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Highland Childhoods in the Old Statistical Accounts – Part 2

Guest blog post

Here is the second part of the guest post by Helen Barton and Neil Bruce, MLitt students at the University of the Highlands and Islands, who have carried out research on gender and family in the Highlands using the Statistical Accounts.

_________________________________________

In part one, we considered what the Old Statistical Accounts told us about Highland Childhoods, focusing on Health and Disease, and Family Structures. In part two, we look at the Domestic Economy and Education.

Domestic Economy

Rural and town children were commonly brought up in homes where domestic work, employment and child-rearing were being juggled by female adults across generations. Accounts allude to the precariousness of bringing-in income. In many cases, both parents needed to earn to achieve sufficient income to sustain the family. When an Avoch fishing crew drowned, widows received charitable aid, but social expectation was that even those with young infants would soon return to industrious work (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, pp. 634-5):

The distress of the widows having been thus mitigated, particularly until such of them had been left pregnant were delivered, and had nursed their infants, they have almost all now returned to the proper habits of industry, sufficient to support themselves and their families.

We can discern from the accounts typical levels of family income, and the cost of sustaining life, not just lifestyle. Families were experiencing increases in costs, noted to have doubled over four decades in Tarbat (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, pp. 431-2). In the far North Highlands, it was estimated to be in the region of £14 per year (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p.29).  Children frequently worked for wages or boarded as farm labourers to make ends meet. Married men received a higher wage than single people, and men generally received higher wages.  Income was gender, age and board-dependant. In Dingwall, there were limited wages for male labourers and families were highly dependent on supplementary income. This was usually from women spinning as “(T)here is no room for children to exert industry as there are no manufacturers.  The whole income of the family can therefore not exceed L9:16”’ (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p.13). This example of working mothers is repeated throughout the region. It points to waged work being introduced, and again, the need for two adult incomes to sustain families.

Elsewhere in Scotland, children were widely employed in manufacturing. They were cheap to employ before reaching at 14 years when higher wages were paid (C.A. Whatley, ‘The Experience of Work’, in T. M. Devine & R. Mitchison (eds) People and Society in Scotland, Vol 1, 1760-1830 (Edinburgh, 1999), pp. 239-46). There are frequent references to Highland children’s priorities being to the family; in Rogart, children worked as “servants”, for their parents, (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p. 566) and on Barra they worked seed-planting and harvesting instead of attending school (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 339). The contribution of children’s wages to the household was especially significant in areas where men were absent as women earned much less (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 288).

However, most parish accounts make little direct reference to employment for children. It may be that in some parishes, children did not ordinarily work. More likely it was simply widely accepted they contributed to the family economy as another pair of hands, whether ‘wage-earning’, as domestic workers, or in farm work.  It certainly seems common from the reports they were assumed to contribute to the overall household economy, though at what age is not always obvious.

Education

Initially there were no questions about schooling requested of parish ministers. A supplementary request to find out about “the state, organisation and size of the parish’s schools, number of scholars, subjects taught and how many went on to university” was made a year later (though sent out as Appendix C with a letter to clergy in 1791, the source quoted here is J. Sinclair, Specimens of Statistical Reports: Exhibiting the progress of political society, from the pastoral state, to that of luxury and refinement (London & Cornhill, 1793), p. XV).

As mentioned above, the economic value children contributed to the family unit meant education came second to work. their availability to attend school was determined by seasonal demands. Sir John himself subsequently assessed that “(T)he common people, in general, have little time for education.” (J. Sinclair, Analysis of the Statistical Account of Scotland: With a General View of the History of that Country, and Discussions on Some Important Branches of Political Economy (Edinburgh, 1831), p. 72). His statement was informed by the reports indicating poor school attendances, but did not note parental income levels, or the ease of access to schools.

