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A study of the Poor Roll in a Scottish Highland Parish, 1864-1915

By Peter Lawrie, ©1997
This paper was written for a University project in 1997. If Helmsdale or the Scottish Poor Law is of interest to you, I hope that you find this article of value.
The original paper from which this webpage was derived, was based on a number of sources.
The annually printed List of the Registered Poor (1868-1915),
Minutes of the Parochial Board (1864-1904),
Statutory Death Records (1855-1901)
and the CEBs (census enumeration books) for Kildonan covering the census years of 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891

Information on 336 paupers identified from the above sources have been analysed. These paupers have been classed as aged, infirm, sick, insane, widow(er)ed with children, orphans and others. The analysis of the out-relief payments to these people, taking into account the cost of basic foodstuffs in the local area shows that they rose from a level barely enough for survival in 1870 to what might be regarded as basic subsistence level by 1900. The attitudes shown towards the able-bodied and the use made ny Kildonan parish of the Poorhouse in Bonar Bridge and the Asylum in Inverness are examined.

This project was intended to examine the Poor Law in a rural Highland parish using a ‘questioning sources’ strategy. Using 'Nominal Record linkage' of the LRP (List of the Registered Poor) and MPB (minutes of the Parochial Board) to the CEBs (Census Enumeration Books) and the Statutary Death records helped to show who the paupers were, why they were so reduced and how they were treated. The study was intended to examine how the Poor Law actually operated in comparison with the intention of the 1845 Act and the criticisms in the 1909 Poor Law Report?

Much of the published work on the Poor Law in Scotland is concerned with the problems created by rapid industrialisation and urbanisation and the boom/bust cycle of heavy manufacturing, or with the acutely congested western Highlands and Islands. Kildonan is an east-Sutherland parish with a commercial fishing port, a few large farms and a ‘long tail of tenants with tiny holdings’. (Gray,1957,p226)

According to James Chalmers, charity was “the care and concern for others....a thank offering for the less fortunate”. Chalmers’ voluntary ideals, however, recalled a pre-modern society where a small elite of the land-owning class, successful traders and a few professionals in a parish knew who their 'poor' were and to varying extents took care of them.

The growth of urban centres in the nineteenth century increasingly made this a fiction. According to Checkland, nineteenth-century economic theory held that charity defied the laws of the labour-market in assisting the able-bodied. (Checkland,1980,p2-3). In practice Alison stated that Victorian welfare was “parsimony injurious to the poor and discreditable to the rich”. (Alison,1840,p66).

In Smout's study of nineteenth century Scotland, “The Gaelic Highlander often refused to conform to the model of Smithian man. They had their own ideology, which was that the possession of land, the tenure of a croft, was the highest good a man could desire.” (Smout,1986,p67). It is impossible to conclude from the evidence how much this applied to Kildonan. However, the Poor Law was deeply rooted in the Smithian idea of ‘the invisible hand of economic self-interest’ (of the employing classes!), as opposed to the co-operative, yet individualistic view of the Highlander.

In Richards' study of the Sutherland estate, he referred to James Loch, (MP and agent for the Duke of Sutherland), who in an 1846 letter on the developing potato famine stated “I do not think that some measure of distress will not reach our people. I think it will and I think it ought, it is the only thing that will induce them to work.” (Richards,1973,p263).

From an early Board of Supervision report “Any systematic attempt to refuse all relief, except such as may be received within the walls of a Poorhouse, would excite a baneful spirit of discontent among the poor.....without effecting any saving to the funds of the parish” (Levitt,1988,p9). Levitt goes on to illustrate from evidence to the 1844 Commission that it was not unknown for some parishes to give occasional relief to the unemployed, in spite of the normal practice to refuse relief to the able bodied.

Nicholls (an English exponent of the Workhouse and efficiency of relief. (Drake,1994,p278) stated that by 1853, 77% of parishes had moved to (Alisonian) assessment of ratepayers, rather than the voluntary giving which, prior to the 1843 Disruption and the 1845 Poor Law Act had been the practice in Scotland. (Nicholls,1967,p264). Hunter found that by 1850 only two Highland parishes had continued the voluntary principle. (Hunter,1976,p75)

Quotations from the Board of Supervision reports: (Nicholls,1967) (The italics are mine)
1849,p229. “As Poorhouses increase they will furnish.....a simple test where there is reason to doubt the disability or destitution of the applicants.”
1850,p231. “When relief was a charitable rather than a legal obligation, Poorhouses were regarded as almshouses....admission was regarded as a boon.... The more perfect knowledge by the poor of their rights.....have caused a strong pressure on Parochial Boards. A Poorhouse will be wholly useless unless it is as to render it more irksome than labour.”.
1850,p233. “Admission to Poorhouse (1) Destitute persons.....who cannot be cared for by means of outdoor relief except at a cost exceeding that for which they can be maintained in the Poorhouse. (2) Persons whose claims are doubtful,....concealing resources,....idle, immoral or dissipated.”
1851,p235. “Parochial Boards had discretionary powers to afford temporary relief to casual poor including the able-bodied in absolute may be more advantageous to give aid to such able-bodied persons than withhold it until disablement arises”. (Judgements of the House of Lords in 1852, 1859 and 1866 effectively removed this discretion from Parochial Boards (Levitt,1988,p11)).

