Letter 25., pp.63-66.

Having done my best to bring the wrongs of the Sutherlanders in general, and , latterly, those of Mr. Anderson’s tenantry in particular, under the public eye in your valuable columns, I beg leave to close my correspondence for the present, with a few additional facts and observations. Before doing so, however, I must repeat my sense – in which I am confident my countrymen will participate – of your great kindness in allowing me such a vehicle as your excellent paper through which to vent our complaints and proclaim our wrongs. I also gratefully acknowledge the disinterested kindness of another individual, whose name it is not now necessary to mention, who has assisted me in revising and preparing my letters for the press. I hope such friends will have their reward.

It is unnecessary to spin out the story of the Durness Riot (as it is called) any longer. It evidently turns out what I believed it to be from the beginning – a humbug scheme for further oppressing and destroying the people; carrying out, by the most wicked and reckless means, the long prevailing system of expatriation, and, at the same time, by gross misrepresentations, depriving them of that public sympathy to which their protracted sufferings and present misery give them such strong claims. In my last correspondence from that quarter the following facts are contained, which further justify the previous remarks, viz:-

A gentleman who makes a conspicuous figure in the proceedings against the people, is law-agent of Mr. Anderson, the lessee, from whose property the poor crofters were to be ejected; and C—l, the first officer sent to Durness, was employed by them. This C—l was an unqualified officer, but used as a convenient tool by his employers, and it was actually, as I am assured, this man who advised or suggested to the poor women and boys, in absence of the male adults, to kindle the fire, and lay hold on him, and compel him to consign his papers to the flames! – acting doubtless under the directions of his employers.

The next emissary sent was unqualified officer; qualified by having served an apprenticeship as a thief-catcher and w— chaser in the police establishment of Edinburgh, who, when he came in contact with the virtuous Durness women, behaved as he was wont to do among those of Anchor Close and Halkerston’s Wynd; and I am sorry to say some of the former were inhumanly and shamefully dealt with by him. – See Inverness Courier of 17th November. And here I am happy to be able in a great degree to exonerate that journal from the charge brought against it in former letters. The Editor has at last put the saddle on the right  horse – namely, his first informers, the advisors and actors in the cruel and vindictive proceedings against the poor victims of oppression.

It is lamentable to think that the Sheriff-substitute of Sutherland should arrive in Durness, with a formidable party and a train of carts, to carry off to Dornoch Jail the prisoners he intended to make, on the Sabbath-day! If this was not his intention, what was the cause of the resistance and defeat he and his party met with? Just this (according to the Courier and my own correspondents), that he would not consent to give his word that he would not execute his warrant on the Sabbath-day, although they were willing to give him every assurance of peacably surrendering on the Monday following. Provoked by his refusal, the men of Durness, noted for piety as well as forbearance, chose rather to break the laws of man on the Saturday, than see the laws of God violated in such a manner on the Sabbath. He and his party, who had bagpipes playing before them on leaving Dornoch, told inquirers, that “they were going to a wedding in Durness.” It was rather a divorce to tear the people away from their dearly-loved, though barren, hills. Under all the circumstances, many, I doubt not, will think with me that these willing emissaries of mischief got better treatment than they deserved. It is high time the law-breaking and law-wresting petifoggers of Sutherlandshire were looked after. This brings again to my mind the goat-shooting scene, described in my last, which was the more aggravated and diabolical from having been perpetrated during the late troubles, and while a military force was hourly expected to cut down such as should dare to move a finger against those in authority; knowing that, under these circumstances, no complaints of the people would be hearkened to. But this was not the only atrocity of the kind that took place in the country at this time. I have seen a letter from a respectable widow woman residing in Blairmore, parish of Rogart; to her son in Edinburgh, which, after detailing the harassment and misery to which the country is subject, says – “I had only seven sheep, and one of Mr. Sellar’s shepherds drowned five of them in Lochsalchie, along with other five belonging to Donald McKenzie; and many more, the property of other neighbours, shared the same fate. We could not get so much as the skins of them.” But they durst not say one word about it, or if they did, no one would hearken to their complaints. God alone knows how they are used in that unfortunate country, and he will avenge it in his own time.