While the local heritors (landowners) were legally required to ensure the provision of a school in each parish, in practice, that could depend on their residency or absence, willingness and ability to fund. It also depended on their preparedness for others, such as the Scottish Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, to establish schools. The Scottish Society’s (SSPCK) Secretary, for example, identified “2 populous districts … where schools might be erected to great advantage”, were the proprietor to part-fund it (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 315). Parish and other schools could and did charge for children to be taught; the quarterly fees in Stornoway, for example, included English and writing 2/6d; arithmetic and English 3/-; Latin, writing and arithmetic 4/- (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 243).

The requirement was ‘a’ parish school – in Skye, the Outer Hebrides and Small Isles, a vast area of 2,000 square miles, and many inhabited islands, there were only 15 parishes, and unsurprisingly, the reports revealed the paucity of educational provision.  Rev. John Macleod summed up the challenges of school provision and uptake on Harris: “the people of this country are so detached from each other” and the terrain, distances and paucity of good roads, meant, “there is really no fixing on a station in which any public institution can be of universal benefit” (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p. 380).

What Sir John also did not acknowledge were reports of parents in more remote places making their own arrangements to have their children schooled. Equally, the accounts do not detail the age of those who attended school, or for how long; there is no reference to informal educational opportunities. As the reporters were usually the Kirk minister, there is often little information on the schooling of Roman Catholic children. Prunier has noted that Roman Catholics were debarred from teaching (C. Prunier, ‘‘They must have their children educated some way’: the education of Catholics in eighteenth-century Scotland’, Innes Review, Vol. 60, no. 1 (2009), p. 37).

Attendance at school in the west and north Highlands and Islands meant learning in English, not Gaelic, though for most, Gaelic was still their native tongue. This introduced children to another language, and in Barray, “numbers … who attended the school … (spoke) … English tolerably well” (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 341). In contrast on the east coast, in Rosemarkie, Avoch, and Wick, for example, few, if anyone spoke Gaelic (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 348; Vol. XV, 1795, p. 632; Vol. X, 1794, p. 32).

The reporting of schooling was non-gendered, with either the subjects, or the number taking them listed. At North Uist’s parish school, “ten in general read Latin; the rest study geography, book-keeping, arithmetic, writing, and reading English” (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 315), and at Strath, reading, writing, arithmetic and Latin were taught (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 226). However, the reports do point to gendered-based opportunities for, and expectations on children – Sir John, himself argued, “society cannot be placed on an equal footing, unless the blessings of education are extended to both sexes”, though by that he obviously did not mean they both receive the same opportunities (J. Sinclair, Analysis of the Statistical Account, p. 126).

Sinclair himself penned the Thurso report and promoted the idea of an academy for boys once the Napoleonic Wars were over, lamenting there was no boarding school where girls could learn “needle-work, music and other subjects suited to the sex” (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798 p. 512). Elsewhere, girls were learning how to spin, for example, at SSPCK schools at Rowdill, and two spinning-schools in Barvas, jointly run with Mrs Mackenzie of Seaforth. At the latter, they were “taught gratis, have 10 pence for every spindle they spin, and to encourage them, they have their wheels at low rate; ” (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p.269; Vol. XIX, 1797, pp.278–279). At Lochs, on Lewis, the minister opined that girls “secluded from the more cultivated part of society” could gain skills, industry and “real happiness” by learning to spin (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, pp. 278-279). In nearby Stornoway, two of the three SSPCK spinning schools were “laid aside for want of the requisite number of scholars”, the minister lamenting that previously “many poor girls have been rescued from habits of idleness and vice, and trained to industry and virtue” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, pp. 243-244).

Stornoway’s parish had a broader, more obviously male-orientated curriculum, geared to future employment opportunities included navigation and book-keeping, and mensuration, the study of measurements (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 243). The reports suggest only a few boys continued their education at university. Duirinish parish had four “students” at university in Aberdeen; North Uist’s parish school sent “one yearly to College”, and two, “who got the rudiments of their education” attended “University last winter” (OSA, Vol. IV, 1792, p. 133; OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 315).

