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Occupations of the workforce in two Sutherland parishes in 1851

Peter Lawrie, ©1997

A comparison of different patterns of occupations between Eddrachillis in western Sutherland and Kildonan in the east in 1851.

This study examines the occupations given in the 1851 CEBs for the parishes of Eddrachillis on the north-west Atlantic coast of Sutherland and Kildonan on the North Sea coast. Some comparisons will also be made to data from the Old Statistical Account (OSA).
Schema A in Golby, (Ch 1, p10) summarises four themes in the relation of work to the community. a) the Irregularity of work and multi-occupations; b) regional variations; and c) continuity of small-scale production units. (Item d) - the different experience of work cannot easily be demonstrated from the sources I have used). How much regional variation existed between the two Highland parishes, where all production was small-scale? ‘Iirregularity of work’ and ‘multi-occupations’ will be shown to be endemic in these communities..
The Western Highlands in 1846 were said by Devine (‘Famine’, p19) to be “close to the margin of subsistence” and, when the potato blight struck “there was no obvious correlation between areas which had experienced clearances and .... the worst levels of distress”. Hildebrandt (p278) stresses the “deficiency of positive response on the part of the population of the most congested crofting areas to ... improve their living standards”, and (p277) “... the widening gap between the inhabitants of eastern districts, who were comparatively mobile with regard to location and occupation and those of the more remote western districts in terms of opportunities outwith the primary sector.” By way of demonstrating this mobility: Kildonan lost 20% of its population between 1851 and 1891, whereas Eddrachillis declined by just 10%. Between 1861 and 1871, the rate of Natural increase less net migration for Kildonan was -10% and for Eddrachillis -6.7%..
All individuals in the two parishes with a given occupation were examined. Hildebrandt’s study was based on a 5% sample of heads of households in all Northern Highland parishes. Occupational classifications are based on Booth, as modified by Hildebrandt.

Some background information about Eddrachillis can be gleaned from Evander MacIver’s ‘Memoirs of a Highland Gentleman’ - he was the Duke of Sutherland’s factor for the parishes of Durness, Eddrachillis and Assynt from 1845 to 1895. In 1846, “On Sutherland’s west coast the potatoes failed more or less completely”, (Hunter, p54) and between then and the 1851 census, MacIver arranged for “... nearly a thousand people to emigrate to Upper Canada and Cape Breton ... Some townships in Eddrachillis were cleared and added to sheep-farms”. (MacIver, p62). Estimating four dependants per head of family, and assuming that half the emigrants were from Eddrachillis, this suggests that about 100 (say, 15% of the occupied population) subsistence agriculturists (and, perhaps, some labourers and servants from among their families) had been removed, leaving 183 (including crofter/fishermen) in this category in 1851. As a result, in the CEB, the percentage of crofters and crofter/fishermen was 23.5% in Kildonan, and 29.7% in Eddrachillis. MacIver commented also that “a number of the young people have gone south, to the large towns, Glasgow and Edinburgh”. (MacIver p63)

The Reay estate, including Eddrachillis, was purchased by the Sutherland estate in 1829. At the time of the 1851 census a road, still known locally as the ‘Destitution road’ as it was partially paid for by money from the Destitution Committee in London, (now classified the A838) was under construction from Lairg, via Loch Shin to Laxford Bridge. (MacIver, p70). This was a long established cattle droving route. (Haldane - map) Also under construction by the estate were houses for sheep farmers on the cleared lands of the Reay forest, through which this road ran.

The population of Eddrachillis in 1851 was 1576 of which 617 or 39% have occupations. Removing 61 of the 82 construction workers in non-family groups in the Kylestrome enumeration district who were born in Assynt, this changes to 556 of 1515 or 37%. Allowing that the bulk of the 21 Eddrachillis-born road labourers were probably crofters or cotters, this would increase the total proportion of crofters in the community by up to 4 percentage points. (However, in some cases their wives at home, normally ‘unoccupied’ have been counted as ‘crofters’ in their husbands absence (see Golby, p49) or they may be unmarried labourers or even craftsmen - the CEB does not provide the answer!). 57% of the occupied population of Eddrachillis were born in the parish but almost 90% were born in Sutherland (mainly in the neighbouring parish of Assynt). This compares with 60% of the occupied in Kildonan born in the parish but only 73% in Sutherland.

