Letter 24., pp.59-62.

Since my last communication was written, I have received letters from several correspondents in the north, and, as I intimated, now proceed to lay a portion of their contents before the public. Much of the information I have received must be suppressed from prudential considerations. Utter ruin would instantly overtake the individual, especially if an official, who should dare to throw a gleam of light on the black deeds going on, or give a tongue to the people’s wrongs; besides, the language of some of the letters is too strong and justly indignant, to venture its publication, lest I might involve myself and others in the toils of law, with the meshes of which I am but little acquainted; hence my correspondence must generally speaking, be suppressed or emasculated. From the mass of evidence received, I am fully satisfied that the feeble resistance to the instruments of cruelty and oppressions at Durness, and which was but a solitary and momentary outbreak of feeling, owes it importance as a riot entirely to the inventive and colouring talents of the correspondent of the Inverness Courier. One of my correspondents says, “this affray must be a preconcerted one on the part of the authorities;” another says “the Advocate-Depute asked me, why did the Duke of Sutherland’s tenants join Mr. Andersons’s tenants; my reply was (which he allowed to be true) that when Anderson would remove his, he and his either hand neighbours would directly use their influence to get the duke’s small tenants removed likewise, as they hate now to see a poor man at all, and if any of the tenants would offer to say so much, they would not be believed; this is the way the offspring of the once valiant McKay’s are now used, their condition is beyond what the pen can describe, but we are here afraid to correspond with such a character as you: if it was known, we would be ruined at once.” Another says “there was not a pane of glass, a door, or railing, or any article of furniture broken within or without the inn at Durine, nor as much as a hair of the head of a Sheriff, Fiscal, or Constable, touched. If it was the Sheriff or Fiscal Fraser who published the first article, titled Durness Riot, in the Inverness Courier, indeed they should be ashamed of their unpardonable conduct;” another says “after all their ingenuity it was only one Judas they made in Durness, and if there was any one guilty of endeavouring to create disturbance it was himself. Therefore, we may call him Donald Judas Mac an Diobhail fear-casaid nam breugan, and the authorities should consider what credence his evidence deserved in criminating the people he was trying to mislead.” Another correspondent says “Fraser the Fiscal (a countryman himself, but an enemy as all renegades are) inserted a most glaring and highly coloured mis-statement in the Inverness Courier, and is ever on the alert to publish anything that might serve his employers and injure his poor countrymen;” another says “The Fiscal and Sheriff Lumsden were very severe on the people before the Advocate-Depute, but after he had gone through the business they found it prudent to alter their tone a good deal,” he adds “I incurred the Fiscal’s displeasure for not giving the evidence he wanted for condemning the people, and to punish me, he would pay me only 10s. for attending the precognition five days and a night. But when the Duke comes I will lay the case before him and tell him how Fraser was so anxious to get the people into a scrape. He is a little worth gentleman.” The conduct of the Fiscal requires no comment, and his, it is said, is the Courier’s authority for its mis-statements. The plan of the persecutors is not only to ruin and expel the natives, by any and every means, but to deprive them of public sympathy, by slandering their character, belying their actions, and harassing them in every possible way, so as to make them willing to leave their native soil before a regular authorised enquiry takes place, which would (in case their victims remain on the spot, not only expose their nefarious deeds, but also lead the way to a regular law for obliging them to provide in some way for the poor they have made.

These are now the two objects of their fears, first, lest they should be shown up, and secondly, that a real – and not, as hitherto, a sham – poor-law should be established, to make them contribute to relieve the misery they have so recklessly and wickedly created. With these preliminaries, I present you a large extract verbatim, from the letter of a gentleman, with whom, though I know his highly respectable connexions, I am personally unacquainted. Coming evidently from a person of education and character, it seems justly entitled to the consideration of all who are pleased to interest themselves in the woes and wrongs of Sutherland, and the outrages there offered to our common humanity:-

