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covered with what seems one vast straggling village,
inhabited by an impoverished and ruined people, and
that the coming assessment may yet fall so weighty that
the extra profits accruing to his Grace from his large
sheep-farms may go but a small way in supporting his
extra paupers. It is not in the least improbable that he
may live to find the revolution effected by his predecessor
taking to itself the form, not of a crime, for that would
be nothing, but of a disastrous and very terrible blunder.
There is another remark which may prove not un-
worthy the consideration of the reader. Ever since the
completion of the fatal experiment which ruined Suther-
land, the noble family through which it was originated
and carried on have betrayed the utmost jealousy of
having its real results made public. Volumes of special
pleading have been written on the subject, pamphlets
have been published, laboured articles have been inserted
in widely-spread reviews, statistical accounts have been
watched over with the most careful surveillance. If
the misrepresentations of the press could have altered
the matter of fact, famine would not be gnawing the
vitals of Sutherland in a year a little less abundant than
its predecessors, nor would the dejected and oppressed
people be feeding their discontent, amid present misery,
with the recollections of a happier past. If a singularly



well-conditioned and wholesome district of country has
been converted into one wide ulcer of wretchedness and
woe, it must be confessed that the sore has been care-
fully bandaged up from the public eye, that if there has
been little done for its cure, there has at least been much
done for its concealment. Now, be it remembered
that a Free Church threatened to insert a tent into this
wound and so keep it open. It has been said that the
Gaelic language removes a district more effectually from
the influence of English opinion than an ocean of three
thousand miles, and that the British public know better
what is doing in New York than what is doing in Lewis
or Skye. And hence one cause, at least, of the thick
obscurity that has so long enveloped the miseries which
the poor Highlander has had to endure, and the oppres-
sions to which he has been subjected. The Free Church
threatens to translate her wrongs into English, and to
give them currency in the general mart of opinion. She
might possibly enough be no silent spectator of confla-
grations such as those which characterised the first
general improvement of Sutherland, nor yet of such
Egyptian schemes of house-building as that which formed
part of the improvements of a later plan. She might be
somewhat apt to betray the real state of the district
and thus render laborious misrepresentation of little
avail. She might effect a diversion in the cause of the
people, and shake the foundations of the hitherto despotic
power which has so long weighed them down. She might
do for Sutherland what Cobbett promised to do, but what
Cobbett had not character enough to accomplish, and
what did he not live even to attempt. A combination
of circumstances have conspired to vest in a Scottish
proprietor, in this northern district, a more despotic
power than even the most absolute monarchs of the
Continent possess ; and it is, perhaps, no great wonder
that that proprietor should be jealous of the introduction
of an element which threatens, it may seem, materially
to lessen it. And so he struggled hard to exclude the
Free Church, and, though no member of the Establish-
ment himself, declares warmly in its behalf. Certain it


is that from the Establishment as now constituted he
can have nothing to fear and the people nothing to hope.

After what manner may his Grace the Duke of Suther-
land be most effectually met in this matter, so that the
case of toleration and freedom of conscience may be
maintained in the extensive district which God, in his
providence, has consigned to his stewardship ? We are
not unacquainted with the Celtic character as developed
in the Highlands of Scotland. Highlanders, up to a
certain point, are the most docile, patient, enduring of
men ; but that point once passed, endurance ceases,
and the all too gentle lamb starts up an angry lion. The
spirit is stirred and maddens at the sight of the naked
weapon, and that in its headlong rush upon the enemy,
discipline can neither check nor control. Let our op-
pressed Highlanders of Sutherland beware. They have
suffered much ; but, so far as man is the agent, their
battles can be fought only on the arena of public opinion,
and on that ground which the political field may be soon
found to furnish.

