To the most noble the Marquis of Breadalbane.
“MY LORD, – Having attempted to support the original statements made by me in the volume before alluded to, I am now at liberty to examine some of those adduced by you; and from the manner they are stated, and the semi-official tone in which they are crouched, some might believe that I had wantonly undertaken to misrepresent your Lordship. In my book there was not a single imputation thrown upon your Lordship’s character, but the manner in which you have endeavoured to clear yourself of blame (not then imputed), convinced many that you had made a personal application of the general charges made in my book.
In the examination which I intend to make of the facts brought forward by your Lordship, I shall confine my observations to two parts, viz., – 1st, Destroying the resources of the country for game. 2nd, Extermination of the peasantry.
In the factorial accounts to which your Lordship refers, is there any estimate of the territory laid virtually waste for game sports? The next time your Lordship openly makes reference thereto, perhaps you could without much trouble, favour the public by replies to the following queries:-
How many square miles of valuable pasture are kept waste for deer?
How many sheep could annually be drawn from them, but for the deer?
How many thousand black cattle could be reared, but for the same cause?
With moderate and judicious outlays in planting, open draining, &c., &c., how much extra produce could be brought into the market? Would the increase be 5, 100, 200, or 300 per cent? Opinion differs very much about these figures.
Referring again to the Black Mount1, perhaps your Lordship would favour the public with its geographical boundaries. I have had great difficulty in arriving at anything like a correct estimate of the extent of territory laid waste. The lowest estimate of its circumference I have heard is fifty miles, others say sixty, and some as high as ninety miles. Let us assume that in its present state there are 100,000 acre of the most valuable pasture all but useless to the nation at present, but with the abolition of the Game Law Rules we might guess that it could graze 70,000 sheep. One-third to one-fourth of these could be annually drawn, and thus twenty thousand sheep would be yearly brought down for sale, minus some 3,000 at present. The Clashgoure wedders were said to be the best ever seen in Glasgow market. How many does the hill produce now? Besides 20,000 sheep, there might be 50,000 fleeces sold, in which almost nothing is done at present.
If these statistics approximate the truth, would not such an addition to the supplies of food to our town population be very valuable? Considering the high price of meat at present, the great demand, the limited supply, I am sure that no more wholesome or beneficial change could take place in this country than would the opening up of the Highlands to trade. The supply of black-faced sheep and of black cattle would be increased beyond all conception. Instead of sending to the four quarters of the earth for food, why not let Scotland produce all that it can? why banish the industrious population when such a field of real, not representative, wealth (as gold is) lies inviting them only to reap it.
Your Lordship states, that to the improvement of the country and to the welfare of the inhabitants you have directed your attention and your best thoughts. Without disputing your good intentions, allow me to ask you before Scotland what more could you have done, by yourself or your agents, to lay the country waste, – the Black Mount in particular? Was it for the improvement of the country that you have kept some of the finest soil of Perthshire waste, – that is, the forest facing Kenmore? Is it for the improvement of the country that you keep all the land round Drummond Hill merely for sport at deer-stalking? Is it for the encouragement of agriculture that the tenants are bound by lease to leave the fields nearest the hill under grass, apparently that the game may have a good morsel in winter? Is it for the public good that your deer come to the gardens and destroy the cabbage (some of it having had to be three times planted this year in consequence)? and yet the tenants dare not scare them away; if dogs are set after them they are forthwith shot; if they are frightened by firearms, the tenant is forthwith put off the property! And yet this is all done for “the improvement of the country,” or else “for the welfare of the inhabitants!!”
Whatever good has accrued from the unexampled increase of game, must be entirely placed to the credit of your Lordship, for your predecessor (whose memory and good deeds are warmly extolled by thousands) did not favour the increase of game. No doubt he had numbers of deer, but they were principally in parks, few or none being wild; and no tenant was restricted from using his gun (except in the parks) until the efforts of your Lordship introduced a different regime. The late Marquis had a greater respect for his splendid and devoted peasantry than to harass them with gamekeepers, or destroy their crops with hares and pheasants. He wished them to live in the country, and therefore he adopted no measures directly or indirectly, to force them away. There are, however, certain doings about game of which your Lordship must be ignorant, because no nobleman, professing such liberality as you do, could be a party to such transactions. I refer to the case of a tenant at Acharn, who was tempted to shoot a fallow deer, which had perhaps fattened on his own crops or cabbage. His servant, instead of going to church on Sabbath, went to inform your Lordship’s keeper of the occurrence; and, if I am correctly informed, that excellent man went shortly after and made a search in the house. He was like to be foiled in the pursuit, when he took off the kail-pot, and carrying it to the door, found therein a piece of venison! What a horrible disclosure! The venison was forthwith carried to Bolfracks, and such a hullabaloo was there! And what was the sentence? – banishment! Although strongly attached to Scotland, yet no remedy could be found for the unpardonable crime – off he had to go. Now it turns out this happened for the man’s welfare, for he would hardly return to Breadalbane, although made proprietor of his former occupancy.
