MR. E. ELLICE
, Junior, said, that it was with extreme reluctance he felt it necessary to delay, for a short time, the progress of the regular business of the evening, whilst he called the attention of the House to some facts connected with the destitution which existed amongst the population of the Western Highlands of Scotland. The facts which he was about to 311 mention, would, in some slight degree, militate against the statement which the hon. Member for Inverness made in the House a few evenings since. It was undoubtedly true, as stated by that hon. Member, that the great body of the Scotch proprietors had taken upon themselves the burden of supporting the destitute population, without seeking assistance from the Government: it was equally true that they had made the greatest sacrifices for that purpose; but at the same time, there were not wanting instances of an opposite nature among the Scotch proprietors. Some few proprietors, forgetting the sympathy which was due to their unfortunate fellow-beings at such a moment, and regardless of the calamity which had fallen upon them, had left the destitute population to take care of itself. It was with respect to those persons who had thus neglected their duty, that he particularly wished to call the attention of the House to the facts which he held in his hand. He would avoid making any observations on the subject of the Scotch poor law, because he was unwilling to trespass more than was absolutely necessary upon the time of the House; and also because that measure, which came into operation only last year, could hardly be supposed to have had a fair trial. He held in his hand a report drawn up by a gentleman of high character, who held an important office in Inverness-shire, namely, Mr. Fraser, the sheriff substitute of the county. The principal facts stated in Mr. Fraser's report were comprised in the following summary:—Mr. Fraser said, the Edinburgh relief committee had requested him to visit the districts of Moidart, Arisaig, Morar, Knoydart, and Eigg, in the county of Inverness, and Kintail, in the county of Ross, to inform himself as to the state of the people there, of which the committee had, from various quarters, received appalling accounts. The committee had placed at his disposal the sum of 250l., to be applied at his discretion, but with instructions to exact, as far as possible, labour from all able-bodied persons receiving relief. On receipt of this communication, he set out on his mission; and he found a considerable population in almost all those districts in a state bordering on starvation. On Thursday evening, January 19, Mr. Fraser left Fort William, and next night reached Moidart. He found the people in a worse state than he anticipated. He visited every hut, and took down the names and numbers of all the families. There are in independent circumstances, at least not requiring aid (including the Lochshiel family servants and shepherds), 9 families—34 females, 33 males; total 67. The number in a state of destitution is as follows:—
Families. Females. Males. Total. 82. 255. 228. 483.Of this number, 28 are employed by Lochshiel in draining and road-making, and 3 by Mr. Robertson of Kinloch Moidart. Of the total of 483, there are 138 children under twelve years of age. The gross quantity of meal of all kinds in their houses was 1,835 lbs., affording sustenance, at the rate of 1 lb. per day for each adult, somewhat less than 4½ days. The Poor Law Act is not in operation in this district, but 30 or 40 persons require to be put on the roll. Fever had broken out in Moidart. One entire family, at the Moss of Shiel, consisting of the father, aged 64, and seven children, were labouring under it. The mother was first attacked, and she fell a victim to the disease about a month ago, leaving an infant four months old, and six other children. The neighbours, afraid of infection, would not visit the unfortunate family, and they must have perished but for one young woman, the daughter of John Macdonald, piper, who volunteered to nurse the miserable patients. In Arisaig, the property of Lord Cranstoun, the population is as follows:—In independent circumstances, at least not requiring aid, 30 families, consisting of 102 females, 95 males—total, 197; in destitute circumstances, requiring relief, 138 families; 375 females, 296 males—total, 671. Of the total population of Arisaig, 868, there were thus 671 requiring relief; and among the whole of this number, there were found only about 10½ bolls of meal, affording sustentation for only 2½ days. The people have already consumed all their corn reserved for seed, except 21 bolls. There are only 18 men employed by Lord Cranstoun, and