HC Deb 01 March 1847 vol 90 cc607-9

said, that he trusted he might obtain the indulgence of the House for a few moments with reference to a statement that had been made the other evening by the hon. Member for Fife, when he brought under the notice of the House the distress which existed on the west coast of Inverness-shire. It would be in the recollection of the House, that his hon. Friend read a report which had been published by the sheriff-substitute of Fort William, in which certain charges were made against some proprietors who were said to have neglected their tenants; amongst others, Macdonald, of Glengarry, of whom it was stated, in the report in question— That the proprietor of Knoydart has about 150 bolls of meal in store at Inveree; but the storehouse was shut up about Christmas, and since then a single pound cannot be obtained for love or money. In answer to this, he held in his hand the letter of Glengarry, who said— In the beginning of November, I sent into Knoydart 21l. in money, 100 bolls of oatmeal, and 100 bolls of Indian-corn meal, besides rice and biscuit; of these a portion was immediately distributed. On the 16th of November, the person in charge received instructions from my factor to supply food in all cases of extreme destitution: these instructions were confirmed by me; and last week the storekeeper said he had acted on them, and I desired him to continue to do so. Food is regularly distributed from my store to the families of men who are gone to the south of Scotland for work, and who, without this assistance, could not have gone from their homes. Now, it was unnecessary to inform the House, that Macdonald of Glengarry was a gentleman of the highest honour; and it was therefore to be presumed that the sheriff-substitute of Fort William must have been misinformed in the particular instance to which he had alluded. And perhaps he might take that opportunity also to allude to the correspondence which had lately been published by Her Majesty's Government relative to the distress in the Highlands; he alluded to the last blue book which had been laid upon the Table of the House. It was unfortunate that this correspondence should have been published incomplete; he was aware that Her Majesty's Ministers had been much pressed for its production; but the result was, that charges were sometimes made against individuals, whilst the answers to those charges had not been received in time to be published in the present volume. The particular case to which he wished to allude at present, was that of the hon. Mrs. Stewart Mackenzie, of Seaforth. That distinguished lady had been accused by Sir Edward Coffin of having neglected her tenantry, and of having allowed two persons on her estate to die of starvation. By order of Mrs. Mackenzie, an investigation of the circumstances immediately took place; and it was proved beyond the possibility of doubt, that the two persons in question had died from natural causes—one of them being an old woman between eighty and ninety years of age; and the other, her daughter, who had been for some time in a consumption, of which several of her children had died; and the parties were living within a short distance of a meal store, where food was distributed to those who were in want. These facts had been communicated to Her Majesty's Government. The explanation, however, did not arrive in time to be published with the accusation; and this was the more unfortunate, for, from all he had heard, he believed no proprietor in the Highlands had used greater exertions, or made greater efforts, to relieve the distress which existed among the people than the lady to whom he alluded.


, JUN. was willing to give full credit to the statement that those steps had been taken which the hon. Gentleman had referred to; but still he believed that the report of Mr. Fraser was fully borne out in its essential statements. Since last week he had received a communication from Lord Cranstoun, who thought he was aggrieved by the observations he had made in that House, and wished him to contradict the statements he had then made on the authority of Mr. Fraser; but, considering, as he did, those statements to be correct, he had declined. Now, giving full credit to all these gentlemen for wishing to do their duty, he still thought, that, by reference to the blue book on the Table of the House, the statements made by Mr. Fraser would be found to be borne out by the documents which were there published. He believed, that, in many cases, the steps taken by proprietors to relieve the people on their estates, had been entrusted to agents who had not carried out the wishes of their employers; and that to this cause might be attributed much that was discrepant in the accounts which were received. While he was on his legs he thought it necessary to allude for an instant to what had fallen from him on another point. It might, perhaps, have appeared, from the statement he made the other night, that he had implied a doubt as to the efficiency of the measures taken by Government to meet the present calamity; but he should not be doing justice to the Government, if, after having learned the nature of the measures they had taken, he did not state that the Government had done all that was in their power to lessen the sudden calamity which had overtaken the county. But, however laudable the exertions of Government might have been, the success which had attended their efforts in the north was mainly due to the two gallant officers who had been despatched to that part of the kingdom with the means of relief.


said, the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Baillie) had referred to the correspondence which had been published in the blue book, and expressed his regret that certain letters had not been published which were written in answer to charges brought against certain proprietors in Scotland. He might state that Sir E. Coffin had been instructed to confer with those proprietors as to the best mode of giving relief. He had done so in the case of Mrs. Mackenzie, from whom he received a prompt answer, showing the great desire which Mrs. Mackenzie had to take immediate steps to remedy any defect which might exist in her arrangements; and, among other matters, she had directed inquiry to be made into the cases of the two persons who were said to have died from starvation. The statement made by that lady, as well as those made by others similarly situated, would of course appear in the correspondence hereafter to be published.