Let us follow, for a little, the poor Highlanders of
Sutherland to the sea-coast. It would be easy dwelling
on the terrors of their expulsion, and multiplying facts of
horror ; but had there been no permanent deterioration
effected in their condition, these, all harrowing and re-
pulsive as they were, would have mattered less. Suther-
land would have soon recovered the burning up of a few
hundred hamlets, or the loss of a few bed-ridden old
people, who would have died as certainly under cover,
though perhaps a few months later, as when exposed to
the elements in the open air. Nay, had it lost a thousand
of its best men in the way in which it lost so many at the
storming of New Orleans, the blank ere now would have
been completely filled up. The calamities of fire or of
decimation even, however distressing in themselves,
never yet ruined a country j no calamity ruins a country
that leaves the surviving inhabitants to develop, in their
old circumstances, their old character and resources.

In one of the eastern eclogues of Collins, where two
shepherds are described as flying for their lives before the


troops of a ruthless invader, we see with how much of the
terrible the imagination of a poet could invest the evils of
war, when aggravated by pitiless barbarity. Fertile as
that imagination was, however, there might be found
new circumstances to heighten the horrors of the scene
circumstances beyond the reach of invention in the
retreat of the Sutherland Highlanders from the smoking
ruins of their cottages to their allotments on the coast.
We have heard of one man, named Mackay, whose family
at the time of the greater conflagration referred to by
Macleod, were all lying ill of fever, who had to carry two
of his sick children on his back a distance of twenty-five
miles. We have heard of the famished people blackening
the shores, like the crew of some vessel wrecked on an
inhospitable coast, that they might sustain life by the
shell-fish and sea-weed laid bare by the ebb. Many of
their allotments, especially on the western coast, were
barren in the extreme unsheltered by bush or tree,
and exposed to the sweeping sea-winds, and in time of
tempest, to the blighting spray ; and it was found a
matter of the extremest difficulty to keep the few cattle
which they had retained, from wandering, especially
in the night-time, into the better sheltered and more
fertile interior. The poor animals were intelligent enough
to read a practical comment on the nature of the change
effected ; and, from the harshness of the shepherds to
whom the care of the interior had been entrusted, they
served materially to add to the distress of their unhappy
masters. They were getting continually impounded ;
and vexatious fines, in the form of trespass-money, came
thus to be wrung from the already impoverished High-
landers. Many who had no money to give were obliged
to relieve them by depositing some of their few portable
articles of value, such as bed or bodyclothes, or, more
distressing still, watches, and rings, and pins the only
relics, in not a few instances, of brave men whose bones
were mouldering under the fatal rampart at New Orleans,
or in the arid sands of Egypt on that spot of proud
recollection, where the invincibles of Napoleon went down
before the Highland bayonet. Their first efforts as


fishermen were what might be expected from a rural
people unaccustomed to the sea. The shores of Suther-
land, for immense tracts together, are iron-bound, and
much exposed open on the Eastern coast to the waves
of the German Ocean, and on the North and West to the
long roll of the Atlantic. There could not be more
perilous seas for the unpractised boatman to take his
first lessons on ; but though the casualties were numer-
ous and the loss of life great, many of the younger High-
landers became expert fishermen. The experiment was
harsh in the extreme, but so far, at least, it succeeded.
It lies open, however, to other objections than those which
have been urged against it on the score of its inhu-


No country of Europe at any period of its history ever
presented more formidable obstacles to the improvement
of a people arising out of the prejudices and feelings of the
people themselves. To the tacksman, it is clear, from
what has already been stated, such a change could not be
agreeable. Its effect being to alter his condition, and
remove him from a state of idle independence, in habits
almost of equality with his chief, to a situation, although
fully, if not more respectable, yet one in which his liveli-
hood was to be obtained by his exertions and industry,
and in many instances by an application to pursuits,
which were by him considered as beneath the occupation
of a gentleman, although leading to real independence
and wealth, to a degree he never could arrive at in his
original condition. Nor could it be agreeable to him to
lose that command and influence, which he had hitherto
exercised without control, over his sub-tenants and de-

