The Highland Clearances are a notorious part of Scottish history, but what do most of us really know about them? Most people probably associate the clearances with the aftermath of Culloden, when the Duke of Cumberland and his troops carried out their murderous actions across the highlands, orders which were sanctioned by the Hanoverian/British establishment formed in 1707 through the act of Union. The orders given were an attempt to eradicate the Clan and Highland way of life as well as capturing the Prince who was in hiding. This is quite an accurate assumption, but after researching the subject I found that it was only the tip of the ice-berg and only the beginning to what is known as the “Highland Clearances”. I hope the web pages covering the subject can be enlightening and give a more in depth understanding and feeling, as well as being eye opening to the truths, the atrocities, of events and true accounts of what actually happened, which made the Highland Clearances so notorious.
The brutal legacy of the mid- late 18th and early 19th centuries are still etched in the minds of the people of the Highlands today. Man’s inhumanity was brought sharply into focus, when entire communities were swept away so that the land could be sold off to southern sheep farmers.
During what became known as the ''Highland Clearances'', it was not just a hundred or so victims who suffered eviction, but tens of thousands of men, women and children alike often violently, from their homes to make way for large scale sheep farming. It is fair to say that, had it not been for the Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Culloden and the actions that were carried out by the Duke of Cumberland on behalf of the English/British crown that the Highland Clearances may never have come to the same fruition or grown to the same extent in which they had. Although the aftermath of Culloden was a major factor, emigration had actually begun after the 1715 Rising, it is also fair to say that some Clan Chief’s and Landowners had been dealing with foreign landowners some years earlier although these were on a very small scale compared to what would happen in years to come.
|What the landlords thought of as necessary "improvements", later to become known as the Clearances , are thought to have been begun by Admiral John Ross of Balnagowan Castle in Scotland in 1762, although MacLeod of MacLeod (i.e. the chief of MacLeod) had done some experimental work on Skye.
In 1732 and 1739 -- Macleod of Dunvegan and MacDonald of Sleat sold selected Clan members as indentured servants to landowners in the Carolinas. [see documents and letters ].
A prediction of the clearances was made in the 13th Century -- The Seer Thomas of Erceldoune (a.k.a. Thomas the Rhymer or True Thomas) reportedly prophesied about the Highlands:"The teeth of the sheep shall lay the (useless) plough up on the shelf." Approximately 350 years later, Coinneach Odhar, the Brahan Seer, expanded on Thomas' vision:
“The day will come when the Big Sheep will put the plough up in the rafters... ...the Big Sheep will overrun the country till they meet the Northern Sea... ...(and) in the end, old men shall return from new lands...”
Although the clearances may have been predicted as early as the 13th century and noticeably began after the 1715 rising, real indications do suggest that plans of British establishment control over the clans and the highlands began before the Union of the Parliaments in 1707 to as early as 1688 if not before, when King James VII went into exile. The evidence from the events surrounding and the carrying out of the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692 are a prime example. It is also quite noticeable to see through research that the main clearance areas also coincidentally seem to be lands that had either been forfeited to the British establishment by those who supported the Jacobite cause or had some other Jacobite connection.
There may have well been a religious element in the clearance areas as well for a majority of those who were victims were Roman Catholic. Although a very large movement of Highland settlers to the Cape Fear region of North Carolina, however, were Presbyterian. (This is evidenced even today in the presence and extent of Presbyterian congregations and adherents in the region.)
From the late 16th century the required clan leaders had to regularly travel to Edinburgh to provide bonds for the conduct of anyone on their territory, bringing a tendency among Chiefs to see themselves as landlords. The lesser clan-gentry increasingly took up droving, taking cattle a long the old unpaved drove roads to sell in the Lowlands. This brought them wealth and land-ownership within the clan, though the Highlands did have problems of overpopulation and poverty. With various new laws brought in from England as part of the act of Union 1707, this led to numerous various oppressions, which led to uprisings. The Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1719 brought repeated British government efforts to curb the clans, new acts were passed to try and prevent other risings.
|From around 1725, in the aftermath of the Jacobite Rising known as the 'Fifteen’, clansmen had began emigrating to the Americas in increasing numbers. The earlier Disarming Act and the Clan Act made ineffectual attempts to subdue the Scottish Highlands, so eventually troops were sent in. Government garrisons were built or extended in the Great Glen at Inverlochy [ later named Fort William], Kiliwhimin (later renamed Fort Augustus) and Fort George in Inverness [ later to be re-located in 1752 to the present site over looking the Moray Firth], as well as barracks at Ruthven, Bernera, Corgarff and Inversnaid, linked to the south by the Wade roads constructed by Major-General George Wade, these roads were nick named the chain, because of the links created to the various garrisons. These had the effect of limiting organisational travel and
choking off news and so further isolated the clans and limited the unrest to local outbreaks although the clans actually made good use of the roads themselves to one extent or the other, nonetheless, things remained unsettled over the whole decade.
In 1725 Wade raised the independent companies of the Black Watch as a militia to keep peace in the unruly Highlands, which was also a factor on the increasing droves of clansmen now emigrating to the Americas. Increasing demand in Britain for cattle and sheep and the creation of new breeds of sheep, such as the black faced which could be reared in the mountainous country gave the landowners and Chiefs the opportunity of higher rents to meet the burden of costs of an aristocratic lifestyle. As a result, many families living on a subsistence level were displaced exacerbating the unsettled social climate. The various pressures which were mounting lead to another rising “The 45”. This rising was to be so different, although the ultimate battle was at Culloden [Drummossie] Muir there was to be an aftermath that would be far worse than the battle itself.
The years which followed the defeat at the Battle of Culloden
After the defeat at the Battle of Culloden [Drummossie ] orders were issued from George II to William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, general of the Hanoverian/British army to break the clan system and make sure another rising would never happen again. Cumberland carried out the orders giving no quarter to almost anyone he and his men came across, regardless if they were even involved in the battle or not. His brutal actions would later earn him the nickname of the “Butcher”. In the following months Cumberland’s troops swept all over the highlands burning, murdering, raping, cattle stealing, thieving from all those that were suspected of supporting the Stewart cause.
|Although Jacobite supporters were being hunted the real prize was Charles Edward Stewart [Bonnie Prince Charlie] who was in hiding, harbouring a 30,000 pounds sum on his head, the equivalent to 3 million today. The hunt stretched as far as the outer Hebrides, which in some cases the people never even knew about the battle at Culloden[ Drummossie] or that it had even been fought. Following the battle, those who were captured and taken prisoner were not all instantly condemned to death, surviving Highlanders and Clan Chiefs were sent to the Caribbean as slaves, as well as being sent to London, Brampton, Carlisle, York for imprisonment or execution or both.
Those who had lands and estates had to forfeit them under the Forfeited Estates Act of 1707, an English custom which was introduced into Scotland when the Union was formed, coincidently the same year.
When Charles Edward Stewart set sail from Loch Nan Uamh, he took with him not only the Jacobite cause, but the hope of a nation. Others followed the Prince into exile, such as Lord George Murray and Cameron of Locheil. Other Acts of Parliament were brought in to destroy what was only the beginning of the establishment’s plan, to eradicate the clan system and highland way of life.
1747 -- The Act of Proscription was introduced which was to ban the wearing of tartan, the teaching of Gaelic, the right of Highlanders to "gather," and the playing of bagpipes in Scotland.
1747 -- The Heritable Jurisdictions Act forced Highland landowners to either accept all English rule or else forfeit their lands. Many Highland landowners and Clan chiefs moved to London.
Because of the two acts above it left the Clan Chiefs and their Kin with decisions to make about their future. Some took the decision to emigrate to the land of promise in which they thought would lead to a better life. Fighting men who had been so heroic in battle and fought against the British Crown found them selves being forced to join the British army, not because they changed loyalty, but for the money and because they had no other option as it was the only thing they knew.
Although this was not always the case, some suffered from new parliamentary acts introduced over the years, introduced by the unwanted Union in 1707 with England, which would bring even further hardships. Those who had taken the Kings shilling and those who bought the forfeited lands and estates took advantage of their situation knowing fine well they would have the support of King George II.
1746 (April) -- Following the Battle of Culloden, surviving Highlanders are sent to the Caribbean as slaves.
1762 -- Sir John Lockhart-Ross brings sheep to his Balnagowan estate, raises tenant rents, installs fences and Lowlander shepherds.
1782 -- Thomas Gillespie and Henry Gibson lease a sheep-walk at Loch Quoich, removing more than 500 tenants, most of who emigrate to Canada.
1782 -- The Act of Proscription is repealed, but many Highland landowners, who have been born and raised in London or other metropolitan areas, remain in their urban homes, distancing themselves from the tenant Clan members on their lands.
1780s (late) -- Donald Cameron of Lochiel begins clearing his family lands, which span from Loch Leven to Loch Arkaig.
1791 --The Society of the Propagation of Christian Knowledge reports that over the previous 19 years more than 6,400 people emigrated from the Inverness and Ross areas.
1791 -- "The dis-peopling in great measure of large tracts of country in order to make room for sheep (is taking place)," observes the Reverend Kemp after visiting the Highlands.
1792 -- Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster brings the first Cheviot Sheep to his Caithness estates. These sheep would later be referred to as four-footed Clansmen, indicating the tenants' rage at being removed in favour of animals.
1792 (late July to early August) -- Angry tenant farmers drive all the Cheviots in Ross-shire to Boath. The 42nd Regiment intervenes, and the sheep are returned to Ross-shire.
There is no doubt that in the years after 1745, British authorities acted to suppress the clan loyalties in the Highlands. Culminating after the 1745 Battle of Culloden with brutal repression including prohibitions against the wearing of traditional highland dress, the bagpipes, and other related legislation from 1746 on leading to the destruction of the traditional clan system and of the supportive social structures of small agricultural townships. The warrior culture of the Highlands was re-diverted as Highlanders were recruited as soldiers to serve in the wider British Empire. Clan Chiefs were encouraged to consider themselves as owners of the land in their control, in the English manner - it was previously considered common to the clan.
The Clan system and way of life although not realised at the time, was beginning to die with Culloden and the 1745 Jacobite Rising.
The clans from north of the River Tay were to notice this to a greater extent in the years that were to follow than those from the lower parts of Scotland, as the highland clans had not been subject to the same English transformations.
The stories of the Highland Clearances are endless, whether they are individual cases or something that effected whole communities. Although the clearances are associated with the Highlands there were other parts of Scotland which suffered as well, like Argyll and Perthshire, not to the same extent as the likes of Sutherland in north east Scotland, but they were cleared never the less. To get a true picture of what inhumanity and sufferings that were endured, it would be injustice to leave out any of the accounts that took place. Although there are many cases, many of which we are lucky enough to have documented and can be quite a lot to read, they give us stark reminder of what suffering was endured and created by man himself.
[See the various sub sections]
Rural England had already experienced areas of depopulation in the British Agricultural Revolution, but no where near to the extent of what the Highlands would experience. Similar developments began in Scotland to that of rural England in the Lowlands, called the Lowland Clearances, Many of the Lowland areas were being transformed and had been part Englisized some years earlier. This Scottish Agricultural Revolution was changing the face of the Scottish Lowlands and transformed the traditional system of subsistence farming into a stable and productive agricultural system. This also had effects on population and precipitated a migration of Lowlanders, now recognised as the "Lowland Clearances".Internationally, Scotland's fate was tied to that of the United Kingdom as a whole. Shortly after Culloden, Britain successfully fought the Seven Years' War (1756 – 1763), demonstrating its rising significance as a great power. As a partner in the new Britain, parts of Scotland began to flourish in ways that she never had as an independent nation. As the memory of the Jacobite Rising faded away, the 1770s and 80s saw the repeal of much of the draconian laws passed earlier. Most were repealed by 1792 as the Episcopalian and Catholic clergy no longer refused to pray for the reigning monarch, although Unitarians were still affected.
John Leyden, Tour in the Highlands and Western Islands, 1800
Despite the emigration, the population of every highland county increased between 1755 and 1821. Population was not the only thing on the way up. Rent was increasing and ordinary people found it more and more difficult to pay. The clearances did not just affect the highlands, other parts of Scotland suffered as well. Towards the end of the 18th century ships were leaving from all parts of Scotland with those who were being forced to leave in one way or another.
Some lowland areas began to see great cities emerging, like Glasgow and Edinburgh who in later years would see a swell in population with the influx of emigrants. Economically, Glasgow and Edinburgh began to grow at a tremendous rate at the end of the 18th century. The Scottish Renaissance was one of philosophy and science. The Scottish Enlightenment involved names such as Adam Smith, David Hume and James Boswell. Scientific progress was led by James Hutton and William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin and James Watt (instrument maker to Glasgow University). These cities had been introduced to English customs through trading andindustrialism, Lowland Scotland turned more and more towards heavy industry. Glasgow and River Clyde became a major ship-building centre. Glasgow became one of the largest cities in the world, and known as "the Second City of Empire" after London, where the Highlands had not changed. In the Highlands they had managed to keep hold of their traditional ways throughout the centuries. A main contributing fact is most certainly the distance geographically from the border between England and Scotland to both the Lowland and Highland areas of Scotland. Although Scotland is one country, we have the terminology of classing a seamless divisional boundary into the Highlands and Lowlands, this came about centuries before [ see web pages on the gaelic language ].The Highlands were always seen as a barbarious and rough area, but this was only because the folk who lived and worked the land were set in their ways and didn’t care for change, living their life in a way which had seen very little change from century to century before them. As far as the Highlands the impact on a Goidelic (Scottish Gaelic)-speaking semi-feudal culture that still expected obligations from a chieftain to his clan led to vocal campaigning. There was a lingering bitterness among the descendants of the large numbers forced to emigrate, or to remain and subsist in crofting townships on very small areas of often marginal land. Crofters became a source of virtually free labour to their landlords, forced to work long hours, for example, in the harvesting and processing of kelp.
To landlords, 'improvement' and 'clearance' did not necessarily mean depopulation. At least until the 1820s, when there were steep falls in the price of kelp, landlords wanted to create pools of cheap or virtually free labour, supplied by families subsisting in new crofting townships. Kelp collection and processing was a very profitable way of using this labour, and landlords petitioned successfully for legislation designed to stop emigration. This took the form of the Passenger Vessels Act passed in 1803. Attitudes changed during the 1820s and for many landlords, the potato famine which began in 1846 became another reason for encouraging or forcing emigration and depopulation.
