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General History of the Highlands
The Highlands around 1840

THE same causes have been at work and the same processes going on since 1800, as there were during the latter half of last century.

Taking stand at the date, about 1840, of the New Statistical Account, and looking back, the conclusion which, we think, any unprejudiced inquirer must come to is, that the Highlands as a whole had improved immensely. With the exception of some of the Western Islands, agriculture and sheep-farming at the above date were generally abreast of the most improved lowland system, and the social condition of the people was but little, if any, behind that of the inhabitants of any other part of the country. In most places the old Scotch plough was abolished, and the improved two-horse one introduced; manuring was properly attended to, and a system of rotation of crops introduced; runrig was all but abolished, and the land properly inclosed; in short, during the early half of the pre. sent century the most approved agricultural methods had been generally adopted, where agriculture was of any importance. Thirlage, multures, services, payment in kind, and other oppressions and obstructions to improvement, were fast dying out, and over a great part of the country the houses, food, clothing, and social condition of the people generally were vastly improved from what they were half a century before. Education, moreover, was spreading, and schools were multiplied, especially after the disruption of the Established Church in 1843, the Free Church laudably planting schools in many places where they had never been before. In short, one side of the picture is bright and cheering enough, although the other is calculated to fill a humane observer with sadness.

Depopulation and emigration went on even more vigorously than before. Nearly all the old lairds and those imbued with the ancient spirit of the chiefs had died out, and a young and new race had now the disposal of the Highland lands, a race who had little sympathy with the feelings and prejudices of the people, and who were, naturally, mainly anxious to increase as largely as possible their rent-roll In the earlier part of the century at least, as in the latter half of the previous one, few of the proprietors wished, strictly speaking, to depopulate their estates, and compel the inhabitants to emigrate, but simply to clear the interior of the small farms into which many properties were divided, convert the whole ground into sheep pasture, let it out in very large farms, and remove the ejected population to the coasts, there to carry on the manufacture of kelp, or engage in fishing. It was only when the value of kelp decreased, and the fishing proved unprofitable, that compulsory emigration was resorted to.

It is unnecessary to say more here on the question of depopulation and emigration, the question between Highland landlords and Highland tenants, the dispute as to whether large or small farms are to be preferred, and whether the Highlands are best suited for sheep and cattle or for men and agriculture. Most that has been written on the subject has been in advocacy of either the one side or the other; one party, looking at the question exclusively from the tenant’s point of view, while the other writes solely in the. interests of the landlords. The question has scarcely yet been dispassionately looked at, and perhaps cannot be for a generation or two yet, when the bitter feelings engendered on both sides shall have died out, when both landlords and tenants will have found out what is best for themselves and for the country at large, and when the Highlands will be as settled and prosperous as the Lothians and the Carse of Gowrie. There can be no doubt, however, that very frequently landlords and their agents acted with little or no consideration for the most cherished old feelings, prejudices, and even rights, of the tenants, whom they often treated with less clemency than they would have done sheep and cattle. It ought to have been remembered that the Highland farmers and cottars were in a condition quite different from those in the lowlands. Most of them rented farms which had been handed down to them from untold generations, and which they had come to regard as as much belonging to them as did the castle to the chief. They had no idea of lowland law and lowland notions of property, so that very often, when told to leave their farms and their houses, they could not realise the order, and could scarcely believe that it came from the laird, the descendant of the old chiefs, for whom their fathers fought and died. Hence the sad necessity often, of laying waste their farms, driving off their cattle, and burning their houses about their ears, before the legal officers could get the old tenants to quit the glens and hill-sides where their fathers had for centuries dwelt. It was not sheer pig headed obstinacy or a wish to defy the law which induced them to act thus; only once, we think, in Sutherland, was there anything like a disturbance, when the people gathered together and proceeded to drive out the sheep which were gradually displacing themselves. The mere sight of a soldier dispersed the mob, and not a drop of blood was spilt. When forced to submit and leave their homes they did so quietly, having no spirit to utter even a word of remonstrance. They seemed like a people amazed, bewildered, taken by surprise, as much so often as a family would be did a father turn them out of his house to make room for strangers. In the great majority of instances, the people seem quietly to have done what they were told, and removed from their glens to the coast, while those who could afford it seem generally to have emigrated. Actual violence seems to have been resorted to in very few cases.

