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The Highland Clearances


 

Emigration from the Highlands to America seems to have fairly commenced shortly after 1760, as, in a pamphlet published in 1784, it is stated that between the years 1763 and 1775 above 20,000 Highlanders left their homes to settle on the other side of the Atlantic. The first apparently to suffer from the altered state of things in the Highlands, the decreasing value of men and the increasing value of money, were the tacksmen, or large farmers, the relations of the old chief, who had held their farms from generation to generation, who regarded themselves as having about as much right to the land as the lairds, and who had hitherto been but little troubled about rent. After a time, when the chiefs, now merely lairds, began to realize their new position and to feel the necessity of making their land yield them as large an income as possible, they very naturally sought to get a higher rent for the farms let to these tacksmen, who, in most cases, were the only immediate holders of land from the proprietor. These tacksmen, in many cases, appear to have resented this procedure as they would a personal injury from their dearest friends. It was not that the addition to the rents was excessive, or that the rents were already high as the land could bear, for generally the addition seem to have been trifling, and it is well known that the proprietors received nothing like the rents their lands should have yielded under a proper system of management. What seems to have hurt these gentlemen was the idea that the laird, the father of his people, should ever think of anything so mercenary as rent, or should ever by any exercise of his authority indicate that he had it in his power to give or let his farms to the highest bidders. It was bad enough, they thought, that an alien government should interfere with their old ways of doing; but that their chiefs, the heads of their race, for whom they were ready to lay down their lives and the lives of all over whom they had any power, should turn against them, was more than they could bear. The consequence was that many of them, especially in the west, threw up their farms, no doubt thinking that the lairds would at once ask them to remain on the old terms. This, however, was but seldom done, and the consequence was that many of these tacksmen emigrated to America, taking with them, no doubt, servants and sub-tenants, and enticing out more by the glowing accounts they sent home of their good fortune in that far-off land.

In some cases, the farms thus vacated were let to other tacksmen or large tenants, but in most instances, the new system was introduced of letting the land directly to what were formerly the sub-tenants, those who had held the land immediately from the ousted tacksmen. A number of these sub-tenants would take a large farm among them, sub-dividing it as they chose, and each becoming liable for his proportion of the rent. The farms thus let were generally cultivated on the run-rig system, the pasture being common to all the tenants alike.

That certain advantages followed these changes there is no doubt. Every account we have of the Highlands during the earlier part of the 18th century, agrees in the fact that the Highlands were over-peopled and over-stocked, that it was impossible for the land to yield sufficient to support the men and beasts who lived upon it. Hence, this drafting off of a considerable portion of the population have that which remained breathing-room; fewer people were left to support, and it is to be supposed that the condition of these would be improved. Moreover, they would probably have their farms at a cheaper rent than under the old system, when the demands of both tacksmen and laird had to be satisfied, the former of course having let the land at a much higher rate than that at which they held it from their superior. Now, it was possible enough for the laird to get a higher rent than before, and at the same time the people might have their farms at a lower rent than they had previously given to the tacksmen. There would also be fewer oppressive services demanded of these small tenants than under the old system, for now they had only the laird to satisfy, whereas previously they had both him and the tacksman. There would still, of course, be services required by the laird from these tenants, still would part of the rent be paid in kind, still would they be thirled to particular mills, and have to submit to many similar exactions, of the oppressiveness of which, however, it was long before they became conscious; but, on the whole, the condition of those districts from which emigrations took place must to have some extent have been the better for the consequent thinning of the population. Still no alteration appears to have taken place in the mode of farming, the nature of tenures, mode of paying rent, houses, clothes, food of the people. In some parts of the Highlands and islands, no alteration whatever appears to have been made on the old system; the tacksmen were allowed to remain undisturbed, and the people lived and held land as formerly. But even in those districts from which emigrations were largely made, little, or no improvement seems to have been the consequence, if we may trust the reports of those who saw how things stood with their own eyes. Pennant, Johnson, Buchanan, Newte, the Old Statistical Account, all agree that but little improvement was noticeable from 1745 down till near the end of the 18th century.

One reason why emigration made so little difference in the way of improvement on the condition in the way of improvement on the condition of those who remained in the country was, that no check was put upon the overstocking of the farms with men and animals. In spite of emigration, the population in many districts increased instead of diminished. A common practice among those tenants who conjointly held a large farm was for a father, on the marriage of a son or daughter, to divide his share of the farm with the young couple, who either lived in the old man's house or built a but for themselves and tried to make a living out of the share of the pendicle allotted to them. To such an extent was this practice carried, that often a portion of land of a few acres, originally let to and sufficient to maintain one family, might in a few years be divided among six or eight families, and which, even if cultivated in the best manner possible, would not support its occupants for more than two or three month a year. On account of this ruinous practice, Skye, which in 1750 had 15,000 inhabitants, most of whom were in a condition of misery and want, in 1857, in spite of large and repeated emigrations, had a population of about 23,000. This custom was common in many Highland (chiefly western) districts down to the late 19th century, and was fruitful of many consequences - of frequent famines, the constant impoverishing of the soil, the over-stocking of pasture-land, and continual wretchedness.

In some cases, the farms vacated by the old tacksmen, instead of being let to the old sub-tenant, were let to whatever stranger would give the highest offer. On farms so let, the condition of the sub-tenants who were continued on the old footing, appears often to have been miserable in the extreme. These newcomer tacksmen or middlemen cared nothing either for chiefs or people; they paid their rent and were determined to squeeze from those under them as large a return as possible for their outlay. In confirmation of these statements, and to show the sad conditions of many parts of the Highlands in their state of transition, we quote the following passage from Buchanan's Travels in the Hebrides, referring to about 1780. Even allowing for exaggeration, although there is no reason to believe the writer goes beyond the truth, the picture is almost incredibly deplorable:

"At present they are obliged to be much more submissive to their tacksmen than ever they were in former times to their lairds of lords. There is a great difference between that mild treatment which is shown to sub-tenants and even scallags, by the old lessees, descended of ancient and honorable families, and the outrageous rapacity of those necessitous strangers who have obtained leases from absent proprietors, who treat the natives as if they were a conquered and inferior race of mortals. In short, they treat them like beasts of burden; and in all respects like slaves attached to the soil, as they cannot obtain new habitations, on account of the combinations already mentioned, and are entirely at the mercy of the laird or tacksman. Formerly, the personal service of the tenant did not usually exceed eight or ten days in the year. There lives at present at Scalpa, in the Isle of Harris, a tacksman of a large district, who instead of six days work paid by the sub-tenants to his predecessor in the lease, has raised the predial service, called in that and in other parts of Scotland, manerial bondage, to fifty-two days in the year at once; besides many other services to be performed at different though regular and stated times; as tanning leather for brogues, making heather ropes for thatch, digging and drying peats for fuel; one pannier of peat charcoal to be carried to the smith; so many days for gathering and shearing sheep and lambs; for ferrying cattle from island to island, and other distant places, and several days for going on distant errands; as many pounds of wool to be spun into yarn. And over and above all this, they must lend their aid upon any unforeseen occurrence whenever they are called on. The constant service of two months at once is performed at the proper season in the making of kelp. On the whole, this gentleman's sub-tenants may be computed to devote to his service full three days in the week. But this is not all: they have to pay besides yearly a certain number of cocks, hens, butter, and cheese, called Caorigh-Febbin, the Wife's Portion! This, it must be owned, is one of the most severe and rigorous tacksmen descended from the old inhabitants, in all the Western Hebrides: but the situation of his sub-tenants of those places in general, and the exact counterpart of such enormous oppression is to be found at Luskintire".


