Were it not that I am unwilling to occupy your valuable columns to a much greater extent, I could bring forward, in the history of many families, several interesting episodes to illustrate this narrative of my country’s misfortunes. Numerous are the instances (some of the subjects of them could be produced even in this city) of persons, especially females whose mental and bodily sufferings, during the scenes I have described, have entailed on them diseases which baffle medical skill, and which death only can put an end to; but I forbear to dwell on these at present, and pass on to the year 1827.
The depopulation of the county (with the exceptions I have described) was now complete. The land had passed into the hands of a few capitalists, and everything was done to promote their prosperity and convenience, while everything that had been promised to the small tenants, was, as regularly, left undone. But yet the latter were so stubborn that they could not be brought to rob or steal, to afford cause for hanging or transporting them; nor were they even willing to beg, though many of them were gradually forced to submit to this last degradation to the feelings of the high-minded Gael. It was in this year that her ladyship, the proprietrix, and suite, made a visit to Dunrobin Castle. Previous to her arrival, the clergy and factors, and the new tenants, set about raising a subscription throughout the county, to provide a costly set of ornaments, with complimentary inscriptions, to be presented to her ladyship in name of her tenantry. Emissaries were dispatched for this purpose even to the small tenantry, located on the moors and barren cliffs, and every means used to wheedle or scare them into contributing. They were told that those who would subscribe would thereby secure her ladyship’s and the factor’s favour, and those who could not or would not, were given to understand, very significantly, what they had to expect, by plenty of menacing looks and ominous shakings of the head. This caused many of the poor creatures to part with their last shilling, to supply complimentary ornaments to honour this illustrious family, and which went to purchase additional favour for those who were enjoying the lands from which they had been so cruelly expelled.
These testimonials were presented at a splendid entertainment, and many high-flown compliments passed between the givers and receiver: but, of course, none of the poor victims were present; no compliments were paid to them; and it is questionable if her ladyship ever knew that one of them subscribed – indeed, I am almost certain she never did. Three years after, she made a more lengthened visit, and this time she took a tour round the northern districts on the sea-shore, where the poor people were located, accompanied by a number of the clergy, the factors, &c. She was astonished and distressed at the destitution, nakedness, and extreme misery which met her eye in every direction, and made enquiries into their condition, and she ordered a general distribution of clothing to be made among the most destitute; but unfortunately she confined her inquiries to those who surrounded her, and made them the medium for distributing her bounty – the very parties who had been the main cause of this deplorable destitution, and whose interest it was to conceal the real state of the people, as it continues to be to this day.
At one place she stood upon an eminence, where she had about a hundred of those wretched dwellings in view; at least she could see the smoke of them ascending from the horrid places in which they were situated. She turned to the parish minister in the utmost astonishment, and asked, “Is it possible that there are people living in yonder places?” – “O yes, my lady,” was the reply. “And can you tell me if they are any way comfortable?” “Quite comfortable, my lady.” Now, sir, I can declare that at that very moment this reverend gentleman uttered these words, he was fully aware of the horrors of their situation; and besides that, some of the outcasts were then begging in the neighbouring county of Caithness, many of them carrying certificates from this very gentleman, attesting that they were objects of charity!
Her ladyship, however, was not quite satisfied with these answers. She caused a general warning to be issued, directing the people to meet her, at stated places as she proceeded, and wherever a body of them met her, she alighted from her carriage, and questioned them if they were comfortable, and how the factors were behaving to them? [N.B. The factors were always present on these occasions.] But they durst make little of no complaints. What they did say was in Gaelic, and, of course, as in other cases, left to the minister’s interpretation; but their forlorn, haggard, and destitute appearance, sufficiently testified their real condition. I am quite certain, that had this great, and (I am willing to admit, when not misled,) good woman remained on her estates, their situation would have been materially bettered, but as all her charity was left to be dispensed by those who were anxious to get rid of the people, root and branch, little benefit resulted from it, at least to those she meant to relieve. As I mentioned above, she ordered bed and body clothes to all who were in need of them, but, as usual, all was entrusted to the ministers and factors, and they managed this business with the same selfishness, injustice, and partiality, that had marked their conduct on former occasions. Many of the most needy got nothing, and others next to nothing. For an instance of the latter, several families, consisting of seven or eight, and in great distress got only a yard and a half of coarse blue flannel, each family. Those however, who were the favourites and toadies of the distributors, and their servants, got an ample supply of both bed and body clothes, but this was the exception; generally speaking the poor people were nothing benefitted by her ladyship’s charitable intentions; though they afforded hay-making seasons to those who had enough already, and also furnished matter for glowing accounts in the newspapers, of her ladyship’s extraordinary munificence. To a decent highland woman, who had interested her ladyship, she ordered a present of a gown-piece, and the gentleman factor who was entrusted to procure it, some time after sent six yards of cotton stuff not worth 2s. In the whole. The woman laid it aside, intending to show it to her ladyship on her next visit, but her own death occurred in the meantime. Thus, in every way were her ladyship’s benevolent intentions frustrated or misapplied, and that ardent attachment to her family which had subsisted through so many generations, materially weakened, if not totally destroyed, by mistaken policy towards her people, and an undue confidence in those to whose management she committed them, and who, in almost every instance, betrayed that confidence, and cruelly abused that delegated power. Hence, and hence only, the fearful misery and “destitution in Sutherlandshire.”