ECONOMIC WELFARE AND MONEY INCOME IN THE HIGHLANDS, 1750–18501

Publication Date01 Oct 1955
AuthorMalcolm Gray
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9485.1955.tb00741.x
ECONOMIC
WELFARE
AND
MONEY
INCOME
IN
THE
HIGHLANDS,
1750-1850’
THE
traditional Highland economy has sometimes been regarded
as
an isolated subsistence system
in
which economic welfare depends
almost entirely upon the area of arable land available for each family
and upon the effectiveness with which
it
is cultivated. But the High-
lander of history, like the Highlander of the present day, produced
to
sell-and often in distant markets-as well as for immediate con-
sumption. and the Highland economy
has
long been entangled with
the commerce of the Lowlands. Fluctuations
of
population and of
income have depended, therefore, upon the run of prices as well
as
upon changes in cultivating technique, variations in soil fertility or
autonomous demographic development. The present article attempts
to show how Highland economic development between
1750
and
1850
is partly to be explained by the commercial factor.
I
In the eighteenth century almost all Highlanders were members. in
one capacity
or
another,
of
‘farms’, settlements in each
of
which
would dwell a number
of
tenants, together with some men of sub-
ordinate status, cottars. crofters
or
servants, who
also
occupied some
land but as sub-tenants of the greater peasants. There
is
no need to
emphasise the substantial self-sufliciency
of
these settlements. Pure
household production lasted in greater purity and vigour in the High-
lands than in the more commercialised south. ‘Every man.’ it was
said.
.
.
.
is
Jack
of
all Trades
.
.
.
so
convenient in general, and
so
well
adapted to all really
useful
purposes in their cloaths. furniture
and implements. that the want
of
regular tradesmen and mechanics
seems
to
be but little felt.’* In addition. where special
skill
or
equip-
ment was needed. small tradesmen would round out the productive
power
of
the neighbourhood economy.
*
For the purpose
of
this article the Highland area
is
taken
lo
coniprise
the greater part-both insular and mainland-of the counties
of
Perth, Argyll.
Inverness.
Ross
and Cromarty. and Sutherland. but
to
exclude Lowland l’erth-
shire and tlie easterly arible
strip
of
Inverness,
Ross
and Cromarty nnd
Sut
herland.
F.
hl.
Eden.
Sfufc
o/
Ihr
Poor
(1797).
1,
p:
558.
41
48
MALCOLM
GRAY
l'hus the Highlander. always
a
farmer and often
a
fisherman, was
content with the diet which had emerged from his environment (with
the
import;inl addition
in
the later eighteenth century of the potato);
he
laboured his land and worked his boat
to
provide,
as
far
as
was
ph)
sically possible, a sufliciency
of
the staples-meal. fish, dairy pro-
dwr:
aiid
potatoes-on which, almost exclusively. he lived. Most of
his
household goods he manufactured at home, with the aid of his
family
or of the semi-specialised craftsmen-weavers, tailors, black-
smiths and shoemakers-who were scattered among the farms.
Woollen and
linen
cloths were made largely within the household
(with
sonie aid from the customer weaver) from the wool of the small
flock
of sheep that was attached to every holding and coloured by the
iiatural dyes of the hillsides; shoes were produced sometimes by the
uscr himself. sometimes by
'
broguemakers
',
from the hides. tanned
and
untanned. of the cattle which did not survive
to
be sold to the
drover; earthenware. wooden culinary implements and furniture were
rouglily
fashioned in the home without any flowering of craft tradi-
lions;
fucl,
in
the form of peat, was generally plentiful, if only to be
won
by
excessive labour (again.
of
course, unspecialised). Thus, and
\villi
;t
fcw
purchases of metal goods. and possibly of stone and earthen-
wire,
~lic
ordiriary peasant-we are
not
concerned with the tiny
;irislocr;itic minority of tacksmen and proprietors who lived on
a
1lilTcrcnt
standard-ensured his comfort and survival.
13uilJings and the rudimentary capital equipment
of
agriculture and
IiJiing
were
also
largely of local construction. 'Every man is the
architect of his own liouse'J-a black house. made without
glass,
pl:iiicd timber. mortar
or
slates. Agricultural implements, sledges
IpmxiIIy used
in
place
of
carts) and boats were constructed with
[iiiiber. leather thongs-or even thongs woven from heather twigs-
xnd
iron
(ill
the cutting
and
bearing parts)
by
the farmer himself, the
ploughmaker or the boatwright.
'
The spades, ploughs, harrows and
sledges.
of
tlie
most futile and imperfect kinds, with
all
their harness-
ing.
iire made by the farmer and his servants:
as
also
the boats with
;ill
thcir
t;~ckle.'~
Nets
also
were made locally. and ropes, panniers
a1111
Imkets
were fashioned from bulrushes. reeds and heather. Grind-
iiig
\v;is
carricd out often simply by hand quern. or
in
only the simplest
of
iiiills.
in
which the grindstone connected with the driving wheel by
.I
hiiigle
pxirtcss
sh~tft.~
.''
.S/ci/t's/;cw/
dw~~tcitl
of
.SW~/UN~
(1790-8).
111,
p.
374.
This
is
referred
ILI
iii
wlial
Cvllow~
as
O.S.A.
I)r.
Jiiliii
Walker.
Aii
A'ri~tioiitirul
History
of
fhe
Hebrides
and
Hiyh-
li.
C.
C'urwsn.
'The
Hehridcs-a
Cultural
Backwaler
',
Anliquitv,
Vol.
Icclltls
I,!
S~.r~l/ulItl
(1812).
11.
pp.
374-5.
Xll.
1,.
284.

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