As the rest of Britain was waking up to a new era of civilisation and enlightenment, greedy landlords of lands and estates in the Highlands of Scotland began to remove the local people to make way for sheep. Sheep were given priority over people, but not just any people, for the folk burned out of their homes were the descendants of the clansmen, the native people of the land - the highlanders, of those who fought or fell in previous campaigns.
Fuadaich nan Gàidheal, the expulsion of the Gael, is a name given to the forced displacement of the population of the Scottish Highlands from their ancient ways of warrior clan subsistence farming, leading to mass emigration from the Highlands to the coast, the Scottish Lowlands, and abroad. This was part of a process of agricultural change throughout the United Kingdom, but the late timing, the lack of legal protection for year-by-year tenants under Scottish law, the abruptness of the change from the clan system and the brutality of many of the evictions gave the Highland Clearances particular notoriety.
Many chiefs engaged Lowland, or sometimes English, factors with expertise in more profitable sheep farming, and they 'encouraged', sometimes forcibly, the population to move off suitable land. 1792, infamously known as the Year of the Sheep, also signalled another wave of mass emigration of Scottish Highlanders. The people were accommodated in poor crofts or small farms in coastal areas where farming could not sustain the communities and they were expected to take up fishing. Population fell significantly in some areas, where large numbers of Highlanders relocated to the lowland cities, becoming the labour force for the emerging industrial revolution, many emigrated to other parts of the British Empire, particularly Nova Scotia, the Eastern Townships of Quebec, and Upper Canada (later known as Ontario). Antigonish and Pictou counties and later Cape Breton, the Kingston area of Ontario and the Carolinas of the American colonies.
'Never again will a single story be told as though it is the only one' - John Berger. The Highland Clearances are stories of individual people, in some cases of their greed and in others of their suffering.
|Life in the highlands was tough and anyone with an impression of a bonnie wee highland village where everyone was happy couldn't be more inaccurate. Most people had taken to growing potatoes, which provided more food but were vulnerable to disease and crop failure. The houses themselves consisted of a one-level stone dwelling, with some rough wooden rafters and thatched with turf. The fire was in the middle of the room and smoke escaped through a hole in the roof. Rough living, compared to those in Edinburgh! In fact, emigration was already happening to a degree in the Highlands, where people chose for themselves to leave their homeland for pastures in the new world.
By a house, I mean a building with one storey over another; by a hut, a dwelling with only one floor. The laird, the tacks man and the minister have commonly houses. Wherever there is a house, the stranger finds a welcome.
The wall of a common hut is always built without mortar by a skilful adaptation of loose stones. Sometimes a double wall of stones is raised and the intermediate space is filled with earth. The air is thus completely excluded. Some walls are, I think, formed of turf. Of the meanest huts, the first room is lighted by the entrance, and the second by the smoke hole. The fire is usually made in the middle.
There are huts, or dwellings, of only one storey, inhabited by gentlemen, which have walls cemented with mortar, glass windows, and boarded floors. Of these, all have chimneys, and some chimneys have grates.
Dr Samuel Johnson
Journey to the Western Islands, 1773
The houses of the peasants in Mull are most deplorable. Some of the doors are hardly four feet high and the houses themselves, composed of earthen sods, in many instances are scarcely twelve. There is often no other outlet of smoke but at the door, the consequence of which is that the women are more squalid and dirty than the men and their features more disagreeable.
Tour in the Highlands and the Western Isles, 1800
Some who were evicted from their houses were lucky in the first removals of tenants, a small compensation of 30 pence in two separate sums was allowed for houses destroyed. Some of the ejected tenants were also allowed small allotments of land, on which they were to build houses at their own expense, no assistance being given for that purpose, perhaps it was owing to this that some were reluctant to move until they had built their new houses, which can be seen as quite understandable.
||You could imagine today if you were to be evicted from your abode, given very little or no notice, possessions removed from your home and dumped outside, regardless of the weather condition, then left to think where your shelter would be for night etc with all your belongings around you with no way of storing them. Surplus to this you may have to travel possibly thirty to fifty miles to relocate to a new found home, little or no more than a horse and cart for transportation to do so. Then having to build shelter first or even then to find that you are forced to board a ship for foreign shores not knowing what will be at the other end.
Boarding a ship for a foreign shore was for some a new start to life, a new adventure, but to others it was seen as being forced to move from a land that they had known all their lives, a land that they had been born and bred, which had been held for centuries by generations of their ancestors, folk who were set in their ways and even some who had fought and died for land. What was considered home to families were no more than simple dwellings.
Near Taynish in Argyll, ridges of potatoes appeared on the steepest eminences, and green streaks of corn emerged on the summits of the hills amid clusters of white rocks. Almost every spot of arable land appeared cultivated, even where no plough could possibly be employed. On enquiry we found that the spade was used in tillage where the country is very rocky and irregular.
As in Ireland, the potato crop failed in the mid 19th century, and a widespread outbreak of cholera further weakened the Highland population. The ongoing clearance policy resulted in starvation, deaths, and a secondary clearance, when families either migrated voluntarily or were forcibly evicted. There were many deaths of children and old people. As there were few alternatives, many emigrated, joined the British army, or moved to the growing urban cities, like Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dundee in Scotland and Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Liverpool in England. In many areas people were given economic incentives to move, but few historians dispute that there were also many instances where violent methods were used by the landlords to clear the highland population.
As the 19th century progressed and the Battle of Culloden nearly a hundred years old, the privileges of the Highlander grew less and less. Lairds obtained greater rights with restriction on deer hunting, shooting for game such as grouse and blackcock, rights to the hills for sheep or cattle and even catching salmon from the streams or rivers being relaxed. Lairds saw a potential for making money out of these activities. Subsequently there became distinct division from lairds to common men, far different to the days of their forefathers.
The father of the Laird of Kindeace bought Glencalvie. It was sold by a Ross two short centuries ago. The swords of the Rosses of Glencalvie did their part in protecting this little glen, as well as the broad lands of Pitcalvie, form the ravages and clutches of hostile septs.
The clansmen bled and died in belief that every principle of honour and morals secured their descendants a right to subsisting on the soil.
The chiefs and their children had the same charter of the sword.
Some legislatures have made the right of the people superior to the right of the chief: British law- makers made the rights of the chief everything and those of their followers nothing. The ideas of the morality of property are in most men the creatures of their interests and sympathies. It must be said that the chiefs would have no land at all had it been possible for the clansman to predict how the Highlands would turn out. Sad it was that since the Union the laws preferred communities to consist of fewer people than to many, could this have been in fear that this could create another uprising having too many people in the same place together.
Large areas were being cleared of people across Scotland, lucky enough in Kintail where many of them were quite well off; one man was even a member for his county in what was considered the dominion parliament.
Others weren’t so lucky and endured the hardship of looking for alternative ways of earning money. The answer, unlikely as it may seem, was seaweed. Burning seaweed produced kelp ash, an alkali source, an important constituent in glassmaking at the end of the 18th century. It was also crucial in the textile industry: mixed with quicklime (CaO) it was used as a bleach; in soap form it washed wool and, for dying, it was an ingredient in muriate of potash (KCl). The requirements of shipbuilding led to legislation which prevented wood being burned to produce this so the seaware of the Western Isles became extremely attractive as an economic resource.
The kelp, though, did not come from just any seaweed washed ashore, the best sources lay underneath rocks some distance offshore which had to be cut by workers wading out and cutting it with scythes. It was then dragged ashore and dried, before burning, all in all a most labour-intensive activity and a most unpleasant one.
‘If one figures to himself a man, and one or more of his children, engaged from morning to night in cutting, drying, and otherwise preparing the sea weeds, at a distance of many miles from his home, or in a remote island; often for hours together wet to his knees and elbows; living upon oatmeal and water with occasionally fish, limpets and crabs; sleeping on the damp floor of a wretched hut; and with no other fuel than twigs or heath: he will perceive that this manufacture is none of the most agreeable.’
Second Report to the Commissioners and Trustees for Improving Fisheries and Manufactures in Scotland, 1755
Hard and unpleasant though the work was it was very lucrative, for the landlord that is, not for the worker. Hunter (in The Making of the Crofting Community) estimates the wages of the kelp harvester at between £1 and £3 per ton for the entire period from 1790 until the collapse of the industry. It was during this period that fortunes were made by the landlords who “owned” the kelp. Spanish barilla, which provided a larger proportion of alkali on burning was prevented from reaching the British market by the Napoleonic Wars. Kelp, therefore, reached prices of £20 per ton. As the entire manufacturing process was carried out by cheap island labour, this constituted pure profit for the landowners. Even the small cost of labour did not really need to be met: the labourers were crofters and either had a requirement to work so many days each year for their landlord or, alternatively, the kelping was deducted from their rent payments, so, as Hunter writes in Last of the Free,
‘It was little wonder, then, that landlord after landlord was prepared to subordinate all other land management considerations to the almost unbelievably lucrative business of making and marketing kelp.’
The landlord to benefit most from this industry was Lord Macdonald of Sleat. When he undertook a survey of his estates in Skye and North Uist in 1799-1800 he may well have felt that he did ‘not want to dismiss great numbers of his tenants’ in the reorganisation, as Eric Richards quotes in his favour, but that was in keeping with his surveyor, John Blackadder’s suggestion that, once the inland localities were cleared for sheep, those removed could be resettled on coastal crofts where ‘from the surrounding ocean and its rocky shore immense sums may be drawn .... As these funds are inexhaustible, the greater the number of hands employed so much more will be the amount of produce arising from their labour.’
To make sure that there would not be sufficient income in the farms alone for the displaced tenants, the new crofts were laid out on barren land ‘in the least profitable parts of the estate’, a situation helped in Skye by a proposed rent rise of 75% between 1799 and 1803.
The only thing which could interfere with this revenue stream for the financing of Armadale Castle was emigration and this was effectively halted by the 1803 Passenger Act. It reduced the number of passengers which could be carried on a vessel (by specifying a minimum amount of space for each) and established requirements for minimum levels of food, water and medicine to be carried on board. The net effect was to raise the minimum cost of a passage to Nova Scotia from £4 to £10 pricing it largely beyond the reach of Lord Macdonald and Clanranald’s tenants.
Lest it be thought that this is too cynical a view of the motives behind the act, these are the words of Charles Hope, its chief architect ,
‘I had the chief hand in preparing and carrying thro’ parliament an Act which was professedly calculated merely to regulate the equipment and victualling of ships carrying passengers to America, but which certainly was intended both by myself and other gentlemen of the committee to prevent the pernicious spirit of discontent against their own country, and rage for emigrating to America’
With the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the kelp monopoly was gone. Although tariffs protected it against Spanish imports for a while, these were soon abandoned and, in any case, the Leblanc process offered far cheaper sources of alkali. The industry collapsed and the need for a large and cheap labour force was gone. Many of the requirements of the 1803 Act were lost in new legislation in 1817 and emigration, which now suited the landlords, was made easier. By 1849, before beginning the brutal clearances of North Uist, best remembered for the events at Sollas, Macdonald would bemoan the fact that the island was so densely populated.
1800-1813 -- Extensive clearances in Strathglass, Farr, Lairg, Dornoch, Rogart, Loth, Clyne, Gospie, Assynt, and lower Kildonan.
1801 -- The first clearances of the Strathglass area by William, the 24th Chisholm. Nearly 50% of the Clan living there are evicted.
1801 -- The emigrant ship The Sarah sails from Fort William to Pictou. By contemporary laws, only 489 slaves would have been allowed to be carried in the ship's holds. But no such laws govern emigrants, and almost 700 people are crammed into the ship, with nearly 50 people dying on the journey and countless others falling ill.
1803 -- Seeing their labour-base diminishing due to emigration, landowners in the Hebrides work for passage of the Passenger Act, this limits the number of people who can immigrate to other countries, trapping and keeping many tenants in poverty.
1807 (Whitsun) -- Evictions at Farr & Lairg -- the first major Sutherlandshire clearances.
1807 (October) -- The Rambler, carrying 133 emigrants from Thurso, sinks in the Atlantic. Only three passengers survive.
1807 (November) -- a gathering of The Northern Association of Gentlemen Farmers and Breeders of Sheep agree to move their activities into Ross-shire, Sutherlandshire, and Caithness. This decision would lead to massive clearances in those areas.
1809 -- The Chisholm enacts another large clearance of his lands in Strathglass, advertising to interested sheep-farmers lots holding between 1,000 and 6,000 sheep.
1811 -- More than 50 shepherds are brought into Sutherlandshire and made Justices of the Peace -- thereby giving them legal control over the native tenants.
1811 - 1851 -- The demand for seaweed (or kelp) falls. The harvesting of kelp was taken up by many cleared farmers who were relocated to the coast of Scotland. The lowering demands for kelp returns those farmers to poverty.
1813 -- Lord and Lady Stafford, the landowners of Sutherlandshire, hire James Loch to oversee the clearing of their lands.
1813 -- Nearly 100 tenants of Strath Kildonan emigrate to Canada aboard the Prince of Wales and settle near Lake Winnipeg.
1813 -- Sir George MacKenzie of Coul writes a book justifying the clearances, citing: The necessity for reducing the population in order to introduce valuable improvements, and the advantages of committing the cultivation of the soil to the hands of a few....
1813 (Spring) -- Lady Stafford writes that she would like to visit her Sutherlandshire estate but: at present I am uneasy about a sort of mutiny that has broken out in one part of Sutherland, in consequences of our new plans having made it necessary to transplant some of the inhabitants to the sea-coast from other parts of the estate
1813 (spring) -- a group of Strath Kildonan residents march towards Golspie in order to have their grievances against the clearances heard. They are met by soldiers and the Sheriff, who, aided by local church ministers, intimidate the tenants into returning to their homes to await their eviction notices.
1813 (December 15) -- Tenants of the Strathnaver area of Sutherlandshire go to Golspie at the direction of William Young, Chief Factor for Lord and Lady Stafford. The tenants are told they have until the following Whitsunday to leave their homes and relocate to the wretched coastlands of Strathy Point.
1814 (April) -- Under the direction of Patrick Sellar, a Factor for Lord and Lady Stafford, heath and pastures surrounding Strathnaver are burned in preparation for planting grass for the incoming sheep. The native tenants of Strathnaver make no motion of moving to Strathy Point, or anywhere else.
1814 (June 13) -- Patrick Sellar begins burning Strathnaver. Residents are not given time to remove their belongings or invalid relatives, and two people reputedly die from their houses burning.
