Transcript for HoS 85

Hello Gracious and honourable members again, and welcome to the History of Scotland, episode…

Over the last few episodes we have explored how life developed in Scotland over the first 50-60 years of the union. Let’s have a super fast summary, to make sure the hymn sheet is turned to the right page. So the report of the first 50 years has been mixed picture, with an undeniably difficult start economically accompanied by tax riots and widescale smuggling. But slowly some parts of the economy began to rather enjoy the experience; and the worst hadn’t happened. Scotland wasn’t overwhelmed by competition from the south In fact in some areas it did it’s very own fair share of whelming, especially in the evil weed trade, but also linen manufacturing. There are changes going on in the countryside too – in both lowland and Highlands, but by 1750s you’d could have missed them. Meanwhile emigration, which had always been part of Scottish life, became an even more attractive option to many, in an empire increasingly becoming British rather than English.

Religion had become more forgiving of pluralism. And by the 1750s, Scottish intellectual life in the lowlands and Edinburgh in particular had flowered like you would not believe  – by  ‘eck, Scottish thinkers are leading the European Enlightenment. Who hasn’t heard of Adam Smith?. There’s a deal of political alienation from far away Westminster; but in daily life, the institutions running Scotland haven’t changed very much at all it was as it had ever been – the great magnates, the kirk, the law courts.

The super summary is that Scotland was changing; but in daily economic life, it  looked and felt largely as it had done in 1700. By 1850, that would all have changed. It would have been transformed.

A big engine of change, throughout history, has been population growth, and of course that is absolutely the story south of the border, in what had become the richest, largest and most urbanised economy in Europe – England and Wales. Population growth will be a large part of Scotland’s story too; though it takes a little longer to really take off. Here are the figures if you are ready for some stats. In 1755, there were 1,250,000 Scots; by 1801 there were 1.6 million of them. That doesn’t seem that great a change.  Though worth noting there had been a lot of emigration during the period to boot. But basically increase is about 0.6% a year up to 1801, and that’s less than the rate of growth in England and Ireland; though it’s still significant. But after 1801, Scotland put on the winged shoes of procreation, pirouettes and races away, 1.2% growth per year after 1801, 1.6% a year after 1821; by 1851 the Population of Scotland would be just under 3 million.

Plus the profile of where people are changes. Because that population was increasingly concentrated in towns. Now everybody knows that this is what happens with industrialisation do they not – big stinky towns with lots of cholera, dodgy working practices and an early death. Well some health warnings are needed – don’t drink the water ha! No, I mean some health warnings are needed with that image; for a long time Scotland remained far and away a rural country and society, despite all the Glasgow Edinburgh talk. By1850, still almost 70% of its population lived in the country. Nonetheless by 1850, that made Scotland the second most urbanised country in Europe after England Wales, and back in 1700 its urban population had been only 5% of the total. So it’s a big change. And it comes in a rush – after 1750, growth was three times faster than it was south of the border.

The devil of Population change is in the detail, and it’s complicated, especially when we come, in a future episode, to talk about Lowland and highland clearances. But that’s the general picture.

There was quite a lot of continuity in this story. You have probably become used to the same old names – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen. And you’ll keep hearing those names, never fear – with the probable addition of Dundee. The largest towns in 1700, were the same as in 1850. The major regional centres remained the regional centres. But urban population becomes more and more concentrated in the narrow belt of land in the western and Eastern lowlands – by 1841 83% of the population lived there, the Glasgow – Edinburgh corridor basically.

