Alfred Russell Wallace :
Its necessity and its aims (1882)
CHAPTER IV –
Landlordism and its results in Scotland.
Chiefs and clansmen in the highlands—highland chiefs changed into landlords—character of the highland tenantry eighty years ago—the change effected by landlords and agents—the story of the Sutherland evictions—other examples of highland clearances—wide extent and long continuance of these clearances—they were exposed and protested against in vain—continuance of highland clearances and confiscations down to this day—these evils inherent in landlordism: an illustrative case—the general results of landlordism in the highlands—further clearances and devastation for the sake of sport—the gross abuse of power by highland landlords requires a radical and immediate remedy—landlordism in the lowlands of Scotland: condition of the labourers—the cause of this state of things is the landlord system—some recent improvements in the condition of scotch labourers—general results of scotch landlordism.
In a large part of Scotland landlordism presents peculiar features, and has produced its normal evil results on a larger scale and in a more striking manner than in any other part of the kingdom. This has been mainly due to the continued existence of the old Celtic Clans, with their hereditary Chieftains possessing many of the powers and privileges of a barbarous age, down to so recent a period as the middle of the last century, and the comparatively sudden transformation of these chiefs into landlords, who soon claimed and exercised all those absolute and despotic powers which the law of England bestowed upon them.
Chiefs and Clansmen in the Highlands.—Under the old system the Highland Chief was a petty sovereign, who retained civil and criminal jurisdiction over his clansmen and the power of making war on other chiefs and clans. But these clansmen were never either serfs or vassals, but free men; and the clan was really a great family, all the members of which were supposed to be, and often actually were, of one blood. It was a true patriarchal system, totally distinct from the feudal system of Europe; and though every clansman owed fealty and military service, as well as certain dues or payments, to his chief, these were given through love and duty rather than through fear, and every petty clansman held his land and his rights to pasture and wood and turf, and to hunt and fish over the mountains and lakes, by the same title as the chieftain held his more extensive lands and privileges. As well expressed by an able writer in the Westminster Review—”No error could be grosser than that of viewing the chiefs as unlimited proprietors, not only of the arable land, but of the whole territory of the mountain, lake, river, and seashore, held and won during hundreds of years by the broadswords of the clansmen. Could any MacLean admit, even in a dream, that his chief could clear Mull of all the MacLeans and replace them with Campbells; or the MacIntosh people his lands with MacDonalds, and drive away his own race, any more than Louis Napoleon could evict all the population of France and supply their place with English and German colonists?” Yet this very power and right the English Government, in its aristocratic selfishness, bestowed upon the chiefs, when, after the great rebellion of 1745, it took away their privileges of war and criminal jurisdiction, and endeavoured to assimilate them to the nobles and great landowners of England. The rights of the clansmen were entirely left out of consideration.
Highland Chiefs Changed into Landlords.—For some time the change was not materially felt. Tracts of land were assigned to the more important members of the clan on payment of an annual rent, and these often sublet the land to the poorer Highlanders. The English system of entail soon became common in Scotland, and by marriage, inheritance, and purchase, the great estates became still greater and passed into fewer hands, while the feeling of clanship became weaker and the rights of the clansmen less clearly recognised. When, shortly afterwards, England became engaged in the great American and Continental wars, the Highland noblemen raised recruits from among their clansmen and formed the famous Highland regiments; and, as this added to their dignity and importance, they favoured the increase of small farmers whose hardy sons would swell the ranks of the army. The larger of these tenants were called “tacksmen,” the smaller “crofters,” and thus most of the Highland valleys were filled with a peaceful, hardy, industrious, and contented population.
Character of Highland Tenantry Eighty Years Ago.—The testimony on this subject is of a very uniform nature. The tacksmen, or small gentlemen farmers, lived in rude houses but with much comfort, and were almost always men of good education and refined manners; while their hospitality was unbounded, and they freely supported among them the poor of the district. Dr. Norman MacLeod tells us, as a proof of the sterling qualities and high character of this class of Highlanders, that, since the beginning of the last wars of the French Revolution, the island of Skye alone sent forth from her wild shores 21 lieutenant and major-generals, 48 lieutenant-colonels, 600 commissioned officers, 10,000 soldiers, 4 governors of colonies, 1 governor-general, 1 adjutant-general, 1 chief baron of England, and 1 judge of the Supreme Court of Scotland. Besides such men as these, the same class supplied the whole of the clergy, doctors and lawyers of the North of Scotland, as well as many to other parts of the empire. Now, through the changes brought about by the despotism of the landlords, this class of men has almost entirely ceased to exist, and few soldiers or officers are supplied by the Highlands.[i]
[i] Reminiscences of a Highland Parish, p. 185.
In Sir John McNeill’s “Report on the Western Highlands and Islands,” he describes the crofter as often a permanent or even hereditary tenant, at a rent fixed for long periods, occupying a few acres of arable land, with right of peat and pasture on the mountain, and of fishing, if near the sea or a loch. His rude house was often built by himself, the byre for the cows and the barn for his crop being under the same roof. He usually possessed some cattle, sheep, and a pony or two, a boat, nets, and fishing gear, and a good supply of needful implements and household furniture. His croft supplied him with food and a great part of his clothing, his annual sale of cattle paid his rent, he had abundance of dried fish or salt herrings for winter use, and he thus lived in a rude abundance, with little labour, and knew nothing of the unremitting daily toil by which labourers in other parts of the country gain their livelihood. And what was the character of these men? Dr. McLeod says: “The real Highland peasantry are, I hesitate not to affirm, by far the most intelligent in the world. I say this advisedly, after having compared them with those of many countries. Their good breeding must strike every one who is familiar with them.” The Highlander is said to be lazy, but when removed to another clime he exhibits a perseverance and industry which makes him rise very rapidly. Hugh Miller says that, in the golden age of the Highlands, between the rebellion of 1745 and the commencement of the clearance system, the Highland peasantry were contented and comfortable, and continuously supplied those Highland regiments which were composed of at once the best men and the best soldiers in the service; and he declares that, when he has seen them labouring to extract a miserable crop from a barren soil of quartz rock and peat, his chief wonder has been at their great industry.
The Change Effected by Landlords and Agents.—The happy and contented lot of the Highlanders, both of the “tacksman” and the “crofter” class, might doubtless, under a wise and liberal system of permanent tenure and free use of the land of their native country, have been extended and perpetuated with the most beneficial results; but in the hands of landlords and agents this could hardly be expected. In order to obtain the highest rents the agents and some of the tacksmen favoured the subdivision of the crofts till they would hardly support a family, and the crofters were then forced to add to their means either by the wages of labour, by the manufacture of kelp, or other expedients. Poverty and distress increased; and the landlords, tempted by offers of large rents from Lowland sheep-farmers, began to seek means of getting rid of the burdensome population of small farmers—whose rents were difficult to collect and often in arrear—in order to let out their vast territories as sheep farms. The great landlords argued, and perhaps persuaded themselves, that the land could not support more small farmers, but might be more profitably employed in feeding sheep, thus producing wool and mutton for the whole community, and, therefore, that the proposed change was for the public benefit. Accordingly, the full rights of possession given by the English law were now insisted on. The pasture of the hill-tops, the game on the moors, the wood and the peat of the forests, the salmon in the rivers, and even the very shell-fish and sea-weed on the wild sea-shore were declared the sole and exclusive property of the landlords. Then began the clearances and evictions dignified by the name of “improvements.” By hundreds and thousands at a time the occupiers of the soil were driven from their homes, and were many of them forced to leave the country which they had so bravely defended on many a hard-won battle-field.
One of the most celebrated of these wholesale clearances was made on the great estate of the lords of Sutherland, then in the possession of an English nobleman, the Marquis of Stafford, who had acquired it by marriage. This estate consisted of more than 700,000 acres, or the larger half of the entire county, and was inhabited by a population of 15,000 herdsmen or small farmers, occupying the numerous valleys and secluded glens which penetrate among its bleak and barren mountains. In the course of a few years these were almost all forcibly removed, some to the sea-coast, where small plots of land were allotted to them, others to Canada; and this large population was replaced by thirty-nine sheep farmers and their few shepherds. As there is a general belief among educated people (who alone have heard that any such events took place) that these clearances were conducted with gentleness and humanity, and that they were really beneficial to the inhabitants—as they were no doubt intended to be by the Marquis and Marchioness of Stafford—it becomes necessary to give a few authentic statements of what actually took place under their general orders. Our authority is a series of letters by Donald M’Leod, one of the tenants on the Sutherland Estate an eye-witness of much that he relates, and a personal sufferer. These letters first appeared in the Edinburgh Weekly Chronicle, and were republished at Greenock, in 1856, in a pamphlet form, by four gentlemen of that town, who append their names to an introductory address in which they state that “Deeds have been done of a character so base and heartless on these unoffending Highlanders that it almost exceeds belief,” and that as a consequence of the clearances, the land under tillage in Scotland decreased, between 1831 and 1855, by no less than one million five hundred and thirteen thousand three hundred and eighty-two acres.