1815 -- The Sheriff-Substitute for Sutherlandshire arrests Patrick Sellar for:willfull fire-raising...most aggravated circumstances of cruelty, if not murder. Not surprisingly, a jury of affluent landowners and merchants acquit Sellar in April of this year.
1816. Soon after, Sellar continues clearing vast areas of Sutherlandshire.
1818 -- Patrick Sellar retires to his Sutherlandshire estate, given to him by Lord and Lady Stafford in acknowledgment of his work.
1819 (May) -- Another violent clearing of Strathnaver residents. Donald Macleod, a young apprentice stonemason witnesses: 250 blazing houses. Many of the owners were my relatives and all of whom I personally knew; but whose present condition, whether in or out of the flames, I could not tell. The fire lasted six days, till the whole of the dwellings were reduced to ashes or smoking ruins.
1819 (May) -- The Kildonan area is cleared. Donald MacDonald later writes: ...the whole inhabitants of the Kildonan parish, with the exception of three families--nearly 2,000 souls--were utterly rooted and burned out.
1819 (June) -- The Sutherland Transatlantic Friendly Association is formed to assist cleared tenants who wanted to emigrate to America. It generates little interest and soon folds.
1820 -- James Loch publishes his account of enacting the clearances, or, as he calls them, the improvements. He declares that Gaelic will become a rarity in Sutherlandshire.
1820 -- Journalist Thomas Bakewell severely criticizes both Loch's book and his actions during the clearances.
1820 (February and March) -- Hugh Munro, the laird of Novar, clears his estates at Culrain along the Kyle of Sutherland. A riot ensues when the Sheriff and military arrive to evict the tenants. Remonstrated by the minister Donald Matheson, the tenants eventually cease fighting and move away.
1821 (April) -- Officials bearing Writs of Removal for the tenants of Gruids, near the River Shin, are stripped, whipped, and their documents are burned. Fearing another riot like Culrain, military and police accompany the Sheriff back to Gruids where, faced with such strong opposition, the tenants gathered their few belongings and moved to Brora.
1821 showed an increase over the census of 1811 of more than two hundred... the county has not been depopulated--its population has been merely arranged in a new fashion. The (Duchess of Sutherland) found it spread equally over the interior and the sea-coast, and in very comfortable circumstances--(but) she left it compressed into a wretched fabric of poverty and suffering that fringes the county on its eastern and western shores.
1826 -- The Island of Rum is cleared except for one family. MacLean of Coll pays for the other natives to emigrate to Canada.
1826 -- The emigrant ship James arrives in Halifax. Every person on board had contracted typhus during the voyage.
1827 -- Lady Stafford visits her Sutherland estate and receives gifts from the tenants. Those gifts, wrote Donald Macleod, were provided by those who would subscribe would thereby secure her ladyship's favour and (that of) her factors -- and those who could not or would not were given to understand very significantly what they had to expect by plenty of menacing looks and an ominous shaking of the head.
1829 (September) -- The Canada Boat Song, a poem protesting the clearances, appears in Scotland's "Blackwood's Magazine."
1830 -- Lady Stafford visits her Sutherlandshire estate and visits the tenants living in primitive sheds. Unable to comprehend how people could live under such conditions, but speaking no Gaelic, she is not able to ascertain the condition of her tenants lives.
1830 (October 20) -- While stonemason Donald Macleod was off working in Wick, his wife and children were surprised in their home: ...a party of eight men...entered my dwelling (at) about 3 o'clock, just as the family were rising from dinner.
The party allowed no time for parley, but having put out the family with violence, proceeded to fling out the furniture, bedding and other effects in quick time, and after extinguishing the fire, proceeded to nail up the doors and windows in the face of the helpless woman.... Messengers had (previously) been dispatched--warning all the surrounding inhabitants, at the peril of similar treatment, against affording shelter, or assistance, to wife, child, or animal belonging to Donald Macleod. ...After spending most part of the night in fruitless attempts to obtain the shelter of a roof or hovel, my wife at last returned to collect some of her scattered furniture, and (built) with her own hands a temporary shelter against the walls of her late comfortable residence...(but) the wind dispersed (the) materials as fast as she could collect them.
Buckling up her children...in the best manner she could, she left them in charge of the eldest (who was only seven years old), giving them such victuals as she could collect, and prepared to take the road for Caithness (in search of her husband). She had not proceeded many miles when she met with a good Samaritan and acquaintance...Donald Macdonald, who, disregarding the danger incurred, opened his door to her, refreshed and consoled her, and still under cover of night, accompanied her to the dwelling of (a friend), William Innes...of Sandside.
1832 -- Despite the fact that he forcibly evicted them, exiled members of Clan Chisholm swear allegiance to their chief back in Scotland.
1832 (late summer) -- Cholera runs through the Inverness area, claiming almost 100 lives. Many fear the illness came from the impoverished cleared tenants who beg on the streets, and strict laws are enacted to persecute these itinerants.
1833 -- At a party in honor of King William IV, Lord and Lady Stafford become the first Duke and Duchess of Sutherland.
1833 (winter) -- After the Duke of Sutherland's death, plans are made by some of the gentry for a monument to be erected in his honor. The tenants are "asked" to contribute, but Donald Macloed writes: all who could raise a shilling gave it, and those who could not awaited in terror for the consequences of their default.
1836 (autumn) -- a famine strikes the Highlands and Islands, leaving thousands to starve, despite efforts to fund emergency rations.
1837 -- The European historian/economist J.C.L.J. de Sismondi writes of Sutherlandshire: But though the interior of the county was thus improved into a desert--in which there are many thousands of sheep, but few human habitations, let it not be supposed by the reader that its general population was in any degree lessened. So far was this from being the case that the census of
1840 - 1841 -- Donald Macleod publishes a series of letters in the Edinburgh Weekly Chronicle, describing his own eviction and other eyewitness testimony of the clearances.
1841 (February) -- Henry Baillie, Parliament Member for Inverness, forms a committee to investigate the situation in the Highlands. The committee concludes that there are too many people living in the Highlands and that a course of aggressive emigration should be established.
1841 (August and September) -- Given writs of removal by legal officials, the tenants of Durness and Keneabin riot and attack police and sheriffs with stones and sticks. Only after being threatened with an onslaught of military troops do the tenants accept the writs and grudgingly move away.
1845 -- Denied shelter within the church itself and believing themselves to be cursed by God, ninety evicted tenants of Glencalvie take temporary shelter in the churchyard at Croick, and leave messages scratched into the glass windows: ...Glencalvie people the wicked generation... ...John Ross shepherd... ...Glencalvie is a wilderness blow ship them to the colony... ...the Glencalvie Rosses...
1845 -- The potato blight, which had devastated Ireland the previous year, wipes out most of the potatoes in the Highlands.
1846 (December) -- The Reverend Norman Mackinnon of Bracadale Manse wrote to the Chaplain in Ordinary to Queen Victoria: Oh, send us something immediately.... If you can send but a few pounds at present, let it come, for many are dying, I may say, of starvation...
1847 (February) -- James Bruce, a writer for "The Scotsman," reports that the Highlanders' problems are due to their own laziness and suggests the best solution is for the native tenants: as soon as they are able to labour for themselves, be removed from the vicious influence of the idleness in which their fathers have been brought up and have lived and starved.
1849 -- Despite some rioting by the native tenants, Lord Macdonald clears more than 600 people from Sollas on North Uist.
1849 -- Thomas Mulcok, a somewhat bizarre writer and journalist with the Inverness Advertiser arrives in the Highlands and vigorously attacks landlords and factors in print. So vigorously, in fact, that he eventually flees to France when faced with charges of slander.
1850s (early) -- Clearances of thousands of tenants in the Strathaird district, Suishnish, and Boreraig on Skye; and Coigach at Loch Broom.
1851 -- Sir John MacNeill, under the direction of the Home Secretary, tours the Highlands and reports back that the Highland poor are "parading and exaggerating" their poverty and are basically lazy. The only solution MacNeill sees is emigration.
1851 (August) -- The clearance of Barra by Colonel Gordon of Cluny. The Colonel called all of his tenant farmers to a meeting to "discuss rents", and threatened them with a fine if they did not attend. In the meeting hall, over 1,500 tenants were overpowered, bound, and immediately loaded onto ships for America. An eyewitness reported: "...people were seized and dragged on board. Men who resisted were felled with truncheons and handcuffed; those who escaped, including some who swam ashore from the ship, were chased by the police...." When officials in Glasgow complained to the Colonel about many of Barra's homeless wandering their streets, he stated: "Of the appearance in Glasgow of a number of my tenants and cottars from the Parish of Barra--I had no intimation previous to my receipt of your communication. And in answer to your enquiry--what I propose doing with them--I say 'Nothing'."
1853 -- Knoydart is cleared under the direction of the widow of the 16th Chief of Glengarry. More than 400 people are suddenly and forcibly evicted from their homes, including women in labor and the elderly. After the houses were torched, some tenants returned to the ruins and tried to re-build their villages. These ramshackle structures were then also destroyed. Father Coll Macdonald, the local priest, erected tents and shelters in his garden at Sandaig on Loch Nevis, and offered shelter to as many of the homeless as he could. Donald Ross, a Glasgow journalist and lawyer wrote articles outlining the clearance of Knoydart, which generated little sympathy.
1854 -- The clearing of Strathcarron in Ross-shire. Some Clan Ross women tried to prevent the landlord's police force by blocking the road to the village. The constables charged the unarmed women, and, in the words of journalist Donald Ross: "...struck with all their force. ...Not only when knocking down, but after the females were on the ground. They beat and kicked them while lying weltering in their blood....(and) more than twenty females were carried off the field in blankets and litters, and the appearance they presented, with their heads cut and bruised, their limbs mangled and their clothes clotted with blood, was such as would horrify any savage."
1854 -- Archibald Geike, describing a recent clearance on Skye, states he saw: (The house was) a wretched hovel, unfit for sheep or pigs. Here 6 human beings had to take shelter. There was no room for a bed so they all lay down to rest on the bare floor.
On Wednesday last the head of the wretched family, William Matheson, a widower, took ill and expired on the following Sunday. His family consisted of an aged mother, 96, and his own four children - John 17, Alex 14, William 11, and Peggy 9 - the old woman was lying-in and when a brother-in-law of Matheson called to see how he was, he was horror struck to find Matheson lying dead on the same pallet of straw on which the old woman rested; and there also lay his two children, Alexander and Peggy, sick! Those who witnessed this scene declared that a more heart
Matheson's corpse was removed as soon as possible; but the scene is still more deplorable. Here, in this wretched abode, and abode not fit at all for human beings, is an old woman of 96, stretched on the cold ground with two of her grandchildren lying sick, one on each side of her.
1854 -- An emigrant ship is described by "The Times" as: The emigrant is shewn a berth, a shelf of coarse pinewood in a noisome dungeon, airless and lightless, in which several hundred persons...are stowed away, on shelves two feet one inch above each other...still reeking from the ineradicable stench left by the emigrants on the last voyage... After a few days have been spent in the pestilential atmosphere created by the festering mass of squalid humanity imprisoned between the damp and steaming decks, the scourge bursts out, and to the miseries of filth, foul air and darkness is added the Cholera.
1854 -- Highland landowners are asked to gather troops from their tenants to fight the Crimean War. Most of the Highlanders refuse, one telling his laird: "should the Czar of Russia take possession of (these lands) next term that we couldn't expect worse treatment at his hands than we have experienced in the hands of your family for the last fifty years."
1856 -- The writer Harriet Beecher Stowe visits Sutherlandshire. Her tour is carefully orchestrated by the current Duchess of Sutherland to avoid sites of eviction, and so Stowe erroneously proclaims the tales of the clearances to be mostly fictional.
1872 -- A Parliamentary Select Committee is established to investigate claims that tenant farmers are being evicted in the Highlands to make room for deer. As the people had been cleared for sheep and not deer, the Committee finds no evidence.
1874 (spring) -- Starving tenants of Black Isle, Caithness and Ross areas attempt to commandeer grain shipments going from Lairds' estate farms to export ships. Military forces are called in to guarantee safe shipment of the grain.
||As you can see in the chronology above, all the various events which occurred through the 18th and 19th centuries there are no words that could explain how tough life would have been. In some areas, whole glens were cleared, which today are as silent as they must have been when the landlord's factors had finished ruthlessly carrying out the orders of their masters. Homes were burnt and tenants forced to leave at the point of a sword or musket, carrying little or nothing as they headed towards a life of poverty and hunger.
There were two distinct types of 'clearance'. The first was a forced settlement on barren land usually near the sea. The crofts, as these plots of land became known, had very poor agricultural potential which the gentry wrongly assumed would be compensated for by fishing and seaweed harvesting, or kelping as it was called. From 1820, however, these areas were failing to provide any living. Kelp was not as saleable, fishing was poor yet rents were being pushed up. To cap it all came the 1844 potato famine.
New hardships from the first upheaval induced a second movement of people forced to attempt emigration. As the consequences of relocation were becoming apparent, insatiable landowners were still clearing and selling their estates without regard into the 1850s.
The second type of 'clearance' was often prompted by the failure of the crofts to produce a living for the Highlanders. It was a hopeless situation for many. The sheer number of people pushed to the coast coupled with huge rent increases, over-fishing and over-kelping resulted in destitution and starvation. When, in 1846, the potato crop failed many were left with no alternative, those who relied on potatoes felt hardship and had no alternative but to head for the bigger cities like Glasgow, Crieff and Edinburgh of course others followed in the footstep of those to try what they thought was a better life in a foreign land, emigrating south or emigrating to the colonies. [See emigrants and emigration]
In Knoydart, Ross, Skye and Tiree and most notably in the vast tracts of land in Sutherland owned by Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, the clearances were particularly noted for the violence used.
