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The Island Clans During Six Centuries
Chapter VIII. - Employment and Unemployment


WAGES—KELP—SERVICE IN ARMY—FISHING, GROWING ROOTS—TEMPORARY WORK, ROAD MAKING—UNWONTED COMFORTS — CONSUMPTION OF WHISKY—SHEEP DISPLACE CATTLE—LAND GOES OUT OF CULTIVATION—PEACE DECREASES DEMAND OF MEN FOR THE ARMY—FAILURE OF KELP INDUSTRY—CONDITION OF THE PEOPLE—THE CLEARANCES—THE POTATO FAMINE.

After the changes described in the last chapter had taken place, though some of the people had crofts, most of them depended on finding some work to do, by which they could earn their daily bread. Down to the end of the eighteenth century the people still had all the employments open to them which were described in Chapter IV., the only difference being that, whereas in earlier days they had received in return for their labour the maintenance of themselves and their families, they were now being paid wages. Fortunately, we know what wages workers were then receiving, as these were fixed at a meeting of Magistrates, held at Sconser, in Skye, in 1788. Farm servants were divided into two classes—

(1) Competent agricultural labourers;
(2) Striplings and less skilled men.

Men in Class 1 received £2 a year, and 4 pairs of shoes. Men in Class 2 received £1 a year, and 4 pairs of shoes. Herdsmen in Class 1 received 5 pairs of shoes. Shoes were valued at 2s 6d a pair.

If a man wished to have grazing for a cow, the following sums were deducted from his wages:—

For a cow, £1.
For a yeld beast, 10s.
For a two-year-old beast, 8s.
For a stirk, 5s.

Common women servants received 8s a year and 2 pairs of shoes. Dairywomen received 15s, and 3 pairs of shoes. Servants are not to be given warm milk. Probably this means they were to be given skimmed milk.

Men engaged for the harvest received 8s, and no shoes. Their work began on the day the corn was cut, and ended on the day it was stacked. All these classes of servants received board and lodging, as well as their wages. Casual labourers, engaged by the day "at their own charges," were paid 8d a day.

No master was allowed to pay higher wages than those fixed. All servants must behave "mannerly and obediently" to their masters. Servants, not engaged for a fixed time, must give 40 days' notice before they leave. As the purchasing price of money was then about 5½ times what it is now, the wages were really much higher than they seem to us to have been. When, however, we speak of wages, we must remember that these were largely, probably entirely, paid in kind—in meal, wool, a cow's grass, possibly in weddens. There was very little money in the country. There were no shops, and, even if a man had received his wages in cash, he would have found it very difficult to obtain what he wanted for his money. At that time the laird's factor used to charter ships, which brought such articles as tea, sugar, wine, brandy, and tobacco, and these he used to sell to those who could afford to buy them.

During the eighteenth century several new employments opened to the people, which greatly improved the amenities of their lives.

I. Early in the eighteenth century it had been discovered that the seaweed which grew on the rocks, and, to a still greater extent, the floating ware cast up by the sea, were rich in alkalis and iodine. I took the following account of how kelp is made from an article which appeared in the "Oban Times" some time ago.

The former, which is called "beach wrack," and grows in great quantities on the eastern shores of the Long Island, contains iodine. The latter, which is known as "tangle," and is found on the western shores of the Islands, produces soda and potash. The collection of the "tangle,"and the cutting of the "beach wrack" involved much labour, and took a long time. Each year, some time in June, the people engaged in the industry migrated to sheilings, built in convenient places on the sea-shore and in these they lived for six weeks or two months, while the work was in progress. The first job to be done on arrival was to repair the sheilings, and make them fairly comfortable abodes during the coming weeks. Then the work began.

At low tide the drift weed was collected, or the growing weed cut. The latter operation could only be carried out in the same place once in three years, as the sea ware, after being cut, took that length of time to grow, before it would yield a full crop on a further cutting.