The Story of the Sutherland Evictions.—The Sutherland clearances commenced in 1807 by the ejection of 90 families, who were provided with smaller lots near the coast, and allowed to remove the timber of their houses, wherewith to build new ones. During the removal their crops suffered greatly; they and their families had to sleep out of doors; some died through fatigue and exposure, while others contracted diseases which shortened their lives. At a later period the evictions were carried out with much greater severity; the lots given to the people were often patches of moor and bog quite unfit for cultivation, the houses were often burned down, crops and furniture destroyed, and general misery spread among the people. The following is Donald M’Leod’s account of some of these proceedings:—”In former removals the tenants had been allowed to carry away the timber of their old dwellings to erect houses on their new allotments, but now a more summary mode was adopted—by setting fire to them. The able-bodied men were by this time away after their cattle or otherwise engaged at a distance, so that the immediate sufferers by the general house-burning that now commenced were the aged and infirm, the women and children. … The devastators proceeded with the greatest celerity, demolishing all before them, and when they had overthrown all the houses in a large tract of country, they set fire to the wreck. Timber, furniture, and every other article that could not be instantly removed was consumed by fire or otherwise utterly destroyed. The proceedings were carried on with the greatest rapidity and the most reckless cruelty. The cries of the victims, the confusion, the despair and horror painted on the countenances of the one party, and the exulting ferocity of the other, beggar all description. … Many deaths ensued from alarm, from fatigue, and cold, the people having been instantly deprived of shelter, and left to the mercies of the elements. Some old men took to the woods and to the rocks, wandering about in a state approaching to, or of absolute insanity; and several of them in this situation lived only a few days. Pregnant women were taken in premature labour, and several children did not long survive their sufferings. To these scenes I was an eye-witness, and am ready to substantiate the truth of my statements, not only by my own testimony, but by that of many others who were present at the time. In such a scene of devastation it is almost useless to particularise the cases of individuals; the suffering was great and universal. I shall, however, notice a very few of the extreme cases of which I was myself an eye-witness. John Mackay’s wife, Ravigill, in attempting to pull down her house, in the absence of her husband, to preserve the timber, fell through the roof. She was in consequence taken in premature labour, and in that state was exposed to the open air and to the view of all the bystanders. Donald Munro, Garvott, lying in a fever, was turned out of his house and exposed to the elements. Donald Macbeath, an infirm and bedridden old man, had the house unroofed over him, and was in that state exposed to the wind and rain until death put a period to his sufferings. I was present at the pulling down and burning of the house of William Chisholme, Badinloskin, in which was lying his wife’s mother, an old bedridden woman of nearly 100 years of age none of the family being present. … Fire was set to the house, and the blankets in which she was carried out were in flames before she could be got out. She was placed in a little shed, and it was with great difficulty they were prevented from firing it also. Within five days she was a corpse.”
In 1819 the parish of Kildonan, and parts of three others, were cleared by parties with faggots, who burnt down 300 houses. The following is M’Leod’s account of what took place:—”The consternation and confusion were extreme; little or no time was given for the removal of persons or property; the people striving to remove the sick and the helpless before the fire should reach them, and struggling to save the most valuable of their effects. The cries of the women and children, the roaring of the affrighted cattle, hunted at the same time by the yelling dogs of the shepherds amid the smoke and fire, altogether presented a scene that completely baffles description—it required to be seen to be believed. A dense cloud of smoke enveloped the whole country by day, and even extended far out to sea; at night an awfully grand, but terrific, scene presented itself—all the houses in an extensive district in flames at once. I myself ascended a height about eleven o’clock in the evening, and counted 250 blazing houses, many of the owners of which were my relations, and all of whom I personally knew, but whose present condition—whether in or out of the flames—I could not tell. The conflagration lasted six days, till the whole of the dwellings were reduced to ashes or smoking ruins. During one of these days a boat actually lost her way in the dense smoke as she approached the shore, but at night was enabled to reach a landing-place by the lurid light of the flames.”
The “allotments” to which the expelled and burnt-out inhabitants were removed are thus described by M’Leod:—
“These allotments were generally situated on the sea-coast, the intention being to force those who could not, or would not leave the country, to draw their subsistence from the sea by fishing; and in order to deprive them of any other means the lots were not only made small (varying from one to three acres), but their nature and situation rendered them unfit for any useful purpose . . . To the sea-coasts, then, which surround the greatest part of the county, where the whole mass of the inhabitants, to the amount of several thousand families, driven by their unrelenting tyrants in the manner I have described, to subsist as they could on the sea or the air; for the spots allowed them could not be called land, being composed of narrow strips, promontories, cliffs and precipices, rocks and deep crevices, interspersed with bogs and morasses. The whole quite useless to the superiors, and evidently never designed by nature for the habitation of man or beast … The patches fit for cultivation were so small that few of them would afford room for more than a few handfuls of seed, and in harvest if there happened to be any crop, it was in continual danger of being blown into the sea, in that bleak, inclement region, where neither tree nor shrub could exist to arrest its progress.”
No less disastrous were the immediate results of forcibly removing an inland agricultural population to one of the wildest and stormiest of the sea-coasts of our islands, and forcing them to attempt to eke out a scanty subsistence by fishing. Some in time, became expert fishermen, but many lost their lives in the attempt. The following are a few cases given by Donald M’Leod:—
“William M’Kay, a respectable man, shortly after settling on his allotment on the coast, went one day to explore his new possession, and in venturing to examine more nearly the ware growing within the flood-mark was suddenly swept away by a splash of the sea, and lost his life before the eyes of his miserable wife and three helpless children, who were left to deplore his fate. James Campbell, a man also with a family, on attempting to catch a peculiar kind of small fish among the rocks, was carried away by the sea and never seen afterwards. Bell M’Kay, a married woman, and mother of a family, while in the act of taking up salt water to make salt of was carried away in a similar manner, and nothing more seen of her. Robert M’Kay, who, with his family, were suffering extreme want, in endeavouring to procure some sea-fowls’ eggs among the rocks, lost his hold, and, falling from a prodigious height, was dashed to pieces, leaving a wife and five destitute children behind him. John M’Donald, while fishing, was swept off the rocks, and never seen more.”
Scenes like these went on for fourteen years, unknown to the English people, unnoticed by the English Government. Hugh Miller, speaking of them, says:—”The clearing of Sutherland was a process of ruin so thoroughly disastrous that it might be deemed scarcely possible to render it more complete. Between the years 1811 and 1820, 15,000 inhabitants of this northern district were ejected from their snug inland farms by means for which we would in vain seek a precedent, except, perhaps, in the history of the Irish massacre. A singularly well-conditioned and wholesome district of country has been converted into one wide ulcer of wretchedness and woe.”
Other Examples of Highland Clearances.—Other great landlords soon followed the example thus set them, but in many cases with even more disastrous results, driving away their tenants without troubling themselves about their means of support or what became of them. An example of two of these later evictions must be quoted from a pamphlet recently published by Alex. Mackenzie, F.S.A., Scot., editor of the Celtic Magazine, and author of several works on the Highlands:—
“The Glengarry property at one time covered an area of nearly 200 square miles, and to-day, while many of their expatriated vassals are landed proprietors and in affluent circumstances in Canada, not an inch of the old possessions of the ancient and powerful family of Glengarry remains to the descendants of those who caused the banishment of a people who, on many a well-fought field, shed their blood for their chief and country. In 1853 every inch of the ancient heritage was possessed by the stranger except Knoydart, in the west, and this has long ago become the property of one of the Bairds. In the year named young Glengarry was a minor, his mother, the widow of the late chief, being one of his trustees. She does not appear to have learned any lesson of wisdom from the past misfortunes of her house. Indeed, considering her limited power and possessions, she was comparatively the worst of them all. The tenants of Knoydart, like all other Highlanders, had suffered severely during and after the potato famine in 1846 and 1847, and some of them got into arrear with a year’s and some with two years’ rent, but they were fast clearing it off. Mrs. Macdonell and her factor determined to evict every crofter on her property, to make room for sheep. In the spring of 1853 they were all served with summonses of removal, accompanied by a message that Sir John Macneil, Chairman of the Board of Supervision, had agreed to convey them to Australia. Their feelings were not considered worthy of the slightest consideration. They were not even asked whether they would prefer to follow their countrymen to America and Canada. They were to be treated as if they were nothing better than Africans, and the laws of their country on a level with those which regulated South American slavery. The people, however, had no alternative but to accept any offer made to them. They could not get an inch of land on any of the neighbouring estates, and any one who would give them a night’s shelter was threatened with eviction themselves. It was afterwards found not convenient to transport them to Australia, and it was then intimated to the poor creatures, as if they were nothing but common slaves to be disposed of at will, that they would be taken to North America, and that a ship would be at Isle Ornsay, in the Island of Skye, in a few days to receive them, and that they must go on board. The Sillery soon arrived, and Mrs. Macdonell and her factor came all the way from Edinburgh to see the people hounded across in boats, and put on board this ship, whether they would or not. An eye-witness who described the proceeding at the time, in a now rare pamphlet, and whom I met last year in Nova Scotia, characterises the scene as indescribable and heart-rending. ‘The wail of the poor women and children as they were torn away from their homes would have melted a heart of stone.’ Some few families, principally cottars, refused to go, in spite of every influence brought to bear upon them; and the treatment they afterwards received was cruel beyond belief. The houses, not only of those who went, but of those who remained, were burnt and levelled to the ground. The Strath was dotted all over with black spots, showing where yesterday stood the habitations of men. The scarred, half-burnt wood—couples, rafters, and bars—were strewn about in every direction. Stooks of corn and plots of unlifted potatoes could be seen on all sides, but man was gone. No voice could be heard. Those who refused to go aboard the Sillery were in hiding among the rocks and the caves, while their friends were packed off like so many African slaves to the Cuban market.
