Motto: 'S rioghal mo dhream. (Royal is my race.)
Ancient Motto: E'en do bot spair nocht. (In debate (or contention) spare not.)
Note: The dexter supporter is a unicorn denoting the royal descent, argent, crowned and horned, or: the sinister a deer proper, tyned azure.
Gaelic Name: MacGrioghair
War Cry (The Cath-Ghairm): Ard-choille (The Wood on the Height.)
Plant Badge (Suaicheantas): Pine - Pinus Sylvestris.
The Piobaireachdan are the MacGregor's Salute and the Battle of Glenfruin - Gleann Bhraoin, the Valley of Grief.
Tartans: MacGregor, Rob Roy
Copyright 1997 Steve Blamires. Permission has been obtained for the inclusion of this material on this website. Contact the author for further permission.
The story of the Scottish nation is ancient, intricate and complex, and often contradictory. To this day it is not fully explained or taught even in Scotland, where the people surely have the right to know their own history. One dreadful episode in the history of the Scottish people has become known simply as The Clearances. This short paper attempts to explain in simple terms exactly what The Clearances were, how they were carried out, by whom and why. It is not intended to be a full and complete account of these complicated and inter-tangled events. A bibliography is given at the end of this paper for those interested in researching further into The Clearances. It is amazing that this very nearly successful attempt at genocide has not attracted more comment or criticism from society, both within and without Scotland. But then, if nobody is told about it, nobody can complain about it.
The old Scottish clan society was a natural development of the earlier Celtic tribal society and proved to be a stable, lasting and fair way of living. Each clan had a chief to whom the people owed allegiance, and he in turn would protect them, and would make binding decisions in the case of dispute between clan members. It was the chief's responsibility to ensure that all members of the clan had sufficient land to maintain him or her self. Under the clan system nobody owned the land. Everyone was free to farm and graze the land in order to survive. This equal and fair distribution of the land was honoured by all succeeding monarchs and clan chiefs.
This basic subsistence style of living had existed for countless centuries in the Scottish Highlands and Islands and had naturally developed and evolved its own culture, language, customs, sense of identity and unique character by those living it. The Lowlands of Scotland had lost this simplistic lifestyle by the late 18th century and had become very much an Anglicised people and community. The Highlands and Islands at this time were still very remote and very difficult to access and few people south of the Highland glens had ever been there. Throughout the rest of Britain the popular image of the Highlander was that he was dirty, lazy, untrustworthy and without honour. Exactly the same misrepresentations which were circulated regarding the Irish, another Celtic and Gaelic speaking people.
In the 18th century the English Army was waging war in various foreign lands, mainly against the French. Many of the soldiers fighting these foreign wars were in fact Highlanders and all contemporary writings on the Army of the day note that the Highland regiments were the bravest, toughest and most loyal of the entire British Army. They had an exemplary discipline record, with no soldier of any of these regiments ever having been disciplined. The complete opposite of the commonly held view of the lazy, untrustworthy, dishonourable Highlander. Despite this, the very new quot;United" Kingdom was in a fragile state, with many Scots being anti-union and wishing to maintain their independence, especially in the Highlands where the clan society was in danger of being lost. There was also a very fierce animosity between Protestant and Catholic and this had a much wider effect on the events of those days than most writers realise. Its effects can still be seen and felt in a very tangible way in Northern Ireland to this day. Many clans looked for a saviour through their own ancient royal blood line to lead them to victory in a final defeat of the English, Protestant oppressors. This is where Charles Edward Stuart, the Bonnie Prince Charlie of song and story, comes in.
His followers and supporters were known as Jacobites, and when the king-to-be landed at Glenfinnan on the 19th of August 1745, an armed rebellion was started against the English. It was very nearly successful with the Jacobite army making in-roads deep into England.
They turned back however, and eventually a last stand was made on the field of Culloden on the 16th April 1746. They were massacred. In excess of 1,200 Highlanders died compared to a mere 76 government troops. The English forces under the direction of the Duke of Cumberland were ordered to spare no one. Every last wounded Highlander was to be slaughtered. The Field of Culloden has become the Wounded Knee of the Gael. 1,150 survivors were rounded up and sent to Barbados to end their days in slavery.
Following Culloden, and the massacre of the common Highlanders and the hereditary chieftains, the removal of the old clan way of life was just about complete. All that remained was to seize the clan lands.
The English government was not content with just the military defeat and the seizing of the land of these Gaelic rebels. Soon after the Bonnie Prince Charlie fled the country, the Act of Proscription was passed in 1747 which banned the wearing of tartan, the playing of bagpipes (which were regarded as instruments of war), the right to bear arms, the gathering of Highland people and the teaching of the Gaelic language. This period became known as "the time of grey" because the traditional bright colours of the clan tartans were outlawed. The penalty for breaking these laws was seven years transportation "to any of His Majesty's plantations beyond the sea." In a very clever move though provision was made in the Act that stated the only legal way to display the tartan was by joining the "Scottish" regiments in the British army. They knew that they would need the skills and discipline of the Highland clansmen at some time in the future.