The speed of this growth caused problems; it’s again a well trodden story I guess. As the cities exploded in size, sanitary systems failed to cope. The story was bad everywhere, but less bad in the regional centres where the growth and absolute size was less extreme. The disease and mortality in the early industrial cities are legendary throughout Britain, but it seems they were even worse in Scotland; a report of 1824 concluded

The mortality from fever is greater in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee than in the most crowded towns in England

It’s possibly due to a slightly different structure and tradition of housing in Scotland, thinking of those big high tenements, especially in the Old Town of Edinburgh which looks lovely now but back then, not hygienic. But generally the cause were all the common ones; little street cleaning, contaminated water supply, medical ignorance, overwhelmed municipal authorities and ideologies that blamed squalor and disease on people and their habits rather than conditions. And this made life particularly miserable for the urban poor – particularly in times of economic depression. Hard times came particularly in the post Napoleonic periods, 1816-17; but came again in 1825 and then 1836-7. By these later dates, cities were in a particularly bad state, and epidemic diseases are having a field day.

Cholera was a big killer. Cholera first struck in 1831-2, and it claimed 10,000 souls. It came back in 1846, and again in 1858. Fishing ports were also badly effected, and in some places 50% of the population died, devastating attacks. Here’s a letter from a Colliery owner at Tranent in 1832

the lad Peter, aged 12, went to his work as usual, below ground, yesterday morning, and while there, was taken ill; he fainted twice before reaching home; his strength became prostrated; the symptoms of Cholera, so often described, followed, and he expired this morning.

Typhus and Typhoid would join Cholera as killers. In Edinburgh, although the death rate had been falling to 25 per 1000 in 1819, by 1839 it was on the rise again, and had reached 29 per thousand. These days, by way of comparison, its 10 per thousand. Though it’s actually 11 in the Isle of Mann. Just Sayin’.

Urban population growth was driven by immigration from the country, organic growth was never sufficient; so, of the 10 principal towns in 1851,only 47% of the inhabitants had been born in them. Although mostly this was immigration from the countryside, there would be a massive influx from Ireland as a result of the great famine there toward the end of the period.

Cities like this and these times became known to historians as ‘shock cities’. It’s a great term – from the Asa Briggs classic text, Victorian Cities, from the 1960s. A shock city was one that forced society to face and start to resolve the seemingly bottomless social problems of a new poverty and deprivation; which the old system of voluntary, kirk-based poor relief would prove utterly incapable of dealing with. For the moment though, it’s just the shock, without the response.

Given that people died so much in the great shock cities, you have to ask why they came? Well, the big driver of course is industrialisation, jobs, demand, and we’ll come to that in just a min, but you still have to ask why would you go to die? One open question is how far people were forced off the land, forced to try to make a of of it in the cities. There are conflicting indicators going on, and historians do love a good conflicting indicator, gives lots of potential for debate. So on the one hand, the legal rights of ordinary folk to land and common land falls over a lot of lowland Scotland especially after 1780; and from 1700 there had been a steady and strong increase in landless wage earners as a result of changes, or so called ‘enlightened improvement’ in agricultural practices. That didn’t necessarily mean people leaving the land, but it did make life harder and more vulnerable for some – such as the lowland Cottar.

It also made it easier; less complicated to leave your cottage than your farm. And the largest group of regular farm workers in lowland Scotland were unmarried, employed on 6 month contacts, and highly mobile, moving constantly for work. Another driver was the Scottish Poor Laws. In Scotland the able bodied and unemployed had no legal right to poor relief, unlike in England. And so people had to leave to survive.

I was struck when doing a bit of this on an English social history course that the story of an appallingly treated urban and industrial poor is very powerful, and it’s easy to fill column inches with the story of the downtrodden and helpless victims. But the book which sticks in my mind most was one by Emma Griffith, called Liberty’s dawn, which swam resolutely against that tide. Because I mean yes that story is true, but it rather robs people of their individual stories and ability to choose their own future; I am heroically trying to avoid the much over used word of agency, but there it is like a big immoveable boulder in the road of language and I can’t avoid it. So yes – it’s an explanation which robs people of agency. And what Professor Griffiths book showed was that people often left the land for the big stinking cities eagerly and with hope and expectation. In transactional terms they were leaving for higher wages available in industry; it aspirational terms they were leaving for a freer life away from the stultifying life of the parish, where the authority of the Laird and the Kirk was absolute, and everyone knew everyone else, and there was no escape from the public gaze.