*An Account of the Improvements on the Estates of the Marquis
of Stafford, by James Kinloch, General Agent of the
Sutherland Estates. lyondon : Printed for Ivongman, Hurst,
Rees, Orme & Brown, 1820).


pendants ; while it was at variance with every feeling
and prejudice in which he had been brought up and edu-
cated. It required minds of no ordinary cast to rise
superior to these feelings : and men of no common
understanding and vigour of intellect were required, to
shake off habits so opposed to active industry and exer-
tion. From a certain set of this class, therefore, a real
and determined opposition to any change was to be
looked for. This expectation has not been disappointed \
and it is from individuals of this class, and persons con-
nected with them, that those false and malignant re-
presentations have proceeded, which have been so loudly
and extensively circulated. Actuated by motives of a
mere personal nature, regardless of the happiness of the
people, whose improvement it was the great object of the
landlord to effect, they attempted to make an appeal in
favour of a set of people who were never before the
objects of their commiseration, in order that they might,
if possible, reduce them, for their own selfish purposes,
to that state of degradation from which they had been
just emancipated. This was, however, by no means true
of the whole, or of the greater part of this class of gentle-
men ] for the bulk of the most active improvers of Suther-
land are natives, who, both as sheep farmers, and as skil-
ful and enterprising agriculturists, are equal to any to be
met with in the kingdom. They have, with an intelli-
gence and liberality of feeling which reflects upon them
the highest honour, embraced with alacrity the new scene
of active exertion presented for their adoption ; second-
ing the views of the landlords with the utmost zeal,
marked with much foresight and prudence. Out of the
twenty-nine principal tacksmen on the estate, seventeen
are natives of Sutherland, four are Northumbrians, two
are from the county of Moray, two from Roxburghshire,
two from Caithness, one from Midlothian, and one from
the Merse.

So strong, however, were the prejudices of the people,
that, even to those who were subjected to the power
and control of the tacksmen, this mode of life had charms
which attached them strongly to it. He extended, in


some degree, to the more respectable of those who were
placed under him, the same familiarity which he received
from the chief. The burden of the outdoor work was
cast upon the females. The men deemed such an occu-
pation unworthy of them, continued labour of any sort
being most adverse to their habits. They were contented
with the most simple and the poorest fare. Like all moun-
taineers, accustomed to a life of irregular exertion, with
intervals of sloth, they were attached with a degree of
enthusiasm, only felt by tLe natives of a poor country,
to their own glen and mountainside, adhering in the
strongest manner to the habits and homes of their fathers.
They deemed no comfort worth the possessing, which was
to be purchased at the price of regular industry ; no
improvement worthy of adoption, if it was to be obtained
at the expense of sacrificing the customs, or leaving the
homes of their ancestors. So strongly did these feelings
operate, that it cost them nearly the same effort to remove
from the spot in which they were born and brought up,
though the place of their new dwelling was situated on
the sea-shore at the mouth of their native strath, or even
in a neighbouring glen, as it cost them to make an exer-
tion equal to transporting themselves across the Atlantic.

The cattle which they reared on the mountains, and
from the sale of which they depended for the payment of
their rents, were of the poorest description. During
summer they procured a scanty sustenance, with much
toil and labour, by roaming over the mountains ; while
in winter they died in numbers for the want of support ;
notwithstanding a practice, which they universally
adopted, of killing every second calf, on account of the
want of winter keep. To such an extent did this calamity
at times amount, that, in the spring of 1807, there died
in the parish of Kildonan alone, two hundred cows, five
hundred head of cattle, and more than two hundred small