“No mercy was shown to those who refused to emigrate; their few articles of furniture were thrown out of their houses after them—beds, chairs, tables, pots, stoneware, clothing, in many cases rolling down the hill. What took years to erect and collect was destroyed and scattered in a few minutes. From house to house, from hut to hut, and from barn to barn, the factor and his menials proceeded carrying on the work of demolition, until there was scarcely a human habitation left standing in the district. Able-bodied men, who, if the matter should rest with a mere trial of physical force, would have bound the factor and his party hand and foot and sent them out of the district, stood aside as dumb spectators. Women wrung their hands and cried aloud, children ran to and fro dreadfully frightened; and while all this work of demolition and destruction was going on, no opposition was offered by the inhabitants, no hand was lifted, no stone cast, no angry word was spoken.”
Mr. Mackenzie proceeds to give a large number of detailed cases of these evictions, of which the following two may be taken as average samples:—
“Archibald Macisaac, crofter, aged 66; wife 54, with a family of ten children. Archibald’s house, byre, barn, and stable were levelled to the ground. The furniture of the house was thrown down the hill, and a general destruction then commenced. The roof, fixtures, and wood work were smashed to pieces, the walls razed to the very foundation, and all that was left for poor Archibald to look upon was a black, dismal wreck. Ten human beings were thus deprived of their homes in less than half an hour. It was grossly illegal to have destroyed the barn, for, according even to the law of Scotland, the outgoing or removing tenant is entitled to the use of the barn until his crops are disposed of. But, of course, in a remote district, and among simple and primitive people like the inhabitants of Knoydart, the laws that concern them and define their rights are unknown to them.”
“John Mackinnon, a cottar, aged 44, with a wife and six children, had his house pulled down, and had no place to put his head in, consequently he and his family, for the first night or two, had to burrow among the rocks near the shore! When he thought that the factor and his party had left the district, he emerged from the rocks, surveyed the ruins of his former dwelling, saw his furniture and other effects exposed to the elements, and now scarcely worth the lifting. The demolition was so complete that he considered it utterly impossible to make any use of the ruins of the old house. The ruins of an old chapel, however, were near at hand, and parts of the walls were still standing, and thither Mackinnon proceeded with his family, and having swept away some rubbish, and removed some grass and nettles, they placed some cabars up to one of the walls, spread some sails and blankets across, brought in some meadow hay, and laid it in a corner for a bed, stuck a piece of iron into the wall in another corner, on which they placed a crook, then kindled a fire, washed some potatoes, and put a pot on the fire and boiled them, and when these and a few fish roasted on the embers were ready, Mackinnon and his family had one good diet, being the first regular food they tasted since the destruction of their house!
“Mackinnon is a tall man, but poor and unhealthy-looking. His wife is a poor weak woman, evidently struggling with a diseased constitution and dreadful trials. The boys, Ronald and Archibald, were lying in ‘bed’—(may I call a ‘pickle’ hay on the bare ground a bed?)—suffering from rheumatism and cholic. The other children are apparently healthy enough as yet, but very ragged. There is no door to their wretched abode, consequently every breeze and gust that blow have free ingress to the inmates. A savage from Terra-del-Fuego, or a Red Indian from beyond the Rocky Mountains, would not exchange huts with these victims, nor humanity with their persecutors. Mackinnon’s wife was pregnant when she was turned out of her house among the rocks. In about four days thereafter she had a premature birth; and this and the exposure to the elements, and the want of proper shelter and a nutritious diet, has brought on consumption, from which there is no chance whatever of her recovery.
“There was something very solemn indeed in this scene. Here, amid the ruins of the old sanctuary, where the swallows fluttered, where the ivy tried to screen the grey moss-covered stones, where nettles and grass grew up luxuriantly, where the floor was damp, the walls sombre and uninviting, where there were no doors nor windows nor roof, and where the owl, the bat, and the fox used to take refuge, a Christian family was necessitated to take shelter! One would think that as Mackinnon took refuge amid the ruins of this most singular place he would be let alone, that he would not any longer be molested by man. But, alas! he was molested. The manager of Knoydart and his minions appeared, and invaded this helpless family, even within the walls of the sanctuary. They pulled down the sticks and sails he set up within its ruins—put his wife and children out on the cold shore—threw his tables, stools, chairs, &c., over the walls—burnt up the hay on which they slept—put out the fire—and then left the district. Four times have these officers broken in upon poor Mackinnon in this way, destroying his place of shelter, and sending him and his family adrift on the cold coast of Knoydart. Had Mackinnon been in arrears of rent, which he was not, even this would not justify the harsh, cruel, and inhuman conduct pursued towards himself and his family. No language of mine can describe the condition of this poor family, exaggeration is impossible. The ruins of an old chapel is the last place in the world to which a poor Highlander would resort with his wife and children unless he was driven to it by dire necessity.”
Particulars are also given of similar clearances in Strathglass, Kintail, Glenelg, and several islands of the Hebrides. These people were generally shipped off to Canada without any provision whatever for them on their arrival there. We have only room here for the following statement, made by the passengers of one of the vessels which conveyed them there:—
“We, the undersigned passengers per Admiral, from Stornoway, in the Highlands of Scotland, do solemnly depose to the following facts:—That Colonel Gordon is proprietor of estates in South Uist and Barra; that among many hundred tenants and cottars whom he has sent this season from his estates to Canada, he gave directions to his factor, Mr. Fleming, of Cluny Castle, Aberdeenshire, to ship on board of the above-named vessel a number of nearly 450 of said tenants and cottars, from the estate in Barra; that accordingly, a great majority of these people, among whom were the undersigned, proceeded voluntarily to embark on board the Admiral, at Loch Boisdale, on or about 11th Aug., 1851; but that several of the people who were intended to be shipped for this port, Quebec, refused to proceed on board, and, in fact, absconded from their homes to avoid the embarkation. Whereupon Mr. Fleming gave orders to a policeman, who was accompanied by the ground officer of the estate in Barra, and some constables, to pursue the people who had run away among the mountains; which they did, and succeeded in capturing about twenty from the mountains and islands in the neighbourhood; but only came with the officers on an attempt being made to handcuff them; and that some who ran away were not brought back, in consequence of which four families at least have been divided, some having come in the ships to Quebec, while other members of the same families are left in the Highlands.
“The undersigned further declare that those voluntarily embarked did so under promises to the effect that Colonel Gordon would defray their passage to Quebec; that the Government Emigration Agent there would send the whole party free to upper Canada, where, on arrival, the Government agents would give them work, and furthermore, grant them land on certain conditions.
“The undersigned finally declare that they are now landed in Quebec so destitute that, if immediate relief be not afforded them, and continued until they are settled in employment, the whole will be liable to perish with want.”
(Signed) HECTOR LAMONT, and 70 others.
The Quebec Times, which prints this statement, adds:—”This is a beautiful picture! Had the scene been laid in Russia or Turkey, the barbarity of the proceeding would have shocked the nerves of the reader; but when it happens in Britain, emphatically the land of liberty, where every man’s house, even the hut of the poorest, is said to be his castle, the expulsion of these unfortunate creatures from their homes—the man-hunt with policemen and bailiffs—the violent separation of families—the parent torn from the child, the mother from her daughter—the infamous trickery practised on those who did embark—the abandonment of the aged, the infirm, women, and tender children, in a foreign land—forms a tableau which cannot be dwelt on for an instant without horror. Words cannot depict the atrocity of the deed. For cruelty less savage the dealers of the South have been held up to the execration of the world.”
Wide Extent and Long Continuance of these Clearances: They are Exposed and Protested against in Vain.—The reader will perhaps exclaim “These accounts must be exaggerated, or they would have been protested against at the time, and Parliament would have interfered.” Protests, however, were made. General Stewart of Garth protested immediately after the Sutherland clearances; while Hugh Miller’s paper, The Witness, again and again called attention to them; but in vain. In a series of articles which appeared in 1849 the wide extent and cruel severity of these clearances were forcibly exhibited, as the following extracts will show:—
“Men talk of the Sutherland clearings as if they stood alone amidst the atrocities of the system; but those who know fully the facts of the case can speak with as much truth of the Ross-shire clearings, the Inverness-shire clearings, the Perthshire clearings, and, to some extent, the Argyleshire clearings. The earliest was the great clearing on the Glengarry estate about the end of the last century … Crossing to the south of the great glen, we may begin with Glencoe. How much of its romantic interest does the glen owe to its desolation? Let us remember, however, that the desolation, in a large part of it, is the result of the extrusion of its inhabitants. Travel eastward, and the footprints of the destroyer cannot be lost sight of. Large tracts along the Spean and its tributaries are a wide waste. The southern bank of Loch Lochy is almost without inhabitants, though the symptoms of former occupancy are frequent. When we enter the country of the Frasers, the same spectacle presents itself—a desolate land. Across the hills in Stratherrick, the property of Lord Lovat, with the exception of a few large sheep farmers and a very few tenants, is one wide waste. To the north of Loch Ness, the territory of the Grants, both Glenmorison and the Earl of Seafield, presents a pleasing feature amidst the sea of desolation. But beyond this, again, let us trace the large rivers of the east coast to their sources. Trace the Beauly through all its upper reaches, and how many thousands upon thousands of acres, once peopled, are, as respects human beings, a wild wilderness! The lands of the Chisholm have been stripped of their population down to a mere fragment; the possessors of those of Lovat have not been behind with their share of the same sad doings. Let us cross to the Conon and its branches, and we will find that the chieftains of the Mackenzies have not been less active in extermination. Breadalbane and Rannoch, in Perthshire, have a similar tale to tell, vast masses of the population having been forcibly expelled. The upper portions of Athole have also suffered, while many of the valleys along the Spey and its tributaries are without an inhabitant, if we except a few shepherds. Sutherland, with all its atrocities, affords but a fraction of the atrocities that have been perpetrated in following out the ejectment system of the Highlands. In truth, of the habitable portion of the whole country, but a small part is now really inhabited. We are unwilling to weary our readers by carrying them along the west coast, from the Linnhe Loch northwards; but if they inquire, they will find that the same system has been, in the case of most of the estates, relentlessly pursued. These are facts of which, we believe, the British public know little, but they are facts on which the changes should be rung until they have listened to them and seriously considered them. May it not be that part of the guilt is theirs, who might, yet did not, step forward to stop such cruel and unwise proceedings?
