This is a book about social and economic change in a Highland parish during the nineteenth century. Much has been written about the earlier stages of the Highland clearances-most of it by fervent partisans of the crofters-but practically nothing about the later stages of the same revolutionary process, when sheep-farming became unprofitable and many of the grazings were cleared again, this time for sport. Neither have the landlords, and especially the reasons for their agrarian policies, received much attention; yet they were on the whole reasonable men, as good and as bad as people generally are, and they deserve as much consideration as any other section of the population. I have therefore tried to cover here the process of change between the temporary equilibrium of the years around 1800 and the very different equilibrium that developed by 1900 after the stresses of the mid-century, and at the same time to avoid the customary over-emphasis on the misfortunes of the Highland peasantry.

Generalisation in this field is not yet possible-the detailed work must come first-but the parish of Morvern proved to be particularly well suited to the kind of investigation that can usefully be made. This is not only because it is large enough and sufficiently isolated to be considered by itself, but also because it has been possible to find and work on a considerable range of primary sources-estate papers, parochial registers, county records, census enumerations, diaries, memoirs, photographs and so forth-as well as to carry out field-work on the ground.

Much of the detailed evidence, which follows the text as a series of appendixes, is of the statistical and topographical sort that is intended for reference and, although I hope that historians will find it useful, others may safely skip it. This dispensation does not apply to Appendix E; however, and in particular the reader is urged not to miss the Astley Diary (transcribed on pp. 188-212), the lively and engaging record of the visits made by two mid- Victorian girls to a great sporting estate in the 1870s.





Professor of Economic History, University of Stirling


Popular yet serious interest in the Highlands and their problems has grown since -Morvern transformed was first published in 1968, partly through the appearance of a number of good studies, some of which have been aimed successfully at general and not only at specialist readers, and partly because the Highlands seem to possess so many of the characteristics of social problems which attract contemporary interest. Sympathy, even identification with the Highland problem can be explained in different ways. Some are the result of the way in which so many aspects of Highland life today seem to compare adversely with those in other parts of the country .The comparative tests may be the common statistical ones of the era of the welfare state, derived from the levels of unemployment or from various indices of the standard of social pro- vision, or from less precise indicators of a degree of isolation from such conventionally accepted necessities of modern life as the standard of reception of television programmes. Other explanations of the concern with the Highlands are more complex because in many cases evidence of a similar degree of social deprivation can be found in other parts of the country. Why then should the Highlands absorb so much interest while similar problems in other areas are neglected? Some reasons are simple. The Highland area is large, easily identified and cannot be ignored, especially when promoted by a tourist trade much influenced by romantic interpretations of Highland life. There are also deeper-seated and more serious explanations. The modern propensity to engage in social protest does not imply universal sympathy with those who have suffered or whose standard or way of life does not measure up to conventionally accepted standards; nor has it led to any greater readiness to accept responsibility for providing remedies; but it strives to identify whatever agent is those of today, and so to transfer much, if not all of the social responsibility for action or inaction to them, and to take credit for doing so. The criticism of the landowners is an aspect of Scottish culture, deeply rooted and not easily removed by rational argument. It remains, even though the landowners' power had been drastically eroded through adverse economic conditions and through legislation applicable generally and to the Highlands in particular. Agitation about who owns Scotland attracts attention so long as it remains at a popular and emotional level, but it is not eliminated, nor is it much affected, by more serious investigations into the problem. As so often in the past, the landowners stand out as the favourite targets of social criticism, the wicked ogres, the scapegoats of the Highland scene. Perhaps there is nothing so stable in the interest in the Highlands as this criticism.

Dr Gaskell's study is a vital piece of evidence in this highly emotional debate. It cannot be dismissed as "the epitome of sleekness, with an unusually open conflation of Highland landlords' sectional interests with the national interest".l Indeed its strength lies in its attempt to give the landowners' contribution to the wider interests of society a recognition which it is all too readily denied. Admittedly the world which Dr Gaskell portrays sympathetically and that of much other modern writing on the subject differ from each other. Today's social values are far removed from those of the autocratic landowners who changed the face of the Highlands, socially and physically, almost as effectively as afforestation does today, and nowhere is the gulf more evident than in the glimpse, so rarely available, which Dr Gaskell gives into the lives of those well-to-do Victorians who came in the late nineteenth century , when the day of sheep was waning, to seek the glamour of the Highlands and a contrast from their normal daily round in the sports it offered, especially deer-stalking.