his Lordship has made no provision for paying these men, or furnishing them with food. The people appeared to be completely neglected by the proprietor. Mr. Fraser relieved them with 20 sacks of barley meal, and 12 sacks of Indian corn meal, which he placed under the care of Mr. Macdonald of Glenaladale, to be assisted in its distribution by Mr. D. Cameron, younger, of Inverailort, and Mr. Allan Cameron, merchant, Arisaig. Glenaladale and his family, and Mr. Mackintosh, the Catholic clergyman, had made great sacrifices and exertions to relieve the people of Arisaig. Adjoining Lord Cranstoun's, is the estate of South Morar, of which Mr. Colin Chisholm, Inverness, is judicial factor. The population of South Morar is as follows:—
Females. Males. Total. Independent 30 26 56 Destitute 132 110 242The 242 destitute persons had among them 53 stones of meal, or about 4 days' food. Knoydart has a population of 660 souls, exclusive of shepherds and hired servants. Some supplies had been sent by the Free Church committee, but they are exhausted, and the greater bulk of the people are destitute both of meal and money. Some works were talked of, but no preparations have been made for commencing operations. The most remarkable feature in the case of Knoydart is, that amidst all the privations of the people, the proprietor has about 150 bolls of meal in store at Inveree, which might as well be in China. A great many people went for the meal; but the storehouse was shut up about Christmas, and since then a single pound cannot be had for love or money. Mr. Fraser next visited Kintail, in Ross-shire. A meeting of the clergymen, tacksmen, and others in the district, was held on the 8th inst., as Captain Pole, the Government agent from Tobermory, had come 313 into the loch two days previous in the Firefly steamer, having been sent by Sir Edward Coffin, in consequence of alarming information respecting the state of the population. The parish of Kintail contains a population of about 1,100, of whom 950 are in state of destitution! There is no meal for sale in the country, and it was the unanimous opinion of the meeting that within twenty-four hours many hundreds of the people would be suffering the pangs of hunger, without the prospect of relief. Mr. Fraser concluded his report, and various interesting statements, by pressing on the committee the urgent necessity of providing seed, oats, and barley, for the destitute districts. 'Nothing,' he said, 'can be done by the people themselves: the proprietors in many instances do not seem to be making any provision for them, and, I understand, no relief in that shape need be expected from the Commissary General's department.From other sources he learned that the seed corn was being consumed; and if that should proceed to any extent, it would inevitably be attended with the most disastrous consequences. He now begged leave to read a passage from a letter which he had that morning received from Mrs. Macleod, of Macleod:—Mr. Ellice is perhaps aware of the great exertions her son Macleod has already made. The pressure upon him has become so great that he is now compelled to throw all his unentailed property into the market. About Christmas, he thought by means of the Drainage Act he might get through this terrible year without ruinous loss; but now he sees more into the extent of the evil, and he states that for the two next months the whole population must be supported gratis, while the men are employed in preparing their ground for seed, and seed must be given, or the consequence will be awful. The quantity required for Skye alone will be very large; and Macleod at all events cannot, however willing he may be, raise the sum necessary for his part of the island. His own expression is—'Unless some means are speedily taken to supply these wants, the people must starve; there is no help for it, for the proprietors cannot support them any longer without assistance.'Having communicated these facts to the House, he ventured to urge upon the consideration of the Government the propriety of taking steps to ascertain the real condition of the people in the distressed districts, and, if it should appear that the poor law was incompetent to give sufficient relief, of sending supplies of food to be sold at a low price to the proprietors and tenants. He believed, that in many instances, tenants would be glad to purchase at a moderate price, in order to preserve the stock of seed, which otherwise would be taken by the people. It was, he felt confident, only necessary to call the attention of the Government to these facts, to induce them to do all in their power to 314 obviate the disastrous effects which must otherwise ensue.