Conclusion

there is much to be gleaned about what childhood meant for the many growing up in the later eighteenth century from the Far North and Outer Isles parishes accounts. Our examples do point to the limitations of the Accounts as the level of detail is inconsistent, anonymised and general, rather than specific.

We’ve only scratched the surface and there are other fruitful areas, for example:

  • the family economy;
  • inter-generational relationships;
  • what it was like to be one of the elite;
  • the extent of choice children had in their future.

And, perhaps, given that Sir John, set out to ascertain the “state of the country” in 1790, to “reveal the quantum of happiness in a population”, believing “every individual … shall have the means of enjoying as much real happiness as the imperfect condition of human nature will admit”, assessing how happy childhood was for the many (R. Mitchison, Sir John Sinclair, first baronet (1754 – 1835), Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 19th September 2017; J. Sinclair, Specimens of Statistical Reports, p. IX).

—oOo—

We would like to thank Helen and Neil for their fascinating guest blog post. We hope it inspires others to carry out their own research using the Statistical Accounts of Scotland. Indeed, if you would like to write a guest post on how you have used the Statistical Accounts in your study or work please let us know by emailing edina@ed.ac.uk!

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Highland Childhoods in the Old Statistical Accounts – Part 1

Guest blog post

It is always wonderful to discover first-hand how people use the Statistical Accounts of Scotland. Two MLitt students of the University of the Highlands and Islands, Helen Barton and Neil Bruce, have carried out research on gender and family in the Highlands using the the Statistical Accounts of Scotland. They have written a blog post, divided into two parts, providing us with the results of their research. Below is part one, covering the themes of health and disease and family structures of children living in the Highlands.

________________________________________

Last year as part of our Masters course, we considered ‘Gender and the Family’ in the Highlands. We were challenged to use the Statistical Accounts to research the experience of childhood. We know very little about children in the region in the pre-Clearance era, and what little we do know is about the offspring of the elite, “the formal education and socialisation of children where it yielded a written record is more easily understood” (S. Nenadic, Lairds and luxury: the Highland gentry in Eighteenth-century Scotland (Edinburgh, 2007), p. 43).

An historian focusing on lost English society, Peter Laslett found the “crowds and crowds of little children … who were a feature of any pre-industrial society” are often missing from the record. Margaret King broadened this point across Europe: “We know less about the course of childhood itself, the socialization of the young, and the lives of the poor, always a black hole” (P. Laslett, The World We Have Lost (London, 1971), pp. 109-110, quoted in H. Cunningham, ‘The Employment and Unemployment of Childhood in England c. 1680-1851’, Past & Present, No. 126 (1990), p. 115; M. L. King, ‘Concepts of Childhood: What We Know and Where We Might Go’, Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 60, no. 2 (2007), p. 388).

Sir John Sinclair included three questions relating to children:

  • The parish’s school population
  • Family sizes
  • The number of under-ten-year olds.

With this limited and “unwitting testimony” provided by the authors of the parish reports, the historian can glean an understanding of what children’s lives involved (A. Marwick, The Fundamentals of History, accessed 26th June 2018).

In our research we focused on the Outer Isles, Skye and the Far North, and the themes of

  • Health and Disease
  • Family Structures
  • Work
  • Education

We’ll cover the first two sections in this blog and the other two in part two.

Health and Disease

The reports frequently refer to children (and families) having a high risk of contracting and succumbing to disease. Surviving the first five to eight days was crucial in Lewis, where a “complaint called the five night sickness” “prevails over all the island” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 265, p. 281). The minister in Barvas thought “the nature of this uncommon disease … (was not) … yet fully comprehended by the most skilful upon this island” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 265). In Uig, it was described as epilepsy, where, other than two cases, all contracting it died; one survivor experienced severe fits, remaining “in a debilitated state”. Incomers had initial immunity, but even their new-born could contract it (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 281). Croup “proved very mortal, and swept away many children” (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 279).