The big four cities varied to some degree in the profile of employment, but the biggest single industry and employer for all these newbies was the textile industry; in 1841, it provided 50% of jobs in Dundee. Dundee will become known as the world of Jute, Jam and Journalism, but it was Linen at this stage; and the textile industry it wasn’t much less dominant in Glasgow at 37%.

The City that stands out as unusual is Edinburgh. Scotland’s capital had the most varied economy, which made it much more economically stable. Only 13% of trade was in textiles, there was a rich ecology of smaller businesses and professional trades. So, it was much less exposed to the ups and downs of economic bad times. Aberdeen meanwhile came closest in terms of a balanced industrial structure, with a wider range of specifically industries, including plenty employed also in fishing.

Essentially what we are saying is that urban population growth was driven by industrialisation. I assume there is the same uncertainty as there is in English history about why population growth takes off quite so much; in England the root cause has been identified as slight but persistent increases in fertility, driven by a lower marriage age. The story in Scotland I am told is more to do with a decrease in mortality, presumed to be from  improvements in nutrition. I am not really in a position to challenge or interrogate this, so let me just accept it. Though I know that the English conclusion around fertility was itself a surprising conclusion from a decade’s long major research project, so I am not sure why the story in Scotland is different. But so it appears to be.

Population growth was supported and encouraged by a mix of again quite small incremental growth in agricultural production, a greater variety of jobs in industry and trade; all a bit complicated, there are chickens and eggs all over the place, debating which comes first. But what is undeniable is that the Scottish economy does indeed take off.

This seems to be substantially different to the model that has emerged from studies of the English industrial revolution – in fact I think I could be thrown into the deepest dungeon of Historiographical hell just for saying that phrase, to rest on the bones of everyone who said Dark Ages, or Anglo Saxon. I will be happy there among my unreconstructed fellow curmudgeons. But the picture in England now is of steady improvement in agriculture, or  things such as finance and science and colonisation and slavery all coalescing into a sort of evolutionary soup, of out which emerged the fish with legs of industrial development. That’s not how it happened in Scotland. Now you see it now you don’t. Or rather – blimey, where did that come from? Between 1750 and 1850, urban and industrial growth was the fastest of any region in Europe.

Up to the 1830s, it was the textile industry which drove the industrial revolution bus – cotton, wool, linen – maybe employing 257,000 souls by the 1800sm nearly 90% of those employed in manufacturing. In remarkably short order you get all those things we learned about at school. Mechanisation; Spinning was mechanised by the 1830s,and became focussed in mill complexes; James Watt’s improvement of the steam engine liberated the use of those famous English inventions – of spinning jenny, Arkwright’s waterframe and Compton’s mule. Gosh this really is like going back to school. But it is worth noting that mechanisation and the mill complex doesn’t take over until after the 1830s; cottage industry and home manufacture, including rural crafts working piece work are still the backbone.





Output rocketed; Linen from 3.5m yards in 1728, 30 million yards in 1822. There’s that regional specialisation thing – cotton manufacturing in Glasgow and the western Lowlands, Dundee Angus and Fife were into linen, for the Eastern Borders, towns like Hawick, it was woollen manufacture.

All of this forms the basis for later industrial development on a big scale, which start growing a smallish but significant base now – brewing, chemicals for textile finishing, papermaking, coal mining; so it’s Textiles now, but groundwork is being laid for the next stage after the 1830s. And while it’s the lowlands we are mainly talking about here, the impact is felt throughout Scotland; there’s massive demand generated in the Highlands for kelp, fish, whiskey, cattle and sheep, driving the development of more commercial relationships which had already made their appearance in the Campbell estates of Argyll as early as the 1720s. One historian describes as ‘the transformation of gaeldom from tribalism to capitalism’. All of which will have consequences, in spades.

The question I guess is why this all happens, and happens so quickly. Well, demand is one. This argument always feels a bit circular, but everyone seems to agree that the growth is market led. Population growth drives demand, drives production; production drives increasing wages; growing agricultural productivity also raises agricultural wages, because farmers also have to compete with wages in the city; they might look as poor as church mice to us today, but the working class getting richer, and are able to spend more on coal, linen, cotton, and even luxuries such as tea and sugar.

