Aims Examine the reasons why people were evicted from their homes in the Highlands. Identify where people went to live
After the Battle of Culloden the clan system which had existed in Scotland for hundreds of years was destroyed. Clan chiefs were encouraged to lose interest in their tenants and move them off their lands.
Farming in Scotland In Scotland particularly in the North, many lived on crofts. People would rent small plots of land from a landlord (Clan chief). They would also be expected to take on some extra work for their landlord.
Landowners wanted to make money out of their estates. The way to do that was to get rid of their people and bring in sheep. Can you think of ways that landowners could make money from sheep?
Sutherland Clearances On the right is Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, and Dunrobin Castle her home in Scotland. Already fabulously wealthy, she and her husband, the Earl of Stafford, wanted to “improve” their Scottish estates.
Elizabeth and her husband rarely visited their estate in Sutherland, they did not speak Gaelic and appointed a factor, Patrick Sellar, to manage their estates. What they did to the people of Sutherland has gone down in history as a heartless outrage.
The plan was to move people from the land and the crofts that they and their families had worked for centuries and move them to the coast. It was thought that they could make money fishing but the tenants had no experience or skill at this. They and their families began to starve.
1807 Farr and Lairg The clearances themselves were viciously and heartlessly carried out. In 1807 90 families were evicted from the homes they had built themselves and the land they had cultivated and forced to move 17 miles away. They had to sleep out in the open until they had rebuilt their homes. They were allowed to take their cattle but not their crops and some began to die.
1809 Dornoch, Golspie Several hundred families were evicted and offered unsuitable bog land to live on. Some were forced to give up and leave Scotland entirely.
Some Highlanders who protested were taken prisoner. Frightened, cowed and broken hearted the tenants had no one to speak up for them. Even the parish ministers stood by the landlords and told the Highlanders they would face eternal damnation if they resisted.
1814 “The Year of the Burnings” Patrick Sellar gave tenants notice to quit Strathnaver. A few days later he gave orders for the pasture to be set alight so there would be no food for the Highlanders’ cattle. When most of the men were away, Sellar turned up at the village and ordered the houses to be burned down. Women and children scrambled to save what they could.
An Eyewitness Account “I was an eye witness of the scene — strong parties led by Sellar and Young commenced setting fire to the dwellings till about 300 houses were in flames, the people striving to remove the sick, the helpless, before the fire should reach them. The cries of women and children — the roaring of cattle — the barking of dogs — the smoke of the fire — the soldiers — it required to be seen to be believed!" Donald MacLeod
The estate records show that evictions at the rate of 2,000 families in one day were not uncommon. With no shelter remaining for the cleared families many starved and froze to death where their homes had once been.
On 13 June 1814, Sellar was involved in the eviction of William Chisholm and his wife from their croft in Strathnaver. Chisholm's 90 year old mother in law, Margaret Mackay was inside. When they protested she was too old to be moved Sellar is reported to have said “Damn her, the old witch: she has lived too long. Let her burn!!” The roof was set on fire, she was rescued, her blankets already burning, by her daughter and taken to a nearby shed, where she died five days later.
As a result, Patrick Sellar was put on trial in Inverness in 1816 accused of arson and culpable homicide, however he was found not guilty and allowed to go free.
Sellar was replaced on the estate by James Lock who continued with the evictions. Lock is said to have posted constables on the shore to prevent starving tenants collecting shellfish to eat.
Lock, Sellar and the Duke of Sutherland cleared 15,000 people to make way for 200,000 sheep.