Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

December 1, 2019

Iron-hearted Tories, bloated corruptionists, and hordes of other venal creatures – John Steill and William Wallace.

William Wallace at Aberdeen sculpted by William Grant Stevenson in 1888. Paid by John Steill of 38 Grange Road, Edinburgh.

‘Never was the destruction of an ancient state more complete and humiliating than that of Scotland; – never did a people consent so tamely to surrender their liberties, and submit themselves to the overbearing dictation of another kingdom, as the Scotch have done.’

These are the words of John Steill of Edinburgh. I knew that Steill left money to pay for the colossal statue of William Wallace which dominates Schoolhill in Aberdeen but nothing else. Steill would have loved Twitter, with a handle such as @Patriot for he was like the best of us, opinionated. But Twitter did not exist in Steill’s time and he had to make do broadcasting his views through letters to the press and published as pamphlets. His main interests were the union with England and Clearances in the Highlands and Ireland, all of which he vehemently disapproved. The press, mainly staunchly conservative and reactionary, vilified him describing his words as dangerous.

It was in 1844 Steill wrote his most famous letter, later pamphlet, attacking the union and to place it in some kind of perspective I clicked onto Wikipedia to see what else was happening in the UK in 1844. What I found was that nothing at all happened in Scotland that year. Any events worthy of note took place exclusively in England. I expect John Steill could have told me that.  Towards the foot of the Wiki page was a link to Scotland in 1844 which is odd since last time I looked Scotland was part of the UK – apparently an unworthy part but part all the same whose events were just not important enough to get a mention on the UK page.

The following year Steill took out his pamphlet

On the Necessity of Dissolving the Union between England and Scotland, and on Restoring Scotland to Her Ancient Supremacy As an Entire and Distinct Nation

For Steill signing the union between Scotland and England was

 ‘one of the blackest transactions in history’ which reduced Scotland to becoming a vassal nation and he questioned why any Scot would think it right that a once sovereign state could demean itself to become dependent on another –

not least as betrayal of all those Scots who fought and died for their nation – Scotland’s real heroes who

‘would utterly disown and despise us.’

Then as now apologists for the union insist it was good for the Scottish economy  – an argument that failed to dent Steill’s certainty that any margin of economic benefit was a very bad trade-off for the

‘the annihilation of our independence and very name as a nation.’

The economic advantage argument he states could be just as easily applied to justify slavery as slave owners insisted their people were well cared and even prospered under it.

Any prosperity created by Scots, Steill insists, comes not from being in union with England but through Scots using their intelligence and application to prosper.

Wreath on statue of William Wallace
Guardian of Scotland

Scotland has been the butt of an unremitting propaganda assault since before union where she is painted as uncivilised compared with England. The truth is Scotland far from being nation of savages, feckless and barbaric was one of the world’s best educated of nations with a long and significant literary tradition, its people clever, enterprising and outward-looking Europeans, more open to democratic principles than their English counterparts.

That this modern European state could find itself shackled to an insular and war-like country like England incensed Steill. England in union dominated and overwhelmed Scotland, insisted Scots travel to London to represent their Scottish constituents, no easy matter in the 18th century (even before the travails of Scotrail.) Having tackled the hundreds of miles to London over several days through difficult and uncomfortable conditions (still prior to Scotrail) Scottish MPs found their opinions drowned out by

‘iron-hearted Tories, bloated corruptionists, and hordes of other venal creatures…’

The equivalent of the little woman who could do nothing without the permission of her husband Scots were forced to seek approval for each and every policy to be introduced into Scotland from English MPs. That any Scot should regard this humiliation appropriate for a nation that was once successfully independent struck Steill as reprehensible. In short Scotland, abundantly equipped to being a normal self-governing nation was constrained by England in a way that was degrading and oppressive.

Steill writes that his country is the victim of tyrants – ‘selfish aristocrats’ who contribute nothing but are idle, spend their time hunting on horseback and living in luxury but who have power to ‘beggar, starve, and banish’ Scots men and women who do work and contribute to the wealth of the country.

Steill points to parts of Scotland devastated as a direct result of the actions of tyrant landowners and distant Westminster and advocates nationalising their estates – distributing the land between the people who live there and depend on it. Condemning landowners who sell their land as if it ever belonged to them Steill insists, correctly, they were just lineal descendants of elected chiefs with no special right of property in the soil of Scotland. The land these Highland lairds sold or cleared, he writes, was never theirs – it belonged to the people of to the clan or sept collectively.

Not impervious to the hardships of English people, either, Steill blames their situation on ‘an imperious obligarchy’ stretching back to William the Bastard and his ilk who claimed entitlement to pillage and destroy right across the British empire for their own enrichment.

As though he had Gordon Brown breathing down his neck Steill tackles federal parliaments being proposed to quell Scottish discontent over the dominance of England in union. Steill is not in favour of federalism which he argues still chains Scotland to England with all that such an unequal partnership brings – its only benefit is not having to send MPs to London to look after Scottish interests. Federalism is a ploy to keep Scotland as an appendage of England with Westminster regarded as the chief government where real power resides with minor parliaments dispersed around the UK as England sees fit. The English parliament at Westminster still gets to dictate how every part of the union will be taxed based on England’s needs not theirs and these subordinate parts of the UK would still be obliged to participate in England’s wars.

Steill had no time for ‘crazed “gown-men” and ‘treacherous nobles and gentry’ who sell Scotland short. These scoundrels ‘sold off their native land to her enemies’ – against the wishes of the greater population of Scotland who deplore Scotland’s fate of becoming a vassal state of England’s instead of ranking equally among the ‘States of Europe’ that was once her position.

He pleads for Scotland to become ‘free and unfettered … independent and absolute, not a controllable and subordinate’ region of the UK. Scotland, he insists, should levy her own taxes, enter her own treaties with foreign powers, have control over her defence and not be a state that interferes with other kingdoms – as England does.

Steill’s Scotland once she recovers her independence should apply universal suffrage for her people and get rid of ‘monarchy and hereditary feudal aristocracy, both these useless, tyrannical, and all-devouring institutions…’ in other words become a democratic republic free to run her own affairs.

Sculptor and his masterpiece

He concludes with a plea for Scots to demonstrate some of that spirit of the past that resisted when Scottish ‘rights were trampled on, and their national honour invaded.’ Those strengths are even more needed now, he argues, that Scotland has become a ‘contemptible province, stripped of her very name (is referred to as North Britain) , deprived of the power to remove those crying evils which afflict her, both socially and politically, and when she is left with no other memorials of her former dignity and independence but the moss-covered ruins of her palaces and citadels, whose gigantic fragments but too emphatically tell what Scotland once was, and what she now is.’

John Steill certainly had strong views but then so did those who defended the union. He was said to have been a pleasant man, intelligent and a great reader who kept a fine collection of books on Scottish history. When he died he left his money to his housekeeper, Margaret Strachan, with the proviso that what remained after her death went to erecting a sculpture of his hero, William Wallace. Money was also provided by him for repairs and upkeep of the monument, left in the hands of Aberdeen’s magistrates.

The monument he declared was to be a colossal bronze raised up on a large pediment. There would be nothing fancy or fussy about it but bold to properly represent the statesman and warrior. Aberdeen’s granite roughly hewed and imposing would be ideal for its ability to support the hero Guardian of Scotland.  

Around the base would be engraved words spoken by Wallace such as his interview with the English Ambassadors prior to the Battle of Stirling Bridge when the English envoy requested the Scots lay down their weapons and submit to the English king at which point Wallace would be pardoned of ‘all his treasons’ – i.e. where treason was defined as daring to protect his country from foreign aggression.  

Wallace, the leader who in England was called the ‘Master of thieves’ told England’s ambassadors ‘to go back to your masters and tell them that we came not here to treat, but to fight and set Scotland free’  and so these words are cut into the plinth.

It should be said this monument is magnificent and undoubtedly the most impressive Wallace statue in Scotland which means in the world. I find it impressive and I’m certain Steill would be pleased at how it turned out. However, I suspect he would have been both amazed and depressed that there are still Scots who are apologists for a union that continues to treat Scotland as a vassal state. Not an admirer of the press which he regarded as apologists and champions of the union Steill reserved much of his ire for the Scotsman with ‘its marked dislike to anything Scotch.’ He dismissed much of the press for being prejudiced against Scotland’s interests and for being “profoundly ignorant” – about Scotland – thoughts that echo through time and are just as relevant today. Yes, John Steill @Patriot would have savaged today’s toady and unprofessional press fawning over ‘iron-hearted Tories, bloated corruptionists, and hordes of other venal creatures…’

November 11, 2019

What is mine is mine and what is yours is also mine: Scotland in union

Flag of the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies

How England colonised Scotland.

A report out this week is critical of Westminster’s handling of the economy and its impact on Scotland – disastrous. It argues that Scotland’s potential for wealth is – big – but the actuality in a decidedly unequal union is – dodgy.

For fifty years we have watched as £zillions of revenue from oil and gas taken out of Scottish waters flows downhill to London to reduce the size of the national debt, support tax breaks and financial incentives for oil and gas multinationals, enable eye-wateringly costly building projects and infrastructure to boost the economy of London.

Tax revenue from the UK’s offshore industries, 90% of which lie off Scotland, could have been (should have been) designated as Scottish revenue. It wasn’t. Instead Westminster dreamed up a make-believe place which they called the UK Continental Shelf. This meant Scotland could not claim oil and gas fields as hers because they were situated in Wonderland aka the UK Continental Shelf.

At one fell swoop the enormous wealth that might have made such a difference to Scotland’s scattered, much of it rural, population – to the provision of health and social care, education, transport was whipped away. Imagine if anything like the money squandered on the bottomless pit that is London’s cross-rail project or HS2 had been invested around Scotland – proper roads and choice of transport in the Highlands – all you can do is imagine for it never happened. Wealth is what goes to southeast England, from Scotland.

Just to be sure that uppity Scots would not benefit from Britain’s offshore bonanza Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, picked up an HB pencil and drew a line through Scottish waters re-allocating a chunk to England – exemplifying that age-old practice of the coloniser to annexe territory wherever and whenever because they have the powers to do so. Westminster must have been gratified at how easy it was to achieve. That sort of thing used to cause wars.

It is one thing to allow fish taken from Scottish waters to be regarded as Scottish but not highly valuable oil and gas. No ifs no buts Westminster ignored protests from Scotland because despite the union of the UK being described as a union of equals it isn’t. The UK is England’s little empire. Scotland is a mere colony; there to provide the mother country with resources not to benefit directly from them.