Another cause of emigration and of depopulation generally, was the introduction of sheep on a large scale, involving the junction into one of several small farms, each of which might before have been occupied by a number of tenants. Those subjects of the introduction of sheep, engrossing of farms, and consequent depopulation have occupied, and still to some extend do occupy, the attention of all those who take an interest in the Highlands, and of social economists in general. Various opinions have been passed on the matters in question, some advocating the retention of the people at all costs, while others declare that the greatest part of the Highlands is fit only for pasture, and it would be sheer madness, and shutting our eyes willfully to the sad lessons of experience, to stock a land with people that is fit only to sustain sheep, and which at its very best contains more specks of arable ground, which, even when cultivated to the utmost, can yield but a poor and unprofitable return.

Whatever opinion may be passed upon the general question, there can be no doubt that at first the introduction of sheep was fruitful of misery and discontent to those who had to vacate their old home and leave their native glens to find shelter they knew not well where. Many of those thus displaced by sheep and by one or two lowland shepherds, emigrated like the discontented tacksmen to America, those who remained looking with ill-will and an evil eye on the lowland intruders. Although often the intruder came from the South country, and brought his sheep and his shepherds with him, still this was not always the case; for many of the old tacksmen and even sub-tenants, after they saw how immensely more profitable the new system was over the old, wisely took a lesson in time, and following the example of the new lowland tenant, tool large farms and stocked them with sheep and cattle, and reduced the arable land to a minimum. But, generally speaking, in cases where farm formerly subdivided among a number of tenants were converted into sheep farms, the smaller tenant had to quit and find a means of living elsewhere. The landlords in general attempted to prevent the ousted tenants from leaving the country by setting apart some particular spot either by the sea-shore or on waste land which had never been touched by plough, on which they might build houses and have an acre or two of land for their support. Those who were removed to the coast were encouraged to prosecute the fishing along with their agricultural labors, while those who were settled on waste land were stimulated to bring it into a state of cultivation. It was mainly by a number of such ousted Highlanders that the great and arduous undertaking was accomplished of bringing into a state of cultivation Kincardine Moss, in Perthshire. At the time the task was undertaken, about 1767, it was one of stupendous magnitude; but so successfully was it carried out, that in a few years upwards of 2000 acres of fine clay-soil, which for centuries had been covered to the depth of seven feet with heath and decayed vegetable matter, were bearing luxuriant crops of all kinds. In a similar way, many spots throughout the Highlands, formerly yielding nothing but heath and moss, were, by the exertions of those who were deprived of their farms, brought into a state of cultivation. Those who occupied ground of this kind were known as mailers, and, as a rule, they paid no rent for the first few years, after which they generally paid the proprietor a shilling or two per acre, which was gradually increased as the land improved and its cultivation extended. For the first season or two the proprietor usually either lent or presented them with seed and implements. In the parish of Urray, in the south-east of Ross-shire, about the year 1790, there were 248 families of this kind, most of whom had settled there within the previous forty years. Still the greater number of these, both tacksmen and sub-tenants, who were deprived of their farms, either on account of the raising of the rents or because of their conversion into large sheep-walks, emigrated to America. The old Statistical Account of North Uist says that between the years 1771 and 1775, a space of only four years, several thousands emigrated from the Western Highlands and Islands alone. At first few of the islands appear to have been put under sheep; where any alteration on the state of things took place at all, it was generally in the way of raising rents, thus causing the tacksmen to leave, who were succeeded either by strangers who leased the farms, or by the old sub-tenants, among whom the lands were divided, and who held immediately from the laird. It was long, however, as have already indicated, before the innovations took thorough hold upon the Hebrides, as even down almost to the present time many of the old proprietors, either from attachment to their people, or from a love of feudal show, struggle to keep up the old system, leaving the tacksmen undisturbed, and doing all they can to maintain and keep on their property a large number of sub-tenants and cottars. Almost invariably, those proprietors who thus obstinately refused to succumb to the changes going on around them, suffered for their unwise conduct. Many of them impoverished their families for generations, and many of the estates were disposed of for behoof of their creditors, and they themselves had to sink to the level of landless gentlemen, and seek their living in commerce or elsewhere.

Gradually, however, most of the proprietors, especially those whose estates were on the mainland Highlands, yielded, in general no doubt willingly, to change, raised their rents, abolished small tenancies, and gave their lands up to the sheep farmers. The temptation was, no doubt, often very great, on account of the large rents offered by the lowland grazers. One proprietor in Argyleshire, who had some miles of pasture let to a number of small tenants for a few shillings yearly, on being offered by a lowlander who saw the place 300 a year, could not resist, but, however ruefully, cleared it of his old tenants, and gave it up to the money-making lowlander. It was this engrossing of farms and the turning of immense tracks of country into sheep-walks, part of which was formerly cultivated and inhabited by hundreds of people, that was the great grievance of the Highlanders during the latter part of the last century. Not that it could aggravate their wretchedness to any great extent, for that was bad enough already even before 1745; it seem to have been rather the fact that their formerly much-loved chiefs should treat them worse than they could strangers, prefer a big income to a large band of faithful followers, and eject those who believed themselves to have as great a right to the occupancy of the land as the chief themselves. "The great and growing grievance of the Highlands is not the letting of the land to tacksmen, but the making of so many sheep-walks, which sweep off both tacksmen and sub-tenants all in a body". The tacksmen especially felt naturally cut to the quick by what they deemed the selfish and unjust policy of the chiefs. These tacksmen and their ancestors in most cases had occupied their farms for many generations; their birth was as good and their genealogy as old as those of the chief himself, to whom they were all blood relations, and to whom they were attached with the most unshaken loyalty. True, they had no writing, no document, no paltry "sheep-skin", as they called it, to show as a proof that they had as much right to their farms as the laird himself. But what of that? Who would ever have thought that their chiefs would turn against them, and try to wrest from them that which had been gifted by a former chief to their fathers, who would have bitten out their tongue before they would ask a bond? The gift, they thought, was none the less real because there was no written proof of it. These parchments were quite a modern innovation, not even then universally acknowledged among the Highlanders, to whom the only satisfactory proof of proprietorship and chiefship was possession from time immemorial. Occasionally a chief, who could produce no title-deed to his estate, was by law deprived of it, and his place filled by another. But the clan would have none of this; they invariably turned their backs upon the intruder, and acknowledged only the ousted chief as their head and the real proprietor, whom they were bound to support, and whom they frequently did support, by paying to him the rents which were legally due to the other. In some cases, it would seem, the original granters of the land to the tacksmen conveyed it to them by a regular title-deed, by which, of course, they became proprietors. And we think there can be no doubt, that originally when a chief bestowed a share of his property upon his son or other near relation, he intended that the latter should keep it for himself and his descendants; he was not regarded merely as a tenant who had to pay a yearly rent, but as a sub-proprietor, who, from a sense of love and duty would contribute what he could to support the chief of his race and clan. In many cases, we say, this was the light in which chief, tacksmen, and people regarded these farms tenanted by the gentlemen of the clan; and it only seems to have been after the value of men decreased and of property increased, that most of the lairds began to look at the matter in a more commercial, legal, and less romantic light. According to Newte - and what he says is supported to a considerable extent by facts - "in the southern parts of Argyleshire, in Perthshire, Aberdeenshire, Moray and Ross, grants of land were made in writing, while in Inverness-shire, Sutherland-shire, the northern parts of Argylshire, and the Western Islands, the old mode was continued of verbal or emblematical transference. In Ross-shire, particularly, it would appear that letters and the use of letters in civil affairs had been early introduced and widely spread; for property is more equally divided in that country than in most other counties in Scotland, and than in any other of the Highlands. Agreeably to these observation, it is from the great estates on the northern and western side of Scotland that the descendants of the original tacksmen of the land, with their families, have been obliged to migrate by the positive and unrelenting demands of rent beyond what it was in their power to give, and, indeed, in violation of those conditions that were understood and observed between the original granter and original tenant and their posterity for centuries". These statements are exceedingly plausible, and we believe to a certain extent true; but it is unnecessary here to enter upon the discussion of the question. What we have to do with is the unquestionable fact that the Highland proprietors did in many instances take advantage of the legal power, which they undoubtedly possessed, to do with their land as they pleased, and, regardless of the feelings of the old tacksmen and sub-tenants, let it to the highest bidders. The consequence was that these tacksmen, who to a certain extent were demoralized and knew not how to use the land to best advantage, had to leave the homes of their ancestors; and many of the small farmers and cottars, in the face of the new system of large sheep-farms, becoming cumberers of the ground, were swept from the face of the country, and either located in little lots by the sea-side, where they became useful as fishers and kelp-burners, or settled on some waste moor, which they occupied themselves in reclaiming from its native barrenness, or, as was frequently the case, followed the tacksmen and sought a home in the far west, where many of them became lairds in their own right.