Smallpox had a “calamitous” effect, during an apparent epidemic, 38 children died within months; parents in Tarbat, Easter Ross, were “deaf” to the “legality and expediency” of inoculation (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, pp. 428-429). An epidemic in Harris in 1792 “carried off a number of the children”, most “inoculated by their parents, without medical assistance” (OSA, Vol. XX, 1794, p. 385).  In Strath on Skye, and on North Uist, inoculation had “now become so general” that “the poor people, to avoid expenses, inoculate their own children with surprising success” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1793, p. 224; Vol. XIII, 1794 p. 312). In Tongue, in Sutherland, within five years of inoculations being introduced, smallpox had been virtually eradicated (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p. 524). Even were a doctor affordable, there were only three surgeons and no physicians listed between Skye, the Small Isles, and the Outer Hebrides, all three in the latter, two of whom were on Lewis (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 250; OSA, Vol XIX, 1797, p. 281; OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 613).

Common “distempers” included colds, coughs, erysipelas (a skin infection) and rheumatism (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 275; OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 308; OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 264). The most comprehensive list of diseases was on Small Isles, including ‘hooping’ cough, measles, catarrh, dropsy of the belly, and pleurisy (OSA, 1796, Vol. XVII, p. 279).

It is more difficult to understand from the reports who cared for children when they were ill, or the role children had caring for others, in a community and society where “constant manual labour produced early arthritis … old age came prematurely, without the possibility of retirement for most” (H. M. Dingwall, ‘Illness, Disease and Pain’, in E. Foyster (ed), History of Everyday Life in Scotland, 1600 to 1800 (Edinburgh, 2010), p. 114).  In rural Sweden, Linda Oja found that both parents had roles in caring for sick offspring (L. Oja, ‘Childcare and Gender in Sweden’, Gender History, Vol. 27, no. 1 (2015), p. 86).   Correlating the inter-relationship between diet, health, life expectancy and diseases requires deeper investigation.

Family Structures

The family and work for children of the Highlands and Islands was intertwined. As ordinary daily family life was not the focus of the Accounts’, any details have to be discerned from what they recorded about ‘industry’, wage costs and general passing comments about local living conditions and culture.

Where detailed population statistics were recorded, they demonstrate the average household size. A typical family was nuclear: two adults and four or five children, rising to between seven and 14 in the islands. In many areas, longevity was reported. Women bore children from their early twenties until as late as their fifties, grandmothers were suckling their own grandchildren in the Assynt area (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, pp. 207).

Marriage may have had romantic foundations, but for many was an economic partnership where both partners worked to achieve a living, either waged or unwaged. In Lewis, there was a pragmatic approach to widowhood; “grief … is an affliction little known among the lower class of people here; they remarry after ‘a few weeks, and some only a few days” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, pp. 261-2). Consequentially, children gained step-parents. This claim does seem extraordinary and further investigation through other sources would be beneficial. Nonetheless, the economic hardship of widowhood is well illustrated by his blunt statement.

Families were also on the move in large numbers. The Highlands and Islands were not immune to changes in agricultural systems taking place in the Lowlands and elsewhere. Sir John Sinclair himself was an enthusiastic encourager of new scientific methods. He enclosed his own Caithness estate, changing its management, and introducing new breeds of livestock, including large non-native sheep flocks (M. Bangor-Jones, ‘Sheep farming in Sutherland in the eighteenth century’, Agricultural Historical Review, Vol. 50, no. 2 (2002), pp. 181-202). Many people were displaced to new crofts and settlements on the coast.

The population was declining rapidly in Highland straths, but overall was generally-rising. Couples reportedly married younger than had previously been the trend locally. This was often by the age of twenty, apparently lower than the national average of 26/27 years old. In Halkirk, the report comments on ‘prudential considerations [being] sacrificed to the impulse of nature’ as young people no longer had to wait for an agricultural tenancy (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 23):

Before the period above mentioned, people did not enter early into the conjugal state. The impetus of nature was superseded by motives of interest and convenience. But now, vice versa, these prudential considerations are sacrificed to the impulse of nature which is allowed its full scope; and very young people stretch and extend their necks for the matrimonial noose, before they look about them or make any provisions for that state.

