John Lockman’s 1750 pamphlet: the herring’s importance to the National Wealth, our Naval Strength and, of course, dealing with the Highlanders
John Lockman, England’s Herring Poet, had been appointed Secretary to The Society of the Free British Fishery in 1749. The Society’s agitation had played a role in the Parliament’s Act for the Encouragement of the British White Herring Fishery of 1750. His pamphlet The Vast Importance of the Herring Fishery to these Kingdoms (1750) was part of his promotion of the cause.
The following year, he published his poem The Shetland Herring and Peruvian Goldmine, an imagined conversation between the two drawing on some of his thinking in The Vast Importance. He may not have been England’s finest poet, but the popularity of his works is commemorated in Hogarth’s Beer Street (1751), at the centre of which, two fishwives are looking at one of his ballads, almost certainly this one.
As Secretary to the Society, he was accused of corruption, although he denied it forcefully (and in verse). Frequenting Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, he was in the habit of giving away salted herrings (possibly from the Society’s stock) with copies of his poems.
The focus of the Society’s agitation was the creation of a Dutch-style Herring Buss fleet. The traditional jig, The Herring Buss (see separate entry) also appeared at this time.
The Vast Importance &c.
PERMIT me to address You as a distinguish’d Friend to your native Country and to Mankind, this being the most amiable Title I could think of; a Title that very few can justly claim, and which Kings may envy.
‘Tis with the utmost Propriety that these Letters desire your Patronage; as Your Self, with two other most worthy Gentlemen, are well known to be the Soul of the important Patriot Undertaking, expatiated upon in the ensuing Sheets.
Your Opinion, (Sir) first turn’d my Thoughts to Subjects which demand the strictest Attention; Subjects tending to promote the Felicity of Mankind, both as Individuals and Nations; not to impose on them, by false Glosses, as is the Custom of venal Politicians. And ’tis with Pride I pursue a Theory, which You illustrate with such universal Applause, in Practice.
With infinite Pleasure have I constantly survey’d You, in your rapid Advancement to true Honours; Honours that were foretold by me, and which, I am firmly persuaded, You will always merit. This can be no difficult Task for You, as Rectitude, good Sense, Humanity, and Diligence, are inseparable from your Nature. If the enjoying, without Envy, well-deserv’d Distinctions, is one of the greatest human Blessings, You surely must be a most happy Man.
I have nothing to add, except my warmest Wishes, that your Health may be perfect and uninterrupted, for your own Sake, and for that of your native Country, the serving of which is your darling Passion; and that I may be ever allow’d a Place in your Esteem; to deserve which has been the perpetual Study of,
Your most devoted Servant,
THE VAST IMPORTANCE of the HERRING FISHERY to the BRITISH KINGDOMS.
Hark! ’tis the FISHERY! – This powerful Name
Must ev’ry British, Patriot Heart inflame.
I Doubt not of your hearty Concurrence, when I presume to affirm, that the Subject of the following Letter is of more Consequence to the Welfare of these Kingdoms, than any Other which could be sent you; and therefore claims the strictest Notice of every Man who prides in being a BR1TON, or has the least Regard for his native Country. I only wish that my Abilities were equal to my Zeal; for then the glorious Undertaking, which I have ventur’d, tho’ with the utmost Diffidence, to write upon, wou’d be set on Foot immediately. Some valuable Pamphlets, as well as Letters, communicated of late to the Public, have greatly open’d their Eyes; and made many worthy and able Englishmen wish very ardently, that an Undertaking which, after the most deliberate Examination both within and without Doors, promises so mighty and new an Acquisition of Glory, Strength, and Riches to these Nations, might be put in Execution with all the Speed consistent with Care; especially as DELAYS may, on a Variety of Accounts, be attended with the most fatal Consequences.
