[Scottish Potato Clearances Contents]
After a read of Donald McLeod’s ‘Gloomy Memories’ you can see where the discrepancies were. I could have filled the hour just quoting from this book but it’s always nice to get varying testimony that leads to the same conclusions from the contemporary press.
‘GLOOMY MEMORIES’ QUOTES
There are many vicious, inhumane, and unconstitutional men in this world, and to be found among land owners in greater ratio than any other classes I know or read about. Now supposing that one or any number of them took it into their heads to convert their estates into hunting parks, lays, and preserves of wild and destructive animals, which could neither be enclosed nor prevented from depredatory inroads upon other people’s property – purposely to afford themselves, their rich friends, and favourite companions amusement, or to let their domains upon rent to sportsmen [hunters], should not government interfere. But to find these men boldly entering both Houses of Parliament with a bill demanding an Act of Parliament to protect them in their wicked and unconstitutional scheme, and to punish by banishment or long imprisonment, any one who would even trespass upon the preserves or lays of these animals to annoy them. But this is not all, but an act whereby they could seize upon property of their poorer co-proprietors and neighbours, burn down their habitations, banish themselves from the land, and add their property to their own extensive game preserves. You surely would consider this effrontery without a parallel in the annals of plunderers; and I am sure you will agree with me that the imbecility, yea, insanity of the Legislature or Government who would enact such laws and grant such liberties, are beyond the comprehension of rational beings; likewise that the shortsightedness, culpable carelessness, and cowardice of a nation boasting of their civilization, intelligence, and christianity, who would tolerate such unwise and ungodly proceedings are beyond description. But you say Donald are you raving, where did such enormities take place? I tell you in Scotland; yes in beloved and never to be forgotten Scotland, in Caledonia Tìr nam beann, nan gleann ‘s nan Gaisgeach, – “the land of the mountains, the cataracts, and heroes” still worse than this took place, and I will make it as clear as noonday to you in my narrative, – yes, after the union of England and Scotland, far more insane and unconstitutional laws were enacted, and to the everlasting disgrace of the British Parliament and nation are still allowed a stain upon the statute book, and in full operation, to rob the poor to make the rich richer – to gratify a few avaricious minions who, constitutionally speaking, forfeited their rights of property, (with very few exceptions) their rights and privileges of communion with christians, and who should long ere now be arraigned before the highest tribunal of the nation, and dealt with as conspirators and traitors. Men who have neither bravery, ancestry, virtue, or honour to boast of; men who cannot claim the rights of discovery, of conquest, of defending, nor of purchase to the land they now hold as their private property, and considering their rights to these lands sacred.
No doubt the Lowlands of Scotland have been invaded and conquered more than once; but when these powerful invaders came to exchange blows with the (unmixed in blood) Celtic Caledonians, they met with more than their match, were repelled, had to retrace their steps, and often not many of them left to retrace their steps. If this is admitted, (and who can deny it) I maintain that the lineal descendants of the discoverers and defenders of Scotland, are the real proprietors of the land, and that every one of that lineage from John O’Groat to Maiden Kirk, has as good a right to a portion of the land as the Dukes of Roxburgh, Buccleuch, Hamilton, Athol, Argyle, Gordon, or Sutherland, who (along with other nine or ten Earls, Marquises and Lords) hold more than the two-thirds of Scotland, as their private property, exclusively for themselves and their families’ aggrandizement, luxury and amusement, and three-fourths of their domains devoted to rear brute animals. How the legitimate heirs of children of the soil were dispossessed and expelled, and how aliens and cruel bastards got possession of the Scottish soil, is to be explained.