Scotland’s waters

Imagine the scene – an office deep inside Westminster where a bourach of suited men with dandruff on their shoulders leaning in over a large table – highly polished by a migrant worker on minimum wage – concocting the means by which they could appropriate Scotland’s cash cow like a bunch of 20th century border reivers.

Of course the colony of Scotland was thrown a crumb in the form of per capita portion of the revenues but as England’s population is ten times that of Scotland you don’t have to be a financial wizard to realise which of the equal partners of the union got the lion’s share.

The plotters in London weren’t even very good at getting the best value out of hydrocarbons. A simple comparison with Norway which virtually mirrors the UK’s oil and gas industries reveals quite astonishingly that the Norwegians generated more than double the revenue of the UK on every single barrel of oil. These civil servants and politicians managed not only to screw Scotland but screw themselves into the bargain. Only just not as much.

Back in 2014 at the time of the independence referendum Scotland was in the unusual position of being a producer of one of the world’s most lucrative products and yet the message coming out from the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats was this was a bad thing for once oil was gone it was gone and then where would Scotland be? Same place England would be. And as the silent and largely forgotten partner in the precious union dependent on crumbs tossed northwards from London, that’s where. Since Scotland has a tendency to see Nordic countries as fellow-nations it is highly likely that had Scotland been in receipt of her own oil and gas revenues Scots would be cushioned from the worst times through a Norwegian type oil fund that could have eased the transfer from hydrocarbons to renewable.

There is no question that Westminster is responsible for severely damaging Scotland’s economy. If what came out of the North Sea had been plastic waste Westminster would have let it alone instructing Scotland to deal with its own problem but it wasn’t waste it was wealth. Like the EU farming funds meant for Scottish farmers Westminster grabbed oil and gas revenues for itself. That’s the thing about colonists, remember – what’s theirs is theirs and what is the colony’s is also theirs – if it is valuable.

This is simply state organised abuse. You know the scenario where an abusive husband insists his abused wife stays with him because she keeps getting beaten up – and he’ll protect her. There’s an Eric Bogle song, Glasgow Lullaby about a woman who keeps taking a beating from her drunken man and never leaves –

Oh my God, it’s a weary, weary life
Who wid be a drinkin’ man’s wife
Who wid thole a’ this trouble and this strife
Who but a silly woman

Scotland is Westminster’s abused wife. She should tell it/him where to get off then take away its/his keys to the shared house. Scotland needs to just say no to Westminster. Scotland too poor to stand on her own? It’s the oldest trick in the bullies handbook. Demoralize, demean, intimidate, undermining confidence. Lie. You’re too stupid. Too weak. We’ll hurt you if you leave.

It is said that clarifying what counts as Scottish in the UK economic stakes is complicated. Well, not that complicated but I’ll simplify it.

Let’s take Scotland’s international trade. Scotland’s exports to the rest of the world are counted as Scottish. Or sometimes they are. If goods or services leave Scotland for England, Wales or Northern Ireland and then get jumbled up with other goods or services and are subsequently exported then whatever Scotland’s input is disappears and the export is recorded as a UK export. I have not been able to discover what an English-produced good sent to Scotland and then exported as part of some other product is designated.

Of course that applies to goods apart from oil and gas which are always listed under the UK. The same applies to services provided by offshore industries – these also get added to UK income not Scottish. Anyone living around northeast Scotland will know that over the past fifty years servicing oil and gas here and across the world has been a major source of work and income.

So what will happen in the coming months with another independence referendum on the horizon? The UK’s media will rediscover its Scottish granny once more and we’ll have wall-to-wall Britain rammed down our throats. Once again Scots will be warned and threatened and sneered at for their ingratitude at wanting their country to regain its soverign nation status. You won’t have oil and gas…and neither will England and rumpUK. You’re too wee…as if size matters.

Scotland’s land area covers 77,933 km2 and the population is about 5,424,000. The GDP is currently about $237.628 billion that works out per capita about $43,740. Compare that with other small nations – that just happen to be the wealthiest countries in Europe.

Switzerland is a bit like Scotland – lots of mountains and lochs (they call them lakes) and, like Scotland is a top tourist destination. It doesn’t have oil and gas and it isn’t a major source of wind and wave power. Its population is around 8,600,000 not too different from Scotland’s and its land area a sqeeny 41,285 km2. So far so similar only its per capita is about double that of Scotland at US$ 85,374.

How about Norway another small European country, even more like Scotland with mountains and lakes and it does have an oil and gas industry. It covers 385,207 km2  much of that mountainous with a population around Scotland’s at just over 5,000,000. It is almost Scotland’s double – double in that its wealthy per capita is more than double at US$ 97,226 and its GDP again double, running northwards of $400 billion.

Luxembourg is a tiny country of .2,586.4 km2 and its population just over 600,000. It has no oil and gas and is not exactly graced with mountains and lakes. It is the third richest country in Europe with a per capita income of US $ 116,560.

If the gloom mongers of Better Together are to be believed Lichtenstein would be an independent basket case  – too wee, no oil and gas. It is tiny at only 160 km2  and its population is the size of Airdie’s at around 37,000. It does have mountains and virtually no unemployment. Per capita income is an impressive US $ 143,000.

The richest country in Europe is minisculy, tiny – only 2.2 km2. Monaco has a population of around 40,000 and its per capita runs to US $ 168,000. Oh and it doesn’t have high mountain or oil and gas. And not only is it the richest country in Europe it is the richest country in the world.

Anyone who would deny Scotland’s right to become independent on the basis of size needs to be told again and again and again that size doesn’t matter – it’s what you do with it.

One of the reasons these small independent countries are so successful is that they aren’t tied into an unequal, though precious, union with England run from Westminster.

Westminster has been interfering with Scotland’s economy even before the precious union was a gleam in the eye of some speculators both Scottish and English. In the days when building empires was all the rage and Scots thought they might dabble in just such a thing the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies (and incidentally the Americas) was established. It ran from 1695 – 1707 and the more observant of you will have registered the end date.

This enterprise proved to be an adventure too far – at least for the English state. It was the brainchild of that entrepreneur, William Paterson, the Scot behind the Bank of England.

At the time Scotland shared a monarch with England – the result of the union of the crowns in 1603 – but was otherwise an independent state. However, Scotland was left in no doubt that with the transfer of its king to London so the crown’s interests also moved south. in fact Scotland was regarded as an irritant (not to be dependent upon to back England in its wars of which there were many) and gadzooks a potential economic rival to the East India Company and Royal African Company. Bold Scotland’s attempt to create its own empire – a colony in northeast Canada around what is now Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island in 1621 foundered a decade later – a victim of England’s war with France.

Nova Scotia

Paterson’s scheme to colonise Darien, (Panama) in Central America to provide Scottish commerce with a secure harbour with access to both Atlantic and Pacific oceans found initial support within England as well as Scotland. However, as soon as the East India Company got wind of the plan it lobbied the King and the English parliament to scupper it. English investors took fright abandoning the whole sorry mess to Scots speculators. Those of you familiar with recent banking scandals will not be surprised that bankers and businessmen were equally duplicitous in the 17th century and to cut a long story short much of the money raised to fund the venture disappeared into various deep pockets.

See Darien and Navigation Acts: https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2017/11/03/theres-nothing-like-the-smell-of-xenophobia-in-the-morning

The Darien scheme had two enemies, aside from the climate, the Spanish who regarded the area as theirs and the English who regarded everything else as theirs. Scots ships were attacked and relations with England reached their lowest point.

Having an enemy on its border concerned the English court and parliament while within Scotland hardship increased not least through the loss of so much money wasted on Darien, lost commerce from confiscated cargoes on top of several seasons of poor harvests which hit the poorest hardest with severe food shortages. Scotland was on her knees.

England’s Navigation Acts crushed Scottish commerce by forcing all goods imported into England to be transported in English vessels. With the wind behind them England’s parliament at Westminster pressed for union with Scotland – to enable it the better to control the land to the north.

There was no democracy back in the 18th century and Scottish merchants who lost fortunes because of Darien and England’s aggressive maritime policy that denied Scotland access to its markets, were made an offer they felt they could not refuse. Come in with England and we’ll pay you compensation or else. This was union at the point of a sword – blackmail. England had the whip hand and used it to great effect. The ‘compensation’ was a carrot – and Scotland’s wealthy donkeys bit.

And so some of Scotland’s landed interests and city merchants accepted the 18th century equivalent of cashback. Cash paid as compensation for losses incurred through the actions of England and Spain. This cashback was called the Equivalent. Needless to say such an enticement came with strings attached. Scotland would have to agree to take on a share of England’s horribly large national debt and – wouldn’t you know – be taxed higher.

Once agreed the Equivalent cashback was distributed from the offices of the former Company of Scotland in Edinburgh and from the ashes a new company emerged imaginatively called the Equivalent Company. This group transformed itself into a banking organisation out of which the Royal Bank of Scotland materialised. And we know what that led to.

Scots were reassured that the proposed union with England would retain Scotland’s sovereignty. Of course that was a lie.

I have read but cannot confirm that a century earlier James VI, the guy who started all this union malarkey, or perhaps it was Sir Henry Savile in 1604, remarked that union between Scotland and England would end with the conquest of Scotland by England. He/he wasn’t wrong.

Ref – A Union for Empire: Political Thought and the British Union of 1707, John Robertson ed.,, CUP 2006

October 8, 2019

The Power of Scotland

June 21, 2019

From Scotland to Australia: Ben Boyd was a nasty piece of work

Benjamin Boyd

Walk around any town any place and it is extraordinary who does and who doesn’t get honoured – with statues, streets and squares named after them, public parks and so on.

I stumbled upon one Benjamin Boyd in the way that is usual for me –by reading about something entirely different. In this latest instance I was fair enjoying a rip-roaring melodrama written and set in Aberdeen in the 1800s called the King of Andaman. Incidental to the story is a reference to an adventurous fellow called Ben Boyd who started up the Royal Australia Bank. I didn’t know if this was fact or fiction so checked him out and discovered it was true and that old Ben was a bit of a scoundrel. Let me tell you about him.

Benjamin Boyd was born on 21 August 1803 in Wigtonshire and met his unexpected death not a day too soon in October 1851, in the Solomon Islands. During the intervening forty-eight years Benjamin Boyd made a fortune, lost a fortune, dabbled in politics and wrecked many a life. In short Benjamin Boyd was a truly nasty and despicable piece of work.