Any critical evaluation of Highland history which ends in the identification of a scapegoat, whether landowners or others, normally depends on the acceptance of two propositions, one chiefly historical, the other chiefly speculative. The first is the belief that the history of the Highlands, especially its economic history, is a story of exploitation. The approach is evident in the work of Marx and has been followed by many others, even by those who do not always share his ideological presuppositions. Sometimes the allegation of exploitation may be specific, levelled directly against the landowners, as in their introduction of sheep or later when they turned to deer as the price of sheep fell, or the allegation of exploitation may be more general, when it is seen as the consequence of the relative economic backwardness of the. Highlands

1 I. Carter, Farm life in Northeast Scotland 1840-1914 (Edinburgh, 1979), p. 228 n.28.

compared with other parts of the United Kingdom, and in later years with other parts of the world. It then becomes possible to suggest that the Highlands were brought into a dependent relation with more advanced regions, that it supplied resources required for industrialisation, frequently the labour power, or more occasionally raw materials, such as kelp in the early nineteenth century or in more modern times certain facilities for the provision of oil. The danger of any such relationship is evident historically in the experience of kelp production and it is then easy to transpose the same danger to the present-day links with the oil industry. As soon as the economy or the industry to which the kelp was supplied obtained a more acceptable commodity, the sources of supply in the Highlands were abandoned. A similar fate may await developments in the oil and oil-related industries. As with other extractive industries, the end of the extraction can lead to the abandonment of the area of original development and so to dereliction.

 The critical evaluation and the desire to find a scapegoat are intensified when the acceptance of the first proposition of historical exploitation is complemented by the second, that a different, independent form of economic development was open to the Highlands. Both propositions must be held together for the case to be fully effective. If another, and an independent form of economic development were not possible, it is difficult to sustain some of the charges of exploitation; then the Highlands could hardly have experienced any economic development other than a dependent one. To some a dependent economic relationship of some form was unavoidable quite simply because the Highlands did not have the diversified economic potential to enable it to compete against other better endowed regions. The adverse consequences of the dependent relationship may be deplored, but they are regarded as the price of any economic progress which must be paid by less well-endowed regions, and the only way of avoiding them would have been, and still is, for the Highlands to keep itself apart from the indirect and ephemeral benefit of the economic growth elsewhere. That policy of economic isolationism may seem an attractive course and one which would have had the benefit of retaining distinctive features of Highland life and culture, but is not easily accepted except by those already amply provided with the benefits of industrial societies. By contrast, though the hypothetical forms of economic growth may vary , the greater the degree of independent development which is considered possible, the greater the substance in allegations of exploitation. To those less pessimistic about the prospects for indigenous economic growth in the Highlands the dependent relationship was derived from the imposition of greater economic power from outside the Highlands, which set out to exploit the opportunities which were open to it. In that way the Highlands became the economic appendage of greater national or international interests, liable to be exploited to suit that power and to be neglected whenever it had served its purposes. The landowners can become agents in such a process even if not its ultimate cause. Though different interpretations may be advanced, the answer to the hypothetical question of how far indigenous economic growth was possible is therefore a vital issue in the historiography of the Highlands.