Kildonan had been subject to major clearance and resettlement of population between 1809 and 1825. New crofting townships had been set up with crofts deliberately calculated to be too small to support a family, to provide a pool of labour for fishing and agricultural development. In-migration had been encouraged to develop the fishing industry. Following a boundary change in 1845, the extended parish of Kildonan had a population of 2288 in 1851, of whom 767 or 34% have an occupation in the CEB. The 1792 OSA for Kildonan does not give sufficient detail to make a direct comparison with the CEB occupied population, but of 198 heads of household there were 6 dealers (2%), 4 professional (2%), 6 carpenters (3%), 58 manufacturing including 30! Shoemakers (29%) 18 paupers (9%) and, by default, the balance, 106 farmers (54%). (This analysis does not allow for ‘manufacturers’ and ‘carpenters’ also being farmers (making 86%) - even the minister farmed his glebe - or for occupied non-household heads. Also in 1792, though most of the farmers were joint-tenants farming run-rig and paying rent in kind, some of them, the leaders of Clan Gunn, were actually substantial ‘tacksmen’ with sub-tenants ranching Black cattle - these had all left for America by 1819)

The two parishes are compared using the labour classifications ‘Agriculture’, ‘Fishing’, ‘Manufacturing’, ‘Transport’ and ‘Dealing’. The corresponding percentages for the whole Highland region in 1851 have been used for comparison, (Fraser & Morris, p167-205).

In the Highland economy as a whole ‘Agriculture and Fishing’ accounted for 64.6% of the occupied population. This heading included 53% in Eddrachillis (or more, with the road labourers included) and 54% in Kildonan (including 14% in the fishing sector), indicating the extent of the reduction in the crofter/cotter population in the Sutherland estates compared with other Highland parishes. (See discussion of this in Devine, ‘Famine’, p76) The OSA for Eddrachillis mentions clearances of small farmers by Lord Reay before 1790 to take advantage of the rise in the price of Black Cattle. Eddrachillis had a higher ‘Subsistence Agriculture’ sector at 29.7% than Kildonan at 23.5%. It was apparent that MacIver’s clearance of crofters and cotters from Eddrachillis had significantly reduced the total agricultural sector from a peak before 1846 (which may have been as high as 72% = 53% + (up to 4% roadmen) + 15% emigrants), or 49% subsistence agriculture (72% - 23%).

The ‘Other Agricultural’ category comprises employees in non-subsistence agriculture - shepherds, farm labourers, grieves, gamekeepers and, in Eddrachillis, forestry workers. These workers were more likely to be full-time, with a work-load that varied with the seasons, although some of them may be casual day-labourers/cotters. In Eddrachillis this heading accounted for 143 (23.2%) and in Kildonan, 132 (17.2%). This suggests that more of the West coast parish had been given over to the larger scale sheep farmers, deer-forests and the Estate forestry plantations, and it is probable that this sector had grown between 1846 and 1851 with additional farms and forestry.

Fishing had developed more as a full-time occupation in Kildonan (The herring fishery was highly seasonal and irregular, but white fishing provided steady work, depending mainly on the weather) and there had been considerable capital investment in Helmsdale as a fishing port since 1818. (In the Third Statistical Account p218, reference was made to the flourishing state of the fishing industry in Helmsdale in 1841. Coopering and Curing yards employed many people and in the season (July and August) herring boats came from all parts. Later in the century it declined and after 1914, the herring industry collapsed and the yards became derelict.) In 1851 there were 42 full-time fishermen and only 10 (1.2%) crofter/fishermen (though it is impossible to assess from the CEB how much they were crofters and how much fishermen, they did live in the townships and could be assumed to possess some land), and 65 were employed in ancillary trades (14%). As the peak of the herring fishery came in July and August, it is likely that these numbers are an under-statement, (especially of female workers who at the time of the CEB, in April, may not be listed as occupied at all) however this demonstrates the seasonal, multi-occupational nature of work in the parish.