Previous to the miscalled union of Scotland and England it is evident that England could never conquer Scotland until the Caledonians were subdued; they often made bloody attempts, but were as often defeated; but England had recourse to intrigues, her favourite weapons, and after securing her alliance with Scotland, she found it a very easy task to conquer. What her arms, and her bloody and murderous kings and generals could never achieve, her treacherous intrigues and money did for her. She got Scot to fight against Scot, Caledonian against Caledonian. She then laughed in her sleeve, and exulted like the lion in the fable when he saw two bulls in the same park with him quarrelling and fighting; knowing they would soon become his prey, for she (stretched upon a couch of down) had her soul satisfaction to see the two damned stupid Scottish bulls fighting between death and life until they ultimately conquered and subdued one another in 1746, upon the murderous and unfortunate field of Culloden, when the English insatiable Lion seized upon them both, and Scotland, who, before this, was the pride and protectoress and faithful ally of all the reformed christian nations of the world, and the terror of England; and all other cruel ambitious nations, her name became now Ichabod, her glory departed, she forfeited her proud position among nations, and ceased forever to be numbered among them or recognized as a nation. England seized her Government, her laws, and in short her all. The duped, affected, and the disaffected, shared alike. No doubt the Duke of Cumberland, the most obnoxious, cowardly monster, that ever disgraced humanity, commissioned his followers to acts of murder, plunder, and violence. Thank God, unprecedented in the histories of nations (excepting England) plunder which some of them do enjoy to this day, Argyle among the noblest of them. In that unfortunate year the Black Act was enacted, which deprived the Caledonians of their national garb, of their arms, and forbade them to wear either under the pains and penalties of heavy fines, long imprisonment, and banishment. This nefarious act was in force, and strictly watched for thirty-two years, which is equal to a generation.
England knew that the most effectual way to subdue the Celts, was to crush their loyalty to their legitimate sovereign, to crush their kindred feeling, habits and customs, and extirpate the patriarchal system of government from among them; but there was another primary cause, viz.: the Celtic history of Scotland recorded the feudal brutality of English invaders in Scotland, which is indeed too horrifying to speak of, hence would need to be suppressed, that England’s barbarity might be obliterated, and that Scotland and Ireland might be saddled with all her sins. Moreover that Scotland might be left defenceless from the attacks of England’s hired historians, to defame her in her government and her chivalry, in her patriotism, her customs, her science, and literature, and to make everything that was great and good, English. It is a notorious fact that so far as the ingenuity of these hired emissaries could go, they were faithful to their employers; and that these noted calumniators of Scotland were chosen from among her own treacherous sons, beginning with Robertson, under the dictation and command of Horace Walpole, the notorious Dupe of Catterton, down to infamous Babington Macaulay. Limits will not permit me to detail the injustice done to Caledonians by these hired literary scourges, yet with all that they have done, there is still extant of the history of our noble race, enough to make these mutilators blush, and more than enough to make their spurious sarcasm and unfounded calumny stink in Scottish and in the world’s nostrils. Five hundred years before the Christian Era, the Celts took possession of Scotland, and down from that period they governed themselves under the Patriarchal system, until the last remnant of it was destroyed upon the unfortunate muir of Culloden; they had their kings and chieftains, who were entrusted with their government, not by hereditary rights, but as they were found competent to discharge their duties. They obeyed and ardently loved and respected their kings and chieftains while they behaved themselves, but no further; never allowed them to interfere with the rights of the land and further than to parcel it out to their followers impartially, and the people parcelled out to them what they considered sufficient to keep them comfortable and respectable. The chieftains or captains were amenable to the king in all their proceedings; when a dispute arose between the people and their chief, that could not be settled otherwise, it was submitted to the king as their umpire; his decision was final.