This is the internal demand; but external demand is also central. Between 1785 and 1835 exports rise ninefold. The Union had delivered access to Empire, and Scotland already had a big slice of the colonial and Atlantic trade in tobacco.  Unlike Ireland, Scotland also had easy access to Baltic and European markets, and a long history of trading in continental Europe. So even when there was a shock to the economy with the disappearance for a while of the biggest colonial market through the American Revolution; but Scottish merchants were well enough developed to respond effectively and quickly, establishing links into South America, Asia and Australasia.

Part of that story is of course the trade in enslaved people. At the time of writing, I have not yet reached England’s involvement with the History of England podcast and therefore dug into the latest research, but I have kept half an eye on the ever developing state of play of the historical debate. This, in brief, seems to have moved from Eric Williams’ thesis that the industrial Revolution was fired by the slave trade, countered by a sceptical response that the size of the trade could have been more than a minor component in the industrialising economy – the figure of 1% was arrived at I believe, some push it up to 2%.

The debate though has moved instead to the current thinking which makes the point that you have to consider the slave trade as an engine in the whole Atlantic trade system to really understand the impact of 18th and early 19th century enslavement. It makes the point that through the supply of food from the North American colonies to the Caribbean, the plantation economies there could not have existed as they did, quite apart from the direct impact of enslaved people in the economies of sugar, tobacco and cotton in the Americas s well as the Caribbean. My understanding then is that the latest thinking has arrived at the conclusion that the trade in the enslaved must at very least have helped the industrial revolution along; let me quote the more sceptical end, in the form of David Eltis that enslavement

‘Certainly “helped” that Revolution along, but its role was no greater than that of many other economic activities’.[1]

But if one thing is certain, it is that the debate is far from over, and not by a chalk long enough to stretch from here to eternity. That is something on which your hat may be hanged.

Now the story of the trade in enslaved people has always been a very English story within the UK, and you can see why; just one statistic maybe explains it. From the late 17th century to the early Nineteenth and abolition, 3.4 million enslaved Africans were sold from the English ports of Bristol, London; and particularly Liverpool. Hence the presence of the International slavery museum at Liverpool, though there are museums in Bristol and London too. Meanwhile by comparison between 1707 and 1766, 4,500 enslaved people were sold from Glasgow, a tiny fraction of the English figure.

So in Scottish historiography, while Scottish tobacco and Sugar companies argued against the abolition movement, the focus has been on the role of presbyterian Calvinists in the abolition debate, based on the Calvinist tradition of the equality of man; and in the Victorian era the very high profile of figures like David Livingstone in the campaign to abolish the slave trade in 1833. It’s a similar story in England of course, where the focus had always been on the triumph of abolition rather than the horrors of the trade. And there is no doubt there was indeed widespread, charismatic and fierce Scottish lobbying for abolition that stayed quite rightly in the public imagination.

But more recently there has been something of a reaction, as there has in many countries of course; and Tom Devine writes

After abolition, all European countries which had extracted handsome profits from transatlantic slavery, whether England, France, Holland, Portugal or Spain, soon managed to distance themselves from their unsavoury past. But Scotland was different. Not only did it succumb to amnesia like the rest but also to an explicit denial of ever having had any part in the business of transatlantic slavery: ‘It wisnae us’, as the Scots vernacular had it.

Quite clearly as an Englishman I’m not up to Scottish vernacular, so I can’t do the Wisane thing, but there seems to be quite a movement now around the phrase; Stephen Mullen, a historian at the university of Glasgow, even wrote a book with the phrase as its title.[2] One of the arguments is that this is tied up with the odd idea that the Empire was English and nothing to do with the Scots, Irish and Welsh. As far as the slave trade specifically is concerned, the last ten years of research seems to indicated that while Ireland and Wales did indeed have a disproportionately low involvement in the trade. But the same work has suggested the opposite is true for Scotland.

