Eccl. iv. 1, 2, 3.
THE following extract, from a very interesting work, lately published, intitled "Travels in the Western Hebrides, by the Rev. John Lane Buchanan," will shew some few of the hardships suffered by our brethren in one part of this free and happy nation. It may be proper to premise, that the Islands here spoken of are not those which lie next to the coast of Scotland, but the Western Abudae, a long chain of Islands, about seventy miles farther west in the Atlantic Ocean. It may be also proper to mention, that altho' the author has adopted the title of Tra∣vels, this work is the result of observation made by him, during his residence in these Islands, in quali∣ty of Missionary Minister from the Church of Scot∣land. from 1782 to 1790.
There are in these Islands an unfortunate and numerous class of men, known under the name of Scallags.
The Scallag, whether male or female, is a poor being. who, for mere subsistence, becomes a predial slave to another, whether a subtenant, a tacksman†, Page 123or a laird. The Scallag builds his own hut, with sods and boughs of trees, and if he is sent from one part of the country to another, he moves off his sticks; and, by means of these, forms a new hut in another place. He is, however, in most places, en∣couraged by the possession of the walls of a former but, which he covers in the best way be can with his old sticks, stubble, and fern. Five days in the week he works for his master; the sixth is allowed to himself, for the cultivation of some scrap of land, on the edge of some moss or moor; on which he raises a little kail or colewort, barley and potatoes. These articles boiled up in one mash, and often without salt, are his only food; except in those sea∣sons and days when he can catch some fish, which he is also obliged not unfrequently to eat without bread or salt. The only bread he tastes is a cake, made of the flower of barley. He is allowed coarse shoes, with tartan hose, and a coarse coat, with a blanket or two for cloathing. It may occur to an English reader, that, as the Scallag works only five days out of seven for his master, he has two to pro∣vide for himself. But it is to be recollected, that throughout the whole of Scotland, and all its ap∣pendages, Sunday, or the sabbath as it is called, is celebrated by a total cessation from all labour, and all amusements, as well as by religious exercises.
The tacksmen and subtenants, formerly on an equal footing, or nearly so, were wont to plead their cause on equal terms before a common chief. At present they are obliged to be much more sub∣missive to their tacksman than ever they were in former times to their lairds or lords. Formerly they were a free, animated, and bold people, command∣ing respect for their undanted courage, and repell∣ing injuries from whatever quarter they came, both by words and actions. But now they must ap∣proach even the tacksmen, with cringing humility, heartless and discouraged, with tattered rags, hun∣gry Page 124bellies and downcast looks, carrying their own implements of husban try for ten or twelve miles backward and forward, over hills and mountains, to do the work of the tacksmen; and must either sit we• in their cloaths all night in a dirty kitchen, or sleep in dirty cloaths, particularly in Luskintire in Harris, exposed to be trampled on by swine, where the kitchen is commonly the stye. Formerly a Highlander would have drawn his dirk against even a laird, if he had subjected him to the indig∣nity of a blow; at present any tyrannical tacksman may strike a Scallag, or even a subtenant, with per∣fect impunity. What degree of spirit and virtue is to be expected, from a people so humbled, so en∣staved? What degree of courage, or even inclinati∣tion to repel an invading enemy?
The master or his overseer, often on the most frivolous pretences, abandons himself to bursts of passion, and with hands, feet and rods, breaks the bones of men and women too. This is not an ex∣aggerated picture. The broken ribs of one young maid, named Macklellan, from the village of Cluar, attest the fact, which was committed by a tacksman, assuming the title of DOCTOR. This same doctor almost took the life of another innocent maid from Shilebost; though she gave no other offence, than that of tarrying a little longer than he wished, at her mistresses desire, to finish something she had in hand.