The weed, which had been collected or cut, was piled in great heaps upon the shore. Round these heaps long ropes, made of heather, were bound to prevent the ware from floating out to sea as the tide rose. The two ends of the rope were fastened on the shore, and, when the tide was high, the floating piles of "tangle" or "wrack" were drawn to land.

The weed was then spread out to dry on the grass; it was turned over from time to time, and treated in much the same way as hay. This took some time, and its successful drying depended, to a great extent, on the weather. While the weed was drying, "athan," or "kilns," were dug in the ground. Each of these was from 12 to 24 feet long, 2 feet broad, and 2½ feet deep, and would contain enough weed to make about a ton of kelp.

When the weed was dry, some burning straw or heather was placed at the bottom of the kiln, and the weed was piled on the top. It was considered necessary that the burning of the weed should be slow, and, while it was going on, the kilns were watched. If any flames appeared this indicated that the process was going on too quickly, and, in order to slow it down, more weed was flung on the kiln. The burning took some time, and was continued till the weed ran into a kind of slag. This was collected, and sent South by sea, generally to Liverpoool, to be refined and further treated.

Kelp was already being made in the Orkneys in 1722, but the industry was not introduced into the Western Isles till a few years later. In 1735 the work began in South Uist, and in 1748 in Harris. Here the results were very soon seen in the increased revenue derived from the island. In 1744 Harris was worth £356, in 1754 it had risen to £544, and in 1769 to £806. In Glenelg, where there was no kelp, values rose at the same time, but not to the same extent. The value of Glenelg in 1744 was £373; in 1754, £407; in 1769, £679. The development of this industry between 1750 and 1820 was amazing. At one time kelp was worth £22 a ton. This was not maintained for long, but the average price during the first twenty years of the nineteenth century was £10 10s.

At this period the kelp was a source of great prosperity in the Long Island, whence between 6000 and 7000 tons were exported annually, bringing in a revenue of £60,000 to £70,000 to the islands. Owing to the fact that much less floating sea ware is cast up in Skye, the magnitude of the industry there was insignificant compared with that in the Long Island. In 1819, 91 tons were exported to Liverpool from Lochs Dunvegan and Bracadale. The gross value was only about £800, but, though this was a small sum compared to the revenues derived from kelp in the Long Island, it was not to be despised.

The industry brought great wealth to the lairds, specially to those whose property was in the Long Island. It was also an enormous advantage to the people. The cost of manufacturing the kelp was about £2 10s a ton, and all this went into the pockets of the workers. I have not been able to ascertain whether they were paid by time wages or by piece-work.

II. During the last half of the eighteenth century large numbers of men were raised in the Highlands for the army, carrying out the policy which had been originally suggested by President Forbes, and which was adopted by Pitt. Without careful research into the military history of the times, it would be difficult to say how many Highland regiments were embodied during this period. A battalion was raised to meet some special emergency, disbanded when that emergency had passed away, and re-embodied when a fresh crisis arose.

Often the names and numbers of regiments were changed, so the records are very confusing. But it is a certain fact that many thousands of men from the West Highlands were fighting with splendid courage and devotion in all parts of the world, during the long series of wars, which lasted, with short intervals of peace, from 1760 to 1815. All through this time the calls on the manhood of the country were incessant. An army on active service must always suffer heavy losses. These become heavier still when it is operating in a hot and unhealthy climate. A letter, written by the officer commanding the Second Battalion of the Black Watch in 1786, is still in existence. This letter indicates that, of the men who had originally belonged to the battalion when it came to India in 1781, only enough to form one company were left. Five years of active service had accounted for the rest, and their places had been filled by fresh drafts.

These facts are sufficient to show what an enormous amount of employment the army offered to the Highlanders, and what magnificent services they rendered to King and Country in a time of dire need.