Two of the most notorious evictors were James Loch and Patrick Sellar [ See Main Oppressors]. Around 1820 demand for kelp and cattle dwindled and many tenants sank into rent arrears and apathy. In turn the rise in number of those unable to pay their rent encouraged landowners to evict the tenants from the marginal land leaving emigration as the only alternative. Lord MacDonald alone cleared most of North Uist and Skye or sold out to the infamous John Gordon of Cluny. Ships from ports from different parts of Scotland left for various destinations. [See emigrants and emigration]
Empowerment, Internationalism and Revolt
In 1873, John Murdoch, a retired Nairnshire excise man who had worked part of his life in Ireland, founded The Highlander newspaper to campaign on the Scottish cultural and land rights issue. He was certainly not the only significant campaigner, but we will focus here on his work because it is so perceptive and well documented. Not confined to simply managing the paper, Murdoch maintained close contact with the crofters and local communities by mostly walking from one township to another where ‑ often to the defiance and chagrin of landlords ‑ he would visit and campaign amongst the people. His tours accentuated more than ever the degree to which self-esteem and self-confidence were lacking amongst the Highland population, since often he was hard put even to gather a crowd, not because of lack of interest, but because of fear:
| "We have to record a terrible fact, that from some cause or other, a craven, cowed, snivelling population has taken the place of the men of former days. In Lewis, in the Uists, in Barra, in Islay, in Applecross and so forth, the great body of the people seem to be penetrated by fear. There is one great, dark cloud hanging over them in which there seem to be terrible forms of devouring landlords, tormenting factors and ubiquitous ground officers. People complain; but it is under their breaths and under such a feeling of depression that the complaint is never meant to reach the ear of landlord or factor. We ask for particulars, we take out a notebook to record the facts; but this strikes a deeper terror. 'For any sake do not mention what I say to you,' says the complainer. 'Why?' We naturally ask. 'Because the factor might blame me for it.'
Where once there were proud and independent societies with their own Gaelic tongue, now a subjected population had succumbed to what later critics would recognise as a culture of the oppressed with the English language forced through the education system. Afraid openly to discuss their plight, the Highland peoples had internalised their oppression to a degree that they were unable even to voice their complaints, let alone have them recorded.
Murdoch saw that the way forward was cultural regeneration, for without a social empowerment focused upon the linguistic and cultural identity of Highlanders he saw little potential for advancement in land reform or political emancipation. Murdoch's campaign of empowerment was far more than the basic development of a class consciousness or a political front. What he was seeking was more attuned to a spiritual awakening. Donald Meek, professor of Celtic at Aberdeen University, in an analysis of Murdoch's theological foundations for land reform, sees in his work and that of other such campaigners of the time a precursor to the liberation theologies of Paulo Friere, Gustavo Guttierez and others of Latin American and Southern African origin. Extensive use was made of biblical texts like Leviticus 25, "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine," and Isaiah 5, "Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place...." An increasingly interested London based press later stirred the national conscience over such sentiments, for instance, the Pall Mall Gazette of 24th December 1884 quoting the campaigners that: "The Earth is the Lord's, not the landlord's...."]
Murdoch concluded that, "The language and lore of Highlanders being treated with despite has tended to crush their self-respect and to repress that self-reliance without which no people can advance." The effects of "alien rule" and the experiences of land enclosure and eviction had created a "very provoking fear universally present among the people" who were consequently "afraid to open their mouths." Foreshadowing ideas that were adopted by the Highland Land League, he urged:
"Our Highland friends must depend on themselves and they should remember that union is strength.... We do not advocate that they should fight or use violent means, for there is a better way than that. Why do they not form societies for self-improvement and self-defence? Did they become, they would become conscious that they possess more strength than they are aware of."
Linking the enclosure of the Highlands with the subjugation of people overseas, he declared earlier in 1851, "The dying wail of the cheated redman of the woods rings in our ears across the Atlantic." And later whilst constantly criticising British imperial policy in Highlander editorials, he was always quick to show that the crofters' struggles were synonymous with those of oppressed peoples around the world. On hearing the news of Britain's invasion of Afghanistan, for instance, he declared: "What glory is to be had from fighting semi civilised but brave and patriotic highlanders? Noble Afghan highlanders, our sympathies are with you!" Above all, he emphasised that "the cause of the Highland people is not dealt with in an exclusive and narrow spirit, far less in antagonism to other people." The key issue was in an awakening of spirit that allowed Highlanders to enter the wider world: "Their sympathies are widened, their views are elevated, and they learn to stand erect, not only as Highlanders, shoulder to shoulder, but as a battalion in the great array of peoples to whom it is given to fight the battles incident to the moral and social progress of mankind."
Having studied land tenure patterns around Europe ‑ Norway, Belgium and Switzerland ‑ he was able to point out that superior social relations abounded elsewhere, the "peasant proprietorship" canton system of Switzerland making it "perhaps the most enlightened, independent and prosperous country in Europe." The comparisons to Britain and Ireland made it "very surprising that we, who profess to be in the van of progress, and the highest degree of liberty, should be content to be in the most unsatisfactory state, with regard to land, of almost any nation in Europe."
In 1881 the Land Bill for Ireland granted security of tenure and fixed rents. Murdoch sarcastically noted how the Duke of Argyll's resignation from the Government in protest was "one of the strongest proofs of the beneficent character of the measure" and he emphasised how the co‑ordinated campaign of resistance which lead to the Bill was "suggestive of many practical thoughts to every Highlander." Within a week, however The Highlander was forced to close under financial pressure. But within a further month the crofters on Captain William Fraser's Kilmuir Estate used Irish Land League tactics to compel a reduction of their rent by 25%. Soon after, and somewhat in emulation of an earlier (1874) crofters rent riot on Bernera, Lewis, Lord MacDonald's tenants at Braes, Skye, mobbed a visiting sheriff officer. Lead, as was so often the case in crofter direct actions, by a woman, Mairi Nic Fuilaidh, they forced him to burn the court eviction summonses he had come to deliver. Thus the Skye Rent Strike marked the start of the remarkably non‑violent "Crofters Wars". Ten days later, 17th April 1882, arrests were made. Mud and stones were thrown when 47 imported Glasgow police faced a crowd of over fourteen hundred protestors who had arrived from all quarters of Skye lead by their respective pipers. Recognising that state authority was losing its grip, the British Government responded to Sheriff Ivory's call for help by action which was to be repeated on a number of occasions in the Highlands and other colonies: it sent in the gunboats with police reinforcements, over four hundred marines and one hundred bluejackets.
"This impressive demonstration of force was met with polite passive resistance as people conspicuously dug their potatoes at every township along the coast. The Glasgow Herald correspondent observed, 'The district was found in a state of the most perfect peace, with every crofter minding his own business'."
In February 1883 the Highland Land League was founded in London to apply political pressure in Westminster and organise mass rent strikes, demonstrations, and support for reform by constitutional means by friends at home and abroad. The government's response was to set up a Royal Commission to enquire into the complaints of the crofters. Headed by Baron Francis Napier, an Anglican Tory landowner with considerable experience of colonial problems in India, it reported later in the year and vindicated the legitimacy of the people's grievance. In the General Election of 1885 the crofters took advantage of the extension of the franchise and returned five crofter Members of Parliament. Finally, in 1886 the Crofters Act was passed, giving for the first time heritable security of tenure with controlled rents on those smallholdings defined as being of crofting status.
The 1886 Act fell far short of returning to the people land which had formerly been taken from them. By far the greatest areas of land remained completely outwith crofting tenure. But the Act did secure the survival of crofting life into the present era. It was not until 1976 that the Crofting Reform Act gave the crofter the right to buy the freehold of their land at 15 times the holding's fair rent. There was no rush to take this up, since freehold entailed perceived breach of community solidarity and loss of privileged crofting status with the agricultural grants which accompanied it. Also, the law was widely misinterpreted as meaning that the landlord also had to be paid 50% of the development value of the land. Resolution of this misinterpretation was to prove vital in subsequent events leading up to community land ownership at Assynt. It was not until the passing of the 1991 Crofter Forestry (Scotland) Act that crofters could apply for permission to plant trees on their land. Trees planted outwith this provision are the property of the landlord, which is one reason why, traditionally, few crofts had any forest shelterbelts.
Pre-eminent in contemporary literature was Sir Walter Scott, a prolific writer of ballads, poems and the historical novels. His romantic portrayals of Scottish life in centuries past still continue to have a disproportionate effect on the public perception of "authentic Scottish culture," and the pageantry he organised for the Visit of King George IV to Scotland made tartan and kilts into national symbols. George MacDonald also influenced views of Scotland in the latter parts of the 19th century.
Claims that some writers are coruscating in their condemnation of the Clearances, seeing the process as an early version of "ethnic cleansing". However, writer Ross Noble believes this approach over-simplifies the issues involved. Under the economic and social ideas of the several centuries involved, landowners and employers were generally callous about the 'lower orders', (exemplified by the 1843 fictional character of Ebenezer Scrooge) and these modern terms such as 'genocide' and 'ethnic cleansing' reflect new sensitivities and social perspectives, which in this case would not apply, as most of the landlords were fellow Scotsmen.
However, considering that by the end of the eighteenth century the Scottish landlords had, for the most part, been born and raised in London, they would have held the same unflattering opinion of the Highlanders that the majority of those living in England and Southern Scotland held. Therefore, "ethnic cleansing" certainly cannot be ruled out by a simple inspection of ancestry.
It was only in the mid-nineteenth century that the second, more brutal phase of the Clearances began; this was well after the 1822 visit by George IV, when lowlanders set aside their previous distrust and hatred of the Highlanders and identified with them as national symbols. However, the cumulative effect was particularly devastating to the cultural landscape of Scotland in a way that did not happen in other areas of Britain.
While the collapse of the clan system can be attributed more to economic factors and the repression that followed the Battle of Culloden, the widespread evictions resulting from the Clearances severely affected the viability of the Highland population and culture. To this day, the population in the Scottish Highlands is sparse and the culture is diluted, and there are many more sheep than people. Although the 1901 census did return 230,806 Gaelic speakers in Scotland, today this number has fallen to below 60,000. Counties of Scotland in which over 50% of the population spoke Gaelic as their native language in 1901, included Sutherland (71.75%), Ross and Cromarty (71.76%), Inverness (64.85%) and Argyll (54.35%).Small but substantial percentages of Gaelic speakers were recorded in counties such as Nairn, Bute, Perth and Caithness.[ see also Gaelic language]
What the Clearances started, however, the First World War almost completed. A huge percentage of Scots were among the vast numbers killed, and this greatly affected the remaining population of Gaelic speakers in Scotland.
The 1921 census, the first conducted after the end of the war, showed a significant decrease in the proportion of the population that spoke Gaelic. The percentage of Gaelic speakers in Argyll had fallen to well below 50% (34.56%), and the other counties mentioned above had experienced similar decreases. Sutherland's Gaelic-speaking population was now barely above 50%, while Inverness and Ross and Cromarty had fallen to 50.91% and 60.20%, respectively.
However, the Clearances did result in significant emigration of Highlanders to North America and Australia — where today are found considerably more descendants of Highlanders than in Scotland itself.
One estimate for Cape Breton, Nova Scotia has 25,000 Gaelic-speaking Scots arriving as immigrants between 1775 and 1850. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were an estimated 100,000 Gaelic speakers in Cape Breton, but because of economic migration to English-speaking areas and the lack of Gaelic education in the Nova Scotian school system, the numbers of Gaelic speakers fell dramatically. By the beginning of the 21st century, the number of native Gaelic speakers had fallen to well below 1,000.
Appalachia a mountainous region of the eastern United States, also served as a destination for displaced non-gentry Gaels, including many Irish, and bears the cultural marks of the immigrant peoples. Gael communities settled chiefly in a broad arc extending through the states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
The Balmorality Epoch: The Great Sporting Estates
The final stage of consolidating present patterns of enclosed land tenure came after the military demand for wool collapsed with the ending of the Napoleonic Wars. As Iain Mac a'Ghobainn immortalises in his epic poem, "Spirit of Kindness," soldiers returning from Waterloo were prone to finding that their families had been cleared in their absence. Remaining unenclosed lands had been consolidated with former sheep farms to make the Great "Sporting" Estates. By 1912, 3, 599,744 acres or one fifth of the entire Scottish land mass had been converted so that "gentlefolk" versions of great white hunters could engage in one sided mortal battle with the stag, salmon, grouse and the thrush-sized snipe.
In his sociological study of the athletic and bagpiping competitions which characterise today's Highland Games, Jarvie] shows how the new sporting landlords took control of such traditional gatherings of the clans to consolidate their social status. Cultural regeneration could then be seen as deriving from the benevolence of the ruling classes, thereby lending landlords a pseudo authentic role analogous to that of the chieftains of the past.
The Highlander, like the native American and African, had once been caricatured as barbarous and uncivilized. The traveller, John Leyden, typifies such an outsider perspective. Returning to Perth in 1800 he wrote, "I may now congratulate myself on a safe escape from the Indians of Scotland...."Few early travellers had the ability to see beyond the racial stereotype. An exception was the Swiss geologist, Necker de Saussure, who in 1807 recorded his astonishment at finding on Iona, "under so foggy an atmosphere, in so dreary a climate, a people animated by that gaiety and cheerfulness which we are apt to attribute exclusively to those nations of the South of Europe." But for most of the ruling class, the second half of the nineteenth century became instead a time when the Highlanders could safely be patronised in terms of "the glamour of backwardness" and presented "in terms of loyalty, royalty, tartanry and Balmorality." Trend‑setting lairds (landowners) like Queen Victoria, with her Balmoral Castle retreat, displayed the stunning contradiction of, on the one hand, professing a love of Highland scenery and culture; whilst on the other hand patronising emigration programmes and setting in process damaging land management regimes centred around deer and grouse.
A look through the Highland press quickly reveals that now, in the mid‑1990's, summary dismissals, evictions, expensive procedural delays in planning matters and demolition of housing remain very much a part of estate control over communities. The West Highland Free Press, for instance, gives careful documentation on 30th April 1993 of how the estate factors (legal managers) of one of the world's richest absentee landlords, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoumm of Dubai, have bulldozed houses in his Wester Ross "glen of sorrow" to prevent human habitation, probably because of "the night-time poaching activities of the local population." Twelve family homes have been reduced to rubble in a district which has 800 applicants on the local authority housing waiting list. The Sheik retains a certain support in some quarters because of his large donations to small local charities.
1948 (November) The Knoydart area was originally cleared in 1853 by Josephine MacDonell and the former tenants were sent to Nova Scotia. Ninety-five years later, on 9-Nov-48, seven men who had served in World War II staked out claims on the Knoydart property, saying it was their right to stake out crofts on land that was being purposely left to go to waste. In the ensuing months, the 7 men gained the support of the populace, mostly due to the pro-Nazi philosophies of the then Knoydart laird, but a Court ruling eventually forcibly evicted the men.
1976 -- Crofters are legally allowed, for the first time, to purchase their own croft farms.
