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History of Caithness
J.T. Calder
Chapter 1 - Page 8

Index & Introduction
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Civil And Traditional
History Of Caithness
Page 8

Formerly Caithness was particularly distinguished for its military spirit. At the time of the Irish rebellion the county furnished no fewer than three battalions of fencibles, two of which did duty in Ireland for several years. At a later period it had its volunteer and local militia corps stationed within the bounds, and ready to defend life and property in the event of a hostile invasion.  During the Peninsular War, about ten recruits a month were sent south from the Thurso district alone. They commonly enlisted into the Highland regiments; and at one time, it is said, nearly one-tenth of the 79th regi­ment was composed of Caithness men. Soldiering was then a recognised arid ordinary profession, to which young men took as naturally as they did to the plough.  All this, however, has changed; and the great reason why the youth do not enlist for the regular service as formerly is the increased value of labour, and the more comfortable position of the labourer. I may observe, however, that in coming forward to aid the recent grand embodiment of a national volunteer force, Caithness was not behind the rest of Scotland.  The old martial spirit of the county was seen once more to revive; and, stirred by the patriotic movement that was everywhere going on throughout the length and breadth of the land, the young men of Wick and Thurso speedily enrolled themselves as volunteers; and, in point of appearance and proficiency in drill, they can stand a comparison with any of their brethren in the south.

Chambers, in his “Gazetteer of Scotland” (published, we believe, in 1831), draws a dismal picture of the county. “To the eyes of a Lowlander,” says he, “or one accustomed to see fertile enclosed fields, or warm woody valleys, the appearance of Caithness is frightful, and productive of melancholy feelings.  When this is enhanced by the consideration that the climate is of a very unfavourable kind, ideas of all that is comfortless are conveyed.  Wood there is none, and the few enclosures are of a very rude quality.  It may sound like a reproach, but it is a well-known fact, that the improvements and modern comforts of Caithness have been brought about entirely by wealth drawn from the sea.”

Two Paragraphs removed as they may give rise to offence

If Chambers, otherwise an excellent and popular writer, visited Caithness at the period in question, and in the summer season, he must have surveyed the county with a jaundiced eye.  It is true, it has no wood, properly speaking; but though wood adds vastly to the beauty of a landscape, there is a difference of opinion as to its advantages in a purely agri­cultural district.  There, as our transatlantic friends would say, “a good clearance” is the main desideratum. I once heard a Berwickshire farmer affirm that trees were a “positive nuisance, and served only to collect vermin!“ But did Cham­bers see no beauty in the rich corn-fields of Caithness? There is a Scotch song which says the “corn rigs are bonny,” and they are so to the vulgar as well as to the poetical eye, independently of their affording us the “staff of life.” Caith­ness has, from the earliest period of which we have any record, been celebrated as a corn-producing county, and now, so far as grain, stock, and several other commodities are concerned, it can compete with any county in Scotland. “At this moment,” says the Northern Ensign (March 15, 1860), “we are exporting large quantities of superior oats ; our cattle and sheep are carrying off the top price in the southern markets, and our wool frequently fetches the highest price at the public sales of Leith and Edinburgh.” Moreover, if it were the case, which it is not, that “the improvements arid modern comforts of Caithness have been brought about almost entirely by wealth drawn from the sea,” this, instead of “sounding like a reproach,” says very much for the intelligence, public spirit, and industry of the inhabitants.  Let Mr Chambers visit Caithness now, in the month of July or August, and we can assure him that the aspect of the county will not inspire him with any “melancholy feelings.”

Previous to the Union, Caithness had the right of sending to the Scottish Parliament three representatives or commis­sioners-two for the county, and one for the burgh of Wick.  They were paid for their attendance, and had an additional allowance besides, for sixteen days, to perform the journey out and home. In 1707, when the union of the two kingdoms came to be discussed, the measure was opposed by the Earl of Caithness, and supported by Mr Dunbar, younger of Hempriggs, member for the burgh.  Caithness was then reduced to one county member, and was allowed only an alternate representation with Bute. This most absurd arrangement continued until the passing of the Reform Act, when the county became entitled to a separate representative, and was put on a similar political footing with the other counties in Scotland.

Index & Introduction
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