“Let us leave the past, however (he continues), and considers the present. And it is a melancholy reflection that the year 1849 has added its long list to the roll of Highland ejectments. While the law is banishing its tens for terms of seven or fourteen years, as the penalty of deep-dyed crimes, irresponsible and infatuated power is banishing its thousands for life for no crime whatever. This year brings forward, as leader in the work of expatriation, the Duke of Argyll. Is it possible that his vast possessions are over-densely populated? And the Highland Destitution Committee co-operate. We had understood that the large sums of money at their disposal had been given them for the purpose of relieving, and not of banishing, the destitute. Next we have Mr. Bailie of Glenelg, professedly at their own request, sending five hundred souls off to America. Their native glen must have been made not a little uncomfortable for these poor people, ere they could have petitioned for so sore a favour. Then we have Colonel Gordon expelling upwards of eighteen hundred souls from South Uist; Lord Macdonald follows with a sentence of banishment against six or seven hundred of the people of North Uist, with a threat, as we learn, that three thousand are to be driven from Skye next season; and Mr. Lillingston of Lochalsh, Maclean of Ardgour, and Lochiel, bring up the rear of the black catalogue, a large body of people having left the estates of the two latter, who, after a heartrending scene of parting with their native land, are now on the wide sea on their way to Australia. Thus, within the last three or four months, considerably upwards of three thousand of the most moral and loyal of our people—people who, even in the most trying circumstances, never required a soldier, seldom a policeman, among them to maintain the peace—are driven forcibly away to seek subsistence on a foreign soil.”
Professor Leoni Levi, who has made a special study of the condition of the Highlands, in an article in the Journal of the London Statistical Society, Vol. XXVIII, makes the following statement:—”Again and again these clearances have been continued, down even to the present time; and it is impossible to read the accounts of such transactions without feeling sympathy for those large bands of men, women, and children, who, with their scanty household furniture, and all their lares and penates with them, were driven out from their own soil to find shelter where best they could.”
Later on, Mrs. Hugh Miller bears similar testimony:—”At this date, 1862, the depopulation of the Highlands is still rapidly going on. Not half a mile from the spot where we write, in the North-West Highlands, many families were ejected from their holdings but a few months ago. The factor—that dreaded middleman of the people—came with the underlings of the law, with spade and pickaxe, and left literally not one stone upon another of their poor cottages standing. I can see a miserable hovel into which several families have crowded who had before separate holdings of their own. Such scenes ought not to be allowed to disgrace a Christian country. But even where the inhabitants are allowed to remain in their miserable and insufficient crofts, the able-bodied—that is, the choicest of the population—are rapidly emigrating. ‘There is not a lad worth anything,’ said a person the other day who had just left a very large strath at some twenty miles distance—’there is not a lad worth anything who is not going away to New Zealand or some other place.’ The people are indeed oppressed with a sense of utter poverty, and a total inability to rise above it. In many places their circumstances are made as wretched as possible on purpose to starve them out. There are a few proprietors—such as Sir Kenneth M’Kenzie, of Gairloch—who respect the feelings of those who have been for generations located on their properties; but these are very few … Nothing can ever make the Highlander what he was but that interest in the soil which he has lost. Every Highlander formerly was possessed of all those feelings which constitute much that is valuable in the birthright of true gentlemen—a long-descended lineage, a sense of status and property, and an intense attachment to home and country.”
Speaking of the general results of these clearings, a well-informed writer in the Westminster Review in 1868 says:—
“The Gaels, rooted from the dawn of history on the slopes of the northern mountains, have been thinned out and thrown away like young turnips too thickly planted. Noble gentlemen and noble ladies have shown a flintiness of heart and a meanness of detail in carrying out their clearings upon which it is revolting to dwell; and, after all, are the evils of over-population cured? Does not the disease still spring up under the very torture of the knife? Are not the crofts slowly and silently taken at every opportunity out of the hands of the peasantry? Where a Highlander has to leave his hut there is now no resting-place for him save the cellars or attics of the closes of Glasgow, or some other large centre of employment; and it has been noticed that the poor Gael is even more liable than the Irishman to sink under the debasement in which he is then immersed.”[ii]
[ii] Most modern writers consider the croft-system a failure, and this is supposed to imply the failure of small holdings under any conditions. But there is a mass of testimony to show that the crofter of Scotland, like the cottier of Ireland, is wretched and poverty-stricken simply because he can only get poor land at exorbitant rents, and usually not enough land to live upon. Thus, in Mr. James Robb's "Enquiry into the Condition of the Agricultural Labourers of Scotland," we find the following statements, quoted with approval and confirmed by his personal observation:—"The general quality of the soil upon which crofts are now granted is vastly inferior to what it was of old. The rent is, from the increased demand and more limited supply, proportionally greater … Dispassionately viewed, small crofts, as generally let, form merely the alembic through which is distilled into the pocket of the owner the savings of the sweat of the brow of the occupant. By holding such a croft he is literally incapacitated for performing a good day's work for a good day's wage, as, to scrape together a rent to ensure a home for a series of years, the agricultural labourer must work double hours and draw unfairly upon his stock of strength, which infallibly leads to a premature old age." Could there be a more severe condemnation of the landlord system in Scotland than this statement made by the late Secretary to the Royal Northern Agricultural Society, and endorsed by the Editor of The Scottish Farmer? This refers to Aberdeenshire. In Forfarshire, Mr. Robb describes the condition of some small holders on the estate of Lord Dalhousie, taking one "as a specimen of the whole." The dwelling is described as a wretched, tumble-down turf hovel, consisting of one room about ten feet square, and a division for the cow. "The occupier (an old woman) had lived all her days in the place. She had now only 2 1/2 acres of land; formerly she had some pasture land, but that had been taken from her. She had, therefore, to dispense with all her cows but one, and the consequence was that she had now a deficiency of manure for what little oats and potatoes she wished to raise." Mr. Robb declares that such houses are unworthy to shelter any class of humanity; and Lord Kinnaird (in the preface to Mr. Robb's book) maintains that "the description given by the reports of the actual state of these crofters in different districts, corresponding with their state at the beginning of the century, proves how very undesirable a return to such a system would be." But neither of these writers seems to have the least perception that the facts stated are the condemnation, not of the croft system, but of the landlord system itself, which forces the poor crofter into a condition in which a reasonable amount of well-being is impossible, work as hard as he may.
Continuance of Highland Clearances and Confiscations Down to this Day.—Lest our readers should think that these cruel wrongs are things of the past, and that the exposure of them by so many eminent writers has led the proprietors of Highland estates to adopt a different system of management, or has caused the Government to interfere, it is necessary to call attention to a remarkable pamphlet by Dr. D. G. F. Macdonald, consisting of letters published recently in the Echo newspaper and some correspondence arising out of them. These show us that almost all the evils so prevalent in Ireland exist as fully and to as disastrous an extent in Scotland at the present day. There, also, rents are systematically raised on the improvements made by the tenant—there, too, is found the same general absence of leases, and the same monstrous powers of oppression and eviction in the hands of factors and agents, owing to a prevalence of absenteeism—there, too, the holdings are insufficiently small, and the destitution caused by this very insufficiency is made the excuse for wholesale eviction and the creation of large grazing farms. The following extracts will indicate what Dr. Macdonald has to say on these matters, as to which—being an agriculturist and estate-manager by profession, having written many works of repute on these subjects, having been largely employed on Highland estates, and being himself a native of the Highlands—he must be considered one of the very highest authorities. As to insecurity of tenure, he says:—
“I know that many crofters are never safe in improving their land, for as soon as they begin to reap the benefit the landlord or factor steps in and raises their rents, or gives notice to quit, thus robbing the poor people of their just rights as much as if he dipped his hands into their pockets and walked away with their cash.”
Again:—”Amongst the crying evils of the Highland crofters is the ball-room size of his holding, and the want of security of occupation. Crofters often complain—and complain very justly—of a want of sympathy on the part of the owners, and of being extruded from their holdings at the caprice of the landlord or factor, without a farthing of compensation for their improvements… Such breaches of good faith are indeed atrocious, oppressive, and a violation of rights.”
As to absenteeism and eviction he bears testimony as follows:—”The curse of Scotland is that so many of the proprietors are non-resident … Because agents, forsooth! find that they can with less trouble collect rents from a few large tenants than from a number of small ones they recommend wholesale evictions. Neither understanding nor respecting the real manhood and sterling qualities of the Highland character, they heartlessly wage a war of extermination against the helpless crofters and small farmers; and this is in nine cases out of ten the result of absenteeism.”