Many of the Scotch Kings and Queens who succeeded Bruce were still more strict upon the chief or captains; they were restricted to only a few acres of pleasure ground, and no piece of land susceptible of cultivation was to remain uncultivated, or unoccupied, and the mountains and forests were free to all. Kings, queens, and captains, knew that men, faithful adherents, who had an interest in the soil, were their safeguard and protectors in the hour of need and of danger, and they valued their services. This is the fundamental Patriarchal laws of property in land in Scotland. How were these laws reversed, and that now, a very few men claim every inch of land in Scotland, as their private property, and their rights to these sacred? Have they purchased their lands from the rightful owners? No. Have they got it from heaven? No; but by taking the advantage of the revolts, and revolutions which followed the dethroning of the legitimate Sovereigns, and the treacherous union with England, they managed to plunder the people of it. After the union a new sacred perishable parchment right of property was consecrated, and not a vestige of right or of protection was left for the people in so much of the necessaries of life as was considered sufficient to sustain life, and so far was this same vestige neglected, that it was for one hundred and twenty years lying under dust, unmolested, in the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh, and the poor throughout Scotland perishing and dying in want, and might sleep there yet, was it not for the God fearing man, Mr Charles Spence, Solicitor, Supreme Court, at the entreaties of many, made a search, and found it and took an active part in putting it in force. I myself went to Sutherlandshire and supplied Mr. Spence with seventy-two cases of the Ducal Estate, besides what I supplied from the neighbouring Counties and Estates; we took action in some of them and were successful, the Court of Session was crowded with poor cases, there the hue and cry got up, Highland landlords will be ruined and lowland landlords will not escape. Sir Duncan MacNeil was then Lord Advocate for Scotland. He was solicited to prepare a poor law bill to parliament to save Highland landlords from ruin and bankruptcy. Sir Duncan went to work, prepared an admirable bill, or rather a compilation of complications, of crook and straights, hollows and bolds, short and long, mockery and realties, sense and nonsense, heaped up in a voluminous volume, he hurried the bill through both Houses of Parliament, and behold the result; the poor were deprived of the only vestige of right they had, and poverty made a crime, no man however charitably disposed can interfere in their behalf now; but Sir Duncan like a wise philosopher secured a luxurious situation for his brother Sir John, who sits at the head of the Board of Supervision in Edinburgh, gauging the stomachs of the Scottish poor to know to a nicety how much food they require to sustain life. The operation of this bill is a disgrace to christianity, as you will see when I come to shew it up in its proper place. But sinful and unjust as this bungling bill is, yet Highland landlords found a loop-hole to get rid of it untouched. They had a long established law by which they could expel the poor of the soil, to foreign lands or to large towns where they had to be sustained by the people who had no right to do it, and who had no hand in impoverishing them and besides they have an arbitrary power, (which none durst contend) to tax the rest of their retainers, who in most cases are not much better off than the paupers, they are taxed for their maintenance; but they dare not whisper a complaint or off they go; in this way the Highland minions got off Scot free.
In 1846, the result of expelling the people from their fertile valleys and straths, and huddling them (those who could not make their escape to foreign lands or elsewhere) together in motley groups upon patches of barren moors, precipices, and by corners upon the sea shore, exposed to all the casualties of the seasons; places with few exceptions never designed by God for cultivation, nor for the abode of man, without the least encouragement for improvement, all tenants at will ready to be turned away for the least offence, or when a grazier or huntsman envied their places.
This is a cursed scheme which was adopted by every Highland landlord, from Cape-wrath to the Mull of Kintyre, with one or two honourable exceptions, (it would be more applicable if I called these Highland Scourges). I say in the year 1846-’47, when the miserable unnourishing potato crop which was reared upon these patches failed, then the cry of famine in the Highlands got up like the voice of thunder, sounded and resounded, to the outmost skirts of Europe, India, and America; public meetings were called to see what could be devised and done to save the people. The first meeting was held in the Music Hall, Edinburgh, the Lord Provost Black, presided; the Rev. Norman McLeod, junior, moved the first resolution, which ran nearly thus:- “As it pleased God in his mysterious providence to visit the Highlands and Islands of Scotland with Famine on account of their sin, that it behoved Christians of all denominations who were blessed with the means to come forward liberally that the Highlanders might be saved.” The resolution was seconded and supported when his Lordship rose to put it to the meeting, I got up and announced that I had a few words to say before it was put to the meeting, being in my moleskin working dress every eye was fixed up on me, the same as if I was a wolf that had sprang up; however I got a hearing and said that I was a Highlander, and knew the cause of distress and famine in the Highlands, and that I had devoted all my spare time for many years back proclaiming it publicly in their ears, and the ears of the nation, predicting that ultimately it would arrive at this fearful crisis, and now I cannot sit quiet in this great assembly of learned men, and hear the sins and heavy guilt of Highland proprietors saddled upon my GOD, and that by his well paid servant. Will the Rev. mover of this resolution tell me what cause he supposes the Lord has against the poor Highlanders for so long a time (for they were not in a much better state for the last twenty-six years than they are now), that he should send a famine among them to destroy them; or do the leaders of this movement consider themselves more humane and merciful than God, or that puny man or men can contend with him in doing what He in His mysterious providence, purposed to do; methinks, that if God was to visit sinners with famine or any other calamity for their sins, that He would begin in London and with Highland proprietors, and not with the poor people who were more sinned against than sinners. Highland landlords are the legitimate parents, and the guilty authors of this and of former distress and famine in the Highlands of Scotland, and should be made responsible for it and for future calamities which they are storing up for the unfortunate victims of their boundless avarice. I did not come to this meeting, my Lord Provost, with a view to obstruct the proceedings, for I rejoice to see such steps taken to save the people, not from the famine God sent among them to destroy them, but from the famine entailed upon them by their wicked unworthy landlords.