How these 200 square miles, laid all but desolate, besides crops in fields and in gardens destroyed, tallies with your Lordship’s loud professions for agricultural improvement, is what others must explain for I really confess for once that I am shamefully beaten in the attempt to do so.
I shall now trouble your Lordship with a few inquiries relative to the EXTERMINATION OF THE PEASANTRY. On your Nether Lorne property, you state your belief that the population is as large as ever it was. Previous to the overturn of the Roman empire, the towns multiplied exceedingly, but at the same time the rural population was totally swamped. Would your Lordship be good enough to state whether or not the Nether Lorne is cleared of the peasantry, and the land is now tenanted by south country farmers, and if the population to which your Lordship refers is not that employed at Easdale slate quarries?
In reference to the removals from Lochtayside, your Lordship claims great credit on that account, alleging that pauperism would have produced “disastrous results before this.” Again, you claim great credit, because there was no destitution in 1846-7.* Now, I most flatly deny the insinuation here thrown out upon the peasant population; and not only so, but I aver that it is to clearing landlords like yourself that we are indebted for the great abundance of pauperism in large towns! The deplorable destitution on the west coast was in great measure occasioned by lairds thrusting out the population (which they had previously done so much to develop),and huddling them together in fishing villages along the coast.† I do not remember of any peasantry in Scotland being afflicted with the evils you name. On those parts of the Breadalbane property not yet cleared, did any destitution prevail? Was there any of it felt at the densely populated neighbourhood of Acharn? I can point out to numerous estates, as densely populated as ever Lochtayside was, and in as unfavourable circumstances, and yet destitution was never dreamt of. In Athole, in Strathtay, Moulin, and many other places that suggest themselves to me, where the holdings are almost all small, the people never were more prosperous than they have been since 1846.
Your Lordship takes it for granted that any visitor must see a vast improvement in Lochtayside, dating from 1734, – a statement which demands proof; for I am informed on the most unquestionable authority, that there is now less produced to clothe and feed the human race on Lochtayside than there was twenty years ago; and I fully believe it. Instead of the improvements on the Breadalbane estates keeping up with the times, I am strongly convinced that they have retrograded rather than advanced since your Lordship’s succession.
The former condition of the peasantry seems to have drawn forth an unmerited sneer. In reply to numerous inquiries, the answers all concur in representing the peaceful dwellers by the lake-side as peculiarly social. They lived without guile; they assisted each other in every respect, and nothing but harmony and good feeling prevailed; and certainly, if such were the case, it would form a pleasing contrast to the bitterness, rancour,and ill-feeling that is elsewhere displayed. We are also told that “the physical condition was unfavourably affected.” Now, of all places in Europe, I certainly understood that physical strength was nowhere better developed than in the Highlands of Scotland. In Lochtayside I have seen some very powerful, hardy, well-knit men. In particular, the most herculean figure that I ever remember to have seen was one of the individuals from a croft on the lake-side! Although your Lordship has chosen to blacken the Highland peasantry to justify your own doings, yet I shall easily get many who are of a different opinion. The following is the testimony of a Breadalbane man:- “In my young days the people lived happy** and sociably, as well as being healthy and comfortable. There was plenty of animal food, and abundance of milk. There were few or no paupers; for when a man was worn out he got a cow’s haddin, which the neighbours ploughed, sowed, and reaped. Thus he was kept off the poor’s box, – a calamity they were dreadfully afraid of.”
Your Lordship congratulates yourself for the great efforts made for the religious and educational wants being supplied better than in any other part of the Highlands. Now, it is unfortunate that these laudible efforts are so little known,and the example of such excellent endeavours thereby lost. As for the educational superiority, I may safely state that the average amount of education, on the best part of the Breadalbane estates, is not nearly approximate to that of Logierait in your own neighbourhood.
In my work I have endeavoured to show that religion takes a much firmer hold in the cotter toons than in the Gallowgates and Cannongates of our large towns, and I adduced Burn’s description of a “Cotter’s Saturday Night” in proof of my position. I fear that the transforming of honest cottagers into bothy blackguards has not a salutary effect; and if your Lordship desires the religious and social amelioration of the Scottish peasantry, I would strongly advise you to abandon the bothy system in the farms wrought by yourself, and lend a helping hand to put down the system in Scotland generally. Nicoll’s description of an evening in a Scottish cottage would not answer for bothies generally:-
“And when the supper-time was o’er,
The BEUK was taen as it should be,
And heaven had its trysted hour
Aneath that sooty auld roof-tree.”
