Posts tagged ‘Glenshiel’

Aug 24, 2021

Bottom Lining: blood and soil Tories, a mad monarch and debauched Duke of York

The UK is not a migrant friendly country. It says it is. It isn’t. The UK is hostile to migrants. Not all of the UK but certainly that bit that controls migration.

People have migrated. That’s it. People have migrated the whole of human existence. Migrated to find the essentials of living – basically what it takes for survival.

When humans migrated across continents they came from Africa. Oh, yes. Even you racists out there, pucker up because you are basically, African. Learn to love your genes. Of course none of those emigrants who landed on these shore about 1,000,000 years ago would be welcome today. Imagine the scene  – boats loaded with terrified people attempting to make safe landing. But wait, back then there was no evil little Home Secretary shooing them away. There was nobody here at all. And so the British African arrived. And that was that. People forgot who they were. But we haven’t got all day – fast forward to – not Patel but a government not unlike today’s unscrupulous Tory gang of spivs and toffs.

James Gillray’s depiction of British MPs getting ready for the daily grind

The year is 1803. Britain was at war with France. Again. They didn’t want any queer democratic revolutionary happenings in Blighty. So war it was. Tories were in charge. Again. A guy called Henry Addington and a mad King. Just call him George.

The mad king has his sights on Boney

Like most Tories the bottom line is, well, the bottom line. Back in 1803 it was all the rage – on the take, doing a mate a favour, you scratch my back. We’re well acquainted with the idea. Well acquainted. Pub landlords getting squoodles of millions for making virus test tubes. Turns out they were – well not test tubes as science understands the term. But. Well, always a but. Didn’t have viruses back then. They did but didn’t know them as viruses.

Anyway. 1803. War. Tories in power. Tories everywhere. Even those who didn’t call themselves Tories were Tories. Tory = look out for the bottom line. In Tory minds that meant squeezing the last sweat of profit out workers. One of the most horrible jobs back about 1803 was cutting, gathering, laying out to dry, burning and collecting the ash of kelp. Kelp is a type of seaweed that was essential to manufacturing soap and glass. Everyone needs glass and/or soap – except the Hudsons. In-joke involving cruel snorting schoolkids at sight of 19th century add for Hudson’s soap because of a local family of that name who weren’t too familiar with soap. Enough of this nonsense. Soap and glass back in 1803 delivered excellent bottom lines because so much of the hard graft going into them was done by kids. What do child workers mean? Profits. Kids and their folks were sick of this work. They’d been farmers until thrown out of their homes by their lairds. This is Scotland, in the Union, in 1803. Highland lairds (landowners) found a better bottom line by throwing impoverished natives off the lands of their ancestors and replacing them with sheep. People pay to eat sheep and wear wool and sheep don’t need much looking after. Bottom line, remember.

Where were we? Yes, people were sick of this kelp drudgery. They couldn’t return to their burnt out homes invaded by sheep so many chose to migrate to North America. Migration was quite a thing across the British Isles and families who claimed to own the Highlands were so bottom lining with sheep they’d persuaded lots and lots of people to pile into boats and take their chances in North America where they might eventually be able to farm.  What I mean by persuaded is forced. Some had a choice. Some had no choice. People wept, said their last farewells to any too old or decrepit to migrate. They wouldn’t see them again. Or the land. Or the graves of their families. Choice wasn’t really a thing back then – for the poor.  One way out was to risk everything, basically everything these folk had was their lives, and emigrate. No Union bonus for them.

Pause for a link but come back a’body. Kelp, Clearances, Clanranald, Speculators and Scottish Scoundrel Lairds

Furious lairds did what they could to dissuade them from leaving – apart from paying them properly and improving their working conditions. When this didn’t work they lobbied their friends in government to make it all but impossible for these poor folk to leave the country and so leave proprietors without labour to do their dirty work for them.

