STATEMENT by WILLIAM BRUCE, Esq., M.D., Dingwall.
DINGWALL, 12th December 1883.
I beg leave to lay the accompanying statement before you, and I trouble you on the plea that I was cited to give evidence at Dingwall, but from want of time I did not get an opportunity to do so.
I have had considerable experience of east coast fishermen, and happened to learn that they had at one time combined farming with fishing. In order to make quite sure of this I wrote to a fisherman friend lately inquiring more particularly as to tenure, &c. He could not give m e any information on these points, but he told me that the old men of the village where he lived told him that at one time the fishermen had each a plot of ground; that it lay in a particular locality, and was shifted when the village itself was removed. He also spoke of a neighbouring village, from which (he said) a valuable piece of land was taken away and a worthless portion given in its stead fit only to grow willows.
I need scarcely add that the fishermen lament the loss of their lands, and believe they would be of great advantage to them at present, and that I hold such a belief to be fallacious, and that they would not be so thriving as they now undoubtedly are if they had what they desired. These fishermen, particularly in some villages, have much improved within m y recollection. Indeed, twenty-five or thirty years ago, in many instances, I am convinced, they were as far behind to-day as they are at present in many parts of the west coast. Education, going to sea, and teetotalism have been the main agents in their improvement. At the present day many of these people practically fish all the year round, going in the spring to Lewis, Harris, &c, and then back to their own coasts, from there to Lowestoft, Yarmouth, and other places on the English coast, and home once more for the winter white fishing and preparing their nets and boats for another season.
It is often said that west coast fishermen are lazy, and many reasons, such as that of race, or even the comparative safety of fishing, have been given to account for this unfortunate state of things. Cheapness and abundance of food, and, of course, inherited tendencies, have much to do with it; but the writer believes the difference in energy to be mainly owing to the nearness or remoteness of the markets in the two cases. On the east coast there has been, from the presence of a large inland population, always a ready sale for fish. Thirty or more years ago this was chiefly, on the north-east coast at least, by way of barter, but was none the less liked by the fisher folk. Now they have got railways, and a steady demand at all seasons. Give the west coast fisherman equivalent means of transporting his commodities and in time he will become as industrious as his east coast relation. It humbly seems to the writer that the only way to secure this is by establishing a west coast steam shipping company on the lines of the East Coast Railway, viz., a daily service of steamers from end to end of the land, calling, as a matter of course, at every small (fishing) station once a day or oftener. One considerable drawback to the concentration of fishers in villages on the east coast I found, when practising among them, to he disease and death among their children. Thinking the Commissioners would be interested in a comparative view of the sicknesses and diseases of the inhabitants on either side of Scotland, I have tried to collect information from medical men and statistics from registrars. These data are not easy to obtain. A wise government has by law compelled medical men to certify the cause of death of every patient they may happen to see. This of course entails loss of time, trouble, and the expense of postage to the poor doctor. Will it be believed that the same government actually makes no use whatever of this information, and refuses to be at the expense of publishing bills of mortality in Scotland except in the case of the eight large towns. The registrars of one west highland and two east coast parishes have, however, obliged me by furnishing returns, and I give below a comparison founded on this limited amount of data.
The Commissioners will notice (first) that the mortality among children below the age of five is nearly three times as much among east coast fishermen as compared with west coast fishermen and crofters.
Second, that, contrary to what has been often alleged, consumption is much more frequent on the west coast (Query—Do west coast migrants catch the disease in the south and return to die ? and, if so, is this from contagion,—according to a well-known law that such immigrants are more liable to be infected than residents—or is it from the confined (and poisonous) air they are compelled to breath in the dens of our great cities ?)
Third, Epidemics are not so frequent but are probably equally fatal on the west as on the east coast. Certainly my returns show diphtheria to have been very fatal on the west coast.
Fourth, In both groups many of the natives live to beyond seventy.
Fifth, Dyspepsia is very common.
With reference to the second head or infant mortality, m y correspondents and myself agree that the main cause is the want of a steady and proper supply of milk. I a m happy to hear that in Kincardineshire farmers and it to be to their profit to meet this demand, and are supplying milk in abundance to neighbouring fishing villages. Doubtless, by and by, this will be the rule all over the east coast. Another project has been set on foot in Forfarshire, which, if it were extended to the west coast, would be of very great value to older children. Dyspepsia, as I have said, is a very common and a very depressing disease amongst crofters and fishermen generally. I attribute a great deal of this to improper feeding at the young and growing time of life, and I a m sure nothing would tend more to raise up a healthy, hardy, energetic race than good food at so trying an age. This one good meal of nourishing broth or soup would do much to supply, and if southern charity would lend itself to establish such kitchens in connection with all west coast
schools, it would, I am sure, produce the maximum of good and the minimum of evil.
TABLES OF COMPARATIVE MORTALITY IN THREE SELECTED PARISHES.
(1) West Coast Crofters and Fishermen ; (2) East Coast Fishermen (chiefly) ; (3) East Coast Crofters, during 1880,1881, and 1882.
1. Mortality below the age of five.
West Coast Crofters and Fishermen, 8 to 25 per cent, of whole mortality.
East Coast Crofters, about the same.
East Coast Fishermen, 40 to 50 per cent
West Coast Crofters and Fishermen, 14 to 25 per cent
East Coast Crofters, 2 to 4 per cent.
East Coast Fishermen, about 10 per cent
1. West Coast Crofters and Fishermen, less frequent than in other groups.
2. East Coast Crofters, less fatal, typhoid perhaps more so.
3. East Coast Fishermen, commoner of diphtheria, perhaps less fatal than in (1).
Common in children among both East and West Coast Fishermen.
Very common in all three groups.
6. Ophthalmic Diseases.
Common in Skye, and perhaps also in other parts of the west coast
Common in all three groups.
A large proportion live to he over neventy in all three groups.