1993 -- The 130 tenant residents of Assynt raise £130,000 and, with the assistance of various grants and loans, buy their 21,000 acre homeland when it goes up for sale by the landowner. The Assynt Crofters Trust Ltd is established to oversee the land, instead of the traditional laird. A spokesman for the Trust states: "On the 1st February 1993 we became the first crofting communities to take complete control of our land. Our success means that we have put an end to the stranglehold of absentee landlords on the Crofting communities of North Assynt and set in motion an irresistible change in the land tenure system throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.".
1994 -- Mr. Sandy Lindsay, a resident of Inverness and a former SNP councillor, initiates a movement to have the 27-foot red sandstone statue of the Duke of Sutherland that sits atop Ben Bhraggie in the Golspie area, destroyed or removed.
Lindsay considers the statue offensive to the descendants of the tenants that the Duke removed from his lands. Lindsay gathers worldwide support and a petition is presented to the Highland Council's Sutherland Area Committee in May of 1996. The Council rejects the petition, but agrees to construct a series of information plaques describing the Clearances in the Ben Bhraggie/Golspie area.
1996 -- The Pictou Waterfront Development Corporation begins an effort to construct a replica of Hector, an emigration ship that brought 200+ passengers to Canada from Ross-shire.
1996 -- According to Auslan Cramb's Who Owns Scotland?, the top twenty landowners of Scottish lands are:
The Forestry Commission = 1,600,000 acres
Duke of Buccleuch/Lord Dalkeith: 4 estates in the Borders = 270,000 acres
Scottish Office Agriculture Dept: 90% crofting land = 260,000 acres
National Trust for Scotland: (including the 75,000-acre Mar Lodge) = 190,000 acres
Alcan Highland Estates: land used for electricity generation = 135,000 acres
Duke of Atholl, Sarah Troughton: Estates around Dunkeld/Blair Atholl = 130,000 acres
Capt. Alwyn Farquharson: Invercauld on Deeside & smaller estate, Argyll = 125,000 acres
Duchess of Westminster, Lady Mary Grosvenor: = 120,000 acres
Earl of Seafield: Seafield estates, Speyside = 105,000 acres
Crown Estates Commission: 3 main estates, including Glenlivert = 100,000 acres
Andras Ltd, Malaysia: Glenavon, Cairngorms/Brauen, Inverness = 70,000 acres
Mohammed bin Raschid al Maktoum: = 63,000 acres
Kjeld Kirk-Christiansen, head of Lego, Denmark: Strathconon, Mid Ross = 50,000 acres
Profs Joseph and Lisbet Koerner, Swedish Tetra Pak heiress: Corrour, Caithness = 48,000 acres Stanton Avery, USA: Dunbeath, Caithness = 30,000 acres
Mohamed Al Fayed: Balnagowan, Ross and Cromarty = 30,000 acres
Urs Schwarzenberg, Switzerland: Ben Alder, Inverness-shire = 26,000 acres
Count Knuth, Denmark: Ben Loyal, Sutherland = 20,000 acres
His Excellency Mahdi Muhammad al-Tajir, UAE: Blackford, Perthshire = 20,000 acres
Prof. Ian Roderick Macneil of Barra, USA: Barra and islands = 17,200 acres
Today throughout Scotland, just 4,000 people own 80% of private land. This figure would represent 0.08% of the resident population were it not that many are absentee landlords ‑ English aristocrats, Arabian oil sheiks, Swiss bankers, South African industrialists, racing car drivers, pop stars, arms dealers and others not noted for their socio‑ecological awareness. They include entertainers such as Terry Wogan and Steve Davis; pension funds such as Rolls Royce, the Post Office, Prudential Insurance and the Midland Bank; overseas interests like Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum of Dubai, Mrs Dorte Aamann‑Christensen, the Jensen Foundation and the Horsens Folkeblad Foundation from Denmark, and Paul van Vlissingen of the Netherlands. A 1976 study concluded that some thirty‑five families or companies possess one third of the Highland's 7.39 million acres of privately owned land.
During the Thatcher dominated 1980's, land prices spiralled as more and more people, whose personal lifestyles and corporate activities had destroyed their own countryside, wanted to buy into Scotland. Communities seemed powerless as to who controlled them and what happened to the ecology. The current turning point was perhaps most marked in 1985 by the formation of the Scottish Crofters Union. This, along with a cultural renaissance which started to see many young people recovering their history, music, language and poetry, as well as recognition of the growing social and ecological bankruptcy of mainstream Western life, has lead to fresh awareness of the potential to organise in mutual solidarity, drawing on old roots of community and place.
In 1991 a crofter from Scoraig in the West Highlands, Tom Forsyth, established a charitable trust with the seemingly grand objective of bringing ownership of the Isle of Eigg under community control. With co‑Trustees Lis Lyon, Bob Harris and Alastair McIntosh, the Trust received an unprecedented 73% vote of confidence in the community ownership proposals. (Previous communities, like that on the Isle of Rassay, had lacked confidence to push for self‑determination.) The Eigg islanders had resented the showmanship, control and paternalism of the existing landlord, Keith Schellenberg, "Scotland's best known English laird," who once boasted that "Somehow it seemed more important to beat the Germans at Silverstone than to deal with a little Scottish island. The race put it all in perspective." Islanders feared getting an even worse replacement, like the previous laird, who had made life "like living under enemy occupation."
The Eigg Trust failed in its 1992 bid to raise sufficient funds to secure purchase, not least because Schellenberg undermined the effort by saying he would not sell into community control. One could imagine how popular he might have been with his landowning friends had he set such a collaborative precedent. But what the Trust did demonstrate, and this was to be important in subsequent events elsewhere, was that the market for what he had called a "collector item" estate could be spoiled by the glare of publicity. As one news report of Eigg put it, "a private buyer is not exactly going to get a welcoming party." This effect was confirmed when one of the Trustees phoned up Savills, the top people's estate agents, and asked about the dangers of the Eigg Trust to the Scottish land market. One Jamie Burges‑Lumsden replied:
"This kind of thing could be done without ‑ it causes buyers to be suspicious ... because a buyer wants to be assured of having maximum control. Activity like this sets up a niggle in the back of the mind because future control could be compromised. Mar Lodge is a case in point. It worries private buyers and therefore could lower the price."
The final outcome was that the island, previously valued at around two million pounds, attracted a best offer said to be only around a quarter of a million. Accordingly, Schellenberg bought out his divorced wife's share and took it back off the market. The region's West Highland Free Press of 3rd July 1992 ran the banner headline, "Paradise Lost: Eigg back in the hands of Emperor Schellenberg: Bitter blow to trust community stewardship dream."
The day before the sale closing date, one of BBC Radio Scotland's most respected reporters, Lesley Riddoch, had arranged interviews with a number of islanders as part of an hour long phone‑in debate to be staged between Schellenberg and McIntosh of the Eigg Trust. When the shock news came through that Shellenberg had restored his lairdship, all but one islander refused to be interviewed for fear of victimisation. Minds, for a while at least, had been re‑enclosed.
But by now consciousness of the land rights issue was in high media profile. The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday carried full page profiles of Schellenberg, and the London media ran features on who owned what, where, and why the natives were getting restless. However, of greater lasting significance were the two subsidiary front page stories in the West Highland Free Press on the day it ran the "Emperor Schellenberg" story. One proclaimed, "Landed gentry rocked by Land Court judgement." It told how the Court of Session had just ruled against Lord Whitbread, and overturned the presumption that the 1976 Act implied that crofters had to pay 50% of development value back to the laird in the event of exercising their buyout rights at 15 times the annual rent. The second headline announced that the Assynt crofters in Sutherland had formed a holding organisation. They were to launch an attempt to bring under community ownership their 21,000 acre North Lochinver Estate, formerly held by the meat baron and notorious income tax avoider, Lord Edmund Hoyle Vesty.
In powerful speeches, some of which were TV broadcast around the world, the Assynt Crofters Trust chairman, Allan MacRae, drew parallels with the crofters' claim for land restitution and that of Africans, native Americans and Aboriginals. Significantly, and probably for the first time in modern history, he claimed the phrase "native people" for the Highlanders with pride:
"I think for those of us native to Assynt particularly, we are very conscious that the land we stand on is in a sense the last stronghold of the native people....these lands really are the remnants of what the natives once possessed."
This was a process of global awareness, and the crofters were not about to be left out! Andy Wightman of Reforesting Scotland, visiting Finland at the time, found the Sami better informed and more excited by what was happening than were most lowland Scots. Because the Assynt crofters wanted rather more than they were entitled to for 15 times their rents, they went on to raise 300,000 pounds from all over the world. By December 1992, unable to attract the better offers hoped for prior to such market spoiling, the creditors of a bankrupt Swedish investment company (who had acquired the property off Vesty for speculation) sold out to the community. Apart from the rather special and long established case of the Stornoway Trust, this was the first ever large scale crofter instigated reversal of enclosure in Scotland: "even if we did have to buy back what was rightfully ours!"
According to Isabel MacPhail, one of the Assynt crofters, the failed Eigg venture had contributed some of the inspiration. It had "... raised again the issue of community ownership at a time when even the foremost proponents of the concept were in despair at the total lack of any progress." In the December 1993 issue of The Crofter, MacPhail (who is completing her PhD on land issues and feminism) tabled a progress report, confirming how minds as well as land had been liberated from enclosure:
"Really, it is a bit like the end of colonial rule ‑ gradually our imaginations are unchained. The rest takes a bit longer.... For me (it) has been a revelation. For the whole of my life people have been explaining Vesty's 'badness' to me: blocking development; taking the mobile shop off the road (folk wanted to boycott his shops then, but where do you boycott to?); concentrating economic activity in his own hands ... and so on. And in all that time we never realised that if you point a TV camera at him, or give him a few column inches ... he'll do the job (of exposing injustice) much better himself."
The Green Party has reintroduced the Henry George concept of Land Value Taxation into its manifesto, which is probably the best mechanism by which commoditised land values could be slashed to levels where large estates would break up and ordinary communities, including those out with crofting tenure, could buy back their own places. One might question, of course, why communities should have to pay anything to recover that to which there is no good title in any moral sense. The least that can be said in present circumstances, however, is that it is encouraging that far from trying to block the "Whitbread loophole," Government, through its agencies, has so far been supportive of crofter empowerment activities. A new era is emerging where, perhaps consistent with "efficient" property rights, land reform is beginning to get the attention it deserves. As Professor Bryan MacGregor of the Rural Economy Department of Aberdeen University said recently:
"The present structure of tenure in rural Scotland is the interaction of complex historical and economic forces overlaid with government intervention on a large scale and influenced by the varying power of the different interest groups over time. There is no reason to assume that it is best for contemporary society or even that it is able to deliver desired policy objectives. Indeed, many of the residual aspects of feudalism might suggest urgent change is required."
A second community buyout has now been effected by the crofters of Borve and Anniesdale on Skye. Others are being considered. At the time of this paper being completed, the indigenous islanders of Eigg have just published an unprecedented open letter attacking their laird for slandering incoming settlers (mainly English and lowland Scots) as being detrimental to island life and stating that, "If the nature of the island has changed it could be said to have something to do with the fact that all of the local men working for the estate during Mr Schellenberg's first years of ownership have left, taking their indigenous way of life with them." As the said laird prepares to hire a medieval village in Slovakia to host his team on a frozen lake for the new international game of "ice cricket" which he has invented, the unwitting inhabitants of eastern Europe can perhaps look forward to the idiosyncratic attentions of the displaced rich as Schellenberg sets the trend by announcing that he is to withdraw from Eigg because, "I'm a bit of a liability."
1996 -- Michael Foljambe, the landlord of the Melness Estate on the Kyle of Tongue, arranges for the free transfer of his lands to the resident crofters. The crofters set up Melness Crofters Estate Ltd. to govern their lands.
1997 (March) -- The 31-Mar-97 edition of The Scotsman reports: "The tenth Earl of Airlie, a former Lord Chamberlain to the Queen and brother of Sir Angus Ogilvy, has started an action to evict Norman Ogg, 58, a farmer, from his 125 acre farm on the 40,000 acre Airlie estate. "Nearby, in a separate action, Captain Alwyne Farquharson, chief of the Clan Farquharson and 16th baron of Invercauld, is trying to evict Jean Lindsay and her son, Sandy, from the 2,500 acre hill farm she has farmed for 26 years in Glenshee. "Capt Farquharson wants to extend the area available for grouse habitat -- and at Kinwhirrie farm, near Cortachy, Lord Airlie wants to improve the pheasant shooting."
1997 The residents of the Isle of Eigg raise over $2.4 million to buy their island from the landowner. Former laird Keith Schellenberg, who sold Eigg several years earlier, had called the island residents "drunken, ungrateful, dangerous and barmy chancers" and threatened them with eviction.
1997 (November) -- Klaus Helmersen, the Danish clothing manufacturing millionaire purchased the 42,000-acre Glenfeshie estate as a deer hunting estate, despite a campaign to make it public lands. A spokesman for Mr. Helmersen told The Scotsman: "We will not close it to people... we certainly do not want to stop ramblers or anyone else from coming on to the estate. We have public access laws in Denmark and are well used to allowing people into all forests."
1997 -- Scottish Industry Minister Brian Wilson outlines his Iomairt air an Oir (Initiative at the Edge) plan, to address issues such as depopulation in outlying areas of Scotland. The plan will involve Government agencies like the Crofters' Commission, Scottish Homes, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and local authorities.
"Unless a difference is made in the next five to ten years, there are going to be more dead communities in the Highlands and Islands," Mr. Wilson told The Stornoway Gazette.
1997 -- The Scotsman reported that the owners of the Highland Spring mineral water bottling company are allowing the houses on their 3,000-acre Blackford estate in Perthshire "to crumble as they fall vacant."
Scottish National Party MP Roseanna Cunningham said "...the owners appear to be pursuing a policy of deliberately allowing perfectly serviceable properties to fall into disrepair rather than providing much needed rural housing."
1997 (November) -- The first new crofting community in more than 50 years is to be set up at the Orbost Estate on Skye. The Estate was recently purchased by the publicly-owned Skye and Lochalsh Enterprise, which plans to build about a dozen croft houses and farms.
1998 (March 13) -- A conference entitled The Western Isles: an Economy in Crisis meets to discuss the economic problems facing the Islands. Mr. Angus Graham, the vice-convener of the Western Isles Council told the newspaper the Electronic Herald that "...every day you hear stories from parents who are worried their young folk can't get work and will have to leave.