The Act required Parochial Boards to care for the sick and infirm, but also insisted on rigid control of costs and harsh tests of genuine destitution. The result was an unsatisfactory compromise. (MacLachlan,1987,p26)

During the period of this study, concurrent with parliamentary reform and the enfranchisement of the working-classes, legislation was introduced dealing with education, lunacy, public health, old-age pensions in 1908 and unemployment insurance in 1911. In 1909 a report was published which was highly critical of Poor Law practice. It concluded: the abolition of outdoor relief was wholly impracticable; offering the Poorhouse in all cases had unacceptable results; doles were manifestly inadequate for healthy subsistence and assumed to supplement ‘other’ resources, whether or not they existed; relief was unconditional with no check on actual maintenance or improvement. (NCBPLC,1909,p77-81)

The authors of the Main report aimed to modify and improve the Poor Law, whereas the Minority report for Scotland (MRNCBPLC,1909,p44) proposed its replacement by specialist agencies whose aim should be the prevention rather than relief of destitution. Subject headings relevant to this project are summarised:

Able-bodied.(p2-13). Treatment was inadequate and inept. National problems could not be solved at the parochial level. There should be a national Employment and Training Authority.
Children.(p13-19). Poorhouses were the wrong place for children. 30,000 children on outdoor relief were underfed and poorly clothed. The Education Authority should be responsible for orphans and children of the Poor.
Sick.(p20-28). The provisions for medical care were not working. The system provided the minimum necessary rather than the maximum practicable. The service was uneconomical, impracticable and wasteful. The sick should be wholly taken out of the Poor Law.
Mentally Defective.(p28-31). 20% of Paupers were mentally defective. All defectives should be removed from the Poor Law into the care of the Lunacy Authority.
Aged.(p31-34). The 1908 Old Age Pensions Act gave pensions to the necessitous over-70s. Excluded Pensioners and some under-70s unable to earn their maintenance should be removed from the Poor Law to the Pensions Committee.
Infirm but not Aged.(p31-36). Discrimination between the aged and younger infirm was unfair. Poor Law treatment was inadequate out-relief or the Poorhouse. They should be treated according to their needs outwith the Poor Law.

The underlying philosophy of the Poor Law, which implied the inferiority of the poor was criticised (MRNCBPLC,1909,p55):
There was an implication that moral defects caused destitution.
The stigma of pauperism was designed to be a deterrent to requesting relief.
Stress was placed on the efficiency of treatment (cost to the ratepayer) rather than long-term improvement in the condition of the pauper.
All classes of paupers were viewed equally as destitution cases and were not eligible for relief before they became destitute.

Description and evaluation of Sources and methods:
The annual “List of Registered Poor chargeable to the Parish of Kildonan”. (LRP) These cover 1868-1915 with ten years missing.
The Minutes of the Poor Board, (MPBs) were used to go back to 1864 and fill in some of the missing years. All individuals with a Kildonan settlement were linked on a spreadsheet into 336 cases, showing duration and nature-of-relief. Despite some inconsistencies, the absence of the GRP and the restarting (twice) of the roll-numbers, there was little risk of confusion. The LRPs were circulated to ratepayers, often the neighbours of paupers on the roll and included the annual statement of income and expenditure summarised at Appendix-3.

The Minutes of the Parochial Board for Kildonan. (MPB)
The “General Register of the Poor” for Kildonan in Highland Archives only covers 1924-30 but some of the Minute books of the Parochial Board survive. Fair copies cover 1863-Oct/1878 and Aug/1890-1904. A draft covers 1877-Oct 1884, thus 1885 to part of 1890 is missing. Draft rolls in November and May are included with new applications for relief or changes (increased doles, shoes and blankets or house repairs). The MPBs refer to communications received or actions by the Inspector, only occasionally giving extra detail about paupers. An annual rate was levied on the owners and occupiers of property. The parish was owned almost entirely by the Duke of Sutherland and his factor was a member of the Board until the Parish Council took over in May 1895. James Campbell, the Inspector of the Poor, as well as being the Parochial Clerk, the Collector of rates, Parish Schoolmaster, Sanitary Inspector and Registrar was appointed in 1866 after his predecessor had resigned following criticism by the Board of Supervision’s visiting Inspector. Following an 1869 inspection Campbell was commended for the new printed return which forms the basis of this project. Retiring in 1914, he probably did ‘know everybody’s business’. (Fraser&Morris,1990,p272).

Statutory death records. (SDR)
As far as possible the death of a pauper in the LRP was linked to the SDR, adding age and cause of death to summary spreadsheets. For many pauper deaths the Inspector was Informant as well as Registrar and the personal information is often incomplete and cause of death uninformative. There was a good reason for the lack of personal information and in particular next of kin (the bane of today's family history buffs). If the Inspector of Poor was aware of relatives of a pauper, he was obliged by law to chase them for support of the pauper. On occasion, this might cost considerably more than the actual poor relief given. The cause of death could also be uninformative as calling on the services of a doctor would cost the Poor Board and therefore it was often easier to enter 'senile decay', 'debility' or similar as the cause of death.