A correspondent of mine says – “At an early period of your narrative, you stated that the natives were refused employment at public works, even at reduced wages; but, if you believe me, sir, in the last and present year, masons, carpenters, &c., were brought here from Aberdeenshire, and employed at those works, while equally good, if not better native tradesmen were refused, and obliged to go idle. This, however, was not admitted as an excuse when house-rent, poll-tax, or road-money was demanded, but the most summary and oppressive means were used for recovery. They have been paying these strangers four or five shillings a-day, when equally good workmen among the natives would be glad of eighteen-pence!”

In this way, the money drained from the natives in the most rigorous manner, is paid away to strangers before their eyes, while they themselves are refused permission to earn a share of it! My correspondent adds – “We know the late Duchess, some years before her demise, gave orders (and we cannot think the present Duke of Sutherland has annulled these orders) that no stranger should be employed, while natives could be found to execute the work. But it seems the officials, and their under-strappers, can do what they please, without being called to account, and this is but one instance among the many in which their tyranny and injustice is manifested.” Every means, direct and indirect, are used to discourage the aborigines, to make them willing to fly the country, or be content to starve in it.

May I not ask, will the Duke of Sutherland never look into the state of his country? Will he continue to suffer such treatment of the people to whom he owes his greatness; proceedings so hazardous to his own real interest and safety? Is it not high time that that illustrious family should institute a searching inquiry into the past and present conduct of those who have wielded their power only to abuse it?

Their extensive domains are now, generally speaking, in the hands of a few selfish, ambitious strangers, who would laugh at any calamity that might befall them, as they do at the miseries of those faithful subjects whom they have supplanted. Many of these new tenants have risen from running about with hobnails in their shoes, and a colly-dog behind them, their whole wardrobe being on their back, and all their other appointments and equipage bearing the same proportion – to be Esquires, Justices of the Peace, and gentleman riding in carriages, or on blood-horses, and living in splendid mansions, all at the expense of his Grace’s family, and of those whom they have despoiled of their inheritance. The time may come – I see it approaching already, when these gentlemen will say to his Grace “if you do not let your land to us on our own terms, you may take it and make the best of it; who can compete with us?” This will be the case, especially when the natives are driven away, and the competition for land, caused by the food taxes, comes to an end. Let his Grace consider these things, and no longer be entirely guided by the counsels of his Ahithophel, nor adopt the system of Rehoboam towards the race of the devoted vassals of his ancestors, a portion of whose blood runs in his veins.

“Woe is me? the possessors of my people slay them, and hold themselves not guilty;” and they that sell them say, “blessed be the Lord, for I am rich; and their own shepherds pity them not.” “Let me mourn and howl” for the pride of Sutherland is spoiled!

In a former letter I put the question to the Sutherland clergy, “of how much more value is a man than a sheep?” No reply has been made.

I ask again, “you that have a thousand scores of sheep feeding on the straths that formerly reared tens of thousands of as brave and virtuous men as Britain could boast of, ready to shed their blood for their country of their chief; were those not of more value than your animals, your shepherds, or yourselves? You that spend your ill-gotten gains in riotous living, in hunting, gaming, and debauchery, of how much more value were the men you have dispersed, ruined, and tortured out of existence, than you and your base companions?” But I now cease to unpack my heart with words, and take leave of the subject for the present; assuring my kind correspondents, that their names will never be divulged by me, and pledging myself to continue exposing oppression so long as it exists in my native country.

In conclusion, I implore the Government to make inquiry into the condition of this part of the empire, and not look lightly over the outrooting of a brave and loyal people, and the razing to the ground of that important portion of the national bulwarks, to gratify the cupidity of a few, to whose character neither bravery nor good feeling can be attributed.

Yours, &c.,

DONALD MCLEOD.

 

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