In the same year the 1747 Heritable Jurisdictions Act was passed which stated that those who did not accede to English
jurisdiction were to have their lands forfeited and placed in the hands of the government appointed surrogates. The few remaining Highland landlords had no option but to accede to English domination. This was the final nail in the coffin of the clan system and way of life. This approach, coupled with the broken spirit of the people, was so successful in Scotland that by the end of the 18th century three fifths of Hebridean landlords were already absentees, preferring the soft life in London society to looking after their own people in the wild and barren Highland glens and rain swept islands. J. Hunter in his book
The Making of the Crofting Community notes,
"Many chiefs were as at home in Edinburgh or Paris as they were in the Highlands, and French and English rolled off their tongue as easily as - perhaps more easily than - Gaelic. While away from his clan moreover 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 demand for beef was high at this time to feed the large armies still fighting foreign wars. The absentee chieftains made a little income from their still faithful clansmen rearing great shaggy Highland cattle in the remote hills and glens of the Highlands and Islands. The market for meat dropped sharply once the wars ceased and these new noblemen faced imminent bankruptcy. The small rents they received from their tenant farmers was not sufficient to meet their new lavish lifestyle. Things were starting to look bleak.
In 1782, the repressive Act of Proscription was finally repealed. But the damage had been done. Because the Gaelic language had not been taught for a generation most of the young men and women of the clan were illiterate. Many of the new clan chiefs had been born in the fine houses of London and the south of England and had never seen the land nor the people they now lorded over. Most could not speak the language of their people and clan, having been brought up speaking English and being told that Gaelic was for the inferior classes. A notion which still exists in Lowland Scotland to this day.
About the same time that the demand for beef and cattle dropped, the demand for sheep and wool rose dramatically. The price of Highland wool in 1801 had been 15 shillings per stone but in 1818 it had more than doubled to 40 shillings per stone. The landlords saw their chance to renew their fortunes and immediately started to replace the herds of Highland cattle with flocks of hill sheep. These highly profitable sheep were being offered by the British Wool Society for ridiculously cheap prices in an attempt to corner the world market for meat and wool. They did not take as much looking after as the cattle did, they could be left to roam the bleak hills and glens with only a small handful of people to tend them. On average, one sheperd took up as much land as had been worked by 12-16 families (roughly 80 people). Soon the Highlands and Islands were echoing to the high-pitched sound of the bleating sheep, whereas once they had been lulled by the soft lowing of the great shaggy Highland cows. It soon became clear that the small holdings of the remaining clansmen were getting in the way of the highly profitable sheep so the landlords started moving the people out of their homes and out of their jurisdiction. In 1800 there had been 355,700 indigenous Highland sheep farmed in Argyllshire, Inverness, Caithness and Sutherland. By 1880 the number had risen to over 2 million, nearly all of them imported hybrid Cheviots.
In 1826 McLean of Coll, owner of the Isle of Rhum, paid five pounds and fourteen shillings passage for each adult to go to Canada. He evicted 300 people this way, but this apparently large investment was well worth the cost as the income of the island rose from 300 pounds Sterling per annum in rent to 800 pounds Sterling per annum from sheep.
Whereas the chieftain had once been the father figure, the protector and provider of the clan, and "clan" means family in the Gaelic, now they were the abusers and repressors. They still wielded considerable power over the ordinary clan members and they had the legal right to make these forced evictions. They also had the right to say who married who or, more often than not, who didn't marry who. As late as 1857 the records show that in the Parish of Clyne on the Duke of Sutherland's estate there were 75 bachelors, ranging in age from 35 to 75, there had only ever been two marriages and one baptism recorded for the whole parish.
The landlords called this replacing of people with sheep "The Improvements" because they saw it as a way of improving the profitability of their land. The people referred to the improvements as "The Clearances" for they were simply cleared away to make way for the hated sheep. To be "Cleared" usually meant that, often without warning, the factor, or landlord's agent, would arrive one morning at your home, order you out and burn down the house without even allowing sufficient time to remove people or property. Roof timbers were destroyed so that houses or even temporary shelters from the cruel Scottish weather could not be built in an area where trees are scarce. At the height of the Clearances as many as 2,000 homes were being burned in a day. Many of these small crofts had been occupied by the same family for as many as 500 years. Because of the crofters' loyalty to their chieftain they often placed the blame for the Clearances and their hardships on the factors. It was beyond their comprehension their chief would treat them in such a manner.
This barbaric and unnecessarily cruel method of Clearing the people from the land was started by the Duchess of Sutherland (1765-1839, earlier the Countess of Sutherland until she married Lord Stafford, 1758-1833, who was created 1st duke of Sutherland in 1832. He was one of the richest men in the United Kingdom and certainly did not need to worry about his income from either crofters or sheep) and her factors Patrick Sellar and James Loch. The Duke of Sutherland Cleared 15,000 people to make way for 200,000 sheep. Evictions at the rate of 2,000 families in one day were not uncommon. Many starved and froze to death where their homes had once been. The Duchess of Sutherland, on seeing the starving tenants on her husband's estate, remarked in a letter to a friend in England,
"Scotch people are of happier constitution and do not fatten like the larger breed of animals."
Stories which have come down to us from those dreadful times are horrific and beggar belief. In 1811 sixty new tenants had been brought in as shepherds on the Sutherland estate and they were all immediately sworn in as Justices of the Peace, thus giving them a legal authority over the remaining tenants. It was also common, in later years after much adverse publicity about the mass Clearances, for these important sheperds to have clauses inserted in their rental agreements binding them to personally Clear one or two families a year in order to lessen the publicity that mass evictions caused.
