>’…one pound sterling a-head…’


On the 2nd of September, 1841, the Caledonian Mercury reported:
EMIGRATION. – There are three ships at Lochmaddy, North Uist, taking in emigrants from the neighbouring parishes of Harris and South Uist, for Cape Breton. The Earl of Dunmore gives one pound sterling a-head to the most destitute families from his property.
(Sourced from Inverness Reference Library via Am Baile’s newspaper archive search facility)
The Scots To Canada Web Site lists three ships, the Banffshire, the George and the Tay, leaving Lochmaddy in August 1841 ‘taking 1300 emigrants from N Uist to Cape Breton. ” of the poorest class”.’ so I think that we can be reasonably confident that these are the same vessels that appeared in the newspaper’s article.
The 6th Earl of Dunmore, Alexander Edward Murray, , had inherited Harris upon the death of his father on the 11th of November 1836 and would in turn be succeeded by his son, Charles Adolphus, following the 6th Earl’s death on the 14th of July 1845 . Thus the Earl was about halfway through his proprietorship of the island when he was providing a pound per person for those electing to leave.
But what does that ‘one pound sterling a-head’ of 1841 represent 170 years later?
To try to discover an answer I will examine three options, starting with the excellent  Measuring Worth site and see what values it provides us with:
In 2009, the relative worth of £1 0s 0d from 1841 is:

£72.10 using the Retail Price Index (RPI)
£105.00 using the GDP Deflator
£766.00 using the Average Earnings
£1,160.00 using the Per-Capita GDP
£2,690.00 using the Share of GDP
Faced by these five options, ranging from mere £72 to a more substantial £2700, it is important that we choose the correct comparison. The RPI is rather narrow and a better indication of the buying power of £1 in 1841 is given by the £105 of the GDP Deflator.
The remaining three indicators, including that of ‘Average Earnings’ (which might appear particularly attractive) are actually not appropriate in the current context.
Using the the National Archives tool for the same calculation will show you that £1 in 1840 would only buy £44.10 worth of goods today so my choice of the figure of £105 might appear, if anything, slightly over-generous?
Our third option is to look at what the Reverend John Macivor had to say about wages on Harris in The New Statistical Account of 1845*:
Farm-servants receive from L.3 to L.3, 10s. in the half-year…’ so our £1 would represent between perhaps 1/7th & 1/6th (14-17%) of such a man’s annual income. We may also wish to note that the annual value of all the Produce of the island is given by the Reverend as ‘L. 11,900’ and that over 10% of that, ‘L. 1300′, even as late as 1845, was still coming from Kelp.
So, depending upon how you choose to compare it, the Earl’s £1 per person was equivalent to either a miserly £44 in today’s money, or even as much as two-months wages for an agricultural labourer of the time!
Perhaps, though, to attempt to place any monetary value upon the Earl’s inducement is rather to miss the point:
People were being ‘required’ to leave because so many had been forced to live crowded-together upon the meanest of land to make way for the ever-expanding sheep farms which, the Reverend helpfully informs us, were bringing in a an income of some £2800, or almost a quarter of Harris’s total income from Produce at that time.
The population of the Parish of Harris in 1841 was 3,056** according to the census earlier that year.
Even if every person had elected to emigrate, the ‘one pound sterling a-head’ would only have amounted to three-quarters of one year’s income from Kelp & Sheep combined…
(Note: I appreciate that not all of the income from Produce went to the proprietor himself, but consider the comparison to be justified in demonstrating the affordability of his scheme with respect to the economy.)
*New Statistical Account of Scotland, Vol XIV, p157

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