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The Social Progress of the Highlands since 1800
From the Transactions of the Gaelic Society


The prize of ten guineas offered by The Mackintosh of Mackintosh, under the auspices of the Society, for the best essay on “The Social Progress of the Highlands since 1800” was won by Mr A. Poison, teacher, Dunbeath. Mr Poison’s essay is as follows:—


For people and nations a period of one hundred years is generally regarded by students of sociology as rather a short one for the purpose of contrasting and comparing the social state at its beginning and end. The progress made by the Highlands is, however, quite a marked exception to this general rule. To old people still alive, and more especially to students of Highland history, it is abundantly evident that the social condition of the people, as well as the face of the country, has undergone extraordinary changes within this comparatively short period. Up to the middle of last century the Highlands of Scotland was as much an unknown land as many parts of the interior of Africa still are.

Lord Macaulay, in writing of the period immediately succeeding the Revolution, and depending for his information on Captain Burt’s letters from Scotland and other documents written in the early part of last century by Southrons, who had themselves never seen the Highlands, says, that if an observer were to pass through the Highlands then—“He would have to endure hardships as great as if he had sojourned among the Æquimeaux or the Samoyeds. ... In many dwellings the furniture, the food, the clothing, nay, the very hair and skin of his hosts, would have put his philosophy to the proof. His lodging would sometimes have been in a hut of which every nook would have swarmed with vermin. He would have inhaled an atmosphere thick with peat smoke, and foul with a hundred noisome exhalations. At supper, grain fit only for horses would have been set before him, accompanied by a cake of blood drawn from living cows. Some of the company with which he would have feasted would have been covered with cutaneous eruptions, and others would have been smeared with tar like sheep. His couch would have been bare earth, dry or wet as the weather might be, and from that couch he would have risen, half-poisoned with stench, half-blind with the reek of turf, and half-mad with itch.” Several of the particulars of this dark picture of the conditions under which Highlanders had to live are repeated by other writers, but there is grave reason to doubt that it ever could apply to the whole Highlands, or even to any part of it in its entirety. But notwithstanding what must have been the rather hurtful influence of some such surroundings it had even then to be admitted that Highlanders possessed a superiority of general character. Macaulay further on says, regarding them, As there was no other part of the island where men sordidly clothed, lodged, and fed, indulged themselves to such a degree in the idle sauntering habits of an aristocracy, so there was no other part of the island where such men had in such a degree the better qualities of an aristocracy, grace, and dignity of manner, self-respect, and that noble sensibility which makes dishonour more terrible than death. A gentleman from Skye or Lochaber, whose clothes were begrimed with the accumulated filth of years, and whose hovel smelt worse than an English hog-stye, would often do the honours of that hovel with a lofty courtesy worthy of the splendid circle of Versailles. Though he had as little book-learning as the most stupid ploughboys of England, it would be a great error to put him in the same intellectual rank with such ploughboys.” This estimate of Highlanders has since then been endorsed by many a writer who has had opportunities of knowing them well, and no later than 1884, such an eminent authority as the Royal Commission sent to enquire into the crofters grievances said, “The crofter and cottar population of the Highlands and Islands, small though it be, is a nursery of good workers and citizens for the whole empire. In this respect the stock is exceptionally valuable. By sound physical constitution, native intelligence, and good moral training, it is particularly fitted to recruit the people of our industrial centres.” This superiority of character has stood not only Highlanders themselves in good stead, but the whole nation as well, for had they been less noble than they are, it is extremely unlikely that they could have quietly borne the privations, hardships, insults, and wrongs which they have so often been called on to endure, or would have borne themselves with so much valour when the empire was imperilled.

In considering this people’s social progress it will conduce to clearness to trace the progress made in each branch of what constitutes their social condition, and it is, therefore, necessary to show—

I. How those depending on the soil and the surrounding soil— farmer, crofter, labourer, and fisherman—have had their lot ameliorated.

II. How in religion and morals, superstition and ignorance have given place to an educated and efficient pastorate and high ideals of Christian duty on the part of the laity.