People were too scared to help their own friends and family who had been Cleared for they knew that to do so would mean the same fate for them. The sheep farmers who were brought in mainly from the Scottish Lowlands and Borders regions were made Justices of the Peace or, in many cases, Special Constables which meant they were literally a law unto themselves. The people were totally powerless to do anything about this long drawn out genocide.
The people turned to the church for help but the Church of Scotland was the church of the landlords and told the common people that all the evictions were God's will and a chance for the ignorant sinners to repent. The Free Church of Scotland came about as a result of this as the people broke away from the Church of Scotland and set up a church which would recognise their own unique way of life and satisfy their needs for spiritual succour. In an act of retaliation the landlords told the people that when they were Cleared and re-settled on new land they were expressly forbidden from building Free Churches. They were also forbidden from giving a Free Church minister shelter or refreshment.
Today, the Free Church of Scotland is more oppressive than anyone. The christian church as a whole, Free Church of Scotland, Church of Scotland and Roman Catholic, has played a huge role in this cultural genocide. Some quotes collected from people living in the Highlands and Islands and written down by Alexander Carmichael at the start of this century show just how quickly a people can be made to forget their old, traditional ways -
"Our weddings are now quiet and becoming, not the foolish things they were in my young day. In my memory weddings were great events, and singing and dancing and piping and amusements all through the night and generally for two or three nights in succession. There were many sad things done then for those were the days of foolish doings and foolish people. When they came out of the church, the young men would go to throw the stone, or toss the caber or play shinty, or to run races or race the horses on the strand, the young maidens looking on all the while. It is long since we abandoned those foolish ways in Lewis. In my young days there was hardly a house that did not have one, two or three who could play pipe or the fiddle and I have heard it said that there were those who could play things called harps, but I do not know what those things were. A blessed change came over the place and the people when the good ministers did away with the songs and stories, the music and the dancing, the sports and the games that were perverting the minds and ruining the souls of the people leading them to folly and to stumbling. The good ministers and the good elders went amongst the people and would break and burn their pipes and fiddles. Now we have the blessed Bible preached and explained to us earnestly."
"A famous violin player died in the Isle of Eigg a few years ago. He was known for his old style playing and his old world airs which died with him. A preacher denounced him saying 'Thou art down there behind the door (of Hell), thou miserable man with grey hair, playing thine old fiddle with the cold hand without, and the devil's fire within.' His family had pressed the old man to burn his fiddle and never play again. A pedlar had offered ten shillings for the violin which had been made by a pupil of Stradivarius. The voice of the old man faltered and a tear fell. He was never again seen to smile."
"In Islay I was sent to the parish school to obtain a proper grounding in arithmetic. But the schoolmaster, an alien, denounced Gaelic speech and Gaelic songs. On getting out of school one evening we resumed a Gaelic song we had been singing the previous evening. The schoolmaster heard us and called us back. He punished us until the blood trickled from our fingers, although we were big girls with the dawn of womanhood on us."
Another blow was soon to rock the fabric of Highland culture. First they had been betrayed by the very people appointed to protect them and their lands, the chiefs, now they discovered that their new spiritual representatives were accepting substantial sums of money from Southern US slave-owners despite the fact it was known that Cleared Higlanders who were forced to emigrate to America were being sold into slavery in the southern United States. The lay members of the church, the Press and the people of Scotland generally were abhorred that they should even contemplate taking money from slave-owners and they were regaled with cries of
"Send back the money."
After due deliberation The Free Church of Scotland's official response was,
"Neither Jesus Christ nor His holy apostles regarded slaveholding as a sin"
- and kept the money. Some of the landlords even attempted to resort to the slave trade in an effort to get rid of their unwanted crofters. The Duke of Athol had to press-gang his own clansmen to go and fight in America as he had been unsuccessful in raising a regiment as the men refused to go because of his earlier Clearings. Once the fighting was over, instead of sending them home to their families and glens, he attempted to sell his own people as slaves to the East Indian Company. The men were only saved from slavery by staging a mutiny. When they eventually returned home the Duke evicted every single one of them in an act of vengeance. In 1803 the Rev. James Hall commented, "
The state of our Negroes is paradise compared to that of the poorest Highlanders" Ironic words considering that many of these poor Highlanders would soon become slaves themselves working beside the enchained Negro slaves.
Between 1820 and 1840 the rate of evictions slowed down but this was when the Highlands became very popular with the English aristocracy and especially Queen Victoria. The tartan which had virtually disappeared thanks to the Act of Proscription, was re-introduced in a bastardised form. Highland games and Highland dancing (which did not actually exist prior to then) became very popular amongst the landowners and wealthy English merchants and the traditional Highland culture became the "Brigadoon" type of romantic rubbish that most non- Scots still believe today.
Deer hunting became popular in the Highlands and Islands amongst these Southern cultural invaders and soon even more people were being Cleared to make way for the deer. By the mid 1800's the price of wool had fallen dramatically and the deer were seen as the new source of income for the landlords. In Ross-shire the 1851 yield for the estate had been 400 pounds per annum under sheep - by 1870, under deer, it had increased 15 times. By 1912 one fifth of the entire country of Scotland, 3,599,744 acres, was under deer forest. Ironically now many established sheep farmers were being Cleared to make way for deer. In the 20th century many sheep and deer in turn were Cleared to make way for the new hydro-electric stations.