In less time than could be expected, the unprecedented sum of £300,000 was subscribed, and the legitimate parents of this distress were not behind with their subscriptions. Lord Macdonald subscribed, among the first, one thousand pounds sterling, Duke of Sutherland, two thousand pounds, other Dukes, Lords, Earls, and notorious Colonel Gordon, followed the example so far. The sole management of this enormous sum of money was placed in the hands of Government for distribution; Lord Trevelyan, the Hero of the Test Starving Commission in Ireland, was appointed as commissioner for the distribution of this munificent gift of nations for the relief of Highlanders. He got a brig of war rigged out for his service, commanded by one Captain Elliot, an Englishman, an accomplished tool in the hands of tyrants and calumniators. The Highlanders were represented as dirty, lazy, untameable beings, who would do nothing to help themselves while they would be kept alive upon charity. Hence was decreed that every male and female considered by the local Boards of Relief able to work, were not to be relieved without working for it; and to test their real need of relief, and their willingness to work, they were allowed one pound of meal as meat and wages for ten hours’ labour, with the addition of one-half a pound of meal to each of their families, or children who could not work, and often the meal was so much adulterated that it was dangerous for even swine to eat it. Yes, reader, pregnant women whose husbands were not at home, and aged widows, were seen at this work, and treated in like manner.
It was then suggested by some known knave, that Highland proprietors would get so much money for improving their estates, as they knew best who was worthy of relief and willing to work; and these sums to be in proportion to their subscriptions; then you may easily guess who got the lion’s share of it. From their own reports we find, that Lord Macdonald got £3,000 in return for his £1,000 subscription, what he has done with it is not known, and never will, (and I durst not say that he pouched it). His Grace of Sutherland got £6,000 in return for his £2,000 subscription, (good return) but his Grace built a splendid hunting booth, in a secluded Glen, in the north-west portion of his domains, and he made a road to this booth from Lairg, through a solitary wilderness, a distance of at least thirty miles, entirely for the accommodation of his gamekeepers, huntsmen, sportsmen; any other travellers were seen only as rare as a pelican in the deserts of Arabia. But very few of the Sutherlanders reaped any benefit from these works, as on former occasions strangers were preferred.
… during these distressing times a large quantity of meal was deposited in some of his Grace’s stores and entrusted to some of his factors for distribution, and that that meal was concealed or unrighteously kept from the people for a whole twelvemonth, and used for feeding dogs, swine, poultry, and cattle, until it became so rotten that it was found dangerous to the health of these animals, then men were employed to hurl it out to middens and to the sea in rotten blue lumps; great quantities of it were disposed of in this way, while the poor were chiefly feeding upon shell fish and sea weeds. This is a grave charge against his Grace and his wicked servants, who were, at all hazards, determined to destroy the people; I have seen them living in Canada, and not far from me, who were employed for days at this work.
