« PreviousContinue »
no account, that it may be forgiven us if we speculate no longer on two stones in Col.
This island is very populous. About nine-and-twenty years ago, the fencible men of Col were reckoned one hundred and forty ; which is the sixth of eight hundred and forty; and probably some contrived to be left out of the list. The minister told us, that a few years ago the inhabitants were eight hundred, between the ages of seven and of seventy. Round numbers are seldom exact. But in this case the authority is good, and the error likely to be little. If to the eight hundred be added what the laws of computation require, they will be increased to at least a thousand; and if the dimensions of the country have been accurately related, every mile maintains more than twenty-five.
This proportion of habitation is greater than the appearance of the country seems to admit; for wherever the eye wanders, it seems much waste and little cultivation. I am more inclined to extend the land, of which no measure has ever been taken, than to diminish the people, who have been really numbered. Let it be supposed, that a computed mile contains a mile and a half, as was commonly found true in the mensuration of the English roads, and we shall then allot nearly twelve to a mile, which agrees much better with ocular observation.
Here, as in Sky, and other islands, are the laird, the tacksmen, and the under-tenants.
Mr. Maclean, the laird, has very extensive possessions, being proprietor, not only of far the greater part of Col, but of the extensive island of Rum, and a very considerable territory in Mull.
Rum is one of the larger islands, almost square, and therefore of great capacity in proportion to its sides. By the usual method of estimating computed extent,
it may contain more than a hundred and twenty square miles.
It originally belonged to Clanronald, and was purchased by Col; who, in some dispute about the bargain, made Clanronald prisoner, and kept him nine months in confinement. Its owner represents it as mountainous, rugged, and barren. In the hills there are red deer. The horses are very small, but of a breed eminent for beauty. Col, not long ago, bought one of them from a tenant; who told him, that as he was of a shape uncommonly elegant, he could not sell him but at a high price; and that whoever had him should pay a guinea and a half.
There are said to be in Barra a race of horses yet smaller, of which the highest is not above thirty-six inches.
The rent of Rum is not great. Mr. Maclean declared that he should be very rich, if he could set his land at two pence halfpenny an acre. The inhabitants are fiftyeight families, who continued papists for some time after the laird became a protestant. Their adherence to their old religion was strengthened by the countenance of the laird's sister, a zealous Romanist, till one Sunday as they were going to mass under the conduct of their patroness, Maclean met them on the way, gave one of them a blow on the head with a yellow stick, I suppose a cane, for which the Erse had no name, and drove them to the kirk, from which they have never since departed. Since the use of this method of conversion, the inhabitants of Egg and Canna, who continue papists, call the protestantisin of Rum, the religion of the yellow stick.
The only popish islands are Egg and Canna. Egs is the principal island of a parish, in which, though he has no congregation, the protestant minister resides. I
have heard of nothing curious in it, but the cave in which a former generation of the islanders were smothered by Macleod.
If we had travelled with more leisure, it had not been fit to have neglected the popish islands. Popery is favourable to ceremony; and among ignorant nations ceremony is the only preservative of tradition. Since protestantism was extended to the savage parts of Scotland, it has perhaps been one of the chief labours of the ministers to abolish stated observances, because they continued the remembrance of the former religion. We therefore, who came to hear old traditions, and see antiquated manners, should probably have found them amongst the papists.
Canna, the other popish island, belongs to Clanronald. It is said not to comprise more than twelve miles of land, and yet maintains as many inhabitants as Rum..
We were at Col under the protection of the young Laird, without any of the distresses which Mr. Pennant, in a fit of simple credulity, seems to think almost worthy of an elegy by Ossian. Wherever we roved, we were pleased to see the reverence with which his subjects regarded him. He did not endeavour to dazzle them by any magnificence of dress: his only distinction - was a feather in his bonnet; but as soon as he appeared, they forsook their work and clustered about him: he took them by the hand, and they seemed mutually delighted. He has the proper disposition of a chieftain, and seems desirous to continue the customs of his house. The bagpiper played regularly, when dinner was served, whose person and dress made a good appearance; and he brought no disgrace upon the family of Rankin, which has long supplied the lairds of Col with hereditary music.
The tacksmen of Col seem to live with less dignity and convenience than those of Sky; where they had good houses, and tables not only plentiful, but delicate. In Col only two houses pay the window-tax; for only two have six windows, which, I suppose, are the laird's and Mr. Macsweyn's.
The rents have, till within seven years, been paid in kine, but the tenants finding that cattle and corn varied in their price, desired for the future to give their landlord money; which, not having yet arrived at the philosophy of commerce, they consider as being every year of the same value.
We were told of a particular mode of under-tenure. The tacksman admits some of his inferior neighbours to the cultivation of his grounds, on condition that, performing all the work, and giving a third part of the seed, they shall keep a certain number of cows, sheep, and goats, and reap a third part of the harvest. Thus by less than the tillage of two acres they pay the rent of one.
There are tenants below the rank of tacksmen, that have got smaller tenants under them; for in every place, where money is not the general equivalent, there must be some whose labour is immediately paid by daily food.
A country that has no money, is by no means convenient for beggars, both because such countries are commonly poor, and because charity requires some trouble and some thought, A penny is easily given upon the first impulse of compassion, or impatience of importunity; but few will deliberately search their cupboards or their granaries to find out something to give. A penny is likewise easily spent; but victuals, if they are unprepared, require house-room, and fire, and utensils, which the beggar knows not where to find.
Yet beggars there sometimes are, who wander from island to island. We had in our passage to Mull, the company
of a woman and her child, who had exhausted the charity of Col. The arrival of a beggar on an island is accounted a sinistrous event. Every body considers that he shall have the less for what he gives away. Their alms, I believe, is generally oatmeal.
Near to Col is another island called Tir-eye, eminent for its fertility. Though it has but half the extent of Rum, it is so well peopled, that there have appeared, not long ago, nine hundred and fourteen at a funeral. The plenty of this island enticed beggars to it, who seemed so burthensome to the inhabitants, that a formal compact was drawn up, by which they obliged themselves to grant no more relief to casual wanderers, because they had among them an indigent woman of high birth, whom they considered as entitled to all that they could spare. I have read the stipulation, which was indited with juridical formality, but was never made valid by regular subscription.
If the inhabitants of Col have nothing to give, it is not that they are oppressed by their landlord : their leases seem to be very profitable. One farmer, who pays only seven pounds a year, has maintained seven daughters' and threee sons, of whom the eldest is educated at Aberdeen for the ministry; and now, at every vaca-tion, opens a school in Col.
Life is here, in some respects, improved beyond the condition of some other islands. In Sky what is wanted can only be bought as the arrival of some wandering pedlar may afford an opportunity ; but in Col there is a standing shop, and in Mull there are two. A shop in the islands, as in other places of little frequentation, is a repository of every thing requisite for common use. Mr. Boswell's journal was filled, and he bought some