"Over the past four or five years we have been faced with a steady decline in some of our basic industries, industries that provided some kind of economic stability in the past: Harris tweed; fishing; fish-farming; the ability of the council to create employment through capital projects. We have seen our initial capital & consents progressively reduced: the current figure is 44.5% less than it was five years ago, and next year we expect it to be just about 50% less - an appalling reduction. The fish farming industry which was such a hope in the 1980s has rationalised to such a degree that the employment is almost half of what it was in 1987-88."
1998 (late April) -- the Scottish Landowners' Federation suggests that it is time to apologise for the Highland clearances.
1998 (April) -- From The Scotsman: The 6th Earl of Granville, the Queen's godson and a man whose favourite pastimes include scuba diving for scallops, is invoking an archaic law, "foreshore entitlement", which allows him to levy royalties on kelp harvested from his 60,000-acre estate in the Outer Hebrides.
While he sits in his elegant seven-bedroom mansion in Callernish accumulating royalty cheques, around 40 crofters on North Uist eke out a meagre living using sickles to hack tonnes of the crop from rocks jutting out of freezing Atlantic waters.
After labouring in the bitter cold for as long as eight hours a day, the cutters are likely to earn just £15.20 per tonne. On a good day they may receive £45 for the seaweed harvest, which is shipped to the mainland and turned into a thickening agent for toothpaste, ketchup and jam.
The 38-year-old Earl, Fergus Leveson Gower, is entitled to a percentage of the value of the seaweed crop simply because it is washed up on his piece of shore.
Earl Granville has done his best to defend the seaweed royalties, amounting to around £800 a year, saying the money was paid by the alginate company Kelco-NutraSweet and did not affect the price paid to cutters. However, the crofters say the Earl's argument is disingenuous. They argue the tax is passed on to them in the form of reduced rates for their crop.
1998 (May) -- From The Scotsman: The manager of the troubled Knoydart Estate has been sacked by his new landlords after he raised concerns over their takeover. Ian Robertson learned of the decision, which takes immediate effect, in a letter from John Turville, the recently-appointed managing director of Knoydart Peninsula Ltd (KPL), the company which owns the 17,000-acre estate. He has been told his actions amount to gross misconduct and ordered to clear his possessions from the estate-owned Farm Bothy at Inverie and vacate the house by 1 June.
1998 (September) -- The Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar, announced that he wanted communities to have the right to buy the land where they lived; but said that the Government could not financially support each land purchase by local tenants.
Dewar suggested that legislation should be put into place that would give local people a pre-emptive right to purchase their land before an outsider has the opportunity to do so, and also should stop sales until an outside bid could be matched locally.
"We want to abolish the situation where people can wake up one morning and...discover someone or other, of whom they know not, is their new owner having had no discussion with him, know nothing about him and, in some cases, finding themselves at the mercy of someone with rather eccentric views."
1998 (September) -- From The Scotsman: Tony Blair is to announce plans to create a fund worth up to £150 million which could be used by local communities and conservationists to buy Highland estates such as Knoydart.
The measure follows long-standing controversies in Scotland over attempts by local communities and pressure groups to buy Highland estates of outstanding natural heritage or community value, like Glen Feshie in the Cairngorms, Knoydart or the Isle of Eigg.
1999 (January) -- From The Stornoway Gazette 7-Jan-99
Land reform proposals by the Government would give all crofting communities a right to acquire their land at any time.....and there would be a new power of compulsory purchase to suit public interest. The proposals - which the Government described as 'the most far-reaching reform ever of Scotland's system of land ownership' - were unveiled by Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar.
Announcing the final recommendations of the Government's Land Reform Policy Group, Mr Dewar said, "Land reform, for so long an issue out of the spotlight, has now moved firmly centre stage. There is a consensus across Scotland that legislation to break down centuries-old barriers to land reform should be one of the first acts of the Scottish Parliament."
Mr Dewar went on, "The twin themes of public accountability and community involvement form the basis of the proposed legislation. These proposals reflect this Government's commitment to modernising Scotland, and put people at the heart of land reform."
Mr Dewar went on, "We also propose reform on crofting: to give all crofting communities a right to acquire their land at any time, remove barriers to the creation of new crofts, allow for the possibility of extending crofting tenure to new areas within the Highlands and Islands, and simplify the regulatory burden of crofting legislation."
1999 (February) --BBC Scotland Television presents, in Gaelic with English subtitles, Na h-Eilthirich (The Emigrants) an 8-part series that is "a controversial reassessment of the history of emigration from the Highlands and Islands over the past two centuries." The series attempts to show all facets of the emigration: from the Clearances to those Scots who left voluntarily and planned "theirdepartures down to the smallest detail."
1999 (March) - with assistance ranging from the John Muir Trust to theater impresario Cameron Mackintosh, locals of the 17,000+ acre Knoydart Estate purchase their lands. The newly-founded Knoydart Foundation pledges to "procure and manage for the benefit of the public the Knoydart Estate as an area of employment and settlement on the Knoydart Peninsula."
1999 (May - July) - the Scottish Parliament takes power and immediately addresses land reform, land ownership, and rural affairs issues.
2000 (March) - John MacLeod, the 29th MacLeod clan chief, puts the Black Cuillin mountains on Skye up for sale for £10 million. Local residents protest, sparking a debate about who actually owns the land and their rights to sell it.
After centuries of fight, debate and protest surrounding clearances, land rights and land reform, with the new parliament being resumed back in Scotland after nearly 300 years the issue finally became debate within a parliament building. Although the new Scottish Parliament has only limited powers it opened a debate on the Clearances, the proceedings of the parliamentary debate can be seen below.
Proceedings of the Scottish Parliament on 27 September 2000
A Debate on the Highland Clearances
The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S1M-1004, in the name of Jamie Stone, on the Highland clearances. I make my now familiar appeal to members who are leaving to do so quickly and quietly, so that we can proceed with the debate.
Motion debated : That the Parliament expresses its deepest regret for the occurrence of the Highland Clearances and extends its hand in friendship and welcome to the descendants of the cleared people who reside outwith our shores.
Mr Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): I begin by saying two things. First, from the bottom of my heart I thank the members from all four big parties who have been good enough to support this motion. Secondly, I extend on behalf of the Parliament a very warm welcome to our visitors from the Highlands, who are sitting in the galleries.
The Highland clearances were a catastrophic time for the Highlands. Whatever one may think about the reasons for the clearances at lunch time today Mr Michael Fry and I had an energetic and interesting discussion of those on the BBC and there is no doubt that they happened and that they led to the destruction of the Highlands that Boswell and Johnson saw in their celebrated tour of the Hebrides. At the time of their visit to the north, that process was already in hand, but the clearances were responsible for its completion.
I want first to look back and then to look forward. In looking back, I will make two points. The first is that in the Highlands the clearances are still with us. The memory of them is handed down from generation to generation. I will illustrate that with a short story. Five years ago, some of us, including people in the public gallery, had reason to attend the memorial service at Croick church in Sutherland, which was held to commemorate the clearance of Glencalvie in 1845. Many members will be familiar with the story of how the Munros and Rosses were cleared out of the strath and took shelter under a tarpaulin in the churchyard. They were not allowed into the church; there lies another story. It was due to our great press and to The Times -- "The Thunderer", no less -- that the lid was taken off this story. The newspaper sent a reporter to the area alas, we do not know who he was, although we have some suspicions--who covered the story and, thanks to the then editor, put it on the front page. That shamed the whole terrible process to a halt.
I wrote a column in the local newspaper about the memorial service and about what had happened. I speculated about what might have happened to the people who ultimately left the churchyard. In the books of the time and in modern history books, it is reported that a family by the name of Ross took shelter on a black moor some 25 miles away, up behind Tain. Two or three days after I wrote the column, I was walking in Tain when a gentleman came up to me--I wish I had asked his name, but I was too astonished to do so -- and said, "That was my family; that was my great-great-great-grandfather." Memory of that incident is still with one family today. That is one reason why the topic of the clearances is still with us and is still so important in the Highlands.
My second point is that the picture of the clearances is not as clear as some historians would like to paint it. It was not just the great families -- or, to be accurate, some of the great families -- who were responsible for the clearances. Indeed, my family was involved.
I had occasion some years ago to look back into the title deeds of a small farm of which my family has the remains today. My ancestor was a Fraser from Cromarty, who very likely cleared in the Black Isle. He came to Tain in the 1820s and made good -- it will not surprise some members -- with a drink shop.
Mrs Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD): Not a cheese shop?
Mr Stone: No, a drink shop.
He took it upon himself to buy some small parcels of land around the burgh. If we go back in the deeds, we can see that those were small crofts in their day. If we study the history of Easter Ross, round about Kilmuir Easter and Logie Easter, we will see that almost everyone was at it. That is why the situation is not as simple as we might think.
On a lighter note, I point out that Lord James Douglas-Hamilton's ancestor, the fifth Earl of Selkirk --although vilified in some of the books of the time -- was a very good man indeed, who almost bankrupted himself trying to take the cleared from Sutherland to Canada. In 1820, having lost his fortune in that enterprise, he died of consumption owing to his labours. He even bothered to learn Gaelic on the boat over. It is worth remembering that the enterprise failed because the fur trade made it its business to see that it did not work and that the settlers would not prosper. What is interesting about that episode is that the ringleaders of the fur traders were two Highlanders by the name of McGilvery. Again and again, we have Highlander against Highlander in this whole episode.
It is for that reason that, in my former existence as a councillor, I always strenuously resisted any talk of demolishing the Duke of Sutherland's statue.
Mrs Margaret Ewing (Moray) (SNP): I am not sure about that.
Mr Stone: The member may boo, but it is an unwise society that destroys its history. Let us remember that it was Nazi Germany that burned books. It is correct that the duke should be there, to remind us of what happened.
I will speak briefly about the future. Mr Dennis MacLeod, who is with us today, was born and bred in Helmsdale but went abroad and made his fortune in gold. He has an extremely imaginative project in hand to establish a clearances memorial and centre at Helmsdale in Sutherland, not just to commemorate what happened, but to act as a genealogical archive and an information centre. It strikes me that, out of the wickedness of the Highlands of those years and the wickedness that affected and was caused by all classes of Highland society so that some great good could come.
The motion says that we extend the hand of friendship to the descendants of Highlanders across the world. It strikes me that, if we established the centre and those descendants could come back to the Highlands to research their roots -- we know that our American friends are very keen on that and that would be of enormous good to the Highlands.
Why not take those people up to Helmsdale? If they discover that their ancestors came from Ayrshire, let them go back down the road. In the meantime, let us get them north to see John O'Groats and to boost the economy of Caithness and Sutherland. I make no apologies -- the scheme is an imaginative one. Out of wickedness in the past, great good can come.
It has been put to me repeatedly by the press today that I am in charge of some sort of apology. The motion reads that "the Parliament expresses its deepest regret for the occurrence of the Highland Clearances and extends its hand in friendship and welcome to the descendants of the cleared people who reside out with our shores."
To try to bring back everybody is a very noble idea. Surely every child in this country learns about the clearances. We do not apologise -- we were not responsible. However, in our heart of hearts surely every one of us deeply and sincerely regrets that black era in British history.
I close with words -- written with a diamond ring in the window of Glencalvie kirk -- that many will know and recognise and which can be seen today: "Glencalvie people was in the church here May 24, 1845" -- and this is the saddest thing of al -- "Glencalvie people the wicked generation . . . John Ross shepherd . . . Glencalvie people was here . . . Amy Ross . . . Glencalvie is a wilderness blow ship them to the colony . . . The Glencalvie Rosses".
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Patricia Ferguson): Understandably, a large number of members have indicated that they wish to speak in the debate. It will not be possible to call them all. I ask those who are called to keep their contributions brief, so that we can accommodate as many members as possible.
Fergus Ewing (Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber) (SNP): I start by congratulating Jamie Stone on lodging this motion. This has been a joint party effort. The text of the motion invites Parliament to express our "deepest regret for the occurrence of the Highland Clearances".
I know that there will be no vote, but I hope that at the end of this short debate the minister will say that he personally joins in the spirit of the motion.
Why should this be done? In other countries, the genocide and ethnic cleansing that has taken place, against the Indians in America and the Aborigines in Australia, was acknowledged long ago. Today, the time to acknowledge what happened to those who were cleared from the Highlands has come. We can now acknowledge and regret what happened and perhaps then move on.
The motion also asks us to extend our "hand in friendship and welcome to the descendants of the cleared people who reside out with our shores."
Although the descendants of cleared people in Scotland today may number only tens of hundreds, the Highland diasporat extends to tens of millions. With Margaret Ewing, I visited Ellis island, off New York, which commemorates the melting pot of America and where the citizens came from -- the countries that they left.
What a terrific idea Mr MacLeod has, with others, to show the country that people left and how they got to Canada, Australia and America. The centre will show the experiences that they had on the way and the hardships, suffering and atrocity that they endured, such as show trials and hangings. I join Jamie Stone in hoping that the Executive will support -- in all ways -- the fruition of that project.
As Jamie Stone mentioned the future, I will mention the present. We had one of the most interesting times for reflection today, when George Thompson reminded us of the dangers of exaggerating what we may see as the wrongs and ills of today in comparison with acts of genocide, war and suffering on a much larger scale. Although I would therefore not use the phrase "new clearances", I am concerned that voluntary bodies and Government agencies in the Highlands have too much power over the lives of those who live there. I hope that we can deal with the abuse of that power as well as commemorate the wrongs of the past.
Mr Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): I start by commenting on Jamie Stone's reference to the Earl of Selkirk and the Selkirk settlers. The Red River settlement founded Winnipeg, which is today larger than Edinburgh.
I am delighted to support Jamie Stone in this debate. The Highland clearances were a matter of great regret to the people of Scotland. We must never forget the suffering caused to so many innocents. We must learn from history. In the latter half of the 18th century, there was an enormous population explosion, which reached its peak in the 1830s. It was caused mainly by the virtual eradication of smallpox through injection and the introduction of potatoes, which grew easily in poor soil and provided a basic diet.
A social revolution was created in the Highlands and Islands by Government legislation that ended heritable jurisdiction. Formerly, the Scottish kings, without a standing army, had found it necessary to delegate authority to subjects who in return were granted large areas of land. Consequently, the power of a chief lay in the number of men whom he could call to arms. The Heritable Jurisdictions (Scotland) Act 1746 ended that prerogative and landlords, as real money replaced barter, began to make their land commercial through improvement and charging higher rent. The old system of township farming, in which rent was paid mostly in kind, became increasingly uneconomic. Ever-expanding families tried to scrape a living from the land, but they failed. The little island of Inch Kenneth, off Mull, was ploughed from shore to shore, but still there was not enough food to keep the inhabitants alive.