III. How in education, in place of a people among whom a century ago persons who could sign there names were rare, and among the older of whom a prejudice to learning existed, the young are now attending schools in an increasing ratio, and the older people are willing to sacrifice much for the sake of the education of their children.

IV. How in politics, a people who had then no voice in the making of the laws by which they were governed are now virtually self-governed, and how they who were precluded from taking an interest in anything beyond their village commune now take a keen and patriotic interest in the affairs of a great nation.

V. How in such matters as sanitation, care of the poor, <fec., changes for the better have been made.


From the nature of the circumstances by which they are surrounded, it is evident that the vast majority of the Highland people must depend on agricultural pursuits for their livelihood. This is very distinctly shown by the census of 1881, from which the following table is constructed :—

The relation which the people bear to the land on which they depend affords some estimate of their social state, and it is interesting to notice the several changes which this has undergone. Prior to the ’45, the clan system was almost universal in the Highlands. Much has been written in defence and condemnation of the system, and we find Mrs Grant of Laggan writing, “Nothing can be more erroneous than the prevalent idea that a Highland chief was an ignorant and unprincipled tyrant, who rewarded the abject submission of his followers with relentless cruelty and rigorous oppression. If ferocious in disposition, or weak in understanding, he was curbed and directed by the elders of his tribe, who, by inviolable custom, were his standing councillors, without whose advice no measure of any kind was decided.” General Stewart of Garth says, “The chiefs sway was chiefly paternal. Reverence for his authority, and gratitude for his protection, which was generally extended to shield the rights of his clansmen against the aggression of strangers, were the natural results of his patriarchal rule. This constituted an efficient control, without many examples of severity.” On the other hand, Burt had to write, “The chief does not think the present abject condition of the clan towards him to be sufficient; but entertains that tyrannical and detestable maxim that to render them poor would double the tie of their obedience, and accordingly he makes use of all oppressive means to that end.”

These pictures are very likely drawn from particular instances which came under the notice of the writers, and none of them can be true of the whole. It, however, seems that the chief resided among his people, settled their disputes, received rent in kind, was hospitable to all, and, in short—

“Never closed the iron door
Against the desolate and poor"

but protecting and being protected by his fellow-clansmen, who were loyal and faithful to him and to one another even to the death, and depending for little on the outside world.

The laws which followed the suppression of “the forty-five” altered the relations of chief and people, and thereafter until 1886 the relation between them was that of landlord and tenant— purely a commercial one. There was, however, little evidence of the change until something like twenty years had elapsed under the new regime, for it was only about the year 1770 that the beginning of the “economic transformation” was noticeable. Then followed many of the “clearances,” the formation of large sheep farms, and of congested seaside townships and villages. Of the effect of this change on the condition of the people much has been written, but it is now generally admitted that it was a mistake, and that it is matter for regret that the experiment was not made of leaving this peasantry where they were and of making their rents a fair one, of improving modes of cultivation, and of inducing the surplus population, if such there were, to migrate either to other cultivable lands or to the seashore to engage in fishing. The mistake was, however, made, and in doing it many a landlord threw away the love of his people—a heritage which his ancestors had for ages esteemed above all things—and the population of the time suffered. Though after 1820 evictions were not carried out on the previous large scale, still, whenever a croft or crofter stood in the landlord’s way, or his factor was crossed in any wise, bullying, and, if that were unsatisfactory, then eviction was resorted to, whatever might be the suffering thereby caused to the evicted.

As time passed on the people began to feel their importance, the more especially after the passing of the various Franchise Bills and the more general spread of education; and the result was the agitation which culminated in the passing of the Crofters’ Act of 1886, which freed the people from the fear of the power of arbitrary landlords, and under which a large number of crofters have with confidence set about improving their holdings and homes.

It is of interest to know how the people lived under these systems, and to see what progress has been made in affording them not only an assured regular supply of the necessaries of life, but also of those small luxuries which help to make life more than a daily struggle for existence, and of those things which make men less like the dumb driven cattle.