§ SIR G. GREY
could assure his hon. Friend and the House, that the attention of Government had been most anxiously directed to this quarter. It was too true, he was sorry to say, that most extensive and severe distress did prevail over a considerable portion of the West Highlands of Scotland, in consequence of scarcity. It was equally true, as he had stated before in the House, that the great majority of the proprietors of that district had made the greatest possible sacrifices and exertions to enable them to discharge the obligations which they acknowledged to lie on them, by virtue of their property, to support the people when reduced to this distress by the want of their ordinary supplies. That there had been exceptions to this conduct also, it was impossible to deny: he hoped, however, that these had been comparatively limited. The report to which his hon. Friend had adverted, as having been made by the sheriff-substitute of Inverness-shire, he had not seen in the form in which his hon. Friend had cited it. That gentleman undertook a mission to a portion of the country in which distress principally prevailed, at the request of the Edinburgh desitution committee; not the board for the relief of the poor, but the committee which had charged itself with the distribution of the funds collected by voluntary contributions for the relief of the distress. But some letters addressed by Mr. Fraser to a right hon. Friend of his had been received, which he had no doubt detailed the same facts as were stated in the report. These facts certainly showed that in many places the proprietors had, probably from ignorance of the real state of the population on their estates, failed in quite discharging the duty which, in a great majority of instances, they were ready to acknowledge. But inquiry had been directed into all the circumstances connected with the distress wherever it prevailed, which would be conducted either by the board of supervision, or under the authority of the agents of Government; and the head of the commissariat in Oban had been instructed to see that steps were taken to provide assistance for every place where it was alleged that the people were in severe suffering, by the want of supplies, or deficiency of the ordinary means of conveyance. A few days ago he had received a letter from Sir John Macneill, the president of the board of supervision, inclosing an extract 315 from the minutes of that board, in which they directed that in consequence of the distress which prevailed in certain parts of the country inquiries should be instituted, and the inspectors were to relieve the wants of paupers in cases of emergency, and to unite with the other officers of the board in seeing that the poor law was fairly carried out. Captain Cowan, who had been extensively employed on the coasts, had received orders, which had for their object to maintain the supplies of food in the distressed districts. He wished also to state the course which Government had taken with respect to any individuals who seemed to have neglected the duties devolved upon them by their position. Information of the state of the district had been sent without delay to the proprietor; and he believed the general effect to have been, that those who from various causes had been less alive than others to the emergency, had been stimulated to increased activity; and he trusted to the combined exertions of the proprietors, aided by such assistance as Government had been able to give them, and was still prepared to give them, for preserving them from the worst effects of a a calamity which had afflicted them, in common with Ireland.
MR. H. J. BAILLIE
regretted to say that he was under the necessity of corroborating the statements of his hon. Friend the Member for the St. Andrew's district of burghs. He had received a letter from Macleod of Macleod, which stated that the whole population on his estate, consisting of 2,000 persons, were entirely destitute, and it was utterly impossible that he could continue to support them without assistance.
§ SIR G. GREY
said, he perhaps ought to mention that two frigates remained stationed at Tobermory and Portree, containing Government meal; supplies of which were conveyed to them by the steamers despatched to that coast. Very large quantities still continued to be sold from those depôts.
§ MR. GOULBURN
was enabled to state, with reference to Mr. Macleod of Macleod, that not only had that gentleman contributed to the relief of the distressed people from his own means, but that he was doing all in his power to exert his influence with others to the same effect. If, therefore, there could be a special case which entitled any district more than another to the support and assistance which Government were enabled to afford, it was a district 316 like this, in which such large demands were made on those who not only had, but felt, a duty imposed upon them.
§ MR. P. SCROPE
said, it was highly praiseworthy of those landlords who had taken care of their poor, and it was equally reprehensible of those landlords who did not support their poor. But what was still more reprehensible was, for Government to allow the poor to remain at the mercy of any landlord; and there ought to be an efficient poor law to obviate the evil. In reading the report of the board of supervision, he had had great pain in observing that the poor law had not been brought into operation in half the parishes in Scotland. It was wrong to leave it within the power of any landlord whatever to allow the population to remain starving.
§ MAJOR MACNAMARA
said, there was not a man in his part of the country who had not done his duty; and as for himself he was the largest contributor in the county of Clare.
§ MR. J. STUART
said, with respect to the present state of the people in the Isle of Skye, he hoped he should be pardoned for calling the attention of the House to a letter he had received from one of the proprietors, whose name had been mentioned on that and previous occasions, Mr. Macleod of Macleod, giving his account of the sufferings of the people upon his estate from the effects of the existing distress:—Almost every man on my property in one parish, to the number of between 300 and 400, have now received advances of meal and other food to the amount of between 5l. and 6l. each on an average. They become more clamorous every day. Meal being in store, I cannot let them be starving; but to expect repayment I feel utterly hopeless. About forty men came down to-day, and said, if they did not get meal I had better order their coffins; yet these very people I have supported for the last two months, at the cost of 5l. to 6l. on an average. But to see them at last brought to such a miserable state, and the whole thrown on me, I cannot stand it.Whatever might be said as to the operation of the poor law, he could not help thinking that the country was very much blessed in having within it a landlord so conscientious as he who had written this letter; and that the House would be of opinion that under such circumstances he was doing his utmost.