Born in Scotland to an English merchant and his wife at the family’s country estate in the southwest Ben was ascribed Scottish nationality while his brother, Mark, who was a writer as well as brother-in-crime is said to be English. This is all pretty well besides the point.

The Boyd children, there were more of them, grew up in the expectation that life was about getting rich. Benjamin who became a stockbroker in London soon cast an eye towards Australia which he viewed as the place to make his fortune. Australia had been claimed as British in the 18th century because it could. But what use was all this land so far from Britain if there weren’t skilled people to work and develop it? Obviously the racist British dismissed Australia’s indigenous population as being nothing less than a nuisance with no claim to the place they had occupied for tens of thousands of years.

The first British colony there was established in 1788 in what was named New South Wales – an area covering over half of mainland Australia. The first imported labour comprised American Loyalists, Chinese and South Sea Islanders but in a light bulb moment it was decided that transported prisoners from Britain would make ideal captive workers to establish agriculture and industries. Unlike the popular image of these unfortunates torn away from their families the people shipped thousands of miles were not uncouth vicious criminals but skilled artisans, farmers and the like convicted of petty misdemeanours. Before long fleets of ships brought consignments of men, women and children to turn this far off land into profit.   

 Australia was regarded as the ideal place to acquire fortunes on the cheap. Ben Boyd certainly thought so. He tried to buy up land in New South Wales but was resisted by the British authorities who were unwilling to sell to an individual; leasing was his option. As a merchant trader Boyd established harbours and coaling stations for his vessels in Australia. The finance he needed to setup came from the Royal Bank of Australia – Boyd’s own bank. He and his brother Mark had taken the precaution of raising money in London in 1839, prior to Ben’s move to Australia. They gave the bank an appropriate name, Royal Bank of Australia, and sold debentures of £200,00 – that is they raised funds through promises of good returns for investors and so suitably financed Ben Boyd sailed to Australia aboard his luxury schooner, Wanderer.

I should say just prior to this Boyd set up two businesses in addition to the bank; The Australian Wool Company and Boyd Brothers. As with dodgy companies today these two were essentially the same but under two names.

Boyd dispatched several vessels filled with merchandise prior to his journey so his arrival in Australia meant he had items to trade. Once landed in Australia Boyd established a branch of his Australian bank in Sydney, along with fellow entrepreneur, Joseph Phelps Robinson. At the same time, c.1844, he became a squatter – taking over huge tracts of land for grazing thousands of sheep and cattle. Boyd’s bank stayed buoyant long enough for the pair to add to their livestock holdings several times over and enabled them to lease extra millions of acres of land. The money Boyd used to pay for land, sheep, cattle, horses, houses etc was borrowed from his own bank – in short he was speculating with bank money.

Having acquired the land for next to nothing Boyd also expected labour to come for a song.  His plea to the British authorities was to provide cheap labour, virtually slave labour, to enhance profits from investing in Australia but despite having access to transported convict labour Boyd remained dissatisfied.

He suggested to the government and it agreed that he take (take as in compel)people from nearby island communities including Tanna (New Hebrides) and Lifu (Loyalty Islands.) Ships were sent and bullies hired to kidnap and ship to Australia fit men and women, blackbirding, who would be indentured to Boyd for 5 years. As for pay that was set at 26 shillings a year along with meat, trousers, two shirts and a Kilmarnock cap (non-islander shepherds were paid £10 annually plus meat and flour but no luxuries such as tea and sugar.) Nervous British authorities recognised Boyd’s kidnapping activities were illegal. Some islanders ran away and tried to return to their homes. Others became ill. All in all these unfortunate people suffered dreadfully and despite their distribution across a wide expanse of land an organised uprising occurred with bids for freedom. Boyd saw people only in terms of profit and having lost some of the original islanders he tried to replace them by kidnapping others. At this point the New South Wales Legislative Council stepped in to stop him. While this was progress it didn’t help islanders already abandoned in Australia unlikely ever to get back home. White settlers and the press demonised victim islanders – describing them as wild savages which is extraordinary given the savagery of Ben Boyd’s behaviour.  He, in turn, was furious that the authorities had denied him and that the very people he was exploiting failed to appreciate the opportunities he provided them with.

Boyd’s ruthless approach to making money attracted a large amount of criticism at the time but that hasn’t dented the apparent admiration later generations of Australians felt for the guy.

The town he set up was called, naturally, Boyd Town or Boydtown and established on Twofold Bay on the south coast of New South Wales. It was used to service Boyd’s farming interests. Here his livestock was butchered and processed by boiling and salting. In addition to houses and the essential stockyards the town had a hotel and church and, of course, a jetty several feet long as well as a lighthouse for the safety of Boyd’s merchant ships carrying mutton, beef, wool and skins to Britain. Always on the lookout for yet another source of cash Boyd also set up a whaling station with 9 or 10 sperm whalers.

Boyd’s house

Boyd’s decision to enter politics appears to have been pragmatic; to smooth the way for his business interests. Australia was attracting attention for its economic potential and Boyd got himself into a position of representing big farmers like himself. It’s clear he was ambitious and his ambitions ran away with him. He had fingers in numerous pies and he was secretive about his business activities which were obviously shady enough to be criminal. When his financial ship ran aground he was found to have lied about the business profits and in 1847 he was ousted by angry shareholders and replaced by yet another brother, William Sprott Boyd. This Boyd proved as unreliable as Benjamin and a couple of years later a liquidator took over. When in 1848 the debenchers who had funded the Royal Australian Bank were due to be paid back it was discovered the money was gone and Boyd’s property was seized as some kind of recompense. I’m fairly certain that the bulk of monies taken out of the failing bank were sent back to London to Boyd’s accounts there. Boyd’s murky financial deals were described by one of his contemporaries as a Chinese puzzle. It cannot be but argued that the bank he set up was a shell company to advance the Boyds. Both Ben and Mark were made bankrupt.

Smarting from his downfall in Australia Benjamin Boyd turned his attention to America and the lure of California’s gold rush in 1849 but when that didn’t work out he jumped back onboard his ship Wanderer to set up a republic in the Pacific Islands. As you do.

The deeply ingrained racism and hypocrisy that drove European colonisation was never far from Boyd’s thoughts. The Wanderer docked at Guadalcanal in the Solomons at San Christobal Island and early one morning Boyd disembarked for a spot of shooting. And disappeared.

Shots had been heard, presumably fired by Boyd. Who or what he shot at is not recorded but it was supposed that islanders dealt with this usurper – “wandering, perhaps, among antipodean savages, naked and tattooed, or perhaps tomahawked, or probably eaten!” A tough bite. During the day, before it was realised Boyd had disappeared, islanders had tried to coax the ship’s crew ashore. When they refused some attempted to board Wanderer but were fought off and killed. An armed party went ashore and found Boyd’s footprints surrounded by other prints along with a piece of his double barrelled rifle. They searched every house for miles but didn’t unearth Boyd. On its return to Australia Wanderer was wrecked in a storm.

Rumours persisted that Boyd still lived and was a prisoner. It was said his initials were seen carved on trees. Guadalcanal islanders claimed he was alive. A search was undertaken in 1854 but to no avail. More stories emerged – that Boyd had been killed by native islanders after their own folk were attacked by the crew of Wanderer; Boyd was said to have been hanged in the canoe house of King Tabula. Such accounts led to a reward being issued for Boyd’s skull and an enterprising native produced a skull. By the time it was realised the skull belonged to a long dead Papuan with perfect teeth, as opposed to Boyd’s false teeth, the payment of 20 tomahawks had been paid.

During his lifetime Boyd made a great show of his wealth but it was built on criminal schemes and borrowed cash. He lived the life but like his bank it was an empty shell. All the money that slipped though his fingers he spent on a lavish lifestyle that was enabled by the very labourers on whom he depended and ruthlessly exploited. He was a man on the make without the acumen to succeed without cheating.  When he died Boyd was worth less than £3000.

The town he established, Boydtown, became a ghost town after his business empire collapsed until the 1930s when it underwent a revival. Boyd has been commemorated in other ways including the Ben Boyd National Park, set up in 1971. Frankly it seems gauche and extraordinary that Australia regards Benjamin Boyd worthy of honouring. I’d have thought Australia’s indigenous population or those kidnapped and enslaved Pacific Islanders were far more deserving.

Ben Boyd National Park

https://www.smh.com.au/national/blackbirding-shame-yet-to-be-acknowledged-in-australia-20150603-ghfn9c.html

April 27, 2019

Oh look there’s a creepy guy in camouflage breeks with a mighty big weapon picking on a little unarmed roe deer

Good mixed shooting was once the boast of Aberdeenshire – perhaps it still is – bagging pheasant, partridge, woodcock, snipe, mallard, golden eye, pochard, tufted duck, ring-dove, brown hare, rabbit, curlew, golden plover, green plover, dunlin, little stint, purple sandpiper, turnstone, redshank, moorhen, water rail and coot were given as examples of the sheer variety of species taken on a typical shoot in an article in the Aberdeen and District British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1934. Several of those birds mentioned are now struggling for survival.

Over millennia changing climate patterns in association with human interference have led to the disappearance of Scotland’s elk, the extinction of the auroch, an ox (Bos primigenius) which looked similar to our Highland cattle, lynx, arctic fox, bear and wolf as human habitation encroached on habitats and animals regarded as dangerous or simply fair game were hunted to extinction.  Wolves, greatly feared by folk in the countryside and probably with good reason, found a source of meat fairly easy to access were human corpses which drove some communities to bury their dead offshore if an island was handy. Obviously eating already dead people was preferable to attacking the living and not unlike human practices of picking up bits of animal corpses from butchers and supermarkets though without producing payment, of course. In 1427 a law was introduced in Scotland for three annual wolf hunts during spring and summer to help control/wipe out the creatures at a time that would be most effective – when they were producing and nursing young.

Several claims exist over when and where Scotland’s last wolf was slain. One killed at Kirkmichael in Banffshire in 1644 was certainly not it. Another last wolf turned up in Moray in the middle of the 18th century and that might have been the sole survivor till then but it’s likely the odd one hung on after this.