It is extremely probable that while the clan system prevailed, because of the frequent feuds, and the want of roads or means of intercommunication, every district must depend on its own resources for the means of subsistence. Fish of all kinds would be got in the districts bordering on the sea. Salmon would be got in the rivers, and the flesh of their cattle must have been used by themselves. But should the supplies of any district for any reason fail, then the pressure of want would be felt in all its keenness, and many would have to succumb, as the knowledge of a district’s want could scarcely be known beyond a limited circle, and the tardy means of transit, even when help was vouchsafed, must have brought relief at a very late stage. According to Martin, who wrote at the beginning of the eighteenth century,

“The diet used by the natives consists of fresh food, for they seldom taste any that is salted, except butter; the generality eat but little flesh, and only persons of distinction eat it every day and make three meals, for all the rest eat only two, and they eat more boiled than roasted. Their ordinary diet is butter, cheese, milk, potato, coleworts, brochan, i.e., oatmeal and water boiled; the latter taken with some bread is the constant food of several thousands of both sexes in this (Skye) and other islands during the winter and spring; yet they undergo many fatigues both by sea and land, and are very healthful.”

Pennant visited the north of Scotland, towards the end of the eighteenth century, and witnessed the transformation in the condition of the population, which resulted because “deprived of his state, of his patriarchal and feudal privileges, the Highland landlord seems to have resolved upon the part of a hard taskmaster as a satisfaction to his wounded pride, for the immunities he had forfeited.” Of the condition of the people of Skye, Pennant says that the poor were left to Providence’s care. They prowled along the shore to pick up limpets and other shell-fish, the casual repasts of hundreds during part of the year. Hundreds annually dragged through the season a wretched life, and numbers unknown, in all parts of the Highlands, fell beneath the pressure, some of hunger, more of the putrid fever, the epidemic of the coasts, originating from unwholesome food, which they had to use in their dire necessity. In Mull, Rum, Canna, Colonsay, and Islay the story of semi-starvation is the same. Regarding the inhabitants of Arran he says, “No time can be spared for amusement of any kind; the whole being given up to providing the means of paying their rent, of laying in their fuel, or getting a scanty pittance of meat and clothing.”

The methods of cultivation were laborious and hence expensive in the extreme. In many parts com lands were tilled solely by the caschrom. Where there was a plough it took three men to manage it—one to hold it, a second to drive the four horses abreast, and a third to follow with the spade to rectify the “imperfections of the tilth.” Thus three men and four horses did the work which two horses and one man now do.

The tenure by which, during the latter part of last century and the early part of this, the majority of the people held their lands was of a kind to discountenance the making of any permanent improvements. Dr Walker, who was commissioned to write a report of the state of the Western Isles to the now defunct Commissioners of the annexed estates, says of them in his economical history: “All the sub-tenants, who were the great body of the people in the Highlands, are tenant at will of the tacksman or farmer, and are, therefore, placed in a state of subjection that is not only unreasonable, but unprofitable, both to themselves and their superiors. The tacksman generally has one day in the week of the sub-tenant’s labour all the year round, which, with the spring and harvest work and other occasions, will amount to one-third of the whole annual labour. He can, therefore, have neither ability nor opportunity to attempt any improvements, which many of these sub-tenants would undoubtedly do, were they but masters of their time, and independent in their possessions.” Beneath these sub-tenants were the scallags, who were practically the slaves of laird, tacksman, or sub-tenant. Five days in the week the scallag had to work for his master, the sixth was allowed to himself for the cultivation of some scrap of land, which was assigned to him, where he raised for himself kail, barley, and potatoes, which with some fish formed the staple of his food

The dwellings of the people would seem to have been of the most wretched description. Holes in the thatch served for windows. The fireplace was in the centre of the floor, and the smoke was allowed to find its way out as best it could. Beds a& we have known them were unknown, and each person rolled himself in whatever clothes he could, and lay on the floor, whatever the weather. Such, then, was the condition of the people of the Highlands during the latter part of the last century and the early part of this. From that time to this their condition has been gradually ameliorated, but certainly not at the same rate in all parts, and nowhere as yet so much as those who know them' would wish.