To excite the greater Attention, and at the same time Curiosity, I shall premise, that many of the best Hints now sent you, are extracted from some of the PLANS transmitted to the Committee sitting lately, in the City, on the British Fisheries; Plans drawn up by Gentlemen, perfectly conversant on the Subject treated on by them. As those relate to the present State of the Fisheries just mention’d, they inform us of a Multitude of very interesting and curious Particulars, not found in former Authors; or which could be of no Use for our Imitation, because of the considerable Changes, in Things, brought about since their Time. Hence our being made acquainted with the Thoughts of late Writers, may prove of greater Benefit to the Undertaking in Question, than all the Speculations, in the same Way, of their Predecessors. As I would gladly be extremely intelligible, I therefore shall endeavour to write in some Order; and, for this Purpose, will now touch only on one Part of my Subject (that relating to the Improving of our NATIONAL WEALTH) which all Persons well acquainted with our Circumstances, will own to stand in the utmost Need of being speedily improv’d.
The Acquisition of Riches, (and, at the same time, of naval Strength) by Means of the HERRING FISHERY, was so very important an Object in the Eye of our immortal EDWARD III that it engross’d the most serious Thoughts of that sagacious Monarch; and thence gave Birth to excellent Institutions, many of which were afterwards copied by the indefatigable Dutch. Under the above Prince was enacted, as is observ’d by a late Writer*, the famous Statute of Herrings.
That several of his Royal Successors entertain’d the most advantageous Idea possible of this Fishery, is manifest from the Acts of Parliament made, and the Establishments founded, in its Favour, during their respective Reigns. And the chief Causes why the several Undertakers of this Fishery, under the Successors of that King, failed in their Attempts, seem to have been their Want of proper Regulations, of Care, of fitting Authority to direct the Whole; and especially of a due and sufficient Fund or Capital; not to mention their ordering all the Fish, intended for Exportation, to be first brought to the Port of London; whereby they arriv’d too late at the foreign Markets.
According to some of our present Writers on the Herring Fishery, it appears, from the most authentic Testimonies, such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Pensionary de Witte, that the Inhabitants of the United Provinces formerly gain’d, from Two to Five Millions Sterling, every Year, by this Fishery. De Witte assures us, that it was the Possession of this Branch of Commerce, which enabled his Countrymen to contend so gloriously with their inveterate, rich, and mighty Enemies, the Spaniards. He adds, that the Fisheries gave Subsistence to Four hundred and fifty Thousand of his Countrymen. About the Beginning of the last Century, not only the Dutch, but also the French, with the Citizens of Embden, Hamburg, and Bremen, employed themselves so very largely in this Trade, that it was computed they got, upon a Medium, out of our Seas, to the Value of between Six and seven Million Sterling every Year; and it does not appear, that the Quantity of Fish, in our Seas, is lessened. The Reader will please to take particular Notice, that I am no ways for our quarrelling with any of our Neighbours, or others. The Ocean affords so ample a Supply, that the various Nations need not envy or annoy one another.
As our Friends, the Dutch, gained such immense Wealth, by this Commerce, it was always very justly styled one of the main Pillars of their Commonwealth; and is still termed such, on a Multitude of Occasions: That industrious Nation used, when their Glory was at its Meridian, to employ 3000 Busses, or Fishing Vessels, (besides Jaggers, or Tenders, &c.) with 40,000 Seamen; not to mention the prodigious Multitudes of People, which this Trade used to set at Work on Shore. Farther: In a Dutch Placart, or Proclamation, published in 1624*, the Fishery is called the GOLDEN MINES of the United Provinces. In another Placart*, dated the 10th of May 1651, the Herring-Fishery is termed the principal MINE, (which Name is likewise given to it by De Witte) and chief SUPPORT of Holland, &c. And great Stres is laid on its Importance, in the Instructions to the Dutch Mates, dated so lately as the 23d of May 1749. Hence we need not doubt that, if this most extensive Branch of Commerce was carried on, by us, with due Skill, Integrity, and Spirit, it would bring annually into these Kingdoms a vast Flow of Treasure and Merchandise, to the enriching both of the People and the Revenue; and thus prove of much more Consequence to the Nation, than some of our American Settlements.
A Circumstance which ought to wake us from our surprizing Lethargy is, that the greatest Part of the Wealth, arising from this Fishery, is acquired chiefly by Foreigners, on the Coasts of the British Dominions: These being the most happily situated, for the Fishery in question; and our Herrings being found better, more certain, and in larger Quantities, than in any other Part of the World; as will be observed more fully hereafter. To demonstrate that this Scheme is no idle Chimaera, it was executed by some of our Countrymen, 1738; when it was found, that our People caught and cured Herrings as well as the Dutch; and sold them (even earlier than they) for as high a Price at Hamburg and Bremen. And if the Gentlemen here hinted at, dropped their Undertaking, the only Cause was, their Despair of being favoured in the Salt-Duties, occasioned by the Removal of the Minister, who had promised to befriend them in this Particular.