Nicholas Draper’s research into Compensation records of slave owners[3] revealed that while the Scottish population was 10% of the whole British Isles, Scots received 15% of the compensation. It’s also been argued that Scotland’s earlier growth came disproportionately from trades such as tobacco that relied on slave labour.  Scots directly owned and ran  plantations in the Caribbean and South America, but in addition to that, many Scots operated from English ports or financed English companies,. It’s also held that, and I quote:

The poorer Scottish economy before c. 1760 had much more need of imperial markets and inward capital flows from the transatlantic plantations than its richer and more developed southern neighbour to enable progress towards modernity.[4]

Which moves us on to another reason for industrialisation, the use of capital. The Scottish landed classes basically ponied up. They mobilised resources on an impressive scale, in both agricultural improvement and in providing finance for industry; old wealth financed the new economic order as well, and established a banking system in Scotland that helped them do so and oiled the wheels of commerce.

There was not just historical wealth innovatively re-deployed, but a historical culture of  entrepreneurialism redeployed too – particularly inserting themselves into Imperial trade in North American and the Caribbean, and the innovative commercial methods of Glasgow firms.

Other factors include the availability of labour, which of course has always been mobile in terms of emigration in Scotland, but became ever more mobile after agricultural changes – and not always in a good way it has to be said. Meanwhile Scottish labour was cheaper than English; I came across a quote from Richard Arkwright who invests in mills in Lanarkshire, and in rather bloodthirsty language says the labour rates will help him cut the throats of Lancashire mills. Richard, please, mind your metaphors that’s get you barred from social media PDQ.

There are endless fascinating stories to be told about industrialisation which I will of course wallow in during the history of England. One of those things is the cultural change that the factory system introduces into society. At which a caveat – I don’t about you, but when I used to think about industrialisation my imagination immediately flies to ‘North and South’ by Elizabeth Gaskill, endless soulless factories with cotton dust everywhere, small children in rags, clanking machines, and that rather attractive actor Richard Armitage in costume dramas and a northern accent. I mean all power to that I suppose, And Richard does tip up in The Vicar of Dibley as Dawn French’s squeeze,  but my much delayed point is that the factory system and mechanisation don’t take over until surprisingly late. I am repeating myself I realise, but early industrialisation is built also on rural crafts and cottage industry. That’s important because it preserves and enriches rural society, rather than transforming it.

But with that caveat having been said, the cultural change I am talking about is working patterns. For like – ever –  the working practice of the vast majority of people had been deeply variable. Long periods of relative idleness followed by intense periods of furious activity – getting the harvest in, the ploughing sorted, the seeds in the grounds. Lots of festival days along the way. Factory work wasn’t like that – it was long hours day after day, Six days a week, very few extra holidays. It came as quite a shock.

Meanwhile the mobility of male local labour was still not enough to feed demand. So there were two other sources. Female labour was particularly important, by which I mean largely young, unmarried and childless women – creche facilities weren’t always available. That’s irony of course. Or was it sarcasm? Hands up who knows the difference? Young women actually were one segment of the population for whom the factory system was something of an opportunity; although paid less than their male counterparts, they still earned comparatively well than they could back home, and by golly they gained their weight in gold in freedom.

Another source of labour were of course children, and that is one of those other horror stories of industrialisation until Victorian reformers finally started legislating down at Westminster; that’s partly why I read that Cholera letter, the lad Pater was 12 and going down a mine.  Child labour in these years is also cultural though, another insight from Emma Griffiths book; child labour had been a given in rural society, again from way back in the mists of time. It took time for attitudes to change, and to understand that new ways were needed in new times, and factories are not fields. Not that I want you to think I am in favour of child labour of course, outside of the washing up and related, but it’s important to get into the heads of the people of the time.

And one more source of labour was immigration – principally from Ireland; in 1800, then, it was reckoned that around half the mill force in Glasgow were Irish.