These then are the great results of the measures which followed the rebellion of 1745-6, and the consequent breaking up of the old clan system - extensive sheep-framing, accompanied with a great rise in the rent of land, depopulation and emigration. as to the legality of the proceedings of the proprietors, there can be no doubt; as little doubt is there than the immediate consequence to many of the Highlanders was great suffering, accompanied by much bitterness and discontent. As to the morality or justice of the laird's conduct, various opinions have been, and no doubt for long will be, expressed. One side maintains that it was the duty of these chiefs upon whom the people depended, whom they revered, and for whom they were ready to die, at all events, to see to it that their people were provided for, and that ultimately it would have been for the interest of the proprietors and the country at large to do everything to prevent from emigrating in such numbers as they did, such a splendid race of men, for whose services to the country no money equivalent could be found. It is maintained that the system of large farms is pernicious in every respect, and that only by the system of moderate sized farms can a country be made the best of, an adequate rural population be kept up, and self-respect and a high moral tone be nourished and spread throughout the land. Those who adopt this side of the question pooh-pooh the common maxims of political economy, and declare that laws whose immediate consequences are wide-spread suffering, and the unpeopling of a country, cannot be founded on any valid basis; that proprietors hold their lands only in trust, and it is therefore their duty not merely to consider their own narrow interest, but also to consult the welfare and consult the feelings of their people. In short, it is maintained by this party, that the Highland lairds, in acting as they did, showed themselves to be unjust, selfish, heartless, unpatriotic, mercenary, and blind to their own true interests and those of their country.

On the other hand, it is maintained that what occurred in the Highlands subsequent to 1745 was a step in the right direction, and that, it was only a pity that the innovations had no been more thorough and systematic. For long previous to 1745, it is asserted the Highlands were much over-peopled, and the people, as a consequence of the vicious system under which they had lived for generations, were incurably lazy, and could be roused from this sad lethargy only by some such radical measures as were adopted. The whole system of Highland life and manners and habits were almost barbarous, the method of farming was thoroughly pernicious and unproductive, the stock of cattle worthless and excessive, and so badly managed that about one half perished every winter. On account of the excessive population, the land was by far too much subdivided, the majority of so-called farmers occupying farms of so small a size that they could furnish the necessaries of life for no more than six months, and consequently the people were continually on the verge of starvation. The Highlands, it is said, are almost totally unsuited for agriculture, and fit only for pasturage, and that consequently this subdivision into small farms could be nothing else than pernicious; that the only method by which the land could be made the most of was that or large sheep-farms, and that the proprietors while no doubt studying their own interest, adopted the wisest policy when they let out their land on this system. In short, it is maintained by the advocates of innovation, the whole body of the Highlanders were thoroughly demoralized, their number was greater by far than the land could support even if managed to the best advantage, and was increasingly every year; the whole system of renting land, of tenure, and of farming was ruinous to the people and the land, and that nothing but a radical change could cure the many evils with which the country was afflicted.

There has been much rather bitter discussion between the advocates of the two sides of the Highland question; often more recrimination and calling of names then telling argument. This question, we think, is no exception to the general rule which governs most disputed matters; there is truth, we believe, on both sides. We fear the facts already adduced in this part comprise many of the assertions made by the advocates of change. As to the wretched social condition of the Highlanders, for long before and after 1745, there can be no doubt, if we can place any reliance on the evidence of contemporaries, and we have already said enough to show that the common system of farming, if worthy of the name, was ruinous and inefficient; while their small lean cattle were so badly managed that about one half died yearly. That the population was very much greater than the land, even if used to the best advantage, could support, is testified to by every candid writer from the Gartmore paper down almost to the present day. The author of the Gartmore paper, written about 1747, estimated that the population of the Highlands at that time amounted to about 230,000; "but", he says, "according to the present economy of the Highlands, there is not business for more than one half of that number of people... The other half, then, must be idle and beggars while in the country".



Once the chiefs lost their powers following the Battle of Culloden, many of them lost also any parental interest in their clansmen. During the next hundred years they continued the work of Cumberland's battalions. So that they might lease their glens and braes to sheep-farmers from the Lowlands and England, they cleared the crofts of men, women and children, using police and soldiers where necessary.

The Highlanders were deserted and then betrayed. It is the story of people, and of how sheep were preferred to them, and how bayonet, truncheon and fire were used to drive them from their homes.

It has been said that the Clearances are now far enough away from us to be decently forgotten. But the hills are still empty. In all of Britain, only among them can one find real solitude, and if their history is known there is no satisfaction to be got from the experience.

It is worth remembering, too, that while the rest of Scotland was permitting the expulsion of its Highland people it was also forming the romantic attachment to kilt and tartan that scarcely compensates for the disappearance of a race to whom such things were once a commonplace reality. The chiefs remain, in Edinburgh and London, but the people are gone.

Finally, we have not become so civilized in our behaviour, or more concerned with men than profit, that this story holds no lesson for us.

From: The Highland Clearances, by John Prebble. A Penquin Book, 1969.

The Sutherland Clearances

-- by Alexander MacKenzie

Truth is stranger than fiction

To give a proper account of the Sutherland Clearances would take a bulky volume. Indeed, a large tome of 354 pages has been written and published in their defence by him who was mainly responsible for them, called "An Account of the Sutherland Improvements," by James Loch, at that time Commissioner for the Marchioness of Stafford and heiress of Sutherland.