‘Tis certain that some Foreigners reap prodigious Benefit, a Multitude of Ways, by the Fisheries on our Coasts; they sometimes coming in Fleets (of above 300 Sail) within, from three to six Miles of our Shores, and so might advance, with equal Justice and Propriety, as far into our Island, and there, sow and reap Grain. How would it startle an Englishman, was he to hear, that some Foreigners had come, without leave, into one of our Maritime Towns, and sow’d Corn round about it, and which he intended to reap! And yet very few of us seem alarmed, when we are told of Incroachments made, by some Nations more vigilant than ourselves, on our watry Dominions. But we are injured still more, by the grand Herring Fishery, near Brassa Sound, off the Islands of Shetland, belonging to the British Crown. Of this farther Mention will be made in a subsequent Letter.
As to the trite Objection, of there being no foreign Markets for us to sell our Fish at; ’tis answered, that the Demand for Herrings is allowed to be as considerable as ever, though some Nations, for various Reasons, which might be ennumerated, don’t send a third Part of the Vessels they used to do formerly. A further Proof that this Demand is not abated, is, the Attention which some Nations, at a Distance from us, have lately given to the Fisheries, and which they seem resolved to pursue with Vigour. Let me add, that the Gentlemen concerned in the present noble Undertaking, know of several Markets for the Disposal of our Herrings, &c. provided they be of a Good Sort, and well packed and cured. ‘Tis remarkable that a certain French Writer; famous for his Skill in every Branch of Commerce, affirms: That if the Scotch Herrings were cured and packed as skilfully as the Dutch, they would not only be as good as those brought into Holland, but even preferable to them in Point of Flavour. From all that is said above, it is evident, that there is Opportunity for Great Britain to gain vast Treasures, by this Branch of Trade, which, if properly conducted, will not only prove of great Benefit to Individuals; but may likewise enable us to extricate Posterity, and perhaps ourselves, from our present most burthensome, most grievous DEBT; and which, an Increase of our trade only, can clear.
As the Situation of our Circumstances is not very auspicious, shall we continue thus shamefully inactive? Shall we, when a glorious Prospect opens, neglect the numberless Emoluments to which it invites us? With equal Judgment might a Man, harrassed perpetually by his Creditors, slight an Overture which should be made him, by some generous Friend, of re-establishing his unhappy Affairs. The like kind Offer is made us by Gentlemen of Character, who have the Welfare of their native Country sincerely at Heart: Whence it may be hoped, that there is still Wisdom enough left in the Nation, for it to embrace a Proposal which promises such lasting Advantages.
‘Tis with infinite Reluctance, that I even glance at the present melancholy Aspect of our National Affairs; especially, as Observations of this Sort, are frequently considered, as arising from a Spirit of Discontent, of Envy, or more odious, Jacobitism. But I love my Country, and I love my King: And therefore, to imagine that I am actuated by any such bad Principles, would be putting the unkindest Construction on the most amicable Views. To prove that Reflexions, like to those hinted at a little above, are not ill-grounded, let us only take a View of the following additional Burthens laid annually on the Subject, during the Course of the late War.
Now as the above Total is an Increase (very near a MILLION Sterling) of our yearly LOAD; is it not absolutely necessary that we cherish (since we have no other Way left to remove this excessively heavy Load from our Shoulders) any Expedient by which its Weight may be rendered less afflicting? To ease the Nation, our Legislators lately made a considerable Reduction in the Properties of Many, who could ill bear to have their Incomes lessen’d. If therefore Oeconomy becomes us, at this Juncture; ought we not, from the same laudable Spirit, to encourage, One and All, a Scheme, which calls us to a Fountain (as it were) whence Riches are perpetually flowing?
