Highland Clearances #4: Loch's Sutherland 'Account'

Loch's Sutherland Account

... on the ESTATE of SUTHERLAND ...
By James LOCH, Esquire
Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 
Paternoster-Row, LONDON.

[This document has been edited (underlining added) to reveal some idea of how important the MORAL ARGUMENT was to this generation of IMPROVERS. This part of the Doctrine/Discourse was a central justification for the radical social changes undertaken in the name of political economy.]

  "...the plans of improvement...and their rapid and successful progress, and the increased and increasing industry and comfort of the people, have justified...the new system; especially in the manner in which it has influenced the habits of the people...A fit opportunity, therefore, seems to present itself, for giving a more particular account of the former condition of this estate...the very wretched and deplorable situation of its inhabitants, under that state of things, and...in what manner, and to what pitch it has been raised from that condition, in the short space of twelve years; giving...some details of the plan, which has been laid down for the amelioration of this vast property, and of the success which has attended its progress, and justifies its adoption."

[James Loch was factor for all of the Marquess of Stafford's estates, the English as well as the Scottish ones. Stafford acquired Sutherland through marriage. His wife, the Marchioness of Stafford, whose family name was Gordon, was by birth, and before her being married, the Countess of Sutherland. In a simple chain of command for the estate of Sutherland at the time of the Strathnaver Clearances in 1814, James Loch (as over-factor or general manager in England) was in charge of Patrick Sellar (as under-factor or site manager in Scotland).]

  "Such being, until very lately, the condition of the estate of SUTHERLAND...a hardy but not an industrious race of people, raising a precarious crop of inferior oats, of which they baked their cakes, and of bear, from which they distilled their whiskey...Impatient of regular and constant work...all the heavy labour was abandoned to the women, who were employed, occasionally, even in dragging the harrow to cover the seed. To build their hut, or get in their peats for fuel, or to perform any other occasional labour of the kind, the men were ever ready to assist; but the great proportion of their time, when not in the pursuit of game, or of illegal distillation, was spent in indolence and sloth."

[Loch's Account is clearly a public relations exercise, designed to counter the appalling publicity attendant on the Sutherland clearances of 1807-08 (Kildonan  and Lairg), 1813-14 (Upper Strathnaver and Assynt), and 1818-19 (Lower Strathnaver and Strathbora). But Loch was a lawyer, educated at Edinburgh University like Patrick Sellar, and imbued with the same Improver philosophy. And like Sellar, Loch shows all the signs of being a 'true believer' in the Doctrine of Improvement. Part of this belief was his preoccupation with the 'manners' and 'habits' of those most unsettled by the proposed social and economic 'reforms'.]

  "So long as the system, just described, remained in full force, no attempt could be made to improve or ameliorate the situation of these poor people. To better their condition, however; to raise them from such a state of continual popularity and occasional want; to supply them with the means, and to create in them the habits of industry, was, and is the bounden duty of the owners of every such property. And it was not less their duty to do so, because the same arrangement, which was calculated to produce this salutary effect, was at the same time the best suited to increase the value of their property, and to add to the general wealth of the community...None felt the full extent of this obligation more than the proprietors of the estate of SUTHERLAND."

[The patronising tone of Loch's Account, in conjunction with his attitude of near-reverence towards his aristocratic employers, makes for uncomfortable reading in the twenty-first century. It is as if the factor is saying to the thousands of clans-people he was responsible for 'removing': "We are doing all this for your own good". Loch is attempting to convince his audience, which includes his wealthy superiors, that it was worth the social upheaval and political hatred that the Sutherland Clearances had aroused. His ideological sleight of hand is the claim that those most harmed are in fact the most benefited. He resorts to the Moral Argument  with undiluted enthusiasm, one suspects, because any alleged Improvements of this nature defy empirical measurement. The people of Clan Sutherland are now better off, it seems, because their well-meaning (and true-believing) factor says so.]

The Grand Vision

"It is well known that  the borders of the two kingdoms were inhabited by a numerous population, who, in their pursuits, manners, and general structure of society, bore a considerable resemblance to that which existed in the Highlands of Scotland. When the union of the crowns [Treaty of Union in 1707], and those subsequent transactions which arose out of that event, rendered the maintenance of that irregular population not only unnecessary, but a burden to the proprietor to whom the land belonged, the people were removed, and the mountains were covered with sheep. So that it had been for a length of time proved by the experience of the stock farmers of those mountain tracts, which comprise the northern districts of England, and the southern parts of Scotland, that such situations were peculiarly suited for the maintenance of this species of stock. Taking this example as their guide, experience had still further proved, that the central and western Highlands of Scotland were equally well calculated for the same end."

"As there was every reason therefore for concluding, that the mountainous parts of the estate, and indeed, of the county of SUTHERLAND, were as much calculated for the maintenance of stock as they were unfit for the habitation of man, there could be no doubt as to the propriety of converting them into sheep-walks, provided the people could be at the same time, settled in situations, where, by the exercise of their honest industry, they could obtain a decent livelihood, and add to the general mass of general wealth...It had long been known, that the coast of SUTHERLAND abounded with many different kinds of fish...Besides the regular and continual supply of white fish...the coast of SUTHERLAND is annually visited by one of those vast shoals of herrings, which frequent the coast of Scotland. It seemed as if it had been pointed out by Nature, that the system for this remote district, in order that it might bear its suitable importance in contributing its share to the general stock of the country, was, to convert the mountainous districts into sheep-walks, and to remove the inhabitants to the coast, or to the valleys near the sea...the object to be obtained by this arrangement was twofold: it was, in the first place...making it produce a large supply of wool, for the staple manufactory of England...and, in the second place, to convert the inhabitants of those districts to the habits of regular and continued industry...A policy well calculated to raise the importance, and increase the happiness of the individuals themselves, who were the objects of change, to benefit those to whom these extensive, but hitherto unproductive possessions belonged, and to promote the general prosperity of the nation. Such was the system adopted."