The problem was exacerbated when the Highland regiments raised to fight in Europe were disbanded and all the men came home. The Government tried to help by giving grants towards employment. Many dry-stone dykes remain as evidence of that work. The failure in 1820 of the kelp industry, in which seaweed was burned to make fertiliser, was another blow to the Highland economy. Worst of all, in the 1840s the potato crop failed.
John Ramsay at Kildalton in Islay, where people were on the verge of starvation, paid for a steamer to take some of them to Canada. Later, when he went to visit them, he found them in a prosperous condition. At the time, there was no form of national assistance other than parish relief.
There was a huge difference, which still exists, between the native Gael culture and its English equivalent. I quote John Robertson, a southern journalist, who wrote in Glasgow's The National: "A Highlander's soul lives in the clan and family traditions of the past. The legends of the Ingle, the songs of the Bards. The master idea of the English mind, the idea of business, has not dawned on his soul, has not developed its peculiar virtues in his character. He is loyal, but not punctual, honest but not systematic. The iron genius of economical improvements he knows not and he heeds not."
Those are wonderful virtues, which still exist in the Highlands and Islands and which Scotland would lose at its peril. I urge the Scottish Executive to promote and protect the Highland culture and to prevent another Highland clearance by aiding the inhabitants, who now face tremendous difficulties in a UK, which, we are told, is prosperous.
Many people emigrated of their own accord. Flora MacDonald, saviour of Bonnie Prince Charlie, is a case in point. Some landlords forced whole communities to go. The poor Rosses of Strathcarron at Easter Ross were bloodily evicted, and Strathnaver and the lands of the Countess of Sutherland were cleared by her husband, the notorious Marquess of Stafford. He, incidentally, has one thing in common with Jamie Stone, in that he too was a Liberal MP for Caithness and Sutherland. His two agents -- James Loch, another Liberal MP, and Patrick Sellar -- cruelly and savagely carried out evictions. When confronted by an old lady of 90 who refused to leave her dwelling, Patrick Sellar is reputed to have said, "Burn it down, the old witch has lived too long."
It is worth noting that the so-called progressive policy of the liberal Whig party in those days actively encouraged the clearances, while Conservatives at the time were fighting to keep people in the glens to preserve the rural population and to maintain a source of remarkable foot soldiers who had always served the British Army with extraordinary valour.
While we are rightly horrified by the clearances, and while honouring the courage of the men and women who opposed them -- such as the Skye people in the battle of the braes -- we must pay tribute to the enterprise and initiative of those who emigrated of their own free will and improved the lot of their families. They have since strengthened Scotland's links overseas to the benefit of us all.
It is in that positive spirit that we should encourage a visitor centre in the Highlands, which will welcome people to renew contacts with their ancestors' homeland. I support Mr MacLeod and wish his venture every success.
Lewis Macdonald (Aberdeen Central) (Lab): When I was a child, my grandmother told me a story -- a tale of Highland battle, of sticks and stones and broken bones -- which ended with the complete removal of the crofting population from the township of Sollas on North Uist. My grandmother told that story with such passion and in such detail that it was as if she had been there herself. In fact, it was a story that had been passed on to her by her grandmother, a witness and a participant who was also a seannachie -- a folk historian -- whose job it was to witness and to keep in memory the experiences of her extended family and her community.
The day of the clearance of Sollas in 1849 was the end of that community, but it is remembered in our family as a day of pride as well as a day of anguish. Yes, it was the day on which we lost the land, but it was also the day that the fightback began. The fightback continued. In my teens, I heard another story, from the early days of the Labour and trade union movement in the city of Aberdeen. I heard how Aberdeen Trades Council organised a trainful of townspeople to support the landless cottars and squatters facing eviction from the slopes of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire, which they had brought into agricultural production after being cleared from land elsewhere and over which the owners of the neighbouring estate saw fit to exercise their legal rights to possess and to divide the land among themselves.
On Bennachie in the 1890s, as in Sollas in the 1840s, the people resisted and the landlords won. However, those acts of resistance and the solidarity of working people in town and country helped to change the course of history. It is a tradition of resistance and solidarity of which I, for one, am proud.
The laird who cleared Sollas was not a Sassenach or a stranger or a foreigner; he was a man with the title of Lord Macdonald. As a descendant of his victims, I do not want an apology from this Parliament. I do not even want an apology from the current Lord Macdonald. Instead, I want this Parliament to build on the resistance and achievements of the past 150 years to deliver the far-reaching land reform that will secure the future of our crofting communities, to deliver a secure future also for the Gaelic language and culture as part of the heritage of the whole of Scotland, and to deliver social justice and economic opportunity, which are the shared ideals of Uist land leaguers and Aberdeen trade unionists alike.
Mrs Margaret Ewing: I have a brief point -- I am listening carefully to what Lewis Macdonald and others have said. Does he accept that in the teaching of the Highland clearances we must separate romanticism from reality? Is not a responsibility placed on this Parliament to ensure that all the children of Scotland are aware of exactly what happened?
Lewis Macdonald: I support that point. As technically I have given way, I technically have the opportunity to make a further point. It is important that we educate people about their history, but it is also important to recognise that, although many of the descendants of those who were cleared from the Highlands went overseas, many more remained here. Therefore, the responsibility to the descendants of the cleared is not confined to those who are overseas, important though that is. This is also a matter of integrating the cultural tradition of rural and urban Scotland.
Mr John Munro (Ross, Skye and Inverness West) (LD): When I hear Jamie McGrigor talking about Strath Halladale and the duke and Patrick Sellar it puts a cold shiver up my spine because of the atrocities that were perpetrated there.
I welcome this debate. It gives us an opportunity to look back on our history, but I am not sure that this Parliament should express regret for the clearances. After all, these events were terrible atrocities that were perpetrated on a vulnerable, fragile and defenceless community, and were controlled from another distant place. I suggest that our clergy and state church of the time were as guilty as anybody of encouraging the scourge of the clearances. Through their pious pronouncements from their pulpits they declared regularly that this was God's will for His devoted people, and as good and decent Christians they should accept His command and leave their shielings and holdings. But for the benefit of what? The great white sheep that were being introduced to the Highlands. They were considered to be more profitable than the indigenous population, and probably easier to manage and control.
As we have heard, these events took place 150 years ago, but attitudes have not changed. Since then, we have had a much more sophisticated type of clearance. We have seen the steady decline of employment opportunities in our major industries. I think in particular of the decline in our coal mining, our steel industries and our shipbuilding. We have seen the decline of our car manufacturing at Linwood, the decline of British Motor Corporation at Bathgate, the aluminium smelter at Invergordon in the Highlands and the Fort William pulp mill. I will not mention Barmac, where 4,000 people were employed some months ago. These companies were all major employers in their day. Where and when will we reverse this decline, and ensure that people are able to exist in their own country in secure, affordable homes, andÝwith gainful employment?
In the Highlands at present we are suffering from a more modern malaise. While the clearances removed the people from the land, the new concept removes the land from the people. I refer to the green, creeping sward crawling over every glen and strath in the Highlands, which masquerades under the fancy title of afforestation. That means planting vast areas with foreign tree species of doubtful quality and little commercial value. All of that takes the land away from the people.
In supporting Mr Stone's motion and the sentiments expressed in it, I want to ensure that, when we extend the hand of friendship to our exiled ancestors, they can return to a nation and a people of whom they can be justly proud.
Michael Russell (South of Scotland) (SNP): Among the people whom we should welcome to the chamber today I see the figure of Michael Fry -- it is hard to miss the figure of Michael Fry -- the founder of the clearance-denial school of journalism. I hope that he is listening to the unanimity that is being expressed in this debate as members of all parties describe what happened in Scotland and try to find a way forward.
Mr Brian Monteith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): Will the member give way? I would like to defend Mr Fry.
Michael Russell: I know that Mr Monteith is a dining companion of Mr Fry and I hope that they enjoy their pan-fried duck, but I will not accept an intervention today.
In every nation, there are moments of catharsis. Fergus Ewing has referred to the plains Indians in the USA and the Aborigines in Australia. In almost every nation, there is a moment of huge significance that changes that country for ever -- the Irish famines of the 1840s are an example of such an event. Those events do more than change the course of history; they change the landscape and the ways in which people relate to each other. They are a full stop in the history of a nation, after which something different follows on.
Nobody can travel through Scotland today without seeing some evidence of the clearances. In the Highlands, there is physical evidence in the form of deserted towns and villages. In the south of Scotland, there are signs too. In Bute, which Mr Lyon represents, there is Canada hill, a place so named because people would climb to the top of the hill to get a last glimpse of their emigrating relatives leaving Scotland -- their last glimpse for ever.
In this city and elsewhere in the south, we can see evidence of the clearances in the Gaelic churches that were founded and in the major industries that were established with the help of labour that came from the north of Scotland. The country was changed -- and changed utterly -- by the experiences of the clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries.
How does Scotland reconcile itself to an event that massive? We have two choices. Jamie Stone has referred to one, which is to blow up the statue of the Duke of Sutherland and to say that the clearances were so terrible that we should blame the victimisers for ever. Indeed, my good friend Dennis MacLeod, who is sitting in the distinguished visitors gallery, told me that he wanted to do that when he was a young man growing up in Caithness.
The other reaction -- into which Dennis MacLeod and many others have grown -- is to reconcile ourselves to our past and learn to understand it. We should consider the benefits of that period, because there were benefits. There are people all over the world who are descended from emigrants who did well and prospered. Nobody thinks that the clearances were a good thing -- I am not practising clearance denial, and I believe that the clearances were an awful event -- but if we can reconcile ourselves to the past, we will learn from it.
That is why the innovation of Dennis MacLeod is significant. As Jamie Stone said, the centre will be a place where we can go and reconcile ourselves to the clearances and where those from the diaspora can go and learn about what happened to their ancestors. I hope that people will not only learn about the clearances in the centre, but will come away with a feeling that that period is over and done with and will pledge, as we should all pledge, not to forget the clearances but to look after, cherish and develop the country that John Munro was talking about, highland and lowland, and make sure that it is worth living in.
The Deputy Presiding Officer: Before calling the minister to wind up the debate, I apologise to those members whom we have been unable to call this evening.
The Deputy Minister for Highlands and Islands and Gaelic (Mr Alasdair Morrison): I congratulate Jamie Stone for securing this debate, and all members who have participated in it.
Among the enduring legacies of the Highland clearances, as the motion rightly reminds us, is the enormous Highland diaspora that extends around the world. From the perspective of today's we can to people of Highland descent, wherever they are. It is important that we respond enthusiastically to the warm feelings that those people often have for the Highlands and for Scotland more generally. Scotland, that diaspora is a valuable resource. It is important that we reach out as constructively as we can to people of Highland descent, wherever they are. It is important that we respond enthusiastically to the warm feelings that those people often have for the Highlands and for Scotland more generally.
When thinking about the thousands -- millions even -- of emigrants who left Scotland in the past two or three hundred years, there is an understandable temptation to concentrate on the success stories. There are certainly many successes to celebrate. They can be read about in Jim Hunter's book, "A Dance Called America", which tells the story -- and does so very well -- of the huge impact that has been made by Highland emigrants, including many victims of clearance, on the United States and Canada. Jim Hunter's book recounts and celebrates the quite remarkable achievements of the numerous Highlanders who, as fur traders, politicians and railway builders, did so much to open up, shape and develop North America.
However, Jim Hunter's book makes another point, which needs to be stressed in the context of today's debate. It is not at all the case that every Highland emigrant family benefited from their emigration. Clearance and emigration shattered an awful lot of lives. Jim Hunter writes that two such shattered lives can be made emblematic of all the others. The lives in question are those of Ellen and Ann MacRae, little girls whose names Jim came across when visiting what remains of the Grosse ‘le quarantine station in Canada's St Lawrence River.
Ellen and Anne belonged to Lochalsh. They arrrived at Grosse ‘le in 1847. Their father's name is given in the Grosse ‘le records as Farre, which I guess is as near as a French-speaking orderly could get to the Gaelic Fearchar. What happened exactly to Fearchar -- in English, Farquhar -- MacRae, his wife Margaret and any other children whom they may have had is not known. Perhaps they died at sea or perhaps, as many others did, they died on Grosse ‘le. If so, they are doubtless buried in one of the mass graves that are still to be seen beside the Grosse ‘le inlet, which, ever since the 1840s, has been known as Cholera Bay.
Anne and Ellen were left parentless. In October 1847, they were admitted to a Quebec City orphanage. Ellen, who was aged 12, was eventually adopted by a Quebec family. Anne, who was aged 10, was found a home in the United States. They probably did not meet again. Even if they did, other than by means of what they might have recalled of their childhood Gaelic, they could scarcely have communicated, as Ellen would have grown up speaking QuÈbecois French, and the adult Anne would have spoken American English.
Jim Hunter concludes his account of Anne and Ellen with these words: "Historians have from time to time advanced the thesis -- first propounded, of course, by nineteenth-century landlords -- that the wholesale Highland emigrations of the 1840s and 1850s were in the best long-term interest of the emigrants involved. Such historians, perhaps, should be brought to Grosse ‘le, sat down in the cemetery above Cholera Bay and asked how they would set about justifying their opinions to Ellen and Anne MacRae."
Not all emigrant stories, then, had happy endings. In recalling the Highland clearances, it is vital that we remember that. It is equally vital that we reject the glib, unfeeling notion that what happened to people such as Anne and Ellen MacRae was in some way unavoidable. There was nothing predestined or inevitable about the Highland clearances. They were the result of human choices and actions. Given different choices and actions, the Highlands and Islands might well have followed a very different path to the one that it was made to take by the lairds who forcibly removed so many families from their homes.
That is why the best possible memorial to the Highland clearances will be the successful Highland economy that I hope everybody in the chamber is committed to creating. Coupled with that aim is the desire that Gaelic, the language of the Gael, must triumph. It is not only a jewel to be nurtured and cherished in the Highlands but an asset for all of Scotland.
Sadly, no discussion about the Highland clearances is considered complete until someone, somewhere, trots out the tired old notion that the Highlands and Islands were, and are, intrinsically incapable of providing their people with a good quality of life. That always was and still is a lie; today we are proving that.