III. About the year 1790, the British Fishery Society founded a fishing village at Stein, in Skye; provided boats, nets, lines, and all that is necessary for the prosecution of the industry, and every effort was made to induce the West Highlanders to pursue fishing as the business of their lives. From the reports of the Society it appears that this effort met with little success.

No doubt from the earliest times the Highlanders had done some desultory fishing, but they had never done more. In the time of Charles I. fishing was being vigorously prosecuted on the West Coast of Scotland, but the fishermen were Englishmen and Dutchmen, not native Highlanders. In the report on Harris, already referred to, which was dated 1772, the author says that "enormous shoals of herring regularly visit the coast of the island, and cod and ling are very plentiful, but practically nothing is done to catch them."

At the present day a few West Highlanders are earning their living by fishing, and a great many more fish occasionally, but the important fishing industry, which is being prosecuted on our western shores, is being carried on by boats which come from the East Coast, and the effort to make the West Highlanders fishermen may be said to have failed. It is certain that they have not made a great and profitable industry of fishing as the Bretons, the Lofoten Islanders, and the people on the east coast of England and Scotland have done, and it is equally certain that the opportunity of doing so has not been lacking.

Why have they not done so? The author of an interesting report on the proceedings of the British Fishery Society at Stein thinks this failure was caused by the remains of the feudal system, to which he traces every evil he perceives, Under this thrice-accursed system, he says, fighting was the only honourable occupation for men. In the intervals of peace they might, he adds, condescend to do a little work on the cultivation of the soil, but they looked on fishing as an ignoble trade, only fit for the deformed and the weakling. He does not explain how deformed weaklings are going to face the hardships and bear the toil of a fisherman's life.

He goes on to suggest that the best way to make the people fish would be to take away their crofts, and in this way compel them to turn to fishing for a livelihood. Here I think he probably hits the real reason why Highlanders have never taken seriously to fishing. The industry is one to which a man must dedicate his whole life; it is not one which can be treated as supplementary to another. While the Highlanders retained their crofts they looked on the cultivation of them as the main business of their lives, and regarded fishing as a merely occasional occupation, which might be pursued when leisure permitted.

It is most unfortunate that they took that view. A small croft, at the best, can only provide its owner with a very poor livelihood. A fisherman, though his life is an arduous one, can earn a fair living. It is probably the attempt to combine the two trades which has prevented the one, which might have made the Highlanders happy and prosperous, from being prosecuted with the energy and zeal, which alone could make it a success.

Possibly the amount of employment, which was being offered to the people in other and more congenial directions, may have had something to do with the failure to engage them in the fishing industry.

IV. For centuries the live stock in the Islands had been insufficiently fed in winter. Somewhere about 1760 the attention of the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge in Scotland was called to this, and they devoted part of a legacy of £2000, which had been left them by a Mr Wood, to offering premiums for raising clover and other artificial grasses for hay, with the humane idea of minimising the sufferings of the cattle in the winter.

In the regulations of the Dunvegan Estate, dated 1769, it is provided that each tenant shall sow a certain quantity both of grass seeds and of turnips every year for wintering, and prizes of £5 are offered to the tenant who grows the best crops. This caused a great many farmers to start growing these crops, and a considerable increase in the amount of labour required on the farms.

V. The prosperity brought by the kelp industry indirectly greatly benefited the people. The lairds, enriched by the large profits from kelp, were restoring old castles, or building new mansion houses, planting woods, and making all sorts of improvements on their estates, and this gave much employment to the humbler classes.

Between 1770 and 1820 there was much work being done of a temporary description, which, however, went on for a good many years, and was of inestimable value to the people. Kail-yards and arable fields were being fenced, march dykes between the farms were being put up, and a great deal of land was being drained. As the new tenants came in, they required better houses than those with which the old tacksmen had been content. So that building operations called for an immense amount of labour.