It is quite possible that the population on both sides of the lake might have been too great, but then there was ample room for expanding. In breadalbane there was no trade, although I believe there is abundant room for a considerable local business. Look at Athole for instance, which has not greater facilities, and yet many branches of commerce are developed there. I could point out from personal experience how this could be accomplished, but it is not wanted, – it would keep too many people in the country, the very rock which is of all others to be avoided. It consists, with my knowledge, that when the Breadalbane farms were small, the rents were paid up to the last farthing,and testimony to this effect will not be wanting if called for. Since the farms have been made large, have the rents been equally well paid? But who caused the population to expand on Lochtayside? Was it not your noble father? Did he not cram in the men who returned from the fencible regiments? This method of cutting and carving up human families, – the father increasing, and the son sweeping away, – is what, in my humble opinion, demands investigation. Human beings have acute feelings, and they should not be removed hither and thither to accomodate the caprice of an ill-disposed laird. I shall not inquire about the original rights of the property of the Campbell clan, – I shall not ask whether or not the men whose swords acquired the property had no right to any part of the acquired territory, – I shall not ask whether or not, at a recent date, the clansmen did exercise their rights,and caused their castle to be built where it now stands, yes, after the foundations of another had been raised ground high. All that I beseech and pray for, on behalf of the peasantry is, that they may be allowed to live in Scotland, and that they may be allowed to cultivate the land, paying full rent for their possessions, and that they shall not be harassed by a wicked law, such as the one that protects game. Do I ask, or rather demand, anything but what all would openly admit was bare justice and no favour?
Your Lordship states that in reality there has been no depopulation of the district. This, and other parts of your Lordship’s letter would certainly lead any who know nothing of the facts to suppose that there had been no clearings on the Breadalbane estates; whereas it is generally believed that your Lordship removed, since 1834, no less than 500 families!! Some may think this a small matter; but I do not. I think it is a great calamity for a family to be thrown destitute of the means of life, without a roof over their heads, and cast upon the wide sea of an unfeeling world. In Glenqueich, near Amulree, some sixty families formerly lived, where there are now only four or five; and in America there is a glen inhabited by its ousted tenants, and called Glenqueich still. Yet forsooth, it is maintained there has been no depopulation here!†† The desolation here look like the ruins of Irish cabins, although the population of Glenqueich were always characterized as being remarkably thrifty, economical and wealthy. On the braes of Taymouth, at the back of Drummond Hill, and at Tullochyoule, some forty or fifty families formerly resided where there is not one now! Glenorchy, by the returns of 1831, showed a population of 1806; in 1841, 831; – is there no depopulation there? Is it true that in Glenetive there were sixteen tenants a year or two ago, where there is not a single one now? Is it true, my Lord, that you purchased an island on the west coast, called Luing, where some twenty-five families lived at the beginning of this year, but who are now cleared off to make room for one tenant, for whom an extensive steading is now being erected? If my information be correct, I shall allow the public to draw their own conclusions; but, form every thing that I have heard, I believe that your Lordship has done more to exterminate the Scottish peasantry than any man now living; and perhaps you ought to be ranked next to the Marquis of Stafford [Duke of Sutherland] in the unenviable clearing celebrities. If I have over-estimated the clearances at 500 families, please correct me.
Now, my Lord, I did not say how these clearances were affected. I have been told they have been gone about in a covert and most insidious manner, and that a mock ceremony has been gone through of offering the people houses; but where are there houses in Breadalbane to give them? I never heard of any unoccupied cottages – pray, where are they? I am credibly informed that many have been offered places unfit for pigs; and some have got the share of a house, but from which they were shortly driven out, on the shadow of a pretext. But granting that they got houses, what could the people do? could they live on the wind? I am aware that your Lordship does give considerable employment to work-people; but what kind of wages do the regular workers get? They travel some three, four, or five miles to and from work daily, and the scanty pittance they obtain is 1s. 2d. per diem in winter, and 1s. 4d. in summer. By the time an able-bodied man pays house-rent out of that sum, and keeps a family, he cannot hoard much money in the banks. That the condition of such people is greatly ameliorated by depriving them of their small holdings is what might be disputed. If they were not comfortable then, it is at least evident they are not in the Garden of Eden now.
