The Potato Blight that ravaged Ireland from 1846 to 1852 was part of an outbreak that affected all of Europe. While not on the Irish famine’s scale, the Potato crop was devastated in Belgium, Prussia, and the Scottish Highlands and Islands. The region was still dealing with the aftermath of the Highland Clearances. Many crofters were forced to subside on smaller plots of land where the potato was the only crop that could be grown reliably. However, the crisis would be far smaller in Scotland than in Ireland due to many factors, including geography. The Scottish famine was limited to the Highlands and Islands, which were easy to access from the sea. Revolutions in maritime technology made it easy for steamships to import food to the islands. One observer even claimed, ‘A bridge of boats now unites the southern mainland with the northern coast and very specially with the western isles.’ This would have been of little use without the rise of charity in Scotland and the United Kingdom.

In 1800 there had only been five charitable organizations in Glasgow. In the next decade, that number rose to eleven, and fifteen in the decade afterward. This was partly due to the rise of the Evangelical Christian, which saw feeding the poor as their Christian duty. The Free Church of Scotland would also help organize and relieve the famine, using its synods to coordinate. Funding came from Scots ex-pats in Canada, India, The West Indies, The Celtic Society Ball in London, railway managers, and collieries. Due to a mentality of laissez-faire common in thought during the era, the central government was less enthusiastic in their support. However, as public awareness of the catastrophe grew thanks to newspapers like The Times, the government began to take action. In 1847 steamers from the royal navy helped supply famine-afflicted areas of the islands, and a central board was established to manage relief efforts.

Artist: Alan Braby

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Credit: Alan Braby and Open Past

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