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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

XII. Emigration

80. Overpopulation and Emigration, 1845

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  • 7 Morvern is a peninsula in south west Lochaber, on the west coast of Scotland.

1See introduction to text 79. The following account gives information about the parish of Morvern7.

2New Statistical Account of Scotland by the Ministers of the Respective Parishes, under the Superintendence of a Committee of the Society for the Benefit of the Sons and Daughters of the Clergy, vol. VII, Renfrew and Argyle (parish of Morvern), 1845, Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, p. 185-186.


The population of the Highlands has undergone many fluctuations. No doubt, in ancient times, the country was populous. While the power of the feudal chief was estimated or his possessions secured by his vassals and retainers, efforts were made to augment their numbers. At a later period also, during the prevalence of war, and the prosperity of kelp manufacture, similar efforts were resorted to; and, accordingly, almost every spot was occupied, not only along the sea coasts, but also in the inland glens. The introduction of sheep-farming, and the failure of kelp manufacture, have introduced a different system. The tenure of land, as held by the poorer classes, is simple in the extreme, and their hamlets removable with as great ease, and to others with as little detriment, as a temporary encampment, and, accordingly, humanity alone has obstructed, in causing the more general recourse to the depopulation system – a system, let it be remembered, held at no distant period in such dread, when emigration to America seemed to offer to the people themselves so many inducements, – Morvern participated to no small extent in these fluctuations. It is evident that the population was great, previous to 1755. It appears to have come, at and from that period, to the amount at which it has, with no inconsiderable variations, continued down to the present day, or, at least, to the period of the last census.

Amount of population in











But while it appears that the population of 1831, which considerably exceeds that of the present period, is not much more than that of 1795, and is not greater than the extent and resources of the country are capable of supporting, it is necessary, in drawing conclusions from these and the following numerical statements, to advert to the very different mode in which the inhabitants of the country are now located.

The fact is, the two opposite systems of depopulating and over-peopling are here in full operation. To the former there are strong inducements. The country, undoubtedly, is, to a great extent, a pastoral district, and, of whatever improvements the soil may be susceptible, and whatever fertility it may, and, in some districts, really does possess, the variable character of the climate renders the raising of crop precarious; and, besides, the price of sheep and wool has of late years maintained an entire ascendency over that of black-cattle and agricultural produce. Accordingly, on the sale of the Argyle estates, and the breaking up of the old tack leases, the sheep system came into more general operation. The people, though in some cases partially continued, from motives of compassion, have but slender holdings. In other cases, they have wholly removed. This process has again facilitated the introduction of another, in one point of view, certainly the most commendable, but, on the whole, perhaps not the least pernicious in its effects; for, in place of repairing to the south, in search of steady employment, or taking the more decided and advisable step of emigrating, the dispossessed tenantry have here and elsewhere become the occupants of small allotments in wretched villages, where idleness exercises its unhappy influence over them, and lands them in penury and wretchedness.

These remarks are made, not as advocating either of the systems, or reproaching any of the respected individuals by whom they are severally practised. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages, as judiciously or injudiciously acted on. Both are to be condemned, when carried to an undue extremity. The evil effects of the allotment system are obvious; but, in addition to its more immediate, but perhaps temporary effects on the condition of the people, the other system referred to will, in all probability, yet be seen to produce evils of great magnitude. It will suspend the reclaiming of waste land, and, while the arable land now or lately in cultivation will soon become overrun, as it has a strong tendency to do, with fog, heath, and brushwood, the existing dikes and farm-steadings will become dilapidated; and then, should the price of black-cattle, as it is not improbable, regain its former amount, will the acknowledgement be more readily given than at present, that a system, combining, as formerly, the agricultural and the pastoral, is of all the most conducive to the improvement of the country, the comfort of the people, and the interest of the proprietors.


7 Morvern is a peninsula in south west Lochaber, on the west coast of Scotland.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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