The famous Columbus came to England, and offer’d the Discovery of America to our Crown, but his Proposal was slighted; for which great Numbers censure the Monarch* whom he address’d for the above Purpose. Whether our Possession of the rich Peruvian Mines, &c. would have been of Benefit to this Nation, is justly question’d by many. But every one acquainted with the Genius and Situation of our Island, and the present gloomy Face of our Affairs, will grant, that should we neglect to open, as speedily as possible, the MINES (if I may be allow’d the Figure) lying round the British Dominions, and now so happily pointed out to us; other Nations may, with the strictest Propriety, rank us in the Class of the Ten foolish Virgins.
But a Circumstance which ought more especially to rouze us, is the Declaration his MAJESTY has condescended to repeat from the Throne, in the gracious Words following. Let me earnestly recommend to you THE ADVANCEMENT OF OUR COMMERCE, and cultivating the ARTS of PEACE, in which you may depend on my hearty Concurrence and Encouragement*. And on another Occasion: Whatever good LAWS you shall propose for THE ADVANCEMENT OF OUR TRADE AND NAVIGATION, and FOR ENCOURAGING A SPIRIT OF INDUSTRY 1N ALL PARTS OF THE KINGDOM, will be extremely acceptable to me*.
‘Tis a well-known old Maxim that, Let a King set an Example, and the whole World will follow it.
Regis ad exemplum totus componitur orbis.
Now as the intended Fishery offers us all the Advantages so graciously mention’d by his Majesty; we have the strongest Reason to hope, that our Countrymen will not be an Exception to the above Rule. So far from it, surely no one will presume to call himself a BRITON, who shall refuse to conspire with the indulgent and beneficent Views of his Sovereign; and not endeavour to promote an Establishment, whence such mighty Things are expected for the Benefit of this Country; whose Prosperity is most ardently wish’d by
12 March, 1749-50.
BRITONS! wou’d ye the Ocean’s Sway secure,
Yourselves to the bold Fisher’s Toils inure.
IN my former Letter, relating to the Establishment of a grand HERRING FISHERY, &c. from this Island, I took notice of the vast Increase they might give to our WEALTH; and, at the same time, to the REVENUE. I shall now proceed to an Article of no less Concern; I mean the mighty Addition which these Fisheries would, very probably, give to our NAVAL STRENGTH; once our Pride, and most noble Characteristic.
‘Tis well known, that Land and Trade constitute the two great natural Interests of the British Kingdoms; (for that of Money, tho’ made to govern Both, has too often prov’d as a Canker in the Body-Politic, and the Root of numberless Evils.) Between the two first Interests a sort of connubial Tye is form’d, whence their Happiness or Infelicity is reciprocal ; the Value of Lands rising or falling, in Proportion as our Trade is in a flourishing or sickly State, and vice versa; and yet we, so far from conſidering them as Man and Wife, have sometimes ungratefully treated one of them as a Harlot. But ’tis now in the Power of the third Interest (Money) to reflore the Other, just mention’d, to her natural Rights and Privileges; and thus atone, in some measure, for her past pernicious Conduct.
But that Branch of our venerable Legislature, in whose House the Herring Fishery Bill now lies, have discover’d the just Sense they entertain, of the strong Union and Harmony which ought to subsist between Land and Trade, by the great Countenance they have perpetually shewn to the Bill in question, and their indefatigable Endeavours to promote it. Toils like these are truly Patriot, and give unfading Honours. There is no doubt, but the like Favour will be continued, whenever this Bill shall appear before them again: And the same Indulgence is naturally expected, from the generous Disposition of the other august Assembly; especially as his MAJESTY has most graciously signified, his Approbation of every Undertaking whence his faithful Subjects may reap Advantage.