VI. More important than any of these was the work which was being done on the highways. The improvement of the roads was at that period engaging the attention of people in all parts of the country. They certainly needed it. Even in the neighbourhood of London a few years earlier they had been in a shocking condition. Vanbrugh, describing the adventures of a newly-elected M.P. on his way to London, says:—"All the exertions of six horses, two of which had been taken from the plough, could not save the family coach from being embedded in a quagmire." A little earlier, Prince George of Denmark, travelling to Petworth, had only been able to come nine miles in six hours. If this was the case near London, we need not wonder that the remote islands of the West were almost completely cut off from the outer world in the 18th century.

It is difficult for us in these days to imagine the isolation in which our forefathers lived. In the early years of the century there was no post office in Skye, neither were there any mails. There was an official at Dunvegan called "Macleod's post." It was his duty to take "expresses" to any place to which he was sent. He received a regular wage of fifteen shillings a year, and fifteen shillings for a journey to Edinburgh. This seems very little, but it was equivalent to £9 in our own days.

As early as 1742 MacLeod says in a letter that he will write again by the next post, from which I assume that a mail was then being sent to the Western Isles. But the only post office in Skye was at Dunvegan, and people, who lived in all parts of the island, had to send there for their letters. The authorities would not allow a bag to be dropped by the postman at Sconser, and in 1753 Lady Margaret MacDonald wrote several letters, bitterly complaining of this, and asking that a post office should be opened either at Portree or Sconser.

The outer islands were served by a packet which sailed from Dunvegan once a fortnight. Stornoway had a fortnightly packet sailing from Poolewe.

In Skye there were a few old roads of a somewhat primitive description. All able-bodied men were bound to give six days' labour every year on the roads. At the meeting of Magistrates in 1788, already referred to, each gentleman tacksman was to furnish a list of all such within his bounds, but it was provided that in future labour should be commuted for two shillings and sixpence a head, and that tacksmen should pay twopence in the pound on their rent in lieu of their personal attendance.

This was probably the first germ of the system of rates in the Highlands. Poor rates, school rates, County Assessments were all unknown. Local government was certainly cheap in those days, and I believe it was also effective.

Though a highway committee was appointed in 1788, and instructed to obtain the services of a contractor to carry out the proposed schemes, very little was done for some years. But after the beginning of the 19th century, the making of roads was being vigorously pushed forward. About 1805, the Commissioners for Highland Roads and Bridges, acting with the county authorities, turned their attention to Skye. A road was planned from Stein to Sconser, which was estimated to cost £6433. This was afterwards increased to £10,746. About 1814, Telford, the famous engineer, was called in, and he pronounced even the second estimate to be entirely inadequate. The actual cost of this road was somewhere about £40,000. The Commissioners found half the money required out of the proceeds of estates which had been forfeited after the '45 ; the tenants paid an amount of road money in addition to their rents, which amounted to about £2100; the crofters gave some labour free of charge; and the owners of the land gave £15,000. Besides the main arteries of communication, many small local highways were made, and the expenditure on roads and bridges throughout the country must have been very large. No doubt the same work was being pushed forward all over the West Highlands.

In all these different ways the people certainly had more work to do than they ever had before, or than they have ever had since. Seeing that a sufficiency of employment is the greatest blessing which a community can possess, this period was a very prosperous one in the history of the West Highlanders, specially in the Long Island, where the kelp industry was in such a flourishing condition.

This period of prosperity brought about some changes in the habits of the people, which deserve to be noticed. To some extent the people began to use such articles as tea, tobacco, and other imported luxuries, but only, I think, when such goods were smuggled into the country. Duties were then very high. About 1740, tea, which had paid duty, cost 28s a pound, sugar 4s a pound. Some old accounts show that even the wealthier classes bought tea by the ounce, and only used it very occasionally. About 1780 tea cost 6s a pound, and sugar 1s. These prices were far beyond the means of the poorer classes, and, even had they possessed the money, it would have been difficult to get the goods.

