The integrity manifested by the sheriffs, Cranstoun and McKid, led to their dismissal from office, immediately after the trial. This dismissal operated as a sentence of banishment and ruin to Mr. McKid – his business in Sutherlandshire was at an end; he retired to Caithness with a large family, and commenced business as a writer, where every malignant influence followed him from the ruling powers in the former county. It is to be hoped that this upright gentleman has since surmounted his difficulties; he must at all events have enjoyed a high reward in the testimony of a good conscience.
I have hitherto given the noble proprietors the title they bore at the time of the occurrences mentioned, but in order to avoid ambiguity, it may be necessary to give a brief historical sketch of the family. The late Duchess of Sutherland, premier peeress of Scotland, in her own right, succeeded to the estates of her father,, William, 21st Earl of Sutherland, with the title of Countess, in the year 1766, being then only one year old. In 1785 she married the Marquis of Stafford and took his title in addition.
In the year 1833, the Marquis was created a Duke, and his lady was subsequently style Duchess-Countess of Sutherland. She was a lady of superior mind and attainments, but her great and good qualities were lost to her Highland tenantry, from her being non-resident, and having adopted the plan of removing the natives, and letting the land to strangers. Their eldest surviving son, Lord Leveson Gower, also a prominent person, succeeded to the titles and estates of both parents on their decease, and is now the Duke of Sutherland.
The family mansion, Dunrobin Castle, is situated on the southern border of the county, and in the rare case of any of the noble family coming to the Highlands during the period of the removals, they only came to the castle and stopt there, where the old tenants were strictly denied access, while the new occupiers had free personal communication with the proprietors. When any memorial or petition from the former could be got introduced, there was no attention paid to them if not signed by a minister; and this was next to impossible, as the clergy, with one honourable exception, had taken the other side. In every case it appeared that the factors and ministers were consulted, and the decision given according to their suggestions and advice.
On the resignation or dismissal of Messrs. Young and Sellar, Mr. Loch, now M.P. for the Northern Burghs, came into full power as chief, and a Mr. Suther as under factor. Mr. Loch is a Scotsman, but not a Highlander. He had previously been chief agent on the English estates, and general adviser to the proceedings relative to the Sutherland tenantry, and cognizant of all the severities towards them. This gentleman has written a work entitled, “An account of the Improvements on the estates of the Marquis of Stafford, in the counties of Stafford and Salop, and on the estate of Sutherland,” in which he has attempted to justify or palliate the proceedings in which he bore a prominent part. His book is, therefore, scarce ever to be relied on for a single fact, when the main object interfered; he vilifies the Highlanders, and misrepresents every thing to answer his purpose. He has been fully answered, his arguments refuted, and his sophistries exposed by Major-General Stewart, in his “Sketches of the Character and Manners of the Highlanders of Scotland,” to which excellent work I beg to call the attention of every friend to truth and justice, and especially those who take an interest in the fate of the expatriated tenantry. The General has completely vindicated the character of the Highland tenantry, and shown the impolicy, as well as cruelty, of the means used for their ejection. The removal of Messrs. Young and Sellar, particularly the latter, from the power they had exercised so despotically, was hailed with the greatest joy by the people, to whom their very names were a terror. Their appearance in any neighbourhood had been such a cause of alarm, as to make women fall into fits, and in one instance caused a woman to lose her reason, which, as far as I know, she has not yet recovered; whenever she saw a stranger she cried out, with a terrific tone and manner, “Oh! sin Sellar!” – Oh! there’s Sellar!”
