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Lochiel on the Condition of the Highlands
An Address from the 1895 Meeting of the Clan Cameron Association
from The Scotsman
December 20, 1895

Presiding last night at the annual social gathering of the members and friends of the Clan Cameron in the Waterloo Rooms, Glasgow, Lochiel, the Chief of the Clan, said that it was in 1891 that he last had the honour and pleasure of addressing the members, and accordingly he thought it was a fitting occasion on which to review briefly some of the circumstances which had arisen in connection with the clan since then.

The first was the attempt to obliterate the old 79th Regiment, the Cameron Highlanders. (Applause.)  There was no doubt that for a long lime things hung in the balance, and from the declaration of the late Secretary of State for War, they looked very black indeed, for he distinctly stated that not only was the absorption that old regiment contemplated but that the opinion of himself as well as of his professional advisers, it was almost a necessity.  Now, he was afraid that the reorganisation of the War would not lesson that danger.  It might rather increase it, because a composite body was less subject to the influence of sentiment than an individual and methodical organisation, which when carried to excess - they called it red-tape - became a very dangerous thing. (Hear, hear.)  It behoved them, therefore, to keep their eyes open in case any danger arose of interfering with the separate existence of the Cameron Highlanders. (Applause.)

Another event was the death of the poetess Mary Mackellar.  Besides those qualities of head and heart which endeared her to all Highlanders, and particularly to those speaking the Gaelic language, she was especially precious to them in view of the great interest she took in the Clan Cameron.  Lochiel also alluded to the sub-division of the Association into an eastern and a western branch, an arrangement which had worked satisfactorily and well.

But the most important of all the occurrences which had taken place since 1891 to the clan generally, and especially to those whom be was now addressing, was the opening up by a new railway of the cradle of their race - (applause) - the far-famed Lochaber, the home of their ancestors, the country of their fondest affection and of their holiest associations, a land still beautiful to look upon and still pleasant to meet in, a land of warlike story and ancient legend which always fired poetic imagination.  To those present the opening of the railway had a special interest, as it enabled them to make the most of their time during their brief holiday in visiting the country of the Camerons.  He could assure them that nothing gave him half the satisfaction which he derived from having taken a large share in the development of that part of the Highlands by the opening of that railway.  Those present were more or less acquainted with the conditions of life which prevailed in the Western Highlands and Islands.  Until lately, the people had been almost entirely cut off from the outer world, and to a large extent deprived of the improvement which had taken place elsewhere in the material comfort due to advancing civilisation.  That had engendered a feeling of restlessness among the population for many years, a feeling with which they were all well acquainted.

The outcome of that restlessness had involved many grave social questions, and many and various had been the proposals for redressing the grievances and ameliorating the lot of people there.  Some of these grievances had been redressed; some it now lay in the power of the people to redress themselves; but much still remained to be done.  They had seen a list of subjects as long as his arm, all of which were supposed to be calculated to improve the condition of the people.  He observed that these proposals were generally made by candidates for Parliamentary honours, or those making speeches in their support, and also that nearly every one of those remedial measures involved more or less pecuniary assistance from the State.  Now, State aid was, for certain purposes, most proper and legitimate.  He had himself been the means of asking for such aid for various purposes in the Highlands, and he was glad to say that he had not been wholly unsuccessful.  But to overdo that caused an infinity of harm.

According to his observation, two matters which remained, and which required attention, were the land question and direct communication with the south.  There was much to be said about the desire for land which they found in all the crofting communities, but that was not the place or the time to discuss it.  He would only say on that point that though he had splendid opportunities of studying the question, both when he was in Parliament and when he was a member of a Royal Commission, and also when he gave evidence before another Royal Commission, he had come to the conclusion that; except as regarded the extension of existing holdings, the difficulties in the way of establishing new colonies of crofters on other lands were go great as to be almost insuperable.  Of the two parties in the State, one suggested that certain lands should be occupied by crofters; the other, to which he belonged, suggested the purchase of holdings, but they had never stated how really the holdings were to he purchased, and that was the main difficulty.

