“What I have written, I well known, will give offence to many petty tyrants: but I am actuated by motives of humanity, and of duty to the common Parent and Lord of all mankind. And I, thank God, who has given me grace to speak the truth with boldness, notwithstanding the menaces of certain unprincipled oppressors.” – REV. J. L. BUCHANAN.
“Since the dawn of the creation, when wicked Cain imbrued his hands in the blood of his brother Abel, there has been two opposite classes in the world, viz, – oppressors and oppressed. There are generally other two classes who step in as seconds in this unequal contest between right and wrong; and that is the fawning party who put their Amen to the most cruel deeds of the arch-oppressors, and also those who are, like Moses, grieved at the sufferings of their brethren, and who, like Job, do what they can to “break the arm of the oppressor.”
Since the overthrow of West Indian Slavery the friends of human freedom in Britain have been resting on their oars, with the exception of an occasional fling at American despots, and no doubt congratulating themselves, as well they might, for their achievements in the cause of liberty. But let them not conclude that a complete victory is obtained even at home. The following disclosures will at once convince every philanthropist that he should be up and doing; and that there is much need that a share of that noble and disinterested sympathy which was shown to the sable sons of Africa should now be imparted to our brethren in the Western Hebrides.
It was a most unlucky day to the Highlands that Sir John McNeil was commissioned to investigate their condition; and the one-sided Report which he has ;aid before the Legislature of our country shows how incompetent he was for the undertaking. Our analysis of the annexed document, which he obtained from the Parochial Board of Barra, and which, by the way, was considered by the pro-clearings and expatriating Press the cream of his trashy Report, will show every unprejudiced reader how little confidence may be placed in Sir John’s evidence. Our readers probably recollect the excitement which was caused in Glasgow and Edinburgh about 18 months ago, by the appearance of some expatriated and starving Barramen. The unfeeling conduct of the proprietor, Colonel Gordon, and his underlings on that occasion was the subject of many well-merited animadversions, both from the platform and the press. But in order to shield Colonel Gordon form these castigations, the Barra authorities, headed by Henry Beatson their minister, have thrown their mantle around him, and besides have made a malicious, but a most silly attack upon the expatriated Barramen. This attack is now fully six months before the public; but till within a few days these calumniated creatures have not heard a word of it. The following is a verbatim copy of the infamous document:-
“We are acquainted with Barr Macdougall, Donald McLean, commonly called Donald Hecterson, Roderick McNeil, senior, and Roderick McNeil junior, who have been referred to in the newspapers as persons who had left Barra and gone to Edinburgh because of their inability to obtain the means of subsistence here. They were all provided with houses at the time of their departure. They were all, either employed by the Relief Committee or might have been so at the date when they left Barra. With the exception of Roderick McNeil, senior, who left this in the first week of September, all the others left Barra in July. Barr Macdougall was notoriously lazy, and before Colonel Gordon had acquired this property, had voluntarily surrendered his croft at Greine, and subsisted thereafter by begging, for which purpose he perambulated the country. On the failure of the potatoes he became altogether destitute, and was received upon the lists of the Relief Committee. Roderick McNeill, junior, was employed by Mr. McAlister at 1s a day, which he voluntarily relinquished, declaring that the wages was too low. He then applied to the inspector of poor for assistance, and was refused, on the ground that he had left Mr. McAlister’s service, where he could have obtained the means of subsistence. He was an able-bodied man.
Donald McLean was an indolent man who never did much work even when wages could be earned; whose wife perambulated the country begging from house to house.
Roderick McNeill, senior, was several times accused accusing of theft, and once apprehended on a charge of sheep stealing, but was not convicted.
Of Ann McPherson of McKinnon, nothing is known in Barra, unless she be a sister-in-law to Roderick McNeil, senior, who had an illegitimate child to a person of the name of McPherson, and whose own name if McKinnon.
We are of opinion that the eleemosynary relief afforded to the people has had a prejudicial effect upon their character and habits; that it has induced many to misrepresent their circumstances with a view to participate in it; that it has taught the people generally to rely more upon others, and less upon themselves; and that we have reason to believe that, relying upon this source of subsistence, some persons even neglected to sow their lands.”