Indeed it is a question with me if the poor realised any benefit at all from it, except those who had been transported to Canada and other colonies with it. I know for a certainty that after the funds were exhausted, that the people were in a worse state than they were before, and that the misapplication of these funds sealed the public bowels of compassion against them in the future. For many years I was expostulating with the late and present Dukes of Sutherland in my own humble way, for their policy towards their people. In 1841 I published so many of my letters in the form of a pamphlet, which is here reprinted – some may think that I have some particular private spleen against the House of Sutherland, when I lay so heavily at them. To disabuse the mind of such, permit me to say (honestly) that I have no such private spleen to gratify, and that I have no more animosity towards the House of Sutherland than I have towards all other Highland depopulators. That I was persecuted and suffered much at the hands of the underlings of the House of Sutherland I do not deny nor conceal. But it is the ten-times cursed system which desolated Caledonia, beggared and pauperised the people, which broke down and scattered to the four winds of heaven the best portion of the materials of our national bulwarks, which robbed the people of their righteous rights, and left them the victims of their avaricious spoilers and defamers. – Prologue.
Under the old Celtic tenures, – the only tenures, be it remembered, through which the Lords of Sutherland derive their rights to their lands, – the Clann, or children of the soil, were the proprietors of the soil; – “the whole of Sutherland,” says Jean Charles Léonard de Sismondi, belonged to “the men of Sutherland.” Their chief was their monarch, and a very absolute monarch he was. “He gave the different tacks of land to his officers or took them away from them, according as they showed themselves more or less useful in war. But though he could thus, in a military sense, reward or punish the clan, he could not diminish in the least the property of the clan itself;” – he was a chief, not a proprietor, and had “no more right to expel from their homes the inhabitants of his county, than a king to expel from his country the inhabitants of his kingdom.” “Now, the Gaelic tenant,” continues the Frenchman, “has never been conquered; nor did he forfeit, on any after occasion, the rights which he originally possessed;” – in point of right, he is still a co-proprietor with his captain. To a Scotchman acquainted with the law of property as it has existed among us, in even the Highlands, for the last century, and everywhere else for at least two centuries more, the view may seem extreme; not so, however, to a native of the Continent, in many parts of which, prescription and custom are found ranged, not on the side of the chief, but on that of the vassal. “Switzerland,” says Sismondi, “which in so many respects resembles Scotland, – in its lakes, its mountains, – its climate, – and the character, manners, and habits of its children, – was likewise at the same period parcelled out among a small number of Lords. If the Counts of Kyburgh, of Lentzburg, of Hapsburg, and of Gruyeres, had been protected by the English laws they would find themselves at the present day precisely in the condition in which the Earls of Sutherland were twenty years ago. Some of them would perhaps have had the same taste for improvements, and several republics would have been expelled from the Alps, to make room for flocks of sheep.” “But while the law has given to the Swiss peasant a guarantee of perpetuity, it is to the Scottish laird that it has extended this guarantee in the British empire, leaving the peasant in a precarious situation.” “The clan, – recognised at first by the captain, whom they followed in war, and obeyed for their common advantage, as his friends and relations, then as his soldiers, then as his vassals, then as his farmers, – he has come finally to regard as hired labourers, whom he may perchance allow to remain on the soil of their common country for his own advantage, but whom he has the power to expel so soon as he no longer finds it for his interest to keep them.” – The Beloved and Great Hugh Miller.
Breadalbane took exception to R. Alister’s ‘Barriers to the National Prosperity of Scotland: Or, An Inquiry Into Some of the Immediate Causes of Modern Social Evils.’ Writing an open letter to the Perthshire Advertiser in 1853. This was refuted by the beforementioned author in 2 letters in which he very bluntly asks, in his first;
Do you deny in general that the Highlands are being depopulated, and that one soldier could not now be raised for ten who fought in the last was? Your Lordship, I think, would hardly risk the denial of a statement which every person in this country knows to be correct. I have given the public an opportunity of denying my statements; but so far as I can judge, my figures are under rather than over the mark.
and in his 2nd;
You conclude your famous letter by asking, “Have I recklessly driven out from its mountains and glens the interesting and gallant race that formerly resided there?” I can prove that the “interesting and gallant race” rather increased than diminished under your father’s management. Who, then has driven them out? I know of no one who could but your Lordship or your agents.
