« PreviousContinue »
tried. The men of Kintail, for example, held a large tract of land in Glengarry as a summer sheiling or grazing for their cattle, for which they paid only £15 of annual rent. The ground was examined by a sagacious sheep-farmer from the dales in the south. He offered no less than £350 of rent-about half the value of the whole estate—and, having obtained possession, stocked it with Cheviot sheep, and died a richer man than his laird. It was difficult for a needy embarrassed proprietor to resist temptations like this. The patriarchal system was forgotten, the stranger was preferred, and many of the smaller tenants were dispossessed of their holdings, that the farms might be enlarged and brought under an improved and more profitable mode of culture. In the figurative language of the country, a hundred smokes had to pass through one chimney! An experiment of an opposite kind was made by one benevolent and active proprietor. This gentleman broke up one of his finest farms in Skye, in order that he might give occupation to a number of small tenants born on his estate. They obtained possession, but proved unable to cultivate their crofts successfully, and the only result was a loss of £400 per annum to the generous and unfortunate chief.
Johnson espoused the cause of the tacksmen with his characteristic energy. The condition of the vast numbers under them, does not appear to have attracted his attention. They were, on all hands, suffered to
“ Grow up and perish as the summer fly
Heads without name, no more remembered." The tacksmen formed a body of resident gentry, and Johnson conceived that the islands would be abandoned
grossness and ignorance, if so many of the intelligent inhabitants left the country. The error of the proprietors—where there was error (for in some instances the change was effected by mild an gradual means)—was in raising the rents too suddenly. Neither the tacksmen, nor the people generally, had been trained to
steady industry. They had not been allowed time to shake off the half military, half nomadic habits, in which they were brought up : and though the chief was entitled to make the most of his land, considerations of patriotism and humanity-old recollections and former ties—should have operated to prevent undue haste and severity.
The exodus continued for many years. Speculators and agents were busy at work painting the charms of the new world, and the most extravagant expectations were entertained. Even the war in America had little effect in checking the tide of emigration. Carolina was the favourite colony of the men of Skye and Mull; and some hundreds of the exiles formed themselves into the “Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment,” which continued in active service during the remainder of the war.
There was scarce
an instance of the Highlanders joining the revolted colonists. True to their native instincts and hereditary faith (which even in rebellion was a mistaken principle of loyalty), they adhered to the British monarchy, and justified the eulogium which Chatham had probounced on a former generation of their countrymen, that they “served with fidelity and fought with valour.”
The lairds ultimately became alarmed at the defection of their people. They held consultations and solicited Government to stay the emigrant ships. So late as 1786, a meeting of noblemen and gentlemen took place in London, at which the Earl of Breadalbane stated that five hundred persons had resolved to emigrate from the estate of Glengarry, and had subscribed money and commissioned ships for the purpose. The meeting took up the subject warmly, and agreed to co-operate with Government to frustrate the design. At the same time they represented the necessity of improving the fisheries, agriculture, and manufactures of the country, adding to their recommendation a subscription of three thousand pounds. The design was laudable and patriotic, but it proved a failure. Something was done towards encouraging the fisheries, but not on a scale
sufficiently extensive; and no manufactures were introduced. Had trades or manufactures been planted in the islands before the southern districts engrossed the field, a general and permanent amelioration might have been effected in the condition of the people. Though alien at first to their habits and predilections, they would gradually have assimilated to their lowland countrymen in industrial progress, and might have surmounted the disadvantages of soil and climate.
The next chapter in Hebridean history shows a complete reversal of the former policy, yet with results much the same. We have, since the date of Johnson's visit, made a circuit of near eighty years, and have returned to the same point. The proprietors at length ceased to check emigration. Sheep-husbandry was rapidly extending, roads were made, a high class of tenants was obtained, and the large farms were managed with admirable skill and perseverance. The people, ont he other hand, when less required to stay, became less disposed to emigrate. The more active and enterprising part of the population was gone. The epidemic had ceased, the wars were over, and so long as herrings visited the lochs, or potatoes flourished on the soil, or the kelp manufacture gave a few weeks' profitable occupation in summer, contentment or listlessness prevailed. There was no stringent poor-law to force attention as to the population; small crofts, or patches of land, were easily obtained and subdivided at will; and hence the little turf-huts multiplied on the hill-side and moors, the standard of civilisation sunk lower, and the population, despite all military and emigrant drains, was doubled in amount. Thus, gradually but inevitably, as the people increased, thousands of families came to depend almosts wholly on one article of food. That failed, and the sequel is well known. A destitution crisis commenced in 1846 unequalled for intensity, and which involved both chief and clan, landlord and tenant, in irretrievable embarrassment and ruin. A second period of transition, more painful than that witnessed by Johnson in 1773, was induced, and though the immediate distress was mitigated by the munificent generosity of the British nation, there seems to be only one remedy or palliative, for the chronic malady— emigration.
Many of the old families commemorated by Johnson and Boswell, have disappeared from the islands. Some have dropt off from natural and unavoidable causes ; some through sheer folly and extravagance; and others have gone down while struggling to support and replace their dependents.
In Rasay, Ulva, and Inchkenneth, the ancient familiar names are no longer heard: "new people fill the land.” Ir. Skye, the “ Siol Tormod” of Dunvegan, and the descendant of Somerled of the Isles, still hold their possessions; and the Macleans of Coll retain their island patrimony, but all have been grievously shattered by the late storm. To a Scotsman, no more melancholy books were ever published than those “Blue Books," printed by authority of Parliament, in which is recorded the recent history of the Western Islands.
To note some of these changes and supply local information, has been the main object of the Editor of this new edition of Boswell's Journal. In order to verify facts and dates, he had to connult various parties; and though it may appear ostentatious or ridiculous to parade a list of names before so small a literary performance, he cannot deny himself the gratification of stating chat to the following gentlemen queries were addressed, and, in every instance, courteous and satisfactory answers returned: viz., Macleod, of Macleod ; Sheriff Fraser, of Portree; A. K. Vackinncn, Esq., Corry ; D. Macleod, Esq., Kingsburgh ; Rev. J. Maciver, of Kilmuir ; Rev. D. Ross, of Tobermory; Rev. H. Maclean, of Lochalsh ; R. Sinclair, Esq., Borlumbeg; Niel Maclean, Esq., Inverness; W. A. Stables, Esq., Cawdor; and W. Forsyth, Esq., Aberdeen.
Inverness, March 29, 1852.