The Fisheries have ever been consider’d, by those who are Judges of them, as one of the best Nurseries for training up industrious, bold, well-season’d Mariners. From these Fisheries, the Royal Fleets might, in any Emergency, be mann’d with Certainty and Expedition; and our trading Ships supplied with fit Hands; the Want of which has often prov’d exceedingly detrimental to many valuable Branches of our Commerce. Besides that, (to mention this only by the way) the present extravagant Duties on Goods lessen the Number of Merchants, and consequently of Seamen. Ten thousand of the Fishermen we are speaking of, with the usual Compliment of Marines, Landmen, &c. wou’d, on any urgent Occasion, man an hundred Ships of War of different Rates. The prodigious Difficulty of supplying our Fleets with Sailors, in the Beginning of the late War, was so justly and so loudly complain’d of, by some of our ablest naval Commanders, that it would argue the greatest Want of Wisdom in Us, not to guard against any such destructive Inconveniencies, in time to come. Hence it is absolutely necessary that we provide, as ſoon as possible, for those Sailors who are dismis’d our Service. As their Number is very much reduc’d, by the late Treaty of Peace; should these see no farther Prospect of getting a Livelihood in their native Country, they will justly and wisely endeavour to procure one in any other. We know, by the most authentic Informations, that great Numbers of our Seamen are gone into foreign Service, as others have done into foreign Fisheries. How greatly the late wise Cardinal de Fleury improv’d the French Commerce, was evident from the vast Increase of the Merchant Ships of that Nation, to the infinite Prejudice of our Trade in general, and that of our Colonies in particular. As the Seamen who are gone from us will scarcely be brought back, either by the Intreaties of their Countrymen, or the Terror of a Proclamation; our own Interest (abstracted from Gratitude, to Men who serv’d us so gallantly and so faithfully, in Seasons of Danger) should induce us to procure, with all imaginable Speed, ſome Employment for such of them as still continue among us ; to prevent their being forc’d abroad; or their being reduced to the sad Alternative, either of begging from Door to Door; or of plunging into Crimes that may bring them to a fatal End, of which we have already had many melancholy Instances. – – – – Thrice happy will it therefore be for Great Britain, if our Seamen, who form so valuable a Part of the Commonwealth, may, by the Expedient here humbly submitted to the Public, be kept near at hand; to defend us in Time of War, and be render’d more useful to us in Time of Peace!
Our naval Power will be considerably increas’d, and our Country much better defended, by a Clause happily added to the Fishery Bill; I mean the Liberty which all the maritime Towns, in our Island, are allow’d, of subscribing towards this grand Undertaking; a Clause, the more remarkable, as it proves that the Founders of this Scheme do not any ways intend to make it a Monopoly. The Mind of Man could not possibly devise a more natural, or more effectual Defence for an Island, than to cause its Coasts to be cover’d, and guarded by Towns well inhabited; and that by Persons of considerable Property, who must be able, and would be willing, to oppose, with all imaginable Vigour, any foreign Invaders. This, doubtless, was the chief Motive, which prompted our sage Ancestors, to confer various Privileges and Immunities on our Sea-Ports. Hence it is that, the Representatives of the Cinque Ports are styl’d Barons; and are still allow’d, at the Coronation of our Monarchs, to support the Canopy; signifying, emblematically, in antient Times, that they undertook to cover our Sea-Coasts, in like Manner as they, in the august Ceremony above-mention’d, supported the Covering of the Royal Head. Such a Distinction was due to the Cinque-Ports, as they fronted the French Coasts; and, being most expos’d, were therefore under the strictest Obligation to be, at all Times, able and ready to defend themselves; and thus preserve the interior Part of the Country. Such a Policy would deserve Attention in this Age; inasmuch as it might prove our Security, (without putting us to any additional Expence,) against Depredations from small Vessels which should escape the Vigilance of our Fleets, in Time of War; and free us from the Necessity of dividing our regular Troops, in order to defend a Multitude of Places upon the Coasts of our Island*.