Capercaillie

There were herds of little wild horses roaming Aberdeenshire’s forests into the 16th century. Evidence found at Birse suggested they were likely crosses with domestic horse – similar to the state of our wildcats. How many true wildcats remain is open to speculation but surely scant few. As with practically every other species these lovely creatures have suffered vicious persecution by farmers, gamekeepers, estate workers and the usual suspects that take potshots at anything that moves. It is said the last wildcat on Donside was killed at Alford in 1862 and on Deeside at Glentanar in 1875 but it’s possible they weren’t all wiped out or that some migrated to the area, perhaps from Speyside, for there have been sightings of what may be the wildcat in more recent years.

Gamekeepers have earned a bad reputation as exterminators of wildlife – with good cause. We are all familiar with the curious coincidences of our raptors meeting their deaths over shooting estates while the courts continue to treat such crimes as minor, failing to impose deterrent sentences on those found guilty of illegal killings.

While about the worst that happens to an estate employee convicted of illegal killings is exposure in the press for a day or two life was once far more comfortable for them. Dealing with vermin aka wildlife was part of the job. In 1863-4 a single Donside estate keeper killed 30 polecats. Thirty years later it was extinct in the area. Pine martens were likewise persecuted and are now protected because of their scarcity. There are pine martens around today, including in Ross-shire but they aren’t common.

Outrage over the vast numbers of mountain hares being shot on sporting estates has been met with insistence from estate interests that there are plenty stocks of hares. That they cannot come up with reliable figures for their claims is worrying but not surprising. That Scottish government ministers consort with sporting interests is also worrying but not surprising.

The encroachment of human habitation and agriculture, the drainage of muirs and removal of large tracts of ancient forests force out birds and animals dependent on those habitats.  Vestiges of the old Caledonian forests can be found at Glentanar, Ballochbuie, Deeside and Speyside but what remains is a mere trace of the woodlands that once provided areas of safety and food for our wildlife pushing them upland to less suitable territory which lack food and reduce the chance of survival.  

The red squirrel has become a great focus for protection to the extent that its grey cousins are eradicated by local authorities around the country – the same local authorities who removed trees used by red squirrels so reducing their chances of survival. However, it isn’t so long ago the red squirrel had the same reputation as the grey and was regarded as a pest – rats with long bushy tails and a popular target for the pot-shotter. On the subject of rats the black rat notorious for spreading the plague in the early middle ages having arrived on ships from the East was in time ousted by the common brown rat another immigrant, this time from Asia in the 18th century.

Rats have proven themselves pretty damn indestructible although many people wish they weren’t. It’s interesting that there aren’t tweedy types who go on rat shoots on a Sunday afternoon but choose something a whole lot prettier and a whole lot less capable of escaping their shotguns.

The capercaillie is/was fairly spectacular with its dramatic plumage provided welcome variety in rural parts of Scotland but they have all but gone. The menace of an armed idiot has all but wiped them out.  Indeed they succeeded in the 18th century for the capercaillie vanished around 1760 and was reintroduced from Sweden in 1837. By the 1960s these large birds were numerous again and said to be common. I saw one once – in the 1970s near the Cairn o’ Mount. It might have been one of the last ones in the area for they sure aren’t common now. Their future here is on a very shoogly peg.

The extension of farming, grazing sheep and cattle and the prevalence of mono-culture grouse estates that treated every other animal and bird as vermin have been instrumental in stripping away so much of Scotland’s native wild species. We are all too well aware of the targeting of birds of prey over these areas with lots of tall tales circulating about the extent of lamb predation and insistence that high numbers of disappearing raptors over sporting estates is purely coincidental. Rambling types around Alford are only too familiar with aggressive heavies employed on Aberdeenshire estates, other similarly run estates are available, – same gun-toting, shooting jacketed gamies. Ordinary folk out to enjoy the freedom to roam in their own country are most definitely dissuaded from doing just that by these bullies and heaven help any wildlife straying over their property.

I’ve written before about the insatiable desire of types who crave to destroy life. My mother used to tell of fox cubs being bred near Dingwall which were transported down to England and released for fox hunting there – putting to bed the myth that the hunt was to eliminate local vermin. Another myth is that hobby shooters eat or sell to butchers and hotels what they kill. Regulations have all but stopped the hotel trade and huge numbers of birds and animals killed for the sheer hell of it are either dumped or buried.

Rabbits – they are everywhere, mostly dead on our roads, were imported from southeast Europe. In Aberdeen they were first released at the links near Donmouth. Another import this time from Asia is the exotic-looking pheasant. It proved so popular they were shot out of existence and had to be reintroduced

Some creatures turned up accidentally on these shores such as the tropical loggerhead turtle that was picked up in salmon nets at Pennan in 1861. It never made it home, somewhere equally dangerous but farther south, and numbers are now dwindling.  The purple heron that flew to Donmouth in 1872 never made it home either to southern Europe, Africa or Asia but was inevitably shot. A glossy ibis discovered at Fraserburgh was so strikingly beautiful it was also shot. It along with an American killdeer plover, which doesn’t kill deer but got its name from its call, ended their days as curiosities in Aberdeen University’s Natural History Museum – post execution.

Nowadays our Scottish golden eagles are pretty rare and exotic. In the ten years between 1776 and 1786 seventy of them were killed in five Deeside parishes alone, severely affecting their numbers. As for the white-tailed eagle, Scotland’s largest bird of prey, it was once numerous but determined persecution of the bird resulted in its extinction in the 20th century. It is being reintroduced, to the chagrin of some farmers.   Another recently reintroduced species is the red kite which has become a  fairly familiar sight over Donside and once more around Conon Bridge following a disgraceful episode in 2015 when a large number of raptors including kites were killed, many poisoned, around there. A couple of weeks ago I was thrilled to watch six of them soar over Strathpeffer. Meanwhile those criminals responsible for targeting them are keeping a low profile. The species once so common around Scotland were all killed off by the end of the 19th century. Peregrine falcons and ravens were all once very common and hen harriers, too, eventually succumbing to shooting and trapping.

It is not only large birds of prey which have fallen victim to the determined farmer, gamekeeper and the odd brainless wonder. Smaller birds have suffered from being labelled as farm pests. In 1930, Aberdeen County Council was responsible for the deaths of vast numbers of them including: 65,000 rooks, 3,563 eggs and 601 nests; 7,442 wood pigeons, plus eggs and nests; 1,992 house sparrows and 704 eggs; 1,108 starlings; 897 gulls and eggs along with 1,500 brown hares and everyone’s favourite – although not Aberdeen County Council’s evidently – 175 red squirrels.

Britain’s biggest rookery was at Hatton Castle near Turriff where some 6,000 nests were counted in old beech trees and coniferous plantations during the 1960s. Each year around 10,000 of them were shot by local farmers. In the 1960s the curlew, lapwings, skylarks were very common and winter visitor, the snow bunting. I still see the odd one but not flocks. I spotted a curlew recently near Kemnay but those I used to see near Alford have disappeared. There’s a skylark hereabouts. Singular.

 Before 1850 the starling was a non-breeding migrant in Aberdeenshire, one of our rare visitors. It liked what it saw in beautiful Aberdeenshire and stayed – actually because the spread of land cultivation inadvertently provided food for starlings such as daddy long legs and grass beetles which meant they did well and so their numbers increased to the extent that within a decade it was classified as a pest. Their numbers have since declined greatly with modern methods of farming. Our farmers plough right up to fences and dykes leaving virtually no green areas to provide habitat and food for birds and small animals. With the disappearance of the starling goes their spectacular mesmeric murmurations.

Whether it was on land, in trees, in the rivers or seas animals and birds have been hunted down and systematically killed for profit, for food, for fun and for fats. Think fat think whales and seals. Northeast Scotland dominated the 19th century whaling industry in the Greenland Sea and Davis Straits – a dangerous business for all involved. On October 13, 1830 the Aberdeen Journal lamented the decline of whaling and loss of whaling vessels from Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Aberdeen and Aberdeen’s final whaling ship sailed in 1865. Of course that wasn’t the end of whaling, as we know.

A century later there was talk about the disappearance of mountain hares from our higher hills. This was a blow for the sportsman and woman who made do with blasting at the less prestigious brown hare, still numerous on the muirs. Despite being not much valued they were shot in their thousands. Social media has provided reminders that wildlife are not taken in penny numbers with pictures of trucks loaded up with mountain hare carcasses being taken off hillsides for disposal by sporting estate workers who say numbers of the mountain hare are high but have produced no credible evidence to back up their claims.

Our native red deer have consistently been popular with those who take to the hills for a spot of blood sport. In the 1960s around 10% of the red deer population was shot annually i.e. c.2000. There have been conflicting estimates of their numbers and the best means of controlling what are thriving numbers of them.

Roe deer are tiny animals; very timid. They are popular with creepy men in camouflage breeks, wax jackets and flat caps armed with huge guns that look like they’ve done a heap of damage in Iraq or Afghanistan.  In case you were wondering the little roe deer are unarmed.

The encroachment of humans, the adaption of the countryside to provide economic value will always put pressure on our wildlife. Add to this blend hobby hunters and climate change and the mix becomes toxic. Survival for so many species has been easy/tricky/impossible depending on so many circumstances but human interference arguably poses the most deadly threat to nature and that will only increase.

April 12, 2019

The destruction of the Highland way of life is a mere footnote in the pages of British history. The last Jacobite hanged.

Dr Archie Cameron stole back to Loch Arkaig in Lochaber to retrieve French gold meant to support the Jacobite cause during the second uprising. It was eight years after the bloody massacre at Culloden, that misbegotten battle to prevent the imposition of a German Protestant on the throne of Great Britain and Ireland following the proscription of Catholics from the monarchy.

Cameron took a calculated risk in returning to Scotland from France where he had sought refuge, and lost. Was he eager to get his hands on the treasure to support his growing family or use it to fund a third uprising against the Elector of Hanover and his heirs? As it happened someone else was eyeing up the cache, fellow Scot and Jacobite, Alastair Ruadh Mac Dohomnuil (Alastair MacDonnell) of Glengarry who turned government informer – his undercover name was Pickle. MacDonnell succeeded in pocketing the gold after tipping off the British government to Cameron’s whereabouts. The doctor was captured by a contingent of redcoats at Innersnaid near Loch Katrine on 20th March 1753 and this was the reason he became the last Jacobite hanged (by the state at least.)