CEBs for Kildonan (52) 1851 to 1891.
Using extracts of the spreadsheets in alphabetical order with the people whom I expect to find in each of the CEBs (1851-91) for annotation, I identified all but eleven local paupers in one or more CEBs for their reported ages, places of birth and occupations (before they become ‘paupers’). The CEBs are a frustrating source due to temporary absences, reporting errors and the lack of any useful addresses in this parish. However, due to their circumstances and need to maintain a ‘settlement’ potential paupers tended not to move. In the 1851 CEB 62% of the population were locally born and 81% in Sutherland. Among paupers over the period 80% were born in the parish and 89% in the county. Having found discrepancies between ages on the LRP and SDR, there are more between these and the ages reported for the same individuals on successive CEBs. Only 58 had informative occupations, other than e.g. ‘domestic-servant’, ‘lotter’, ‘wife’, ‘daughter’ or blank.

Maintenance of a 'settlement' was important, as the Poor Board were only responsible for paupers either born or long-term resident in their parishes. Anyone without such a settlement status was the responsibility of their home parish. Once again, the Poor Board would on occasion spend more on seeking to return a pauper to their home parish, or in seeking restitution from that parish, than they might spend on actual relief.

Old Parish Record for Kildonan, 1791-1854. (OPR)
The OPR was checked for paupers born in the parish up to 1843 according to the CEBs. Most were found, though it appears few people knew their exact age and therefore some of the commoner names are open to dispute. Almost all paupers had parents described as lotters, tenants or labourers, which accounted for the bulk of the pre-clearance population. However this source would have been more valuable if I had time to examine kinship links in order to understand relationships between paupers and their neighbours in the community.

Main Findings.
Many claimants were refused on the grounds that they were able-bodied, not destitute or “not a proper object of relief”. Some are 'relieved' but the inspector is instructed to recover advances from relatives. Although amounts recovered are regularly reported, it is rarely possible to link this to individual relief given. (See Drake,1994,p96-97 for the responsibility under English law of children for their parents). The Board became involved in legal disputes over settlement of paupers and, in 1875, £89 (20% of the total paid to the regular poor) was spent on a single case claiming restitution from a reputed father. For ‘settlement’, birth or three years residence was necessary, without receiving relief or begging for assistance. (Day,1918,p127). Several claims by tramps are rejected annually, though the financial returns do show occasional payments to 'casual poor'. Kildonan paupers in other parishes (2 to 4 each year) are included but paupers from elsewhere (5 or 6 every year.) are ignored in this project. The percentage of the population on-the-roll rose a little above the Scottish average in 1870 and in most years until 1897. (Appendix-2).

Imbeciles and Lunatics.(sic)
There are 51 cases described as either imbeciles or lunatics, This represents 15% of the total which was less than the national average of 20%. Six of the 51 were sent to the Inverness Asylum for short periods before the Board of Lunacy payments began in 1876 and 36 thereafter, mostly after 1893 when the payments from the Board of Lunacy increased. Lodging-house keepers were authorised and paid by the Board to keep lunatics. Ten imbeciles were boarded-out in earlier years and sent to the Asylum later, one due to their propensity for ‘chasing conveyances on the highway’. Several widows-with-children spent time in the Asylum. It is impossible to classify the rest, perhaps today we might describe tham as depressed due to their impoverished circumstances.

I defined “long-term-sick” as the 38 people (11% of the total) who were on-the-roll before the age of 60, and remained there for more than two years. I defined “final-illness” as the 12 (4% of the total) younger cases who died within a year of joining the roll. Incapable paupers were nursed by untrained women who probably stayed off the roll themselves only by virtue of 1/- pw attendance paid for each. A Medical Officer shared with teh adjoining Loth parish was partly paid by government grant, (Day,1918,p128) though the Chairman of the Board complained repeatedly about the cost of the MO’s house. SDRs for paupers often indicate ‘old-age’ or ‘debility’ as a cause of death, making analysis pointless. Tuberculosis and phthisis were commonly reported as causes of premature death, probably due to damp, inadequate housing (Hunter,1976,p112-3). Medicines were provided to sick paupers but the Board was reluctant to send paupers to Inverness Infirmary. Typhoid, typhus and other fevers were regularly reported but serious expenditure on sanitation only begins after the Public Health Act of 1897.

I defined the elderly at 65+, although the 1908 Act referred to over-70s. The elderly accounted for much of the roll, 45% overall based on age-of-entry and higher based on actual ages, until 1908. The median age-of-entry to regular out-relief overall was 63, rising to 68 when I excluded widows-with-children and orphans. The median age of the 156 who were or had been on-the-roll and died aged 65+ (1864-1901) was 80. The median age of death of all 366 65+s in the parish (1855-1901) was 77. The oldest are most likely to need aid, but this does not explain such longevity having survived for nine years of a pound of oatmeal per day!
In 1871, 68% of females and 27% of males who I calculated to be 65+ were on-the-roll and in 1891, 53% of females and 10% of males. It is reasonable to assume that although some of those not on-the-roll may have had savings or remittances to live on, most lived with younger relatives. The migration from the parish of younger people as the population declined by 25% between 1851 and 1901 inevitably reduced the available support for the elderly.

