three or four miles, to pick up the scanty provision which the shell-fish afforded them. They were miserably ill clothed, and the huts in which they lived were dirty and mean beyond expression. How different from their present situation? They now enjoy the necessaries, and many of the comforts of life in abundance: even those who are supported by the charity of the parish feel no real want. Much of the wretchedness which formerly prevailed in this and in other parishes in the Highlands, was owing to the indolence of the people, and to their want of management; but a country which is neither adapted for agriculture nor for rearing black cattle, can never maintain any great number of people comfortably."

No doubt the very men who deplore what they call the depopulation of the Highlands would advocate the advisability of emigration in the case of the unemployed surplus population of any other part of the country. If their arguments against the emigration of the Highlanders to another country, and in favour of their being retained in their own district were logically carried out, to what absurd and disastrous consequences would they lead? Supposing that all the people who have emigrated from this country to America, Australia, and elsewhere, had been kept at home, where would this country have been? There would scarcely have been standing room for the population, the great majority of whom must have been in a state of indescribable misery. The country would have been ruined. The same arguments might also be used against the emigration of the natives of other countries, many of whom are no doubt as attached to their native soil as the Highlanders; and if the principle had been rigidly carried out, what direful consequences to the world at large would have been the result. In fact, there would have been little else but universal barbarism. It seems to be admitted by all thoughtful men that the best outlet for a redundant or idle population is emigration; it is beneficial to the mother country, beneficial to the emigrants, and beneficial to the new country in which they take up their abode. Only thus can the earth be subdued, and made the most of.

Why then should there be any lamentation over the Highlanders leaving their country more than over any other class of respectable willing men? Anything more hopelessly wretched than their position at various times from 1745 down to the present day it would be impossible to imagine. If one, however, trusted the descriptions of some poets and sentimentalists, a happier or more comfortably situated people than the Highlanders at one time were could not be found on the face of the globe. They were always clean, and tidy, and well dressed, lived in model cottages, surrounded by model gardens, had always abundance of plain wholesome food and drink, were exuberant in their hospitality, doated on their chiefs, carefully cultivated their lands and tended their flocks, but had plenty of time to dance and sing, and narrate round the cheerful winter hearth the legends of their people, and above all, feared God and honoured the king. Now, these statements have no foundation in fact, at least within the historical period; but generally the writers on this side of the question refer generally to the period previous to 1745, and often, in some cases, to a time subsequent to that. Every writer who pretends to record facts, the result of observation, and not to draw imaginary Arcadian pictures, concurs in describing the country as being sunk in the lowest state of wretchedness. The description we have already given of the condition of the people before 1745, applies with intensified force to the greater part of the Highlands for long after that year. Instead of improving, and often there were favourable opportunities for improvement, the people seemed to be retrograding, getting more and more demoralised, more and more miserable, more and more numerous, and more and more famine-struck. In proof of what we say, we refer to all the writers on and travellers in the Highlands of last century, to Pennant, Boswell, Johnson, Newte, Buchanan, and especially the Old Statistical Account. To let the reader judge for himself as to the value of the statements we make as to the condition of the Highlands during the latter part of last century, we quote below a longish extract from a pamphlet written by one who had visited and enquired into the state of the Highlands about the year 1780 It is written by one who deplores the extensive emigration which was going on, but yet who, we are inclined to believe, has slightly exaggerated the misery of the Highlanders in order to make the sin of absentee chiefs, who engross farms, and raise enormously the rents, as great as possible. Still, when compared with the statements made by other contemporary authorities, the exaggeration seems by no means great, and making allowances, the picture presented is a mocking, weird contrast to the fancies of the sentimentalist. That such a woeful state of things required radical and uncompromising measures of relief, no one can possibly deny. Yet this same writer laments most pitiably that 20,000 of these wretched people had to leave their wretched homes and famine-struck condition, and the oppression of their lairds, for lands and houses of their own in a fairer and more fertile land, where. independence and affluence were at the command of all who cared to bend their backs to labour. What good purpose, divine or human, could be served by keeping an increasing population in a land that cannot produce enough to keep the life in one-half of its people? Nothing but misery, and degrad4ion, and oppression here; happiness, advancement, riches, and freedom on the other side of the water. Is there more than one conclusion?

