View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Cruel clearances in Caithness

This triple alliteration is not attempt at levity. The county of Caithness, the far northeastern corner of mainland Scotland, saw some of the worst abuses encountered by the Napier Commission. My transcriptions took me to the coastal town of Lybster. Historically, the Commission could have done with more than just one session in Caithness, as several written statements were handed in, without people being interrogated on their content.

James Waters, a representative for Dunnet, the northernmost point on the British mainland, recounts an instance of heartrending cruelty.

An aged couple, who had brought up four sons and seven daughters on the said farm, fell a little in arrears to the landlord. The factor having unlimited power, hypothecated his subjects, and as soon as law would allow it was sold by auction for ready money; I was an eye-witness to this. The mother of this large family had been an invalid for years. The factor was looking on when all was sold off but the blankets; they were ordered to be carried out—I know not whether they were taken off the sick woman's bed or not; the people felt so disgusted no one would offer a shilling for them; had any one done so they would have got them. The factor ordered them to be carried away as they were to somewhere about the south end of the Dunnet sands. It was seen next year the factor's reason for such cruelty to this man. There were five families; he was the centre one; they were all turned out next year, and their farms made an outrun to a large farm. There has not been a plough in since; it has now become a barren waste. Another case of cruelty, two aged persons—man and wife —who had brought up a family respectably, were turned out of their home and their furniture together. They had no way to go; these two aged Christians lay six weeks beside a dyke amongst bits of furniture. At last the aged man became delirious, and wandered off through the hills; the neighbours went in search, and found him wandering with his Bible under his arm, saying he was seeking his father, who had been dead nearly thirty years. He then was allowed to put up a house in the bottom of an old quarry, and I understand is still living there.

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