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Scottish Harbours


No sooner were the Highland Roads and Bridges in good progress, under such direction as afforded confidence of the beneficial application of any funds entrusted to the same management, than further improvement of Scotland in general, and of the Highlands in particular, became an object of attention; and a Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed to investigate the state of the funds arising from the forfeited estates in Scotland.

These estates were forfeited in consequence of the rebellion of 1745 in favour of the Stewart family, and were inalienably annexed to the Crown in the year 1752, the rents and profits thereof to be applied "for the better civilizing and improving the Highlands of Scotland;" and the rents were so applied until the year 1784, when the former Act of 1752 was repealed, and the estates re-granted to the heirs of the former proprietors, on certain conditions, one of which was, that they should pay (or rather re-pay) to the Crown the amount of family incumbrances, which had been satisfied out of the rents between the years 1745 and 1784.

The sum so repaid exceeded 90,000, of which 15,000 was granted by the disannexing Act of 1784, for completing a repository of records at Edinburgh, and 50,000 was advanced for completing the Forth and Clyde navigation. This last sum, having been repaid, was again lent in equal moieties; 25,000 for the improvement of Leith Harbour; 25,000 to the Crinan Canal Company.

Other sums of money, moderate in amount, had been expended, chiefly for Highland purposes; and the Committee, finding that about 47,000 was disposable by Parliament, did not fail to recommend the improvement of fisheries, of agriculture, of harbours, of canals, and of sundry miscellaneous objects. Such large intentions were not likely to be realized from inadequate means, and in the sequel, 12,000 was given for rebuilding the Court of Exchequer at Edinburgh (the Barons having had the forfeited estates in their custody); 7,500 for the formation of a harbour at Wick ; 8,000 in the form of a conditional annuity to the Highland Society for agricultural improvement, and 2,000 for building a lunatic asylum at Edinburgh. Thus about 30,000 of the available funds was specially appropriated, and the actual residue, with the claims on the Leith Harbour and Crinan Canal Companies, was transferred by Act of Parliament, in the year 1806, to the Commissioners already appointed to make Roads and Bridges in the Highlands.

Those Commissioners did not feel themselves enabled to undertake much, upon receiving about 13,000 in ready money, with reasons why no more could then be paid to them; and they resolved to direct their attention to harbours, or (more properly speaking) to landing piers for ferries and the fisheries. But at the end of the war, the city of Edinburgh found it expedient to borrow money elsewhere, to pay off the entire Leith Harbour debt, whereby the Commissioners were enabled to extend aid to harbours of some importance. They had discovered the occasional inconvenience of advancing money to contractors, to enable them to commence roads or bridges; wherefore, to simplify their transactions in the harbour grants of aid, they issued a moiety of the estimated expense to the parties making application, leaving to them the care of engaging sub-contractors, and thereby also making them responsible for any excess of expense beyond the estimate.

The principal harbours improved in this manner were Peterhead, on which upwards of 30,000 (one-half paid by the Commissioners) was thus expended; on Banff Harbour, 16,000, in like manner; on Frazer-burgh Harbour, about 11,000; at Fortrose, at Cullen, and at Kirkwall, about 4,000 each; on the whole, about 110,000 was thus expended, by a careful application of about 50,000, arising from the forfeited estate funds, which at first authorized little hope of this degree of useful application. The smaller objects of aid are best exhibited in a statement of the expenditure of the entire fund, which was exhausted in the year 1824.

The claim on the Crinan Canal Company for a debt of 25,000 was not available; so far from it, that, to prevent the ruin of that water communication (whereby the delay and danger of fishing-vessels in sailing round the Mull of Cantyre was obviated), the Legislature was induced to grant 19,400, in the year 1816, which sum was effectually expended under my superintendence, in the year 1817, by Mr. John Gibb, of Aberdeen, than whom, on this occasion and many others, I have never known a more active, zealous or respectable contractor.

I have illustrated, by several Plates, the foregoing description of the Caledonian Canal, of the Highland Roads, and of Bridges in Scotland; but the objects were so various, and so numerous, that I must also be permitted to refer generally to the Reports of the respective Commissioners, especially to the Caledonian Canal Report of the year 1824, for a map of the Crinan Canal; and to the Highland Road Report of 1821, for plans and elevations of the largest Bridges on the Highland roads (all reduced to a uniform scale, for the sake of comparison); and for the landing piers, and the several Scottish harbour improvements, on another Plate.


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