Finally, technology of course played it’s part. We talked about the Scottish Enlightenment last time, and I purposely did not mention much about Engineers, knowing full well where we were going. Because there is a stream of technology that come from Scotland as well as science, philosophy and all that. James Watt, of course, perfected the condenser for Thomas Newcomen’s steam engine and transformed its practical use; there is Thomas Telford the Civil Engineer just to name two.

To add to all of these reasons for industrial take up, then, is the Union and the English connection. Like the Scottish enlightenment, the industrial revolution came from specifically Scottish roots. But it was enabled and enhanced by the Union and English connection, and probably more than just enhanced you’d have to argue. Access to Empire was crucial, and sadly of course access therefore to the English trade in the enslaved as well; and not just to Empire – England was itself a massive market, to which Union gave free access. Union also gave access to finance, and to technology and knowledge. That includes headline stuff like the inventions of Englishmen like Hargreaves, Kay, Arkwright and Compton; but it’s also on a micro level – skilled English workers who came to work at Scottish plants and transferred their knowledge and skills.

The Union also generated political stability. It had despatched the conflict and distraction of the Stuarts and Jacobites and sent them packing. Less attractively I suppose, the Union reinforced the dominance of the Scottish landed elite. As we heard last time, the kirk was no longer a threat to stability having accepted religious pluralism, and reinforced stability and social hierarchy. The Scottish enlightenment, which in France led to political radicalism, had done no such thing in Scotland. The likes of David Hume, William Robertson, Adam Smith – none of these innovative and free thinking folks ever questioned their oligarchical political system. They assumed that only those with a secure, landed stake in the country could be trusted to run the country properly. Even when we come to a period of considerable political radicalism in England around the French Revolution, there is very little political protest in Scotland, though there is some, which we’ll talk about, so that qualifies as a plot spoiler. Once proposed explanation for this, is the influence of the church in promoting compliance.


Ok, last topic of the podcast, let us talk about the continuing political integration of the British state, and the role of Scots within it – and in particular the career of one Henry Dundas, Harry the Nineth.

So, the British state after union did little to enforce integration. There are many narratives about the Union, one is that it was an English takeover, a conquest, another that the English just didn’t care enough. My view as you may have guessed that the Union was a great thing for both of us, despite some birthing pains and initial argle bargle. No attempt was made to close down most Scottish institutions and traditions – kirk, law, education, language, which seems to me that is one of the reasons why the support for Scottish independence is so easy to contemplate. Local political control was mainly wielded by Scottish country managers; we heard a lot about Islay, who controlled most institutions and patronage, under the watchful eye of PM Walpole at Westminster. After Walpole died, Islay, now become Argyle, retained his position with his buddy Milton for a while until his own death in 1761.

He was succeeded in a sense by James Stewart the Earl of Bute. Bute has been described as the last royal favourite; because in 1751 he had been appointed tutor to the future George III. When George came to the throne in 1760, he was determined to restore the power of the crown to its 17th century levels – William III rather than James I and VI, to be fair, constitutional rather than absolutist. His tool to do this was to impose his favourite, the Earl of Bute, as Prime Minister, even though Bute could not command the confidence of Parliament.

It was therefore a stormy time! Parliament thought we’d got overall that sort of nonsense, and so of course objected furiously. It was also the time of Wilkes and peak Scottophobia as Scots alarmed the English with the extent of their success within the union, and started succeeding at all levels of commerce and governance. And so Bute did not last long. I am also told that James, or Jack, Stewart is the origin of the phrase Jack Boot as a term of abuse. Who’d have thunk it? I know you will object, and talk about Prussian Militarism, and to be fair I would also have done so. But listen to this quote from a letter written 1768 about a protest in London

Some insults were offer’d to some of the Lords & Commons in their Coaches as they went down with a Cry of Wilkes & Liberty & no Jack Boot

Eh? You heard it here. Well with the departure of Bute there was no obvious successor for the position of Scottish king. Having said that there were now far more Scots now in positions of governmental authority in the British state, as opposed to specifically Scottish jobs; and the wave of scottophobia was beginning to recede as everyone got used to each other.

