Sunday, November 30, 2014

Smuggling. Article I,17/07/1879 - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, and Neighbourhood - Part B

Smuggling background for Article I

Making whisky was part of the fibre of every day existence for Scots. There were a number of parliamentary interventions to impose taxes and controls on whisky but these only served to make ‘smuggling’ or illicit distilling and selling of  whisky  a matter for almost the entire country. Excisemen (or gaugers) were appointed to collect whisky taxes and catch ‘smugglers’. In reality, magistrates often imposed moderate fines and reaped their own rewards in whisky. Like everyone else, the residents of Badbea had their own browsts and sold whisky - that being one of the few ways they could get cash to meet the rent demands of the Laird.

The Whiskey Still by McIan

Northern Ensign, Thursday, July 17, 1879. Article I 

Part B continued from previous blog.

In these days of which I speak, smuggling was very common. Every house and family in the village had their "browst" or two, every year, some oftener. The excise laws were not so stringent then as they are now. A person caught in the very act then got off with a fine of 5s or l0s. A visit to Bailie Waters, Wick, before the court day by the accused party, and the relating of a sorrowful tale, had always the effect of reducing the fine to the very lowest. Bailie Waters was a man of a tender, sympathising heart, and no poor man ever failed in finding in him a true friend. But the law was made more stringent, and put in the form it stands in now, which did not, however, terrify the Badbea folks, or make them give up the trade. Not at all, it only made them more vigilant. They had a good friend in the innkeeper at Berriedale, John Dow. It was the gaugers stationed at Dunbeath that came the way of Badbea, Berriedale, and neighbourhood. They always called at the inn at Berriedale on their way west. No sooner did they arrive there than John dispatched a messenger to Badbea to apprise them of the approach of the enemy. The messenger lost no time in reaching Badbea- a distance of three miles, all perspiring and worn-out after his long run, for he ran the whole road. Then the hurry commenced. You could see three or four men running in different directions, carrying sacks of malt on their shoulders, some to the hills, and others to the rocks, all bent on concealing the precious stuff form the hawk-eyed gauger. Then the dreaded party appeared, and began his search. If successful, his find was scattered broadcast among the heather or grass as the case might be, but was scarcely out of sight when numbers of willing hands and fingers gathered what had been so ruthlessly scattered, proving the truth of the saying that there is "a time to scatter and a time to gather that which was scattered", and it is surprising how little would be lost.

Excise men at an illicit still near Gairloch late 19th C
Source: Am Baile Facebook
Another dreaded day was when the cutter, the smart "Atalanta", paid us a visit. She would sail in close to the shore, her captain scanning the face of the rocks with his glass, and woe betide the unfortunate bothy which came within the focus of his keen eye. When a discovery was made, a boat was at once manned and sent ashore, armed with cutlasses and pistol. These cutter-men climbed the face of the most perpendicular rock, with as much ease as they would climb the shrouds of the "Atalanta". Should they find any tubs or barrels in the bothy, they were hurled down the face of the rock, and reached the shore in staves. Then the match would be applied to the dry thatch of the bothy, and in a few minutes, all that was left were only a few smouldering embers.
The "Atalanta" was no sooner out of sight than these staves lying scattered on the shore were quickly collected together and handed over to David Sutherland, better known as "David Badbea", who combined the offices of joiner and cooper, and in twenty-four hours they were all in their former shape, and ready for use, and there was no want of willing hands who restored the burnt down bothy to its former state. It could not be said, however, that the gaugers were very exacting or troublesome. Many a good quarter of barley was sold by the gauger to the Badbea folks to be converted into Highland whisky, sent to their very door by his own carts and many a good gallon of the whisky made from his own barley did the gauger take in part payment for his victual. Your readers will be very apt to think from the forgoing statement that vice must have reigned triumphant in Badbea. Will they believe me when I tell them that in Badbea I first saw the light of day, and lived in it till I grew up to the years of manhood, and that I never saw a drunk person in it, nor ever heard of one of its inhabitants utter a profane oath. So that while they engaged so freely in a line of life contrary to the laws of the land, just because it was so common they had no other vice of any kind.

Two Godly Men

Perhaps this was to be accounted for from the example and precept of the godly John Sutherland, "John Badbea" as he was familiarly called, who also held meetings or readings in his own house every Sunday, when everyone in Badbea and Auchnacraig, of which more by and by, regularly attended. John was assisted by a few of the godly men in the place. Robert Grant, " Polbagh" was one of these, and always closed the meeting with a prayer. Full of the spirit of devotion, and unconscious perhaps of the impatience of a number of young ones, he generally lengthened out his supplications to a good long hour. Indeed, there were other folks there who, if they were asked their own opinion, would be very apt to say that the good earnest man, was a shade too long in arriving at the "Amen".

Cas Chrom or foot plough so useful in rocky landscapes
I said already that the inhabitants of Badbea lived a primitive life. This will appear more striking when we find that there was only one horse in the whole village. There was no a plough in it, a particularly made spade being the implement used in place of a plough to till the ground. The harrow was dragged behind a man, and the manure carried on women's backs in creels.

A crofter using a Cas Chrom to get beds ready for potatoes
Yet there were as fine young men and maidens to be found in Badbea as could be found anywhere. The young men of Badbea are scattered all over the world, some of them leading men in New Zealand, and others of them maintaining the honour of Britain's arms in Zululand, as we saw by your paper last week, and those whose lot it has been to remain nearer the place of their birth occupy as honourable and respectable a position in society as those who were more favoured with a more refined upbringing.
Planting potatoes on Skye. 

Note: The photos and illustrations were not in the original Northern Ensign article.

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