Version classiqueVersion mobile

Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

XI. The Highlands

76. Highland Destitution, 1850

Texte intégral

1The Inverness Advertiser was a staunch supporter of the Highland peasantry and was one of the few Scottish newspapers which criticized landlords’ attitudes during the potato famine of the late 1840s. It also opposed emigration, considering that most of the time people had no choice but to emigrate since their living conditions in the Highlands had become unbearable. For the Inverness Advertiser ‘voluntary emigration’ was nothing but ‘forced emigration’.

2“Highland Destitution—Its Progress”, The Inverness Advertiser, 10 December 1850.

The little black speck, “not much larger than a man’s hand”, noticed in the western horizon a few months ago, has now become a large, dark, ugly cloud, fully charged with all the elements of destitution, human suffering, want and woe. The cloud has gathered strength in its progress, and it threatens to break over the country in such a way as to disturb all law and social order, and subject society to confusion and to the universal clamour and outcry of starving multitudes.

Destitution has made rapid progress in the Hebrides within a short space. It now embraces within its grasp the people of Harris, North Uist, South Uist, Barra; the whole of the Island of Skye, Small Isles, Coll, Mull, and many districts in Argyleshire. In August last it was confined to one small district in Skye, but now it is general over the whole Hebrides, and the universal cry is for food to preserve life. Destitution prevails in almost every family in the above districts; and famine and sickness threaten to cut down the inhabitants in scores. Famine is more grievous than the sword. If any foreign power invaded the Hebrides, and sought to commit any outrage on the landholders or on people, the Hebridians would fight in defence of their common interests with such vigour as to forget that their lives were at stake; and they would oppose their common enemy until their last breath and the last drop of their blood had been expended. But how different the case when famine assails. Destitution comes not like the open enemy, but like the wily serpent or the insidious pestilence, destroying the health and the strength of families, without noise or any visible action. The banditti, with his dagger piercing to the heart; or the back-woodsman, with his club, knocking out the brains of his victim, are not half so cruel as famine. The former puts a speedy end to suffering, but who can comprehend the “horrors of starvation”?— who can sufficiently describe the lingering sufferings of them that die of hunger?—who can conceive the feelings of parents seeing their children pining away before their eyes—hearing them crying for bread, but none at hand? Famine is now actually preparing the people, young and old, in scores, for the poor’s roll. A few days of want and the able-bodied Highlander is reduced from health and strength to a state of sickness and weakness—from being a stout, strong Highlander he is reduced to a wreck of bones and sinews—a fit object of parochial relief, or a fit patient for a parochial hospital.

While all this is going on in the Hebrides—while men, women, and children are wasting away for want of food, and while their cry for sustenance is loud, extending over hill and dale, falling with discordant sound on the ears of philanthropists and others in the south—many of the proprietors of land in the Hebrides, and in the destitute districts mentioned, treat the cry of the people with the most sovereign contempt. Although the lairds are morally and legally bound to provide for the immediate wants of those suffering creatures whom Providence placed under them; and of devising measures for their permanent improvement, many of them remain in a most unpardonable state of apathy respecting these obligations. They leave the matter entirely to others and they act as if the benevolent portion of the public in the south ought to perform these duties for them. Year after year this has been the case. For nearly half a century Highland lairds have found the philanthropists of the south too ready to come to their aid when any calamity overtook their people. If landowners had appreciated aright such assistance, by endeavouring to place their people beyond the reach of periodical want, none would grudge the aid afforded to the people; but when landholders are now actually found relying on such resources, it is high time to convince them that it is their duty to support the poor on their properties; and, that philanthropists and others are not bound to bear any part of their legal burdens.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

Conditions d’utilisation :

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search