by Sir John McNeill, on the 7th July 1851. His conclusions were drawn from statements given to him by many different people from throughout the Western Highlands and Islands.
Between 1850 and 1851 Sir John McNeill travelled to the parishes of the Western Highlands and Islands to see the extent of the distress caused by crop failures and potato blight.
Sir John observed ". . . that the population in most areas was too large and the arable (crop) land divided up into plots that were too small. Even if the land produced as much food as possible, it would still only provide people with enough for half a year."
He concluded, "It would be merciful to assist those who are starving and unemployed to emigrate."
When people heard favourable reports from overseas and that relief aid would not be enough to stay, they began to ask the government to grant them the money to emigrate. This was a good solution for landowners too as, under the Scottish Poor Law Act, they were having to pay their tenants' poor relief.
Sir John commented,". . . that it is not necessary, in all areas, to remove thousands of people and replace them with sheep. Some areas are suited to large farms, but in most areas it would be possible to keep a part of the population and give them moderately sized farms, big enough to exist comfortably, at a fair rent.
He also said that education needed reforming and should not be confined to reading, writing and arithmetic. It should include a practical education in agriculture and stock management.
Read the text then answer the following questions.
- What had caused such distress and suffering in the Highlands?
Why was emigration seen as a good solution to :-
- the landlord
- the people
- What evidence is there that clearing the land for sheep was not necessarily the best way forward?
- What else did Sir John think should be taught?
- Look at the table of population of Highland parishes between 1755 and 1851. Complete the table below :-
Parish Population in 1755 Population in 1851 Gairloch (Rosshire) Barvas (Lewis) Harris
- To what extent was Sir John correct in concluding ". . . that the population in most areas was too large"?
- Why should this source be taken seriously?