In Eddrachillis there were 42 crofter/fishermen (6.8%) and just two men, described as boat-builders who Hildebrandt classed under the ‘Fishing’ heading. I can find no evidence of commercial fishing for the market outwith the community. In the 1792 OSA for Eddrachillis the Minister stated “... there is no person whose sole business is fishing and no fish are sold, yet every man is a fisher .... almost every house has a boat and nets”. Both Loch Laxford and Loch Inchard had been considered for development in 1797 by the British Fisheries Society, but had been rejected as too remote. (Dunlop, p34). Though Loch Laxford has a fine natural harbour (Groome, vol IV, p282), crofter/fishermen still had to drag their boats ashore until the late 1840s when small wooden jetties were built with ‘Destitution money’ (Hunter, p69). (The first proper harbour in the parish was built for the MacBraynes steamers at the end of the century, and serious commercial development of fishing at Kinlochbervie did not begin until after 1945. (Third Statistical Account, p 142))

In Eddrachillis there were 16 men under the heading ‘Building/Contracting’ but 11 of them were at or near Lochmore Barracks and only 1 of these gave his place of birth as Eddrachillis. It is not possible to be certain but it is likely that at least some of these did not have their permanent residence in the parish. Therefore, the true figure was somewhere between 6 and 16, (1%-2.6%) compared with the 35 (4.6%) in Kildonan (up from just 6 carpenters in 1792). This demonstrates a higher level of development in the East, even if some of these Kildonan workers may have been itinerants or ‘crofter/builders’ who depended on work outwith the county for part of the year. Both parishes are below the 5.7% average for the Highlands, although the same caveat about crofter/builders and itinerant workers applies to the calculation of the average throughout the region.

The ‘Manufacturing’ sector in both parishes was entirely family based - the ultimate in small-scale production!.(The only exception to this could be said to be the men in the cooperage yards at Helmsdale except that they have been deliberately included under the ‘Fishing’ heading). It was common for crofters to combine a craft with their holding, but it is impossible from the CEB to determine what proportion of his time an individual would give to his craft. (See the comments in Joyce, Offprints 2, p144, on irregular work due to trade cycles and seasonality) Presumably a blacksmith, or miller, with a greater capital investment would have greater need for full-time work, whether or not they could obtain it! There were an inordinate number of shoemakers, (5 in Eddrachillis and 21 in Kildonan - though down from the 30 in 1792!), and it is difficult to comprehend how they were able to occupy themselves. In total 59 people (7.7%) in Kildonan (58 in 1792) fell into this category and 30 (4.9%) in Eddrachillis. In view of the above comments it is difficult to draw a conclusion from this evidence. The Highland average was 17.7% so both parishes can be considered significantly below average, although arbitrary classification of craftsman/crofters by census enumerators could lead to such a high figure.

Transport in Eddrachillis comprised 65 people (10.5%) compared with just 10 in Kildonan (1.3%). However, 58 out of the 65 were in Glenmore, almost all of them living in large non-family groups, possibly in encampments referred to in the CEB as ‘barracks’ and employed on a single road-building project. This left just 7, of whom 5 were ‘sailors’ in two households at Fanagmore. In fact only a carter and a mail-gig driver can properly be described as employed in transport. In Kildonan, there was one ostler at the inn, five carriers, three harbour-pilots and a harbour-master. Transport is clearly not a major part of the economy, but it was more developed in Kildonan. Subsistence agriculturists tend to carry their own surplus produce, if any “The tangible benefits of improved communications do not come to those who wish nothing to be brought to them and have nothing to send away” (Hunter, p70). Despite the new roads, in both parishes some trade (especially long-distance) was probably carried by sea, and the lack of adequate harbour facilities nearer than Lochinver would be a disadvantage to the economy of Eddrachillis. The Highland average at 3.4% was considerably higher than the 1.3% for Kildonan, but it probably included many destitution relief projects such as that in Eddrachillis where the true figure could have been as low as 0.9%.

Dealing in Kildonan tallied 30 people (3.9%) which was double the 12 (1.9%) in Eddrachillis. Again this suggests a greater level of economic activity in Kildonan. Four of the twelve in Eddrachillis were inn-keepers, leaving two cattle dealers (reflecting the continuing tradition of Black Cattle rearing and droving referred to in the Statistical Account) and 6 merchants. In Kildonan, there were 5 innkeepers and 25 merchants of various kinds. This appears to suggest that trade in Kildonan was four times the level of Eddrachillis. Kildonan had just 1 merchant and 5 innkeepers in 1792.

Agriculture was by nature an irregular occupation. Croft work itself was seasonal but the produce was rarely adequate to support a family and additional outside work (whether local or requiring temporary migration) was essential. Small-scale, family based production was the norm, except perhaps for the small cooperage at Helmsdale and road-construction and building projects in Eddrachillis. Most of the home-based ‘manufacturers’ probably had very irregular work. There were clear differences between east and west Sutherland, and this can be seen in the larger subsistence sector in Eddrachillis and the greater migration propensity of the east-coast population..