One of the chief factors in the production of this improved , state is the construction of the means of inter-communication afforded (1) by the roads made first for military purposes, aud then by the joint action of the Government and the northern proprietors. In making these, it is said that the amount of joint expenditure exceeded £460,000, that upwards of 1200 miles of new roads were repaired, and 1436 bridges, and 11,450 covered drains were constructed. Since then, proprietors and Commissioners of Supply have had many more miles constructed and upheld, and the recently-appointed County Councils are, it would seem, further to enhance the boon of easy inter-communication by the construction of many more miles of road in hitherto neglected localities; (2) by the construction and continued use of the Caledonian Canal since 1821; (3) by the Highland Railway, opened first to Inverness, then to Dingwall, Tain, Golspie, Helmsdale, Wick, Thurso, and Stromeferry; and (4) by the establishment of postal and telegraph facilities in even the very remote parts of the Highlands.

By all these means, not only are goods transmitted hither and thither with quickness, and prices thus equalised, as well as a plethora or famine prevented, but the knowledge of the higher social state attained elsewhere is conveyed to the people, and as it is characteristic of Highland self-respect to strive after the realisation of the higher ideals, it is found that where communication has been longest open, the social condition of the population is, in most particulars, of a higher standard than where such communication has been only recently opened.

The following table shows (1) the price of agricultural labour in 1790, and (2) during the first thirty years of this century : —

Price of the necessaries of life in 1800:—

From these tables it is interesting to note that though the necessaries of life have since then risen in price, yet the remuneration of all kinds of agricultural labour has risen in every county in a much higher ratio, thus giving those who depend on the land a much greater purchasing power. The nett results of the changes which have taken place in the Highlands are, to all who depend on the land, (1) a higher standard of comfort than at the opening of the century; (2) security of tenure to all crofters who may have been harassed by arbitrary landlords, whom this class cannot now have any reason to fear; (3) houses, clothing, and food are of a better class, and are now more regularly secured; (4) the conveniences of life are much more common ; and (5) the people are possessed of a higher and wider intelligence.


The importance of the fishing industry to Highlanders may be inferred from the fact, that at least twelve per cent, of all males in ‘ the Highlands above twenty years of age are fishermen, and that nearly half of the fishermen in Scotland live in Highland counties.

In the early part of the century, arms of the sea yielded a sufficiency for the population that could then be served, because the means of transit were exceedingly difficult and salt was dear. At that time the boats were small, without deck or any means which would conduce to the comfort and safety of the men The fishing gear was good of its kind, but rather clumsy, and not the best adapted for the work. The boats which have gradually superseded those are longer of keel, decked, and generally have a stove and some sleeping accommodation for the crew. Fishing gear is of light and superior make. The men can venture far out into the open sea, and the total catch has been almost regularly rising each year during the present century, as markets for the disposal of the fish, fresh and cured, have been opened, and the prices realised have been such as to afford encouragement to the toilers.

Although in recent years the industry has been depressed from a variety of causes, chiefly over-speculation, and the raising of Continental tariffs—there is again evidence of its reviving and of affording lucrative employment to many of the people. To the attainment of this end, the construction of light railways, piers, harbours, and landing places, for which Government aid is in certain localities conditionally promised, will give very material aid.

The following table shows the progress made in the annual catch at certain periods during the century :—

The estimated money value of the whole Scotch fisheries was in 1810 only £500,000, while in 1880 it was £2,210,790, and the greater part of this increased value is due to its successful prosecution in the Highlands


The high moral tone and general good deportment of Highlanders have been testified by observers for a long period, and this is confirmed by official records which show the rarity of crime among them. Readers of such books as Sage’s Memorabilia Domestica, cannot, however, help coming to the conclusion that the conduct of the people was, in the early part of the century, superior to their creed.