To make matters worse the crofters and estate workers were not allowed to hunt the deer no matter how starving and destitute they might be. Some brave people made a stand against this, more out of desperation and survival than as a political statement. The most famous of these incidents took place on the Isle of Lewis in 1887 and is known as "Ruaig an Fheidh" the Pairc Deer Riad which is commemorated in an eloquent poem composed in the Gaelic by Reverend Donald MacCallum. It reads in translation,
"We rose early in the morning - compelled by hardship - to bring down the deer from the heights with accurate aim.
We set out the Tuesday with banners and weapons; the day was bright and favourable, as we'll all prove to you."
"Each man with his gun loaded and ready climbed the high hills, and when a bellowing stag was seen, it was struck down.
We killed them in their hundreds, we flayed them splendidly and we ate them in an orderly way, with generous portions cunningly."
"We are no plunderers, as it is stated in lies; we are brave people being ruined by want."
"We've waited many days and years without disorder, harrassed by poverty, under the power of chamberlains and fools.
"We got no thanks whatever, we were thralls without profit, they were set upon banishing us completely like foxes."
"Our wives and children now suffer hardship; their clothes are tattered, and they are in need at every meal time.
"Our country is a wilderness because of deer and sheep, and in spite of high rents, we'll not get enough to satisfy one of us."
"But praise the Lord who bestowed that hero upon us - Donald MacRae of Alness is the honourable martyr.
Donald MacRae was the great stalwart who would not yield to the villains, although they put him painfully to the test everywhere to the extent of their bilities."
"You little old wife, full of pride(*), who claim that Lewis is yours; it belongs by property right to the majority who live in it.
"And since we have now found a chieftain, we will not cease by day or night until we obtain the estate joyfully and honourably."
Between 1840 and 1880 over 40,000 people were Cleared from the Isle of Skye alone. Many islands and mainland rural areas were completely depopulated to make way for deer and sheep. See the lists at the end of this narrative for details. The indigenous people naturally started to become extremely wary of their landlords and their motives, and, in respone, the landlords and their agents became very cunning. On the islands of Barra, Benbecula, and South Uist people were called to meetings in the village halls by their landlord, Gordon of Cluny, on the pretext of discussing fair rents. The people were threatened with a two pound fine (a huge sum of money for subsistence crofters) if they did not attend the 'meetings'. When they got to the meeting places they were tied hand and foot, thrown into ships and sent to America with nothing at all other than the clothes they were wearing at the time. It is difficult for us today to imagine such a thing being possible but a quote from an eye-witness Barra woman, Catriona Ni Phee (Catherine MacPhee) graphically describes this terrible scene -
"Many a thing I have seen in my own day and generation. Many a thing. O Mary Mother of the black sorrow. I have seen the townships swept, and the holdings being made of them. The people being driven out of the countryside to the streets of Glasgow and to the wilds of Canada, such as them that did not die of hunger and plague and smallpox while going across the ocean. I have seen the women putting the children in the carts which were being sent from Benbecula and the Iochdar to Loch Boisdale, while their husbands lay bound in the pen and were weeping beside them, without power to give them a helping hand, though the women themselves were crying aloud and their little children wailing like to break their hearts. I have seen the big strong men, the champions of the countryside, the stalwarts of the world, being bound on Loch Boisdale quay and cast into the ships as would be done to a batch of horses or cattle in the boat. The bailiffs and the constable and the policemen gathered behind them in pursuit of them. The God of life and He only knows all the loathsome work of men on that day."
Another eye-witness of this dreadful event said,"The 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 and press gangs." and another commented,
"One morning, during the transportation season, we were suddenly awakened by the screams of a young woman who had been recaptured in an adjoining house, she having escaped after her first capture. We all rushed to the door and saw the broken-hearted creature, with dishevelled hair and swollen face, dragged way by two constables and a ground officer. Instrumental in these events was Rev. H. Beaton who gained a black name in the memory of the migrants."
Another report,"I saw a man who was caught and tied and knocked down by a kick despite the fact he was trying to bury his four dead children before being sent to America."
"Were you to see the racing and chasing of policemen, constables and ground officers pursuing the outlawed natives you would think, only for their colour, that you had been by some miracle transported to the banks of the Gambia on the slave coast of Africa."
In 1836 famine swept the Highlands and Islands and the people were forced to claim Poor Relief. Only those with a certificate of destitution obtained from their parish minister were eligible for relief. The next year when the crofters went to pay their rents they were told they had to pay for the food they had been given the previous year. Despite these cruel tricks and deceptions by those who were supposed to be looking after them the crofters never resorted to theft in order to maintain themselves. This was partly because of their unshakeable Celtic sense of honour and right but also because they knew that being charged with theft was exactly the sort of excuse the landlords were looking for in order to justify evicting them. During a period of over 200 years there had only ever been three convictions on the Sutherland estate - and all of those were for excise offences.