This was the first account I ever read of these so-called improvements; and it was quite enough to convince me (and it will be sufficient to convince anyone who knows anything of the country) that the improvements of the people, by driving them in the most merciless and cruel manner from the homes of their fathers, was carried out on a huge scale and in the most inconsiderate and heartless manner by those in charge of the Sutherland estates.

But when one reads the other side, MacLeod's "Gloomy Memories." General Stewart of Garth's "Sketches of the Highlanders," and other contemporary publications, one wonders that such iniquities could ever have been permitted in any Christian country, much more so in Great Britain, which has done so much for the amelioration of subject races and the oppressed in every part of the world, while her own brave sons have been persecuted, oppressed and banished without compensation by greedy and cold-blooded proprietors, who owed their position and their lands to the ancestors of the very men they were now treating so cruelly.

The motives of the landlords, generally led by southern factors worse than themselves, were, in most cases, pure self-interest. They pursued their policy of extermination with a recklessness and remorselessness unparalleled anywhere else where the Gospel of peace and charity was preached -- except, perhaps, unhappy Ireland. Generally, law and justice, religion and humanity, were either totally disregarded, or what was worse, in many cases converted into and applied as instruments of oppression.

Every conceivable means, short of the musket and the sword, were used to drive the natives from the land they loved, and to force them to exchange their crofts and homes -- brought originally into cultivation and built by themselves, or by their forefathers -- for wretched patches along the barren rocks on the sea-shore. They had to depend, after losing their cattle and their sheep, and after having their houses burnt about their ears or razed to the ground, on the uncertain produce of the sea for subsistence. The people, in many instances, and especially in Sutherlandshire, were totally unacquainted with a seafaring life, and quite unfitted to contend with its perils.

What was true generally of the Highlands, was in the county of Sutherland carried to the greatest extreme. That unfortunate county, according to an eye-witness, was made another Moscow. The inhabitants were literally burnt out, and every contrivance and ingenious and unrelenting cruelty was eagerly adopted for extirpating the race. Many lives were sacrificed by famine and other hardships and privations.

Hundreds, stripped their all, emigrated to the Canadas and other parts of America. Great numbers, especially of the young and athletic, sought employment in the Lowlands and in England, where, few of them being skilled workmen, they were obliged -- even farmers who had lived in comparative affluence in their own country -- to compete with common labourers, in communities where their language and simple manners rendered them objects of derision and ridicule. The aged and infirm, the widows and orphans, with those of their families who could not think of leaving them alone in their helplessness, and a number, whose attachment to the soil which contained the ashes of their ancestors, were induced to accept of the wretched allotments ordered them on the wild moors and barren rocks.

The mild nature and religious training of the Highlanders prevented a resort to that determined resistance and revenge which has repeatedly set bounds to the rapacity of landlords in Ireland. Their ignorance of the English language, and the want of natural leaders, made it impossible for them to make their grievances known to the outside world. They were, therefore, maltreated with impunity. The ministers generally sided with the oppressing lairds, who had the Church patronage at their disposal for themselves and their sons. The professed ministers of religion sanctioned the iniquity, "the foulest deeds were glossed over, and all the evil which could not be attributed to the natives themselves, such as severe seasons, famines, and consequent disease, was by these pious gentlemen ascribed to Providence, as a punishment for sin."

The system of turning out the ancient inhabitants from their native soil throughout the Highlands during the first half of the nineteenth century has been carried into effect in the country of Sutherland with greater severity and revolting cruelty than in any other part of the Highlands. It was done though the Countess- Marchioness and her husband, the Marquis of Stafford, were by no means devoid of humanity. However atrocious and devoid of human feeling were the acts carried out in their name by heartless underlings, who represented the ancient tenantry to their superiors as lazy and rebellious, though, they maintained everything was being done for their advantage and improvement.

How this was done will be seen in the sequel. South countrymen were introduced and the land given to them for sheep farms over the heads of the native tenantry. These strangers were made Justices of the Peace and armed with all sorts of authority in the county, and thus enabled to act in the most harsh and tyrannical fashion, none making them afraid; while the oppressed natives were placed completely at their mercy. They dare not even complain, for were not their oppressors also the administrators of the law?

The seventeen parish ministers, with the single exception of Rev. Mr. Sage, took the side of the powers that were, exhorting the people to submit and to stifle their cries of distress, telling them that all their sufferings came from the hand of their Heavenly Father as a punishment for their past transgressions. Most of these ministers have since rendered their account, and let us hope they have been forgiven for such cruel and blasphemous conduct. But one cannot help but noting to what horrid uses these men in Sutherlandshire and elsewhere prostituted their sacred office and high calling.

The Sutherland clearances were commenced in a comparatively mild way in 1807, by the ejection of ninety families from Farr and Lairg. These were provided for, some fifteen or seventeen miles distant, with smaller lots to which they were permitted to remove their cattle and plenishing, leaving their crops unprotected, however, in the ground from which they were evicted. They had to pull down their old houses, remove the timber, and build new ones, during which period they had in many cases to sleep under the open canopy of heaven. In that autumn they carried away, with great difficulty, what remained of their crops, but the fatigue incurred cost a few of them their lives, while others contracted diseases which stuck with them during the remainder of their lives, and shortened their days.

In 1809 several hundred were evicted from the parishes of Dornoch, Rogart, Loth, Clyne and Golspie, under circumstances of much greater severity than those already described. Several were driven by various means to leave the country altogether, and to those who could not be induced to do so, patches of moor and bog were offered on Dornoch Moor and Brora Links -- quite unfit for cultivation. This process was carried on annually until, in 1811, the land from which the people were ejected was divided into large farms, and advertised as huge sheep runs.

The country was overrun with strangers who came to look at these extensive tracts. Some of these gentlemen got up a cry that they were afraid of their lives among the evicted tenantry. A trumped- up story was manufactured that one of the interlopers was pursued by some of the natives of Kildonan, and put in bodily fear. The military were sent for from Fort George. The 21st Regiment was marched to Dunrobin Castle, with artillery and cartloads of ammunition. A great farce was performed; the people were sent for by the factors to the Castle at a certain hour. They came peaceably, but the farce must be gone through. The Riot Act was read. A few sheepish, innocent Highlanders were made prisoners, but nothing could be laid to their charge. They were almost immediately set at liberty, while the soldiers were ordered back to Fort George.

The demonstration, however, had the desired effect in cowing and frightening the people into the most absolute submission. They became dismayed and broken-hearted, and quietly submitted to their fate. The clergy all this time were assiduous in preaching that all the misfortunes of the people were "Fore-ordained of God, and denouncing the vengeance of Heaven and eternal damnation on all those who would presume to make the slightest resistance."

At the May term of 1812 large districts of these parishes were cleared in the most peaceable manner, the poor creatures foolishly believing the false teaching of their selfish and dishonest spiritual guides -- save the mark!

The Earl of Selkirk, who went personally to the district, allured many of the evicted people to emigrate to his estates on the Red River in British North America, whither a whole ship-cargo of them went. After a long and otherwise disastrous passage, they found themselves deceived and deserted by the Earl, left to their unhappy fate in an inclement wilderness. They were without any protection from the hordes of red Indian savages by whom the district was infested, and who plundered them of their all on their arrival and finally massacred them. A small remnant who managed to escape travelled through immense difficulties, across trackless forests to Upper Canada.