People do not change their religion quickly, and for a long time after the Reformation Highlanders were really Episcopalians, though nominally Presbyterians, and entertained a strong antipathy to the settlement of Whig ministers in their midst. Mr Sage tells that when Rev. Mr Pope was settled in Reay very few of the parishioners came to hear him, they rather spending the time at an inn a few hundred yards away from the manse. One Sunday evening they came to him and invited him to join them. He declined the invitation and rated them on their manner of spending Sunday. Their reply was, “You are most ungrateful to refuse our hospitality, and if you think we are to give up the customs of our fathers for you, or all the Whig ministers of the country, you’ll find yourself in error. But come along with us,, for if we repeat your words to our neighbours they’ll call you te such a reckoning that you’ll be wishing you had never uttered them.” Mr Pope was firm, and soon a dozen and a half drunken men came to him and asked him to drink. He refused, and after they assaulted him he put the whole gang of them to rout with his “ bailie,” as he called the cudgel with which he dealt out punishment to his offending parishioners. The churches of the time were low, ill-lighted, irregularly seated buildings, thatched with heather roofs. To these churches the people could only with difficulty be got to go, and in some parishes the elders chosen were not only the most decent and orderly men in the parish, but also the strongest, as those who had erred and refused to submit to church discipline were compelled to attend and make public profession of repentance.

There can be no question that the vast majority of the ministers themselves were much ahead of the people among whom they ministered, and although there is evidence that a few were uneducated and rude in the extreme, the drawing up of the statements which constituted Sir John Sinclair’s old statistical account is of itself evidence of their commonsense and education. As regards the people who waited on their ministrations there is no denying that whatever church they professedly adhered to superstition was rampant. Of the nature of this superstition two views have been taken. General Stewart of Garth laments its decay, and speaks of them as the innocent, attractive, and often sublime superstitions of the Highlanders*—superstitions which inculcate no relentless intolerance, nor impiously dealt out perdition and Divine wrath against rival sects—superstition which taught men to believe that a dishonourable act attached disgrace to a whole kindred and district, and that murder, treachery, oppression, and all kinds of wickedness would not only be punished in the person of the transgressor himself, but would be visited on future generations. Martin, on the other hand, shows how gross and degrading the superstitions were, and says that in the Island of Lewis, on the first day of May, a man was sent very early to cross a certain stream, which, if a woman crossed first, no salmon could ascend; another stream never whitened linen; in the water of a certain well no meat could be boiled; persons suffering from jaundice were cured by the application of a hot iron to the backbone; the fever-stricken were cured by fanning them with the leaves of a Bible; a valley was haunted by spirits, and no one dared set foot in it without first pronouncing three sentences of adulation to propitiate them; a change of wind before landing at a particular spot was an omen requiring an immediate return homewards, but if they landed they uncovered and pivoted round “sun way's.” When they commenced a voyage it was the height of impiety to proceed without first pulling the boat round and round from East to West. Under the spread of education and an enlightening gospel many of these superstitions have disappeared, and what remains are beliefs cherished in secret only, never openly disseminated, and acted on rather shamefacedly. Against them all the Church fought, and it is creditable to it that during the first quarter of the century the Church of Scotland in the Highlands commanded much influence, and up to the time of the Disruption of 1843 was without any rival in the doing of religious work. Of the “ ten years’ conflict ” and the period of bitterness which succeeded it there is little need to write here, beyond saying that the spirit which seemed to animate spiritual advisers and rival sects, was not that which was generally characteristic of Highlanders, and certainly was not that laid down in the sermon on the mount. It is, however, matter of congratulation that the now well-educated and efficiently-trained ministers of the various churches are realising that they are engaged in the same grand work, and are in many places doing it in perfect unison. The people have not been slow to recognise this, and show their appreciation of ministerial work and doctrine by attending the churches in increasing numbers, there being now few Highlanders who can in Church language be called altogether “lapsed.” This attendance on divine ordinances is followed by a high standard of morality.

