Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Reminiscences of Cromar and Canada
Chapter XVI - "The Parks" and the Corn Laws

AS has already been noted, my Grandfather, Robert Farquharson, retired in 1828, with my Uncle John and Aunt Jane, to a croft or small farm known as "Tillymutton." In 1830, Uncle John died, and in the same year my father came home to help in the work of the little farm. In 1839, Grandfather passed away, and Aunt Jane and father were left alone. Some time about the end of 1843 or the beginning of 1844, father and mother were married, and about the same time, Aunt Jane married her cousin Alex. Dingwall. On April 4th, 1845, my sister Betty and a twin brother were born, the latter's short visit to earth, however, terminating at the end of six weeks. On the 2nd of Jul)' 1846, the present writer had his first introduction to mundane affairs.

On the 26th day of May 1847 my father surrendered the farm of Tillymutton and moved to take renewed possession of the farm known as "The Parks of Coldstone" which had been vacated by my grandfather nineteen years before. My father's entry upon a farm so much larger than the one he had left was a very serious undertaking for him. His financial circumstances were such that but for the assistance kindly and freely rendered by his brother-in-law Donald Farquharson of Ballater, it would have been impossible to provide the farm stock and implements necessary for its operation. Besides that, his training had not been such as to fit him either for manual toil or the skilful conduct of the operations of a farm.


Such poverty, however, as had been the general experience of the common people of preceding generations had never been experienced by my parents. To them had never come the touch of want of food or the experience of insufficient clothing. From the fathers had come down stories of the shortness of bread, especially around the term of Lammas, which fell on the first of August, marking (especially by the old style, which was eleven days later than by the present calendar) a period known as "The Howe (hollow) o' Lammas," during which the provisions stored from the former harvest had begun to run out, and every eye was eagerly turned towards the slowly ripening fields as the only source of further supplies. Harvest rarely came before the first of September, and I remember one season when oat-cutting did not commence until the first of October.

In my day a late harvest made little difference, for the wide world could be drawn upon for supplies. In earlier times it was different, and one can imagine how "driech" a If that of Lammas had sometimes become. A store still lingers in Cromar which may illustrate the eagerness with which harvest was awaited in the early days. A woman is represented as going forth on the first day of harvest with the rest of the reapers in the early morning, sickle in hand, to harvest sheaf for sheaf with the best of their till an hour before dinner, when home she fared with an oat or barley sheaf on her back to prepare dinner for her household in face of an empty cupboard. Glad with the joy of harvest, such as we who have never suffered hunger scarcely understand, she reaches home and sets fire to her sheaf. The straw was presently consumed, while the grain was merely roasted and brought into fit condition preparatory to grinding. The "sheiling," as the roasted grain was called, was hastily winnowed on what was called "The sheiling hill," by the free wind of heaven, ground in the quern, and dinner was ready, promptly on time, for the rest of the hungry harvesters. The story is not less poetic than it is pathetic, and in our minds it need not lose either its poetry or its pathos when we become aware that, in .a still earlier period now almost forgotten, the household meals throughout the year, were, in like manner prepared.

Our lot was, in many respects a vast improvement on that of our ancestors, and not infrequently were we reminded by our parents of the more fortunate circumstances in which we found ourselves.


Sometimes a dish would be prepared in our household which did not quite suit our youthful taste. When complaint would be made, mother would always insist on our partaking of at least a reasonable portion of the dish objected to, and would sometimes remind us about Duncan Robertson who, some years before my day had lived on a small farm adjacent to our own, known sometimes as Wester Loanhead, and sometimes as Easter Bogarerie. He was by the way a grand-uncle of the late Sir Robertson Nicol. late editor of The British Weekly. Though without education or special culture of and kind, Robertson was a man of intelligence, and way notable in the district for his wise sayings and estimable character. His story, so often told or referred to for our edification, was somewhat as follows:- When a little boy, a dish of kale brose was set before him for supper. That dish consists of the bree or broth of boiled kale, boiling hot, which in that condition is poured over a quantity of oat meal into which the boiling liquid is stirred until the mass acquires the consistency of porridge. The mixture was seasoned with salt to taste and was made more palatable by the addition to the mixture, when available, of a little butter. It was, however one of those dishes that becomes negotiable only, as does smoking, after some practice. I never knew a boy or girl that did not require a good deal of coaxing and practice, under more or less compulsion before the dish would become palatable. Duncan absolutely refused to partake. His father said that was all right, he would lie all the lichter (lighter) on the straw. Duncan therefore went supperless to bed, anticipating a decent breakfast of good porridge and skimmed milk. Morning came and he got up abundantly prepared to do justice to the ordinary ration, but found, to his consternation that before him was set again the hated brose, and this time, cold. This was an outrage to which no boy of spirit could submit. He would wait for dinner. At length the long forenoon dragged its weary length along to the dinner hour. But alas he was again confronted by the same dish and the same contents. His famishing condition now forbade further postponement, and, to his great surprise, the despised dish proved the most acceptable meal he had ever tasted. Then the narrator would end, as he began his story, by saying "I never streeve (strove) wi' my meat but aince" (once).


