Letter 10., pp.22-25.

I now proceed to describe the “allotments” on which the expelled and burnt-out inhabitants were allowed to locate during the pleasure of the factors. 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. If the reader will take the trouble to examine the map of Sutherlandshire by Mr. Loch, he will perceive that the county is bounded on the north by the Northern Ocean, on the south by the county of Ross, on the west by the Mynch, on the north-east by Caithness, and on the south-east by the Moray Frith. To the sea-coasts, then, which surround the greatest part of the country were 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 stripes, 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. This was, with a few exceptions, the character of these allotments. The patches of soil where anything could be grown, were so few and scanty that when any dispute arose about the property of them, the owner could easily carry them away in a creel on his back and deposit them in another place. In many places, the spots the poor people endeavoured to cultivate were so steep that while one was delving, another had to hold up the soil with his hands, lest it should roll into the sea, and from its constant tendency to slide downwards, they had frequently to carry it up again every spring and spread it upon the higher parts. These patches were so small that few of them would afford room for more than a few handfuls of seeds, 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. In most years, indeed, when any mentionable crop was realised, it was generally destroyed before it could come to maturity. By sea blasts and mildew. In some places, on the north coast, the sea is forced up through crevices, rising in columns to a prodigious height and scattering its spray upon the adjoining spots of land, to the utter destruction of any thing that may be growing on them. These were the circumstances to which this devoted people were reduced, and to which none but a hardy, patient and moral race, with an ardent attachment to their country, would have quietly submitted; here they, with their cattle, had to remain for the present, expecting the southern dealers to come at the usual time (the months of June and July) to purchase their stocks; but the time came and passed, and no dealers made their appearance; none would venture into the country! The poor animals in a starving state, were continually running to and fro, and frequently could not be prevented from straying towards their former pasture grounds, especially in the night, notwithstanding all the care taken to prevent it. When this occurred, they were immediately seized by the shepherds and impounded without food or water, till trespass was paid! This was repeated till a great many of the cattle were rendered useless. It was nothing strange to see the penfolds, of twenty to thirty yards square, filled to the entrance with horses, cows, sheep and goats, promiscuously for nights and days together, in that starving state, trampling on and goring each other. The lamentable neighing, lowing, and bleating of these creatures, and the pitiful looks they cast on their owners when they could recognise them, were distressing to witness; and formed an addition to the mass of suffering then prevailing. But this was not all that beset the poor beasts. In some instances when they had been trespassing, they were hurried back by the pursuing shepherds of by their owners, and in running near the precipices many of them had their bones broken or dislocated, and a great number fell over the rocks into the sea, and were never seen more. Vast numbers of sheep and many horse and other cattle which escaped their keepers and strayed to a distance of their former pastures, were baited by men and dogs till they were either partially or totally destroyed, or became meat for their hunters. I have myself seen many instances of the kind, where the animals were lying partly consumed by the dogs, though still alive, and their eyes picked out by birds of prey. When the cattle were detained by the shepherds in the folds before mentioned, for trespass, to any amount the latter thought proper to exact, those of their owners who had not money – and they were the majority – were obliged to relieve them by depositing their bed and body clothes, watches, rings, pins, brooches, &c., many of these latter were the relics of dear and valued relatives, now no more, not a few of whom had shed their blood in defence of that country from which their friends were now ignominiously driven, or treated as useless lumber, to be got rid of at any price. The situation of the people with their families and cattle, driven to these inhospitable coasts, and harassed and oppressed in every possible way, presented a lamentable contrast to their former way of life. While they were grudged those barren and useless spots – and at high rents too – the new tenants were accommodated with leases of as much land as they chose to occupy, and at reduced rent; many of them holding farms containing many thousand acres. One farm held by Messrs. Atkinson and Marshall, two gentlemen from Northumberland, contained an hundred thousand acres of good pasture-land! Mr. Sellar had three large farms, one of which was twenty-five miles long; and, in some places, nine or ten miles broad, situated in the barony of Strathnaver. This gentleman was said to have lost annually, large quantities of sheep; and others of the new tenants were frequently making complaints of the same kind; all these depredations, as well as every other, were laid to the charge of the small tenants. An Association was formed for the suppression of sheep-stealing in Sutherlandshire, and large rewards were held out – Lord Stafford himself offering £30 for the conviction of any of the offenders. But though every effort was used to bring the crime home to the natives (one gentleman, whom, for obvious reasons I will not name, said in my hearing, he would rather than £1000 get one conviction from among them): yet, I am proud to say, all these endeavours were ineffectual. Not one public conviction could they obtain! In time, however, the saddle came to be laid on the right horse; the shepherds could rob their masters’ flocks in safety, while the natives got the blame of all, and they were evidently no way sparing; but at last they were found out, and I have reason to know that several of them were dismissed, and some had their own private stocks confiscated to their masters to make good the damage of their depredations. This was, however, all done privately, so that the odium might still attach to the natives. In concluding this part of the subject, I may observe that such of the cattle as strayed on the ministers’ grounds, fared no better than others; only that, as far as I know, these gentlemen did not follow the practice of the shepherds in working the horses all day and returning them to the penfold at night: and I am very happy in being able to give this testimony in favour of these reverend gentlemen.

I must not omit to mention here an anecdote illustrative of the state of things prevailing at that time. One of the shepherds on returning home one Sabbath evening, after partaking of the Lord’s Supper, in the church of Farr, observed a number of the poor people’s sheep and goats trespassing at the outskirts of his master’s hill-pasturage, and with the assistance of his dogs, which had also been at the kirk, drove them home and impounded them. On Monday morning he took as many of the lambs and kids as he thought proper, and had them killed for the use of his own family! The owners complained to his master, who was a magistrate; but the answer was, that they should keep them off his property, or eat them themselves, and then his servants could not do it for them, or words to that effect. One way or other, by starvation, accidents, and the depredations of the shepherds and their dogs, the people’s cattle to the amount of many hundred head, were utterly lost and destroyed.

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