Widows and Orphans.
During 1864-1908, 35 widows-with-children (11%) receive out-relief. For 21 of these residing in the parish and 8 residing elsewhere, but with a settlement in the parish, relief ceased, presumably when the children reached 14; There were only four widowers-with-children, two of these died leaving 6 orphans. There were 32 Married men (10 of them elderly, and 5 living outside the parish) of whom 20 died on-the-roll. Twelve orphans or illegitimate children (4%), two of them imbeciles, were maintained, normally boarded-out in the community with one of them brought up in the Bonar Bridge Poorhouse from birth till 14.

Able-bodied claimants.
It is difficult to determine whether the able-bodied were assisted. 11% of cases are uncertain, some from outwith the parish, while others received short-term or one-off payments for unstated reasons. Apart from subsistence crofting agriculture, Kildonan depended on cyclical industries. Inland sheep-farming and coastal arable-farming in eastern Sutherland were hit hard by agricultural depression after 1875 (Devine,1984,p243); the herring fishery could turn unpredictably from glut to famine. This would not only affect the fishermen, but the fish-processors and coopers at the harbour as well. Kildonan residents who migrated for work might return to the parish during periods of unemployment. Seven shoemakers and tailors appeared on-the-roll in the years after the railway reached Helmsdale in 1870. The ability of traders to bring in cheaper factory produced shoes and clothing by rail clearly ruined the trade of local craftsmen. A cooper was described in a CEB as unemployed prior to joining the roll. According to Nicholls, the law did allow occasional charity to the able-bodied but only the infirm were entitled to regular relief. (Nicholls,1967,p112). The law was constantly broken when an able-bodied claimant had a sick dependent or a sympathetic MO could register the unemployed person as ‘disabled’. (Day,1918,p127). One can speculate that if an unemployed person became truly disabled by reason of their destitution and, therefore, a “proper object of relief”, they would probably remain unemployable. Truly an inept system, as described in MRNCBPLC.

Weekly Doles.
Some payments for rents or repairs were made and clothing, bedding and fuel given out, but there is insufficient data to evaluate them. I concentrated on an analysis of 2372 pauper-years of weekly outdoor-relief. Between 26 and 64 were on regular outdoor-relief (1864-1910) averaging 49 and 9 years/pauper. Doles ranged from 6d to 5/-, averaging 2/6 with a median 2/3 overall. Some families are included so median values are more significant than the average. Over decennial periods the doles rose steadily from 1/3 (1864-70), 1/6 (1871-80), 2/- (1881-90) and 2/9 (1891-1900).

The mid-1880s saw the rise of the Highland Land League. (Hunter,1976,p131-183). The Kildonan branch of the Sutherland Association, a precursor of the League, was active from 1878 (MacLeod,1917,p29) and forced the estate to concede on several local issues. (MacCall,1995). Crofter representatives (including the son of a pauper who died in 1885) were on the Board in 1890, (MPBs for 1885-1889 are missing) following the Third Reform Act(1885), but the doles were rising before 1885, so could the Board have been responding to local political pressure?

The rise is even more significant in the context of a prices index falling from its peak of 151 in 1877 to 92 in 1896 and 100 in 1900. (Bowley,1900). Adjusting to 1900 prices the median dole was 1/- in 1864, only reaching 1/3 in 1878, 2/- in 1887 and 3/- by 1897. At 1870 prices a diet of oatmeal, potatoes and fish providing just 1900 calories per day would cost 2/- pw and the actual median 1/3 buys just 7lb of oatmeal/week, (some doles were paid in meal). In 1900, 3/- pw would buy a more balanced 2800 calories/day. For comparison, it was calculated that on a Sutherland labourer’s wage, spending 3/- on food per head (plus sundries and rent) a couple would be in primary poverty with one child in 1868-1884 and throughout with two. (Rowntree,1902 and Bowley,1900). Sheer survival was very difficult for paupers. If destitute, as demanded by the Poor Law, how could they have ‘other resources’? Perhaps they received their customary codach (portion) from among the crofters and labourers. Waste fish from the harbour, nettles from the midden and shellfish from the shore may have provided extra when they were mobile enough to get them. Doles paid to long-term paupers sometimes rose in their final years.

The Sutherland Combination Poorhouse was too large, distant, expensive, unsuited to the Highlands and little-used. It cost 8/4 per pauper/week in 1879. (Day,1918,p111). The Scottish average per pauper/week in 1863 was 4/4. (Ferguson,1948,p218). The Poorhouse ‘Test’ was recommended for all but the most ‘deserving’, yet in Scotland generally only 14% were sent to the Poorhouse, probably because outdoor-relief was cheaper, compared with 31% in England. (Fraser&Morris,1990,p275).

The English New Poor Law, designed for the rural South aimed to put as many paupers as possible in the workhouse. (Drake,1994, p277-278). In Kildonan, between 1868 and 1895, only 7 (2%) were sent, including a child for 14 years, yet the Poorhouse charged the parish £1176 in that time. A further five were sent in 1905-1915. Fourteen who were on outdoor-relief between 1867 and 1869 were ‘offered Poorhouse’, after pressure from the Board of Supervision, though only one was sent and seven continued on regular relief subsequently. Three more were ‘tested’ in 1901, two came off-the-roll but one continued. Several people refused even the offer of outdoor-relief demonstrating the ‘stigma’ effect and other deserving cases may well not have applied.

