1819 - Statement Respecting the Sutherland Highlanders
Aug. 26, 1819. ANSTICE and WRIGHT, Solicitors, Temple.

To the various Communications which have appeared in some of the English and Scotch newspapers, containing unfounded and malicious misrepresentations respecting the late removals of the Tenants from the ESTATE of SUTHERLAND, the following refutation is given by the Factor on the Estate:-

"In reply to the several statements which have appeared in the newspapers, respecting the Sutherland Estate, I beg distinctly to assert, that they are false and without foundation. The tenants had notice in November, 1817, that they should be removed in May, 1819. These intimations were frequently renewed by me, both through the ministers and. by personal communication with the tenants themselves; and I did all in my power to persuade them to settle on the new lots, which I again and again offered to point out to them. These lots were situated either in the neighbourhood of Helmsdale, all old cultivated land, which, consisting of from one to two Scotch acres each, was quite sufficient for their maintenance, and. in the midst of that now industrious population, who had also been lately moved from the hills, or at Brora, where the lots are two Scotch acres each, of the most improvable land, all ready ploughed and fit for cultivation. To those for whom these lots were too small, I offered settlements of from 6 to 12 acres each, on Dornoch-moors (an improvable district, gradually coming into cultivation by the exertions of former settlers); to such 5L were offered for every acre brought into cultivation, its fitness for which purpose is evident to any man who chooses to examine the soil when turned up, and the annual progress made by the present tenants, who have required no such stipulation to stimulate their exertions : the people are well aware that those lots are still open for them if they choose. Of the lots in Assynt and Strathnaver I need say nothing, as the people of these two districts have almost to a man, settled on them. In the same manner the people of Kintradwell, in the parish of Loth, whose houses are falsely stated to have been burned, are settled in their new lots, either having built, or being in the course of building, their houses. It may be remarked, that those who have settled near Brora have preferred fixing their residence on the bare and uncultivated moor, because further removed from the high road, in preference to settling on the ploughed land originally intended for them, which is bounded by the turnpike road leading to Caithness: a decided proof that the people themselves do not think this sort of land unfit for cultivation. Many of the people from the parishes of Clyne, Golspie, and Rogart, have also settled in these lots; others who have left the estate are now settled upon tacks which they have taken in Caithness, or upon the estate of Mr. Dempster, in this county: several families have also emigrated to America.

"The representations regarding their present want of means to provide for their necessities is equally unfounded: for, besides the fact of most, if not all, of them having actually situations, they have had abandoned to them all their arrears, besides holding their land for the last year rent-free, during which time they had the opportunity of obtaining high prices for their cattle, owing to the advantageous state of the markets. The only instance of any of the people being destitute of the means of support, was that of three old women, who had settled themselves upon the estate and paid no rent: for them I built new houses upon their removal, and at the same time paid them their appraisements; and had more appeared entitled to a similar indulgence, it would have been granted to them: it has been a rule upon this, as it has been upon other estates in the county, to remove from their holdings all offenders against the law, upon their being convicted. of sheep-stealing, illegal distillation, destroying the woods, killing fish in close time, or of any other depredation on the property of the landlord or tacksman, and which heretofore existed to so great an extent as to render it necessary for all the proprietors and tacksmen (or principal tenants) in the county to unite themselves into an association for the protection of their property. This rule was not be abandoned upon the present occasion; and persons actually convicted of these crimes before a magistrate, amounting in number to about 100, one half of whom only were heads of families, were not to be retained upon the estate: besides, in order to enable the poorer of the people to build their huts, timber is furnished to them at Lord Stafford's expense; the other materials being of course found upon the ground, their erection cost the tenants nothing but their labour, every man in this country constructing his own habitation.

"As to the alleged acts of oppression committed by the officers in the execution of their duty, I distinctly assert such statement to be utterly untrue, and well known to be so by every respectable individual in the country, who never heard of them except through the medium of the newspapers; the fact being, that the law had only to been enforced in nine cases, as appears from the notes of the Procurator-Fiscal made at the time; in every other instance the people of their own accord quitted their huts, and took away their goods in the same peaceable manner as marked their whole conduct. Wherever sickness appeared they were left in undisturbed possession, some being in their huts even up to the present moment, these persons granting obligations to the Procurator-Fiscal to remove when sufficiently recovered. The account of their being burnt out of their huts is equally untrue In those instances, indeed, where the tenant either did not, or, from she distant situation of his hut, could not carry away the timber, it was burnt, but not until after the people had fully removed themselves and their goods, and after it had become the property of Lord Stafford, at the valuation of two sworn appraisers, in order to prevent their being reoccupied by the tenants or other persons, which experience had shown would be the case in the more remote situations among the mountains, as the construction of their turf huts is but the work of a few hours, and which, indeed, has now happened in one of the remote districts of the estate, where the huts were left untouched; and I confidently state, that in place of any injury being done to the people or their goods, the bulk of them stated at the time that the valuations exceeded their expectations. In conclusion, I have to remark, that the arrangements nave been gradually going on since the year 1807; that the greatest care has by the express orders of Lord. and Lady Stafford, constantly been taken of the people and their property ; that upon the present occasion the most ample and repeated notices have been given to them, and the most liberal terms have been afforded them, such as were never given on any other Highland estate to the people on their being removed to the coast; and the complaints which have been so industriously circulated, and the unwarrantable and anonymous attacks which have been made upon the agents of this estate, cannot have proceeded from persons connected with the county, the improvement of which they thus, for interested or worse motives, vainly seek to delay, or from persons who have at heart the welfare of the inhabitants, whom they endeavour by every misrepresentation to mislead, and by preventing their settling in the situations allotted for them, wickedly deprive of the advantages held out to the them.

"However much I despise such unfounded and malicious aspersions, as making no impression here, where the facts are known; yet I have felt it a duty I owe to my employers and myself, not to allow them to continue any longer uncontradicted, as it may induce some persons at a distance to believe that there is some foundation for them: I say nothing of the propriety of the new arrangements but I would recommend any one who doubts on the subject, to examine with his own eyes the superior comfort and industry of those who have been already settled up on the coast, compared with the idle and. irregular habits of those who remain among the mountains in practice of illegal distillation and other breaches of the law. In finishing this statement of facts, I have only to add, that if these gross misrepresentations are continued, I am determined to take the means the law affords me of putting an end to them, and of vindicating the truth of what I state.

"F. SUTHER, Factor on the Estate of Sutherland"
"Rhives, Sutherlandshire, August 13, 1819"

Notes
  1. The Times, Saturday, Sep 04, 1819; pg. 1; Issue 10716; col F