Still the hardships which had to be endured by many of the ousted tenants, and the unfeeling rigour with which many of them were treated is sad indeed to read of. Many of them had to sleep in caves, or shelter themselves, parents and children, under the lee of a rock or a dyke, keeping as near as they could to the ruins of their burnt or fallen cottage, and living on what shell-fish they could gather on the shore, wild roots dug with their fingers, or on the scanty charity of their neighbours; for all who could had emigrated. Many of the proprietors, of course, did what they could to provide for the ousted tenants, believing that the driving of them out was a sad necessity. Houses, and a small piece of ground for each family, were provided by the shore, on some convenient spot, help was given to start the fishing, or employment in the manufacture of kelp, and as far as possible their new condition was made as bearable as possible. Indeed, we are inclined to believe, that but few of the landlords acted from mere wantonness, or were entirely dead to the interests of the old tenants but that, their own interests naturally being of the greatest importance to them, and some radical change being necessary in the management of lands in the Highlands, the lairds thoughtlessly acted as many of them did. It was the natural rebound from the old system when the importance and wealth of a chief were rated at the number of men on his estate; and although the consequent suffering is to be deplored, still, perhaps, it was scarcely to be avoided. It is easy to say that had the chiefs done this or the government done the other thing, much suffering might have been spared, and much benefit accrued to the Highlanders; but all the suffering in the world might he spared did people know exactly when and how to interfere. It would be curious, indeed, if in the case of the Highlands the faults were all on one side. We believe that the proprietors acted frequently with harshness and selfishness, and did not seek to realise the misery they were causing. They were bound, more strongly bound perhaps than the proprietors of any other district, to show some consideration for the people on their estates, and not to act as if proprietors had the sole right to benefit by the land of a country, and that the people had no right whatever. Had they been more gentle, introduced the changes gradually and judiciously, and given the native Highlanders a chance to retrieve themselves, much permanent good might have been done, and much suffering and bitterness spared. But so long as the world is merely learning how to live, groping after what is best, so long as men act on blind unreasoning impulse, until all men learn to act according to the immutable laws of Nature, so long will scenes such as we have been referring to occur. The blame, however, should be laid rather to ignorance than to wanton intention.

Of all the Highland counties, perhaps Sutherland is better known than any other in connection with the commotions which agitated the highlands during the early part of this century, and, according to all accounts, the depopulation is more marked there than anywhere else. The clearance of that county of the old tenants, their removal to the coast, and the conversion of the country into large sheep-farms commenced about 1810, under the Marquis of Stafford, who had married the heiress of the Sutherland estate. The clearing was, of course, carried out by Mr Sellar, the factor, who, on account of some of the proceedings to which he was a party, was tried before a Court of Justiciary, held at Inverness in 1816, for culpable homicide and oppression. Many witnesses were examined on both sides, and, after a long trial, the jury returned a verdict of "Not guilty," in which the judge, Lord Pitmilly, completely concurred. This, we think, was the only verdict that could legally be given, not only in the case of the Sutherland clearings, but also in the case of most of the other estates where such measures were carried on. The tenants were all duly warned to remove a considerable number of weeks before the term, and as few of them had many chattels to take with them, this could easily have been done. Most of them generally obeyed the warning, although a few, generally the very poor and very old, refused to budge from the spot of their birth. The factor and his officers, acting quite according to law, compelled them, sometimes by force, to quit the houses, which were then either burnt or pulled to the ground. As a rule, these officers of the law seem to have done their duty as gently as law officers are accustomed to do but however mildly such a duty bad been performed, it could not but entail suffering to some extent, especially on such a people as many of the Highlanders were who knew not how to make a living beyond the bounds of their native glen. The pictures of suffering drawn, some of them we fear too true, are sometimes very harrowing, and any one who has been brought up among the hills, or has dwelt for a summer in a sweet Highland glen, can easily fancy with how sad a heart the Highlander must have taken his last long lingering look of the little cottage, however rude, where he passed his happiest years, nestled at the foot of a sunny bras, or guarded by some towering crag, and surrounded with the multitudious beauties of wood and vale, heather and ferns, soft knoll and rugged mountain. The same result as has followed in the Highlands has likewise taken place in other parts of the country, without the same outcry about depopulation, suffering, emigration, &c., simply because it has been brought about gradually. The process commenced in the Highlands only about a hundred years since, was commenced in the lowlands and elsewhere centuries ago; the Highlanders have had improvements thrust upon them, while the lowlanders were allowed to develop themselves.

After the decline in the price of kelp (about 1820), when it ceased to be the interest of the proprietors to accumulate people on the shore, they did their best to induce them to emigrate, many proprietors helping to provide ships for those whom they had dispossessed of their lands and farms. Indeed, until well on in the present century, the Highlanders generally seem to have had no objections to emigrate, but, on the contrary, were eager to do so whenever they could, often going against the will of the lairds and of those who dreaded the utter depopulation of the country and a dearth of recruits for the army. But about 1840 and after, compulsion seems often to have been used to make the people go on board the ships provided for them by the lairds, who refused to give them shelter on any part of their property. But little compulsion, however, in the ordinary sense of the term, seems to have been necessary, as the Highlanders, besides having a hereditary tendency to obey their superiors, were dazed, bewildered, and dispirited by what seemed to them the cruel, heartless, and unjust proceedings of their lairds.

The earliest extensive clearing probably took place on the estate of Glengarry, the traditional cause of it being that the laird’s lady had taken umbrage at the clan. "Summonses of ejection were served over the whole property, even on families most closely connected with the chief."

[Those who wish further details may refer to the following pamphlets The Glengarry Evictions, by Donald Ross; History of the Hebrides, by E. 0. Tregelles Twelve Days in Skye, by Lady M ‘Caskill, Exterminations of the Scottish Peasantry, and other works, by Mr Robertson of Dundoneachie; Hiqhland Clearances, by the Rev. E. .J. Findlater; Sutherland as it was and is; and the pamphlet in last note. On the other side, see Selkirk on Emigration ; Sir J. M’Neill’s report and article in Edin. Review for Oct. 1857.]

From that time down to the present day, the clearing off of the inhabitants of many parts of the Highlands has been steadily going on. We have already spoken of the Sutherland clearings, which were continued down to a comparatively recent time. All the Highland counties to a greater or less extent have been subjected to the same kind of thinning, and have contributed their share of emigrants to America, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere. It would serve no purpose to enter into details concerning the clearing of the several estates in the various Highland counties; much, as we have said, has been written on both sides, and if faith can be put in the host of pamphlets - that have been issued during the present century on the side of the ejected Highlanders, some of the evictions were conducted with great cruelty ; much greater cruelty and disregard for the people’s feelings than we think there was any need for, however justifiable and necessary the evictions and clearings were.

We have already referred to the frequent occurrence of famines during the past and present centuries in the Highlands, arising from the failure of the crops, principally, latterly, through the failure of the potatoes. These frequent famines gave a stimulus to emigration, as, of course, the people were anxious to escape from their misery, and the proprietors were glad to get quit of the poor they would otherwise have had to support. Besides the failure of the crops, other causes operated, according to Mr Tregelles, in the pamphlet already referred to, to produce the frequent occurrence of distress in the Highlands; such as the relation of landlord and tenant, the defective character of the poor-law, the excessive division and subdivision of the land, the imprudence and ignorance of some of the peasantry, inertness, also consequent on chronic poverty, want of capital. Every few years, up even to the present time, a cry of distress comes from the Highlands. Besides the famines already referred to in 1837 and 1846, a still more severe and distressing one occurred in 1850, and seems, according to the many reports and pamphlets issued, to have continued for some years after. In the one of 1837, many Highland proprietors and private gentlemen, forming themselves into an association, did what they could to assist the Highlanders, mainly by way of emigration. Not only was it for the advantage of Highland prorietors, in respect of being able to let their lands at a better rent, to do what they could to enable the people to emigrate, but by doing so, and thus diminishing the number of poor on their estates, they considerably decreased the large tax they had to pay under the recent Scotch Poor-law Act. "Formerly the poor widows and orphans and destitute persons were relieved by the parish minister from the poors’ box, by voluntary subscriptions, which enabled the extremely needy to receive four or five shillings the quarter; and this small pittance was felt on all hands to be a liberal bounty. The landlord added his five or ten pound gift at the beginning of the year, and a laudatory announcement appeared in the newspaper. But the Act for the relief of the poor of Scotland now provides that a rate shall be levied on the tenant or occupier, and some of those who formerly paid £10 per annum, and were deemed worthy of much commendation, have now to pay £400 per annum without note or comment! Can we be surprised, then, that some of the landlords, with increased claims on their resources, and perhaps with diminished ability to meet such claims, should look round promptly and earnestly for a remedy One of the most obvious and speedy remedies was emigration; hence the efforts to clear the ground of those who, with the lapse of time, might become heavy encumbrances. It need not be matter of surprise that the landlord should clear his ground of tenants who, for a series of years, had paid no rent; although perhaps a wiser and better course would have been to have sought for and found some good means of continued lucrative employment. . . . The lands are divided and subdivided until a family is found existing on a plot which is totally inadequate for their support; and. here we see their imprudence and ignorance. Families are reared up in misery, struggling with impossibilities, producing at last that inertness and dimness of vision which result from a sick heart." Most of those who write, like Mr Tregelles, of the distress of the Highlands in 1850 and succeeding years, do so in the same strain. They declare there is no need for emigration, that the land and sea, if properly worked, are quite sufficient to support all the inhabitants that were ever on it at any time, and that the people only need to be helped on, encouraged and taught, to make them as prosperous and the land as productive as the people and land of any other part of the kingdom. While this may be true of many parts, we fear it will not hold with regard to most of the Western Islands, where until recently, in most places, especially in Skye, the land was so subdivided and the population so excessive, that under the most productive system of agriculture the people could not be kept in food for more than half the year. Even in some of the best off of the islands, it was the custom for one or more members of a family to go to the south during summer and harvest, and earn as much as would pay the rent and eke out the scanty income. "The fact is, that the working classes of Skye, for many years anterior to 1846, derived a considerable part of their means from the wages of labour in the south. Even before the manufacture of kelp had been abandoned, the crofters of some parts at least of Skye appear to have paid their rents chiefly in money earned by labour in other parts of the kingdom. When that manufacture ceased, the local employment was reduced to a small amount, and the number who went elsewhere for wages increased. The decline of the herring-fishery, which for several years had yielded little or no profit in Skye, had a similar effect. The failure of the potato crop in 1846 still further reduced the local means of subsistence and of employing labour, and forced a still greater number to work for wages in different parts of the country. From the Pentland Firth to the Tweed, from the Lewis to the Isle of Man, the Skye-men sought the employment they could not find at home; and there are few families of cottars, or of crofters at rents not exceeding £10, from which at least one individual did not set out to earn by labour elsewhere the means of paying rent and buying meal for those who remained at home. Before 1846, only the younger members of the family left the district for that purpose; since that year, the crofter himself has often found it necessary to go. But young and old, crofters and cottars, to whatever distance they may have gone, return home for the winter, with rare exceptions, and remain there nearly altogether idle, consuming the produce of the croft, and the proceeds of their own labour, till the return of summer and the failure of their supplies warn them that it is time to set out again. Those whose means are insufficient to maintain them till the winter is past, and who cannot find employment at that season at home, are of course in distress, and, having exhausted their own means, are driven to various shifts, and forced to seek charitable aid."

The above extract is from the Report by Sir John M’Neill, on the distress in Highlands and Islands in 1850—51, caused by the failure of the crops. He went through most of the western island and western mainland parishes examining into the condition of the people, and the conclusion he came to was, that the population was excessive, that no matter how the land might be divided, it could not support the inhabitants without extraneous aid, and that the only remedy was the removal of the surplus population by means of emigration. Whether the population was excessive or not, it appears to us, that when the sudden, deep, and extensive distresses occurred in the Highlands, it was merciful to help those who had no means of making a living, and who were half starving, to remove to a land where there was plenty of well-paid work. Sir John believes that even although no pressure had been used by landlords, and no distresses had occurred, the changes which have been rapidly introduced into the Highlands, extending farms and diminishing population, would have happened all the same, but would have been brought about more gradually and with less inconvenience and suffering to the population. "The change which then (end of 18th century) affected only the parishes bordering on the Lowlands, has now extended to the remotest parts of the Highlands, and, whether for good or for evil, is steadily advancing. Every movement is in that direction, because the tendency must necessarily be to assimilate the more remote districts to the rest of the country, and to carry into them, along with the instruction, industry, and capital, the agricultural and commercial economy of the wealthier, more intelligent, and influential majority of the nation. If it were desirable to resist this progress, it would probably be found impracticable. Every facility afforded to communication and intercourse must tend to hasten its march, and it is not to be conceived that any local organisation could resist, or even materially retard it. If nothing had occurred to disturb the ordinary course of events, this inevitable transition would probably have been effected without such an amount of suffering as to call for special intervention, though no such change is accomplished without suffering. The crofter would have yielded to the same power that has elsewhere converted the holdings of small tenants into farms for capitalists; but increased facilities of communication, and increased intercourse, might previously have done more to assimilate his language, habits, and modes of living and of thinking to those of men in that part of the country to which he is now a stranger, and in which he is a foreigner.

"There would thus have been opened up to him the same means of providing for his subsistence that were found by those of his class, who, during the last century, have ceased to cultivate land occupied by themselves. But the calamity that suddenly disabled him from producing his food by his own labour on his croft, has found him generally unprepared to provide by either means for his maintenance. All the various attempts that have yet been made in so many parishes to extricate the working classes from the difficulties against which they are unsuccessfully contending, have not only failed to accomplish that object, but have failed even to arrest the deterioration in their circumstances and condition that has been in progress for the last four years. In every parish, with one or two exceptions, men of all classes and denominations concur unanimously in declaring it to be impossible, by any application of the existing resources, or by any remunerative application of extraneous resources, to provide for the permanent subsistence of the whole of the present inhabitants; and state their conviction that the population cannot be made self-sustaining, unless a portion removes from the parish The working classes in many parishes are convinced that the emigration of a part of their number affords the only prospect of escape from a position otherwise hopeless; and in many cases individuals have earnestly prayed for aid to emigrate. Petitions numerously signed by persons desirous to go to the North American colonies, and praying for assistance to enable them to do so, have been transmitted for presentation to Parliament. In some of the parishes where no desire for emigration had been publicly expressed, or was supposed to exist, that desire began to be announced as soon as the expectation of extraneous aid was abandoned. It has rarely happened that so many persons, between whom there was or could have been no previous concert or intercourse, and whose opinions on many important subjects are so much at variance, have concurred in considering any one measure indispensable to the welfare of the community; and there does not appear to be any good reason for supposing that this almost unanimous opinion is not well founded."

These are the opinions of one who thoroughly examined into the matter, and are corroborated by nearly all the articles on the Highland parishes in the New Statistical Account. That it was and is still needful to take some plan to prevent the ever-recurring distress of the Western Highlands, and especially Islands, no one can doubt; that emigration is to some extent necessary, especially from the islands, we believe, but that it is the only remedy, we are inclined to doubt. There is no doubt that many proprietors, whose tenants though in possession of farms of no great size were yet very comfortable, have cleared their estate, and let it out in two or three large farms solely for sheep. Let emigration by all means be brought into play where it is necessary, but it is surely not necessary in all cases to go from one extreme to another, and replace thousands of men, women, and children by half-a-dozen shepherds and their dogs. Many districts may be suitable only for large farms, but many others, we think, could be divided into farms of moderate size, large enough to keep a farmer and his family comfortably after paying a fair rent. This system, we believe, has been pursued with success in some Highland districts, especially in that part of Inverness-shire occupied by the Grants.

In Sir John M’Neill’s report there are some interesting and curious statements which, we think, tend to show that when the Highlanders are allowed to have moderate-sized farms, and are left alone to make what they can of them, they can maintain themselves in tolerable comfort. In the island of Lewis, where the average rent of the farms was £2, 12s., the farmer was able to obtain from his farm only as much produce as kept himself and family for six months in the year; his living for the rest of the year, his rent and other necessary expenses, requiring to be obtained from other sources, such as fishing, labour in the south, &c. So long as things went well, the people generally managed to struggle through the year without any great hardship; but in 1846, and after, when the potato crops failed, but for the interference of the proprietor and others, many must have perished for want of food. In six years after 1846, the proprietor expended upwards of £100,000 in providing work end in charity, to enable the people to live. Various experiments were tried to provide work for the inhabitants, and more money expended than there was rent received, with apparently no good result whatever. In 1850, besides regular paupers, there were above 11,000 inhabitants receiving charitable relief. Yet, notwithstanding every encouragement from the proprietor, who offered to cancel all arrears, provide a ship, furnish them with all necessaries, few of the people cared to emigrate. In the same way in Harris, immense sums were expended to help the people to live, with as little success as in Lewis; the number of those seeking relief seemed only to increase. As this plan seemed to lead to no good results, an attempt was made to improve the condition of the people by increasing the size of their farms, which in the best seasons sufficed to keep them in provisions for only six months. The following is the account of the experiment given by Mr Macdonald, the resident factor :—" At Whitsunday 1848 forty crofters were removed from the island of Bernera, then occupied by eighty-one; and the lands thus vacated were divided among the forty-one who remained. Those who were removed, with two or three exceptions, were placed in crofts upon lands previously occupied by tacksmen. Six of the number who, with one exception, had occupied crofts of about five acres in Bernera, were settled in the Borves on crofts of ten acres of arable, and hill-grazing for four cows, and their followers till two years old, with forty sheep and a horse,—about double the amount of stock which, with one exception, they had in Bernera. The exceptional case referred to was that of a man who had a ten acre croft in Bernera, with an amount of black cattle stock equal to that for which he got grazing in the Borves, but who had no sheep. They are all in arrear of rent, and, on an average, for upwards of two years. These six tenants were selected as the best in Bernera, in respect to their circumstances. I attribute their want of success to the depreciation in the price of black cattle, and to their not having sufficient capital to put upon their lands a full stock when they entered. Their stipulated rent in the Borves was, on an average, £12. Of the forty-one who remained, with enlarged crofts, in Bernera, the whole are now largely in arrear, and have increased their arrears since their holdings were enlarged. I attribute their want of success to the same causes as that of the people in the Borves. The result of his attempt to improve the condition of these crofters, by enlarging their crofts, while it has failed to accomplish that object, has at the same time entailed a considerable pecuniary loss upon the proprietor.

An attempt was made, at the same time, to establish some unsuccessful agricultural crofters, practised in fishing, as fishermen, on lands previously occupied by tacksmen, where each fisherman got a croft of about two acres of arable land, with grazing for one or two cows, and from four to six sheep, at a rent of from £1 to £2 sterling. This experiment was equally unsuccessful. It is doubtful whether they were all adequately provided with suitable boats and tackle, or ‘gear;’ but many of them were; and some of those who were not originally well provided were supplied with what was wanted by the destitution fund. Of these fishermen Mr Macdonald says :—‘ Not one of them, since entering on the fishing croft, has paid an amount equal to his rent. The attempt to improve the condition of those men, who had previously been unsuccessful as agricultural crofters, by placing them in a position favourable for fishing, has also failed; and this experiment also has entailed a considerable pecuniary loss upon the proprietor, who is not now receiving from these fishermen one-fourth of the rent he formerly received from tacksmen for the same lands. I therefore state confidently, that in Harris the proprietor cannot convert lands held by tacksmen into small holdings, either for the purposes of agriculture or fishing, without a great pecuniary sacrifice; and that this will continue to be the case, unless potatoes should again be successfully cultivated. I cannot estimate the loss that would be entailed upon the proprietor by such a change at less than two-thirds of the rental paid by the tacksmen. The results of the experiments that have been made on this property would, in every case, fully bear out this estimate. It is my conscientious belief and firm conviction, that if this property were all divided into small holdings amongst the present occupants of land, the result would be, that in a few years the rent recoverable would not be sufficient to pay the public burdens, if the potatoes continue to fail, and the price of black cattle does not materially improve."

Yet not one family in Harris would accept the proprietor’s offer to bear all the expense of their emigration.

The condition of Lewis and Harris, as above shown, may be taken as a fair specimen of the Western Islands at the time of Sir John M’Neill’s inquiry in 1851.

An experiment, which if properly managed, might have succeeded, was tried in 1850 and the two following years; it also proved a failure. The following is the account given in the Edinburgh Review for October 1857. The reader must remember, however, that the article is written by an advocate of all the modern Highland innovations :—A number of people in the district of Sollas in North Uist had agreed to emigrate, but "a committee in the town of Perth, which had on hand £3000 collected for the Highland Destitution Relief Fund of 1847, resolved to form these people into a ‘settlement,’ Lord Macdonald assenting, and giving them the choice of any land in the island not under lease. The tenants, about sixty in number, removed to the selected place in autumn 1850, provided by the committee with an agricultural overseer. In the following spring a large crop of oats and potatoes was laid down. The oats never advanced above a few inches in height, and ultimately withered and died, and the potatoes gave little or no return. A great part of the land so dealt with has never since been touched, and it is now even of less value than before, having ceased to produce even heather. This result, however, we are bound to mention, was at the time, and perhaps still, popularly ascribed, like all Highland failures, to the fault of those in authority. A new overseer was therefore sent, and remained about a year and a half; but; in 1852 a third of the people, becoming painfully impressed with the truth of the matter, went off to Australia. In 1853 a third manager was sent ‘to teach and encourage;’ but as the money was now running short, he had little to give but advice, and as the people could not subsist on that any more than on the produce of their lots, they went off to seek employment elsewhere—and so ended what was called ‘this interesting experiment,’ but of which it seems to be now thought inexpedient to say anything at all. The results were to spend £3000 in making worse a piece of the worst possible land, and in prolonging the delusions and sufferings of the local population, but also in supplying one more proof of the extreme difficulty or impossibility of accomplishing, and the great mischief of attempting, what so many paper authorities in Highland matters assume as alike easy and beneficial."

It would almost seem, from the failure of the above and many other experiments which have been tried to improve the condition of the Highlanders, that any extraneous positive interference by way of assistance, experiments, charity, and such like, leading the people to depend more on others than on themselves, leads to nothing but disastrous results. This habit of depending on others, a habit many centuries old, was one which, instead of being encouraged, ought to have been by every possible means discouraged, as it was at the bottom of all the evils which followed the abolition of the jurisdictions. They had been accustomed to look to their chiefs for generations to see that they were provided with houses, food, and clothing; and it could only be when they were thoroughly emancipated from this slavish and degrading habit that they could find scope for all their latent energies, have fair play, and feel the necessity for strenuous exertion.

As a contrast to the above accounts, and as showing that it is perfectly possible to carry out the small or moderate farm system, even on the old principle of runrig, both with comfort to the tenants and with profit to the proprietors; and also as showing what the Highlanders are capable of when left entirely to themselves, we give the following extract from Sir J. M’Neill’s Report, in reference to the prosperity of Applecross in Ross-shire

"The people have been left to depend on their own exertions, under a kind proprietor, who was always ready to assist individuals making proper efforts to improve their condition, but who attempted no new or specific measure for the general advancement of the people. Their rents are moderate, all feel secure of their tenure so long as they are not guilty of any delinquency, and a large proportion of those who hold land at rents of £6 and upwards, have leases renewable every seven years. During the fifteen years ending at Whitsunday 1850, they have paid an amount equal to fifteen years’ rent. Many of the small crofters are owners, or part owners, of decked vessels, of which there are forty-five, owned by the crofters on the property; and a considerable number have deposits of money in the banks. The great majority of these men have not relied on agriculture, and no attempt has been made to direct their efforts to that occupation. Left to seek their livelihood in the manner in which they could best find it, and emancipated from tutelage and dependence on the aid and guidance of the proprietor, they have prospered more than their neighbours, apparently because they have relied less upon the crops they could raise on their lands, and have pursued other occupations with more energy and perseverance.

"Of the crofters or small tenants on this property who are not fishermen, and who are dependent solely on the occupation of land, the most prosperous are those who have relied upon grazing, and who are still cultivating their arable land in ‘runrig.’ These club-farmers, as they are called, hold a farm in common, each having an equal share. They habitually purchase part of their food. They have paid their rents regularly, and several of them have deposits of money in bank. Mr. Mackinnon, who has for more than fifteen years been the factor on the property, gives the following account of the club-farmers of Lochcarron:-

"‘Of the lotters or crofters paying £6 and upwards, a large proportion have long had leases for seven years, which have been renewed from time to time. Those paying smaller rents have not leases. The lots which are occupied by tenants-at-will are much better cultivated than those which are held on leases. I don’t, of course, attribute the better cultivation to the want of leases; all I infer from this fact is, that granting leases to the present occupants of lots has not made them better cultivators of their lots. The most successful of the small tenants are those who have taken farms in common, in which the grazings are chiefly stocked with sheep, and in which there happens to be a sufficient extent of arable land connected with a moderate extent of grazing to enable them to raise crops for their own subsistence. Since the failure of the potatoes, however, all the tenants of this class have been obliged to buy meal. On those farms which are held on lease, the land is still cultivated on the ‘runrig’ system. There are five such farms on Mr. Mackenzie’s property in the parish of Lochcarron. One of these is let at £48, to six persons paying £8 each; another for £56, to seven men at £8 each; another for £72, to eight men at £9 each; another to eight men at £13, 10s., equal to £108; another to eight men at £15 each, equal to £120. The cultivation on all of these farms is on the ‘runrig’ system. Their sales of stock and wool are made in common,—that is, in one lot. Their stock, though not common property (each man having his own with a distinctive mark), are managed in common by a person employed for that purpose. The tenants of this class have paid their rents with great punctuality, and have never been in arrear to any amount worth mentioning. A considerable number of them have money in bank. They have their lands at a moderate rent, which is no doubt one cause of their prosperity. Another cause is, that no one of the tenants can subdivide his share without the consent of his co-tenants and of the proprietor. The co-tenants are all opposed to such subdivision of a share by one of their number, and practically no sub-division has taken place. Their families, therefore, as they grow up, are sent out to shift for themselves. Some of the children find employment at home,—some emigrate to the colonies.’"

Of course it is not maintained that this is the most profitable way for the proprietor to let his lands; it is not at all improbable that by adopting the large-farm system, his rent might be considerably increased; only it shows, that when the Highlanders are left to themselves, and have fair play and good opportunities, they are quite capable of looking after their own interests with success.

A comparatively recent Highland grievance is the clearance off of sheep, and the conversion of large districts, in one case extending for about 100 miles, into deer forests. Great complaint has been made that this was a wanton abuse of proprietorship, as it not only displaced large numbers of people, but substituted for such a useful animal as the sheep, an animal like the deer, maintained for mere sport. No doubt the proprietors find it more profitable to lay their lands under deer than under sheep, else they would not do it, and by all accounts it requires the same number of men to look after a tract of country covered with deer, as it would do if the same district were under sheep. But it certainly does seem a harsh, unjust, and very un-British proceeding to depopulate a whole district, as has sometimes been done, of poor but respectable and happy people, for the mere sake of providing sport for a few gentlemen. It is mere sophistry to justify the substitution of deer for sheep, by saying that one as well as the other is killed and eaten as food. For thousands whose daily food is mutton, there is not more than one who regards venison as anything else than a rarity; and by many it is considered unpalatable. Landlords at present can no doubt do what they like with their lands ; but it seems to us that in the long-run it is profitable neither to them nor to the nation at large, that large tracts of ground, capable of maintaining such a universally useful animal as the sheep, or of being divided into farms of a moderate size, should be thrown away on deer, an animal of little value but for sport.

As we have more than once said already, the Highlands are in a state of transition, though, we think, near the end of it; and we have no doubt that erelong both proprietors and tenants will find out the way to manage the land most profitable for both, and life there will be as comfortable, and quiet, and undisturbed by agitations of any kind, as it is in any other part of the country.

Since the date of the New Statistical Account and of. Sir J. M’Neill’s Report, the same processes have been going on in the Highlands with the same results as during the previous half century. The old population have in many places been removed from their small crofts to make way for large sheep-farmers, sheep having in some districts been giving place to deer, and a large emigration has been going on. Much discontent and bitter writing have of course been caused by these proceedings, but there is no doubt that, as a whole; the Highlands are rapidly improving, although improvement has doubtless come through much tribulation. Except, perhaps, a few of the remoter districts, the Highlands generally are as far forward as the rest of the country. Agriculture is as good, the Highland sheep and cattle are famous, the people are about as comfortable as lowlanders in the same circumstances; education is well-diffused; churches of all sects are plentiful, and ere long, doubtless, so far as outward circumstances are concerned, there will be no difference between the Highlands and Lowlands. How the universal improvement of the Highlands is mainly to be accomplished, we shall state in the words of Sir John M’Neill. What he says refers to the state of the country during the distress of 1851, but they apply equally well at the present day.

"It is evident that, were the population reduced to the number that can live in tolerable comfort, that change alone would not secure the future prosperity and independence of those who remain. It may be doubted whether any specific measures calculated to have a material influence on the result, could now he suggested that have not repeatedly been proposed. Increased and improved means of education would tend to enlighten the people, and to fit them for seeking their livelihood in distant places, as well as tend to break the bonds that now confine them to their native localities. But, to accomplish these objects, education must not be confined to reading, writing, and arithmetic. The object of all education is not less to excite the desire for knowledge, than to furnish the means of acquiring it; and in this respect, education in the Highlands is greatly deficient. Instruction in agriculture and the management of stock would facilitate the production of the means of subsistence. A more secure tenure of the lands they occupy would tend to make industrious and respectable crofters more diligent and successful cultivators. But the effects of all such measures depends on the spirit and manner in which they are carried out, as well as on the general management with which they are connected throughout a series of years. It is, no doubt, in the power of every proprietor to promote or retard advancement, and he is justly responsible for the manner in which he uses that power; but its extent appears to have been much overrated. The circumstances that determine the progress of such a people as the inhabitants of those districts, in the vicinity, and forming a part of a great nation far advanced in knowledge and in wealth, appear to be chiefly those which determine the amount of intercourse between them. Where that intercourse is easy and constant, the process of assimilation proceeds rapidly, and the result is as certain as that of opening the sluices in the ascending lock of a canal. Where that intercourse is impeded, or has not been established, it may perhaps be possible to institute a separate local civilization, an isolated social progress; but an instance of its successful accomplishment is not to be found in those districts.

"Whatever tends to facilitate and promote intercourse between the distressed districts and the more advanced parts of the country, tends to assimilate the habits and modes of life of their inhabitants, and, therefore, to promote education, industry, good management, and everything in which the great body excels the small portion that is to be assimilated to it."

Notwithstanding the immense number of people who have emigrated from the Highlands during the last 100 years, the population of the six chief Highland counties, including the Islands, was in 1861 upwards of 100,000 more than it was in 1755. In the latter year the number of inhabitants in Argyle, Inverness, Caithness, Perth, Ross, and Sutherland, was 332,332; in 1790—98 it was 392,263, which, by 1821, had increased to 447,307; in 1861 it had reached 449,875. Thus, although latterly, happily, the rate of increase has been small compared with what it was during last century, any fear of the depopulation of the Highlands is totally unfounded.

Until lately, the great majority of Highland emigrants preferred British America to any other colony, and at the present day Cape Breton, Prince Edward’s Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and many other districts of British North America, contain a Large Highland population, proud of their origin, and in many instances still maintaining their original Gaelic. One of the earliest Highland settlements was, however, in Georgia, where in 1738, a Captain Mackintosh settled along with a considerable number of followers from Inverness-shire. Hence the settlement was called New Inverness. The favourite destination, however, of the earlier Highland emigrants was North Carolina, to which, from about 1760 till the breaking out of the American war, many hundreds removed from Skye and other of the Western Islands. During that war these colonists almost to a man adhered to the British Government, and formed themselves into the Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment, which did good service, as will be seen in the account of the Highland Regiments. At the conclusion of the war, many settled in Carolina, while others removed to Canada, where land was allotted to them by Government. That the descendants of these early settlers still cherish the old Highland spirit, is testified to by all travellers; some interesting notices of their present condition maybe seen in Mr David Macrae’s American Sketches (1869). Till quite lately, Gaelic sermons were preached to them, and the language of their forefathers we believe has not yet fallen into disuse in the district, being spoken even by some of the negroes. Those who emigrated to this region seem mostly to have been tacksmen, while many of the farmers and cottars settled in British America. Although their fortunes do not seem to have come up to the expectations of themselves and those who sent them out, still there is no doubt that their condition after emigration was in almost every respect far better than it was before, and many of their descendants now occupy responsible and prominent positions in the colony, while all seem to be as comfortable as the most well-to-do Scottish farmers having the advantage of the latter in being proprietors of their own farms. According to the Earl of Selkirk, who himself took out and settled several bands of colonists, "the settlers had every incitement to vigorous exertion from the nature of their tenure. They were allowed to purchase in fee-simple, and to a certain extent on credit. From 50 to 100 acres were allotted to each family at a very moderate price, but none was given gratuitously. To accommodate those who had no superfluity of capital, they were not required to pay the price in full, till the third or fourth year of their possession; and in that time an industrious man may have it in his power to discharge his debt out of the produce of the land itself." Those who went out without capital at all, could, such was the high rate of wages, soon save as much as would enable them to undertake the management of land of their own. That the Highlanders were as capable of hard and good labour as the lowlanders, is proved by the way they set to work in these colonies, when they were entirely freed from oppression, and dependance, and charity, and had to depend entirely on their own exertions.

Besides the above settlements, the mass of the population in Caledonia County, State of New York, are of Highland extraction, and there are large settlements in the State of Ohio, besides numerous families and individual settlers in other parts of the United States. Highland names were numerous among the generals of the United States army on both sides in the late civil war.

The fondness of these settlers for the old country, and all that is characteristic of it, is well shown by an anecdote told in Campbell’s Travels in North America (1793). The spirit manifested here is, we believe, as strong even at the present day when hundreds will flock from many miles around to hear a Gaelic sermon by a Scotch minister. Campbell, in his travels in British America, mainly undertaken with the purpose of seeing how the new Highland colonists were succeeding, called at the house of a Mr Angus Mackintosh on the Nashwack. He was from Inverness-shire, and his wife told Campbell they had every necessary of life in abundance on their own property, but there was one thing which she wished much to have—that was heather. "And as she had heard there was an island in the Gulf of St Lawrenc8, opposite to the mouth of the Merimashee river, where it grew, and as she understood I was going that way, she earnestly entreated I would. bring her two or three stalks, or cows as she called it, which she would plant on a barren brae behind her house where she supposed it would grow; that she made the same request to several going that way, but had not got any of it, which she knew would greatly beautify the place; for, said she, ‘ This is an ugly country that has no heather; I never yet saw any good or pleasant place without it."’ Latterly, very large numbers of Highlanders have settled in Australia and New Zealand, where, by all accounts, they are in every respect as successful as the most industrious lowland emigrants.

No doubt much immediate suffering and bitterness was caused when the Highlanders were compelled to leave their native land, which by no means treated them kindly; but whether emigration has been disastrous to the Highlands or not, there can be no doubt of its ultimate unspeakable benefit to the Highland emigrants themselves, and to the colonies in which they have settled. Few, we believe, however tempting the offer, would care to quit their adopted home, and return to the bleak hills and rugged shores of their native land.

Return to General History of the Highlands


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