The notorious Mr. Sellar was at this time sub-factor, and in the spring of 1814 he took a large portion of the parishes of Farr and Kildonan into his own hands. In the month of March the old tenantry received notices to quit at the ensuing May term. A few days after the summonses were served the greater portion of the heath pasture was, by his orders, set on fire.

By this cruel proceeding the cattle belonging to the old tenantry were left without food during the spring, and it was impossible to dispose of them at a fair price, the price having fallen after the war. Napoleon was now a prisoner in Elba. The demand for cattle became temporarily dull, and prices were very much reduced. To make matters worse, fodder was unusually scarce this spring. The poor people's cattle depended for subsistence solely on the spring grass which sprouts out among the heather, but which this year had been burnt by the factor who would himself reap the benefit when he came into possession later on.

In May the work of ejectment was again commenced, accompanied by cruelties hitherto unknown, even in the Highlands. Atrocities were perpetrated which I cannot trust myself to describe in my own words. I shall give what is much more valuable -- a description by an eye-witness in his own language. He says:-

"In former removals the tenants had been allowed to carry away the timber of their old dwellings to erect houses on their new allotments, but now a more summary mode was adopted by setting fire to them. The able-bodied men were by this time away after their cattle or otherwise engaged at a distance, so that the immediate sufferers by the general house-burning that now commenced were the aged and infirm, the women and children.

"As the lands were now in the hands of the factor himself, and were to be occupied as sheep farms, and as the people made no resistance, they expected, at least, some indulgence in the way of permission to occupy their houses and other buildings till they could gradually remove, and meanwhile look after their growing crops.

"Their consternation was therefore greater, when immediately after the May term-day, a commencement was made to pull down and set fire to the houses over their heads.

The old people, women and others, then began to preserve the timber which was their very own; but the devastators proceeded with the greatest celerity, demolishing all before them. When they had overthrown all the houses in a large tract of country they set fire to the wreck. Timber, furniture and other article that could not be instantly removed was consumed by fire or otherwise utterly destroyed.

The proceedings were carried on with the greatest rapidity and the most reckless cruelty. The cries of the victims, the confusion, the despair and horror painted on the countenance of the one party, and the exulting ferocity of the other, beggar all description."

At these scenes, Mr. Sellar was present, and apparently, as sworn by several witnesses at his subsequent trial, ordering and directing the whole.

Many deaths ensued from alarm, from fatigue, and cold, the people having been instantly deprived of shelter, and left to the mercies of the elements. Some old men took to the woods and to the rocks, wandering about in a state approaching to, or of absolute, insanity; and several of them in this situation lived only a few days. Pregnant women were taken in premature labour, and several children did not long survive their sufferings.

"To these scenes," says Donald MacLeod (author of `Gloomy Memories'), "I was an eye-witness, and am ready to substantiate the truth of my statements, not only by my own testimony, but by that of many others who were present at the time. In such a scene of general devastation, it is almost useless to particularise the cases of individuals; the suffering was great and universal. I shall, however, notice a few of the extreme cases of which I was myself eye-witness.

John Mackay's wife, Ravigill, in attempting to pull down her house, in the absence of her husband, to preserve the timber, fell through the roof. She was in consequence taken in premature labour, and in that state was exposed to the open air and to the view of all the by-standers.

Donald Munro, Garvott, lying in a fever, was turned out of his house and exposed to the elements.

Donald Macbeath, and infirm and bed-ridden old man, had the house unroofed over him, and was in that state exposed to the wind and rain until death put a period to his sufferings.

"I was present at the pulling down and burning of the house of William Chisholm, Badinlkoskin, in which was lying his wife's mother, an old bed-ridden woman of nearly 100 years of age, none of the family being present. I informed the persons about to set fire to the house of this circumstance, and prevailed on them to wait until Mr. Sellar came. On his arrival, I told him of the poor old woman being in a condition unfit for removal, when he replied, `Damn her, the old witch, she has lived too long -- let her burn.'

"Fire was immediately set to the house, and the blankets in which she was carried out were in flames before she could be got out. She was placed in a little shed, and it was with great difficulty they were prevented from firing it also. The old woman's daughter arrived while the house was on fire and assisted the neighbours in removing her mother out of the flames and smoke, presenting a picture of horror which I shall never forget, but cannot attempt to describe. Within five days she was a corpse."

In 1816 Sellar was charged at Inverness, before the Court of Justiciary, with culpable homicide and fire-raising in connection with these proceedings. Considering all circumstances, it is not at all surprising that he was `honourably' acquitted of the grave charges made against him. Almost immediately after, however, he ceased to be a factor on the Sutherland estates, and Mr. Loch came into power. Evictions were carried out from 1814, down to 1819 and 1820, pretty much of the same character as those already described.

The removal of Mr. Young, the chief factor, and Mr. Sellar from power was hailed with delight by the whole remaining population. Their very names had become a terror. Their appearance in any part of the county caused such alarm as to make women fall into fits. One woman became so terrified that she became insane, and whenever she saw anyone she did not recognize, she invariably cried out in a state of absolute terror -- `Oh! sin Sellar -- Oh! there's Sellar.'

The people, however, soon discovered that the new factors were not much better. Several leases which were current would not expire until 1819 and 1820, so that the evictions were necessary only partial from 1814 down to that period.

The people were reduced to such a state of poverty that even Mr. Loch himself, in his `Sutherland Improvements,' page 76, admits that -- `Their wretchedness was so great that, after pawning everything they possessed to the fishermen on the coast, such as had no cattle were reduced to come down from the hills in hundreds for the purpose of gathering cockles on the shore. Those who lived in the more remote situations of the county were obliged to subsist upon broth made of nettles, thickened with a little oatmeal. Those who had cattle had recourse to the still more wretched expedient of bleeding them, and mixing the blood with oatmeal, which they afterwards cut into slices and fried. Those who had a little money came down and slept all night upon the beach, in order to watch the boats returning from the fishing, that they might be in time to obtain a part of what had been caught.'

Loch, however, omitted to mention the share he and his predecessors had taken in reducing the people to such misery, and the fact that at this very time he had constables stationed at the Little Ferry to prevent the starved tenantry from collecting shellfish in the only place where they could find them.

He prevailed upon the people to sign documents consenting to remove at the next Whitsunday term, promising at the same time to make good provision for them elsewhere. In about a month after, the work of demolition and devastation again commenced, and parts of the parishes of Golspie, Rogart, Farr, and the whole of Kildonan were in a blaze. Strong parties with faggots and other combustible material were set to work. Three hundred houses were given ruthlessly to the flames, and their occupants pushed out into the open air without food or shelter. Macleod, who was present, describes the horrible scene as follows:--

"The consternation and confusion were extreme. Little or no time was given for the removal of persons or property; the people striving to remove the sick and the helpless before the fire should reach them; next, struggling to save the most valuable of their effects. The cries of the women and children, the roaring of the affrighted cattle, hunted at the same time by the yelling dogs of the shepherds amid the smoke and fire, altogether presented a scene that completely baffles description -- it required to be seen to be believed.