During the years 1846-7 famine struck again when the potato crop was devastated by the potato blight (the cause of the famous "Famine" in Ireland) and this brought even further hardship to the poor crofters. A meeting was held in Edinburgh with Sir Charles Trevelyan, the government minister in charge of famine relief in Ireland, to see what could be done for the Highlanders and Islanders who were also on the brink of starvation. Present at the meeting were most of the large landlords of the day and representatives of the church. The Rev. Norman MacLeod suggested that nothing should be done by way of relief as the famine was "God's pleasure" and had been placed on the Highlanders "because of their sin." Fortunately his remarks were ignored and the landlords surprisingly pledged the huge sum of 300,000 pounds Sterling which was to be given to Trevelyan for famine relief.
He decreed that no relief should be given to anyone who was capable of manual labour and that one pound of meal should be given for every ten hours labour. Trevelyan then said that the landlords should disperse the money themselves as they knew best who was in genuine need of help and who was not. The statistics which then followed beggar belief - Lord MacDonald, for example, had pledged a mere 1,000 pounds Sterling but was paid back in excess of 3,000 pounds Sterling by the Treasury. The Duke of Sutherland had pledged 2,000 pounds Sterling and he was given back 6,000 pounds Sterling by the Treasury. He used this windfall to build himself a new hunting lodge in the North West of his estate. Not one penny went to his starving tenants. He also bought a large quantity of meal but all of it was used to feed his own dogs, pigs, poultry and cattle. When what was left became unfit for the animals to eat it was dumped in the sea while the people starved.
Eventually the public demanded an account of exactly how the pledged 300,000 pounds Sterling had been spent and it was discovered that 7,000 pounds Sterling was totally unaccounted for. It was also discovered that the captain and crew of the Royal Navy ship under Trevelyan's command had been paying themselves one pound ten shillings per day - a huge sum of money at that time. No records were found to show that any of the money had ever been used for direct relief to the starving. In Ireland the situation was exactly the same. When the Bishop of Cashel died his personal estate was worth 400,000 pounds Sterling. Eleven other Catholic bishops left a total of 1,875,000 pounds Sterling. Yet they insisted the starving people would have to leave Ireland on the coffin ships bound for America as there was no money available for Poor Relief.
The legislation governing slave ships from Africa was far more humane that the legislation governing the emigration ships. Ships carrying in excess of 700 emigrants would only have been allowed by law to carry 490 slaves. 3 out of every 20 emigrants died on board the ships. In 1834 more than 700 people died in shipwrecks. Between 1847-53 at least 49 emigrants' boats, each carrying between 600-1,000 passengers, were lost. Exactly the same fate was befalling the Irish emigrants who were victims of the quot;Famine" and in 1848, due to the same potato blight, 17,300 Scottish emigrants died on the coffin ships or in the quarantine stations of Canada and America.
The medical examiner at the Gross Isle Immigration Station in the St. Lawrence River, Canada reported on seeing the Cleared Highlanders,
"I never, during my long experience at the station, saw a body of emigrants so destitute of clothing and bedding. Many children of 9 or 10 years old had not a rag to cover them. Mrs. Crisp, the wife of the master of the ship 'Admiral' was busily employed all the voyage in converting empty bread bags, old canvas, and blankets into coverings for them. One full-grown man passed my inspection with no other garment than a woman's petticoat."
The statistics are dreadful - in Sutherland 40 sheep farmers occupied an area once lived and worked by 15,000 people; between 1815-38 Nova Scotia received 22,000 Cleared Highlanders; in 1841 the records of Quebec note that they could not keep up with the number of destitute Scottish immigrants being given Poor Relief; on 15th May 1851 the factor at Lewis complained that the people being forced to emigrate to the States were entering the ships too slowly. He told the captain that at his next stop he should push the men, women and children on board without their luggage as this would speed things up and make room for even more people. 3,200 families were Cleared from Lewis alone in that year.
In 1840, 30,000 Highlanders were forced to move to Glasgow. None of them could speak English, none of them had ever seen a city before and none of them had ever performed any kind of work other than tending their own patch of land and their few cows and chickens. They were forced from a life of subsistence farming to one of working indoors in a factory. Others were Cleared from their Highland homes to the seaside fishing villages where they too had to give up the only way of life they knew and learn overnight how to fish in order to survive.The "Scotsman" newspaper reported on 11th March 1820 a riot which had taken place at Culrain in Ross-Shire,
"On notice being given to these poor creatures to remove, they remonstrated, and stated unequivocally, that as they neither had money to transport them to America, nor the prospect of another situation to retire to, they neither could nor would remove, and that if force was to be used, they would rather die on the spot that gave them birth than elsewhere."
- note that the Press only ever reported instances of disorder, they did not report the thousands of other evictions where the people simply gave in to the wishes of the clan chieftain. It seems odd to us today that anyone should capitulate so easily to a gang of often drunk men who were about to tear down and destroy their home and possessions and place them in a state of total loss and destitution. But so strong was the tradition of hospitality amongst these gentle people that it was not unknown for the family about to be turned out and have their house destroyed to offer the Clearance gangs refreshment before they started their work.
After two generations of Clearances the tradition of crofters following their chieftain into battle stopped when they finally had to acknowledge that their chieftains no longer cared for them. The crofters of the Sutherland Estate, for example, had traditionally enlisted in the Army at a moments notice when asked to do so by the estate. In 1745 2,550 men from Sutherland fought; in 1760 1,100 men enlisted in 9 days; in 1777 1,100 enlisted; in 1794 1,800 enlisted. When the enlisting officers toured the Highlands in 1854 to recruit men to fight in the Crimea they were greeted with the men bleating like sheep and turning away from them. The duke of Sutherland was personally told,
"Since you have preferred sheep to men, let sheep defend you."