I mentioned Jim Hunter. As most members know, he chairs the board of Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Last month, when presenting HIE's annual report, he said that he was speaking both as HIE's chairman and as an acclaimed historian -- that it is several hundred years since the Highlands and Islands, relative to the rest of Britain, entered a new century in such good shape and with such exciting prospects.
That is not to say, of course, that there is not still much to do in the Highlands and Islands. There are plenty places where the depopulation that started with the clearances has still to be reversed. However, in the course of the past 30 years -- a period when the population of Scotland as a whole has been static at best -- the population of the Highlands and Islands has grown by some 20 per cent. Parts of the area have seen faster rates of increase. Take Skye, for instance. Prior to the clearances, it had a population of 24,000. By the 1960s, that was down to just 6,000. Today, Skye has around 10,000 people once again.
That has been made possible by a greatly diversified, greatly expanded economy. Our aim is to get that economy extended into those areas where the clearances have still to be decisively reversed -- areas such as Kintyre, my constituency the Western Isles, Orkney's offshore islands and eastern Sutherland. We are certain that that job can be done, and by way of helping HIE to get on with it, we have, as Henry McLeish made clear last week, given HIE additional funding.
Another aspect of our programme is worth mentioning in relation to the clearances: our land reform agenda. I know that Lewis Macdonald knows the area of Sollas well. Sollas, in my native North Uist, is a vibrant and thriving community. Yesterday, it was announced that HIE, in partnership with Scottish Enterprise, has been asked to handle a new opportunities fund programme, which will result in £10 million of national lottery money going to rural communities that wish to take on the ownership of land and other natural resources in their vicinity. That £10 million programme will be known as the Scottish land fund. In order to manage it, HIE, in effect, will be beefing up and expanding the community land unit, which it was asked to set up just after Labour came to power in 1997.
I am pleased to be able to announce that HIE is still actively considering establishing a substantial part of its expanded land unit in Lochalsh. That is very much in accordance with our firm view that public sector activity of that kind can, and should, be located in rural areas.
It may be worth underlining, in conclusion, that it was from Lochalsh that there sailed in 1847 the emigrant family whose fate I touched on earlier. When, one and a half centuries ago, that family joined the long, long list of folk who fell victim to the Highland clearances, it would have seemed completely inconceivable that there would one day be public funds available to help Highland communities to take on the ownership and management of the land from which so many of our people had been evicted.
Today, thanks to this Administration's commitment to land reform, such funds are firmly in place. It is no more than a coincidence that they will be administered from Lochalsh, the birthplace of those two orphan emigrants who, back in 1847, found themselves in such terrible circumstances over there in Canada. But as coincidences go, it is a very happy one.
Meeting closed at 17:48.
After reading the above debate on the Highland Clearances it is a pity that the debate was so short or not more in depth and that more didn’t come out of it, but is was refreshing to see that politicians from the various parties supported the recognition of what happened during the clearances. As the proceedings from the above debate has shown us, as individuals we all have our own views, the world would be a funny place if we didn’t and constructive debate can often be the best way of resolving issues.
When it comes to remembering the past, whether defeat in battle or atrocities like the highland clearances, people also have various views or ideas on how these places or occurrences should be remembered.
Murrisk, Co Mayo
The Irish view
||The photograph shows the National Famine Memorial ("Coffin Ship") in Murrisk, Co Mayo, commissioned by the Irish Government and created by the Dublin artist, John Behan. It was unveiled in 1996 by the then Irish president, Mrs Mary Robinson. In addition to this, there are at least another seven memorials in Ireland, at Carr's Hill, Cork, two in Dublin, Doolough and Swinford in Mayo, Ennistymon in Clare, and Ballingarry in Co Tipperaray. Most of these were commissioned by, or had support from the Irish Government, although the non-governmental Afri (Action from Ireland) and Irish Famine Commemoration Fund played important roles in some.
In the diasporat too, there are memorials to the Irish dead at Grosse Île, as the article on the quarantine station describes, and in Boston, Ardsley, NY, and Liverpool. Despite the Highland dead at Grosse Île there is no Scottish equivalent.
The years of famine in the 1840s brought as much death to, and forced as much emigration from, Scotland. It says much about the political maturity of the two nations that Scotland's physical memorials to the Clearances and to the Famine are to those who did so much to cause these events and who sought to profit from them, best exemplified by the statue to the Duke of Sutherland.
Post Clearances - Harris Cairns
Burial Cairns or 'Walking the dead'
These burial cairns are contemporary with the clearances, some before and some as recent as the turn of the last century. In those days, before the road was built, the coffin was carried from the East side of the island to the West for burial in the Sandy Machair. These were built by the pall bearers more or less in the middle of Harris, when they rested, and each cairn represented the person they were burying. Apart from being beautiful structures, what makes them interesting is that when the land was cleared on the West side, the factor had the graveyard ploughed to erase any rights and history of the people. So all that remains are these stones - a monument (although not as grand as the Duke's statue) to the people and a poignant reminder in some respect, to the clearances.
Today in the 21st century the remains of many homes are still to be seen and monument enough to the clearances, but a scheme instigated by Dennis MacLeod as mentioned in the political debate was recently put into place and a memorial statue unveiled
Memorial statue marks clearances
A memorial statue to those affected by the Highland Clearances has been officially unveiled. The statue commemorates people who were cleared from the area.
First Minister Alex Salmond attended a ceremony to remember the clearances in Helmsdale, on the Sutherland coast. The 10ft-high bronze "Exiles" statue commemorates the people who were cleared from the area by landowners and left to begin new lives overseas. Canadian mining millionaire Dennis Macleod, who was behind the scheme, also attended the ceremony. The statue, which depicts a family leaving their home, stands at the mouth of the Strath of Kildonan and was created by Black Isle sculptor Gerald Laing. Mr Salmond said:
||"This statue is not only a reminder of the Highland clearances, but a great example of the skill and vision of those who remain.
"This statue is a reminder of the men, women and children who left Scotland and took their skills, their strength and their stories across the seas and shared them around the world.
"While we deplore the clearances we can be proud of the contributions that those cleared have made to humanity."
The original plan for a commemoration by a group of campaigners was to obtain permission to knock down a controversial statue of the laird involved in the clearances, the Duke of Sutherland, which towers over the town of Golspie. Although this never happened, they got together with Mr Macleod, who was born in the much-cleared Strath of Kildonan. He set up a Clearances Centre which commissioned the statue now in place.
An identical one has also been set up on the banks of the Red River near Winnipeg - the modern city founded by those who left Scotland for Canada.
Mr Macleod told BBC Scotland: "It's my personal ambition to have the same statue erected in all of the areas where the Highlanders settled.
"We now have two and I can see five or six eventually, in places like Canada, the States and Australia."
The Unveiling of the Emigrants Statue
Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP, First Minister of Scotland
arrives at Couper Park
First Minister Alex Salmond holds the brolly as Eilidh Mackenzie from Lewis sings the Gaelic song 'O Teannaibh dluth
is togaibh fonn' during the unveiling ceremony.
Even today, generations after the last Highlanders set sail aboard wooden sailing ships at Ullapool and other ports on the west coast, never again to see the mountains and glens of home, the arguments still rage.
There is no question that many Highlanders were betrayed by their clan chiefs and imported English noblemen. The utter disregard for the life of a proud people inflamed passions then, as it still does. Much of the land is still owned by the same families and sheep are still farmed where people once lived. During 1995, a campaign began to remove the statue of the notorious 1st Duke of Sutherland, which dominates the hills and skyline above the small east coast town of Golspie, replacing it with a more fitting memorial to the victims of the Clearances. But it is worth recalling that when the factor called by after the Duke's death in 1833, those tenants allowed to remain on the Sutherland estates were asked to contribute to the costs of raising the monument. They knew they had a choice - pay up or face the threat of eviction, hence the reason for them being described as ''grateful tenants'' in the inscription on the statue's plinth.
The English have great difficulty in understanding the Nationalist mindset, perhaps, like the Japanese, they do not teach the distasteful parts of their imperial history to their children. That in itself speaks volumes.
Of all the misfortunes to befall the Scottish Highlanders, the Clearances are probably the worst and the one that still engenders great bitterness down to this day. Whether it was economic necessity as described by some, or ethnic cleansing, as described by others, the net result was that between 1783 and 1881 man's inhumanity to man resulted in a documented 170,571 Highlanders being ejected from their traditional lands. Records are very sparse and it's been estimated that the true total was very much greater than this.
The catalysts for the Clearances had been the Union of 1707 with which many Scots were disallusioned; the uprising of 1715; the near successful uprising of '45 which resulted in the Battle of Culloden and the resultant ban on Highland dress, tartan and weapons. These and the continuing internal strife between Catholic and Protestant finally broke the Highland spirit. The last straw in 1747 was the 'Hertitable Jurisdictions Act' which stated that those who did not accede to English jurisdiction were to have their lands forfeited to the Government.
It's said that the few remaining Highland landlords had no option but to bend the knee to this legislation. This was the death knell of the clan system and the traditional Highland way of life where the people rented land from their Chiefs and in turn pledged their allegiance to them. By the end of the 18th century, 60% of Hebridean landlords were reported absent - reputedly preferring the softer social life of London to that of the spartan Highlands.
In his book 'The Making of the Crofting Community', J. Hunter writes:
"Many chiefs were as at home in Edinburgh or Paris as they were in the Highlands, and French or English rolled off their tongue as easily as - perhaps mores easily than - Gaelic. Moreover, while away from his clan the typical chief, conscious since childhood of his immensely aristocratic status in the Highland society whence he came, felt obliged to emulate or even surpass, the lifestyle of the courtiers and nobles with whom he mingled. And it was at this point that the 18th century chief's two roles came into irreconcilable conflict with one another. As a southern socialite he needed more and more money. As a tribal patriarch he could do very little to raise it."
The economics of the Clearances or the Improvements as the landlords euphemistically called them, were simple. They had for many years supplied beef to Government forces but when the demand dropped once the United Kingdom's overseas wars diminished, they were left economically vulnerable. Demand for wool had risen dramatically - its price tripled between 1800 and 1818 - so rearing sheep made sense. Regrettably it meant that on average, one shepherd covered as much land as had been worked in the past by 12 to 16 families - possibly 80 people - and the income from these new 'four-legged clansmen' more than replaced the meagre rents they had gathered in the past.. The return was attractive enough for the absentee chiefs and landlords to start moving people away from their traditional homelands.
To achieve this they used their 'factors' - their estate managers - and at the height of the clearances it's said that as many as 2,000 crofts a day were being burned to the ground - some of which had been inhabited by the same families for as long as 500 years. Because many crofters were still loyal to their chieftain, they often placed the blame for the Clearances and their hardships on the factors. It was beyond their comprehension that their chief - their father figure - would treat them in such a manner (ref: Scottish Highland Clearances, Memorial Committee).
The instigator of such barbaric methods of 'clearing' the traditional clan lands of humans was said to have been Elizabeth Gordon, Countess of Sutherland (1765 - 1839) who, with her husband the Marquis of Stafford (later made 1st Duke of Sutherland) employed Patrick Sellar a lawyer and James Lock their factor, to carry out the 'improvements'. These two set about their task with great relish and 'cleared' 15,000 people to make way for 200,000 sheep. With no shelter remaining for the cleared families, many starved and froze to death huddled in the rubble of their former homes. In 1811 more than 50 new shepherds employed in Sutherland were made Justices of the Peace with legal control over the native tenants and in their contracts was often a requirement to 'clear' a certain number of additional families from the land each year.
It is difficult to ascertain the true extent of the clearances since, as in modern times, good news (i.e.chiefs who did not support the clearances) did not warrant reporting. Historical accounts differ depending upon the teller but the figures do themselves reflect the enormity of the problem and give veracity to the many personal reports of those involved. The following selective diarised entries put some flesh on the bones although it is not always known if it was the Clearances or other economic factors that prompted some of the large migrations of crofters.
The arguments between both sides show no sign of abating but perhaps the last word can be left to the Highlander in the following report of 1854 which tells of landowners seeking to gather troops for the Crimean War from amongst their remaining tenants:
'should the Czar of Russia take possession of (these lands) next term, we couldn't expect worse treatment at his hands than we have experienced in the hands of your family for the last fifty years.'
There will be no doubt be a lot more to be added to the pages of the Highland Clearances as more information comes to light, but how should we or can we today remember or keep alive the history or even benefit from what happened, more so preventing the atrocities and emigrations from neither being forgotten or letting them be in vain.
We will all have different views and opinions on the events surrounding the Highland Clearances and although we should never forget what happened, we should not dwell on the past either, but use what happened as a learning curve. Today we could look at it from a different angle; we as Scots could in a round about way even thank the establishment and the overlords for pushing the Scots to foreign shores. Because of their actions they have now created colonies of ex patriots and descendants world wide now amounting to over 50 million, which could make Scotland although small, a very powerful place, particularly should these descendants or ex-patriots decide to invest in Scotland in some way or another. The actions of the powers that be at the time could effectually backfire on them today, although be it at the expense of those who suffered.
Another way to look at it is to keep living in remorse of what happened, but this would only hold us back and get us nowhere, but perhaps we as Scots should demand some sort of compensation or recognition from the present day establishment for the destruction and genocide created by their predecessors in the same way the black slavery was recently, particularly as the effects still show today. Monetary compensation could be used for building numerous visitor centres in some of the more predominant clearance areas.
We could also ask for the destruction of that massive statue of the Duke of Sutherland at Golspie as campaigned in 1995, but as previously stated it serves as a timely reminder of what happened and should make us more determined to fight for what belongs to us by keeping it there.
Perhaps we could learn from the past and change the method of how land or homes are bought in Scotland; following the examples of other successful countries, where only those who have been resident for a great number of years or those who have been of native birthright are allowed to buy. Unfortunately this may only be possible if Scotland became an Independent country. This idea would certainly restrict the land and house prices to natives or locals who can’t afford to buy in this economic climate, perhaps natives could then profit from leasing and even though foreign investment was made in Scotland the land and homes would remain in native hands.
It is good to see today that The Highland Clearances are one of the many Scottish history subjects which are now on the school curriculum. It has always been a fact that if you don’t know about history you can’t know how to use the past to change the future. Although many issues today appear to have changed they still hold the same principals from centuries before including land ownership and eviction.
Crann Tara are planning to commemorate the Highland Clearances with a tour in 2009, see our events page for details. If anyone has any additional factual information which could be added to these pages regarding the Clearances or even if you are a descendant with a story to tell, or would like to get involved in some way with the planned tour, perhaps you even have knowledge of places of interest, please contact us.
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