My father, when in reminiscent mood, was wont to recall some old stories that would call forth voices long silent in death, in order to bring to our minds conditions prevailing about, or perhaps a little before the time of his birth. One of these was about a man of the name of Charlie McRory who was in the employ of the laird of Invercauld, and who seems to have been one of those eccentric individuals locally known as "Characters." One of his peculiarities was to preface his almost every statement with the words "Maybe, only." In Charlie's day, penny postage and daily delivery were both alike unknown and it therefore frequently became necessary to send letters by special messenger. Under such circumstances, Charlie was on one occasion despatched on foot by his employer to carry a letter from Invercauld to Edinburgh, which, by the nearest road over the hills, would be perhaps not less than 150 miles distant. Charlie received the letter, and carefully putting it in his vest pocket, set about preparation for his long journey. In due time he reached his destination and found himself in a nobleman's residence and in the presence of the great man himself. Immediately he unfolded his mission announcing that he had been sent by Invercauld with a letter to "Your Grace." Meantime fumbling in his pocket, he was unable to find the letter, for the reason that it was not there. Then had to come the confession, prefixed by his usual formula in the words "Maybe only, I hae left it in my waistcoat pooch at hame." It is to be hoped that the parties immediately interested found from the incident amusement commensurate with their disappointment. However that may have been with them, my father would recur to the story again and again to light afresh or sustain the genial flow of his pawky humour with the expression "'Maybe only' as Charlie McRory would say."


Both our parents entered on their new venture with hopeful courage and with the determination to do all that might be done to make it a success. Success, however, was extremely difficult. For meat, by reason of the poverty of the cities, there was as yet, little demand and the price low. Added to these drawbacks, were incidental losses to which all farmers are liable, such as light crops and loss by death of animals of value. Of the latter, one instance stands out in my memory from very early childhood. It was a valuable mare - one of a pair for which my father paid a hundred pounds, less a luck-penny of a few pounds. On that occasion an ox was, in the interests of economy, impressed into the service in place of the deceased mare, but his association as yoke-fellow of the surviving member of the original team was rendered short by the conduct of the man in charge of the ill-assorted pair, who, dissatisfied with his outfit, quietly set to work to fatten the ox and so successfully accomplished his purpose that, in a short time the fat-burdened animal lay down in the furrow and refused to work. So the ox was sold to the butcher, but the price realized, with a slight addition, provided means for the purchase of a young horse which did most satisfactory service to the end of the lease. The discouragements indeed were great. Mother used to tell us that often Father and she would try to estimate as to whether, by sale of all their Possessions, they would secure enough to pay their debts.


Works for the improvement of the farm went on nevertheless with ceaseless rigour under the skilled and forceful management of John Milne whose services as foreman, my father had been fortunate enough to secure, and retain for several years, That man's services Father never forgot. Not only would he plan and direct the work, assigning to each employee his proper place and duty but he would put the imperative of his strong personality upon my father himself, who, not unwillingly, bowed his neck to the yoke. Great improvements were made. Additions were made to the out-buildings, stone fences were erected and under-drainage, where necessary was effected.

One drain in particular I remember. It was, perhaps 300 or 400 yards in length and was constructed for the purpose of accommodating a streamlet from the public road which had theretofore meandered lazily through a couple of fields in an open drain to an outlet outside the farm, on its way to join the Aloston burn. This streamlet had its source in unfailing springs, and in time of flood, became much augmented in volume. In early times, when probably the depression through which it ran had been a little lake, it is said that, near the public road, and in the field through which this drain was dug, had stood a castle of some strength which had been protected by a moat. I remember of seeing when L boy a book containing a story in which that castle as well as another on the estate of Blelack figured, but I do not know of any real authority or even local tradition as to its ownership or history. From the contour of the site, as I remember it, the building had not been very extensive. Whatever story the little streamlet might be able to tell of an age that is past, the drain constructed for its accommodation was made of sufficient size, so far as capacity was concerned to permit a man to crawl through from end to end. Its eye was constructed entirely of stone, the floor and side walls being composed and built of small stones, while the roof was earth of depth sufficient for agricultural purposes, resting on a layer of small or broken stones, supported by large stones quarried and brought from the hill for the purpose. The cost of that particular work was borne, primarily by the proprietor, the funds necessary therefor, being advanced by Government at interest. An advance was made, however, in the amount of the yearly rental sufficient to meet principal and interest payments, as they severally fell due. .My impression is that the tenant was usually required to do all the hauling and team work which would be no small contribution seeing that he had no means of recompense, other than what might inure to his benefit during the currency of his lease.