Eventually the people made a stand and after riots on Skye in which gun boats, marines and police officers were called in to fight unarmed men and women, massive rent strikes and articulate appeals via the Press, the Crofter's Act was passed in 1886 finally giving the Highlanders and Islanders some basic land rights and rights of tenure. The Crofters Act had been drafted mainly by the landlords themselves, who were also the Members of Parliament, and it was treated by the crofters with the same contempt as were the so-called treaties the Native Americans were given when being Cleared to reservations. A speech made at the Lochcarron School Hall in 1886 after hearing about the Crofter's Act being passed articulately expresses this -
"The plough is put away, up on the hen-roost,
The land it once ploughed is empty, a waste -
The land of our ancestors, stolen away from us.
If it came back to us again, we'd complain no more
Of landlords' injustice, of the injury and prejudice
Handed out to the Gaels.
Ah then we would know exactly what to do.
We'd drive out the keepers, and the English who come here
To ruin us and our land for their sport on the hill.
We'd drive the deer that have taken over our ploughing land
Up, high up the tops of the mountains - And down would come Nimrod.
And the sheep, oh the sheep, has been the cause
of great suffering,
Starvation and sorrow. It has driven many to the shore,
And over the sea. My body has known the pain of seeing
White sheep and deer nibble at the land they have left,
That would feed many and many a Gael.
But the time will come when plough will be out again,
When the garron will be harnessed and pulling away,
When the people will eat well, with cattle on the hill,
And milk in the dairy, and go no more to the Caithness fishing -
When we earn cash at home.
This Bill the government shows to us, what is it?<
There is in it no word of all this.
No word of a patch to plant a crop,
No word of the right to a place where a poor man's
cows might graze,
We will not submit to it, for it has no word of what
A share of the good, low-lying land, to produce food
For our children - and their children.
What the government, the landlords and the Press totally failed to understand was that the crofters did not want ownership of the land - they never personally owned it anyway, being clan land, but what they did want was the imposition of certain standards of conduct and responsibility on the landlords. They never received this.
It was not until until 1976, ninety years later, that the crofters were eventually given the right to buy the freehold of their croft if they so wished. The price though was 15 times the holding's controlled rent. Incredibly it was not until 1991, 105 years after the passing of the Crofter's Act, that crofters were eventually given the right to plant trees on their land. Up until then trees planted on crofts were considered the property of the landlord.
In 1866 one half of Scotland belonged to 10 people. Today in Scotland 0.08% of present day population own 80% of the land; 17 people own 70% of Caithness; 38 people own 84% of Sutherland; 76 people own 84% Ross-shire; the Countess of Sutherland owns 158,000 acres and another 359,000 acres are owned by a mere 6 people. A 1976 study showed that 35 families or companies own one third of the Highland's 7.39 million acres of privately owned land.
In 1993 two farmers on the Isle of Arran were evicted from their family farms to make way for more deer. In the same year managers on the Wester Ross estate of the absentee landlord Sheik Mohammen bin Rashid al Maktoumm of Dubai bulldozed houses on the estate allegedly because the tenants had been poaching. Twelve family homes were reduced to rubble in an area where there are already 800 applicants on the local authority's housing waiting list. Despite the legislation the Clearances have not stopped.
The question has often been asked as to whether the Clearances were an act of attempted genocide against the Gaelic people. Certainly the earlier Act of Proscription was a blatant attempt at cultural genocide. It is interesting, with this in mind, to note that the vast majority of Clearances only occurred in Gaelic speaking areas. As late as 1820 the Highlanders were commonly regarded as an aboriginal fringe of the British nation, still awaiting civilization. This notion was prevalent in English-speaking Lowland Scotland too. The main Sutherland Clearances between 1811-1821 were definitely seen as racial as the in-coming landlord, the Duke of Stafford, was English and many of his agents were English or Southern Scots who had no Gaelic and who hated the Highlanders. One of his more infamous factors, James Loch, commented in 1829,
"They (the hills) are getting so much greener, especially those under sheep, in fifty years heathing hills and the Gaelic tongue will be rarities in Sutherland."
Just as the truth behind the Irish Famine is still not fully explained in Irish schools today so too is the history of the Scottish Clearances glossed over in Scottish schools - if it is taught at all. I was certainly never told anything about the Clearances during my whole time at school in Scotland. The brothers Calum and Rory MacDonald of the tremendously popular Gaelic rock group "Runrig" wrote a song called "Fichead Bliadhna" which is Gaelic for "Twenty Years". Calum and Rory were born and raised on the Isle of Skye where the worst of the Clearances took place, where the people rioted and had the troops turned out against them and where a stand was finally made against the injustices of the Clearances. Yet Calum was twenty years old before he ever heard of these events.
In 1995 a proposal was made to have the statue of the Duke of Sutherland, which still stands in Sutherland today, removed. The 'subscriptions' which paid for this statue were forced out of the destitute crofters on pain of further eviction if they did not comply. The present day local people were totally opposed to the suggestion which had come from "outsiders" not living in Sutherland to remove the statue. These outsiders were in fact the survivors of the families Cleared by the Duke and now settled in America and Canada. The local people have already forgotten what a monster this old Duke was whereas the people who are now considered to be outsiders remember and acted upon that memory. That is how quickly history can be lost if we are not taught and made aware of our history and culture.