As soon as the works, undertaken under the direction
of the Parliamentary Commissioners, opened a prospect
of removing successfully the obstacles which stood in the
way of the improvements of the people, steps were taken


to new model and arrange these extensive possessions.
The utmost caution and deliberation was used in doing so,
and plans were never more maturely weighed, nor exe-
cuted with more anxiety and tenderness. To aid the
further arrangement of these matters, application was
made to William Young, Esq., of Inverugie, in the
county of Elgin, whose active mind and indefatigable
industry had been exhibited in what he had done upon
his own estate. This gentleman superintended the com-
mencement of those vast improvements which were
undertaken on the estate of Sutherland. The success
of the measures carried into effect under his direction,
combined with the difficulties he had to contend with,
must always be the best proof of the ability and in-
defatigable zeal with which he executed the charge of
which he had taken the direction, and which he performed
so much to his own credit and the advantage of the
country. It is only doing justice to his merits to say, that
the rapidity of the earlier improvements was owing in a
principal degree to the impulse and action inspired by his
intelligent and enterprising mind. Mr. Young resigned
his superintendence in 1816, when the local management
of the estate of Sutherland was entrusted to the present
factor, Mr. Francis Suther, whose good temper and
judicious conduct in the immediate management at Tren-
tham, recommended him to the situation he now holds.
These expectations have been fully justified by the
manner he has executed the details of the late arrange-
ments, in which he received the most cordial and able
assistance from Captain John Mackay, late of the 26th
Foot, the factor of Stratlyiaver, and from Lieutenant
George Gunn, of the Royal Marines, Chief of the clan
Gunn, factor of Assynt.

These gentlemen deserve equal credit for the manner
in which they have enforced and promoted the plans
which were laid down for the extension of the fisheries
and the cultivation of the coast side, as for their kind and
careful conduct towards the people. Mr. Suther's
exertions in promoting and carrying into effect every
arrangement which was made for the encouragement


and the success of the fishing station and village of Helms-
dale> requires particular commendation.

It is well known that the borders of the two kingdoms
were inhabited by a numerous population, who, in their
pursuits, manners, and general structure of society, bore a
considerable resemblance to that which existed in the
Highlands of Scotland. When the union of the crowns,
and those subsequent transactions which arose out of
that event, rendered the maintenance of that irregular
population not only unnecessary, but a burden to the
proprietor to whom the land belonged, the people were
removed, and the mountains were covered with sheep.
So that it had been for a length of time proved by the
experience of the stock farmers of those mountain tracts,
which comprise the northern districts of England, and the
southern parts of Scotland, that such situations were
peculiarly suited for the maintenance of this species of
stock. Taking this example as their guide, experience
had still further proved, that the central and western
Highlands of Scotland were equally well calculated for
the same end.

Reasoning from this success, and observing that the
climate of Sutherland, owing to its vicinity to the ocean,
and to its being considerably intersected by arms of the
sea, was much more moderate than this latter district,
it was fairly concluded that this county was even better
fitted for this system of management, than the heights
of Perthshire and Inverness-shire. The inferior eleva-
tion of its mountains contributed still further to this
effect, and held out every encouragement to adopt the
same course which had been pursued with such success
in both parts of the kingdom.

The succession of those Alpine plants, which are com-
mon to the Cheviot Hills, when they are put under sheep,
being also the natural herbage of the mountains of Suther-
land, renders them still more suitable to this mode of

On the first melting of the snow, the cotton grass is
found to have been growing rapidly ; it forms a healthy
and an abundant food for sheep, until about the begin-


ning of May, at which time it is in seed ; when, after a
short interval, the deer hair takes its place, starting up
almost instantaneously, and forming, in the course of
one week (if the ground has been recently burnt,
and the weather be favourable), a green cover
to the mountains. This plant grows with several
varieties of bents, until the end of July, when the cotton
grass again begins to spring, and with the pry moss,
comes a second time into flower, in September, after
which the heather and more heating plants continue
until the frosts of winter. Nor is there any part of these
mountains, over which the sheep cannot roam with ease,
in search of food, rendering the whole available and pro-