As to the nature and extent of this extermination Dr. Macdonald writes in the strongest manner. He says:—
“The extermination of the Highlanders has been carried on for many years as systematically and relentlessly as of the North American Indians … Who can withhold sympathy as whole families have turned to take a last look at the heavens red with their burning houses? The poor people shed no tears, for there was in their hearts that which stifled such signs of emotion; they were absorbed in despair. They were forced away from that which was near and dear to their hearts, and their patriotism was treated with contemptuous mockery.”
Again:—”I know a glen, now inhabited by two shepherds and two gamekeepers, which at one time sent out its thousand fighting men. And this is but one out of many that might be cited to show how the Highlands have been depopulated. Loyal, peaceable, and high-spirited peasantry have been driven from their native land—as the Jews were expelled from Spain, or the Huguenots from France—to make room for grouse, sheep, and deer. A portly volume would be needed to contain the records of oppression and cruelty perpetrated by many landlords, who are a scourge to their unfortunate tenants, blighting their lives, poisoning their happiness, and robbing them of their improvements, filling their wretched homes with sorrow, and breaking their hearts with the weight of despair.”
These statements, strong though they are, are fully supported by the testimony of other witnesses. Mr. John Somerville, of Lochgilphead, writes:—”The watchword of all is exterminate, exterminate the native race. Through this monomania of landlords the cottier population is all but extinct; and the substantial yeoman is undergoing the same process of dissolution.” The following examples are then given:—”About nine miles of country on the west side of Loch Awe, in Argyleshire, that formerly maintained 45 families, are now rented by one person as a sheep-farm; and in the island of Luing, same county, which formerly contained about 50 substantial farmers, beside cottiers, this number is now reduced to about six. The work of eviction commenced by giving, in many cases, to the ejected population, facilities and pecuniary aid for emigration; but now the people are turned adrift, penniless and shelterless, to seek a precarious subsistence on the seaboard, the nearest hamlet or village, and in the cities, many of whom sink down helpless paupers on our poor-roll, and others, festering in our villages, form a formidable Arab population, who drink our money contributed as parochial relief. This wholesale depopulation is perpetrated, too, in a spirit of invidiousness, harshness, cruelty, and injustice, and must eventuate in permanent injury to the moral, political, and social interests of the kingdom.”
Again:—”The immediate effects of this new system are the dissociation of the people from the land, who are virtually denied the right to labour on God’s creation. In L___, for instance, garden ground and small allotments of land are in great demand by families, and especially by the aged, whose labouring days are done, for the purpose of keeping cows, and by which they might be able to earn an honest independent maintenance for their families, and whereby their children might be brought up to labour, instead of growing up vagabonds and thieves. But such, even in our centres of population, cannot be got; the whole is let in large farms and turned into grazing. The few patches of bare pasture, formed by the delta of rivers, the detritus of rocks, and tidal deposits are let for grazing cows, at the exorbitant rent of £3 10s. each for a small Highland cow; and the small space to be had for garden ground is equally extravagant. The consequence of these exorbitant rents and the want of agricultural facilities is a depressed, degraded, and pauperised population.”
Similar facts were proved before the last Game Law Committee. It was shown that in Ross-shire and Inverness about 200,000 acres had been laid waste in order to make room for the deer. On one estate in Ross-shire from sixty to eighty thousand acres had been cleared of inhabitants, and the arable land turned into waste in order to form deer forests, while the few crofters in that county were confined to a few patches by the loch sides, for which they paid exorbitant rents of from thirty to forty shillings an acre.
These Evils Inherent in Landlordism—An Illustrative Case.—The facts stated in this chapter will possess, I feel sure, for many Englishmen, an almost startling novelty; the tale of oppression and cruelty they reveal reads like one of those hideous stories of violence peculiar to the dark ages rather than a simple record of events happening upon our own land and within the memory of the present generation. For a parallel to this monstrous power of the landowner, under which life and property are entirely at his mercy, we must go back to mediæval times, or to the days when, serfdom not having been abolished, the Russian noble was armed with despotic authority; while the more pitiful results of this landlord tyranny, the wide devastation of cultivated lands, the heartless burning of houses, the reckless creation of pauperism and misery out of well-being and contentment, could only be expected under the rule of Turkish Sultans or greedy and cruel Pashas. Yet these cruel deeds have been perpetrated in one of the most beautiful portions of our native land. They are not the work of uncultured barbarians or of fanatic Moslems, but of so-called civilised and Christian men, and—worst feature of all—they are not due to any high-handed exercise of power beyond the law, but are all strictly legal, are in many cases the act of members of the Legislature itself, and, notwithstanding that they have been repeatedly made known for at least sixty years past, no steps have been taken, or are even proposed to be taken, by the Legislature to prevent them for the future! Surely it is time that the people of England should declare that such things shall no longer exist—that the rich shall no longer have such legal power to oppress the poor—that the land shall be free for all who are willing to pay a fair value for its use—and, as this is not possible under landlordism, that landlordism shall be abolished.
Dr. Macdonald, to whose writings we are so much indebted, like most other writers on the subject, does not seem to contemplate any such radical change, but thinks that protection to the tenants might be given by special legislation. But a little consideration will, I think, show that any such legislation, to be an adequate remedy for the various phases and evils of landlordism, must necessarily be complex and therefore difficult of application, must involve legal procedure of some sort, and must therefore be totally illusive—a mere mockery and delusion—when one party to every case brought before the courts would be the wealthy landlord, the other the poverty-stricken or ruined tenant. So long as the relation of landlord and tenant exists, the law can only, at the best, provide a legal—and therefore an uncertain and costly—remedy, for evils already caused and wrongs already committed. I maintain that it would be infinitely better to prevent the wrong and evil from ever coming into existence, which, as will be shown in succeeding chapters, can be done with ease and certainty when once we abolish landlordism and substitute for it occupying ownership.
To show how inherent are evil results in the very nature of landlordism (always supposing that no universal and miraculous change occurs in the nature of landlords) it will be instructive to give a sketch of the correspondence as to the island of Lewis, the property of Sir James Matheson, Bart. This gentleman is declared by Dr. Macdonald, who has long known him personally, to be “one of the most benevolent and popular men of the age,” and one “who lives almost constantly among his people, dispensing bounty with a liberal hand, and diffusing much good by example.” Yet, it is admitted that under so good a landlord as this, a body of tenants were subjected for years to such cruel injustice by the factor that they at last broke into a mild form of rebellion, and then only did the landlord know anything about the matter, and of course dismissed the offending factor. Estates in Scotland seem to be like some great empires, in this respect, that the subordinate rulers are able to oppress their dependents for years, only being found out when they goad their unhappy subjects into rebellion. Even Mr. Hugh Matheson, who styles himself “Commissioner for Sir J. Matheson,” does not appear to know much of what really goes on. For, in a letter to the Glasgow Weekly Mail, of the 7th April, 1877, he states as follows:—”I can say, without fear of contradiction, that he (Sir James Matheson) has never in his life evicted a tenant in order to make room for deer, or to turn small farms into large ones.” Yet the following week a correspondent signing himself “A Native” gives case after case in detail, in which these very things have been done by Sir James Matheson’s factors, while another correspondent compares the excellent roads and the great skill and taste manifested in the Castle and its demesne with the hovels of the tenants, which he says “are simply a scandal and an outrage on the civilisation of this century;” and the reason for this is stated to be that “the people are refused a lease of their holdings, and in cases where improvements have been made, the treatment the holders have been subjected to is not encouraging to those whose means are limited.” Yet another correspondent, Mr. D. Mackinlay, gives details of the case of the eviction of one of the Coll crofters by the factor, Mr. Mackay. It appears that this man had paid his rent punctually, had drained and trenched the land, and had built himself a house on it; yet he was evicted by the factor because (as it was alleged) he did not abide by the “rules of the estate” (which the crofter denied), his sick wife and himself were turned out by force on a bitterly cold day, he was sent to a hut unfit for human habitation, and given a piece of poor, neglected land on which hardly anything will grow. His former house is valued by the factor at £1 10s. and by himself at £10; and he assured Mr. Mackinlay that he was “a bruised, down-trodden creature, now weary of this world.”
Now, as Dr. Macdonald, who is a great admirer of Sir James Matheson, publishes these several statements in July, 1878 and gives no further explanation of them, we may probably assume that they are fairly accurate; and we must then ask—What are we to think of the system which renders such things possible on the estate of a resident landlord, who is “one of the most benevolent and popular men of the age?”[iii]And further, What kind of treatment may the crofters expect when the landlord is not resident, and neither benevolent nor popular, but leaves all to his factor, and looks upon his estate as a rent-producing property and nothing more? It is clear that the system is one of almost unchecked despotism on one side and hardly mitigated serfdom on the other. The arguments for and against landlordism are very much the same as those for and against slavery. Both are essentially wrong, and must produce evil results, though the evil may be greatly mitigated in the case of wise and benevolent men. To allow the average citizen to possess and exercise such monstrous powers over fellow citizens, and still more, to allow these powers to be exercised by deputy with the one object of producing a revenue, is surely the greatest and most deplorable of political errors. The law which arms the landowner with this pernicious power is incompatible with every principle of equality of rights, protection of property, and liberty of enjoyment, and more than any other demands immediate and radical reform.