The Tory government and the mad king were happy to play their part. The Passenger Vessel Act was quickly pushed through parliament in London. To add insult to injury it was tarted up as being in the interests of migrants – to protect them from being exploited by transportation organisations with less overcrowding and better treatment of passengers. Bunkum, of course. The motivation was entirely to prevent workers leaving the United Kingdom to settle in North America, for example, the fare to Canada tripled from £3 to at least £10 which in today’s money is a hike from £300, still a small fortune back in 1803, to an outrageous £1,000 per person; on a par with people smugglers skinning desperate immigrants nowadays. And we’re talking about the most impoverished folk with virtually no money to their name. It’s worth saying at this point that the Act was repealed in 1827 when prices for kelp plummeted and Highland lairds wanted rid of what had become unwanted workers – 20,000 once employed in the kelp industry. Westminster was only happy to oblige them once again by dropping the cost of migration onboard vessels to North America. Westminster politicians were as unscrupulous then as they are today.  Alexander Macdonell, chaplain of the Glengarry Fencilbes, said the 1803 Act was passed on a

specious pretext of humanity & tender benevolence towards the emigrants.

Passengers were crowded onto vessels

The swiftness of the Act’s passage through parliament took some Hebrideans by surprise. They had already given up their tenancies and were abandoned by the government for a generation.

However – always a however – there were exceptions allowed. What are friends in high places for if not to pull strings. The Earl of Selkirk who had ambitions to resettle Scots in Prince Edward Island in Canada was indulged as was the Hudson’s Bay Company (echoes of PPE contracts). Selkirk set up travel agents at Portree and other Highland ports to collect prospective migrants’ deposits, some very large amounts.

Highlanders were being pushed from pillar to post. They were despised by most of the rest of the United Kingdom as uncivilised brutes and scum. But uncivilised brutes were exactly what UK military leaders, government, the mad king and the Duke of York (who was involved in sex scandals which seem to be an occupational hazard for Dukes of York) wanted as recruits to fight its wars. A regiment was formed in North America to absorb some of these hulking Highlanders who had proved so willing to spill their blood for king and country; the Canadian Fencible Regiment appeared then disappeared in 1804 when recruits grew disgruntled over their treatment and were condemned by the military authorities, parliament, the mad king and the debauched prince as strìopach (stroppy). The government, mad king and the grand ol’ Duke of York were feargach (angry) and raged at the men they’d soft-talked into signing up for becoming ‘troublesome’. Though not so troublesome they’d leave them be. Parliament and royalty – mad and bad – were desperate for cannon fodder, fit and brave young men they could sacrifice on the altar of Empire. The 1819 Military Register refers to Highlanders’

blood copiously shed in our service.

In 1810 Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register asks why government grants that were provided to the Highlands to keep the young from migrating was not available in Ireland. Perhaps it was something to do with the copious amount of blood shed by the youth of the Highlands and Islands.

So, sheep were moved onto land where once there were people; families and villages and the communities scattered hither and yon. Not untypical were the seven or eight families who lived on a farm in Argyleshire forcibly evicted and the farm let to “a gentleman because he can give more rent” and the 100,000 acres of lands of Glenshiel (then Glen Sheal), Morvich and Dornie on the west coast of Ross-shire once filled with communities of people was advertised in 1810 as pasture for sheep and black cattle, game, fishings, lead and other minerals. 

Oh, why I left my hame by Thomas Faed

There was panic on both sides – months before the Act with warnings over the “destructive depopulation of our island” and calls for “immediate and vigorous interposition of our Legislature” to stop the removal of desperate Highlanders with no means of support by what amounted to ‘unwilling banishment’. Highlanders whose only language was the Gaelic were approached by human traffickers armed with travel documents in English. Some were inevitably duped by them.

Highlanders were the disposable property of landowners in the 18th and 19th centuries. After the ’45 uprising and the butchery and cruelty that followed there were Scots desperate to leave to find safety. The Highlands were treated as alien territory by the British army which built forts which it filled with loyal troops to remind Highlanders who was in charge and put down resistance to its hegemony. The incursion of sheep and sporting estates created other incentives to leave. The 1803 Act was another means of controlling Highlanders. And that was another bottom line for the Union.