As there was every reason therefore for concluding,
that the mountainous parts of the estate and indeed of
the county of Sutherland, were as much calculated for
the maintenance of stock as they were unfit for the
habitation of man, there could be no doubt as to the pro-
priety of converting them into sheep walks, provided
the people could be at the same time settled in situations,
where, by the exercise of their honest industry, they could
obtain a decent livelihood, and add to the general mass
of national wealth, and where they should not be exposed
to the recurrence of those privations, which so frequently
and so terribly afflicted them, when situated among the
mountains. It was a matter of important consideration,
to determine how this was to be accomplished. The local
peculiarities of the county presented none of those ad-
vantages in disposing of, and absorbing the surplus
population, which the borders of the two kingdoms, and
the southern and eastern highlands had enjoyed. Be-
sides it had made no approximation to the state in which
the rest of Scotland was placed, when those changes were
carried into effect. It had stood still in the midst of that
career of improvement which had so remarkably and so
splendidly distinguished the rest of the kingdom ; and
remained separated by its habits, prejudices, and
language, from all around.

It had long been known, that the coast of Sutherland


abounded with many different kinds of fish, not only
sufficient for the consumption of the country, but afford-
ing also a supply to any extent, for more distant markets
or for exportation, when cured and salted. Besides the
regular and continual supply of white fish, with which
the shores thus abound, the coast of Sutherland is
annually visited by one of those vast shoals of herrings,
which frequent the coast of Scotland. It seemed as if
it had been pointed out by Nature, that the system for
this remote district, in order that it might bear its suitable
importance in contributing its share to the
general stock of the country, was, to convert the
mountainous districts into sheep walks, and to
remove the inhabitants to the coast, or to the valleys
near the sea.

It will be seen, that the object to be obtained by this
arrangement, was two-fold : it was, in the first place,
to render this mountainous district contributory, as far
as it was possible, to- the general wealth and industry
of the country, and in the manner most suitable to its
situation and peculiar circumstances. This was to be
effected by making it produce a large supply of wool,
for the staple manufactory of England. While, at the
same time, it should support as numerous, and a far more
laborious and useful population, than it hitherto had done
at home : and, in the second place, to convert the in-
habitants of those districts to the habits of regular and
continued industry, and to enable them to bring to market
a very considerable surplus quantity of provisions, for
the supply of the large towns in the southern parts of the
island, or for the purpose of exportation.

A policy well calculated to raise the importance, and
increase the happiness of the individuals themselves, who
were the objects of the change, to benefit those to whom
these extensive but hitherto unproductive possessions
belonged, and to promote the general prosperity of the
nation. Such was the system which was adopted. In
carrying it into effect, every care was taken to explain
the object proposed to be accomplished, to those who
were to be removed, and to point out to them, the ulti-


mate advantages that would necessarily accrue to them,
from their completion.

These communications were made to the people by the
factor personally, or by written statements, communi-
cated to them by the ground officers. That nothing
might be omitted in this respect, the different ministers,
and the principal tacksmen connected with the districts
which were to be newly arranged, were written to, ex-
plaining to them, fully and explicitly, the intentions of
the proprietors in adopting them. It was particularly
requested of these gentlemen, that they would impress
upon the minds of the people, the propriety of agreeing
to them, and of explaining, that the motives which
dictated this step, arose out of a real regard for their
interests and prosperity, as well as for the general im-
provement of the estate.

It was distinctly admitted, that it was not to be ex-
pected, that the people should be immediately reconciled
to them. Such was to expect more than it was possible
to hope for. But it was represented, that if this was so
fully felt, and so clearly admitted, that the landlords
must have been strongly and conscientiously impressed
with the necessity and propriety of the measures adopted,
as tending directly to the happiness of those placed under
their protection. These representations had the desired
effect, and nothing can be more praiseworthy, or deserve
more to be applauded, than the conduct of the people
on quitting their original habitations ; for although they
left them with much regret, they did so in the most quiet,

Online LibraryAlexander MackenzieThe history of the Highland clearances → online text (page 6 of 25)