Dr Archibald Cameron

Dr Archibald Cameron

A mere hanging lacked the necessary humiliation required by the English authorities in need of a political message which is why being declared guilty of High Treason 46 year old Dr Archie Cameron found himself bound to and dragged on a sledge through London streets then transferred to a cart to await his execution – a business that was to involve being left to swing till not quite dead before being cut down, his abdomen sliced through so his guts could be removed and burnt and his head  separated from his body and exhibited.  None can say the British state is not savage and bloodthirsty when it comes to revenge.

This son of clan chief, Cameron of Lochiel, who studied medicine at Edinburgh was as ardent a backer of the legal claim of James VII and his heirs to the throne of Gt Britain and Ireland (the one mocked as ‘The Pretender’ although that term would have been more appropriately applied to the German Georges as any in his family.)

In the wake of the failed uprising of 1745/46 Cameron was one of many Scottish lairds and noblemen charged with high treason under the 1746 Act of Attainder (one of the laws brought in to penalise Jacobites [supporters of James].)

Jacobites were not only Scots for theirs was a religious feud between Catholics (Jacobites) and Protestants (German George’s supporters.) However, no English person was listed on the London government’s roll of traitors.

There were many in Scotland opposed to the rising and some places showed their feelings by bell ringing and celebrations when the rebellion reached its bloody conclusion. Then again it is not unusual during times of war to defer to the winning side as an act of self-preservation.

George II’s son, the Duke of Cumberland aka Butcher Cumberland in Scotland and Sweet William in England,* headed the army that ultimately defeated the Jacobites. He was humbly congratulated by Glasgow’s magistrates and merchants following his ‘glorious’ victory at Culloden near Inverness and there was delight that the

‘distressed country which had seen violence and confusion, was restored from slavery and oppression to liberty and tranquillity.’

One woman’s or man’s liberty and tranquillity is another’s repression and torment.

Business people worried that divisions across Britain would interfere with commerce and there were those who were desperate to halt the ‘exorbitant Power of France’ – any of that ring a bell? Butcher Cumberland became British traders’  ‘glorious instrument’ but for great numbers of Highland Scots he was an instrument of terror. 

A young Jacobite fighting at Culloden (from Peter Watkins film, Culloden.)

While joy and partying cheered the populace of Glasgow further north government troops including contingents of German mercenaries combed the land for any termed ‘rebels’ and their families who were put to the sword, hanged from trees or shot. Homes were torched, men and women humiliated and mistreated, women and girls raped, families broken up and those fortunate enough to escape with their lives were rounded up, many manhandled onto boats anchored at strategic parts off the Scottish coast then shipped to North America or south to English prisons and trials. Permanent garrisons and forts were built around the Highlands by the London government determined to contain the rebellious north and instil a reign of fear.

Cameron was bound and taken to Stirling then Edinburgh and ultimately London where he was imprisoned in the Tower. A brief appearance before the King’s Bench at Westminster confirmed his identity and a charge of being a key ‘Agent, Actor and Contriver of the Rebellion in 1745 and against whom an Outlawry was issued out in the London Gazette …’ (Caledonian Mercury 24 May, 1753.) From there Dr Archibald Cameron of Lochiel was returned to the Tower of London until his execution a few weeks later.

His death would come slowly. There was the degrading traitor parade on a wooden sledge through London’s streets lined with the curious but it was said there were none of the usual taunts  or items thrown at the man being led to his death for it was widely reported Cameron was a kindly, softly spoken and considerate man condemned on a technicality and he attracted respect. He showed composure during this public ordeal, searching the sea of faces crowded around him for any friends there to share his agony and he smiled at some who caught his eye.

He had not been permitted a quill pen and ink to write down his final thoughts but a blunt pencil and scrap of paper found their way into his hands and this was passed to his wife (who had been able to visit her husband in the Tower.)

At Tower Hill Cameron was helped onto a cart from his sledge and there he talked for a short time with a minister, admitting to him he was ‘a little tired’ but resigned to his fate. The two prayed together and recited extracts of Psalms until Cameron said, I have now done with this World, and am ready to leave it

After embracing him the minister tripped as he left the cart and was urged by the considerate man facing death to be careful.

That mood of compassion continued for Cameron was left hanging for 20 minutes to ensure, hopefully, he was dead before his head was hacked from his shoulders. In the event he was not gralloched like a deer as had been the fate of many before him, including famously William Wallace 450 years earlier, nor were his limbs severed from his body or his head placed on a spike on London Bridge but instead it was placed alongside his body when he was buried in the Savoy Chapel at Westminster in London – though I’m sure he would have preferred to lie at Lochiel.

And so with Archie Cameron’s death on the 7th June 1753 the number executed by the British state post-Culloden came to over 90. Archibald Cameron of Lochiel was the last of the Jacobites to be formally executed for High Treason while Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, had been the last Jacobite and last man beheaded in Britain, in 1747.

As for Pickle the Spy, Alastair Ruadh Mac Dohomnuil (ruadh is Gaelic for red as in red-haired), who was responsible for Cameron’s capture, he had spent two years in the Tower of London and on his release in 1747 he went out a snitch – a traitor in other words, though not regarded as such by the British government, of course. He provided the London government with a host of intelligence which resulted in the deaths of several of his former comrades. It is said he dealt directly with Henry Pelham, Whig and prime minister.

On Pelham’s Wiki entry it says:

Pelham’s premiership was relatively uneventful in terms of domestic affairs, although it was during his premiership that Great Britain experienced the tumult of the 1745 Jacobite uprising.

Tumult. And so we get a sense of the insignificance of Scotland’s history within terms of Britain – that the last civil war fought in these islands is designated as insignificant and the deaths, the confiscation of lands, the eradication of the Highland clan system, the burning out of families from their homes, the harrying of the Highlands by British and German troops, the prohibition of the very clothes on the backs of Highlanders (how did poor Highlanders find clothes different from their home-spun traditional garments?), the music and instruments they played even the language they spoke was targeted and outlawed. Quite scandalous. Today this kind of merciless assault on a region’s way of life would be seen for what it is and condemned. Not so in the 18th century. The Highlands had been designated as wild and desolate. Its majestic mountain landscape as ugly and the communities who lived there as savages and not being entirely human it was easy to turn a blind eye to having them systematically cleared from their homes and transported to the Americas and other parts of the world. And all of this disgraceful persecution is summed up as – a tumult (a melee, commotion, ruckus, disturbance.) 

I first encountered Dr Archibald Cameron, Pickle the Spy and other players of the time in D. K. Broster’s fine Jacobite Trilogy. Dorothy Kathleen Broster was an English writer from Garston, Liverpool and academic. The Flight of the Heron, the first tale of her trilogy published in 1925 proved a huge success and no wonder for it’s a wonderful adventure story and Outlander’s Jamie Fraser is a spit for Ewen Cameron in all kinds of ways. Mac Donnell is Finlay MacPhair of Glenshian in Broster’s books. 

It is easy to romanticise the Jacobites, fighting against a British state defended by a large efficient army; well-organised and brutally ruthless. Everything was thrown at the Jacobites – at Catholic Highland lairds and clan leaders – and ordinary clans men and women – doggedly faithful to each other but the Jacobites did not set out to defend a now lost separate Highland identity although their actions quickened the eradication of what distinguished the Highlander from Lowlander. Theirs was a religious campaign.

Lands belonging to pro-Jacobite clans were confiscated by the British state in a way many of us would heartily approve of today. In the 18th century these lands, purloined by the German king and his government in London, were then sold off to the highest bidder or dispensed to friends. The clan lands were broken up. That cohesiveness of place was lost. Many Highland lairds of today who flaunt their non-outlawed tartans and hairy tweeds harbour none of the obligations or responsibilities towards the people who live in their communities that pre-Culloden Highland lairds held to. That unique system of life that distinguished the Highlands from the rest of Gt. Britain and Ireland was destroyed on the scaffolds of London.

*The flower Sweet William is not welcome in some Scottish gardens for its glorification of the Butcher Cumberland.

 

https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2019/02/01/kelp-clearances-clanranald-speculators-and-scottish-scoundrel-lairds

https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2016/02/18/reflections-on-the-highland-clearances-croick-church-at-strathcarron

https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2019/02/28/the-church-belongs-to-god-but-the-stone-belongs-to-the-duke-the-highland-clearances-as-told-by-iain-crichton-smith

 

March 22, 2019

Remember that you are an Englishman and consequently have won first prize in the lottery of life. English/British/Scottish – discuss

Remember that you are an Englishman and consequently have won first prize in the lottery of life. (Cecil Rhodes)

That modest opinion may well have been shared by the majority of his kin folk but beneath it flowed an undercurrent of resentment that the message wasn’t being shouted loudly enough so the rest of the world could better appreciate it – and, importantly, the rest of Britain.

“Most English people have observed, with discomfort if not alarm, the persistent and united effort made by the Press of this country to stamp out the use of the words ‘England’ and ‘English,’ substituting for them ‘Britain’ and ‘British.’

Such was a claim which to most Scots was surely arresting in its absurdity. It was made in The Era, a British newspaper, in 1937. It claimed this was an attempt to –

‘obliterate the conception of England as a separate entity; to make the English masses, and the world at large, regard the four people of the British Isles as identical in character, temperament, and spiritual gifts.”

While it is undoubtedly true that a definition of Englishness is difficult to pin down, not unconnected with the fudging of English with British since the Act of Union, much of the populations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales might scratch their heads when England complains of having its identity obliterated knowing the three smaller nations are the ones who have suffered greatest from this phenomenon. The four parts of the UK have lost their distinctiveness – some today even argue there are not four parts to the UK but one single entity. The writer back in the thirties is not so daft or politically devious but still he fails to recognise that when England and English became shorthand for Britain and British all those centuries ago the blurring of distinctions began but England’s greater population kept England at the forefront of the Union and perceptions of it while all but obliterating the unique identities of the three other parts of the Unions.

Blame for the confusion of identities within the Union, according to the writer in The Era, lies with the press and the BBC. His points to the BBC’s celebration of St Andrew’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, St David’s Day but not St George’s Day. I don’t know if the BBC mentioned Burns’ Night in the thirties but that could have been added to his list. I don’t know, either, if there is a Shakespeare Night or morning or afternoon, perhaps there should be. However, Shakespeare does get wall-to-wall coverage in programmes across the BBC so perhaps a Shakespeare afternoon wouldn’t be noticed, is not necessary or would be overload. What really got the author’s dander up was seeing Shakespeare described as a British poet. Gadzooks!

