Alister Letters

In 1853 R. Alister published a book entitled 'Barriers to the National Prosperity of Scotland: or, An Inquiry into some of the Immediate Causes of Modern Social Evils'. He also wrote two open letters to the Most Noble the Marquess of Breadalbane in The Perthshire Advertiser. The Marquis's reply is given below.

Alister's real name was Alexander Robertson. Born in Dunkeld in 1925, he died in 1893.

Alister's letters are long so I have tried to pick out his key points relevant to our part of Breadalbane;

Reply by the Marquis of Breadalbane

To the editor of The "Perthshire Advertiser"

21 Park Lane, London
June 18 1853

Sir,-My attention has been directed to an article in the Perthshire Advertiser of the 13th ultimo, in which a work, entitled Barriers to the National Prosperity of Scotland, is reviewed, and from which are quoted passages tending to give an impression of the management of my estates in the Highlands which is inconsistent with the facts.

The extract from Mr Alister's work to which I more particularly allude is the following:- "At the present rate of depopulation, the Highlands must soon be one vast wilderness; and although their numbers were never great in the British army, yet we aver that one-tenth of the men who fought in the last war could not be got in the highlands. Many of the smaller glens are totally cleared, and any of the peasantry remaining do not calculate that they can obtain a home for many years longer. Glencoe, the Black Mount and Lochtayside, where the Campbells flourished, are swept; and although no difficulty was experienced by the late Marquess of Breadalbane in raising three battalions of Fencibles at the last war, we are sure that 150 men could not now be obtained".

Glencoe does not and never did, belong to me. (He then talks about the Black Mount and Nether Lorne property).

The population on the banks of Loch Tay is certainly not as large as it was twenty years since, and it is fortunate for all parties concerned that it is not, as a continuance of the old system would, before this, have produced disastrous results.

When I succeeded to the property, I found the land cut up into possessions too small for the proper conduct of agricultural operations, or the full employment of the occupiers. The consequence was, that habits of idleness were engendered, great poverty existed, and the cultivation of the land was in a most unsatisfactory state - the social, the moral, and physical condition of the people being thus unfavourably affected.

A continuance of this state of matters was clearly inconsistent with the improvement of the country and the welfare of the inhabitants, subjects to which I at once, on my succession, directed my attention, and to which I have ever since constantly directed my best thoughts.

To carry these views into effect , it was absolutely necessary that the holdings should be increased in size as to give sufficient employment to the resources of the occupiers, and this could only be done by consolidating some of the smallest possessions, retaining the tenants who appeared most likely to profit from the change.

In no way was this done in the way implied by Mr Alister, as the changes were always made gradually, and so as to produce as little inconvenience as possible to those it was necessary to remove. Indeed, whenever practicable, those who were removed were offered other houses.

In reality, there has been no depopulation of the district, in the sense in which the word is usually accepted. There is still a large population on both sides of Loch Tay, and almost all the land is still held in, comparatively speaking, small possessions.

The results of the system I have pursued speak for themselves. If any person who saw Lochtayside twenty years since were to see it now, he could not fail to be struck with the change for the better in the face of the country, in the state of the dwellings, and in the appearance and habits of the people.

A very satisfactory proof of the flourishing condition of the people may be found in the fact, that while the inhabitants of many parts of the Highlands were suffering from famine in the years 1846-47, and were indebted for mere existence to the charity of the public, none of the money so collected was expended on, or required by, the inhabitants of my estates, even on the west coast. All were supported by internal, not external aid, although the failure of the potato crop was quite as complete there as in other parts of the Highlands. Indeed money was raised in these districts in aid of the general funds collected for the alleviation of famine.

In no parts of the Highlands are the religious and educational wants of the inhabitants better provided for, nor are there fewer public houses.

In looking over my factorial accounts, I find that, on my Perthshire property, I have expended in employing the people in useful works, £188,750: in Glenurchay, a part of my Argyleshire property, £19,402; and on the other part a similar sum in proportion-in each case from the period of my succession down to 1852 (eighteen years).

Having stated these fact regarding the management of my property and my conduct towards those residing upon it, I fearlessly ask, Am I justly obnoxious to the imputation of being regardless to the happiness of the people upon it? Have I recklessly driven out from its mountains and glens the interesting and gallant race that formerly resided there? I remain, sir, your obedient servant,
(Signed) Breadalbane.

Page last updated - 28/8/14