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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

XI. The Highlands

77. Social Unrest in the Isle of Skye, 1882

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1Alexander Mackenzie founded the Celtic Magazine in 1875; he conducted the magazine for thirteen years until it was incorporated with the Scottish Highlander in 1888. Mackenzie, who was a spokesman of the crofter community and a radical on the land issue, wrote one of the first histories of the Highland Clearances, which created quite a sensation when it appeared in 1883.

2Celtic Magazine, May 1882, p. 335-336.

  • 7 A landed proprietor.
  • 8 An agent who manages land for its proprietor and who has charge of the administration of the estat (...)

That we were and still are on the verge of a social revolution in the Isle of Skye is beyond question, and those who have any influence with the people, as well as those lairds7 and factors8 who have the interest of the population virtually in their keeping, will incur a grave responsibility at a critical time like this unless the utmost care is taken to keep the action of the aggrieved tenants within the law, and on the other hand grant to the people in a friendly and judicious spirit, material concessions in response to grievances respecting any real hardships which can be proved to exist. It is quite true that, though innumerable grievances unquestionably do exist, no single one by itself is of sufficient magnitude to make a deep impression on the public mind, or upon any mere superficial enquirer. It is the constant accumulation of numberless petty annoyances, all in the same direction, that exasperate the people. The whole tendency, and we fear the real object of the general treatment of the crofter, is to crush his spirit, and keep him enslaved within the grasp of his landlord and factor. Indeed, one of the latter freely admitted to us that his object in serving large numbers of notices of removal, which he had not the slightest intention of carrying into effect, was, in his own words, that he might “have the whiphand over them”. The practice can only be intended to keep the people in a constant state of terror and insecurity, and it has hitherto succeeded too well. The most material grievance, however, as well as the most exasperating, is the gradual but certain encroachment made on the present holdings. The pasture is taken from the crofters piecemeal; their crofts are in many cases sub-divided to make room for those gradually evicted from other places, in a manner to avoid public attention, to make room for sheep or deer or both. The people see that they are being gradually but surely driven to the sea, and that if they do not resist in time they will ultimately and at no distant date be driven into it, or altogether expelled from their native land. A little more pressure in this direction and no amount of argument or advice will keep the people from taking the law into their own hands and resisting it by force. The time for argument has already gone. Scarcely any one can now be found on either side who will wait to argue whether or not a change is necessary. It is admitted on all hands that a change must take place at no distant date, and the only question at present being considered, in the West at least, is, What is to be the nature of that change?


7 A landed proprietor.

8 An agent who manages land for its proprietor and who has charge of the administration of the estate.

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