By - 'The English Rose.'
Not very long ago, Cheryl put up a post about the Indian Schools where Native American children were taken from their parents, had their hair cut off, and were forced to wear European clothes and only speak English. You might not be aware that a similar thing happened over here, in Scotland, so this time I thought I would share with you some information on the infamous Highland Clearances.
In the 1800s, the Highlands of Scotland were populated by many people living in small farming settlements, some large enough to have their own small ‘kirk’ or church. Others were just scatterings of small homesteads where the people worked on the rich heavy soil to keep their families fed. Some houses were built of stone, many were ‘soddies’ or long houses, made of turf with timber and thatch roofs. Often the thatch on the roofs was held down by nets weighted down with heavy stones, the winds in the Highlands can be fierce and that was the best way to keep your roof!
Most of these small settlements were sited on the large expanses of land belonging to Lairds or even Royalty, who allowed the settlements in return, of course, for rents and taxes.
Highland Clearances have been defined as ‘an enforced simultaneous eviction of all families living in a given area such as an entire glen’. They are particularly notorious because of the brutality of many evictions at very short notice (year by year tenants had almost no protection under Scottish law).
In the late 18th and into the 19th centuries, many Highland estates moved from arable and mixed farming, which supported a large tenant population, to the far more profitable sheep farming. ‘Surplus’ tenants were ‘encouraged’, often forcibly, to move off land judged suitable for raising sheep.
The long term effect of the Clearances was to destroy much of the Gaelic culture as, around the same time, the Gaels were also banned from using their ancient language, wearing tartans, bearing arms, or even playing the bagpipes, which were looked upon as weapons of war.
Planned towns, like Fochabers, Grantown on Spey, Inveary, Plockton and Ullapool took many of the migrants. The first big mass emigration was in 1792 and this became known as the ‘Year of the Sheep’, at that time most of the cleared clansmen went to America, Canada and Australia.
The Clearances devastated Gaelic culture and clan society, and drove people from the land they had called home for centuries, resulting in significant emigration of Highlanders to the sea coasts, where they were suddenly expected to take up fishing to provide for their families. In one particularly exposed area of Caithness, the weather was so harsh that as the women worked they had to tether their livestock and even their children to posts or rocks to prevent them from being blown over the cliffs.
In 1807 the evictions began in earnest once more, in one area alone 90 families were forced to leave their crops in the ground and move their furniture, timbers and cattle to the land they were offered 20 miles away, on the coast, living out in the open until they had built themselves new houses. The plan was described as ‘a typical example of social engineering which met neither the hopes of the benefactor nor the needs of the beneficiaries, but produced social disaster’.
Tenants were generally treated according to due process of the law, being served with notices and given time (usually three months) to vacate. Many were reluctant to leave, so were evicted with force. The methods used were sometimes harsh and brutal, even by the standards of the early 19th century. Land agents would throw people out in person if they showed reluctance to go, and burned down their crofts to ensure they didn’t return. Evictions of 2,000 families in one day were not uncommon. Many starved or froze to death where their homes had once been.
The Duchess of Sutherland, seeing the starving tenants on her husband’s estate, remarked in a letter to a friend, "Scotch people are of happier constitution and do not fatten like the larger breed of animals."
Donald McLeod, a Sutherland crofter, wrote about the events he witnessed: "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 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. At night an awful scene presented itself — all the houses in one district in flames at once. I ascended a height about eleven o'clock in the evening, and counted two hundred and fifty blazing houses, many of the owners 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.
Accounts like those brought widespread condemnation. Some of the older people evicted were too ill to go far. They were left exposed to the chill northern air and died soon after.
The view that the economic failures of the Highlands were due to the shortcomings of the Celtic race was expressed by two important Scottish newspapers, The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald. In 1851 The Scotsman wrote “Collective emigration is, therefore, the removal of a diseased and damaged part of our population. It is a relief to the rest of the population to be rid of this part.”
Similar views were held by senior public officials, one of whom wrote that ‘A national effort’ would be necessary to rid the land of ‘the surviving Irish and Scotch Celts’. The exodus would then allow for the settlement of a racially superior people of Teutonic stock. He welcomed ‘the prospects of Germans settling in increasing numbers – an orderly, moral, industrious and frugal people, less foreign (!) to us than the Irish or Scotch Celt, a congenial element which will readily assimilate with our body politic.’
On 23 July 2007, the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond unveiled a 3-metre (10 ft) high bronze "Exiles" statue in Helmsdale, Sutherland, to commemorate the people who were cleared from the area by landowners and left their homeland to begin new lives overseas. The statue, depicting a family leaving their home, stands at the mouth of the Strath of Kildonan, it was funded by Dennis MacLeod, a Scottish-Canadian mining millionaire.
An identical 3-metre high bronze "Exiles" statue has also been set up on the banks of the Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
As a final note, if you get the chance, please do listen to a song by folk band –Battlefield Band, it’s called ‘Road of Tears’, the verses alternate between the Scottish clearances and the Native American ones, I almost defy you to listen without choking up!
Phew, I hope this wasn’t too much for you. See you all again soon!