More research on the reasons for earlier marriages would be beneficial.

To be continued …

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Crime and punishment in late 18th-early 19th century Scotland: Causes of crime and crime prevention

This is the second in our series of posts on crime and punishment in 18th-19th century Scotland. This time we are looking at what the parish reporters thought were the causes of crime, as well as what measures were being put in place help prevent crime. There are some very interesting opinions on both these subjects found in the Statistical Accounts.

Reasons for crime

  • Alcohol

It is not surprising to read that crime was mostly attributed to alcohol, or, more specifically, drunkenness! There are some very damning views shared in the parish reports. The Rev. Mr Thomas Martin wrote in the parish report for Langholm, County of Dumfries, “let the distilleries then, those contaminating fountains, from whence such poisonous streams issue, be, if not wholly, at least in a great measure, prohibited; annihilate unlicensed tippling-houses and dram-shops, those haunts of vice, those seminaries of wickedness, where the young of both sexes are early seduced from the paths of innocence and virtue, and from whence they may too often date their dreadful doom, when, instead of”running the fair career of life” with credit to themselves, and advantage to society, they are immolated on the altar of public justice.” (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 605)

In Tinwald and Trailflat, County of Dumfries, it was reported that “there are at present 2 small dram-shops in the parish which we have the prospect of soon getting rid of. They have the worst possible effect upon the morals of the people: and there is scarcely a crime brought before a court that has not originated in, or been somehow connected with, one of these nests of iniquity.”  (NSA, Vol. IV, 1845, p. 50)

A 19th century wood engraving called 'A drunken brawl in a tavern with men shouting encouragement'

‘A drunken brawl in a tavern with men shouting encouragement’, 19th century wood engraving after A. Brouwer. [Wellcome Images, [CC BY 4.0 license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]

In Stirling, County of Stirling, “there are 96 of these [inns, ale-houses, etc], of different degrees of respectability in the parish ; of which 91 are in the town, and 5 in the villages of Raploch and Abbey.” Two interesting points were also made here: that owners of houses received higher rents if their buildings became ale-houses and that “the number of charitable institutions on which so large a portion of the people have a claim” had a negative impact, as they trained “them to a species of pauperism”. (NSA, Vol. VIII, 1845, p. 448).

The cheap cost of alcohol, as well as the number of ale-houses in existence, was believed to be a factor in the higher level of crime. In the parish of Orwell, County of Kinross, “in consequence of the low price of spirits within these last six or eight years, there have been more petty crime and drunkenness than was formerly known.” (NSA, Vol. IX, 1845, p. 66)

It is fascinating to read the parish report from Hutton and Corrie, County of Dumfries, which states that “in 1834, the House of Commons appointed a Select Committee of their number to take evidence on the vice of drunkenness. The witnesses ascribe a large proportion, much more than the half of the poverty, disease, and misery of the kingdom, to this vice. Nine-tenths of the crimes committed are considered by them as originating in drunkenness… The pecuniary loss to the nation from this vice, on viewing the subject in all its bearings, is estimated by the committee, in their report to the House of Commons, as little short of fifty millions per annum. ” (NSA, Vol. IV, 1845, p. 550)

  • Itinerant workers

In the parish of Corstorphine, County of Edinburgh, “the persons there employed are collected from all the manufacturing towns in England, Ireland, and Scotland. They are continually fluctuating; feel no degree of interest in the prosperity of the place; and act as if delivered from all the restraints of decency and decorum. In general, they manifest a total disregard to character, and indulge in every vice which opportunity enables them to perform” and is further noted that “the influence of their contagious example must spread” to others in the parish. (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 461)

