In concluding my narrative, allow me to express – or rather to declare my inability to express – the deep sense I entertain of your kindness in permitting me to occupy so large a space of your columns, in an attempt to portray the wrongs of my country. I trust these feelings will be participated by those whose cause you have thus enabled me to bring before the public, as well as by all benevolent and enlightened minds, who abhor oppression, and sympathize with its victims. I am conscious that my attempt has been a feeble one. In many cases my powers of language fell short, and in others I abstained from going to the full extent, when I was not quite prepared with proof, or when the deeds of our oppressors were so horrible in their nature and consequence as to exceed belief.
Though nowhere in the North Highlands have such atrocities been practiced in the wholesale way they have been in Sutherland, yet the same causes are producing like effects, more or less generally in most, if not all, the surrounding counties. Sutherland has served as a model for successfully “clearing” the land of its aboriginal inhabitants, driving them to the sea-shore, or into the sea, – to spots of barren moors – to the wilds of Canada – and to Australia; or if unable to go so far, to spread themselves over Lowlands, in a quest of menial employment among strangers, to whom their language seems barbarous, who are already overstocked with native labourers, besides those continually pouring in from Ireland. No wonder the Highland lairds combine to resist a government inquiry, which would lead to an exposure of their dark and daring deeds, and render a system of efficient poor laws (not sham, like those now existing) inevitable. Were all the paupers they have created, by “removing” the natives and substituting strangers and cattle in their places, enabled to claim that support from the soil they are justly entitled to, what would become of their estates?
Hence their alarm and anxiety to stifle all inquiry but that conducted by themselves, their favourites and retainers, and their ever-subservient auxiliaries, the parochial clergy. Will these parties expose themselves by tracing the true causes of Highland destitution? Oh, no! What they cannot ascribe to Providence, they will lay to the charge of the “indolent, improvident and intractable character,” they endeavour to cover their own foul deeds by ascribing to their too passive victims. They say “the Highlanders would pay no rent.” A falsehood on the very face of it. Were not the tenants’ principle effects in cattle, the article of all others most convenient of arrest? “The Highlanders were unteachable, enemies to innovation or improvement, and incorrigibly opposed to the will of their superiors.” Where are the proofs? What methods were taken to instruct them in improved husbandry, or any other improvements? None! They were driven out of the land of their fathers, causelessly, cruelly, and recklessly. Let their enemies say what have been their crimes of revenge under the most inhuman provocation? Where are the records in our courts of law, or in the statistics of crime, of the fell deeds laid to the charge of the expatriated Highlander? They are nowhere to be found, except in the groundless accusations of the oppressors, who calculating on their simplicity, their patient, moral, and religious character, which even the base conduct of their clergy could not pervert; drove them unresisting, like sheep to the slaughter, or like mute fishes, unable to scream, on whom any violence could be practiced with impunity. It was thought an illiterate people, speaking a language almost unknown to the public press, could not make their wrongs be heard as they ought to be, through the length and breadth of the land. To give their wrongs a tongue – to implore inquiry by official, disinterested parties into the cause of mal-practices which have been so long going on, so as if possible to procure some remedy in future – has been my only motive for availing myself of your kindness to throw a gleam of light on Highland misery, its causes and its consequences. And I cannot too earnestly implore all those in any authority, who take an interest in the cause of humanity, to resist that partial and close-conducted, sham inquiry to which interested parties would have recourse to screen themselves from public odium, and save their pockets. Some of these parties are great, wealthy, and influential. Several of them have talent, education, and other facilities for perverting what they cannot altogether suppress, making “the worst appear the better reason,” and white-washing their blackest deeds – therefore, I say, beware! They want now a government grant, forsooth, to take away the redundant population! There is no redundant population but black cattle and sheep, and their owners, which the lairds have themselves introduced; and do they want a grant to rid them of these? Verily, no! Their misdeeds are only equalled by their shameless impudence to propose such a thing. First, to ruin the people and make them paupers, and when their wrongs and miseries have made the very stones cry out, seek to get rid of them at the public expense! Insolent proposition! “Contumelious [insulting] their humanity.” No doubt there have been some new churches built, but where are the congregations? Some schools erected, but how can the children of parents steeped in poverty profit by them? The clergy say they dispense the bread of life, but if they do so, do they give it freely – do they not sell it for as much as they can get, and do the dirty work of the proprietors, instead of the behests of him they pretend to serve? Did this precious article grow on any lands which the proprietors could turn into sheep walks, I verily believe they would do so, and the clergy would sanction the deed! They and the proprietors think the natives have no right to any of God’s mercies, but what they dole out in a stinted and miserable charity. Mr. Dempster of Skibo, the orator and apologist of the Highland lairds, says he “keeps two permanent soup-kitchens on his estate;” if this were true (as I have reason to believe it is not), what is to be inferred but that wholesome ruin inflicted on the natives has rendered such a degrading expedient necessary. Their forefathers, a stalwart and athletic race needed no soup-kitchens, nor would their progeny, if they had not been inhumanely and unjustly treated. Mr. Loch says in his work, that the Sutherlanders were “in a state of nature.” Well; he and his coadjutors have done what they could to put them in an unnatural state – a state from which it would take an age to reclaim them. I admit there was a great need of improvement in Sutherland fifty years ago, as there was at the same time in the Lothians and elsewhere: but where, except in the Highlands, do we find general expulsion and degradation of the inhabitants resorted to by way of improvement? But Mr. Loch has improved – if not in virtue, at least in station – and become a great man and a legislator, from very small beginnings; he and his coadjutors have waxed fat on the miseries of their fellow-creatures, and on the animals they have substituted for human beings. Well, I would not incur their responsibility for all their grandeur and emoluments. Mr. Dempster has improved, and his factor from being a kitchen boy, has become a very thriving gentleman. These are the kind of improvements which have taken place, and all would go merrily if they could get entirely rid of the small tenants, “the redundant population,” by a grant of public money. A redundant population in an extensively exporting country! This is Irish political economy. The same cause (the food taxes) is in operation in that unhappy country, and producing similar results; but the Irish do not always bear it so tamely; a little Lynch law, a few extra-judicial executions is now and then administered by way of example. This, however, is a wrong mode of proceeding, and one which I trust my countrymen will never imitate: better suffer than commit a crime. No system of poor law in the Highlands would be of any avail, but on that would confer SETTLEMENT ON EVERY PERSON BORN IN THE PARISH. The lairds will evade every other, and to save their pockets would be quite unscrupulous as to the means. They could easily resort again to their burning and hunting, but a settlement on the English plan would oblige them either to support the paupers they have made, or send them away at their own expense. This would be bare justice, and in my humble opinion nothing short of it will be of any avail. Comparatively few of the sufferers would now claim the benefit of such settlements; the greater part of them have already emigrated, and located elsewhere, and would not fancy to come back as paupers whatever their right might be. But there are still too many groaning and pining away in helpless and hopeless destitution in Sutherland, and in the surrounding counties, and I have reason to know that the West Highlands are much in the same situation. There is much need, then for official inquiry, to prevent this mass of human misery from accumulating, as well as to afford some hope of relief to present sufferers.