The pessimists, those who doubt the possibility of independent economic development and so the extent to which exploitation might have been avoided usually begin their interpretation by stressing the exceptional nature of the challenge to any economic potential of the Highlands raised by the increase in population which was a persistent factor from the late eighteenth century , especially in the areas of most acute difficulty in the north and west. Even in areas from which tenants were forcibly removed, the overall population continued to rise, so that the peak in many Highland counties was reached only after some of the best-known clearances had taken place. The demographic explosion must occupy a central part in any examination of Highland history in the later eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. The pessimists regard it as perhaps the single most important factor in Highland history , one which overshadowed many attempts at improvement and which had to be tackled if any was to be realised, but for which the only solution was the ultimate one of emigration. Others, the optimists, regard the demographic challenge as something which could have been overcome and the increased population supported in the Highlands at a reasonable standard of living. Attitudes to the demographic explosion depend largely on the response to the vital question already posed, of the extent to which the Highlands are considered to have had the capabilities for independent and indigenous economic growth. The challenge made a successful response still more difficult to achieve. The potential for economic growth is then the answer not only to any threat of exploitation but to the additional challenge of the rising population.

An assessment of the extent of the economic potential is, of course, difficult because it rests on arguments of what might have happened but did not. Arguments are advanced on all sides. It may be suggested, as has often been done in modern times, that the Highlands did not need to reproduce the forms of economic growth of the Lowlands, and so the absence of many of the keys to the successful economic growth of the latter, such as the absence of adequate supplies of coal, need not have impeded economic growth. It can still be held that certain other vital features of industrialisation elsewhere were absent in the Highlands, notably the lack of those who in other societies provided the entrepreneurial or marketing abilities on which so much economic growth depended. Since the issue is counter-factual, it must remain a matter of speculation and one in which it will be impossible to reach any consensus of opinion. But the issue leads to what is often considered the major determinant of interpretations of the economic potential of the Highlands. It lies in the attitudes adopted towards what may loosely be termed the social structure and the social rights and duties of those who held positions of influence in Highland society. All writers agree on the importance of this factor in any appreciation of Highland life and so on how it must be included in any interpretation of Highland social history, but the emphasis placed upon it varies. Those who are generally more optimistic about the possibilities which the Highlands offered of achieving some form of economic independence stress the failure of the social structure to adapt to changing conditions in their explanations. By contrast, those who are pessimistic about the possibilities stress the contribution of more strictly economic factors and "their conspicuous absence in the Highlands. The nature of the change in the social structure which all accept and stress to differing degrees is the intrusion of a more commercial approach to rights and duties in Highland society and that especially among the landowners. Yet the change must be qualified in a number of ways. It is too easy to see the new attitudes in a simple and unqualified way as representative of those who were seeking their own narrow interests, their own narrow profits, at the expense of those who had no economic power to resist. In every society there have always been those with such objectives, but in the Highlands the criticism is directed particularly towards the landowners. The question which must always be considered is then how far they had such a narrow view of their interests. To the modern mind, especially to those seeking out the causes and" especially the culprits of social ills as they see them, it is difficult to associate anything other than a narrow view of interest with the profit motive but in the later eighteenth and much of the nineteenth centuries at least it was possible for an individual to believe in all good faith that in following the maximisation of his own profit he was promoting the welfare of society at the same time. The combination of the two is less easily accepted today but their combination was the mark of much advanced social thought at the time the new values were being accepted in Highland society. The acceptance of the commercial values by the landowners did not therefore mean in theory at any rate such a rejection of old responsibilities as so often seems to be the case in retrospect. Admittedly private action Drought public benefits only in the long run and sometimes not at all in practice, but even in the short run, whatever their basic beliefs and objectives, some Highland landlords still contradicted them by contriving to provide for their dependants, notably in the form of famine relief and then, especially later as is evident in Morvern transformed, in a modern form of social paternalism. The relationship had been transformed and the form of the aid changed but the extensive social provision for those who remained in the Highlands cannot be denied. It may have had certain characteristics which are unacceptable, even offensive to modern thought, but it was given in a way in which it was not given, often by the same individual, in the industrial society of the Lowlands or in England. To that extent the social structure of the Highlands remained very different. It was not necessarily the social structure which contemporaries wanted, still less the social structure which many present-day critics of the Highland scene think desirable, but it was a social structure which had elements of social responsibility, and was provided often at substantial cost to the proprietor.' One irony of the entire Highland problem historically is that those who did most to try to tackle the difficulties on their estates, and who were more able and willing to devote resources from elsewhere to try to do so, have been the recipients of the most virulent criticism. By contrast those who may have succeeded, though on a modest scale, in dealing with the increase of population in a new social order on their estates have received virtually no notice, but, most interestingly of all. those who merely sold up, often when their way of life had so burdened their estates with debts that there was no other alternative, have escaped much of the criticism to which they were more entitled than some of those who have received it in full measure.