(Signed) Henry Beatson, Minister.
D. W. McGillvray, J.P., Tacksman.
Wm. Birnie, Manager for Colonel Gordon,
Donald M. Nicolson, M.D. Tacksman.
Archibald McDonald, Elder, Tenant.
The following declaration which we have obtained from three of the individuals mentioned in the preceding document is a true statement of the case; being corroborated by other parties who are well acquainted with the state of affairs in that island:-
Declaration of Barr McDougall, Roderick McNeill, senior, and Ann McKinnon, being three individuals of the expatriated people of Barra.
“It is not true that we were all provided with houses before we left Barra; neither were we employed, nor might have been employed by the Relief Committee at the date when we left Barra. Barr McDougall, and Donald McLean occupied houses on the farm rented by Dr. McGillvray, and got notice to quit them a week before the term of Whitsunday, 1850. They did not remove till their houses had been partly stripped and their fires put out. Donald McLean did not remove till his house was totally unroofed and remained for ten days within the bare walls without any covering but the sail of a boat: though he was at the time lingering under the disease of which he has since died. Barr McDougall did not give up his croft at Greine voluntarily; but when his rent was augmented without any corresponding advantages he fell into arrears, like all his neighbours.* His stock was seized by the factor and sold for the arrears – consequently had to surrender his croft, and finally his native country along with it. Does not deny that he sought assistance when pressed by famine; but always laboured when he could find employment.
Donald McLean was not indolent, as is falsely reported; but, the poor man was quite incapable of standing fatigue or hard labour, as he was for a long while labouring under consumptive disease which relieved him from the fangs of his pampered calumniators, six weeks after he went to Edinburgh.
Roderick McNeil, senior, was not several times accused of theft, and never apprehended. There was an attempt made once to implicate him, by another man who broke into a grocer’s shop and who afterwards (in order to lighten his own punishment) accused Roderick McNeil, senior, as being art and part; but the said Roderick appeared before the Fiscal, Mr. Duncan McNee, at Lochmaddy, North Uist, where he was honourably acquitted, and was paid the sum of twelve shillings for his trouble.
Roderick McNeil, junior, laboured for a long time for the Relief Committee, at roads and other works for 10½ lbs of meal per week, which was all the means of subsistence allowed for himself, his wife and two children. Finding death staring them in the face, Roderick’s wife went to the cuperintendent of the Relief Board and begged of him to allow her to work in her husband’s place that he might go to the fishing, which the superintendent granted; and for this favour Roderick shared the fish with him. There were many females labouring for 10 hours a day in the island of Barra at that time. They were compelled from the system of labour to work with wheelbarrows and carry burdens. The method taken to load them was as follows:- The female being ordered to turn her back to the turf-cutter and to place her hands behind in a position almost on her knees, the turfs were laid on her back in succession till she had a sufficient burden – enough to rise under and carry for some distance – there lay them down to come back for more. They had often to gather their petticoats about the sod in order to keep it on their back, while, in wet weather, the water, sometimes the melted snow, streamed down their back and sides. At this work Roderick McNeil’s wife continued till within two days of her confinement!!!
Ann McKinnon acknowledges having had a child ten years ago; but neither herself nor her child ever became a burden on the Parochial Board of Barra; though (in consequence of her father’s death) the maintenance of the child fell entirely on herself. She also laboured at both the turf-carrying and the wheelbarrow so long as she could get work, at the rate of 4½ lbs of meal per week.
We further declare that we went to Henry Beatson, minister, requesting certificates of character, which he refused, alleging that he was not in the habit of giving such to any one. However we see that he has sent one after us; though to his eternal shame he has given it in direct violation of the Holy Scriptures which he pretends to expound to the people, and which says, ‘Thou shalt not raise a false report; put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness’. – Exod. xxiii. 1. That the said Henry Beatson is a most unfeeling person. He once told James McDonald, an indigent man, when he solicited aid, ‘Go to the mountains and eat grass and heather!’ He has been most energetic in assisting Colonel Gordon’s underlings in forcing away from their fatherland the 2000 which were transported to America from Barra and South Uist, and who are now begging and starving in Upper Canada. That there are at the present time men and women working about his manse, raising fences, trenching, &c., for one pound of meal per day, and although they would perish of cold, they dare not approach the minister’s kitchen fire. That the meal which is doled out on these hard conditions, under the superintendence of Mrs. Beatson, is believed to be the remains of the old Relief Committee meal.