Limitations of the sources.
Multi-occupations. Many, if not most of the population of these two parishes were not restricted to a single occupation. Even if the enumerator was accurate at the time of the census, how does one judge to what extent a crofter/fisherman was a crofter or a fisherman. How far was a tailor a crofter? Was a mason a full-time local artisan, a part-timer or a seasonal migrant who concentrated on his croft when at home. This applies even more to the Ministers’ returns in 1792.

Productivity. For a ‘Manufacturing’ occupation such as a tailor or shoemaker, there is no way to determine productivity. That is a well-capitalised full-time worker may produce a far greater output than one with little capital and an agricultural holding. Conclusions taken from a crude count in the CEBs (or the Statistical Account) cannot reflect this disparity.

Migration. The CEB only indicates that an individual was in a particular place on a specific date and that his birth-place was in a particular parish and county (if in Scotland). Although some of the Eddrachillis entries do give the township of birth. There is no way of determining life-time migration or occupation history, although a marginally better picture can be obtained from linking individuals in successive CEBs.

Judging status. The line between a poor widow working her croft and a pauper, was a fine one, separated by a few pence a week. The army pension was often just enough to keep a man clear of the poor-roll, but was he a tenant or, say, a tailor as well? Examination of discharge papers for the 93rd regiment shows that many pensioners were crippled by their service, so ‘pensioner’ could mean ‘pauper’ although not ‘on the parish’. There are several ‘annuitants’ in these CEBs, are these comfortable middle-class people or cotters barely above the poverty-line? (I happen to know, from Sage, that two of them at least, appeared to be reasonably well off!)

Temporary Work. The construction barracks at Lochmore in Eddrachillis are a good example of distortion. It is impossible to say from the CEB whether this was long-term or short-term employment. What was a labourer’s usual occupation? As a instant snapshot, there is no way of telling what an individuals occupation might be next month, or might have been last month.

Absence from home. A strength of the census is that the entire population at a specific point was counted and a standard set of rules for enumerators was used, thus allowing comparisons to be made. People temporarily away from home were included in their temporary residence, so as not to be double-counted, but this can cause difficulties both for the genealogist and the student of communities. Are ‘visitors’ short-term or long-term. Do they travel from home regularly or not? Are there more sailors, not included in ‘transport’ since they were at sea? Temporary or seasonal migrant workers cannot be identified - they are either missing (and with no indication of this) or, if at home they are not migrants!

Continuity between CEBs. Although this study only examined the 1851 CEB, the enumerators in consecutive decennial censuses might not follow the same route, even in established communities with no new building. Without adequate addresses, and with many households with the same name, as in the Sutherland CEBs, it can be difficult assessing whether households have moved or changed occupation.

The OSA was provided by the Parish Ministers and, although Sir John Sinclair did ask a standard set of questions, the quality of the return is very varied. For instance the occupation summary for Kildonan, though useful was not as comprehensive as that which Donnachie quotes for Crossmichael. However, a usable occupation table was not provided at all for Eddrachillis!

References Primary Sources
CEBs, Census Enumeration Books for Loth (54) and Kildonan (52), 1851