Improvement in the Interior

"The county of SUTHERLAND is computed to contain 1,840,000 acres, deducting 32,000 for salt water lochs. The estate of SUTHERLAND, including the Earldom of SUTHERLAND, the Lordship of STRATHNAVER, the Barony of ASSYNT...are computed to contain more than 800,000 acres."
"...the bulk of the most active improvers are natives, who, both as sheep farmers, and as skillful and enterprising agriculturalists, are equal to any within the kingdom...Out of the TWENTY-NINE principal tacksmen [major tenants] on the estate, SEVENTEEN are natives of SUTHERLAND, FOUR are NORTHUMBRIANS, TWO from ROXBURGHSHIRE, TWO from CAITHNESS, ONE from MIDLOTHIAN, and ONE from the MERSE."
"...It now remains to be considered, how far...the plan laid down for for the improvement of this estate; namely the conversion of the mountainous districts into sheep-walks; and to examine...the increased productiveness of the country, and of this mode of management...the number of sheep in that country amounts to about ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTEEN THOUSAND Cheviot, and THIRTEEN THOUSAND black-faced sheep...The annual exportation of wool exceeds 415,000 lbs. which is sold at the annual Inverness market held in June...Many flocks of 300 to 500 sheep each, are also driven south every year, to be sold at the border and Yorkshire markets...amounting in all to about 30,000 sheep."

[The above is for the whole county of Sutherland. The figures for the estate of Sutherland in 1920 are roughly one half to two thirds of the amounts Loch uses in his main narrative.]
"Appendix No. VIII. Sheep: Cheviot 64,100; Black-faced 9,000; total 73,100. Wool: 9,700 stones by 24 lbs to a stone. Sheep Sales South: 9,700 'Wedders'; 6,530 Ewes; total 26,230."

[Another vital statistic glossed over by Loch is the number of former inhabitants, all of whom had to be removed from the hinterland to accommodate 29 sheep-tenants, their shepherds and dogs, and 73,100 Cheviot and black-faced sheep. The Account does not say how many people were removed, or how many of these were resettled on the coast in small acre allotments. We can only guess from the census figures of previous years. In a footnote to another argument, Loch mentions in passing, that the population of the county of Sutherland was "about 23,000", and that for the estate of Sutherland, "less than 15,000". This represents a transfer ratio of approximately 5 sheep in to one person out  on the estate.]

Improvements on the Coast

"Notwithstanding this dilatoriness in occupying their new lots, by far the greater bulk of the people are now settled upon the coast, and adopting with zeal and alacrity, the cultivation of their land, and the prosecution of the herring fishery."
"An advantage of no ordinary nature will be obtained, by this concentration of people upon the coast; which is that the benefits of education and moral instruction can now be extended to all."
"Helmsdale...Previous to [1814] there was not a boat belonging to the place...1819, 70 coopers, 645 women, 1020 men, 204 boats, 20,000 barrels [of herring]. The value of such a trade in such a country, cannot be too highly estimated under any circumstances...more particularly in as far as the employment of the removed tenantry was an object, it is a matter of the highest importance. To have been able to communicate in so short a time so much industry and steady exertion, to a population so recently abandoned to the most irregular and inactive habits, is a matter of no light moment."
"The herring fishing was tried for the first time at Bora, a harbour farther up the coast, in 1819, which gave employment to THREE coopers, THIRTY women, and SIXTY-FIVE men, who caught a THOUSAND AND FIFTY-TWO barrels of herrings; a fair beginning for so small a place...also a recent creation."
"The money accumulated from the three last years [at Helmsdale], has been most judiciously expended, in the purchase of larger boats...In a few years the character of the whole of this population will be completely changed, as has happened in the instances of Armadale and Port Skerra, who are now the most enterprising boatmen possible. The children of those removed from the hills will lose all recollection of the customs and habits of their fathers, and it is to be hoped that they will never experience that want, to which their parents have been so frequently, and so severely exposed."
"Their future success and increase must now depend upon the steady and patient industry of the people themselves."

A footnote on the 'success and increase' of Patrick Sellar

"Appendix II. An Account pointing out the Progress of the Agricultural Improvements on the Estate of Sutherland, 1820."
"This gentleman [Patrick Sellar, Esq...formerly factor upon the estate...] is one of the most extensive stock farmers in Britain, and one of the most active of its improvers, in every branch of rural economy. Besides a considerable tract of land in the vicinity of his house [Morvich], to which he entered at Whitsunday, 1818, and which communicates across the hills to the farm of Culmaily...to which he entered at Whitsunday, 1810, he occupies all the upper part of the east side of Strathnaver, called Rhiloisk...to which he entered at Whitsunday, 1814, with the whole of the west side of that Strath from the top of Loch Naver to the sea...at Invernaver...lands [called Syre] he entered at Whitsunday, 1819."


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