The Establishment of the Fishery in Question, might put a Stop to the barbarous Custom of impressing Seamen, and tearing them from their Families: a Practice so disgraceful to the Nation, so repugnant to Magna Charta, so unworthy of human Nature, and therefore so warmly inveigh’d against, by some of the most judicious Chiefs of our Navy; a Practice which has prov’d the Ruin of Multitudes of poor Families, and the Destruction of some valuable Branches of Trade; not to mention its having been the Bane of our Fishery, in the late War. This abominable Practice affects not only the common Sailors, but is sometimes scandalously extended to the Mates, and even to the Masters, of our trading Vessels. Farther: What can be more inhuman, than to impress Mariners at their Return from tedious and painful Voyages; without permitting them to tread their belov’d native Shore, or giving them the Consolation of embracing their Relations and Friends? And yet Custom has so far reconcil’d us to this shocking Practice, that many severe Attempts of it are only made, the Subject of Laughter. I remember that, a very few Years since, at a Juncture when our Fleets were in great Distress for want of Sailors; a Midshipman, at the Head of his impressing Banditti, stole, in the Dead of Night, into one of our Villages upon the Thames; when crying out Fire, the hapless Watermen left their Beds, and hurrying, naked, into the Streets, were instantly seiz’d; and soon after dragg’d like Felons, on Board the Tenders. Such a Stratagem may, indeed, be admir’d and applauded by ignorant Savages; but must surely be the strongest Reproach to a Nation which pretends (and be it not justly said of us, that it is mere Presence to Knowledge, and the Practice of the social Virtues. – – – – How would the Reader’s Indignation and Anger rise, should I affirm, that Doors are often broke open, Windows burst through, Floors tore up, and innocent Fathers of Families sometimes murder’d, on these horrid Occasions! For the Truth of which I appeal to the Inhabitants of Wapping, Shadwell, &c.
‘Tis strange to consider, (a Reflection which may fill a good-natur’d Mind with Melancholy) that a Set of People, who are universally allow’d to be of infinite Advantage to their native Country, should yet be expos’d to Rigours, from which almost all other Bodies of Men are exempt; and that too in a Country whose darling Boast, once, was LIBERTY: Rigours (I say) which often drag the valuable Men, whose Advocates we are, from a comfortable Subsistence, and perhaps a much lov’d Family, and hurry them to necessary Perils that often prove fatal; or, if they do come back unhurt, may not restore them to their former happy, tho’ contracted Circumstances; but ungratefully turning them adrift, by their being discharg’d the Service, exposes them to the Mercy of a hard-hearted World. Here I cannot forbear quoting four Verses (for the Sake of the Sense contain’d in them) transcrib’d from a Window of a Country Inn.
‘Our God and Sailors we alike adore,
just on the Brink of Danger, or before:
After Deliverance they’re alike requited,
Our God Neglected, and our Sailors slighted.
As Matters now stand, it sometimes were better for such Sailors, to be disabled at Sea, than to come off unmaimed ; since, in the former Case, a most laudable Provision is made them, for Life.
To return : Reason therefore, as well as the common Dictates of Humanity, (to put Gratitude and Interest out of the Question,) call loudly upon us, to cast about, as soon as possible, for some Method, which may prevent our being obliged, in future Emergencies, to have recourse to the detestable Practice above hinted at. And none, (I presume) can be so conducive to this sage and salutary Purpose, as the establishing a Grand Herring-Fishery.
This Fishery would likewise answer every wise End proposed, in keeping up a Body of registered Seamen; a Subject which has often been judged worthy the Thoughts of Parliament; since it would save our Government the great Expence, requisite for maintaining such a Body of Seamen; and be, on many Occasions, of more private Advantage to the latter, as the Fishery would afford them a comfortable Subsistance. Not to mention, that those Men, by being exercised in the Fishery, muſt be much better seasoned to the Service, than registered Seamen; as these would, in all Probability, spend a considerable Part of their Time on Shore, when not employed in the necessary Service of their Country.
To conclude: As we seem by our being an Island, as well as by our Situation on the Globe, to have been formed by Providence, for ploughing the Sea, as well as the Land; let us answer its beneficent Views, and devote ourselves, far more extensively, to an Element whose Bosom teems with Riches; the acquiring of which, will at the same Time, procure other signal Advantages to the British Empire.
14 March, 1749-50.
I am Sir, &c.
In fishing Arts the HIGHLANDERS employ,
Then will their Swords no more our Peace annoy.
COULD Solon rise from the Dead, and survey with his Eye, the greatest Part of our Island, how would he be delighted with its cultivated Face, the excellent Form of our Government, and the Progress of Arts and Sciences among us! On the other Hand, how much would he be surprized, when turning to another Part of Great Britain, he should perceive it to be unimprov’d, in a considerable Measure, by the sagacious Hand of Art, and the Inhabitants roving about like so many Savages! But how would the Astonishment of this Legislator increase, when he should be farther inform’d, that the Mountaineers dwelling in those Tracts, thus strangely neglected by the rest of their Countrymen, had been Injudiciously permited to be tamper’d with by their Lairds, or Chiefs; and impiously prevail’d upon, to take up Arms against their native Island!