The ‘Barracks’ were a terrace of six pauper-houses in Helmsdale. They appear in an estate plan of 1820, established by the Sutherland estate as part of the infamous Clearance of Kildonan and taken over by the Parochial Board from 1845. During 1872-1905, the parochial board spent a total of £210 in repairs and housed 14 individuals or families receiving regular relief totalling roughly £1060, or £8 per pauper-year instead of an estimated £49 per pauper-year for the Poorhouse. Alongside the almshouses, known locally as 'The Barracks', the plan shows the narrow strips of land allocated to tenants who had been cleared from inland Kildonan. These allocations or 'lots' were judged just sufficient to keep a family alive. The census refers to the tenants as 'lotters' rather than 'crofters' as defined in the crofting legislation of the 1890s.

Other cottages were also taken over by the Board in exchange for relief and used as ‘Parochial lodging-houses’. (Day,1918,p116).

From - After 1845, poor relief continued to be administered at the parish level. As well as operating out-relief, parishes or combinations of parishes with a population of at least 5000, could operate a 'statutory' poorhouse under rules prescribed by the central Board of Supervision. Many parishes, particularly in the east of Scotland operated smaller and more informal poorhouse establishments variously known as almshouses, parish homes, parochial houses or parish lodging houses. In 1861, the Board of Supervision identified two classes of parish poorhouses: those being used for the purposes of statutory poorhouses, and those that were merely dwelling houses for those receiving outdoor relief, most of which were very modest. Parish accommodation was usually arranged as small apartments or cottages. The inmates (persons of good character) could live with as much freedom as in their own homes, often with their own furniture and buying and preparing their own food. The page specific to Sutherland is here. It notes that one of the earliest poor-relief institutions in Sutherland was that in the parish of Kildonan, said to have been established in the 1820s. It consisted of a terrace of six pauper cottages or almshouses known as "The Barracks". It received funding from the Duke of Sutherland and after 1845 from the Kildonan Parochial Board. In 1904 it could house up to 8 men, 8 women and 14 children.

Perhaps the Kildonan parish almshouse had to be established early due to the impoverishment of many of the cleared tenants due to the estate 'Improvements'! It may be also be noted that while the Sutherland estate was the main if not the only proprietor of the parish, the poor-relief rate after 1845 would be levied on tenants as well as the estate.
The barracks, old helmsdale

The concern of the Board was ‘efficiency’ of relief to the deserving-poor and forcing the non-deserving-poor to labour. Doles rose from utterly inadequate to bare subsistence-level by 1900. The aged, insane and infirm were aided to the minimum level needed for survival, though this does not appear to have affected their life-expectancy. The able-bodied may have been assisted by subterfuge. The Poorhouse was expensive and unsuitable. Relatively large sums were spent on legal costs and administration. Though the MRNCBPLC criticisms were justified, it does not appear to have been as bad in Kildonan as in the urban areas. Economic dogma and parochial parsimony in the face of a rapidly changing economy bore hardest on the poorest.

Personal Note
My great-grandfather, Joseph MacLeod, MBE, author of "Highland Heroes of the Land Reform Movement" and "The Land Question - the root of all social evils" was a founder of the Sutherland Association and a prominent Land-League speaker. He was the son of Alexander MacLeod, a shoemaker in Helmsdale who received both occasional and regular out-relief at various times after 1870, when the railway reached Helmsdale, until the last of his six children reached 14. Unusually Alexander came off the roll aged 65. The family lived at the Barracks where his mother nursed incapable paupers. Despite their circumstances, Alexander lived until he was 87 and Ann, his wife, to 97.

A Contemporary criticism of the Poor Law
The above analysis was created by me as part of a University course. The subject happened to be of great personal interest, as it had affected my gt-gt-grandparents. However, the constraints of the course meant that I was limited in its word-count. Hence the staccato nature of the above. As I am no longer subject to such constraints, I had intended to expand on it, but have not got around to it. However, I have recently (in 2019) re-read Donald MacLeod's "Gloomy Memories" and was struck by his complaints in a letter of 1851 about the operation of the Scottish Poor Law, as it was enacted in 1845. I have therefore included his criticisms in full - pages 113 to 119 of the 1892 Canadian edition, following this paragraph.