It is also probable that at this time a good deal of whisky began to be distilled and drunk. In a previous chapter I expressed the opinion that, in early days, whatever the lairds and tacksmen may have been, the masses of the people were very abstemious, and that, as Martin says, " their drink was water." But in Badenoch, according to Miss Grant, considerable quantities of whisky were being consumed at this time, specially at funerals and weddings, and I think it probable that, during this period, in the Western Isles also whisky became the drink of the people.

To supply these newly-felt needs many illicit stills were working all over the Highlands, and in so wild and desolate a country the Revenue officers found it very difficult to discover the stills. Many vessels also were engaged in smuggling dutiable goods into the Islands, and, such was the courage and address of these skippers, they more often than not succeeded in eluding the cruisers which were trying to capture them.

An old story relates that on one occasion a Revenue cutter in chase of a smuggler succeeded in driving her into Loch Dunvegan. The officer in command of the cutter fancied that he had his prize safe in the land-locked waters of the bay. But between the northern end of the island which lies in the mouth of the loch and the promontory of Fiochaid, there is a passage, through which a small vessel can reach the open sea. It is full of rocks, and only a man who knows the channel can venture into it. To the amazement and disgust of the Revenue officer, the smuggling skipper, who knew every rock on the coast, made for this passage and effected his escape, while the King's officer, who was not so well informed, did not dare to follow him.

The Customs and Excise duties being at this time very high, both the illicit stills on shore and the smugglers at sea flourished exceedingly. It appears that the smuggled goods found their way, not only into the houses of the poor, but into the homes of the wealthier classes. A meeting of Magistrates was held at Portree on August 15, 1744, to concert plans for suppressing the "fair trade." From the minutes of this meeting it appears that all the Magistrates were able to do was to solemnly promise that they would abstain from drinking smuggled tea themselves, and, "if it was humanly possible, to restrain their wives and daughters from doing so," but they appear to have been very doubtful whether it would be "humanly possible" to do this.

Unhappily, during the first 30 years of the 19th century, all these sources of employment were dried up. First, the work available on the farms was much diminished. The cattle were removed, and sheep became the principal stock on the land. I have not been able to fix the exact date when this change began to be made, but it is probably safe to say that it was being carried out during the first 20 years of the century.

In some letters written in 1771 I find the substitution of sheep for cattle suggested because in that year a most destructive cattle plague had broken out. The writer describes, in the darkest possible terms, the miserable condition to which all classes in the community had been reduced, and thought that any change, which would minimise the chance of such a disaster recurring in the future, must be a change for the better. Some of the older ones among them may have remembered that the same thing had happened in 1717.

This reason for making the change may have been in the minds of some of the lairds and tacksmen who carried it into effect, but I am under the impression that other considerations weighed much more heavily with all the parties concerned. Elaborate estimates had been drawn up. In these were clearly shown the amount of capital required to stock land with sheep or with cattle, the working expenses which must be incurred when the different kinds of stock were on the ground, and the profits which might be expected under the two systems. These figures convinced the landowners and the tacksmen that sheep farming would be infinitely more profitable than cattle farming had ever been. Consequently, about the year 1811, on many estates tenants were found ready to offer three times the amount of rent previously paid, and, in the same year, the purchaser of Glenelg was willing to give a sum amounting to 50 years' purchase of the net rental in 1810.

It was soon found, however, that in these estimates several important factors had been left out of account, and some serious drawbacks not realised or foreseen. These I briefly summarise.

(1) If cattle are liable to occasional outbreaks of cattle plague, sheep are subject to the mysterious and constantly recurring disease called braxy, and the death-rate from braxy on some farms is very high. It attacks sheep very suddenly, and kills them very quickly. So far, no preventive of the disease has been discovered, though inoculation has been tried with some measure of success.

(2) For some unknown reason the death-rate from braxy is higher among home-wintered sheep than among sheep wintered in the low country. For this reason, though excellent crops of roots can be grown in the West Highlands, farmers send a great many sheep to be wintered in the South at a very heavy cost.