"A dense cloud of smoke enveloped the whole country by day, and even extended far out to sea. At night an awfully grand but terrific scene presented itself -- all the houses in an extensive district in flames at once. I myself ascended a height about eleven o'clock in the evening, and counted two hundred and fifty blazing houses, many of the owners of which I personally knew, but whose present condition -- whether in or out of the flames -- I could not tell. The conflagration lasted six days, till the whole of the dwellings were reduced to ashes or smoking ruins. During one of these days a boat actually lost her way in the dense smoke as she approached the shore, but at night was enabled to reach a landing-place by the lurid light of the flames."

The whole of the inhabitants of Kildonan, numbering nearly 2000 souls, except three families, were utterly rooted and burnt out, and the whole parish converted into a solitary wilderness. The suffering was intense. Some lost their reason.

Over a hundred souls took passage to Caithness in a small sloop, the master humanely agreeing to take them in the hold, from which he had just unloaded a cargo of quicklime. A head storm came on, and they were nine days at sea in the most miserable condition -- men, women and helpless children huddled up together, with barely any provisions. Several died in consequence and others became invalids for the rest of their days. One man, Donald Mackay, whose family was suffering from a severe fever, carried two of his children a distance of twenty-five miles to this vessel.

Another old man took shelter in a meal mill, where he was kept from starvation by licking the meal refuse scattered among the dust on the floor, and protected from the rats and other vermin by his faithful collie.

George Munro, the miller at Farr, who had six of his family down with fever, had to remove them in that state to a damp kiln, while his home was given to the flames.

And all this was done in the name of proprietors who could not be considered tyrants in the ordinary sense of the term.

General Stewart of Garth, about a year after the cruelties perpetuated in Sutherland, writes with regret of the unnatural proceedings as the "the delusions practised (by his subordinates) on a generous and public- spirited proprietor, which have been so perseveringly applied, that it would appear as if all feeling of former kindness towards the native tenantry had ceased to exist.

To [these subordinates] any uncultivated spot of moorland, however small, was considered sufficient for the support of a family [of the native tenantry]; while the most lavish encouragement has been given to all the new tenants, on whom, with the erection of buildings, the improvement of lands, roads, bridges, etc., upwards of 210,000 had been expended since 1808 (in fourteen years).

With this proof of unprecedented liberality, it cannot be sufficiently lamented that an estimate of the character of these poor people was taken from the misrepresentation of persons [interested in their own profit who failed (or refused) to recognize or acknowledge the worthy character of the native tenantry].

[Their judgment was not based on] the conduct of the same men when brought into the world where they obtained a name and character which have secured the esteem and approbation of men high in honour and rank. From their talents and experience, [it would seem they were] perfectly capable of judging with correctness.

With such proofs of capability and with such materials for carrying on the improvements and maintaining the permanent prosperity of the county, [it could be done] when occupied by a hardy, abstentious race, easily led on to a full exertion of their faculties by a proper management.

Instead of placing them, as has been done, in situations bearing too near a resemblance to the potato-gardens of Ireland, they [could be] permitted to remain as cultivators of the soil, receiving a moderate share of the vast sums lavished on their richer successors. Such a humane and considerate regard to the prosperity of a whole people would undoubtedly have answered every good purpose."

He then goes on to show that, when the valleys and higher grounds were let to sheep farmers, the whole native population was driven to the sea shore. There they were crowded on small lots of land to earn subsistence by labour and sea-fishing, the latter so little congenial to their former habits and experience. "And these one or two acre lots are represented as improvements!!

He then asks how in a country, without regular employment or manufactories, a family is to be supported on one or two acres? The thing was impossible. The consequence is that "over the whole of this district, where the sea-shore is accessible, the coast is thickly studded with thatched cottages, crowded with starving inhabitants," while strangers, with capital, usurp the land and dispossess the swain.

Ancient respectable tenants, who passed the greater part of their lives in the enjoyment of abundance and in the exercise of hospitality and charity, possessing stocks of ten, twenty and thirty breeding cows, with the usual proportion of other stock, are now pining on one or two acres of bad land, with one or two starved cows. For this accommodation a calculation is made, that they must support their families and pay the rents of their lots, not from the produce but from the sea.

When the herring fishery succeeds, they generally satisfy the landlords, whatever privations they may suffer. When the fishing fails, they fall in arrears and are sequestrated and their stocks sold to pay the rents, their lots given to others, and they and their families turned adrift on the world. In these trying circumstances, he concludes, "We cannot sufficiently admire their meek and patient spirit, supported by the powerful influence of moral and religious principle.

The beautiful Strathnaver, containing a population equal to Kildonan, had been cleared in the same heartless manner.

In 1828, Donald Macleod, after a considerable absence, returned to his native Kildonan, where he attended divine service in the parish church, which he found attended by a congregation consisting of eight shepherds and their dogs -- numbering between twenty and thirty -- the minister, and three members of his family. Macleod came in too late for the first psalm, but at the conclusion of the service the fine old tune Bangor was given out, "when the four- footed hearers became excited, got up on their seats, and raised a most infernal chorus of howling. Their masters attacked them with their crooks, which only made matters worse; the yelping and howling continued to the end of the service." And Donald Macleod retired to contemplate the painful and shameful scene, and contrast it with what he had previously experienced as a member, for many years, of the large and devout congregation that worshipped formerly in the parish church of his native valley.

The Parish Church of Farr was no longer in existence; the fine population of Strathnaver was rooted and burnt out during the general conflagration, and presented a similar aspect to his own native parish. The church, no longer found necessary, was razed to the ground, and its timbers conveyed to construct one of the Sutherland "improvements" -- the Inn at Altnaharra, while the minister's house was converted into a dwelling for a foxhunter.

A woman, well-known in the parish, travelling through the desolated Strath next year after the evictions, was asked on her return home for her news. She replied -- "O, chan eil ach sgiala bronach! sgiala bronach!" "Oh, only sad news, sad news! I have seen the timber of our well attended kirk covering the inn at Altnaharra; I have seen the kirk-yard where our friends are mouldering filled with tarry sheep, and Mr. Sage's study turned into a kennel for Robert Gunn's dogs, and I have seen a crow's nest in James Gordon's chimney head;" after which she fell into a paroxysm of grief.

Mackenzie's Pamphlet, 1881
by Alexander MacKenzie, F.S.A., Scot.
Edited by Janet MacKay, B.R.E.,B.Sc.


 

 Ross-shire Clearances: Glencalvie


Eighteen families, 88 people, lived here in Glencalvie in turf cabins indistinguishable from the brown hills, growing barley and oats, herding cattle and sheep on a total holding of no more than 20 acres. The most incredible rent, almost four times what a farmer in England would pay for the same land, was paid for this land for generations without arrears except for some weeks during the famine in 1836. The little community had no paupers on the poor roll and no inhabitant of this valley had been charged for any offence since years back. During the wars it had furnished many soldiers.

After departing their homes, the people were seated for a church service on a green brae by the Carron, the women all neatly dressed in net caps and wearing scarlet or plaid shawls; the men wearing their blue bonnets and having their shepherds' plaids wrapped around them. This was their only covering, and this was the Free Church. There was simplicity extremely touching in this group on the bare hillside, listening to the Psalms of David in their native tongue and assembled to worship God. They sang the 145th Psalm. In the Parliamentary Church at Croick there were two families who had not followed their neighbours into the Free Church, ten men, women and children holding a service in English and the Gaelic.