The General Results of Landlordism in the Highlands.—The general results of the system of modern landlordism in Scotland are not less painful than the hardship and misery brought upon individual sufferers. The earlier improvers, who drove the peasants from their sheltered valleys to the exposed sea-coast, in order to make room for sheep and sheep farmers, pleaded, however erroneously, the public benefit as the justification of their conduct. They maintained that more food and clothing would be produced by the new system, and that the people themselves would have the advantage of the produce of the sea as well as that of the land for their support. The result, however, proved them to be mistaken, for thenceforth the perennial cry of Highland destitution began to be heard, culminating at intervals into actual famines, like that of 1836-37 when £70,000 were distributed to keep the Highlanders from death by starvation. The evidence taken before the Select Committee on Emigration, Scotland, showed much the same state of chronic poverty as prevails in Ireland—and from the very same causes—great landlords, few of whom were resident, and a cottier population of tenants-at-will, with plots of land too small to occupy the labour of a family and to support them on its produce. And the only remedy our wise landlord Legislature could find for this state of things was emigration! Just as in Ireland, there was abundance of land capable of cultivation, but the people were driven to the coast and to the towns, to make way for sheep, and cattle, and lowland farmers; and when the barren and inhospitable tracts allotted to them became overcrowded, they were told to emigrate.[iv]As the Rev. J. Macleod says:—”By the clearances one part is depopulated and the other overpopulated; the people are gathered into villages where there is no steady employment for them, where idleness has its baneful influence and lands them in penury and want.”
The actual effect of this system of eviction and emigration—of banishing the native of the soil and giving it to the stranger—is shown in the steady increase of poverty indicated by the amount spent for the relief of the poor having increased from less than £300,000 in 1846 to more than £900,000 now; while in the same period the population has only increased from 2,770,000 to 3,627,000, so that pauperism has grown about nine times faster than population![v]This shows plainly that the system has failed, as every unjust system does fail in one way or another. But even had it succeeded in this respect—had more of the poor Highlanders been banished, and had the new comers succeeded in abolishing, or at least in not increasing, pauperism, and in producing general content, even then the system would be equally cruel and equally opposed to every principle of justice and good government. The fact that a whole population could be driven from their homes like cattle at the will of a landlord, and that the Government which taxed them, and for whom they freely shed their blood on the battle-field, neither would nor could protect them from this cruel interference with their personal liberty, is surely the most convincing and most absolute demonstration of the incompatibility of landlordism with the elementary rights of a free people.
Further Clearances and Devastation for the Sake of Sport.—As if, however, to prove this still more clearly, and to show how absolutely incompatible with the well-being of the community is modern landlordism, the great lords of the soil in Scotland have for the last twenty years or more been systematically laying waste enormous areas of land for purposes of sport, just as the Norman Conqueror laid waste the area of the New Forest for similar purposes. At the present time more than two millions of acres of Scottish soil are devoted to the preservation of deer alone—an area larger than the entire counties of Kent and Surrey combined. Glen Tilt Forest includes 100,000 acres; the Black Mount is sixty miles in circumference; and Ben Aulder Forest is fifteen miles long by seven broad. On many of these forests there is the finest pasture in Scotland, while the valleys would support a considerable population of small farmers. Yet all this land is devoted to the sport of the wealthy, farms being destroyed, houses pulled down, and men, sheep and cattle all banished to create a wilderness for the deer-stalkers! At the same time the whole people of England are shut out from many of the grandest and most interesting scenes of their native land, gamekeepers and watchers forbidding the tourist or naturalist to trespass on some of the wildest Scotch mountains.[vi]
The Gross Abuse of Power by Highland Landlords Requires an Immediate Remedy.—Now, when we remember that the right to a property in these unenclosed mountain lands was most unjustly given to the representatives of the Highland chiefs little more than a century ago, and that they and their successors have grossly abused their power ever since, it is surely time to assert those fundamental maxims of jurisprudence which state that—”No man can have a vested right in the misfortunes and woes of his country,” and that—”The sovereign ought not to allow either communities or private individuals to acquire large tracts of land in order to leave it uncultivated.” If the oft-repeated maxim that “property has its duties as well as its rights” is not altogether a mockery, then we maintain that in this case the total neglect of all the duties devolving on the owners of these vast tracts of land affords ample reason why the State should take possession of them for the public benefit. A landlord Government will, of course, never do this till the people declare unmistakably that it must be done. To such a Government the rights of property are sacred, while those of their fellow citizens are of comparatively little moment; but we feel sure that when the people of England fully know and understand the doings of the landlords of Scotland, the reckless destruction of homesteads, and the silent sufferings of the brave Highlanders, they will make their will known, and, when they do so, that will must soon be embodied in law. We will conclude this brief sketch of what by Highland landlords is termed “improvement” with a quotation from the work of a respected Scotch pastor, the Rev. John Kennedy, a lifelong resident among the scenes which he describes. He tells us that it was at a time when the people of the Highlands became distinguished as the most peaceable and virtuous peasantry in Britain that they began to be driven off by their landlord oppressors, to clear their native soil for strangers, red-deer, and sheep. He then describes the action of the landlords in these forcible words:—”With few exceptions the owners of the soil began to act as if they were also the owners of the people, and, disposed to regard them as the vilest part of their estate, they treated them without respect to the requirements of righteousness or the dictates of mercy. Without the inducement of gain, in the very recklessness of cruelty, families by hundreds were driven across the sea, or were gathered as the sweepings of the hill-sides into wretched hamlets on the shore. By wholesale evictions wastes were formed for the red deer, that the gentry of the nineteenth century might indulge in the sports of the savages of three centuries before.”[vii]
Landlordism in the Lowlands of Scotland: Condition of the Labourers.—Now let us turn from this picture of what unrestricted landlordism has effected in the Highlands to that part of the country which is its pride and glory—the Lowlands. For here are the highest agricultural rents and the best farming in Great Britain. Here the landlords are wealthy and the farmers are thriving. Here everything is neat, thrifty, and elegant; the rude husbandry of the Highlands has been left more than a thousand years behind; the furrows are straight as an arrow, the fences closely dressed, the farm-houses commodious, and the gentlemen’s seats bear all the evidences of taste, luxury, and refinement. Such being the case, we should naturally expect that some portion of this prosperity would have descended to the labourers, and we should look for neat and roomy cottages, with ample gardens, so essential to the well-being of the poor. Let us first see what was their condition thirty years ago, as described by Hugh Miller in his striking Essays.
He tells us how he once lodged in a labourer’s cottage in a district where land averaged above five pounds an acre, within three hours’ journey of Edinburgh, and within a hundred yards of the beautiful shrubberies and pleasure-grounds of a gentleman’s estate; and he thus describes it:—”But the cottage was an exceedingly humble one. It was one of a line on the way-side inhabited chiefly by common labourers and farm servants—a cold, uncomfortable hovel, by many degrees less a dwelling to our mind, and certainly less warm and snug, than the cottage of the west coast Highlander. The tenant (our landlord) was an old farm servant, who had been found guilty of declining health and vigour about a twelvemonth before, and had been discharged in consequence. He was permitted to retain his dwelling, on the express understanding that the proprietor was not to be burdened with repairs; and the thatch, which had given way in several places, he had painfully laboured to patch against the weather by mud and turf gathered from the wayside. But he wanted both the art and the materials of Red Murouch.[viii]With every heavy shower the rain found its way through, and the curtains of his two beds, otherwise so neatly kept, were stained by dark-coloured blotches. The earthen floor was damp and uneven; the walls of undressed stone had never been hard-cast; but by dint of repeated white-washing, the interstices had gradually filled up … The old man’s wife, still a neat and tidy woman, though turned of sixty, was a martyr to rheumatism; and her one damp and gousty room, with its mere apron breadth of partition between it and the chinky outer door, was not at all the place for her declining years. She did her best, however, to keep things in order, and to attend to the comforts of her husband and her two lodgers; but the bad roof and the single apartment were disqualifying circumstances, and they pressed upon her very severely … And this was all that civilisation, in the midst of a well-nigh perfect agriculture, had done for the dwelling of the poor hind … But we are building, perhaps, on a solitary instance. Would that it were so! Our description is far above the average, however exaggerated it may seem. The following account of a group of Border hovels, deemed quite good enough by the proprietary of the county for their own and their tenants’ hinds, is by the Rev. Dr. W. S. Gilly, of Norham.
“Now for a more detailed description of that species of hut or hovel which prevails in this district. I have a group of five such before my mind’s eye. They belong to the same property, and have all changed inhabitants within eighteen months. The property, I may add, is tenanted by one of the best and most enterprising farmers in all England. They are built of rubble loosely cemented, and from age and the badness of the materials, the walls look as if they would scarcely hold together. The chinks gap open in many places, and so widely that they freely admit every wind that blows. The chimneys have lost half their original height, and lean on the roof with fearful gravitation. The rafters are evidently rotten and displaced; and the thatch, yawning in some parts to admit the wet, and in all parts utterly unfit for its original purpose of giving protection from the weather, looks more like the top of a dunghill than a cottage. Such is the exterior; and when the hind comes to take possession he finds it no better than a shed. The wet, if it happens to rain, is making a puddle on the earth-floor. It is not only cold and wet, but contains the aggregate filth of years from the time of its being first used. The refuse and droppings of meals, decayed animal and vegetable matter of all kinds, these all mix together and exude from it. Window frame there is none. There is neither oven, nor copper, nor shelf, nor fixture of any kind. All these things the hind has to bring with him, besides his ordinary articles of furniture. Imagine the trouble, the inconvenience, and the expense which the poor fellow and his wife have to encounter before they can put this shell of a hut into anything like a habitable form. This year I saw a family of eight—husband, wife, two sons, and four daughters—who were in utter discomfort, and in despair of putting themselves into a decent condition, three or four weeks after they had come into one of these hovels. In vain did they try to stop up the crannies, and to fill up the holes in the floor, and to arrange their furniture in tolerably decent order, and to keep out the weather. Alas! what will they not suffer in winter? There will be no fireside enjoyment for them. They may huddle together for warmth, and heap coals on the fire; but they will have chilly beds and a damp hearthstone; and a cold wind will sweep through their dismal apartment; and the icicles will hang by the wall, and the snow will drift through the roof, and window, and crazy door-place, in spite of all their endeavours to exclude it.”