We also know D. W. McGillvray, J.P., Tacksman, and think he should be the last to speak of ‘illegitimate children,’ as poor idiotic female who perambulated the country fathered a child on him, and declared that various stratagems were tried to prevent disclosures which cannot be mentioned here.
We have nothing particular to say of Wm. Birnie, Manager for Colonel Gordon, as he is but seldom in the island.
Of Donald N. Nicolson, M.D., Tacksman, we will only wait to say that after continuing for years, ‘adding house to house and field to field,’ the woes which are pronounced against such have at last overtaken him; his whole effects having been sold by his creditors a few weeks ago.
Archibald McDonald, Elder, Tenant, is a bastard son; and the gallant Colonel himself had no fewer than three bastard children to grace the name of Gordon.”
The above declaration was taken at Glasgow, on the 26th of January, 1852, in the presence of the undersigned witnesses, and was read in Gaelic to the Declarants, who affirm that it is correct.
ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR, Witness.
DUNCAN McDOUGALL, do.
NEIL CAMPBELL, do.
WILLIAM LIVINGSTONE, do.
* For the information of our readers we may here notice the manner in which the Barra crofters have been reduced to their present condition. When kelp was in great demand the former proprietor, started a kelp manufactory, at which the services of all the spare hands in the island were required. He always preferred labour to money; and when he found that the crofters could pay their rent in three months he increased his claims gradually, until each crofter required to keep a labourer there all the year round. After the manufacturing of kelp stopped the rents continued at the same figure. This is the whole secret of the Barra destitution.
As the Declarants have not said anything in reference to the last paragraph in the accusations, we would simply ask, What person in his senses willbelieve that “eleemosynary relief,” as administered by the Barra Authorities, would have the tendency to make the recipients “neglect to sow their land,” so long as they are allowed to gather the crumbs that fall from the Parochial Board!
To follow these investigations a little farther, we cannot do it better than by giving the following well authenticated communication received from a gentleman who had resided for some time in Barra, and was an eye-witness of the enormities perpetrated there during the summer of 1851:-
“The unfeeling and deceitful conduct of those acting for Colonel Gordon, in Barra and South Uist last summer, cannot be too strongly censured. The duplicity and art which was used by them in order to entrap the unwary natives is worthy of the craft and cunning of an old slave-trader. Many of the poor people were told in my hearing, that Sir John McNeill would be in Canada before them, where he would have every thing necessary for their comfort prepared for them. Some of the officials signed a document binding themselves to emigrate in order to induce the poor people to give their names; but in spite of all these stratagems many of the people saw through them and refused out and out to go. When the transports anchored in Loch Boisdale the tyrants threw off their mask, and the work of devastation and cruelty commenced. The poor people were commanded to attend a public meeting at Loch Boisdale where the transports lay, and according to the intimation, any one absenting himself from the meeting was to be fined in Two Pounds. At this meeting some of the natives were seized and in spite of their entreaties were sent on board the transports. One stout Highlander, named Angus Johnstone, resisted with such pith that they had to hand-cuff him before he could be mastered; but in consequence of the priest’s interference his manacles were taken off and marched between four officers on board the emigrant vessel. One morning, during the transporting season, we were suddenly awakened by the screams of a young female who had been recaptured in an adjoining house; having escaped after her first apprehension. We all rushed to the door and saw the broken-hearted creature with dishevelled hair and swollen face, dragged away by two constables and a ground officer. Were you to see the racing and chasing of policemen, constables, and ground officers, pursuing the outlawed natives you would think, only for their colour, that you had been by some miracle transported to the banks of the Gambia on the slave coast of Africa.