Scots were also appearing in positions of authority throughout the Empire of course; the first Governor of Canada for example was one James Murray from 1763; in 1764 Hector Munro became something of a British hero when he won the battle of Behar, effectively  ensuring Britain would annex Bengal. Not sure that’s great news for Bengal, but it is at least a sign of continuing integration of Scots into the British state.

The response to the American Revolution was also interesting; I’ll be interested of course to cover this in more depth when I get to England, but the super summary is that public support for the war is deeply divided – in essence because so many in Britain saw it essentially as a civil war. So in 1775 there was effectively a plebiscite when the government encouraged petitions. The response was not the patriotic fervour they hoped; many turned out to be peace petitions. Sometimes places sent more than one; Hampshire sent two – a pro war one with 1,200 signatures, a peace one with 2,500. Only 3 regions were solid for one side or t’other. East Anglia, with such close links to the early colonists in New England were sullen and silent about the War, until Norwich submitted East Anglia’s only major petition – from 5,400 people demanding peace with the Americans. The University of Cambridge was similarly taciturn. Wales was similar, where Protestant sensibilities were very strong, and many emigrants had gone to Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Scotland on the other hand seems equally firm in favour of repression – over 70 addresses were sent in favour of war, none arrived from Scotland at Westminster for peace; though that gives a slightly misleading picture, since anti-war activism did exist, especially among presbyterian ministers. It’s estimated that about 40,000 Scots, mainly Highlanders, emigrated to North America before the war and in contrast to the Scotch-Irish, were almost all loyalist. After the war, rather than reconciling to the new republic, most of them left for Canada to settle, encouraged by Government grants of land.[5] I must admit I found it a bit difficult to find articles about this; the more popular story seems to be one of emigration from Clearances, that is questionable in the 18th century, because Highland landlords tried hard to keep clansmen in the highlands until the 19th century Potato famine started to bite in the 1840s. I did find references to military settlement of Scottish highlanders, apparently the most famous being Glengarry in Eastern Ontario.

Anyway this is a bit of a digression, interesting though it is. What I am supposed to be talking about is the life and career of Henry Dundas; because Dundas’ story in a way is a part of the increasing integration of Britain, a new phase. The long and short is that Islay had worked largely outside the British ministerial structure; he had the confidence of Walpole and those that followed, but he was not appointed as an official minister of the British State, he remained marginalised. Dundas on the other hand was at the very heart of British government, a man who saw himself very specifically as both a Scottish and British politician.

Dundas was from a Midlothian landed family of limited means, born in 1742, educated at Dalkeith Grammar. He went into law, and in 1774 entered the Westminster parliament as an MP for Midlothian, and essentially worked his way up. It is impossible to pin an ideology on him; he was a career politician, and in a world without modern parties that meant carving an independent furrow. Generally it also meant supporting the ministry in power, but he had his moment of opposition also, opposing Lord North as PM when North made an attempt to make peace with the US rebels. From 1779 Dundas was Keeper of the Signet, giving him significant control over patronage. By 1782, he was officially recognised as the government’s Scottish manager by the PM Lord Shelburne. He continued to acquire offices, in the Navy and the Board of Control of the EIC.

Then after 1782, he formed a close alliance with William Pitt, the Younger, and by then sat at the very heart of the British Government; he and Lord Grenville were William Pitt’s right hand men. It’s in 1782 that Dundas oversaw the repeal of the 1746 Dress act; this is the one imposed against highland dress and carrying weapons. The repeal was announced in English and Gaelic, and had a strangely informal style and introduction. Here it is

Listen Men. This is bringing before all the Sons of the Gael, the King and Parliament of Britain have forever abolished the act against the Highland Dress; which came down to the Clans from the beginning of the world to the year 1746. This must bring great joy to every Highland Heart. You are no longer bound down to the unmanly dress of the Lowlander.