  • Lack of religious upbringing and instruction

In some corners, crime was also attributed to a lack of religious upbringing and instruction. As mentioned above, there was a report made to the House of Commons on drunkenness and its affect on crime. “In London, Manchester, Liverpool, Dublin, Glasgow, and all the large towns through the kingdom, the Sabbath, instead of being set apart to the service of God, is made by hundreds of thousands a high festival of dissipation, rioting, and profligacy.” (NSA, Vol. IV, 1845, p. 550)

Govan, County of Lanark, was seen as a district “where there is no civil magistrate to enforce subordination, and to punish crimes, what can be expected, but that the children should have been neglected in their education; that many of the youth should be unacquainted with the principles of religion, and dissolute in their morals; and that licentious cabal should too often usurp the place of peaceable and sober deportment.” (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 295) It was also noted that “if neighbouring justices were, at stated intervals, to hold regular courts in so large villages, they might essentially promote the best interests of their country. They would be a terror to evil doers, and a protection to all that do well.”

In the parish report for Ardrossan, County of Ayrshire, it was remarked that “we have certainly too many among us who have cast off all fear of God, and yield themselves up to the practice of wickedness in some of its most degrading forms, yet the people in general are sober and industrious, and distinguished for a regard to religion and its ordinances. Not only is the form of godliness kept up, but its power appears to be felt, by not a few among them maintaining a conversation becoming the gospel.” (NSA, Vol. V, 1845, p. 199)

Crime prevention

So, according to the parishes throughout Scotland, how best could crimes be prevented? As the parish report of Langholm, County of Dumfries, mentions, “it is much more congenial to the feelings of every humane and benevolent magistrate to prevent crimes by all possible means, than to punish them… Remove the cause, and the effects in time will cease.” (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 605) In the parish report of North Knapdale, County of Argyle, correcting criminal behaviour is preferable to punishment. “Such evil consequences can never be prevented without knowledge and education; and for this reason men, in power and authority, should pay particular attention to the subject.” (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 265)

In some quarters, punishments were considered too lenient. In the parish of Fetlar and North Yell, County of Shetland, “the punishments inflicted for such crime of theft, in particular, are so extremely mild, that they rather excite to the commission of the crime than deter from it.” (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 285) In some parishes trouble-makers and criminals were simply expelled from that city, town or parish, instead of being punished! As pointed out in the parish report of Muirkirk, County of Ayrshire, “this is neither more nor less, than to punish the adjacent country for sins committed in the town, to lay it under contribution for the convenience of the city, and free the one of nuisances by sending them to the other.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 609) (Although in the parish of Killin, County of Perth, “the turbulent and irregular [were] expelled the country to which they were so much attached, that it was reckoned no small punishment by them.” (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 384))

In Liberton, County of Edinburgh, it was felt that “nothing can remove the evil of assessments now, (which would be ten times greater, but for the efforts of the kirk-session,) but the subdivision of parishes, the diffusion of sound instruction and Christian principle amongst the people, and the removal of whisky-shops. Crime, drunkenness and poverty are always found together, and expending money upon the poor, except for the purpose of making them better, will as soon cure the evil as pouring oil upon a flame will quench it.” (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 27)

In the parish reports there is no lack of suggestions on how to deter crime and punish criminals.

  • Suggestions

– Restrictions on selling alcohol

A very interesting suggestion was made in the parish report for Callander, County of Perth in November 1837. ” Considerable improvement has taken place within these few years in the management of the police of the country; yet there are many crimes allowed to pass with impunity. Would it not tend much to diminish crime if there were fewer licenses granted for selling, spirits, and more attention paid to the character of the persons to whom licenses are given?” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 360) A similar observation is made in the report for the parish of Stirling, County of Stirling, where “granting of licenses, without sufficient inquiry as to the character of the applicant” is believed to be one of the reasons for crime. (NSA, Vol. VIII, 1845, p. 448)