In one particular the result of this can be tabulated. The census of 1891 shows that while in all Scotland the proportion of men above fifteen years of age who are bachelors is 45 per cent., in the Highlands it is 51 per cent.; and that while in all Scotland the number of spinsters over fifteen years is 43 per cent. the number in the Highlands is 49 per cent. Again, in all Scotland 16jper cent, of married men and 19 per cent, of married women are under thirty years of age, the similar percentages for the Highland counties are only 7 for men and 11 for women. But notwithstanding that a greater proportion of Highlanders thus remain single, and those who marry do so later in life than the average for all Scotland, yet the rate of illegitimacy is lower than that for the whole of Scotland. In 1881 8 3 per cent of the births in Scotland were illegitimate, and in the Highlands only 7 per cent. This state of matters is surely excellent proof of much prudence and a high standard of morality among the Highland people.


Of all the changes which have been made in the north the most marked has been that in the educational condition of the people. It is true that in 1616 some parish schools were established in the Highlands, and the Privy Council which granted this boon declared their wish “that the vulgar Inglishe toung be universallie plantit, and the Irishe, which is one of the chief and principall causis of the continuance of barbaritie and incivilitie amongis the inhabitants of the Ilis and Heylandis, be abolishit and removeit.” The same Privy Council also ordained that the eldest sons of West Highland chiefs would not be served heirs to their fathers unless they could read, write, and speak English. The result was that while the young gents were “traynit up in vertew, leamying, and the Inglishe toung” they were losing all knowledge of Gaelic, and for a long time thereafter English was the language of Highland aristocrats, and it is perhaps because of this that the weaker among the Highland people have sometimes in the past disowned, when in the south, the knowledge of their mother tongue, and that a prejudice has so long existed against it as a school language. Happily, such feelings are now reversed, and natives, wherever they be, seem proud to acknowledge their indebtedness to the Highlands and the language of its people.

At the opening of this century nothing whatever of any consequence had been done for the education of the great body of the people, and it would seem that then, and for sometime thereafter, those in authority justified the truth of Lord Cockbum’s assertion that the principle was reverenced as indisputable, that the ignorance of the people was necessary to their obedience to the law.

Light, however, did break at last, and in 1824 the General Assembly formed their great Education Scheme. Dr Norman Macleod says that there were then in the county of Argyle according to carefully prepared statistics, no less than 26,326 children between the age of five and fifteen, for whom there was no provision whatever, except such as was provided in a desultory and intermittent way by certain private societies which then existed. It was ascertained that in the six Synods of Argyle, Glenelg, Ross. Sutherland, Orkney, and Shetland, containing 143 parishes, and a population of 377,730 souls, as many as 258 additional schools were urgently called for. As late as 1833 the Educational Committee reporting on the state of education in the Highlands and Islands, founded on returns from the parochial clergy, stated that the number of young between six and twenty years of age, untaught to read, and beyond the reach of any of the existing provisions for elementary education, was 28,070, and that the number between five and twenty unable to write was 84,210. The parochial school system was then legally maintained, but because of the large extent, physical configuration, and the roadless condition of many parishes, it never could produce in the Highlands the amount of good which followed its establishment in Lowland parishes. The Highland School Act of 1838 did much for several outlying districts, which, to this day, continue to receive the funds voted to them under the Act.

After the Disruption of 1843 the Free Church also established many schools in northern parishes, and between rival schools, the education of the young was well looked after and went on apace with the result that the greater the number of schools and scholars attending them, and the better the education given, the more clamorous did the demand for more education become; and in the Highlands it was certainly shown that there is truth in the maxim which says, that the demand for education is always in the inverse ratio to the need of it.

With the resources at the command of school managers, matters were making good progress up to 1872, when the Education (Scotland) Act was passed, and the carrying out of its enactments have marked an epoch in Highland education, for not only had school accommodation to be provided for every child of school age, but every child was to be compelled to occupy that accommodation. Though the difficulties of doing this are more numerous and arduous in the Highlands than in any other part of Scotland, it is extremely creditable to the intelligence of the people that the average population attending school compares favourably with that of the whole of Scotland.