That is a hoot. By the way, since I have seen more fake claims about the original dress Act than shells on the beach, please note Gaelic language, tartan, nor indeed bagpipe were ever banned. Just so you know. Anyway, we’ll talk a bit more about that when we come to the creation of Highlandism, but the repeal is generally seen as recognition of the service Highland regiments had delivered to the British State, and that a wrong should therefore be put right.

Dundas was supreme, and would become known as King Harry the Nineth, or the Uncrowned King of Scotland. And he has a chequered reputation. On the one hand, as a monster of corruption, who controlled patronage with such skill as to deliver most of the Scottish MPs to support Pitt’s government. We’re not going to cover the Scottish reaction to the French revolution today, but in 1792 there were Liberty Trees erected in several places across Scotland, and Dundas writhed in burning effigy. Because he was the face of government in Scotland – by 1796 that meant 43 of the 45 MPs were his to command.

Dundas was not a reformer to any large degree, shying away from parliamentary reform, and he has become notorious, with claims being made that he was an anti abolitionist; I think there are movements to remove his name from street, cut down statues and so on. The source is an amendment he introduced to one the earlier abolition bills, advocating ‘gradual abolition’. He’s accused of basically playing politics to delay abolition permanently in favour of the West Indian interest. His descendants have described the accusations as, and I quote ‘cartoonishly inaccurate’, and pointed out he had no personal involvement with the slave trade. The debate is ongoing.

As president of the Board of Control he established an accommodation as part of reform of the EIC; this was that government would control overall policy but not get in the way of detail, a sort of strategy that would last until 1857 and the Indian Rebellion. On the way he showed a healthy local bias, using his influence to help Scots into many key posts of Empire particularly in India.

Michael Lynch describes Dundas’s approach as a new patriotism – which linked several factors – self interest, advocacy for Scottish interests and people, and Empire. As a general approach it would have legs and longevity for many Scots. Whereas Islay was purely a manager of Scotland, Dundas was both that, and the architect of the British state. He deeply influenced Imperial policy in particular. It was his opinion in the aftermath of American independence, that the idea of a settler empire had gone wrong. That the Imperial future was an empire of trade, noy settlement or direct political control.

When the war with France arrived, he was also deeply influential; he advocated avoiding entanglement in Continental land armies, and focussing on a maritime strategy, the policy largely adopted until the Peninsular War. In general his running of the war has received something of a battering, but in that at least in that strategy he appears to have picked a winner.

Dundas became Viscount Melville, but his career would end messily; he is in fact the last minister of the Crown to be impeached, would you believe, for your next pub quiz. He was impeached in 1802, and though he was acquitted, it rather did for his political career.

Right, I have brought us broadly close to the end of the 18th century politically, it’s all a bit messy. We have broadly three topics to cover I think over the next few of episodes. There’s the Scottish reaction to the French Revolution to consider and that period after the Napoleonic wars when famine and distress stalked the land, and Shelly complained of a mad, despised and dying king, or some such and there was wide spread radical protest in England. So there’s that. Before that I fancy we’ll cover the big, big and emotive topic of agricultural change, because there’s a deal of that in both Lowlands and, far more famously, the highlands. And then there is one of the most remarkable events in Scottish history, which stands alongside the disappearance of the Picts in general levels of remarkableness. We will talk about the Invention of tradition, and Highlandism is almost as remarkable. Pok, so all those goodies to come, but next up, the harrowing tale of the Lowland clearances, and then the horrifyingly harrowing tale of the Highland Clearances.

Thank you for listening everyone, do let me know if you have any comments, it is always nice to get some thoughts, and meanwhile good luck, and see you next time

[1] Devine, Tom M.. Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection . Edinburgh University Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Stephen Mullen, It Wisnae Us: The Truth about Glasgow and Slavery (Edinburgh: Royal Incorporation of Architects of Scotland, 2009)

[3] Nicholas Draper, The Price of Emancipation: Slave Ownership, Compensation and British Society at the End of Slavery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). Location 5584

[4] Devine, Tom M.. Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection

[5]; Colley, L: ‘Britons’ p140

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