Great as they might seem, however, these are merely physical evils; and they are light and trivial compared with the horrors which follow. These miserable cabins consist, in by much the greater number of instances, as in the cottage of the poor old hind, of but a single room. We again quote:—”And into this apartment are crowded eight, ten, and even twelve persons. How they lie down to rest, how they sleep, how unutterable horrors are avoided, is beyond all conception. The case is aggravated when there is a young woman to be lodged in this confined space who is not a member of the family, but is hired to do the field-work, for which every hind is bound to provide a female. It shocks every feeling of propriety to think that in a room within such a space as I have been describing, civilised beings should be herding together without a decent separation of age and sex!”
Down to 1861, at all events, equally wretched cottages were found in many parts of Scotland. Mr. James Robb (general editor of The Scottish Farmer) thus describes those common in Aberdeenshire:—”Such cottages as are provided for ploughmen are, for the most part, of a very comfortless kind. They are simply four walls—often put together in the cheapest and roughest possible fashion, sometimes without lime or other cement even—with a vent at each gable end, two small windows, and a roof of thatch. The occupants have to depend upon their wooden box-beds or presses for making such separation between the two sexes as decency may suggest.” In East Lothian, the same writer tells us:—”The cottages generally are not good, being small, old, and ill-lighted. Many of them have but one usable room and a pantry; the garrets, where there are such, being unceiled, and, therefore, either too cold in winter or too hot in summer for sleeping purposes.” And again:—”Directing our course north-east, we find in our passage to North Berwick not a few disgraceful hovels, some straw-thatched, but most with red-tiled rooms, lighted and aired (save the mark!) by a solitary and immovable pane of glass, and with a general aspect of unsanitariness and discomfort unbefitting one of the richest agricultural counties in Scotland in the nineteenth century. Inside we find the double box-bed taking up so great a portion of the space that three or four chairs, a rickety table, a dresser, and a washing-tub crowd the remainder. As occupants of the box-beds in one of these houses there were two grown-up men, two girls approaching womanhood, an elderly woman, who appeared to be their mother, and three or four children.”
A considerable acquaintance with savage life in both hemispheres enables the present writer to assert that the people we term uncivilised rarely tolerate such a state of things as that above described. The young unmarried men are always separated, often in distinct sleeping-houses, from the rest of the family or the tribe; while the dwellings are always suited to the climate and surrounding conditions. It was reserved for the wealthiest nation under the sun, and the one which prides itself on being the most religious and the most civilised, to have its peasants housed in the extreme of physical misery and social degradation. And be it noted that this state of things occurred, not only in towns and cities where the value of land and the cost of building might possibly be alleged as some excuse but over the open country, among fields and woods and mountains, where there is ample space and abundant materials ready to hand, and where such objections, therefore, could not possibly apply.
Some Recent Improvement in the Condition of Scotch Labourers.—Since the pictures here given of the labourers’ cottages in Scotland were written, much has been done to improve them. In “A Report on the Past and Present Agriculture of the Counties of Forfar and Kincardine,” by Mr. Thomas Lawson, dated 1881 (for which I am indebted to the author), it is stated that, in consequence of the exposure of the state of the bothies in 1850, an Association was formed at Edinburgh to improve them, and many model cottages and bothies were built. Wages, too, have risen considerably, in consequence of the scarcity of labour produced by the increase of factories in many districts. Mr. James W. Barclay, M.P. for Forfarshire, also informs me that wages have greatly risen in the last ten years, being about 50 per cent. higher in Scotland than in Norfolk. This he thinks is due to the fact that the men readily move from place to place and from country to town, so that the rate of wages for town work and country work is quickly equalised. Mr. Lawson speaks of “the present tidy cottages of one story, with three apartments, one room and bed-closet being floored with wood, the other room with either pavement or cement; and partitions of brick, the inside finished off with lath and plaster or cement. There is also a garret for lumber, and a small garden and pigstye.” But these cottages are, he says, “not near so common as they ought to be,” as many proprietors and tenant farmers do not see their way to building them, since they are not remunerative. He also says that “there is not so much payment in kind as there used to be. This applies especially to the keeping of cows, which is not nearly so common now—in fact, it is very exceptional. Some farmers even prohibit the keeping of pigs.” These statements seem to show that, though wages are higher, and many cottages are fairly good, yet many remain as they were in Hugh Miller’s time, and when Mr. Robb wrote his reports twenty years ago; while the movement of labourers from place to place, the “small garden” they “sometimes” have, and the occasional restriction from even keeping a pig, all seem to show that there has not been much advance towards enabling the labourer to have a permanent home, and to have land on which to employ his spare hours, which alone can truly raise his condition. The bothy-system, though it has almost disappeared from the southern counties, still prevails in Perth, Forfar, and Kincardine, where there seems to have been little change for the last twenty years.[ix]The bothies are still comfortless abodes, leading to habits of uncleanliness and disorder, and giving a taste for a wandering life; and this is supposed to be one cause of the untidiness and want of comfort which prevails in the labourers’ cottages of Scotland. It is remarked by Mr. Robb that the best female servants were obtained from the class of small farmers, a testimony to the beneficial influence on character of permanent occupancy of land and the household duties it necessitates, which is now almost wholly denied to the Scotch agricultural labourer. Mr. Lawson refers with dissatisfaction to the large sums spent in drink by the young men; but this is almost a necessary result of high wages when there are no home comforts or occupations, and no one great and important object, such as the acquisition of land and a permanent home, for which to accumulate savings. The result is that pauperism, though not so prevalent as in the depopulated Highlands, still abounds even in the fertile and highly-farmed Lowlands, where about one in forty of the population are returned as paupers or dependents. In all Scotland the proportion is about one in thirty-five, while in England and Wales, where the population is four times as dense, the proportion is one in twenty-five.
In Scotland the labourer is altogether dependent upon his employer for his dwelling, and is obliged to leave it whenever he changes his master. He is a mere appanage of the farm, without any of that permanence and security of tenure possessed by the villein or serf of feudal times. It is thus impossible that he can ever have a home, in the best sense of the word, and this will go far to explain the untidiness and want of thrift which all writers on the condition of the Scottish labourers so much deplore. The only way to cure the evils of the bothy-system, the inadequate housing of labourers, and all the evil consequences that arise from them, is to encourage and render possible the growth of a fixed rural population, having rights in the soil and all the interests that attach to a permanent home. If every labourer had the right to claim an acre or two of land for his dwelling-house and garden, paying only the same rent as the farmer pays for similar land, and having absolute permanence of tenure so long as he paid this fixed rent, most of the evils so forcibly depicted by the writers we have quoted would soon disappear.[x]
As will be shown in a subsequent chapter, wherever such occupying ownership of land prevails, there is comparative comfort and plenty, and the house accommodation is always fully equal to the standard demanded by the state of civilisation and social advancement of the community—not miserably below it, as it always is when the labourer is divorced from the soil. This right to share in the use of land on equal terms with his fellow citizens should be declared the indefeasible birthright of every Englishman, and in order that this right may be obtained the land must revert to the State, which ought never to have given up possession of it to individuals. These remarks somewhat anticipate the fuller discussion with which the scheme of nationalisation of the land we propose for adoption will be introduced, but it was thought necessary here to lay down clearly the points at issue, and prevent our readers from supposing that we believe that any change in the character or conduct of landlords or farmers (even if so radical a change in human nature were possible) would be an adequate remedy for the disease. So long as the labourer is absolutely dependent on his employer for subsistence, is without a permanent home of his own, and has no land on which he may profitably employ himself when his regular work temporarily fails—just so long will he be in a state of chronic poverty or intermittent pauperism, often dwelling in houses which it is no one’s business or interest to make healthy or comfortable, living a life of physical and social degradation, and usually filling a pauper’s grave. That such is the inevitable tendency and necessary result of the present system is clearly shown by the fact that, however well the system works for the landlord and capitalist, their advancement does little to better the condition of the labourer. A century ago the poet Burns remarked that the more highly cultivated he found a district, the more ignorant and degraded he almost always found the people, man deteriorating at least as much as the corn and cattle improved. Down to thirty years ago we have the testimony of Hugh Miller that the same state of things prevailed; and though the exposure of the evil by a number of energetic clergymen and other philanthropists, together with the increase of wages owing to the spread of manufacturing industry, have combined to ameliorate some of its worst features, there still remains the great fact of a wandering, unthrifty, and pauperised body of labourers in a region of wealthy landlords and the most advanced agriculture.