This is brought out in the following table, which shows the percentage of the population (1881) receiving education at various ages up to fifteen years in all Scotland and in the Highland counties:—

The following table compiled from the Blue-Books of the Education Department shows how extremely rapid has been the progress made since 1872. From the first report issued by the Department after the passing of the Act, the following figures are taken:—

From the Educational Department’s tenth (1883) annual report the following particulars are taken for comparison :—

Since 1883 the number of schools has decreased, as a number of small neighbouring ones have been merged into larger new ones with good results. The regularity of attendance and the efficiency of instruction have also increased, as is shown by the Blue Books published since then. Quite recently the school fees, which had been in some measure a bar to the poorer classes, have been remitted. It is hoped than when education is free up to, and perhaps within, the gates of our universities, that other means may be found to let the child of the poorest get the education thus afforded, provided that his character and abilities prove that this would be desirable for his own and the public good, and that the Highlands may continue to furnish to the learned professions —as has been done in the past—a larger proportion than any other district of equal population.


The political changes which have passed over the whole country have been shared by the people of the Highlands, and what progress has been made in this respect is that which it shares in common with the entire kingdom.

Prior to the abolition of Heritable Jurisdiction, the system of government was patriarchal, and the heads of clans had practically all power in their hands. Since the middle of last century the machinery of law has existed, but in it the common people for a long time had no confidence, and scarcely ever expected to win a case if their opponent were a man of wealth. This dread of receiving injustice where justice ought with certainty to be got has happily in part passed away.

From the patriarchal (the oldest form of government) political power passed away into the hands of a class, as from that time until 1832, only “ freeholders” had the light of voting, and of these there were few in the Highlands. In the whole of Scotland there were not more than two thousand voters who returned the then forty-five members, and of these the twenty freeholders of Sutherlandshire returned one. As a class these members of Parliament naturally paid chief regard to the advantages of the class to which they belonged.

The change from government by class to that by the people was made by the great Reform Act of 1832, and since then legislation recognises no class and no favourites. A still wider interest in matters political was given by the Reform Acts of 1867 and 1884, with the result in the Highlands, at least, an intense interest is taken in political matters, and, as a secondary result, the circulation of newspapers has increased fully twenty-fold within the past twenty years, so that Highlanders are now surely prevented from the narrowing influences of the purely local, and from believing

“The crackle of their bourg The murmur of the world.”

The burden of self-government has been still further laid upon them by the Local Government (Scotland) Act, and such benefits as can possibly be expected from the County Councils will, doubtless, be realised ; and when extended powers are granted them, the democracy will elect councillors, who, by their works, will show that in the important work of self-government Highlanders are ever found exercising their political powers wisely and well.


It is matter of much regret that the progress made in matters sanitary during the century has not at all been commensurate with that made in most other particulars. Only a few months ago, a competent authority reported that 90 per cent, of the houses in the Island of Lewis were in an unsanitary condition, and he gave particulars which, when compared with the statements of observers early in the century, show how very little progress has been made in this matter. Though the percentage of unsanitary houses is probably not so high in the other parts, yet it is very evident to any one travelling through the north that a great number are still not what they ought to be in the interests of health. The Royal Crofter Commission report that “ no one concerned for the elevation of the Highland people can fail to desire an improvement in this particular, no one can doubt if they are well conducted and robust, it is in spite of their lodging and in consequence of counteracting causes, and that if they enjoyed the benefit of purer and brighter homes they would prosper more. They further say, “The ancient model of Highland habitation may, indeed, be contemplated with too much indulgence by those whose minds are not duly possessed by considerations of utility and sanitation, for it is associated in fancy with all that is most pleas* ing and romantic in the manners and history of the people, while in form and colour it is in perfect harmony with the landscape and the shore. The white house may be seen anywhere now. . . . It is not attractive and not picturesque, but is usually built apart from the byre, and it is tolerably dry, light, and free from smoke. It stands half-way between the original hovel of the Celtic peasant and the comfortable and comely dwelling which the substantial crofter of the future may, we trust, possess.”