List of Secondary References:
Adam, R J “Sutherland Estate Management 1802-1816”, SHS, 1972
Baldwin, J.R. (Ed), “Firthlands of Ross and Sutherland”, University of Edinburgh 1986
Booth, C. “Occupations of the people of the United Kingdom 1801-1881” in Journal of the Statistical Society, Vol 49, 1886 p 314-444
Devine, T.M. “The Great Highland Famine”, John Donald, 1988
Devine, T.M. “Exploring the Scottish Past”, Tuckwell Press 1995
Drake, M. (Ed) “Time Family and Community”, OU, 1994
Drake & Finnegan, (Ed) “Sources and Methods (Vol 4)”, OU 1997
Dunlop, J, “The British Fisheries Society, 1786-1893”, John Donald, 1978
Fraser & Morris, “People and Society in Scotland”, 1830-1914.
Finnegan & Drake, (Ed) “From Family Tree to Family History (Vol 1)”, OU, 1994
Flinn, “Scottish Population History from the seventeenth century to the 1930s”, Cambridge 1977
Golby, J (Ed), “Communities and Families (Vol 3)”, OU, 1994
Gray, M. “The Highland Economy 1750-1850”, Oliver & Boyd 1957
Groome, F.H. “Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland”, 1894
Gunn, M.R. “History of Clan Gunn”, Maclaren, 1962
Haldane, A.R.B. “New Ways through the Glens”, David & Charles, 1973
Haldane, A.R.B. “The Drove Roads of Scotland”, Nelson, 1952
Hildebrandt, R, Unpublished thesis, “Migration in the Northern Highlands 1851,1871,1891”, Glasgow
Hunter, J, “The Making of the Crofting Community”, John Donald, 1976
Kyd, J.G. “Scottish Population Statistics”, Scottish Academic Press, 1975
Loch, J, “An Account of Lord Stafford’s Improvements on the Estate of Sutherland”, 1820
MacIver, E, “Memoirs of a Highland Gentleman”, Edinburgh, 1905
Pryce, W.T.R. (Ed) “From Family History to Community History (Vol 2)”, OU, 1994
Richards, E, “The Leviathan of Wealth”, Routledge, 1973
Richards, E, “A History of the Highland Clearances”, Croom Helm, 1985
Sage, D, “Memorabilia Domestica”, Wick, 1889
Smith, J (Ed), “Third Statistical account of Scotland”, vol XIX B, Scottish Academic Press, 1988
Withrington, DJ & Grant, IR (Editors), “Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99”, Vol XVIII
EP Publishing, 1979

Classification of Occupations - after Booth and Hildebrandt.
>Booth’s classification were not designed for rural parishes so I have used Hildebrandt’s modifications and a few of my own:

Hildebrandt’s ‘Agriculture and Forestry’, includes all farmers, crofters, cotters, labourers (where no other qualification, such as ‘road labourer’ is given), forestry workers, gamekeepers, shepherds and estate workers. In Eddrachillis this heading accounted for 53% and in Kildonan 40% of the population, so I split the classification into ‘crofters’, ‘crofter/fishermen’, and ‘others’ - that is shepherds, farm labourers, grieves, foresters etc, who worked for the estate or large farmers.
Fishing’ includes full-time fishermen, coopers, (Booth put coopers under the ‘Manufacturing’ heading and ‘Fishing’ under ‘Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing’) fish-curers etc. This heading does not include crofter-fishermen (included in ‘Agriculture’) who are given as such in Eddrachillis, and in Kildonan I identified them as the 10 ‘fishermen’ resident in the crofting townships rather than in their communities near the harbour. Though there are several (male) fish-curers in the CEB, there are no ‘fish-gutters’ listed, but these would have been casual female labourers, many of them seasonal migrants. They may be listed as ‘labourers’ or no occupation listed at all. Neil Gunn wrote of the herring-gutters in his novel ‘The Silver Darlings’.
Building and Contracting’ was surprisingly high, including masons, joiners, plasterers and painters. Some of them may well be seasonal migrants (at home) as well as those employed on Estate projects, particularly in Eddrachillis.
Manufacturing’ here is almost entirely domestic (weavers, bakers, smiths etc) or peripatetic (tailors and dressmakers) as there are no industrial establishments (e.g New Lanark, Golby, p71).
Transport’ includes not only carters, carriers drivers and harbour pilots but also road contractors which were a significant group in Eddrachillis
Dealers’ are merchants, innkeepers, grocers, drapers and cattle-dealers.
The ‘Professional’ category included the ministers (6), teachers, doctors (2) and nurses and midwives - though I suspect the latter were untrained.
The ‘Commercial’ section comprises the single clerk in Helmsdale.
Public Administration’ includes Revenue Officers (2), Police (3) and Poor Inspectors (2).
Domestic Service’ instead of including all Domestic servants in one heading, I have attempted to judge whether a person is in ‘domestic service’ or ‘family service’ - that is co-resident, usually female kin. My decisions in some cases may be a little arbitrary, but it is usually apparent from the shared surnames and the type of household (i.e.: crofters have family servants not domestic servants).
Property Owners’ includes annuitants and fund-holders as well as ‘Landed Proprietors’ (1).
Indefinite’ group included paupers, army pensioners, vagrants, showmen etc, but not - in my study of the whole population - including scholars and individuals, mainly female, with no occupation in the CEB.