Such defence of the landowners may be considered yet another "epitome of sleekness", because their action is not considered conducive to the prevention of exploitation by external forces through the encouragement of indigenous economic growth, not even, and sometimes least of all, when they engaged in constructional activities which were remarkably similar to many of the schemes advocated to tackle unemployment in the twentieth century. In short, the discussion reverts yet again to the counter-factual issue of whether even another social structure, and one in which rights and duties were differently held and interpreted, could have led to economic independence in the Highlands. Those who stress the absence of many of the ingredients of modern economic growth in the Highlands consider their pessimistic view is confirmed by the futility of some of those efforts to build a new Highland society and continue to assert their doubt that it would ever have been possible to achieve an economic revolution by the adoption of any social structure. Instead then of basing a radical form of social criticism on the belief that it was possible, another more moderate form of social criticism, and one for which the evidence is well-presented in Morvern transformed, is more defensible, and that is again the way in which the nineteenth century witnessed the perpetuation of a dependent relationship of tenant and retainers to some occasional visiting landowner. But the critic must tread warily. The landlord's absenteeism was hardly his main fault in that the estates were not neglected, and indeed it was his absenteeism which often ensured the availability of the ready supply of funds from one source or another which enabled the dependent society of the Highland estates to exist. If a charge of exploitation has to be made against the absentee landlord, Morvern transformed shows that it might well be made against the landowner's activities in those areas out of the Highlands, which were exploited for the benefit of the Highland estates. The defect of the dependence was that it could lead easily to demoralisation and any attempt to induce independence in the Highlands was then doomed to extinction. Such a social structure was not harsh, but it was repressive of the possibilities of an independent way of life existing. so that, when the support was removed in consequence of modem social and fiscal policy, there was ultimately nothing left except for the state to take its place or dereliction was complete.

Morvern transformed gives a rare insight into this other world, its attitudes and its way of life, especially unusual being the insight into the activities of Octavius Smith and his family in the days of the sporting estates at the end of the nineteenth century .It shows a group which came to the Highlands not through any desire to exploit it in a commercial spirit. They had already ample funds derived from other sources and would not have considered the Highlands as remotely suitable as a good investment. By the second half of the nineteenth century the Highlands were opened up for the tourist and the sportsman and for a short period to 1914, and on a modified scale until 1989, the sportsman had his day, leaving a mark on social thought out of all proportion to reality. The sportsman did not exploit the Highlands except in so far as it is considered that he impeded the development of Highland potential, but, as has already been indicated, the extent of that potential must be a question of faith. At worst he demoralised the Highlands by inculcating a new and specially dependent relationship. Yet that relationship was not deliberately engineered by anyone, and, when it was, it was in the expectation that it would be perpetuated in a way which taxation, war and different social customs ensured did not take place. But that was not what the Victorian sportsman and landowner expected in the heyday of his reign in the half-century before 1914. Morvern transformed shows the tightly-knit society of the wealthy of the day. They were not the great landowners of the past; they could not even aspire to rival them, but they were carving out for themselves a social order which they thought would be secure. It passed; whether it did any permanent damage to the Highlands; whether that had already been done; whether there were any alternatives these are all issues about which. opinions will differ and Morvern transformed will help to mould them. It throws light on a period which many, with very different social attitudes, might find even objectionable. But the nineteenth-century landowner needs the sympathetic interpretation of Dr Gaskell rather than the much more common caricaturing adopted by his more frequently encountered critics and enemies. And Dr Gaskell gives a fascinating portrayal of a way of life which, though only a century old, is already as different from the present as it was in its own day from the way of life another century before.