(3) It is found that when strange sheep are put on any given farm, large numbers of them die until they get acclimatised. Thus the first tenants who introduced sheep suffered very considerable loss. To recoup them for this loss, a system was devised under which an outgoing tenant receives a price for his stock largely in excess of its market value. This means that the amount of capital required to stock a sheep farm is considerably increased, and high capitalisation is always a drawback to any industry.

(4) Many farms in the Islands are bounded on one side, sometimes even on two or three sides, by lofty precipices, which rise hundreds of feet above the sea. On these are many ledges covered with soil on which the rich grass fed by the salt spray, which sheep love, freely grows. Cattle rarely fall over these precipices, but sheep frequently jump down on a ledge a little below the summit, attracted by the sweet pasture growing upon it. Unless a shepherd comes by and rescues him, that sheep's fate is sealed. He soon consumes all the grass on the ledge, he cannot jump back, and he finally dies of starvation, and falls into the sea. This is called the "black death," and causes immense losses on many farms.

(5) On many hillsides in the West Highlands the soil is so poor that it produces nothing but rough bent grass. Cattle will eat this grass, and thrive upon it. Sheep will not touch it. Therefore an enormous quantity of grass, which had previously been utilised, was wasted. Some compensation was found for this loss in another direction, which had been foreseen, and made the most of, as an argument in favour of the change of system. Sheep were able to get at and consume grass growing in numerous and remote corries among the mountains, which cattle had been unable to reach. But probably the loss was much greater than the gain.

(6) There can be no doubt that cattle manure land better than sheep do. As I have before remarked, Dean Monro gives glowing accounts concerning the fertility of many islands in the Hebrides, which a modern farmer would scarcely endorse, and it is quite possible that, during the last hundred years, the soil has become less productive than it was in the old days when cattle were on the ground. I do not suppose that it is possible to arrive at any definite conclusion as to whether this is really the case or not.

(7) The plague of bracken which now covers so many once fertile hillsides in the country may be due to the introduction of sheep. It is extremely probable that they carry the seed in their wool, and so spread the bracken broadcast.

The effects of these drawbacks soon began to be felt. In 1825 the rents fixed in 1811 had to be reduced by nearly 50 per cent., and about the same time the purchaser of Glenelg re-sold the property for a much smaller sum than he had given. The fall may have been partly due to the economic condition into which the country had fallen after the peace of 1815, but the fact that no important recovery took place till about 1860 strengthens my opinion that it was mainly due to the causes I have mentioned.

The question whether the change from cattle to sheep was financially a success or a failure is a very difficult one to answer. On the one hand, in 1825 rents were still double what they had been in 1810; on the other hand, they would certainly have risen in 1811, even if the cattle had remained on the land, but we have no idea what the amount of that rise would have been. I rather incline to the opinion that it has made very little difference, but if I am right in the last two reasons I have given, the introduction of sheep may have done a great deal of mischief.

Whether the substitution of sheep for cattle was economically a wise measure or not, to the masses of the people it was a great misfortune. Some landowners foresaw that it would be so, and to their honour be it said, refused to sanction a change which, though it might be favourable to themselves, would do an injury to their clansmen. The harm done to the working classes was both material and sentimental. It was material because it decreased the amount of available employment on the farms, it was sentimental because it destroyed old customs and habits which had been practised for centuries.

A few shepherds can attend to great numbers of sheep, and, even when the sheep are being clipped, only a small number of men are required. On the other hand, it is quite certain that the care of the cattle, the milking of the cows morning and evening, and the making of butter and cheese, had given the people a great deal of employment. This was now lost.

And this was not all. The cattle had been the main object of interest in their lives. The summer migrations to the shielings had been delightful holidays. They varied the monotony of life. They were eagerly looked forward to for months before they took place, and they filled the winters which followed with pleasant recollections. The material loss to the people was bad enough, but the feeling that the centre of their lives had been knocked out was much worse.