From the time of my earliest recollection my father had been a pronounced liberal in politics. In early life, he had greeted, and expected great things from the passing of, the Reform Bill. He had also been in fullest sympathy with Cobden and Bright in their efforts for the repeal of The Corn Laws, and rejoiced when Sir Robert Peel became a convert to their principles and led his Government to remove all duties that tended to increase the price or restrict the importation of foreign grain. That measure had been violently opposed by the agricultural interests in the country who believed that it was a measure that would stork their ruin. Mr. Roy, factor on the lnvercauld estate, in a conversation with the tenant on a farm called Hoppewell. whose name was McConnach, during the time when the pasting of the Act was a live question, gave the viewpoint of the landlord:--"Hopewell" he said, "If the corn laws are repealed, Invercauld might as well give you your farm rent-free." Hopewell's reply was "I should ask for no better bestowment."

Notwithstanding these dark forebodings, the Corn laws were repealed in 1846 and all the ports of the kingdom were thenceforth open to the free importation of grain from every part of the world. The immediate result seemed to warrant all the doleful prognostications of the interested opponents of the measure. The market was flooded with foreign grain, and the price of oats, on which, at the time, largely depended my father's ability to meet the yearly stipulated rent of 150 pounds, had fallen to a figure that seemed to make the raising of that sum impossible. To all the agriculturists in the country, the effects of the new regulation must have been serious. To those burdened with debt and without resources as my father then was, the conditions thus created must have been heart-breaking and in many cases disastrous. How my father regarded the policy of free grain importation during the years in which he was reaping the immediate bitter fruitage of its sowing, I do not know. Certain it is that from the time of my first attention to matters political, he was a convinced and ardent supporter of Free Trade, not only in grain but in all commodities whose consumption would contribute to the welfare of the country generally.


Whatever may have been my father's thoughts when, in the first few years of his lease he saw the price of grain dwindling from year to year, it was not long when wisdom was manifestly justified by her fruitage. It is true that the price of grain formerly prevailing never returned, but the resultant cheapness of food and of living expenses generally made it possible for the British manufacturers, with their improved machinery practically to command the markets of the world. That gave abundance of work for the labouring man and made Britain a desirable country to live in. The consequence was a rapid increase of the urban imputation, who, in better circumstances than theretofore, were able to afford to purchase meat, which formerly had been but sparingly used, or was entirely absent from their tables. This naturally produced an extraordinary increase in the price of fat cattle, as also that of li\e stock of all kinds. Under these circumstances the farmers incomes were immensely increased though the price of oats became so low, eventually, that it became profitable to add chopped oats to the straw and turnip ration of the fattening cattle. It may very well be doubted whether, by human prevision, such a result could have been anticipated. Certainly the tide of prosperity which flowed in as the result, came as one of the greatest surprises to those who had most stoutly resisted the passing of the measure. It would seem that in Nature exists a law which ordains that any line of human conduct, either individual or national, which is defective morally, cannot ultimately prove economically profitable. The patient ox and the gentle dove will surely outlive all the monsters of the jungle. Conduct or statute law that looks to self and forgets the neighbour, however fair may seem the promise, can, ultimately, end only in failure or disaster. Opposed to all selfishness is the command "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Obedience to this command, articulate still in Nature, solemnly re-announced from the lips of our Lord, and approved by the healthy conscience of mankind, would bring to an end most of the evils, social, economic, national and international, at present causing so much alarm and laying upon society and the nations a burden too heavy to be borne.

On the farm, the tide soon turned. Slight surpluses took the place of the yearly deficits, and over the household shone the sun of a humble prosperity which gladdened the hearts of the chief actors in the struggle and descended with beneficient ray on the irresponsible youngsters, whose increasing numbers and healthful development had, so far, only added to the burdens of the household.


During our childhood years, which coincided with the early farm-improving period of the lease, two ploughmen and a boy were needed for the punning of the farm. Of these, John Milne, Geordie Smith, Charlie Emslie, Charlie Archie and Sandy Stevenson, were successively foremen, and except for one half year, covered the first seventeen years of the lease. These men were all faithful and conscientious in the discharge of their duties, and each stood high in the esteem of every one of our family. None of them, so far as I know, rose out of the humble rank into which lie had been born, but they all filled well their assigned position and made industrious contribution to the prosperity of their neighbourhood and country. So far as I have been able to follow the career of the several hands employed, I have not discovered one who afterward acquired either fame or wealth, with perhaps the exception of Tames Madden, who left our employ to take a position in the County Constabulary and eventually became the head of the police force of the City of Aberdeen.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus