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The Northern Highlands in the Nineteenth Century

Readers who have been following the progress of affairs will be interested in seeing the aspect which the question of legal and illegal distillation had assumed in 1822. The Act authorising the establishment of small stills had failed in effect on account of the restrictive character of the Excise regulations, and smuggling was in as full activity as ever. An explanation is likewise furnished of the causes which enabled smugglers in those days to produce better whisky than the legalised distilleries.

In the second half of the year 1822, the Western Highlands and Islands found themselves confronted with a serious economic crisis. The kelp industry had been a source of employment to the people, and of profit to the island and seaboard proprietors. Suddenly in 1822, by the virtual abolition of the salt duties and the reduction of the tax on Spanish barilla, the value of the industry received a fatal shock. This chapter in Highland history is briefly related by Mr Spencer Walpole. He points out that in the first part of the nineteenth century the population in the West Highlands rapidly multiplied. "Their multiplication was stimulated by a peculiar cause. The sea washed on their foreshores at every tide large quantities of sea-weed; and the weed or kelp, when burned, produced an ash which contained a strong alkali, and formed a chief ingredient in the manufacture of soap and other commodities. The proprietors of the Western Hebrides derived a large annual revenue from licensing their tenantry as kelp-burners, and the boast of one of them is still recollected that his shores were lined with a silver fringe. Until after the accession of George IV., the incineration of kelp formed the chief industry of these islands. The price of alkali averaged £10, and occasionally exceeded £20 a ton. After the war, however, the kelp burners were subjected to competition. The barilla, a plant of foreign growth, yields on incineration a larger percentage of alkali than kelp. Alkali therefore could be produced more economically from the one than from the other. Protective duties alone maintained the industry of the kelp-burners. In 1787 Parliament imposed a duty of £5 5s a ton on barilla; Vansittart in 1819 raised the duty on alkali to £11 a ton. In 1822, forced to make concessions, he reduced the duty on barilla from £11 to £8. In 1823, Robinson further reduced it to £5. In 1830 Goulburn lowered it to £2; while in 1844, Peel fixed the duty on alkali at 30s, the duty on barilla at only 5s a ton. In 1845 the duty was repealed." Our notes show what consternation was created by the alterations of 1822. The effect was expected to be the more severe, as the Highlands and Islands were at the time suffering from the failure of crops and fishing.

The Caledonian Canal was opened from sea to sea in October 1822. It had proved a long and costly undertaking. The original estimate of the engineer, Mr Telford, was £350,000, but labour and values rose during the protracted European war, and many parts of the work proved more difficult than was anticipated. The Canal was seventeen years in process of construction, and cost up to the time of opening over £900,000. Even then it was but partially completed. It was not until 1843 that the work was finished as it stands to-day, and the disbursements had then reached the sum of £1,300,000.

From the "Inverness Courier."

January 3.—What is described as "a numerous and highly respectable assemblage of Catholic noblemen and gentlemen" presented the Right Hon. Charles Grant with an address on the occasion of his retiring from the office of Chief Secretary of Ireland. The address expresses unfeigned respect and regard for Mr Grant, and adds—"Your able assertion of our rights in Parliament was the first demand upon our gratitude, and we have had repeated proofs, in your official conduct, of the consistency of that principle which awakened in our vindication your eloquence and your zeal."

January 31.—The publication of James Suter’s Memorabilia of Inverness began on this date, and was continued in subsequent issues.

February 7.—"On Wednesday the 30th ult., the Rev. James Mein was ordained pastor of the United Associate Congregation of Nairn. The Rev. Andrew Kennedy, of Keith, preached and. presided, and the Rev. Thomas Stark, of Forres, delivered the usual addresses and conducted the solemn services. The Rev. James Grant, minister of the parish, with a kind, Christian, and truly liberal spirit, gave the use of his church on account of its more ample accommodation.

The church was crowded to excess, many could not gain admittance, and during the whole of the services the very large assembly exhibited the most becoming attention. Afterwards the Presbytery, with the Rev. Messrs Grant and Barclay, the resident Magistrates of the burgh, the Dean of Guild, the Sheriff-Substitute, and about twenty other gentlemen of the town and county, dined together in Richardson’s Inn; a circumstance which affords a very pleasing proof of the prevalence of liberal and kindly feeling in Nairn and its neighbourhood. In the evening a sermon was preached before the Presbytery by Mr George Kennedy, student in Divinity, as part of his trials for licence, and after various examinations he was licensed to preach the Gospel."

Ibid.—The condition of Ireland was going from bad to worse. Numerous crimes of violence are reported. At the same time the landed interest in England and Scotland was suffering severely from the pressure of the times. A quotation in this issue from an agricultural journal is in an exceptionally gloomy tone.

February 14.—The Highland Society of Scotland, among other premiums, offers a piece of plate, value fifty guineas, "for the best and approved essay on the construction of railroads for the conveyance of ordinary commodities." The essay was to be accompanied by models or drawings to illustrate its statements.

March 21.—"A conspiracy was formed by the prisoners in the common room in the Dingwall Jail last week, to overpower the keepers of the jail, seize the keys, and set themselves at liberty. By the spirited resistance of the jailers, however, they failed, and a guard of the Militia staff is now placed over them."

March 28.—The Rev. Alexander Clark was on this day week ordained and admitted to the third charge in the parish of Inverness. The Rev. A. Campbell, of Dores, preached and presided on the occasion.

April 4.—There is an account of the famous duel near Balmuto, in Fife, between Sir Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck and Mr Stewart of Dunearn. Sir Alexander was severely wounded and died the following day.

Ibid.—This issue contains an exceedingly interesting report by a Committee of the Highland Society on the subject of distillation in the Highlands. It seems that the Act of 1816 legalising the establishment of small stills had, to begin with, a wonderful effect. The first year of the operation of the Act legal distillers increased in the Highlands from 12 to 30; the number of additional gallons distilled was 99,121, and the additional duty paid £18,195. The second year a still further increase took place, but subsequent to that there was a gradual decrease in the number of distillers and a diminution of revenue. The statutory regulations were found too vexatious. By Act 1., George IV., some of these regulations were modified, and a slight revival followed, though not equal to the first movement. Smuggling had not been put down. A numerous class of the community, "chiefly of the lower order of tenantry and crofters," had leagued with a number of desperate characters to violate the law. The Committee, who had circulated a schedule of queries on the whole subject say that "nothing can possibly exceed the distressing description which is given in the different reports, of the falsehood, intemperance, and brutal ferocity which characterise those who are engaged in this illicit trade." The Committee admit as a point of importance that smuggled whisky was then of better quality then the whisky legally distilled. This disparity was due to the Excise regulations. The legal distiller was obliged to make his wash of a specific strength and to pay duty on a specific quantity of spirits, whether he was able to extract the required amount or not. Owing to the inferiority of the grain grown in the Highlands, "the 100 gallons of wash do not produce the quantity of spirits on which the law calculates and charges duty. In point of fact, the legal distiller is compelled to produce one-fourth or one-fifth more than the smuggler— the consequence of which is that he is under the necessity of using a stronger wash than he would do if left to his own discretion." The Committee call for the abolition of these and other regulations. They entertained little doubt that by the simple expedient of enabling the legal distiller to compete on nearly equal terms with the illicit trader, and by encouraging the use of home-grown barley, smuggling would soon languish and decay.

April 25.—"The obsequies of the late Colonel Grant of Moy, which were recently celebrated in Glen-Urquhart, may be noticed as another lingering instance of a genuine Highland funeral. Besides the gentlemen who attended from all parts of the country, it is calculated that about 4000 Highlanders were assembled, chiefly from Kintail, Strathglass, Glenmoriston, and Glen-Urquhart. The quantity of whisky expended on this occasion is variously estimated. As most of our readers are tolerable judges of Highland capacities when excited by zeal, it is data sufficient to mention that the whole of this funeral train were, according to their own ideas, comfortable. The gentlemen who rode off the scene of action late in the evening give a very ludicrous account of the appearance of the field. The first return of killed, wounded, and missing was truly alarming. We are glad to learn from subsequent accounts that only one individual, a native of Abriachan, was immolated to the manes of the Colonel. The wounded have recovered and the missing have been found. One of those last, having slumbered out the night of the funeral and the whole of the succeeding day and night, awoke at a late hour on the third day, and found himself cradled under the falls of Divach, in a situation to which no sober person would have clambered, much less have chosen for a place of repose."

[According to The Chiefs of Grant (1883) by Sir William Fraser (1816-98), Colonel Hugh Grant of Moy was a younger son of Alexander Grant of Sheuglie by his second wife, Isabel, eldest daughter of John Grant of Glenmoriston.  Colonel Grant, who died 1 April 1822, aged 89, had amassed a considerable fortune in the East Indies, before returning to Scotland in 1775 when he purchased the estate of Moy and others from Sir James Grant of Grant.  He married but left no issue and, on his death, his estate of Moy passed, by entail, to James Murray Grant of Glenmoriston.]

Ibid.—"On Tuesday last the Synod of Ross, at their meeting in Tain, unanimously resolved to petition both Houses of Parliament against any further relief being granted to the Roman Catholics. The Synod of Glasgow petition has been already presented, and many similar petitions are in agitation."

May 9.—The annual meeting of the Society for Educating the Poor in the Highlands was held on the 1st inst. The report bore that thirty-five schools had been established in various remote districts in the Highlands, and it was estimated that daily instruction was imparted to 1746 poor children. Among the donations to the Society was one of £50 from the free-holders of the county of Inverness.

May 16.—Donations to the amount of £107 were reported to the Inverness-shire Auxiliary of the Bible Society. The Society during the year remitted £180 to the British and Foreign Bible Society, and distributed 395 Bibles and Testaments.

May 30.—General indignation was expressed in the town at the cutting down of the fine, old trees.—"the only trees in Inverness, indeed"— which had for a century formed the appropriate ornament of the Church-yard. The reason for this destruction no one professed to know.

May 30.—There is a report of the proceedings of the General Assembly in the Kiltarlity case. A Protestant Commissioner, acting for Mr T. A. Fraser of Lovat, a Catholic, had issued a presentation in favour of the Rev. Colin Fraser. The Presbytery of Inverness appointed the presentee in preach in the church, and generally acted at first on the assumption that the presentation was valid. Some of the parishioners, however, applied and got an interdict from the Lord Ordinary on the ground that the patron was a Roman Catholic and had no right to issue a presentation either by himself or through a Commissioner. This staggered the Presbytery, and the majority wished to delay procedure till the civil question was settled. The interdict was afterwards recalled on the ground "that the complainers had no civil right or title to interfere." Still the Presbytery hesitated, but as they had begun by accepting the presentation, the Assembly now instructed them to proceed with the settlement. Though Mr Fraser was ultimately ordained, the case in one form or other was before the Church for two years after this date.

June 6.—The season is said to be the warmest for a long series of years.

June 13.—The Northern Missionary Society held its twenty-second anniversary on the 12th. Collections and subscriptions amounted to £106.

June 27.—At the Wool Market a great deal of business was done, but not much to the satisfaction of sheep-farmers. Prices were stated as follows —Cheviot wool per stone of 24 lbs. English, 12s 6d; one or two lots only sold at 14s 6d. Blackfaced sheep wool per double stone, 12s 6d and 13s. Cheviot wedders, 12s 6d and 13s. Cheviot ewes, 8s. Blackfaced ewes, 6s. Blackfaced wedders, 11s 6d to 13s 6d. Cheviot and blackfaced lambs, 4s 6d.

July 11.—"A number of parties from this town and neighbourhood, with much laudable curiosity, have taken advantage of the opportunity afforded them by the proprietors of the Comet steamboat, and have proceeded to visit the celebrated islands of Staffa and Icolmkill. Many gigs and horses, hired and borrowed, besides the Lochness steamboat, conveyed away all those who had little to detain them; and their return is eagerly looked for, to repeat the oft-told tale of the wonders of these western lands."

July 18.—A paragraph gives an account of the trip from Fort-William to Staffa and lona. The steamer left Fort-William on a Tuesday and returned on Thursday. The passengers numbered upwards of fifty.

Ibid.—Died in India, on the 31st January, in the 37th year of his age, Captain Beauchamp Mackintosh, of the Madras Artillery, second son of the late Colonel William Mackintosh of Millbank. He was an active and intelligent officer, and much respected.

July 25.—A meeting was held in Inverness on the 19th inst. to raise a fund for the relief of the distressed poor in Ireland. There was at this time great suffering in Ireland, and relief funds were raised throughout England and Scotland. Collections were made in the churches.

August 1.—Notice is taken of the progress made by the town of Wick. In 1809 there were not above three houses in Pulteneytown, and in 1822 there were upwards of 400, inhabited by a thriving population. Port Dunbar, below the old town of Wick, had also been formed, with an excellent harbour.

August 15.—The visit of King George IV. to Scotland was exciting widespread interest. Loyal addresses were voted by the counties and chief towns. It is stated. in this issue that "a tail of sixty-five Highlanders have gone from Sutherlandshire to attend on Lord Gower, who will appear in his Majesty’s Court in Edinburgh as representing the Earl of Sutherland." Other chiefs and clans sent detachments.

August 22.—An account is given of the arrival and reception of the King in Edinburgh, and of a levee and Court held at Holyrood Palace.—The same number records the death of the Marquis of Londonderry, better known in history as Lord Castlereagh. His mind had become unhinged, and he died by his own hand.

September 2.—The anniversary of the Northern Missionary Society was held at Tain on the 29th ult. Collections and contributions amounted to £92 18s 2d.

September 19.—A letter draws attention to a bill which was passed at the close of the session, reducing the duty on barilla to less than one-half of what it had been for many years. The writer pointed out what a disastrous effect this would have on the manufacture of kelp in the western islands, and the misery which the people would suffer. "A thriving population must be destroyed to gratify a few individuals, and when no remedy will be effectual, Government will feel the consequences that have been stated." The counties interested were urged to petition against the reduction of the duty, which was not to take effect until the following January.

October 3.—A full report appears of the proceedings at the Michaelmas Head Court, when the reduction of the duty on barilla was discussed. Mr Charles Grant, M.P., was present, and explained the proceedings of the Government and the House in detail. The value of kelp was in the first instance affected by the reduction of the duties on salt; and then suddenly a bill was introduced to reduce the duty on barilla, just because the salt duties had been diminished, and this had laid the basis for the further claim. Mr Grant said he and other Scottish members had strongly represented to the Government and the House of Commons what consequences would follow from the above measures to the people of the Highlands and Islands. The alteration of the Salt Duties, however, was in itself a most beneficial measure, and in carrying this into effect neither Government nor Parliament could be induced to consider local interests. The meeting adopted the following resolution:—"That a Committee be appointed to consider the Act for reducing the duty on barilla and for drawing up a petition to Parliament for its repeal or modification, as it is directly calculated to throw idle a large body of the population of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, who must become a burden on the country or starve, unless the duty on barilla is reduced."

October 10.—The Northern Meeting was held the previous week. The attendance was thinner than usual, but the proceedings were carried out with the customary success. Following the Meeting is an account of Highland games held under the presidency of Glengarry at Dunaincroy. These games do not seem to have formed part of the programme of the Meeting, but the management apparently assisted them with funds. The report is couched in an entertaining style, making fun of Glengarry and of the sports. Glengarry, it is said, presided in all his glory, and had the field almost wholly to himself, "the other judges probably conceiving themselves ill qualified to decide in matters which lay altogether between the chief and the gentlemen of his tail." The sports included a foot race of eight miles, and the report has it that four of the runners, who came in first, arrived at the goal in the costume of Adam. Time, 50 minutes. Another item was to lift a boulder 18 stone weight, and throw it over a bar five feet from the ground. The feat was accomplished by "a mere stone mason," after having foiled all the other "pretty men." The most remarkable feature, however, was the tearing of three cows limb from limb after they had been felled and stunned by the blow of a sledge-hammer. The dissection of the poor cows was far from easy. "Even the most expert of the operators took from four to five hours in rugging and riving, tooth and nail, before they brought off the limbs of one cow. This achievement was paid at the rate of five guineas per joint, so that we hope this rise in the value of black cattle will make the Glengarry men some small amends for the fall of ewes and wedders at Falkirk Tryst, lately noticed by their chief." The report is written in this sarcastic vein. It is evident that no love was lost between the Editor and Glengarry.

October 24.—The opening of the Caledonian Canal from sea to sea is recorded in this issue. "At ten o’clock yesterday morning the Loch-ness steam yacht, accompanied by two smacks, departed from the Locks of Muirtown on the first voyage through the Canal, amidst the loud and enthusiastic cheering of a great concourse of people and the firing of cannon. The morning was peculiarly favourable, although rather calm. There was scarcely a breath of wind to disperse the smoke, which ascended unbroken after the firing of the guns. The banks of the Canal were crowded with spectators, a great number of whom accompanied the party from the Muirtown Locks to the Bridge of Bught. The band of the Inverness-shire Militia went on board at Dochgarroch Lock, and immediately played the national air of ‘God save the King." Among the gentlemen on board the steamboat were the Right Hon. Charles Grant, M.P.; the Hon. William Fraser, Mr Grant of Waternish. Mr Fraser of Lovat, Mr Fraser of Inchcoulter, Mr Mackenzie of Kilcoy, Mr Mackenzie, yr. of Gairloch; Provost Robertson of Aultnaskiach; Mr Fraser of Fingask, Mr Fraser of Culduthel, Mr Inglis of Kingsmills, Mr Fraser of Torbreck, Bailies Simpson, Cumming and Smith; Mr Edwards, solicitor; Mr Johnstone; Mr Cameron, yr. of Letterfinlay; Captain Edward Fraser, Mr Davidson and Mr Hughes, of the Canal. On the way they were joined by Redcastle, Foyers, Balnain, Glenmoriston, Glengarry, and may other proprietors. In passing Dochfour the steamer fired a salute, which was answered by a round of fire-arms and loud cheering.

Ibid.—"Died, at Glenalbert, on the estate of Dalguise, Perthshire, on Sunday, the 22nd ult. in her 100th year Mrs Margaret Low, widow of the late James Steuart, Esq. of Tulloch, near Blair. Her husband was a captain in one of the Athole regiments, under Lord George Murray, and carried the Royal Standard of Prince Charles Edward at the battle of Culloden in 1746. Of that unfortunate Prince, Mrs Steuart had a perfect recollection, and till within a few days of her death spoke with the fondness of long-cherished reminiscence, and with the accuracy of a mind and memory perfectly entire, of his dress, manner, and appearance. It was at Dunkeld on his way to Edinburgh, in September 1745, that she had seen the Prince, and presented a pair of brogues to his Royal Highness, of which, to her, momentous occurrence she had a complete remembrance. After the forfeiture of Mr Steuart's estate, he retired to the village of Glenalbert, and died there in 1807, at the advanced age of 96. His widow continued to occupy the same humble cottage, and to live in respected retirement on the small part of their fortune, which had been saved, until the day of her death."

November 7.—A remittance of £300 was received from Mr John Stewart, Bombay, to account of subscriptions in support of the Society for educating the poor in the Highlands. Mr Charles Grant, M.P. gave £50 for the same object.

Ibid.—"Agricultural reports for many of the Scottish counties have appeared for October. They all represent the state of agricultural affairs in as deplorable a light as possible."

Ibid-—A biographical sketch appears of Mr Thomas Mackenzie of Applecross, M.P. for the county of Ross, who had died recently in London. Mr Mackenzie was an accomplished man, possessing talents and endowments of a high order, but suffered from a delicate constitution. "In the course of the few years he had been in Parliament, he had acquired a station and influence among the representatives of Scotland, which few at any period since the Union had ever possessed." Mr Mackenzie died unmarried, and was succeeded by a sister. The date of his death is given incorrectly in the late Mr Mackenzie’s History of the Clan— one of the few errors in that carefully-compiled volume. The year is given there as 1827, whereas, as we see, it was 1822.

Ibid.—The same number contains a biographical sketch of the Rev. Dr Thomas Ross, parish minister of Kilmonivaig, who died on 15th October. He was a native of Fearn, in Ross-shire, licensed by the Presbytery of Tain in 1775, and ordained to Kilmonivaig in 1776. Marischal College, Aberdeen, conferred on him the degree of D.D. in 1818. Dr Ross was married to a daughter of Fassifearn, a niece of Lochiel of the ‘45, and had a large family of sons and daughters. One of his daughters became the wife of Patrick Robertson, Lord of Session. Dr Ross went to Lochaber at a time when the people, though bold and brave, were uncultivated and little disposed to religion. As a native of Ross-shire, he was at first regarded as an intruder. "Soon, however, was every prejudice removed, and the warmest affection and sincerest respect called forth by the manly and judicious conduct of the young minister. Though not tall nor particularly athletic, Mr Ross possessed personal strength and agility which made him absolutely invincible. Long has it been the familiar boast in Lochaber that no man ever saw him laid on his back. One of his first acts of pastoral duty was to trip up the heels of a bully who knew no standard of merit but stability of limbs and strength of arm. Having obtained the respect and confidence of his people, he became eminently successful in impressing their minds and influencing their conduct by the great principles of Christian equity and benevolence." The writer goes on to say that never did clergyman unite so much zeal for religion with such unbounded charity towards those who differed from him. Envy and resentment were utter strangers to his spirit. Some striking peculiarities, however marked his character. "He was what in the Highlands is significantly called clannish. Not only was every Ross presumed to be meritorious till he was proved worthless, but his worthlessness was of a better order than the unalleviated demerit of less virtuous names. The family, the history, the residence of the chief were hallowed beyond anything in Greek or Roman story. The Camerons ranked next. The Macdonalds, the illustrious Lords of the Isles, had been in early history allied with the Earls of Ross, and therefore received the partial favour of Dr Ross, of Kilmonivaig. The Mackenzies were worse than heathens, for they robbed or defrauded the name of Ross of almost all its territory. Yet some of the most valued friends of the Doctor had the misfortune to bear the obnoxious name. He hated only the Clan." The date of Dr Ross’s birth is not given, but it is stated that he lived the full measure of fourscore in entire rigour of mind and body.

November 18.—An extract is published from a report by the Rev. D. Fraser, of Kirkhill, one of the secretaries of the Society for the Education of the Poor. The Society was doing excellent work. One clergyman mentioned that in a certain district of his parish, out of a population of 600, only 8 persons could read anything some years ago, and that now 240 could read the Gaelic with ease, while there was no family without a Bible. "If anything," adds the report, "could be said to be painful, it was the manifest proof before one’s eyes of the existence of extreme poverty and wretchedness. The immediate sources of it were the failure of the crop last year, and of the herring fishing this season; but it was supposed to have a more permanent source in the excess of the population over the means of subsistence." Since the finishing of the roads in the Highlands, there was no stated labour, and the fishing was exceedingly precarious. In one district, before the potato crop ripened, hundreds of people had to support themselves on shell-fish, collected from the rocky shore. Another district was scourged by fever, brought on by poverty and want of food. "It was mentioned by several intelligent persons of the country that they believed that the state of some districts in Skye and the neighbouring coasts was just as wretched as Ireland was represented to be during the late scarcity, although the people bore it quietly and made shift to exist. The effect of this poverty was manifest in the pallid looks and tattered garments of the poor children in the schools."

Ibid.—The Magistrates and Council of Inverness were served on the 9th inst. with copies of a summons of reduction and declarator, at the instance of Jonathan Watson, weaver; John Maclean carpenter; and James Cameron, coppersmith, concluding for the reduction and annulment of the last election of Magistrates and councillors made under the authority of a Privy Council Warrant. The summons bore that no new legal or valid election could take place except by a poll of the whole burgesses of a disfranchised burgh; and that therefore the warrant of the Privy Council was illegal, and absolutely null arid void.

December 12.—Lord Cawdor presented the Rev. Mr Campbell, the minister of Dores, to the Church and Parish of Croy, vacant by the death of the Rev. Mr Calder.

December 26.—On the 20th inst., Sir James W. Mackenzie of Scatwell was unanimously elected member of Parliament for the county of Ross. The election took place at Tain. Sir Hector Mackenzie of Gairloch was in the chair. and the nominators were Mr Mackenzie of Kilcoy and Mr Macleod of Geanies. A party of a hundred afterwards dined in the Mason Hall.

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