It almost seems a pity that these black houses do not, in some measure, make the inhabitants unhappy, and so induce them to make their houses cleaner, brighter, and more comfortable in every respect. County CouLcils under powers invested in them will, however, bring the true state of matters to light, and means will then surely be devised to change a state of matters which is neither for the individual nor the public good.

Census returns show that in several particulars considerable progress has been made. In 1881 the number of persons to an inhabited house in all Scotland was 5'05, which figure also represents the number to each house in the Highlands. The number of rooms to a house in all Scotland is 3-17, while in the Highland counties it is 3*55, and the number of persons to a room for all Scotland is 1*59, and for the Highlands it is 1.43. If, however, the like calculation be made for the Western Isles alone it is found that there are 4.86 persons to a family and 5.33 persons to a house, 2.69 rooms to a house, and 1*94 persons to a room, which indicates an accommodation considerably less than the average for Scotland. It is, however, a very satisfactory sign of progress that while the number of families in the Highland counties remained practically the same between 1871 and 1881, the number of inhabited houses had increased about 5 per cent., and the number of rooms with one or more windows 15 per cent. It is expected that when the details of last year’s census are made known, a still further increase in this direction will be shown, as well as a decrease in the already small number of families living in rooms without windows. It would appear that, almost in spite of the unsanitary state of the dwellings, the death-rate has, during the century, been falling. In 1881 it was 16.2 per 1000 in the Highland counties, while for the same year it was 19.3 for the whole of Scotland, and this healthy eminence it has regularly retained, which proves that the outdoor active life of crofters and fishermen is more conducive to longevity than the less simple manner of living in the confined cities of the south.

In this connection it is interesting to note the fact that in the five counties of Inverness, Ross, Cromarty, Sutherland, and Argyll, the population during the first forty years of the century increased steadily, attaining its maximum in 1841. Between 1841 and 1871 it decreased at a considerable rate. From 1871 to 1881 the population appeared to be perfectly stationary.

The following table shows the exact progress:—

Under the clan system there were no “poor” so-called, as all bad a right to the means of livelihood so long as that was within the chiefs power. Thereafter the Churches took the matter up, until it was in great measure taken out of their hands by the Act of 1840. In many poor Highland parishes the burden of the taxation which this cast upon the people was considered heavy and irritating, but this feeling is disappearing, and it is pleasant to see that the number of paupers in the Highlands has, during recent years, regularly decreased, and that those who really are compelled to become paupers have more attention paid to them. It is only fair to add that there exists among the vast majority of the Highland people a wholesome spirit of independence which makes them struggle onward long and bravely rather than become dependent on parochial relief.

It is not only in the few particulars more especially dealt with in this paper that rapid progress has been made, but in almost every branch of industry if we except one or two, but chiefly the manufacture of kelp.

And this progress has been attended with a corresponding rise in the social state of the people, which will become the more marked when such obstacles as still retard progress are removed. Grievances will, however, always remain. Because of the ever onward moving and shifting conditions of human life, what to us may to-day be regarded as a necessary right, will to our children be a hindrance and a wrong; but with government in the hands of the people the conditions of life will easily be modified to suit existing circumstances, for—

“The old order changeth, giving place to the new;
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”

It is as yet well-nigh impossible to appreciate the recent rapidly succeeding changes, for, as Herbert Spencer Bays, “In a society living, growing, changing, every new factor becomes a permanent force, modifying more or less the direction of movement determined by the aggregate of forces. Never simple and direct, but by the co-operation of so many causes made irregular, involved, and always rhythmical, the course of social change cannot be judged of in general direction by inspecting any small portion of it. Each action will inevitably be followed, after a while, by some direct or indirect reaction, and this again by a reaction, and, until the successive effects have shown themselves^ no one can say how the total motion will be modified.”

It is, however, earnestly hoped that the aggregate of the forces now- at work will have the effect not only of raising the people to a still higher platform in every matter which pertains to their social state, but that thu educational and religious influences at work may also be the means of getting Highlanders to realise that the chief end of man is “to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.”

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