Donald MacLeod wrote:
This leads me again to the operations of the new and disgraceful Poor Law of Scotland, which is without precedent on the Statute book of any Christian civilized nation on earth. Indeed, when pondering over its details, crooks, chicanery and deception, I am tempted to question whether epidemic blindness and hardness of heart have not seized hold of the ruling and influential classes of society ; and it seems as if Providence had determined to destroy the baneful system on which the population of the Highlands has so long grown poor and wretched, by destroying the potato crop; in order to arouse the nation from their culpable apathy, regarding the Highland portion of His vineyard, where He was more beloved, more feared, and His statutes more strictly obeyed than any other portion of His creation, by giving this sharp warning of their danger, in tolerating a system pregnant with disastrous results, and cutting deep at the root of national ruin ; you may easily perceive, if all Scotch and English proprietors would follow the example of the Highland and Irish Nimrods, what the result would be. Their rights of property conveys the same power to every one of them, to do with their properties what they please, as they do to Highland lairds. In this age of utility we should expect to find the forest ground of Scotland rapidly decreasing, but the reverse is the case. The Highlands is an outer kingdom that moves under different laws of progress from any other portion of Britian. Here the Nimrods of England made a desperate rally. As they have seen their privileges sailing
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off one after another by the blows of public opinion, and their parks and game preserves invaded and ruined by the rise of towns, factories, railways, and other democratic nuisances, the sons of the mighty aristocratic ancestors have cast their eyes to the far North, and by universal reign in that quarter, resolved to make up for all they have lost. Highland proprietors considered that a deer forest was both a necessary and profitable appendage of an estate. If it wanted that it wanted dignity. Hence (according to Mr. Robert Somers, editor of the North British Mail, Glasgow, a gentleman to whom the Highlanders are much indebted) "Deer forests were introduced in much the same spirit as powdered wigs and four-wheeled carriages at the beginning and end of the last century." Now, it is a notorious fact that Highland glens and mountain ranges laid out in forests, is more profitable to a proprietor than when let as a sheep walk, (not speaking of agricultural purposes at all). Not so to the tacksman or to the country, but if it yields more rent to the owner, that one fact is sufficient to decide the disposal of it. The huntsman who wants a deer forest, limits his offers by no other calculation than the extent of his purse. He expects no pecuniary return ; his object is simply to spend his money and to have sport, and if means will allow, and man be capacitated capacious enough, he will out-bid every opponent. But had the Legislature taken, care as they should, and have made the rapidly increased rents of the proprietors reponsible for the employment and maintenance of the people, which the system of sheep walks, deer forests and game preserves, deprived of their usual means of livelihood, the Highlanders might not have had occasion to regret the change so much; or if the Legislature did not see fit to retain and secure their clansmen in those rights of tenure which they and their ancestors had possessed for time immemorial, in the same way as the English copyholders were secured in the reign of Charles II, it ought to have vigorously enforced the Poor Law of James VI and supplemented it with a leaf or two from the 43rd of Queen Elizabeth, the true tenor of which, was to provide sufficient food, clothing and lodgings, to those among the lieges who are proveably destitute, and who cannot obtain support without public aid. When this law was enforced (in Scotland as I said before) in 1845, the Poor Law Amendment Act was enacted, and the administration of this law entrusted or committed to two sets of men, rather say two Boards, viz., the Board of Supervision and Parochial Board. The Board of Supervision consisted of two able men, (no mistake,) Sir John MacNeil and Mr. Smyth were the responsible parties. The Parochial Boards were composed principally of proprietors, factors, and sheep farmers, established- by-law ministers, doctors, parish schoolmasters, rich merchants, (if favourites of the powers that be) with a very thin mixture from any other denomination, who hold monthly or quarterly meetings, as they think proper, to deliberate and consider who is deserving relief and who is not. (God help the poor for the tender mercies of the wicked are at the best cruel.) When a poor person puts in a claim, the officer of the Board waits upon him to examine his case, and his report is submitted for judgment at the next meeting of the Board; in most cases the relief is refused, or if granted is so small that it is inadequate to sustain life; in most cases from nine
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pence to sixpence per week, and often below that sum, especially if there are more than one pauper in the same house. The only course open for the poor supplicant is to demand a schedule to make their cases known to the Board of Supervision, rather say Sir John MacNeil. These schedules are a printed form with a great amount of interogatories and large blanks left for answers, something like this —

What is your name ?
What is your age"?
Where were you born ?
Have you any children ?

