36213: Desperate Condition of the People

Times were hard in the 1800s

In the township of Laxay, there are 27 crofters and 16 cottars and during my visit, 121 were laid up with measles. The cottars’ houses are wretchedly poor and consist, as a rule, of one room in which seven, eight, nine of a family are huddled and which shelters also the cow, the pet lamb and the hens. Here, lying together as thickly as they can be packed, you find father and mother, young men, lads and grown up girls. I find in various parts of Lochs parish the old Irish custom of sleeping "stradogue" still adhered to.

Fergus Ferguson, a cottar of Laxay, puts into one bed all that it can hold – his own, his wife’s and the girls’ heads one way and the boys’ heads at the other end. Ferguson’s wife was taken ill on Friday last and an improvised bed on the floor was made for her. There was hardly sufficient meal to enable his wife to make gruel for the sick children. The interior, with the gaunt and hungry looking children and the emaciated mother lying on the floor, remind one of Tennyson’s gloomy picture:

"All within is dark as night, in the window there is no light and no murmur at the door".

Here, within fourteen miles of Stornoway, was a family literally famishing.

Not far from this house is another occupied by John Maciver who has a wife and a family of eight. The children are clad in the cast-off rags of their parents and present all manner of figures; six are ill with measles.

Extract from the Scottish Highlander, 15 Dec 1887 concerning the township of Laxay

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