I recommend these letters to anyone with an interest in the Clearances. I’m not entirely sure Breadalbane was left with a leg to stand on after their publication. Each one of Breadalbane’s points are disintegrated one-by-one.
That the population are being expatriated, while such latent resources remained undeveloped, and while the Government are requiring a greatly increased army, is a national disgrace, and may prove a national calamity; but are that disgrace and calamity not to be ascribed more to the infatuated adulation of wealth and rank by the public than to the blindness or apathy of the Government? That such is the case has been painfully confirmed by a paragraph which appeared in the newspapers the other day, showing that the great Celtic Society of Glasgow, from whose patriotism and independence of spirit, as well as its professed object of conserving the poetry, the garb, and the athletic games of the Highlanders, something very different was to be expected, applied for and obtained the patronage of the Duke of Sutherland for the ensuing year. Now, gentlemen, no Highlander possessing a heart worthy of the name, who has perused the history of the Sutherland clearances, written by that brave and noble-hearted man, Donald McLeod, and which remains until this day uncontradicted, can assign to the Duke of Sutherland a brighter page in the history of the Highlands than has been occupied by another Duke since the battle of Culloden. I have been told that neither the Directors nor the Society have been consulted, nor are consenting parties to the application, and I trust that it is so; but it is humiliating to think that a single Highlander could be found in Glasgow capable of applying for or accepting the patronage of a clearance-maker. – Eviction by Fire in Sutherland.
I see no other alternative, unless the nation will step in and demand retribution for past wrongs, and secure justice for the people in future? hundreds will confer upon me a derisive laugh, and bawl out Utopianism. But allow me to allude to an historical parallel. After the conquest, the Norman kings afforested a large portion of the soil of conquered England, in much the same way as the landlords are now doing in the Highlands of Scotland. To such an extent was this practice carried on, that an historian informs us, that in the reign of King John, “the greater part of the kingdom” was turned into forest, and that so multiform and oppressive were the forest laws, that it was impossible for any man who lived within the boundaries to escape falling a victim to them. To prepare land for these forests, the people were required to be driven, in many cases, as in the Highlands, at the point of the bayonet; and notwithstanding what Voltaire has said to the contrary, cultivated lands were laid waste, villages were destroyed, and the inhabitants extirpated. Distress ensued, and discontent followed as natural consequences. But observe, the Norman kings did all this in virtue of their feudal supremacy; and in point of law and right, were better entitled to do it than the Highland lairds are to imitate their example in the present day. Was it, however, to be tolerated? Were the people to groan for ever under his oppression? No. The English Barons gave a practical reply to these questions at Runnymede, which it is unnecessary to detail. King John did cry out utopian at first, but was compelled to disafforest the land, and restore it to its natural and appropriate use; and the records of that great day’s proceedings are universally esteemed as one of the brightest pages in English history.
The Duchess of Sutherland got very warm on the subject. After she read the sympathising remonstrating address (which need not be quoted here, being long ago before the public), she with great emphasis said, ‘I hope and believe that our efforts, under God’s blessing, will not be without some happy result; but whether it will succeed or fail, no one will deny that we shall have made an attempt, which had for its beginning and end, “Glory to God in the highest, on earth, peace and good will to men.” ‘ It seems that effrontery is become very lofty and high-voiced under the protection of high-sounding English titles, when the Duchess of Sutherland could presume to mix such notorious hypocritical whinings as these with, ‘Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace and good will to men,’ for no other cause or design than to whitewash from some public odium already out, or to screen from some that is expected, come from what quarter it may. Surely this cannot be the Duchess of Sutherland who pays a visit every year to Dunrobin Castle, who has seen and heard so many supplicating appeals presented to her husband by the poor fishermen of Golspie, soliciting liberty to take mussels from the Little Ferry Sands to bait their nets – a liberty which they were deprived of by his factors, though paying yearly rent for it; yet returned by his Grace; with the brief deliverance, that he could do nothing for them.