Thus circumstanced were the Highlanders with regard to the other Britons, and to certain Foreigners, who set at work all the Engines possible, to make them odious to the rest of their Countrymen. Hence those Mountaineers are charged with being naturally rebellious; tho’ they become so merely, by the wicked Impressions made on their dark, rude Minds: Hence they are termed a lazy Peopie, at the same Time that this is owing to their want of Employment: It having always been the destructive Policy of the High land Chiefs, to keep their Clans, from Age to Age, in Idleness and Ignorance: Being perfectly sensible, that Knowledge and Trade, by opening the Eyes of their Slaves, and giving them a Taste of the Sweets of Property, would naturally be followed by Independance. Men of Knowledge will be (what Heaven intended they should,) free; And none but the illiterate can submit to Shackles. That this despised People have a Genius for Manufactures, is evident from their Tartan or Plaid; the whole of which is framed in, and by, each Family respectively; and the curious Arms they make, is a Demonstration of their Genius for Mechanicks. No Nation could be more ignorant and barbarous, than the Russians; and yet the Light of Science has, within the Compass of a few Years, wrought an amazing Change, in that so long Gothic People.
The Highlanders used to pay a bind Obedience to their Laird; First, because he fed them, (tho’ this often cost them dear;) And Secondly, because they ignorantly thought him the greatest Man upon Earth. But our Governours purchased very wisely, not long since, the Highland Jurisdictions or Superiorities; so that Nothing seems now wanting, but to find out some laudable Employment for the common People of that Country; and thus convince them, that Liberty is the first of Blessings; and Loyalty to his Majesty King George, their chief Interest.
As there are many fine Harbours, with a vast Variety of Fish of all Sorts on the Coasts of Scotland, it must be unpardonable in us; as it would argue Ingratitude to ourselves, and even towards Heaven, not to turn our natural Advantages into their proper Channel; by making a Part of the Ocean belonging to ourselves, whence Foreigners have so long drawn immense Wealth, the Support of our own People. A remarkable Circumstance is, that the Coasts of Great Britain being very rich, the Soil breeds a Sullidge that swims near to it ; and on this Sullidge, (which draws the Fish to us, and is peculiar to our Coasts,) feed all floating Fish, such as Mackarel, Herrings and Pilchards.
To be more particular: On the northwest Coasts of the Highlands of Scotland, is an extensive and very certain Fishery: Yet is it utterly neglected, tho’ no Ways disturbed by Foreigners; and this, because those Coasts are full of Islands, where the Tides run so strong, that large Fishing-Vessels cannot fish near them. Here is fine Shelter, and very good Food for the Fish. ‘Tis a Coast-Fishery, and must be carried on mostly by open Boats. The Inhabitants of these Parts are quite Strangers to foreign Trade; and pay the most submissive Homage to the Command of their imperious Lairds. Hitherto no one from the Low-Lands has attempted to settle among them. By this Means, their Country remains almost in its primitive State; though its Soil, in many Places, is exceedingly good, and very improveable. These wild Inhabitants, like the American Savages, think of Nothing but how to supply their immediate Wants; and for this they need to be at little Pains; their Mountains being stock’d with all Sorts of Cattle, and their Rivers abounding with Fish. The Lochs, or Lakes, on the Coasts of Strathnavern, and the Shire of Ross; and some near the Town of Stornway, upon the great Lewes Island, are the most noted for Herrings. Formerly some hundred Vessels, from fifty to sixty Tons, used to load Herrings every Year, in those Lochs, which very seldom fail’d of Fish: However, this Fishery has not been so much pursued, since the Rebellion. The Islands of North and South Vist, and about Barra, (all among the Western Islands,) are very famous for Cod and Ling. There is great Plenty of Herrings, as well as of White-Fish, about the Island of Sky; tolerable good Ones in some of the Lochs of the Island of Mull; but those in Lochſin, and the Coast of Aire, are excellent. The Coasts of the Islands of Isla and Jura, with those of Kintyre, and the Island of Arran, furnish very good Cod. (On this Occasion the Reader is desired to lay the State of the British Islands before him.) – – – – But it were needless to expatiate on the very advantageous Fisheries, which might be carried on, about the Coasts of Scotland.
