Historian James Hunter writes cracking books! And he’s a super speaker too as we all found out when he came to talk to us some time ago (pre Covid!).I’ve been reading his books and thought you might like this one. Insurrection tells the story of Scotland’s 1846 potato crop, which was wiped out by blight plunging the country into crisis.
In the Hebrides and the West Highlands a huge relief effort came too late to prevent starvation and death. Further east, meanwhile, towns and villages from Aberdeen to Wick and Thurso, rose up in protest at the cost of the oatmeal that replaced potatoes as people’s basic foodstuff.
The soaring price of oatmeal was blamed on the export of grain by farmers and landlords cashing in on even higher prices elsewhere. As a bitter winter gripped and families feared a repeat of the calamitous famine then ravaging Ireland, grain carts were seized, ships boarded, harbours blockaded, a jail forced open, the military confronted. The army fired on one set of rioters. Savage sentences were imposed on others. But thousands-strong crowds also gained key concessions. Above all they won cheaper food.
Those dramatic events have long been ignored or forgotten. The story Jim tells is, by turns, moving, anger-making and inspiring. In an era of food banks and growing poverty, it is also very timely.