Several of the main reference encyclopaedia to be found in libraries today and what they say about The Clearances and The Irish Famine:
Encyclopaedia Brittanica 15th Edition mentions The Famine but has only one sentence on The Clearances which implies they took place in Strathnaver between 1810 and 1820.
Hutchinson Dictionary of World History 1993 mentions both very briefly.
New Book of Knowledge 100th Edition mentions The Famine but not The Clearances.
"The Reader's Adviser" 14th Edition mentions The Famine but not The Clearances.
The World Book Encyclopedia 1993 mentions The Famine but not The Clearances.
Concise Columbia Encyclopedia 3rd Edition mentions The Famine but not The Clearances.
Cambridge Encyclopedia 2nd Edition mentions The Famine but not The Clearances.
Collier's Encyclopedia 1989 mentions The Famine but not The Clearances.
Bruce Wetterau World History 1993 mentions The Famine but not The Clearances.
Timetable of World History 3rd Edition mentions The Famine but not The Clearances.
Barron's Student's Encyclopedia 1988 mentions neither.
Some contemporary eye-witness accounts of ClearancesThe actions of Patick Sellar and James Loch would in themelves fill a book - and, indeed have already done so. See the bibliography below. Sellar was not the only Sutherland estate factor but was also a sheep farmer who had a personal interest in clearing as many of the people on the estate as he could in order to increase the size of his own flock. His methods were the most brutal of all recorded. We will never know about the hundreds of thousands which were never recorded. A few examples of Sellar's handiwork follow:
In one instance a pregnant woman by the name of Rayigill MacKay climbed on to her roof in an attempt to save some of the timbers which Sellar had torched in order to make a shelter for the baby to be. She fell through the burning heather thatch, went into premature labour and lost the child. Sellar turned and left her there in that pitiful condition.
Donald MacBeath was lying incapacitated due to high fever when Sellar and his squad arrived. They could not get him to rise and leave his home while they burned the timbers so instead they tore the roof off the little croft and left the ailing MacBeath to lie unprotected from the wind and rain. He died five days later.
William Chisholm appealed to Sellar not to burn his house down as his hundred year old mother was lying inside. Sellar's reply was, "Damn her, the old witch, she has lived too long, let her burn." and personally torched the dry heather thatch. The very blankets upon which she lay were aflame by the time William managed to pull her from the burning cottage. She was laid in an uncovered cow shed where she later died.
In 1816 Sellar was eventually brought to trial on charges of culpable homicide and willful fire raising. The whole trial was a farce as the judges and court officials were all the landed gentry and despite the volume of evidence against him he was acquitted of all charges, In an act of vengeance he returned to Sutherlandshire and burned down another forty houses. These houses were all on land which had been given to one of the in-coming sheep farmers, 7,000 acres of it and he had made it clear to Sellar that the tenant farmers were not in the way of his sheep and they did not need to be moved at all. Sellar burned their homes and possessions anyway and left them to freeze to death or board one of the coffin ships leaving for Canada or America.
Eye-witness accounts of other Clearances are: -
In 1819 an old lady who had been Cleared made the journey back to where her home used to be. On return a neighbour asked her what she saw. She replied after a long silence,
"I saw a raven's nest in the chimney of your own ruined house and I saw the minister's study turned into a kennel for dogs."
1821 Sutherland commented,
"Strathbora is now effectually Cleared of all its turbulent people. The removings were completed on Friday night and the houses demolished without a single word. Some are off for Caithness but the bulk of them seem to have a wish to go to America. We are now I think settled for a few years."
Later a visitor to the same area immediately after this Clearance commented,
"All was silence and desolation. Blackened and roofless huts, still enveloped in smoke - articles of furniture cast away, as of no value to the houseless - and a few domestic fowls, scraping for food among the hills of ashes, were the only objects that told us of man. A few days had sufficed to change a countryside, teeming with the cheeriest sounds of rural life, into a desert."
1829 Beriah Botfield wrote,
"Returning to Golspie we witnessed the melancholy spectacle of a flock of men, women and children, of all ages, hasting in their holiday attire, to embark onboard a brig from Brora, to Upper Canada, all more or less disatisfied with the new order of things, which the presiding genius of the Marchioness of Stafford has caused to spring in an incredibly short period of time, out of the relics of the barbaric feudal system."
1853 Evictions in Knoydart,
"Several refused to emigrate and took refuge in caves, gravel pits or hovels made in the ruins of their former dwellings. They were miserably clad, having no change of raiment, and their food was limited to potatos."
Later reports stated that most ended up
"packed off like so many African slaves to the Cuban market."
1853 At Suishnish in Skye 32 families, 150 people, were Cleared three times - 1849, 1852 and 1853. One account told of how the buildings were destroyed and,
"It was a time of snow, and one man who had returned to his home in Suishnish, was found dead the following morning at the door of his ruined house, having perished in the night from exposure and cold."
Many of those Cleared were in their 80s and 90s. One lady of 96 was turned out into the snow, her home burned down, and left homeless for several weeks. The officer performing the evictions and burnings was also the local poor Law Inspector. Another eye-witness acount states that one of the Cleared families had moved into,
"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-rending scene they never witnessed. 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 granchildren lying sick, one on each side of her."