In the year 1850, Ministers of the Free Church and other dissenting bodies in the Isle of Skye and other districts in the Highlands, forwarded many grievous complaints in behalf of the poor to the Board of Supervisors, showing the culpable carelessness and malversation and partiality of the Parochial Board, detailing many extreme cases of poverty and actual death by famine. The public press took up the case, and so urgent were the public requests, that Government ordered Sir John MacNeil and Mr. Smyth to repair to the scene of poverty and fields of famine and death, to make enquiry into the truth of these alarming reports. In a few days they landed among the valleys of famine, death and complaints. These Commissioners of justice and humanity summoned the Parochial Board and the reverend reporters of distress, before them, and enquired where extreme cases of poverty were to be found; being told, they then enjoined upon the parties to accompany them early next morning, at daylight, to examine these cases. So at daylight they started, and they were in the first instance directed to a poor widow’s abode. “Is this one of the worst cases you have to show?” Enquired Sir John; being answered in the affirmative, then says he, “Mr. Smyth we must see what is within;” in they go, the widow with her three fatherless children were in bed. “Holo,” cries Sir John, “have you any food in the house?” “Very little indeed sir,” was the reply. Sir John, by this time was searching and opening boxes, where nothing but rags and emptiness was to be found; at last he uncovered a pot where there was about three pounds of cold pottage; Smyth discovered a small bowl or basin of milk. Sir John bawls out with an authoritative tone, holding out the cold pottage in one hand and the basin of milk in the other, “Do you presume, gentlemen, to call this an extreme case of poverty, where so much meat was left after being satisfied at supper?” Some of the party ventured to mutter out, “that is all the poor woman has.” “Hush” says Sir John, “she was cunning enough to hide the rest.” Sir John’s dog made a bolt at the pottage an devoured the most of it; the party left; did not go far when the dog got sick. “That damn cold pottage has poisoned my valuable dog,” says Sir John; the servant was ordered back to the inn to physic the dog. The whole investigation of the day was conducted in a similar manner; only the dog was taken care of, and not allowed among the pots of the perishing people. Next day Sir John summoned the Parochial Board to appear before him, to get instructions for their future proceedings. The Board attended, and Sir John addressed them nearly as follows:-
GENTLEMEN OF THE BOARD – The Government who sent me out, will not compel you to give out more relief than you are giving, until extreme cases of famine are made out. Extreme cases means death by famine; such cases makes you culpable and responsible to the law of the land. Gentlemen, (understand me) who are almost to a man, Ministers of the Gospel, Missionaries, Priests, Sheepfarmers, Factors, Game Keepers, Foresters, Doctors, and Proprietors, to whom the Government look for truth; whose prerogative, by special Act of Parliament, is to report the cause of death in the Isle of Skye during these clamorous times (understand me), be very careful about making out your reports; how you can prove the death of any one to be caused by want of food without having first a post mortem examination of the body by more than one medical man. There are many other distempers and diseases that may linger about people, that may cut away life very quick when a person is in a weak state for want of nourishment, which cannot be attributed to famine. So, be aware of what you are about, for I assure you if you continue to report extreme cases and death by famine, you shall (gentlemen) find yourselves in a sad dilemma when you have to defend yourselves at the bar of a Justiciary Court for culpable homicide.
Though I confess my inability to ascertain the exact amount of money expended to meet the spiritual and temporal destination of the Highland population, by preaching and teaching the Protestant Christian religion, and promoting British civilization in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, yet I am confident that any one who could ascertain the amount, would be ready to conclude that the Highlanders should be the most religious, the most enlightened, the most civilized, and the most comfortable people under the canopy of heaven. In my opinion, the amount cannot be less, or not more, than three millions sterling… Only think of men in power depriving their subjects of their corn fields and of every means of their subsistence, then to cloak their unrighteous doings would subscribe liberally that the poor would receive Gælic Bibles and Psalm Books in lieu of their plunder. – Mrs. H. Beecher Stowe.