He’s right about Shakespeare. He was English. And pre-Union. At the same time that bad boy of literature, Lord Byron, is invariably referred to as an English poet although he is very much British – having a Scottish mother, was brought up in Scotland and retained his Scottish accent till the end of his days. Double gadzooks! Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes stories is frequently described as English and do we complain? – well, aye, but no-one takes any notice. Worst of all in the commentator’s view was seeing a picture of York Minister in a newspaper with the caption, “This Britain.” Welcome to our world, matey.

Not only England, but every Englishman is an island.
(Novalis, German poet d.1801)

Back to our author who complains that the ‘non-English peoples of Britain’ – ‘these peoples’ he calls us – that’s Scots, Irish and Welsh (whose population, he points out, make up less than Greater London) ‘have been given equitable representation in the English Parliament’ which begs the question – what parliament? English post-Unions? Surely an English parliament doesn’t exist? But it’s as we suspected – Westminster is or isn’t a British or English parliament? And then there’s his use of ‘given’? – the largesse of England towards non-English bits of – uhm, Britain is underwhelming.

The writer ties himself in a right Gordian knot – that has definitely no Aberdeenshire associations – when he writes that one of the four entities making up Britain, let us call it England, has and deserves to have the whip hand and the right to distribute ‘rights’ as it sees fit (and presumably withdraw them as it seems fit.)

In his defence the writer is clearly in support of Home Rule for the non-English parts of the Union for he says that if any wanted Home Rule ‘there would be no opposition from England’ – to which I say, if only.

The political independence lost by Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to England, he claims, has been amply compensated by the economic advantages provided by being in the UK and being raised to a position within the world that would be impossible without being tied to England. You have to admire his gall if not his ignorance of the intellects, discoveries and influence of Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish over time – many simply classified as, uhm – English. Where is Voltaire when you need him? Ah, here he is –

We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.
(Voltaire)

If we were ever in any doubt that England is the leading entity in the Union our correspondent is on hand to sort us out – ‘if tomorrow Scotland, Ireland and Wales became as independent as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the prestige of England would not be lowered at all in the eyes of the world.’ His England, he claims, suffered 82% of the casualties in the First World War. His reference to casualties is as vague as it is nonsense, plucked out of the air for impact. Untangling English from Scottish, Welsh or Irish casualties who might have lived in England or been in English regiments and were counted as English is a mine field. Sheer fiction.

It is an anathema to the writer that the traditions and culture of the entities of the Union have had their differences flattened out. He deplores that the English, descended from peasants, have been ‘callously and blindly robbed of their ancient rights, not only by the Land Enclosure Acts, but by the whole monetary policy of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.’ He’s right you know. Finally he’s got a point.

An Englishman has all the qualities of a poker except its occasional warmth.

(Daniel O’Connell)

And so the debate over the Union, definitions of what comprises Britain and Britishness rumbles on. It began even before the Union was set up and has been defined by England and her interests. For many of us here in Scotland we have grown up in a Britain that is dominated by England and Englishness that are as alien to us as they are to people from other nations. Even the very language we use in Scotland is unacceptable as British and ridiculed if introduced into conversations in England (where we tend to speak a different version of the language spoken at home because we adapt to accommodate the English population of Britain) e.g. listen to SNP MPs rather self-consciously incorporate words that are part of our everyday speech when they debate in parliament and are greeted with smiles and cheers. Why should they be? They wouldn’t be in Scotland which last time I looked was part of Britain. I don’t think many in the Commons laugh at their use any more except possibly Scottish Tories who appear embarrassed by anything that is distinctly Scottish. In previous times it was different and Scottish MPs were frequently and cruelly mocked for the use of Scotticisms in the ‘English parliament.’

The Scotsman newspaper (surely an oxymoron) is a platform for pro-Union views which often touches on Scottishness/ Englishness/Britishness. In an edition in 1947 it was claimed that few English people think of themselves as British only English and for them the Union wasn’t important. The concept of ‘we’ as in we together who make up Britain had little meaning for them. The did not have a sense of being at one with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. What they understood as ‘the nation’ or ‘the country’ was and still is England. They had no notion on what went on elsewhere in the other entities of the UK and presumably imagined people of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales lived lives identical to theirs in England.

By contrast Scots have always understood the difference between Britain/England/Scotland and have had to endure the virtual suppression of Scotland as a partner in the Union. That struggle has not really succeeded and Scotland as a distinctive entity with her own character and needs that became invisible in 1707 is scarcely visible in today’s British press, BBC, Sky, ITN where Scottish events and news don’t figure and at Westminster English MPs outnumber Scots by 10 :1. Scotland’s influence in Britain is virtually nil. Not sure why I included ‘virtually’ – omit as you see fit.  Today there are only 74 Scottish MPs who will always be outvoted by England’s 541 MPs who naturally put the interests of England ahead of Scotland’s. When English people talk of the English parliament of Westminster they are spot on. Westminster’s traditions pre-date the Union, references there are to English politics, the built-in majority is English – the monarch in whose name the parliament sits is called Queen Elizabeth II despite there never having been a Queen Elizabeth I of Scotland. But then Scotland is an irrelevance in the union of Britain.

It is not surprising that the period following World War 2 provided an edge to the debate over Britain/England/Scotland for it was a war fought to defend the freedom of sovereign nations across the world from fascism. Scots lives were lost in that war where British soldiers have been described as English and the Union of nations that is Britain was presented to the world as England. It is the cruellest of actions to take someone’s life and deny their identity and existence but that is what happens in a union of unequals.

 

February 28, 2019

The Church belongs to God but the stone belongs to the Duke: the Highland Clearances as told by Iain Crichton Smith

When Morag R recommended Iain Crichton Smith’s novel about the Clearances, Consider the Lilies and said she’d be interested in my thoughts on it I didn’t think it would lead to a blog on the subject. But it did.

Crichton Smith was a poet as is clear in this book with its constrained sentence construction which slowly works up into a novel. His descriptions of people, places and situations are presented as lean and concise observations that are straight out of a poet’s toolbox.

consider the liliesI didn’t warm to his style immediately. I found it too spare and his protagonist Mrs Scott a little too glaikit and too far gone for a woman of just seventy; a country woman who didn’t know the names of flowers and birds is completely unbelievable – but Crichton Smith’s character grows in awareness throughout the book, driven by circumstance, to question everything she believed in. By the end of the book I was impressed. The simplicity of the tale’s beginning transformed into a rigorous exploration of the deceit and corruption that produced one of the greatest atrocities, arguably the greatest atrocity, to take place in these islands. An atrocity of monumental proportions that has been deliberately under-exposed by generations of historians happily complicit and driven by their own prejudices to sugar-coat the eviction and transportation of tens of thousands of Scots Highlanders from their homes and country – penniless and traumatised to uncertain futures abroad. These apologists are still around – on our radios and televisions – dismissing the Clearances as not so bad – in fact they were the making of the Highlander several claim.

Crichton Smith’s novel is set during the Sutherland Clearances. There were various Clearances around Scotland including Argyll, the Hebrides and the straths of Ross from where my own family were cleared.

Ian Macpherson, MP for Ross and Cromarty 1911-1935, said that there was no ‘more foul deed been committed in the sacred name of property than in the Highlands of Scotland in those days.’

Characters in the novel include James Loch, Patrick Sellar, the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland – all infamous rogues and all actual perpetrators of this inhumane episode. The guy in the ‘white hat’, so to speak, is stone mason, Donald Macleod, who was also a real person and was himself a victim of the burnings. Macleod was loathed by the landed interests and their lackeys for speaking out about their barbarism and he exposed the callous removal of whole communities in letters to the press which laid bare the cruelties of this policy of ethnic cleansing.

His letters were published in the Edinburgh Weekly Chronicle and attracted a good deal of attention and the only thing that prevented the odious Duchess of Sutherland from suing Macleod and the paper for defamation was her recognition that she was as guilty as sin and that the publicity would not do her reputation any good.

‘The Church belongs to God but the stone belongs to the Duke’

The Sutherland clearance began in 1807. Farmers were driven from the holdings worked by their forefathers and themselves. They were pushed to the coasts to take up fishing as if crofters would know one bit of a boat from another and not starve while finding out.

Mrs Scott is visited by James Sellar, factor to the Duke of Sutherland (Marquess of Stafford) who puts the fear of death into her with his talk of destroying her home and moving her off the land that has been home to her people for generations so that sheep can have the freedom to live there. Deeply Christian she goes to the church minister for advice. He is aloof. The pampered world he inhabits bears no comparison to her little smoke-blackened thatched home where she brought up her son and from where her husband went off to fight for the British king and died somewhere in Spain. Why – she doesn’t understand. Nor does she comprehend why years after her husband’s death abroad she never received the pension she was promised. She would not know how much the laird class despised men like her husband while happy to recruit tens of thousands of these strapping and brave individuals to defend the interests of the king and Britain’s wealthy classes.

In the First World War soldiers were promised they would come home to a land fit for heroes. That was a lie. They got unemployment and starvation. In 19th century Scotland soldiers who survived the king’s foreign wars returned to find their homes gone – burnt down, their people gone forever and sheep where their families once stayed, worked and played.

Mrs Scott’s only child leaves for Canada and in a heart rending passage Mrs Scott is left bereft and utterly alone. The much respected minister is no consolation for he is a nasty piece of work and blames the Clearances on sinful villagers not rapacious landowners. Mrs Scott listens to him, to his lies, his dismissal of her expectation of a pension following her husband’s death. He boasts of building the village church with his own hands. She knows he did no such thing and she realises he is not a good man and has only his own self-interest at heart. She loses her innocence. She abandons the church.

When Patrick Sellar returns he is accompanied by fellow flunky, James Loch. They sit in Mrs Scott’s home playing hard cop soft cop – heaping lies upon lies in an attempt to persuade this old woman to leave peaceably and accept this evil action is in her best interests. Mrs Scott has meantime discovered the very folk she had always accepted were her betters were, in fact, her enemies and the ones they vilified were her friends. The atheist mason, Donald Macleod, and his family offer her kindness. She comes to understand him for condemning the minister and the church for sermons that kept the people quiet and obediently loyal to landed interests. She refuses to conspire with Sellar and Loch to speak against Donald Macleod in court. She quietly listens as a furious Sellar threatens to burn her out of her house within two days.

