Friday, December 30, 2011

Nairn's tattie riot

Today there are some varieties of potato that are more blight resistant than others but once again this summer many of Nairn’s amateur potato growers were hit by the sickening sight of potato blight on their crops in the gardens and allotments of the town. It is annoying, frustrating etc, but it doesn’t mean starvation or forced emigration as a result of having nothing to eat in the winter like it did in the past. In 1845 the Highland potato crop failed and the results were disastrous. For many in communities along the Moray Firth the fact that potatoes that had survived the onslaught of blight and other foodstuffs were being exported out of the Highlands was too much to accept and sometimes unrest broke out. Against this background Nairn’s wee tattie riot in February of 1846 was reported in the Nairnshire Mirror of Feb 7th 1846:

“It appears that disturbances of a serious nature have occurred within the last few days at Inverness. Occasioned by the loading of potatoes at that port for the London market, to protest which large numbers of inhabitants made on masse, and the civil authorities being put to defence by the rioters. It was found necessary to order a party of military from Fort George. The news of these proceedings in the northern capital seems to have excited disturbances of a smaller scale in this burgh. On Thursday evening a crowd, chiefly young lads and boys, collected and attacked several of the farmers who had been attending the corn market, while leaving town. One gentleman was pulled off his horse by the mob, and was deprived of his hat in the fray and another was assaulted in Leopold Street, when proceeding towards Inverness in his gig. Several stones were thrown at him, by one which a friend who accompanied him was cut on the head. They were obliged to return to town for protection. We believe the mob got up a sort of effigy, with which they paraded the streets for some time and showed a disposition to insult the authorities when they interfered, but in a few hours they dispersed and the town regained its usual quiet appearance. We understand the matter is undergoing judicial investigation by the authorities with a view to discovering the ringleaders in the affair. In the spring of 1796 – exactly 50 years ago similar tumults, similarly remembered as the corn riots took place simultaneously at Inverness and Nairn. The Nairnshire Volunteers, then embodied were called out here to suppress the riots and several persons from this place were tried at the circuit court and suffered three months imprisonment each, for the part they had played in the riot.”

It is interesting to see the “Big Society” reaction of the authorities as reported in the following issue of the Mirror on Feb 23rd (see the text here on a Gurn flickr page). If similar misfortunes were to befall us in the present day would seventy or so “respectable citizens” obey their summons and enrol to potentially protect society against the breakdown of the established order. This observer has heard it said that we only live three meals away from complete social collapse and it would only need the food lorries to stop coming up the A96 to bring that about. One thinks too of some of the economic worse-case scenarios being bandied about by some of the pundits on television and radio programmes. How would we get on if the hole in the wall machines stopped giving us cash? Would we be able to react responsibly as a civil society or would there be a need for “respectable citizens” to step forward and, perhaps, even take over the responsibility of the authorities. One might imagine that all Highland Council might be able to do for us would be to send an official to give us a power point presentation in the Courthouse. Would organisations like the Rotary, the Community Councils and other clubs and societies in the town come into their own should serious misfortunes befall us in the future?

There was also an amusing sequel to the riot that made it into the paper on the 21st March that year - text again here on a Gurn flickr page.


growtosow said...

aye a lot to be said about the humble tattie, were would you be if you dinny have it for your tea.

Anonymous said...

no tattie shortage,,plenty in trscos

Deep Fried Mars Dem said...

I expect we'll see real venison riots in 2012 if Sainsbury's don't get it on the shelves soon