The Highlands, which are divided into into North and West, contain vast Tracts of Territory; part being on the main Land, (as it is called ) Scotland; and the rest form the Islands of Sky, Mull, &c. Some Districts of their Country are populous enough, and the Vallies fruitful. They are, in general, a strong hardy People; their Abode on, or Passage over high Mountains; the pure Air they breathe on them, and their unadulterated Food, (provided they have but enough) contributing greatly to their Health and Vigour. These Mountaineers have proved as ruinous and disgraceful to our Nation as the Sailors have been of Advantage and Glory to it; and yet the former, instead of being dangerous to us, could be rendered exceedingly beneficial. Multitudes of them might, under proper Regulations, be retained very usefully in the Herring and Cod Fisheries; and fishing Vessels manned, in the Proportion of 12 Seamen to 8 Highlanders, or thereabouts; at the same time that the Wives and Children of the Latter, would be set at Work on Shore. By the Neglect of these Fisheries, great Naval Strength, and vast Treasures have been utterly lost to these Kingdoms; whence we may firmly be persuaded, that our sage Legislators will no longer permit so large a Body of useful Men, to rust in Sloth, Poverty, and Ignorance; but excite them, by due Rewards, to cultivate their far-extended Wastes; and to fish properly in the adjacent Waters, as their laudable Industry will be recompenced with so many Blessings. The Arabians, have a Proverb, that the busied Man has ever one Devil to plague him; but that he who lives in Indolence, is perpetually tormented with a thousand of those evil Spirits. Our Nation, in general, cannot but be exceedingly desirous of seeing the Highlanders settled in some profitable Way of Life; as their Indolence, their Servility and Wretchedness, have too often been productive of the most horrid Effects. Witness the Rebellion in 1715 and 1745.
If it be a just Maxim, (and who can doubt the Truth of it?) that a due Number of industrious Individuals, constitute the Strength and Riches of a Country, Self-Interest should strongly urge us, to make the Highlanders of Benefit to the rest of the Nation ; and consequently our Neglect in this Particular, will argue amazing Supineness in us, (to give it the soſtest Term.) No one can be more sensible than myself, of the vast Utility which frequently springs from the Planting of Colonies; nor is better persuaded, of the numberless Advantages that may accrue to our Settlements in North America, and consequently to the Nation, from the prudent Establishment of our Colony in Nova Scotia, (which Heaven therefore prosper!) and yet it would appear very strange to me, should we, after sailing cross the wide Western Ocean, at a great Expence, and running some Hazard, to reduce Savages, and settle in their Country, continue to neglect the civilizing and employing the Half-Savages of our Own. On this Occasion, methinks, the well-known Proverb might be justly applied, Charity begins at home. But if neither Charity, nor that stronger Motive Interest, can rouze us, for the Purpose I am speaking of; surely our own Security will do this, for the same weighty Reason, that, a wise Man would endeavour to correct any peccant Humour in his Body, in order to keep every Part of it healthy and vigorous.
Farther: All Persons inclined to the Naturalization Bill, must necessarily be Friends to the Argument I here humbly espouse. Every Reason urged in Favour of the above Bill, will hold much stronger with regard to our engaging the Highlanders in the Fishery; since, if it be granted, that the sending over for Foreigners, to People this Island, would prove of great Emolument to it; surely the civilizing and employing Part of our Natives, by whom we are grievously annoyed, at Intervals, must be of still greater Importance to our Welfare. To wast Colonies abroad, and invite Foreigners to settle here, at the same time that we should overlook a vast many thousands of our Countrymen, would, (or I am greatly mistaken) discover such a Policy as a Harrington or a Sydney must laugh at, and few could attempt to justify.
I shall use but one Reason more, though many occur, to enforce my Argument, and this is: That we ought carefully to preserve the Lives of the Highlanders, in common with those of our other Countrymen; since the necessary Havock made of the former, in Rebellions, is not only a Loss ourselves but likewise to our Posterity; these being deprived of the numberless Descendants of such of the Highlanders as die in Battle; and who, had they rose to Being, would probably have been of Service to their Country.
March 16, 1749-50.
Sir, Yours, &c.