About forty questions are asked which must be all answered in writing. The other side of this large sheet is left blank for the Inspector of the Poor to make his answers to the complaint. Yes, (but behold where the secret of iniquity and injustice are concealed which brand the concocters, supporters and enactors of this new Poor Law of Scotland with infamy, and should consign the Law itself to everlasting destruction) when the poor pauper gets his or her side of the schedule made up with answers, then it is handed over to the Inspector, who, in general, is the Factor, Parish Schoolmaster or the Doctor of the District, (who of course must be a creature of the Proprietors and Factors) to make up his side of the schedule, he is at liberty to state the truth or the greatest falsehood imaginable, (one thing evident he must please the Factor or he will not occupy his situation long) he seals up the schedule in a Parochial Poor Board envelope, under the Board's stamp, and hands it to the supplicant to pay it and post it to the Board of Supervision. This is all the liberty and recourse for obtaining justice the British-enacted Poor Law of Scotland left for their paupers, should the supplicant be as poor, moral, upright and honest as Job. The Inspector may represent him or her immoral, intemperate, lazy or thievish, having plenty to eat and drink; for the law enacts that no other evidence can be taken or produced to prove the supplicant's claim ; and should the Board of Supervision think proper to reverse the decision of the Parochial Board, what can they do ? they can only (by enacted law) recommend the claimant to get relief; they dare not state what amount he is entitled to get; all they can do if the Parochial Board continues obstinate and allow nothing, they can give the claimant a certificate to employ a Solicitor to bring his case before the Supreme Court at Edinburgh, but this is seldom done. I was six years in Edinburgh during the operation of this law, and only one poor case was permitted to pass the Bar of the Board of Supervision all that time. That case was successful in the Court of Session, but carried to the House of Lords, and how it was decided there I have not heard. The fact is that these Boards, the Law, and Highland Proprietors are going hand in hand to demoralize, pauperize and extirpate the race. You have a pointed illustration of this in the following brief account of their co-operation for the consummation of their designs. In the year 1850, Ministers of the Free Church and other dissenting bodies in the Isle of Skye and other districts in the Highlands, forwarded many grievous complaints in behalf of the poor to the Board of Supervision, showing the culpable carelessness and malversation
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and partiality of the Parochial Board, detailing many extreme cases of poverty and actual death by famine. The public press took up the case, and so urgent were the public requests, that Government ordered Sir John MacNeil and Mr. Smyth to repair to the scene of poverty and fields of famine and death, to make enquiry into the truth of these alarming reports. In a few days they landed among the valleys of famine, death and complaints. These Commissioners of justice and humanity summoned the Parochial Board and the reverend reporters of distress, before them, and enquired where extreme cases of poverty were to be found; being told, they then enjoined upon the parties to accompany them early next morning, at daylight, to examine these cases. So at daylight they started, and they were in the first instance directed to a poor widow's abode. Is this one of the worst cases you have to show? enquired Sir John; being answered in the affirmative, then says he, Mr. Smyth we must see what is within ; in they go, the widow with her three fatherless children were in bed. Holo, cries Sir John, have you any food in the house ? Very little indeed sir, was the reply. Sir John, by this time was searching and opening boxes, where nothing but rags and emptiness was to be found; at last he uncovered a pot where there was about three pounds of cold pottage ; Smyth discovered a small bowl or basin of milk. Sir John bawls out with an authoritative tone, holding out the cold pottage in one hand and the basin of milk in the other, "Do you presume, gentlemen, to call this an extreme case of poverty, where so much meat was left after being satisfied at supper'?" Some of the party ventured to mutter out, "that is all the poor woman has." "Hush" says Sir John, "she was cunning enough to hide the rest." Sir John's dog made a bolt at the pottage and devoured the most of it ; the party left ; did not go far when the dog got sick. "That d__n cold pottage has poisoned my valuable dog," says Sir John ; the servant was ordered back to the inn to physic the dog. The whole investigation of the day was conducted in a similar manner ; only the dog was taken care of, and not allowed among the pots of the perishing people. Next day Sir John summoned the Parochial Board to appear before him, to get instructions for their future proceedings. The Board attended, and Sir John addressed them nearly as follows : —

Gentlemen of the Board — The Government who sent me out, will not compel you to give out more relief than you are giving, until extreme cases of famine are made out. Extreme cases means death by famine; such cases makes you culpable and responsible to the law of the land. Gentlemen, (understand me) who are almost to a man, Ministers of the Gospel, Missionaries, Priests, Sheepfarmers, Factors, Game Keepers, Foresters, Doctors, and Proprietors, to whom the Government look for truth ; whose prerogative, by a special Act of Parliament, is to report the cause of death in the Isle of Skye during these clamorous times (understand me), be very careful about making out your reports ; how can you prove the death of any one to be caused by want of food without having first a post mortem examination of the body by more than one medical man. There are many other distempers and diseases that may linger about people, that may cut away life very quick when a person is in a weak state
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for want of nourishment, which cannot be attributed to famine. So, be aware of what you are about, for I assure you if you continue to report extreme cases and death by famine, you shall (gentlemen) find yourselves in a sad dilemma when you have to defend yourselves at the bar of a Justiciary Court for culpable homicide.

These instructions and definition of the Scotch new Poor Law Bill enactment were forwarded to every Parochial Board in Scotland, and had the desired effect. We never heard, nor never will hear of an extreme case of death by famine in the Highlands of Scotland. It could not be expected that such valuable men as constitutes the Parochial Boards in Scotland, would criminate themselves for the sake of making up a faithful report of the cause of deaths among the unfortunate despised Highlanders. Yet vengeance for all these evils doings, says God, is mine ; I am forbearing but not an all-forbearing God.

" Hence then, and evil go with thee, along
Thy offspring the place of evil—hell
Thou and thy wicked crew; there mingle broils
Ere this avenging sword begin thy doom,
Or some more sudden vengeance wing'd from God
Precipitate thee with augmented pains. — Paradise Lost,

May we not exclaim in the language of immortal Burns, " Man's inhumanity to man . . ." — and borrow a short paragraph from Shylock, but to change the names, which is quite applicable to the Highland Board, proprietors and their accomplices: '*Are we not Highlanders? have Highlanders no eyes; have Highlanders no hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions, and appetites, that should be fed with the same food with you ; are Highlanders not hurt with the same weapon, and healed by the same means as you are, warmed and cooled by the same summer and winter as you are? If you prick us, do we not bleed and feel it? If you tickle us, do we not laugh ? If you poison and starve us, do we not die ? If you persecute us and wrong us, shall we not l>e revenged ? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. The villany you have taught us we will execute, and it will go hard with us, or we will better the instructions vhen our turn of revenge will come."