In the report made to the House of Commons on drunkenness and its affect on crime “a great many of the witnesses recommended the prohibition of distillation, as well as of the importation of spirits into the kingdom.” The report also stated that religious institutions had a big part to play in “rooting out drunkenness, now appearing in every part of the kingdom”. (NSA, Vol. IV, 1845, p. 550)

In Kennoway, County of Fife, “the grand remedy, if it could be applied, would be to lay a restriction on the improper use of ardent spirits. Drunkenness is certainly the prevailing vice amongst us ; and is the originator, or at least inciting cause, to almost every mischief. Imprisonment for violent assault under its influence has of late been in two instances inflicted.” (NSA, Vol. IX, 1845, p. 381)

– Law enforcement and confinement

In the parish of Gargunnock, County of Stirling, a problem with vagrants is reported. “They spend everything they receive at the first ale-house; and for the rest of the day they become a public nuisance. The constables are called, who see them out of the parish; but this does not operate as a punishment, while they are still at liberty. It would be of great advantage, if in every parish, there was some place of confinement for people of this description, to keep them in awe, when they might be inclined to disturb the peace of the town, or of the neighbourhood.” (OSA, Vol. XVIII, 1796, p. 114)

Painting by Frederick Walker entitled 'The Vagrants'.

Walker, Frederick; The Vagrants; 1868. Picture credit: Tate.

The parish of Carluke, County of Lanark, reports specific measures taken against vagrancy. “The inconvenience and loss by acts of theft, etc. which many sustain by encouraging the vagrant poor of
other parishes, we have endeavoured to prevent here, not only by making liberal provision for the poor of this parish, and restraining them from strolling, under the penalty of a forfeiture of their allowance; but also by following out strictly the rule of St. Paul, “If any would not work, neither should he eat.” (2 Thess. iii. 10.) and the laws of our country with respect to idle vagrants.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 140)

Some parishes did not have any sort of, or very little, law enforcement in place.

Drymen, County of Stirling – “There is not a justice of peace, nor magistrate of any kind resident within the bounds of this parish neither is there a jail or lock-up house from the most westerly verge of the county onward to Stirling,–a distance of nearly fifty miles. The consequence is, that crime and misdemeanor frequently go unpunished, the arm of the law not being long enough nor strong enough to reach so far.” (NSA, Vol. VIII, 1845, p. 114)

Stromness, County of Orkney – “There is no prison in Stromness. This greatly weakens the authority of the magistrates, and is unfavourable to the morals of this populous district. Were an efficient jail erected, it would intimidate the lawless, and be an effectual means of preventing crime, and the lesser delinquencies.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 38)

Thurso, County of Caithness – “at present the smallest misdemeanor cannot be punished by imprisonment, without sending the offender to the county jail of Wick, at the distance of 20 miles from Thurso, which necessarily occasions a heavy expense to the prosecutor, public or private, and, of course, is the cause of many offences passing with impunity, which would otherwise meet their due punishment.” (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 545)

Langholm, County of Dumfries – “Instead of banishing delinquents from a town or county for a limited time… would it not tend more to reclaim them from vice, to have a bridewell, upon a small scale, built at the united expense of the 5 parishes, where they could be confined at hard labour and solitary confinement, for a period proportioned to their crimes… The dread of solitary confinement, and the shame of being thus exposed in a district where they are known, would operate in many instances as a powerful preventive.” (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 613)

Kilmaurs, County of Ayrshire – “Two bailies are chosen annually, but their influence is inconsiderable, having no constables to assist in the execution of their authority; the disorderly and riotous therefore laugh at their threatened punishments.” (OSA, Vol. IX, 1793, p. 370)

Employers and proprietors also had a role to play in deterring crime.