1854 Archibald Geike,
Scottish Reminiscences (Glasgow 1906), described a Clearance in 1854 on Skye
"...one afternoon, as I was returning from my ramble, a strange wailing sound reached my ears at intervals on the breeze from the west. On gaining the top of one of the hills on the south side of the valley, I could see a long and motley procession winding along the road that lead north from Suishnish. It halted at the point of the road opposite Kilbride, and there the lamentation became long and loud. As I drew nearer, I could see that the minister with his wife and daughters had come out to meet the people and bid them all farewell. It was a miscellaneous gathering of at least three generations of crofters. There were old men and women, too feeble to walk, who were placed in carts; the younger members of the community on foot were carrying their bundles of clothes and household effects, while the children, with looks of alarm, walked alongside. There was a pause in the notes of woe as a last word was exchanged with the family of Kilbride. Everyone was in tears; each wished to clasp the hands that had so often be-friended them, and it seemed as if they could not tear themselves away. When they set forth once more, a cry of grief went up to heaven, the long plaintive wail, like a funeral coronach, was resumed, and after the last of the emigrants had disappeared behind the hill, the sound seemed to re-echo through the whole valley of strath in one prolonged note of desolation. The people were on their way to be shipped to Canada."
1862 Eye-witness account,
"The factor, that dreaded middleman of the people, came with the underlings of the law, with spade and with pick-axe, and left literally not one stone upon another of the poor cottages standing. I can see a miserable hovel into which several families have crowded, who had not long before separate holdings of their own."
Verified Clearances dates, numbers of people and places are very difficult to obtain as the vast majority went unrecorded. A few that have been verified and documented are:
*Sir Charles Trevelyan was the government minister in charge of famine relief in Ireland.
Ironically these forced emigrants would soon introduce sheep to Australia, become sheperds themselves and force out the indigenous Aboriginals to make way for even more sheep. The oppressed becomes the oppressor.
Areas and Islands verified as having, at some time, been totally Cleared (most have since been repopulated to some degree):
Blackie, John - The Scottish Highlands and the Land Laws, 1885.
Blackie, John Stuart - Altavona, Edinburgh, 1882.
Craig, David - On the Crofters' Trail, London, 1990.
Devine, T.M. - The Great Higland Famine, Edinburgh, 1988.
Devine, T.M. - Clanship to Crofters' War, Manchester, 1994.
Forbes, David - The Sutherland Clearances, 1806- 1820, Ayr, 1976.
Giekie, A. - Scottish Reminiscences, Glasgow, 1906.
Grimble, Ian - The Trial of Patrick Sellar, 1962.
Hunter, J. - The Making of the Crofting Community Edinburgh, 1976.
McIntosh, A.; Wightman A. and Morgan, D. - "Reclaiming the Scottish Highlands" in The Ecologist magazine, Vol. 24, No. 2, pps. 64-70.
MacKenzie, Alexander - A History of the Highland Clearances, 1883.
MacLean, Malcom & Carrell, Christopher - As an Fhearann, from the Land, Edinburgh, 1986.
McLeod, Donald - Gloomy Memories in the Highlands of Scotland: Versus Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands, Toronto, 1857.
Prebble, John - The Highland Clearances, Penguin, 1963.
Richards, Eric - A History of the Highland Clearances, London, 1982.
Robertson, Alexander - Where are the Highlanders? Of the Highland Regiments and Highland Clearances, 1856.
Ross, Donald -The Clearing of the Glens, 1854.
Youngson, A. J. - After the Forty-Five; the Economic Impact on the Scottish Highlands, Edinburgh, 1973.
The American-Scottish Foundation, Inc., 575 Madison Avenue (10th Floor), New York, NY 10022, USA. An organization based in the USA but with strong links to contemporary Scotland. They issue a regular and informative newsletter as well as arranging frequent cultural events. One of the better such organizations.
The Scotch-Irish Society of the United States of America, 2616 Edna Drive, Vineland, NJ 08360, USA was founded in 1889 as a society set up for "The preservation of Scotch-Irish history, the keeping alive the esprit de corps of the race, and promotion of social intercourse and fraternal feeling among its members now and hereafter."
Many, many Scottish Clan Societies exist in America and Canada. Check "
The Highlander" magazine for full details.
"Am Braighe", P.O. Box 79, Mabou, Nova Scotia, B0E 1X0, Canada. Quarterly newspaper on the Gaelic culture of Nova Scotia but also containing features on Scottish culture.
"Celtic Heritage", P.O. Box 8805 a, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3K 5M4, Canada published six times a year. Good, informative articles and news reports.
"The Highlander", The Magazine of Scottish Heritage, P.O. Box 44086, Chicago, IL 60644, USA is published six times a year. It tends to display a romanticised image of present day Scotland but it is a good source of cultural news and for Clan Society addresses.
"An Scathan", P.O. Box 24, Ashland, PA 17921, USA. Monthly Celtic newspaper with interesting articles and features. Mainly Irish but does cover all the Celtic countries.
"The Scottish Banner", P.O. Box 34, Lewiston, NY 14092, USA. Monthly newspaper on Scottish matters in the USA and Scotland. Worth subscribing to.
Copyright 1997 Steve Blamires, Permission has been obtained for the inclusion of this material on this website, contact the author for further permission.