The week-end the only refuge for the people was the churchyard at Croick, a little walled enclosure sheltered by a few trees. Although it was May, the weather was wet and cold. Behind the church, a long kind of booth was erected, the roof formed a tarpaulin stretched over poles, the sides closed in with horsecloths, rugs, blankets and plaids. Their furniture, excepting their bedding, they got distributed amongst the cottages of their neighbours; and with their bedding and their children, they all removed on Saturday afternoon to this place. They had been round to every heritor and factor in the neighbourhood, and 12 of the 18 families had been unable to find places of shelter. With the new Scotch Poor Law in prospect, other cottages were everywhere refused to them. Many of them, indeed, wished that their lot had landed them under the sod with their ancestors and their friends, rather than to be treated and driven out of house and home in such a ruthless manner.

It was a most wretched spectacle to see these poor people march out of the glen in a body, with two or three carts filled with children, many of them mere infants; and other carts containing their bedding and their requisites. The whole countryside was up on the hills watching them as they silently took possession of their tent. No one dared to succour them under a threat of receiving similar treatment to those whose hard fate had driven them thus among the tombs.

A fire was kindled in the churchyard, round which the poor children clustered. Two cradles with infants in them, were placed close to the fire, and sheltered round by the dejected looking mothers. Others busied themselves into dividing the tent into compartments by means of blankets for the different families. Contrasted with the gloomy dejection of the grown-ups and the aged was the, perhaps, not less melancholy picture of the poor children thoughtlessly playing round the fire, pleased with the novelty of all around them. There were 23 children in the churchyard, all under the age of ten, and seven of them were ill. There were also some young and unmarried men and women, but most of the refugees were over forty.

Within a week the churchyard was empty. Where the people went, to what southern town or what emigrant colony is not known. The six families for which it was claimed settlement was found, were as thus: David Ross and his son got a piece of black moor near Tain, 25 miles off, without any house or shed on it, out of which they hoped to obtain subsistence. Another old man was given a small lot at Edderton, and these three alone received anything from which they might confidently expect to get the barest of livings. The other three families were given turf huts near Bonar Bridge. The rest are hopeless, helpless.

When they took shelter in the graveyard at Croick, some of the people scratched their names and brief messages on the diamond-paned windows of the church. They wrote in English, as if acknowledging that their own tongue would pass with them and would not be understood in time. The words they wrote are still there:

"Glencalvie people was in the church here May 24, 1845..."
"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..."

From accounts on the Highland Clearances
by John Prebble and Alexander Mackenzie


 

 Strathnaver Clearances


Strathnaver before the clearances

The valley of Strathnaver is as green fold of earth, the richest in that part of the country, a narrow twisting glen down which the black water of the River Naver runs from south to north, from the loch of its name to the Atlantic Ocean. The people who lived there in 1814 were Mackays, by name or allegiance, though the Countess was their Lord.

The houses were grouped in a dozen small townships, northward down the strath to the sea and westward along the shore of Loch Naver.

Because of the mission there, Achness was perhaps the most important to the people. It took its Gaelic name, Achadh an Eas, the cornfield by the cascade, from the brown stream that still falls in noisy delight from hills where once the Norsemen buried their dead.

There was Rhifail, the enclosure in a hollow, the smooth dale of Dalvina, Skail the sheiling, and Syre where the young men had been assembled in the spring of 1800 for service with the Sutherland Highlanders.

Along the loch, toward Altnaharra at its finger-tip, were Grummore and Grumbeg. On these fell the evening shadow of Ben Klibreck across the water, and if one stands among the few remaining stones of Grummore today the mountain takes the naked shape of a sleeping woman, the milky smoke of burning heather for her hair, and her head turned away from Strathnaver.

If Strathnaver were not the paradise some exiles believed it to have been when they remembered it in their old age, the words they used spoke of their love and longing for it.

I remember, said Angus Mackay, who was eleven when he was driven from the glen, I remember you would see a mile or half a mile between every town if you were going up the strath. There were four or five families in each of these towns, and bonnie haughs between the towns, and hill pastures for miles, as far as they could wish to go.

The people had plenty of flocks of goats, sheep, horses and cattle, and they were living happy, with flesh and fish and butter, and cheese and fowl and potatoes and kail and milk too. There was no want of anything with them, and they had the Gospel preached to them at both ends of the Strath.

During the clearances

"The sportsman now roams o'er the Sutherland hills
           And down where the Naver runs clear;
       And the land a brave race had for centuries owned
           Is now trod by the sheep and the deer.
       The halls, where our ancestors first saw the light,
           Now blackened in ruins they lie.
       And the moss-covered cairns are all that remain
           Of the once pleasant homes of MacKay.

       Happy homes by an alien's base mandate o'erthrown
           Tender maidens and brave stalwart men
       Were ruthlessly scattered like leaves in a gale
           Far away from their dear native glen.
       Brave clansmen who fought in fair liberty's cause
           In the lowlands of Holland they lie.
       For bravest in battle and second to none
           Has aye been the Clan of MacKay

       Not yet are they silenced through peaceful they lie,
           And though far from the green mountain said,
       They meet in the City of famous renown
           On the banks of the dark flowing Clyde,
       Where hearts still undaunted and beating as true
           As when under a northern sky
       They grasped their claymores when the slogan they heard
           And followed the flag of MacKay.

       Unflinching they bore the proud ensign aloft
           When their foemen the penalty paid;
       And the same noble spirit inspires them to-day
           Their poor broken clansmen to aid.
       The aged and weak they have sworn to protect
           By the "Strong Hand" and kind watchful eye.
       For faithful in friendship and valiant in war
           Has aye been the Clan of MacKay.

       Then flock to the standard and join the roll call!
           Once more the banner's unfurled
       The slogan's been sounded, and kinship been claimed
           By clansmen all over the world.
       Exiled or at home, love of country and clan
           Are feelings we'll never let die;
       Defy and defend, stand true to the end,
           And honour the name of MacKay."
                         
                                      - By Elizabeth MacKay
                                            Bridge of Allan 1889

 

Rev. Donald Sage wrote about the last Sabbath in Strathnaver before the burnings

"In Strathnaver we assembled, for the last time, at the place of Langdale, where I had frequently preached before, on a beautiful green sward overhung by Robert Gordon's antique, romantic little cottage on an eminence close beside us. The still-flowing waters of the Naver swept past us a few yards to the eastward.

The Sabbath morning was unusually fine, and mountain, hill, and dale, water and woodland, among which we had dwelt so long dwelt, and with which all our associations of 'home' and 'native land' were so fondly linked, appeared to unite their attractions to bid us farewell.

My preparations for the pulpit had always cost me much anxiety, but in view of this sore scene of parting, they caused me pain almost beyond endurance. I selected a text which had a pointed reference to the peculiarity of our circumstances, but my difficulty was how to restrain my feelings till I should illustrate and enforce the great truths which it involved with reference to eternity.

The service began. The very aspect of the congregation was itself a sermon, and a most impressive one. Old Achoul sat right opposite to me. As my eye fell upon his venerable countenance, bearing the impress of eighty- seven winters, I was deeply affected, and could scarcely articulate the psalm.

I preached and the people listened, but every sentence uttered and heard was in opposition to the tide of our natural feelings, which, setting in against us, mounted at every step of our progress higher and higher. At last all restraints were compelled to give way. The preacher ceased to speak, the people to listen.

All lifted up their voices and wept, mingling their tears together. It was indeed the place of parting, and the hour. The greater number parted never again to behold each other in the land of the living."