‘…there are far more defeats than victories, and that the victories last only a short time while the defeats last for ever’

In real life Sellar’s infamy lives on. He was a brute. In the spring of 1814 he and his men set fire to pastures at Farr and Kildonan so the crofters’ animals would have nothing to eat and the people would have no choice but to leave their land. The fires spread beyond the grass destroying fences so that fields with crops were trampled by the starving animals. Villagers’ outhouses, kilns and mills were set alight – their means of work and for providing food were destroyed. Homes were set ablaze and if the occupiers weren’t at home or quick their possessions and furniture went up in flames. What could not be immediately saved was lost.

People of all ages were made homeless; the old, the infirm, pregnant women, children and babies were left with nowhere to shelter by lairds who lived in castles – aided and abetted by their willing employees and church ministers. In Sutherland the poorest people were made destitute by one of the richest women in the country acting out of sheer greed and callousness.

deserted home

Deserted home

Of course people died. The most vulnerable died first. The winter of 1815-16 was cold with heavy snow. People were abandoned to find any means of shelter in the open and with no proper access to food. It was hard enough for the healthy but for the frail and young it meant inevitable death. The people burnt out of their homes were left to walk many miles to the coasts carrying whatever they could save from the flames loaded onto their backs, smoke billowing from their past lives behind them.

In 1816 the murderous thug , Sellar, was charged with culpable homicide and fire raising against forty families. He was found innocent. Of course. Witnesses were prevented from giving evidence and two sheriffs instrumental in bringing this man to trial lost their jobs. Stalin’s show trials weren’t handled with more efficiency.

In 1827 the Duchess visited the aptly named Dunrobin Castle – although they never stopped robbin’ the poor. Piling insult upon insult her lackeys went around her tenants forcing them to contribute to a gift for her. Then her tenants were squeezed to bear some of the cost of a mausoleum for the Duke. We’re still living in these times with the wealthiest people in the UK demanding tax exemptions for their estates in Scotland.

When the inevitable starvation visited these cleared families government relief was arranged in some part and the Duchess of Sutherland provided ‘charitable relief’ to some of her tenants who lost their homes and ability to feed themselves through her actions. Surprise, surprise this relief had to be paid back by her tenants. The ‘charity’ was no such thing. And if her tenants refused to pay for their own ‘charity’ they were once more evicted from their recently settled homes.

As for being the voluntary evacuation of worthless land the Highland Clearances were nothing of the kind. Certainly there was poverty and some people chose to leave Scotland to try to make a living in north America but the majority were forced to migrate – to the coasts, other parts of Scotland and abroad. Forced emigration was cruel and violent as in the kidnapping of the folk of South Uist and Barra who were manhandled onboard Atlantic-bound ships and dumped in Canada, destitute. Gaelic speakers thrown into a foreign country that spoke a different language. This was happening as late as 1851.

Thomas Faed's painting The Last of the Clan as they await to board an Atlantic-bound ship

Thomas Faed’s painting The Last of the Clan as they await to board an Atlantic-bound ship

As for the land that was forcibly cleared it became the playground for the rich. When sheep didn’t pay enough to satisfy lairds who owned vast tracts of the country they introduced deer and grouse to be slaughtered by the kind of people who get a kick out of exterminating wildlife. We still have these shooting estates across Scotland – to our shame. Now they are desolate places that once were alive with working communities and where our birds and animals fly over and stray across at their peril.

Mrs Scott’s native Sutherland was cleared of 15,000 people in the ten years from 1809 alone. At Strathnaver where the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland torched thatched roofs with flaming faggots over 200,000 acres of crofted land made up of pastures, meadows and cultivated fields worked by communities were turned into five substantial farms. Sellar bought  up some of the land he drove tenants from; terrorised by shouting men wielding sticks and guns and chased by dogs.  

Farmers were forced from fertile land to desolation and starvation and areas of depleted populations became ghost straths.

I recommend Iain Crichton Smith’s Consider the Lilies as a thoughtful and humane exploration of a callous period of British history. And when you’ve absorbed Smith’s poetic but blunt message take a look at contemporaneous accounts from the period of the Clearances but be prepared for accounts far more harrowing and as is often the case truth is stranger than fiction.

The title Consider the Lilies is taken from the Book of Luke in the Bible. 

Mackenzie’s History of the Highland Clearances 1883 read for free http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/51271
Donald Macleod’s Gloomy memories can be read here – https://archive.org/stream/donaldmcleodsglo00mcleuoft/donaldmcleodsglo00mcleuoft_djvu.txt

February 20, 2019

America – The Land of Opportunity – and death. The tragic case of Peter Adam.


All life lies in graveyards and it follows that sometimes an inscription intrigues and tantalises those of us who like nothing better than to wander around a cemetery with a camera and notebook.

There is a reference in Aberdeen’s Allenvale cemetery to ‘Poor Kate.’ What lies behind this poignant phrase I have no idea but when I came across another equally mysterious reference last weekend in Monymusk graveyard in Aberdeenshire I was tempted to probe behind its veiled reference.

ERECTED
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
PETER ADAM, MASON
SON OF GEORGE ADAM, DALMADILLY
WHO MYSTERIOUSLY MET HIS DEATH
ON HIS WAY HOME FROM FOX ISLAND
SEPTEMBER 17, 1872
IN THE 24TH YEAR OF AGE
AND LIES BURIED
AT PALMER MASS,US
AMERICA

The inscription goes on to include Peter’s parents – George and Isabella Reid and at the base of the gravestone is a message I can’t quite manage to decipher –

Peter Adams folks stone

Homeward with longing heart he sped To parents, Brothers, Sisters dear, Home, Home unto himself he said,   ?     ?     ?     not Home in Heaven so near

What happened to Peter was this 

He had sailed to America with his friend, Peter Murray, as a twenty-two year old to work there at his trade of stonemason. Stonemasons from across Scotland and specially from the northeast frequently spent months or years in America and Canada where their skills were sought for the rush of building taking place during the years of mass immigration of the 19th century and when the north American stone industry was only getting underway and in need of experienced and skilled labour. Many Scottish migrant masons settled in Canada and America like fellow-Scot, stonemason Donald MacLeod who was part of that mass exodus of the cleared and voluntary of the 19th century and who wrote about the brutality of the United Kingdom’s treatment of Highland Scots. Peter Adam was not forced abroad but chose to go for a time and this rather serious young man planned to return home to his sweetheart.

In September 1872 Peter, carrying the 500 dollars (equivalent to over $10,000 today) he had saved over the two years working in America, set out for Boston to catch a steamer back to Britain. The evening boat from Rockland, Maine was late in arriving and Peter missed his ship to Liverpool so he took himself off to a money broker’s office where he changed all but $200 dollars into gold which he hid about his person then boarded the night express train to New York to catch a ship home from there. Then he disappeared.

A week later some 80 miles west of Boston, at the town of Palmer, Massachusetts, a body was pulled from the Quaboag River. The victim had been stabbed in the neck and his jugular vein had been severed. Discovered sewn into an undershirt were two gold sovereigns and a gold watch and in a wallet in a trouser pocket was $7 along with a luggage receipt and train ticket to New York. The man’s boots had been cut open from top to foot – obviously when he was being robbed.

Peter Murray who had worked with the other Peter at Fox Island heard of the river corpse  which had been subsequently buried as an unknown person and suspecting it was his friend, Peter Adam, he insisted the body be exhumed and was able to confirm his identity. It was presumed the Peter Adam had been followed from the money broker’s office to the train where he hid his gold in his boots. He was then attacked, murdered, his boots cut open, the gold stolen and Peter thrown into the river from one of many rail bridges en route.

Quaboag River

Quaboag River

Peter Murray sent what remained of Peter Adam’s money, a mere $150 (perhaps $50 had been taken to bury him though that seems excessive) to the young man’s father back in Aberdeenshire.

Where the Peters were working was an area known as Vinalhaven and islands known collectively as Fox Islands. The granite they produced was called Fox Island. In 1872 over 600 men were employed quarrying and cutting granite on the Fox Islands for major building works primarily in Washington, Boston and New York.

The Granites of Maine (1907)

Granite areas of Maine c. 1907

Granite quarrying was a major industry and employer – in addition to Scots employed many of its workers came from Ireland and they formed the first Fenian Circle in Maine dedicated to liberating Ireland ‘from the yoke of England and for the establishment of a free and independent government on Irish soil.’ 

Donald MacLeod mentioned earlier, a stonemason from Strathnaver in Sutherland, was also conscious of yokes – of class and he wrote about the Clearances and the impact on Highland Scots of the practices of the vicious and ruthless British ruling classes. I mean to come back to Donald in a future blog. His experiences were different from men such as  Adam and Murray who were enticed away from Scotland to provide vital service to the stone industry in north America by agents of American and Canadian quarriers and mason workshops. Some went for the adventure of visiting a different land; some went for the money to be made there. Peter Adam’s motives are not known; perhaps he was driven by a combination of the two. He certainly saved much of his earnings which would have established a solid monetary foundation for his impending marriage. He was no flighty, immature young man for he was described as serious, religious and sober and we know he was cognisant of the dangers and lawlessness around him in north American when he took the precaution of hiding his gold and cash when he began his journey home. Sadly he would never see his native Aberdeenshire again – his family or his fiancé. He was robbed and killed and the perpetrators got away with their horrible crime.

It is interesting that Peter’s family shied away from declaring that their son was brutally murdered instead they chose to be ambiguous as if shielding themselves from the terrible reality of his death and his memory from being tainted by such horrible association. They might have added the words of the parents of Kate in Allenvale when reflecting on her life – equally ambiguous but suggestive of something tragic in her life –‘Poor Kate’ – ‘Poor Peter.’

Peter Adam folks full stone

February 1, 2019

Kelp, Clearances, Clanranald, Speculators and Scottish Scoundrel Lairds

This blog came about after I was contacted by a reader whose family were involved with kelp preparation in the Hebrides before being forced off their land to make a life elsewhere. What I knew about kelp could have been written on a postage stamp until I looked into it further. This is some of what I discovered.