Kilfinichen and Kilviceuen, County of Argyle – “The Duke of Argyll, upon being informed of this complaint, gave orders to his chamberlain to intimate to his Grace’s tenants, and all the kelp manufacturers upon his estate, that whoever was found guilty of adulterating the kelp, would find no shelter upon his estate, and that they would be prosecuted and punished as far as the law would admit. This will have a good effect upon his Grace’s estate, and is worthy of imitation by the Highland proprietors of kelp shores.” (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 182)

St Cyrus, County of Kincardine – “poaching for game has become much less common of late years, from the active measures employed by a game-association, instituted among the principal landed gentlemen of the county, for the punishment of this species of delinquency.”(NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 286)

  • Increased religious instruction/services – spiritual and moral improvement

In Langton, County of Berwick, there were parochial visitations when there was discussion about any issues affecting the congregation between the presbytery and the elders, and then the congregation itself. “It is impossible to conceive a system more fitted to promote the diligence and faithfulness of ministers, or the spiritual and moral improvement of parishes. Its effects, accordingly, were visible in a diminution of crime, and an increase of personal and family religion among the surrounding districts.” (NSA, Vol. II, 1845, p. 244)

In Hamilton, County of Lanark, “much has been said of the happy influence of Sunday schools in other places. If there were people of wealth and influence heartily disposed to strengthen virtue, to encourage good behavior, and to discountenance vice and irregularity, by establishing that institution here, in order to rescue the children of dissolute parents, from the danger of bad habits, to instruct them in the principles of religion, and a course of sobriety and industry, it is probable, they might be the happy means of restoring and improving the morals of all the people in this populous district.” (OSA, Vol. II, 1792, p. 201)

An interesting observation is made in the parish report of Hawick, County of Roxburgh. “The cases of gross immorality which occurred during the course of about thirty years before the Revolution, and when Episcopacy was predominant, were about double the number that took place during the course of thirty years after it, and when Presbytery was restored, which may justify the conclusion, that the exercise of discipline according to the constitution of the Church of Scotland is of signal efficacy in restraining the excesses of profligacy and crime.” (NSA, Vol. III, 1845, p. 392)

  • Better street lighting

In Edinburgh, County of Edinburgh, “the frequent robberies and disorders in the town by night occasioned the town-council to order lanterns or bowets to be hung out in the streets and closes, by such persons and in such places as the magistrates should appoint,–to continue burning for the space of four hours, that is, from five o’clock in the evening till nine, which was deemed a proper time for people to retire to their houses.” (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 627)

Better street lighting was also identified as a form of crime deterrent in Dundee, County of Forfar. “In consequence of the rapid increase of the population of Dundee and surrounding district, and the ordinary provision of the law for preserving the public peace having become inadequate for the purpose, in 1824, the magistrates, with the concurrence of the inhabitants at large, applied to Parliament for an act to provide for the better paving, lighting, watching, and cleansing, the burgh, and for building and maintaining a Bridewell there… The police establishment has been of essential service to the inhabitants, with respect to the protection of their persons and property; although it cannot be denied that the streets are not much improved. The number of watchmen is too limited for the extent of the bounds, and the suburbs, which are generally haunts of the disorderly, are but poorly lighted.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 8)

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Conclusion

Writers of the parish reports had very clear opinions on the causes of crime and ways to tackle it. Alcohol and the resulting drunkenness was by far and away the most cited cause. It was deemed such a problem that, in 1834, the House of Commons appointed a Select Committee to investigate and report on ‘the vice of drunkenness’.  some also blamed the lack of religious upbringing and moral and spiritual standards. As pointed out in our last blog post, a number of parishes reported that their citizens as, in the main, law-abiding, using such words as honest, sober, industrious, religious and moral. With regards to crime prevention, many parishes reported that the criminal system needed improving, including the building of bridewells and prisons, and the increasing of law enforcement. Specific measures against the licensing to sell alcohol and the cheap pricing of alcohol were also suggested. All this information that we find in the Statistical Accounts provides us with a fascinating insight into crime and its causes at that particular time. It allows us to think about how the causes of crime and preventative measures have changed (or stayed the same!) since the late eighteenth – early nineteenth centuries.

In our next post we will be looking at different types of punishment handed out to criminals in eighteenth and nineteenth century Scotland and how this correlates to the types of crime committed.

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