WIDOW BETSY MACKAY [Drover]
86 years of age, Kirtomy, Parish of Farr
I am a native of Strathnaver, and saw some of the burnings that took place there. I was born at Sgall, a township with six houses, where I lived till I was sixteen years of age, when the people in the township were driven away and their houses burnt.

Our family was very reluctant to leave this place, and stayed for some time after the summons for evicting was delivered. But Sellar's party came round and set fire to our house at both ends, reducing to ashes whatever remained within the walls. The occupants had, of course, to escape for their lives, some of them losing all their clothes except what they had on their backs. The people then had plenty clothes (home spun), which they made from the wool of their sheep.

The people were told they could go where they liked, provided they did not encumber Sellar's domain, the land that was by rights their own. The people were driven away like dogs who deserved no better fate, and that, too, without any reason in the world, but to satisfy the cruel avarice of Sellar.

Here is an incident that I remember in connection with the burning of Sgall. My sister, whose husband was from home, was delivered of a child at Grumb-mhor at this time. Her friends in Sgall, fearing lest her house should be burnt, and she perish in her helpless condition, went to Grumb-mhor and took her with them in very cold weather, weak and feeble as she was. This sudden removal occasioned to her a fever, which left its effects upon her till her dying day.

ROBERT MACKAY
Strathy, regarding Rhinnirie
I was about seven years of age when the township was burnt. When Sellar's men arrived, my father and mother happened to be in Caithness-shire, laying down the crops in Latheron, which was to be their future home. An old woman, my aunt, remained with me and my sister at Strathnaver.

We began early in the day to remove our effects to the hill-side, in anticipation of their visit; but, before we had finished, they were upon us, and set fire, first, to the byre which was attached to the dwelling-house.

This made us redouble our efforts, as the flames were making rapid progress. I remember we encountered serious difficulty when we came to remove the meal-chest. To ask the assistance of Sellar's men would be absurd; but we succeeded at last by removing the meal in small quantities to the hill-side on blankets.

We then made a ring of the furniture and took our station inside, from which we viewed the flames. Here we slept all night, wrapped in woolen blankets, of which we had plenty; and I remember very vividly the volumes of flames issuing from our dwelling-house, and the crackling sounds when the flames seized upon the fir couples and timber supporting the roof of turf. At the same time, also the three remaining houses in the township were fired.

GEORGE MACKAY
80 years of age, crofter, Airdneskich, Farr
I was born at Ridsary on Strathnaver, and was about 10 years of age when that part of the Strath where my father lived was depopulated, and our habitations burnt to the ground. I saw these four townships all in flames on the same day:-

* Ceann-na-coille, with 7 houses
* Syre, with 13 houses
* Kidsary, with 2 houses
* Langall, with 8 houses

I saw in all thirty houses burning at the same time.

When this was taking place, I was leading two horses up the Strath, to carry from Kidsary some of our furniture, which was left by my father near the place, when we were evicted from our home a few days previous to this. As the houses were all covered with dry thatch, dwelling places and steadings, the crackling noise as well as the fire and smoke were awful.

I noticed one house at Langall, having a good stack of peats beside it, which the burning party, on coming round, put to the same fate as the houses, and if any other thing remained in or near the premises it was at once consigned to the flames.

It may be mentioned that the inhabitants left these houses a day or two before they were set on fire, being ordered off the ground by Sellar. It was heartrending to hear the cries of the women and children when leaving their happy homes and turning their faces they knew not whether.

The most of our cattle died the first winter, as we had no provision for them. We got no compensation for our burnt houses, not any aid to build new ones, or trench land.

WILLIAM MACKAY (Ban)
80 years of age, army pensioner and crofter, Achina, Farr
I am a native of Rossal on Strathnaver, and now living at Achina. One morning in May, when I was about twelve years of age, I went up to Achcaoilnaborgin to see Sellar's party putting the houses in that township on fire, as I, like a child, thought it grand fun to see the houses burning. The burning party was under the leadership of one Branders. When I reached the place the houses were ablaze, and I waited till they were all burnt to the ground, six in number. Then I accompanied the burners to Achinlochy, were six more houses were reduced to ashes.

In one of these houses I saw an old man, Donald Mackay (MacWilliam), who was over 100 years of age, lying in bed. Branders and his men, on coming to this house, glanced at the old man in bed, and then set fire to the house in two or three places, and the poor man, who could not escape, was left by them to the tender mercies of the flames.

The cries of the sufferer attracted the attention of his friends, who, at their own peril, ran in and rescued him from a painful death. It can be said with certainty that the terror and the effect of the fire on his person tended to hasten the man's death.

I may state that I have travelled a large portion of the four quarters of the globe, lived among heathens and barbarians where I saw many cruel scenes, but never witnessed such revolting cruelty as I did on Strathnaver, except one case in the rebellion of Canada.

I knew Donald Macleod, the author of "The Gloomy Memoirs of Sutherland", to be honest and truthful, and what I read in this book was nothing but the simple truth.

ANGUS MACKAY
89 years of age, crofter, Leadnagiullan, Farr
I spent twenty-three years on Strathnaver, in my birthplace Ceann-na-coille, and I am confident they were the happiest days I ever spent. We were very happy and comfortable on the Strath.

There were seven houses in Ceann-na-coille, which I, with a sad heart, saw burnt to the ground. I saw Rossal, with upwards of twenty houses, also burnt. Sellar's orders to the people were to have their furniture, and whatever else they wished to bring with them, removed from these townships before a certain day.

My friends, and several of the townspeople endeavored to obey this cruel summons, and carried their effects down to the river's side. Here they formed a kind of raft, whereon was placed all their furniture, farm implements, clothes, etc., in fact all their wordly possessions, except their cattle. Then they took shelter, and anxiously awaited the rising of the river to enable them to float the raft down the stream towards their new home.

Soon, however, the furious burners came, and in spite of the poor people's entreaties and promises, the raft was easily set on fire, and before the party left the ground it was all in ashes along the banks of the river.

Nor did the ruthless work of Sellar's party end here. They now turned their course to the township of Baclinleathaid, and there commenced the burning again. In a certain hut there, there was an old woman who, perhaps, had none of her friends alive, or at least at hand, to be of any help to her in the hour of need. The party came to the hut of this friendless woman, set fire to the house, and instantly marched off, leaving the poor decrepit woman, who was within the house, to burn. It is true the woman's body was taken out by some neighbours who, too late, knew what was taking place, but death relieved her from pain ere they carried her across the threshold of her burning house.

I was well acquainted with Donald Macleod, who wrote "The Gloomy Memoirs of Sutherland", and always found him to be a truthful man. I heard some parts of his book read, and can emphatically say from my own experience, which now extends over a period of eighty-nine years, that it states the truth.

Macleod only wrote what hundreds could testify to ten years ago, but now almost all the people who knew much about the Strathnaver cruelties are dead, and the young generation, though they have heard sof these things from the lips of their fathers, cannot testify to them as eye-witnesses could. People now-a-days cannot imagine the awful cruelties perpetrated on Strathnaver by Sellar and his minions.

I declare this statement of mine is true.

Angus Mackay
Witnesses:
-- Ann MacKay
-- Murdo Mackay
29th Aug. 1883


 
 

 

 
 

 

 
 

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