That feeling was strong at the time, and it remains even to the present day. Not very long ago I met an old fisherman at Mallaig. He told me that his parents had lived in Skye. He dwelt upon the happy lives they had lived in the old days when the island was full of black cattle, and a hundred years after they had been removed, he was still deploring their loss.

It is difficult to exaggerate the magnitude of the misfortune which fell on the masses of the people in the West Highlands when sheep took the place of cattle as the main stock on the land.

About the same time much of the land, on which cereals had been grown from time immemorial, went out of cultivation, and this was a hardly less serious blow to the people, for yet another source of employment was dried up. This was not due, as is often supposed, to a decrease in population: neither was it caused by the crofters diminishing the amount of corn which they grew for their own use. The real reason was that the tacksmen ceased to grow corn because it no longer paid them to do so, and because it had ceased to be necessary.

Communications had improved, the conditions, which had made it so difficult at an earlier period to bring cereals from other parts of the country, had changed, and it was now possible to import corn at a cheaper rate than it could be grown at home. The natural consequence was that much land went out of cultivation. For the same reason a great deal of land in England during the last fifty years has been laid away to grass, with the same unfortunate results to the agricultural labourers.

This change, however, was inevitable. It is impossible in the West Highland climate and on West Highland soil to grow corn which can compete, either in quality or price, with that grown in the more favoured South.

In 1815 the Napoleonic wars came to an end. To the nation at large this was a great blessing; to the West Highlanders it was a great misfortune. For more than sixty years vast numbers of them had found the employment, which was more congenial to them than any other, in the army, and they had covered themselves with glory in scores of arduous campaigns. Now regiments were disbanded, the call for men to fill up the ranks which had been depleted by heavy losses ceased, and thousands of men came home to compete for work in the already congested labour market. No doubt some West Highlanders continued to serve under the colours, but the number was greatly reduced, and few of us now realise what a crushing blow to our countrymen the peace of 1815 really was.

Between 1826 and 1828 came an utterly unexpected disaster in the collapse of the kelp industry.

To some extent this may have been due to chemical discoveries, which provided substitutes for the alkali obtained from kelp, but it was mainly due to the removal of the duties on pot pearl, black ash, sulphur, and barilla. The kelp-owners petitioned the Government that the duties might be reimposed, but they petitioned in vain, and I believe that in 1830 the value of kelp at Liverpool was not much over £2, a price at which it was impossible to manufacture it.

One or two efforts were made to resuscitate the industry, which met with some temporary success, and a little kelp is still made in the Long Island, but it is hardly an exaggeration to say that about 1828 kelp ceased to be a source of profit to the Islanders. On all the islands this was a loss; in the Long Island it was a disaster, which reduced the people to a state of terrible poverty, and completely ruined some of the lairds. Now, in 1929, I understand there is some prospect of a revival in the industry.

Naturally the temporary work, which I referred to above, also ceased. The landlords, crippled by the loss of revenues derived from kelp, were no longer able to carry out improvements on their estates. By 1829 most of the roads were finished, most of the draining, planting and fencing was completed, and most of the new houses were built. The number of people who lost their employment at this time, and with it their means of living, was very large.

As, one after another, all these varied sources of employment were dried up, the condition of the West Highlanders became more and more pitiable. They were rapidly increasing in numbers (see Chapter III.).

The old system, under which their maintenance had been guaranteed to them, had passed away for ever. Most of them were cottars, and occupied no land at all; the holdings of those who had crofts were very small, and, in a great many cases, a crofter's relations had built themselves houses on his land, and five or six families were living on a single small holding.

