Having lately exposed the partial and exaggerated statements in the Inverness Courier, (the organ of the oppressors of Sutherlandshire,) my attention is again called to subsequent paragraphs in that paper, and which I feel it my duty to notice.
Since my last, I have received communications from correspondents on whom I can rely, which, I need scarcely say, give a very different colour to the proceedings from what appears in the Courier, emanating, as it evidently does, from the party inflicting the injury. The first notice in that paper represents the conduct of the poor natives in the blackest aspect, while the latter, that of the 27th October, [1841,] is calculated to mislead the public in another way, by representing them as sensible of their errors, and acknowledging the justice of the severities practiced upon them.
The Courier says, “we are happy to learn that the excitement that led to the disturbance by Mr. Anderson’s tenants in Durness had subsided, and that the people are quiet, peaceful, and fully sensible of the illegality and unjustifiable nature of their proceedings. The Sheriff addressed the people in a powerful speech, with an effect which had the best consequences. They soon made written communications to the Sheriff and Mr. Anderson, stating their contrition, and soliciting forgiveness; promising to remove voluntarily in May next, if permitted in the meantime to remain and occupy their houses. An agreement on this footing was then happily accomplished, which, while it vindicates the law, tempers justice with mercy. Subsequently, Mr. Napier, Advocate-Depute, arrived at the place to conduct the investigation,” &c.
Latterly the Courier says,
“The clergyman of the parish convinced the people, and Mr. Lumsden, the Sheriff, addressed them on the serious nature of their late proceedings; this induced them to petition Mr. Anderson, their landlord, asking his forgiveness; and he has allowed them to remain till May next. We trust something will be done in the interval for the poor homeless Mountaineers.” This is the subdued, though contemptuous tone of the Courier, owing doubtless to the noble and impartial conduct of the Advocate-Depute, Mr. Napier, who in conducting the investigation, found, notwithstanding the virulent and railing accusations brought by those who had driven the poor people to madness, that their conduct was very different from what it had been represented. The Courier, in his first article, called for the military “to vindicate the law” by shedding the blood of the Sutherland rebels; but now calls them “poor homeless mountaineers.” His crocodile tears accord ill with the former virulence of him and his employers, and we have to thank Mr. Napier for the change. The local authorities who assisted at the precognition did the utmost that malice could suggest to exasperate that gentleman against the people, but he went through the case in his own way, probing it to the bottom, and qualifying their rage by his coolness and impartiality.
Notwithstanding a series of injuries and provocations unparalleled, this is the first time the poor Sutherlanders, so famous in their happier days for defending their country and its laws, have been led to transgress; and I hope when the day of trial comes, the very worst of them will be found “more sinned against than sinning.” It is to be lamented that the law has been violated by the oppressors of this people, under colour of law! The poor victims, simple, ignorant, and heart-broken, have men of wealth, talent, and influence, for their opponents and accusers – the very individuals who have been the authors of all their woes, are now their vindictive persecutors – against the combination of landlords, factors, and other officials, there is none to espouse their cause. One of my correspondents says, the only gentleman who seemed to take any interest in the people’s cause was ordered by the Sheriff Lumsden out of his presence. Another says, no wonder the Sheriff was so disposed, for when he arrived in Dornoch, the officials represented the people as savages in a state of rebellion, so that he at first declined proceeding without military protection, and in consequence, a detachment of the 53rd Regiment in Edinburgh Castle received orders to march; and could a steamboat have been procured at the time, which providence prevented, one hundred rank and file would have been landed on the shores of Sutherlandshire, and, under the direction of the people’s enemies, would probably have stained their arms with innocent blood! But before a proper conveyance could be obtained, the order was countermanded, the Sheriff having found cause to alter his opinion; the people, though goaded into momentary error, became immediately amenable to his advice. The clergyman of the parish, also, made himself useful on this occasion, threatening the people with punishment here and hereafter, if they refused to bow their necks to the oppressor. According to him, all the evils inflicted upon them were ordained of God, and for their good, whereas any opposition on their part proceeded from the devil, and subjected them to just punishment here, and eternal torment hereafter. Christ says “Of how much more value is a man than a sheep?” The Sutherland clergy never preached this doctrine, but practically the reverse. They literally prefer flocks of sheep to their human flocks, and lend their aid to every scheme for extirpating the latter to make room for the former. They find their account in leaguing with the oppressors, following up the threatenings of fire and sword by the Sheriff, with the terrors of the bottomless pit. They gained their end; the people prostrated themselves at the feet of their oppressors, “whose tender mercies are cruel.” The Courier says, “the law has thus been vindicated.” Is it not rather injustice and tyranny that have been vindicated, and the people made a prey? When they were ordered, in the manner prescribed, to put themselves entirely in the wrong, and beg mercy, they were led to believe this would procure a full pardon and kinder treatment. But their submission was immediately followed up by the precognition, in which, as I said before, every means was used to criminate them, and exaggerate their offence, and it depends on the view the Lord Advocate may ben induced to take, what is to be their fate. One thing is certain, Mr. Anderson and his colleagues will be content with nothing short of their expatriation, either to Van Dieman’s Land [Tasmania] of the place the clergy consigned them to, he cares not which. For the mercy which, as the Courier says, has been tempered with justice, of allowing the people to possess their houses till May, while their crop had been lost by the bad weather, or destroyed by neglect during the disturbance, they are mainly indebted to Mr. Napier. Anderson found himself shamed into consent, which he would otherwise never have given. God knows, their miserable allotments, notwithstanding the toil and money they have expended on them, are not worth contending for, did the poor creatures know where to go when banished, but this with their attachment to the soil, makes them feel it like death, to think of removing.
Anderson craftily turned this feeling to his advantage, for, though he obtained the degrees of ejectment in April, he postponed their execution till the herring fishery was over, in order to drain every shilling the poor people had earned, exciting the hope, that if they paid up, they would be allowed to remain! The Courier hopes “something will be done for the poor mountaineers.” O my late happy, highminded countrymen is it come to this? Represented as wild animals or savages, and hunted accordingly in your own native straths, so often defended by the sinews and blood of your vigorous ancestor!
Surely, your case must arouse the sympathy of generous Britons, otherwise the very stones will cry out! Surely, there is still so much virtue remaining in the country that your wrongs will be made to ring in the ears of your oppressors, till they are obliged to hide their heads for very shame, and tardy justice at length overtake them in the shape of public indignation.