Leaving politicians and land questions, the speaker turned to what he said was certainly feasible, and likely to prove advantageous, not only to the crofters, but to all the inhabitants of the Western Highlands and Islands - railway development.  He had already alluded to the West Highland line, but great as was the convenience of it to himself and those present, it did not yet touch the poorer parts of the Western Highlands.  It had given an impetus to Lochaber and all its industries, besides the actual money expended in the district in the formation of the railway; but it had not affected any of the poorer districts where labour was not so abundant as in more fortunate places.  They ought to consider these districts in advocating the extension of railways.  The proposed extension of the West Highland line to Mallaig on the extreme west coast of Inverness-shire would benefit the inhabitants of the western islands as well as the poor population on the mainland.  They all knew the recent history of that proposed railway.  They had heard of the negotiations with the Treasury, which resulted in a bill being introduced by the late Government and by the present Government, and which failed to pass, and had to be temporarily abandoned.  It would be an easy task to rouse the indignation of such a meeting as that by denouncing those members of Parliament who by their obstruction caused the failure of the bill which would have done so much good for the Western .Highlands. (Applause.)  He was not going to take that course.  At the time he exposed in the public press the reasons given by these members of Parliament for their opposition, and showed that the validity of the reasons given could not for a moment be admitted.  That exposition of the actual facts of the case had never been replied to. (Applause.)  In fact, it was unanswerable. (Applause.)  But he was careful not to injure his cause by attributing any motives to these gentlemen.  He was in the hope that time and reflection during the last year would have influenced them, and that when they saw, an they hoped they should, that bill reintroduced at an early period next session it would be allowed to pass.  If that was done they should all be glad to forget and forgive what took place last year (Applause.)

Returning for a moment to the general proposition that a railway was one of the greatest boons that could be conferred on the poorer districts of the Highlands, he said he would pass over the obvious advantage to those engaged in the fishing industry, to whom it was absolutely essential that their catches should be conveyed to market with the utmost dispatch.  Indeed it was possible that too much had been made of the relative importance of fishing as compared with other industries.  Cattle were the chief product of the Western Highlands; and it stood to reason that the dealers who went to the islands to buy would give better prices if they found the means of taking the animals to the southern markets better than they were in former times.  Was it not also obvious that if they brought the nearest point of Skye within eight hours' sail and steam of Glasgow that the numbers of dealers who went there would be largely increased and the competition very much greater?  Then something might be said in the reverse sense in regard to the articles which were imported from Glasgow.  They were bound to be cheaper if there were easy conveyance by rail.  There was one thing which he had always been very anxious to see established, which only railway communication with the large dealers of Glasgow was likely to bring about - a class of small shopkeepers in every village in the Highlands, who should transact their business on the principle of cheap prices and ready money. (Applause.)  But far above any material advantage that. could be derived from the Mallaig Railway was the moral effect on the people of that district.  It was his own confidence in the happy results which he believed would follow the completion of that line in elevating and civilising which had induced him to advocate it so strongly, and to rejoice so greatly that those efforts were at last likely to he crowned with success. (Applause.)

It was generally supposed that a railway brought great evil in its train - if the audience would excuse this very mild joke.  Highlanders were a staid old people. That was an amiable fault which told of contentment and of domestic affections; but for that reason it was doubly disastrous.  That fault had been fostered by well-meaning people, who said there was plenty of room at home.  As a matter of fact there was not plenty of room; but even if there were, why should the fact be used to stifle the energy and restrict the action of Highland youths who wished to go south to improve their positions? (Hear, hear.)  The main objections which he found prevailed among the Highlanders in regard to going south was the fear of the demoralisation of large towns.  There were undoubtedly dangers and temptations, but no race was better fitted to overcome them than Highlanders. (Applause.)  Imbued as they were with a sense of family affection, and pervaded by the influence of an earnest feeling in favour of religious education, he looked to the increased facilities of communication between the Highlands and large towns with confident hope.  The formation of the proposed railway must cause a favourable change in bringing together those who had left the homes of their childhood and prospered in new homes, and those who were willing to take the plunge if they were assured that the deep waters would not engulph them, but that they would emerge triumphant.  To perform that kindly office rested with the members of that Association.  A new form of civilisation might thus arise which would perhaps restore the comfort and happiness which was alleged to prevail a hundred years ago.  The social condition of the Highlands was now in a state of transition, and a period of transition was always fraught with disorganisation and discomfort.  That had been the case through the history of the world, and they could not hope that the Highlands would form an exception. (Hear, hear.)

A musical programme followed.  Letters of apology were intimated from, among others, Mr Alexander Cross, M.P., Mr Cameron Corbett, Sir Charles Cameron, the Rev. Dr Blair, Edinburgh; Mr G.L. Houston of Johnston Castle, Mr Allan Finlay, Borthwick Castle; and Mr E.A. Cameron of Aviemore.