Your Lordship states that upwards of £208,000 have been expended on “useful works.” Of course, a large amount thereof has been recorded against the future heirs of entail. But how much of this large sum has been expended in a manner that will yield any benefit to the country? (for money expended for the gratification of caprice might be as well thrown into Loch Tay.) I am informed that the proportion is miserably small; but how much is it? Let it be known to a penny, so that your Lordship may have full justice rendered you. I may safely say that the peasantry have had very little of it appropriated for the improvement of their holdings. But after such a display of figures, you say, “I fearlessly ask, am I obnoxious to the imputation of being regardless of the prosperity of the people upon the property?” That you have been blamed for being utterly regardless of the people, is what I have often heard, and that you cared not a farthing what became of them, if they are got quickly out of sight; and all my informants agree to the same assertion (some of them using stronger language.)*** But I am bound to admit that one of your factors is blamed for much of the mischief that has been done. If, as it is alleged, he boasted that he could get a south country farmer to rent the whole ground between Drummond Hill and Killin, it did certainly reveal no kindly feeling toward numerous families residing there.
You conclude your famous letter by asking, “Have I recklessly driven out from its mountains and glens the interesting and gallant race that formerly resided there?” I can prove that the “interesting and gallant race” rather increased than diminished under your father’s management. Who, then has driven them out? I know of no one who could but your Lordship or your agents.
But I cannot finish this long letter, without paying a tribute to the memory of the late Marquis of Breadalbane. He was beloved by a numerous and attached tenantry, and it may be some consolation to his descendants to know that his memory is yet respected in Breadalbane. Instead of being feared by his servants, he was greatly esteemed by all of them. Instead of making loud professions abroad and acting the tyrant at home, his practice always stood higher than his professions of liberality. The poor blessed him in the gate, and well might they deplore his departure; and yet he had always plenty himself; he was no niggard, but dispensed a bounteous Highland hospitality; yet he left his estates free of debt, besides leaving nearly half a million sterling to his heirs!
I have shortly alluded to the past and present on the Breadalbane estates, but what shall be said of the future? Hope, that always expects the best, whispers that present evils may come to an end; and, if report speaks correctly, promises to that effect may yet be realised. The tenure of entailed estates makes the possessor only a life-renter on them; and in the course of nature, the Breadalbane estates must some time pass into the possession of others, who, it is hoped, will act more kindly to the people remaining than your Lordship has done. But it is hoped that they will remain as long in the hands of the present possessor as will enable him to make some reparation for the unexampled blunders he has committed.
I could have brought forward many more facts to prove that the systematic extermination of the peasantry, that is being carried on all over Scotland, is particularly felt on the Breadalbane estates; but whether pauperism and other claimant evils are occasioned thereby is what the public can determine; but they will widely differ from me if they do not believe that the Gothic or feudalistic legislation that fosters such enormities is a great obstruction to our prosperity and happiness as a nation.
I am, my Lord, your Lordship’s very humble servant,
July, 1853 R. ALISTER.
P.S. – On some future occasion I may trouble your Lordship with some inquiries about the benefits conferred upon the Highlands by ABSENTEEISM, and ask some questions about the legality of deer forests, which I believe, cause an annual loss to Scotland of 100,000 sheep, and 10,000 black cattle. I believe they occupy 800 square miles of Scottish territory. Why we should spend so much money and spill so much blood in Africa for the protection of grazings there, while such tracts of country in Scotland are locked up from industry,and all but laid desolate?
* Pray, how could there be pauperism when the people were banished?
† See “Theory of Human Progression,” page 322, and also Parliamentary Report of 24th May 1841.
** I am quite alive to the fact, that nothing is more common among certain would-be-wise theorist than to sneer at the phase of human life here alluded to. Nicoll, on the other hand, is perhaps too severe in its favour:-
“We saw the corn and haud the plough, –
We a’ work for our living;
We gather nought but what we’ve sawn,
A’ else we reckon thieving.
And for the loon wha fears to say
He comes o’ lowly sma’ folk,
A wizened saul the creature has, –
Disown him will the puir folk!”
Those who scoff at peasant life are often those who hold the ludicrous idea that a man’s life consist in the things of which he is possessed! To such we say, in the words of the poet, “Let not ambition mock their humble toil;” for beyond all controversy the peasantry were possessed of a rare gem, – contentment; that which Holy Writ hath pronounced to be better than riches!
†† A stranger, passing through the glen, inquired what had become of the people whose houses lay in ruins, and a man, apparently weak in intellect, replied, “They are out of my sight, and I know not where they have gone!”
*** Thus, a party, well-known on the Lakeside, is reported to have addressed a certain Marquis, “Ay, my Lord, and you’re to put me out! are ye? But if I was a pheasant cock or a pointer dog, I would get a house, and meat too.”
1 The Black Mount is still barren of populace to this day.