“The conduct of the Rev. H. Beatson on that occasion is deserving of the censure of every feeling heart. This “Wolf in sheep’s clothing” made himself very officious, as he always does when he has an opportunity of oppressing the poor Barramen and of gaining the favour of Colonel Gordon. In fact, he is the most vigilant and assiduous officer Colonel Gordon has. He may be seen in Castle Bay, the principle anchorage in Barra, whenever a sail is hoisted, directing his men, like a game-keeper with his hounds, in case any of the doomed Barramen should escape, so that he might get his land cultivated and improved for nothing. They offered one day to board an Arran boat who had a poor man concealed, but the master, John Crawford, lifted a hand-spike and threatened to split the skull of the first man who would attempt to board his boat, and thus the poor Barramen escaped their clutches.
“I may state in conclusion that two girls, daughter of John McDougall, brother of Barr McDougall whose name is mentioned in Sir John McNeill’s Report, have fled to the mountains to elude the grasp of the expatriators, where they still are, if in life. Their father, a frail old man, along with the rest of the family, have been sent to Canada. The respective ages of these girls is 12 and 14 years. Others have fled in the same manner, but I cannot give their names just now.”
Let us now follow the exiled Barramen to the “new world” and witness their deplorable condition and privations in a foreign land. The Quebec Times says:-
“Many of our readers may not be aware that there lives such a personage as Colonel Gordon, proprietor of large states, South Uist and Barra, in the Highlands of Scotland; we are sorry to be obliged to introduce him to their notice, under circumstances which will not give them a very favourable opinion of his character and heart.
“It appears that tenants on the above mentioned estates were on the verge of starvation, and had probably become an eye-sore to the gallant Colonel! He decided on shipping them to America. What they were to do there, was a question he never put to his conscience. Once landed in Canada, he had no further concern about them. Up to last week, 1,100 souls from his estates had landed in Quebec, and begged their way to Upper Canada; when in the summer season, having only a morsel of food to procure, they probably escaped the extreme misery which seems to be the lot of those who followed them.
“On their arrival here, they voluntarily made and signed the following statement:- “We the undersigned passengers per Admiral from Stornoway, in the Highlands of Scotland, do solemnly depose to the following facts, – That Colonel Gordon is the proprietor of the estates of South Uist and Barra; that among many hundreds of tenants and cotters whom he has sent this season from his estates to Canada, he gave directions to his factor, Mr. Fleming of Cluny Castle, Aberdeenshire, to ship on board of the above named vessel a number of nearly 450 of said tenants and cottars from the estate in Barra – that accordingly, a great majority of these people, among whom were the undersigned, proceeded voluntarily to embark on board the Admiral, at Loch Boisdale, on or about the 11th August, 1851; but that several of the people who were intended to be shipped for this port, Quebec, refused to proceed on board, and in fact, absconded from their homes to avoid the embarkation. Whereupon Mr. Fleming gave orders to a policeman, who was accompanied by the ground officer of the estate of Barra, and some constables, to pursue the people who had ran away among the mountains; which they did, and succeeded in capturing about twenty from the mountains and islands in the neighbourhood; but only came with the officers on an attempt being made to handcuff them; and that some who ran away were not brought back, in consequence of which four families at least, have been divided, some having come in the ships to Quebec, while other members of the same families were left in the Highlands.
” ‘The undersigned further declare, that those who voluntarily embarked did so under promise to the effect, that Colonel Gordon would defray their passage to Quebec; that the Government Emigration Agent there would sent the whole party free to Upper Canada, where, on arrival the Government Agents would give them work, and furthermore, grant them land on certain conditions.
” ‘The undersigned finally declare, that they are now landed in Quebec so destitute, that if immediate relief be not afforded them and continued until they are settled in employment, the whole will be liable to perish with want.’
(Signed) HECTOR LAMONT,
and 70 others.