To detail the preconcerted destructive schemes manifested in every chapter of this bill, (which, indtred, we may say, was conceived in sin and brought forth in iniquity ;) the malversation of its administration, the fatal effects of its operations, would require more room than I can spare : you will have to be content with the foregoing specimen ; and I think it should convince you of the length that the machinations of evil doers in high places may go, to rob and punish their fellow creatures, and to make the creduloua world believe that all they do is for the good of their victims. Look at * Board of Supervision sitting in secret at Edinburgh, a distance of about 400 miles from some of the most impoverished districts in Scotland, hearing the complaints of the poor only upon schedules, refusing them a right of reply to the allegations of hostile inspection, and giving no reasons for its decisions, though involving questions of life or death to the poor. The sheriffs of counties were even debarred from giving them
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justice when deprived of adequate relief. All these precautions were taken lest the poor might have power to impose upon the parochial boards. A grosser misapprehension of the relative position and strength of the two parties could not possibly be acted upon. A Highland pauper is one of the most helpless of mortals: a Highland Poor Board, so far as its jurisdiction extends, is all-powerful, embracing in its ranks th» whole wealth and influence of a parish. If the legislature had had any sincere intention of giving the poor a chance of justice against the prejudices of the boards, it would have thought of strengthening instead of weakening their position, but the blunder or the crime, whichever it may be, of 1845, ought now to be atoned for. Let the sheriffs be empowered to review the decisions of the parochial board in respect to the amount of relief; let the old right of appeal, free of let or hindrance, to the Court of Session be restored ; let the Board of Supervision itself be made amenable in all its acts to that supreme tribunal to which all classes and bodies of Scotchmen are accustomed to bow in respectful deference ; and, in short, let every possible facility be given to the poor of stating their complaints in the courts of justice of having their claims impartially investigated, and of obtaining decisions in accordance with the law, and not with the narrow and illiberal views of bodies which have a palpable interest in depriving the poor of an adequate maintenance. As for the objection that the expense of maintaining the poor would soon consume the entire rental of the Highlands, it has no foundation in fact. The total amount expended on the poor in the four counties of Sutherland, Ross, Inverness, and Argyle, though embracing six months of the severe and universal distress occasioned by the failure of the potato crop, was only £37,618 l1s. 7d., being scarcely 6 per cent, of the valued rent. This sum may be considerably increased, without exceeding the rate of assessment in many parts of the country in ordinary years. But even supposing that the expenditure on the poor should rise to a height extremely inconvenient to the proprietors, I do not perceive that this would be disastrous. The proprietors have the means of correcting this evil in their own hands. There is no country on earth where the duty of children to support their aged and disabled parents, and the ties of kindred generally, are more profoundly respected than in the Highlands. As long as a Highlandman has a bite and a sup he shares it with an aged father or mother. It is only when reduced to poverty himself that he allows any of his near kindred to claim the benefit of the poor's roll. The policy of the Highland lairds for many years has been to deprive the able-bodied of their holdings of land, to reduce them to the verge of destitution, and compel them, if possible to emigrate. The direct tendency of these measures has been to increase the number of the aged and infirm dependent upon parochial relief. The proprietors have only to reverse their policy, to keep the able-bodied at home, to lay open the soil to their industry, and to pro- mote their industry, their comfort and independence, in order to reduce the burden of the aged and disabled poor. This is the safety-valve of a liberal and effectual Poor Law. While it would protect the poor from starvation and suffering, it would constrain the owners of property, by the
[page 119}
bonds of self-interest, to consult the happiness of the people, to strive for their employment, and to introduce that new division and management of the soil which lie at the foundation of permanent improvement. The same considerations which induced the proprietors would dispose the sheep- farmers to submit to the new order of things. Farewell to the Poor Law at present.

Conclusion of the extract from Gloomy Memories Thus a contemporary view of the Poor Law. Despite his criticism, it appears that ammelioration and reduced harshness in the operation of the Poor Law had to wait until towards the end of the century - perhaps co-incidentally following the extension of the franchise and the ending of Parliamentary dominance by the land-owning classes.

Census Enumeration Books for Kildonan parish, (52), 1851, - transcribed on my computer
Census Enumeration Books for Kildonan parish, (52), 1861,1871,1881,1891 - microfilm (CEBs)
Old Parish Record for Loth (1803-1854) and Kildonan (1791-1854). - transcribed on computer (OPR)
Published List of Registered Poor chargeable to the Parish of Kildonan 1868-1915 - (LRP)
Statutory Death records for parish of Kildonan 1855-1901 - (SDR)
Minutes of the Parochial Board for the Parish of Kildonan 1845-1924 - (MPB)
Highland Council Archives: CS6/8/2, 1863-1870
CS6/8/3, 1871-1878
CS6/8/4, 1877-1884 Scroll (Draft book only)
CS6/8/5, 1890-1904

Official Reports:
The report of the National Committee to promote the break-up of the Poor Law Commission, 1909 - (NCBPLC)
The Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission for Scotland, in the above report of the National Committee to promote the break-up of the Poor Law Commission, 1909, (MRNCBPLC)
Report by the Board of Trade into Earnings and Hours of Labour of Work People in the UK, Vol V - Agriculture in 1907, HMSO, 1910
Report of an enquiry by the Board of Trade into Working Class rents and retail prices in industrial towns in 1912, HMSO, 1913

DA301 Final Project Report,
MacCall, A.T., Marrel East Sutherland during the Highland Land War of the 1880s, Project report submitted for Open University Course DA301 (Studying Family and Community History), 1995

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Crowther, A.M. Poverty, ‘Health & Welfare’ in Fraser & Morris, People & Society in Scotland, qv
Day, J.P., 1918, Public Administration in the Highlands & Islands, London
Devine, T.M.,(Ed), 1984, Farm Servants and Labour in Lowland Scotland, 1770-1914, John Donald
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