     “You are aware that Anderson was a pretty considerable speculator in his time, (but not so great a speculator as * * *,) extensively engaged in the white and herring fishings, at the time he held out the greatest inducements to the poor natives who were expelled from other places in the parish, who came and built little huts on his farm and were entirely dependent on their fishings and earnings with him. In this humble sphere they were maintaining themselves and families, until God in just retribution turned the scales upon Anderson; his speculations proved unsuccessful, he lost his shipping, and his cash was fast following; he broke down his herring establishments, and so the poor fishermen had to make the best of it they could with other curers. Anderson now began to turn his attention to sheep farming, and removed a great many of his former tenants and fishermen: however, he knew little or nothing of the details of sheep farming, and was entirely guided by the advices of his either hand neighbours, Alex. Clark of Erriboll and John Scobe of Koldale (both sheep farmers); and it is notorious that it was at the instigation of these creatures that he adopted such severe measures against those remaining of his tenants – but, be this as it may, this last summer when the whole male adult population were away at the fishing in Wick, he employed a fellow of the name of C—l to summon and frighten the poor women in the absence of their husbands. The proceeding was both cowardly and illegal; however, the women (acting as it can be proved upon C—l’s own suggestion!) congregated, lighted a fire, laid hands on C—l and compelled him to consign his papers to the flames! Anderson immediately reported the case to the Dornoch law-mongers, who smelling a job, dispatched their officer;- off he set to Durness as big as a mountain, and together with one of Anderson’s shepherds proceeded to finish what C—l had begun: however, he ‘reckoned without his host,’ for ere he got half through, the women fell in hot love with him also – and embraced his so cordially, that he left with them his waterproof Mackintosh, and ‘cut’ to the tune of “Caberfeidh.” No sooner had he arrived in Dornoch, than the gentlemen there concluded that they themselves had been insulted and ill-used by proxy in Durness. Shortly afterwards they dispatched the same officer and a messenger-at-arms, with instructions to raise a trusty party by the way to aid them. They came by Tongue, went down to Farr on the Saturday evening, raised Donald McKay, pensioner, and other two old veterans, whom they sent off before them on the Sabbath incog.; however, they only advanced to the ferry at Hope when they were told that the Durness people were fully prepared to give them a warm reception, so they went no further, but returned to Dornoch, and told there a doleful Don Quixote tale. Immediately thereafter, a ‘council of war’ was held, and the Sheriff-substitute, together with the fiscal and a band of fourteen special constables marched off to Durness. Before they arrived the people heard of their approach, and consulted among themselves what had best be done (the men were by this time all returned home.) They allowed the whole party to pass through the parish till they reached the inn; this was on a Saturday evening about eight or nine o’clock;- the men of the parish to the amount of four dozen called at the inn, and wanted to have a conference with the Sheriff, this was refused to them. They then respectfully requested an assurance from the sheriff that they would not be interfered with during the Sabbath, this was likewise refused. Then the people got a little exasperated, and, determined in the first place on depriving the sheriff of his sting, they took his constables one by one, and turned them out of the house minus their batons. There was not the least injury done, or violence shewn to the persons of any of the party. The natives now made their way to the sheriff’s room and began to dictate (!) to him; however, as they could not get him to accede to their terms, they ordered him to march off, which, after some persuasion he did; they laid no hands on him or the fiscal. And, to show their civility, they actually harnessed the horses for them, and escorted them beyond the precincts of the parish!!! The affair now assumed rather an alarming aspect. The glaring and highly coloured statement referred to, appeared in the Inverness Courier, and soon found its way into all the provincial and metropolitan prints; the parties referred to were threatened with a military force. The Duke of Sutherland was stormed on all hands with letters and petitions. The matter came to the ears of the Lord Advocate. Mr. Napier, the Depute-Advocate, was sent from Auld Reekie, and the whole affair investigated before him and the Sheriff, and Clerk and Fiscal of the County. How this may ultimately terminate I cannot yet say, but one thing is certain, the investigators have discovered some informality in the proceedings on the part of the petty lawyers, which has for the present suspended all further procedure! I am glad to understand that the Duke of Sutherland expresses great sympathy with the poor people. Indeed I am inclined to give his Grace credit for good intentions, if he but knew how his people are harassed, but this is religiously concealed from him.
I live at some distance from Tongue, but I made myself sure of the certainty of the following extraordinary case which could have occurred nowhere but in Sutherland.
The present factor in Tongue is from Edinburgh. – This harvest, a brother of his who is a clerk, or something in that city, came down to pay him a visit; they went out a-shooting one day in September, but could kill no birds. They, however, determined to have some sport before returning home; so, falling in with a flock of goats belonging to a man of the name of Manson, and within a few hundred yards of the man’s own house, they set two, and after firing a number of ineffectual shots, succeeded at length in taking down two of the goats, which they left on the ground! Satisfied and delighted with this manly sport they returned to Tongue. And next day when called upon by the poor man who owned the goats, and told they were all he had to pay his rent with, this exemplary factor said to him, ‘he did not care should he never pay his rent,’ – ‘he was only sorry he had not proper ammunition at the time,’ – as ‘he would not have left one of them alive!!!’ Think you, would the Duke tolerate such conduct as this, or what would he say did the fact come to his ears? As Burns says:-
“This is a sketch of H—h’s way,
Thus does he slaughter, kill, and slay,
And ‘s weel paid for ‘t.”
     The poor man durst not whisper a complaint for this act of brutal despotism; but I respectfully ask, will the Duke of Sutherland tolerate such conduct? I ask will such conduct be tolerated by the legislature? Will Fiscal Fraser and the Dornoch law-mongers smell this job?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s