General Results of Scotch Landlordism.—It appears, then, that both in the barren Highlands and the fertile Lowlands, among the peaceable and contented Celts as well as among the more restless and energetic Saxons, we find the same increase in the wealth and luxury of the landlord and the capitalist, accompanied by the misery, discontent, and chronic pauperism of the labouring classes. In both districts landlordism has had its own way, and has flourished; in both it carries in its train the physical, social, and moral degradation of those by whom its wealth is created. It is not that landlords are worse than other men; perhaps it may justly be said that they are somewhat better than the average; but no amount of good intentions or good administration will suffice when the system which is administered is fundamentally wrong. No system ever had a fairer trial than pure landlordism has had in Scotland during the present century. It has had the freest liberty of action under various conditions, a peaceful, honest and contented body of labourers, a constantly increasing growth of wealth, and all the means and appliances of modern science at its command. Yet here, as always and everywhere, it has lamentably failed to produce either prosperity or contentment. It must, then, be either the conduct of the landlords or the nature of landlordism that has caused this miserable failure. We maintain that the failure has been too constant and too unvarying to be due to the acts of educated and religious men, many of whom have honestly tried to do good; that, consequently, the system alone is to blame; and that landlordism itself stands irrevocably condemned.
[ii]Most modern writers consider the croft-system a failure, and this is supposed to imply the failure of small holdings under any conditions. But there is a mass of testimony to show that the crofter of Scotland, like the cottier of Ireland, is wretched and poverty-stricken simply because he can only get poor land at exorbitant rents, and usually not enough land to live upon. Thus, in Mr. James Robb’s “Enquiry into the Condition of the Agricultural Labourers of Scotland,” we find the following statements, quoted with approval and confirmed by his personal observation:—”The general quality of the soil upon which crofts are now granted is vastly inferior to what it was of old. The rent is, from the increased demand and more limited supply, proportionally greater … Dispassionately viewed, small crofts, as generally let, form merely the alembic through which is distilled into the pocket of the owner the savings of the sweat of the brow of the occupant. By holding such a croft he is literally incapacitated for performing a good day’s work for a good day’s wage, as, to scrape together a rent to ensure a home for a series of years, the agricultural labourer must work double hours and draw unfairly upon his stock of strength, which infallibly leads to a premature old age.” Could there be a more severe condemnation of the landlord system in Scotland than this statement made by the late Secretary to the Royal Northern Agricultural Society, and endorsed by the Editor of The Scottish Farmer? This refers to Aberdeenshire. In Forfarshire, Mr. Robb describes the condition of some small holders on the estate of Lord Dalhousie, taking one “as a specimen of the whole.” The dwelling is described as a wretched, tumble-down turf hovel, consisting of one room about ten feet square, and a division for the cow. “The occupier (an old woman) had lived all her days in the place. She had now only 2 1/2 acres of land; formerly she had some pasture land, but that had been taken from her. She had, therefore, to dispense with all her cows but one, and the consequence was that she had now a deficiency of manure for what little oats and potatoes she wished to raise.” Mr. Robb declares that such houses are unworthy to shelter any class of humanity; and Lord Kinnaird (in the preface to Mr. Robb’s book) maintains that “the description given by the reports of the actual state of these crofters in different districts, corresponding with their state at the beginning of the century, proves how very undesirable a return to such a system would be.” But neither of these writers seems to have the least perception that the facts stated are the condemnation, not of the croft system, but of the landlord system itself, which forces the poor crofter into a condition in which a reasonable amount of well-being is impossible, work as hard as he may.
[iii]It appears from an article on “Highland Destitution” in the Quarterly Review, December 1881, that Sir James Matheson bought the island of Lews or Lewis in 1844, that he at once commenced making “improvements on a great scale, with the view of giving employment to the inhabitants,” spending in six years (1845-1850) more than a hundred thousand pounds, besides gratuities for purposes of education and charity. Yet the writer refers to this “princely liberality” as having been “met by the most disheartening ingratitude,” and “ending in total failure.” The facts given above will perhaps serve to explain both the one and the other. What the people of Lewis, as of other parts of the Highland, wanted, was sufficient land at a fixed rent, not higher than it was really worth, with perfect freedom of action, and a permanent tenure; so that all they made by their labour should be their own. This they have never had; while they have had given them what they did not want—wages for unproductive labour on the landlord’s pleasure grounds and buildings. The people have been actually taken away, by the inducement of good wages and work for their landlord, from productive labour on the soil to unproductive labour on carriage roads, bridges, shooting lodges, game preserves, and a magnificent castle and grounds, and the result has naturally been demoralisation and destitution! This is the result of benevolent landlordism.
[iv]“There was a locality pointed out to us, in a barren quartz-rock district, in which the indestructible stone, that never resolves into soil, was covered by a stratum of dark peat, where the proprietors had experimented on the capabilities of the native Highlanders, by measuring out to them, amid the moor, at a low rent, several small farms, of ten or twelve acres apiece. But in a moor composed of peat and quartz-rock no rent can be low. No farmer thrives on a barren soil, let his rent be what it may; and so the speculation here had turned out a bad one. The quartz-rock and the peat proved pauper-making deposits. ‘How,’ we have frequently enquired of the poor people ‘are you spending your strength on patches so miserably unproductive as these? You are said to be lazy. For our own part what we chiefly wonder at is your great industry.’ The usual reply used to be—’Ah! there is good land in the country, but they will not give it to us.’ And certainly we did see in the Highlands many tracts of kindly-looking soil. Green margins, along the sides of long-withdrawing valleys, which still bore the marks of the plough, but now under natural grass, seemed much better fitted to be, as of old, scenes of human industry than the cold ungenial mosses or the barren moors. But in at least nineteen cases out of every twenty we found the green patches bound by lease to some extensive sheep-farmer, and as unavailable for the purposes of the present emergency, even to the proprietor, as if they lay in the United States or the Canadas.” (Hugh Miller’s Essays, p. 214.)
[v]This was the case not only in those districts where the evicted peasantry had been driven into over-populated towns and villages, but even in the very places where the population had decreased by forced deportation. Dr. Norman Macleod tells us that the “Highland Parish,” which he has so well described, “which once had a population of 2,200 souls, and received only £11 per annum from public (church) funds for the support of the poor, expends now under the Poor Law upwards of £600 annually, with a population diminished by one-half, but with poverty increased in a greater ratio.” Hugh Miller also tells us that “the poor-rates were heaviest in the districts from which the greatest number had emigrated.” Yet in the face of these damning facts, there are still to be found men who support these “clearances” as beneficial to the community!
[vi]Even these deer-forest clearances find their defenders, to whom Professor Leoni Levi thus replies:—”A comparison has been made between deer-forests and public parks. Both, it is true, comprise land kept out of cultivation for purposes of enjoyment. But while public parks greatly promote the health and enjoyment of the masses of the people, deer-forests are reserved for the sport of a few individuals. Parks are public property, purposely devoted to a great economic object—the improvement of the people. Deer-forests are private property, shut out from public use, and in many cases diverted from a fruitful to a fruitless occupation. Again, it has been represented that deer-forests employ as many persons as foresters as sheep-walks employ shepherds. But are foresters producers? The same quantity of land that will maintain 2,000 sheep will not give 300 deer. Of deer, a large number run away, many die, and very few are killed. In truth, deer-forests are exclusively intended for sport and luxury, and production enters in no manner into their economics” (“Journal of the Land Statistical Society,” vol. xxviii, p. 381). It is calculated that the loss in food by the deer-forests is equal to 200,000 sheep, besides which deer bear no wool. Deer-forests do not repay the outlay expended on them in the shape of keepers, &c., and, as far as the rest of the nation is concerned, they might as well be submerged under the ocean.
[vii]Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire, 1861, p. 15.
[viii]A Highlander, whose wretched-looking, yet really warm and comfortable, dwelling had been previously described.
[ix]Communication from Mr. William Wallace, of Kinnear, Fife, through J. Boyd Kinnear, Esq.
[x]Lord Kinnaird, in his preface to the little volume of Mr. Robb’s essays, says:—”A cry has been raised by those who do not understand the question for the erection of a greater number of cottages, regardless of the fact that field-labour, which cannot from its nature be constant, will not support a family.” And again:—”It is a great mistake to encourage the location of families, who have no other means of support than the chance of occasional out-door work.” Nothing can show more strikingly than these remarks the evil results to the entire rural population, as well as to agriculture, of that landlord system which can and does determine how and where people shall live, quite independent of their own wishes, desires, and needs, and thus brings about an unnatural division of the inhabitants of a district into capitalist farmers and a nomad population of labourers. The more natural and healthy system would be, to allow every man to have as much land as he wished either for farm or garden, with a permanent tenure, and at a just rent. Each agricultural district would then support a body of independent labourers permanently attached to the soil, and with a substantial stake in the country. The cottage which was a man’s own, and which he intended to occupy for his life, would soon be improved and even beautified. His garden or field would be cultivated with all that untiring industry which the secure possession of land always creates; poultry, pigs, or cows would furnish employment for the family, and a constant source of profit; while from the two classes of labourers and crofters, a supply of labour would be forthcoming at all seasons adequate to meet the demand. Bothies would no longer be needed, because the young men would live with their parents, or lodge with those who had small families or ample accommodation; a love of home and home-duties would be created, and with so intelligent a people as the Scotch many home industries would spring up to profitably occupy the long winter evenings, and thus tend to diminish if not to abolish pauperism.