Bitter, however, was the people’s disappointment when they found the way in which the new factors began to exercise their powers. The measures of their predecessors were continued and aggravated, though, on account of unexpired leases, the removals were but partial till the years 1819 and 1820. However, I must not pass over the expulsion and sufferings of forty families who were removed by Mr. Sellar, almost immediately after his trial. This person, not finding it convenient to occupy the whole of the 6,000 or 7,000 acres, which he had obtained possession of, and partially cleared in 1814, had agreed to let these forty families remain as tenants-at-will; but he now proceeded to remove them in the same unfeeling manner as he had ejected the others, only he contented himself with utterly demolishing their houses, barns, &c., but did not, as before, set fire to them till the inmates removed; they leaving their crops in the ground as before described. This year (1816) will be remembered for its severity by many in Scotland. The winter commenced by the snow falling in large quantities in the month of October, and continued with increased rigour, so that the difficulty – almost impossibility – of the people, without barns or shelter of any kind, securing their crops, may be easily conceived. I have seen scores of the poor outcasts employed for weeks together, with the snow from two to four feet deep, watching the corn from being devoured by the now hungry sheep of the incoming tenants; carrying on their backs – horses being unavailable in such a case, across the country, without roads, on an average of twenty miles, to their new allotments on the sea coast, any portion of their grain and potatoes they could secure under such dreadful circumstances. During labour and sufferings, which none but Highlanders could sustain, they had to subsist entirely on potatoes dug out of the snow; cooking them as they could, in the open air, among the ruins of their once comfortable dwellings! While alternate frosts and thaws, snow-storms and rain were succeeding each other in all the severity of mid-winter, the people might be seen carrying on their labours, and bearing their burdens of damp produce, under which many, especially the females, were occasionally sinking in a fainting state, till assisted by others, little better off than themselves. In some very rare instances only, a little humane assistance was afforded by the shepherds: in general their tender mercies, like those of their unfeeling masters, were only cruelty.
The filling up of this feeble outline must be left to the imagination of the reader, but I may mention that attendant on all previous and subsequent removals, and especially this one, many severe diseases made their appearance; such as had been hitherto almost unknown among the Highland population; viz: typhus fever, consumption, and pulmonary complaints in all their varieties, bloody flux, bowel complaints, eruptions, rheumatisms, piles, and maladies peculiar to females. So that the new and uncomfortable dwellings of this lately robust and healthy peasantry, “their country’s pride,” were now become family hospitals and lazar-houses [quarantine-houses] of the sick and the dying! Famine and utter destitution inevitably followed, till the misery of my once happy countrymen reached an alarming height, and began to attract attention as an almost national calamity.
Even Mr. Loch in his before-mentioned work, has been constrained to admit the extreme distress of the people. He says, (page 76,) “Their wretchedness was so great, that after pawning everything they possessed, to the fishermen on the coast, such as had no cattle were reduced to come down from the hills in hundreds, for the purpose of gathering cockles on the shore. Those who lived in the more remote situations of the country were obliged to subsist upon broth made of nettles, thickened with a little oatmeal. Those who had cattle had recourse to the still more wretched expedient of bleeding them, and mixing the blood with oatmeal, which they afterwards cut into slices and fried. Those who had a little money, came down and slept all night upon the beach, in order to watch the boats returning from the fishing, that they might be in time to obtain a part of what had been caught.” This gentleman, however, omits to mention, the share he had in bringing things to such a pass, and also that, at the same time, he had armed constables stationed at Littleferry, the only place where shell-fish were to be found, to prevent the people from gathering them. In his next page he gives an exaggerated account of the relief afforded by the proprietors. I shall not copy his mis-statements, but proceed to say what that relief, so ostentatiously put forth, really consisted of. As to his assertion that “£3,000 had been given by way of loan to those who had cattle,” I look upon it to be a fabrication, or, if the money really was sent by the noble proprietors, it must have been retained by those entrusted with its distribution; for, to my knowledge, it never came to the hands of any small tenants. There was, indeed, a considerable quantity of meal sent, though far from enough to afford effectual relief, but this meal represented to be given in charity, was charged at the following Martinmas [November 11th] term, at the rate of 50s. per boll.* Payment was rigorously exacted, and those who had cattle were obliged to give them up for that purpose, but this latter part of the story was never sent to the newspapers, and Mr. Loch has also forgotten to mention it! There was a considerable quantity of medicine given to the ministers for distribution for which no charge was made, and this was the whole amount of relief afforded.