Much of the glass going into windows in Britain’s better-off households, to protect them from the elements was, in the 18th and early 19th centuries, mainly manufactured using kelp produced by the poorest of people in Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Highland Scots engaged in this process from very young children to the elderly and infirm enjoyed none of the protection of glass forced as they were through circumstance to live outside among the rocks on the seashore during the kelp season; enduring all weather conditions and blasted by wind, rain and sea or baked under the hot sun on exposed isles and coasts. When crofters were labouring at the shore they were not looking after their crofts which provided their food and so these failed from lack of attention and in any case the seaweed they traditionally used to fertilize the land was needed to be burnt to make kelp.

kelp

Seaweed used to make kelp

Glass and that other major product of kelp, soap, were made using potash and soda produced from burned seaweed; it was also used in calico production, for bleaching, for iodine, for producing potassium alum (an agent in a host of industrial uses) and for fertilisers. Glass used for bottles and drinking glasses was less dependent on kelp than window glass up until the 1830s. That this important trade has been largely ignored by historians and economic historians is surely down to its location – rural Scotland (Wales and Ireland.) Sadly, historians and social commentators indulge their own prejudices which are passed on through their works which have shaped our knowledge of the past. There has been and still is an emphasis on urban employment over rural – urban = good and significant / rural = bad and trivial.

Kelp production contributed in no small measure to the UK’s economy, it became a valuable commodity and was a major source of employment in rural Scotland with around 60,000 involved in kelp production in the Hebrides and Orkney (a similar number in Ireland.) In any measure this is a large number of people dependent on an industry which was essential to the UK’s production of glass and soap – so much so stones were taken to beaches to encourage seaweed to grow on them. Of course essential as the kelp industry was its lynchpin, the kelpers, were ruthlessly exploited. 30 tons of seaweed was needed to produce 1 ton of kelp ash. Something in the region of 2,000 tons of kelp was produced annually in the western isles in the mid-later 18th century. A laird’s cut was around £21 per ton with local workers paid something under £2 per ton at best and 4d (4 pennies at the other end.)

What is kelp? Nowadays we refer to a type of seaweed as kelp but originally this was the name given to the alkali produced from burning seaweed. Hebridean lairds allocated their crofters a small portion of seashore when kelp production was at its height. In addition to working the land crofters and their families were put to work by their lairds producing kelp. Lairds paid their tenant crofters an annual amount for each ton of kelp and the sums paid reflected what was set by agents working for glass or soap manufacturers.

Kelping was heavy work which required many hands to cut, carry, spread to dry and burn the seaweed in stone kilns (filthy work which led to blindness among kelpers.) Kiln fires burned for about 8 hours to produce kelp, dark blue and oily, which then had to be cooled over weeks.

For crofters whose smallholdings were inland kelp production meant moving their whole family to the shore, perhaps many miles away from their homes so forcing them to live on the seashore where they laboured both day and night by torchlight. Men had to go to sea fishing during the only time available to them, in the dark, to feed their families otherwise attempting to live off the odd limpets or shellfish they could find. There are reports of people eating seaweed but they could not eat the weed they needed for kelp. Oatmeal was the staple diet of Scots but on islands where it might not be possible to grow oats, or in sufficient amounts, having this most basic foodstuff was dependent on the arrival of boats from the mainland. Then again meal wasn’t free and these people had no or virtually no cash because their landlords paid mainly in kind, with goods rather than money. To obtain meal people had to barter the little alternative food they had such as cattle or fish. Because kelp required a lot of hands to produce it families were encouraged to have more children which meant more mouths to feed which was difficult at the best of times but when the worst came families were desperate.

During the long years of the French and Napoleonic wars the British government slapped hefty import taxes on foreign goods and British manufacturing became dependent on home produced kelp so Highland lairds forced their tenants into its production. The Highlands’ youth were also in great demand by the British army because of their height and strength but those families who sacrificed their sons in the British crown’s and government’s wars discovered there was no reciprocation for as soon as the Napoleonic Wars ended the government lowered the tariff on foreign kelp with the result that imports of Barilla or Spanish kelp devastated Highland production and pushed already impoverished people to utter despair. Not everyone did badly, in fact some benefitted – the usual people – London speculators and soap manufacturers. Greed was the winner and if the people of the Hebrides had to survive eating the seaweed that once was in such demand then so be it. Reports of terrible starvation, of children with ribs jutting out and bulging eyes in emaciated faces seem not to have lost any greedy government minister or capitalist manufacturer a minutes sleep.

So there it was British manufacturers preferred foreign kelp or adopted a different type of ash made from salt. Islanders lost the little income they depended on and their lairds lost a source of income. Something had to give. Lairds gave the people away. Forced them out. Burnt them out of their homes so they couldn’t go back. Young and old were forced onto vessels heading for North America. Lairds wanted to empty the land of people so they could replace them with sheep. It’s strange how loyalty is so often a one-way street.

reginald george

Reginal George the big spender

One notorious laird who cleared islanders as if they were detritus was Reginald John James George, chief of Clan Ranald, a branch of Clan Donald, at Moidart and Benbecula. Old Etonian Reginald’s father had previously flogged off most of the Clan’s landholding while Reggie spent his time furthering the domination of Britain abroad. He wasn’t familiar with Scotland and had no understanding of his estate or its people. But in an effort to play the laird he did develop a penchant for tartanalia.

You might recall that post-Culloden those symbols of the Highlands – tartan and bagpipes -were banned in an effort to destroy the very way of life of Highlanders. Once the British army eventually abandoned hunting down Highlanders as a sport and when the British government was certain the Highlands had been well and truly crushed faux Highland chic was invented in cartoon form with the appearance of George IV in Edinburgh in 1822 resplendent in a pair of bright pink tights and a mini kilt. He was encouraged in this pantomime by Sir Walter Scott and various other hangers-on including our Etonian Reggie George. It was absentee landlords who finished the job begun by the crown and government in London to destroy traditional Highland communities bound by kinship. The cleansing of the Highlands and islands continued unabated so the resurgence of tartan was neither here nor there. Its specific context and role had been destroyed for good. Time to indulge in games and make-believe.

Reggie discovered he just adored the Highlands, in his Anglicised head. He didn’t live in the Highlands, of course. His home was in the south of England or abroad and but he remembered ‘his people’ in Moidart and Benbecula when it came to collecting their rents which he made sure he received in full irrespective of the extent ‘his people’ were starving to death. In the years of the kelp industry canny landlords based rents not on croft land value but the value of a tenant’s stretch of shore with its seaweed. Self-indulgent Reggie wasn’t doing so well on the cash front either, for he loved to mingle with the rich and powerful and found he had to spend to prove he was one of them. So, like his father, he burnt through his estate’s wealth and was forced to sell his lands in Scotland in 1838 to Gordon of Cluny. Within a year he tried to persuade Gordon to allow him to keep the estate while allowing the new owner take up the old debts and manage the property for he thought it would be lovely for him to spend the remainder of his days among his affectionately disposed tenantry, ‘whose forefathers and mine have ever been united by ties of no ordinary degree of mutual attachment.’

You couldn’t make this stuff up but with the aristocracy you don’t have to – they’re delusional every one. Reggie’s affectionate tenants on South Uist and Benbecula saw him for what he was a nasty and grasping man who cared nothing for them. When the possibility of Reggie living on Benbecula was broached concerns were raised over his safety from his ‘clansmen.’ Such was their regard for this waster.

The tenants fared no better with John Gordon of Cluny; not only considered to be the richest man in Britain but a thoroughly nasty piece of work and not one who accepted criticism. Gordon’s takeover of Reggie’s estate was part of a long game, for worthless as they were to him then he saw a profit eventually. His other landholdings included tracts in Aberdeenshire, Banff, Nairn and Midlothian as well as the Hebrides but by 1848 Cluny’s Hebridean investment was costing him as he had to pay out nearly £8,000 in famine relief to his wretched tenants.

Another nasty piece of work, Patrick Sellar, the brute and factor who enthusiastically carried out the instructions of George Granville Leveson-Gower and Elizabeth the Duke and Countess of Sutherland. He was the willing hand that carried out many Highland Clearances evicting thousands of families, burning their cottages and establishing large sheep farms. Evicted tenants resettled in coastal crofts were forced to learn to fish and process seaweed. He tried to buy Clan Ranald lands on South Uist, Benbecula and Barra for his employer.

These people were all of a kind. Callously indifferent to human suffering and voraciously greedy. In 1851 Gordon of Cluny began to forcibly evict all his tenants to rid himself of responsibility for providing them with basic relief and with the prospect that sheep would better augment his already obscene level of wealth.

kilns on orkney

Kelp kilns on Orkney

In August 1851 the folk of South Uist were forced to attend a meeting at Loch Boisdale and from there they were grabbed and manhandled onto Atlantic-bound boats like so much cattle by the laird’s lackeys – his factors, estate agents and police. Angus Johnstone was handcuffed and forced onto the ship. Others ran in all directions to find hiding places so desperate were they to stay at home. In one incident a man hid in an Arran boat and was protected by the ship’s master who threatened to ‘split the skull’ of the first man to board his boat. This man survived this particular sweep of people. Most of those who ran were hunted down by men and dogs and dragged onboard vessels. Girls of twelve and fourteen from Barra evaded their persecutors and so the ships sailed to North America without them but with the rest of the family onboard – perhaps to a new life or perhaps to succumb to plague or smallpox during the crossing.

The venerable John Gordon of Cluny was, of course, a scoundrel. His promises were worthless. He told tenants he would pay their passage to Quebec where they would be provided with jobs and land. Reluctantly he paid the ship fees when compelled to by the government but reneged on the guarantees of work and land. So the islanders who left Scotland impoverished found themselves in unfamiliar Canada with nothing. This was no isolated example.

A Canadian newspaper, the Dundas Warder, reported on 2 October 1851
‘We have been pained beyond measure for some time past, to witness in our streets so many unfortunate Highland emigrants, apparently destitute of any means of subsistence, and many of them sick from want and other attendant causes.’

The richest man in Britain was a barbarian who brought incalculable misery, desperation and death to Highland Scots. Add the fate of the cleared people of Scotland to all those other acts of cruelty imposed on helpless communities throughout the British Empire and the slave trade and you have a large slice of British history that is too often glossed over for there is reluctance in many quarters to accept the immense harm created by the most powerful elements in the UK to the most helpless around the world, not least within the British Isles.

Next time you spread toothpaste containing kelp on your toothbrush or sprinkle dried kelp on your salad spare a moment to think of the people whose lives were destroyed by exploitative landlords who forced them to produce kelp when it was worth big money and speculators and the government who threw them to the wolves.

An excellent source is: The Jaws of Sheep: The 1851 Hebridean Clearances of Gordon of Cluny. James A. Stewart, Jr.
Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium
Vol. 18/19 (1998/1999), pp. 205-226

It can be read online: https://www.jstor.org/stable/20557342?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Shore ownership under udal law in Orkney and Shetland