["Upon the whole, the situation of these people, inhabitants of Britain! is such as no language can describe, nor fancy conceive. If, with great labour and fatigue, the farmer raises a slender crop of oats and barley, the autumnal rains often baffle his utmost efforts, and frustrate all his expectations; and instead of being able to pay an exorbitant rent, he sees his family in danger of perishing during the ensuing winter, when he is precluded from any possibility of assistance elsewhere.

"Nor are his cattle in a better situation; in summer they pick up a scanty support amongst the morasses or heathy mountains; but in winter, when the grounds are covered with snow, and when the naked wilds afford neither shelter nor subsistence, the few cows, small, lean, and ready to drop down through want of pasture, are brought into the hut where the family resides, and frequently share with them the small stock of meal which had been purchased, or raised, for the family only ; while the cattle thus sustained, are bled occasionally, to afford nourishment for the children after it bath been boiled or made into cakes.

"The sheep being left upon the open heaths, seek to shelter themselves from the inclemency of the weather amongst the hollows upon the lee-side of the mountains, and here they are frequently buried under the snow for several weeks together, and in severe seasons during two months or upwards. They eat their own and each other’s wool, and hold out wonderfully under cold and hunger; but even in moderate winters, a considerable number are generally found dead after the snow hath disappeared, and in rigorous seasons few or none are left alive.

"Meanwhile the steward, hard pressed by letters from Almack’s or Newrnarket, demands the rent in a tone which makes no great allowance for unpropitious seasons, the death of cattle, and other accidental misfortunes ; disguising the feelings of his own breast— his Honour’s wants must at any rate be supplied, the bills must he duly negotiated.

"Such is the state of farming, if it maybe so called, throughout the interior parts of the Highlands; but as that country hath an extensive coast, and many islands, it may be supposed that the inhabitants of those shores enjoy all the benefits of their maritime situation. This, however, is not the case; those gifts of nature, which in any other commercial kingdom would have been rendered subservient to the most valuable purposes, are in Scotland lost, or nearly so, to the poor natives and the public. The only difference, therefore, between the inhabitants of the interior parts and those of the more distant coasts, consists in this, that the latter, with the labours of the field, have to encounter alternately the dangers of the ocean and all the fatigues of navigation.

"To the distressing circumstances at home, as stated above, new difficulties and toils await the devoted farmer when abroad. He leaves his family in October, accompanied by his sons, brothers, and frequently an aged parent, and embarks on board a small open boat, in quest of the herring fishery, with no other provision than oatmeal, potatoes. and fresh water ; no other bedding than heath, twigs, or straw, the covering, if any, an old sail. Thus provided, he searches from bay to bay, through turbulent seas, frequently for several weeks together, before the shoals of herrings are discovered. The glad tidings serve to vary, but not to diminish his fatigues. Unremitting nightly labour (the time when the herrings are taken), pinching cold winds, heavy seas, uninhabited shores covered with snow, or deluged with rains, contribute towards filling up the measure of his distresses ; while to men of such exquisite feelings as the Highlanders generally possess, the scene which awaits him at home does it most effectually.

"Having disposed of his capture to the Busses, he returns in January through a long navigation, frequently admidst unceasing hurricanes, not to a comfortable home and a cheerful family, but to a hut composed of turf, without windows, doors, or chimney, environed with snow, and almost hid from the eye by its astonishing depth. Upon entering this solitary mansion, he generally finds a part of his family, sometimes the whole, lying upon heath or straw, languishing through want or epidemical disease; while the few surviving cows, which possess the other end of the cottage, instead of furnishing further supplies of milk or blood, demand his immediate attention to keep them in existence.

"The season now approaches when he is again to delve and labour the ground, on the same slender prospect of a plentiful crop or a dry harvest. The cattle which have survived the famine of the winter, are turned out to the mountains; and, having put his domestic affairs into the best situation which a train of accumulated misfortunes admits of, he resumes the oar, either in quest of the herring or the white fishery. If successful in the latter, he sets out in his open boat upon a voyage (taking the Hebrides and the opposite coast at a medium distance) of 200 miles, to vend his cargo of dried cod, hug, &c., at Greenock or Glasgow. The produce, which seldom exceeds twelve or fifteen pounds, is laid out, in conjunction with his companions, upon meal and fishing tackle; and he returns through the same tedious navigation.

"The autumn calls his attention again to the field; the usual round of disappointment, fatigue, and distress awaits him; thus dragging throngs a wretched existence in the hope of soon arriving in that country where the weary shall be at rest. "—A View of the Highlands, &c., pp. 8—7.]


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