“This is a beautiful picture. Had the scene been laid in Russia or Turkey the barbarity of the proceeding would have shocked the nerves of the readers! But when it happens in Britain, emphatically the land of liberty where every man’s house, even the hut of the poorest, is said to be his castle, the expulsion of these unfortunate creatures from their homes – the man-hunt with policeman and Bailiffs – the violent separation of families – the parents torn from the child, the mother from her daughter – the infamous trickery practised on these who did embark – the abandonment of the aged, the infirm women, and tender children in a foreign land – form a tableau which cannot be dwelt on for an instant without horror. Words cannot depict the atrocity of the deed. For cruelty less savage, the dealers of the South have been held up to the execration of the world.
And if, as men, the sufferings of these our fellow-creatures find sympathy in our hearts, as Canadians their wrongs concern us more dearly. The fifteen hundred souls whom Colonel Gordon has sent to Quebec this season, have all been supported for the past week at least, and conveyed to Upper Canada at the expense of the Colony; and on their arrival in Toronto and Hamilton, the greater number have been dependent on the charity of the benevolent for their morsel of bread. Four hundred are in the river at present and will arrive in a day or two, making a total of nearly 2,000 of Colonel Gordon’s tenants and cotters whom the province has to support. The winter is at hand, work is becoming scarce in Upper Canada. Where are these people to find food?”
Having laid a great mass of conclusive evidence before the public, we must now “sum up.” We are certain that every man who has any sense of honour and justice cannot but condemn Colonel Gordon and his officials for these hitherto unheard of cruelties, and will loudly protest against the woes which are being heaped upon the head ofthe poor Hebridean. Is such conduct as we have now recorded to be winked at and tolerated by a nation who have laboured more in the sacred cause of human liberty than any other nation from the beginning of the world? Are those very men who have grudgingly paid £20,000,000 for the freedom of the negroes on a few of the West Indian islands: and who have effected the emancipation of every captive within the British dominions, to stand by with folded arms and not offer a helping hand to their own flesh and blood in the Western Isles – to those who have victoriously fought their battles and kept foreign inaders from their shores? Are they to remain calm and unmoved, while British laws are being violated, and the poor inoffensive, unprotected, and down-trodden Celt is hand-cuffed and dragged from his country and kinsman with less regard to his comfort than if he were a beast of burden? Certainly not. And we are confident that all an enlightened and a benevolent public require to stir them up to cause a proper and impartial investigation being made is to lay the case explicitly before them. Instead of trusting to a “broken reed,” as Sir John McNeil has proved himself to be, let a disinterested public act in this case as they have done in that already mentioned. In 1838, when conflicting accounts of the cruelties endured by the Africans were wafted across the Western Ocean, instead of confiding in the report brought by Government Officials, the friends of the Negro sent deputation of enlightened and fearless men who brought back a trustworthy report, and they went to work accordingly. Let them do the same now and send men who will not pass by the cottage of the poor but will listen to what he has to say – neither will accept of the gifts of the rich, and we have no doubt that the result will be the same – the emancipation of the poor Hebridean and his restoration to his rights and his responsibilities as a British subject. Then petty tyrants will see that however well concocted their plans – however far removed from the public eye “that their sins will find them out.”
I ask Mrs. Stowe, what is your Uncle Tom’s Cabin or your Dred in comparison to such treatment as this? and dare you say in the face of such (living) evidence that my narrative is a ridiculous unfounded calumny, and ridiculous and absurd accusation. I am told when writing this that you were lately in ROME paying homage to his Holiness and his Jesuit Ministers and kissing his toe; but whatever indulgence he may grant you for perverting truth and falsifying philosophy, and whatever promises he has made to you for absolutions for such sins, I tell you in plain Heeland Scotch terms that you will find all his promises insufficient to screen or protect you from me, in your future praise of Highland Proprietors. And may I not ask, why is not all the Christian nations of the world up with a united universal cry of disapprobation of the system, law, and reprobation of the foul deeds committed under the protection of such law and system, and demand of the British Legislature their abolition and erasement from the Statute book, and retribution of their rights to their victims – a cry and demand in which the slave owners of America would have a tenfold better right to join than the English aristocracy had to remostrate with them on American Slavery.
The following is my appeal published before I left Scotland:
To the Editor of the Northern Ensign.