A few shepherds and farm servants were still required. Some of the people found work in the households of the lairds and tacksmen; the women earned something by knitting socks and stockings; some men may have made their way to the South and found work there; but, as steamers had not begun to run, this must have been very difficult. Sportsmen and tourists had not begun to bring money into the country, and probably the years between 1830 and 1850 were the saddest and the darkest through which the masses of the people in the West Highlands have ever passed.

Thinking men, who realised the conditions, were racking their brains to find some remedy for the evil. Efforts were again made to prosecute the fishing industry; the making of bricks was inaugurated in Skye, where there was some clay; one or two lairds bought small sailing vessels, and endeavoured to create some trade with foreign countries. Sir James Matheson carried out vast improvements in Lewis, giving a great deal of employment to his people, and similar efforts were made in other parts of the country. But all of them were only local and transitory, and the best friends of the humbler classes began, slowly and reluctantly, to realise that emigration on a large scale was the only real and permanent remedy for their troubles.

But the idea was not at all palatable to the people. Fifty years earlier they had been ready enough to accompany the gentlemen tacksmen, who were themselves leaving the old country, but it was one thing to go with old and trusted friends who they knew would take care of them, and quite another thing to face a long voyage with no one to guide them to a distant land of which they knew nothing, where they had no friends, and where they would have to begin a new life amongst strangers, who did not speak their language. No wonder that they shrank from facing such an ordeal, and it became abundantly clear that they would not go willingly.

The owners of some estates in the West Highlands, rightly or wrongly, made up their minds that, as the people would not emigrate willingly, they were justified in compelling them to do so. These lairds evicted the people from their holdings, and forced them to seek new homes beyond the seas.

For doing this they have been denounced in very strong language. It has been said that their motives were purely selfish ones, and that they made these "clearances," as they were called, because they believed that their estates would yield higher rents if they were under sheep or deer than would be possible if they were in the hands of crofters.

There is ample evidence that some of the lairds were not actuated by such miserable and contemptible motives as these, that they were filled with pity for their unfortunate people, who were in such a state of acute suffering, and honestly believed that emigration was the only remedy by which their condition could be improved.

But, after all, it was only a few lairds who acted in this manner. The bulk of the people remained in their homes, and lived for another fifteen years under conditions which it is very sad to contemplate. A competent observer, now long since passed to her rest, told me that she had never heard of any cases of actual starvation among them, and that they were marvellously contented with their lot, hard though it was. But they were desperately poor, they had lost the few comforts which they had possessed in happier times, and seem to have forgotten that they had ever enjoyed them.

The following story was told me by one of the people in Skye. The wife of an island laird gave a pound of tea to the wife of the joiner on her husband's estate about the year 1840. The good lady called her friends together to partake of the unwonted luxury. She soaked the tea leaves in hot water, poured off the liquid, and gave her friends the tea leaves to be eaten with a spoon.

In 1846 came the great and crowning disaster of the potato famine. I have heard many accounts of this appalling misfortune from the lips of people who were living in the country at the time, and I have had access to a number of letters and to many contemporary reports and newspaper articles.

Only one who has studied such documents can realise the magnitude of the disaster. It is no exaggeration to say that during this awful time thousands of people were face to face with starvation. In my History of the MacLeods I have related at length the story of what the Chief of that clan did to save his people, and I need not repeat it here. But his efforts were only local, and no one man could cope with such a tremendous disaster. Charitable funds were opened in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and, before the end of the year 1849, over £210,000 had been raised and spent in relieving the distress, which was so desperately acute all over the West Highlands.

The most important result of the potato famine was that something like half the population, forced by stern necessity, emigrated, and, since then, the population of the West Highlands has been steadily falling. In 1845 the population of Skye was estimated at 29,500; in 1881 it was 16,889; in 1911 it was 13,319; in 1921 it was 11,031. Since 1845 not very far short of two-thirds of the population have left their homes. The only consolation is that they have done exceedingly well in the land of their adoption, and we must hope and trust that the measures, which the Government have adopted in recent years, will enable those who remain to do equally well in the land of their birth.


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