Skip to content...

The Highland Clearances

The Strath of Kildonan, Sutherland
THIS LONG AND LOVELY GLEN winds from Helmsdale, on the east coast of Sutherland, to the bleak settlement of Kinbrace 18 miles inland, and on another five miles to Loch Badanloch, the source of the Helmsdale River. Driving northwest up the strath, once you have left the outskirts of Helmsdale behind there is barely a handful of inhabited houses until Kinbrace comes in sight. It was not always so. Kildonan was savagely cleared in the years between 1813 and 1819 - so savagely that these clearances provoked the first recorded dissent against the evictions anywhere in the Highlands. The clans here were Gunns, Mathesons, Mackays, Macbeths and Sutherlands - all the peoples of the Sutherland/Caithness border region, but Kildonan was predominantly Gunn territory, and it was the Gunns who resisted in 1813. They first ran off a Mr Reid, agent for some southern sheep-farmers, who had visited the strath, asking questions and taking notes; Mr Reid declared to anyone who would listen that he had been attacked by a mob and had barely escaped with his life.
IT WAS JUST THE EXCUSE the Duke of Sutherland's factors had been praying for.
The male staff of the estate were sworn in as special constables and a detachment of infantry sent out at the double from Fort George.
This was more than the Gunns could withstand and their resistance melted away. Within three months large areas of upper Kildonan had been entirely cleared, and the people offered tiny allotments of poor land on the cliff tops near Helmsdale, or sent into exile in Canada - the choice of many of the younger people. In June of the year they sailed from Stromness in Orkney, bound for the Red River in Manitoba and now runs through the great city of Winnipeg which was founded by the Kildonan settlers.

Highland Blackface sheep in the Strath of Kildonan.
Highland Blackface sheep in the Strath of Kildonan.
Photo by David Paterson Photography

IN 1819 THE LAST INHABITANTS were cleared from lower Kildonan. This time there was no dissent; the people had learned by bitter experience that neither government, nor law courts, nor their church, would speak a word or lift a hand in their defence. They went quietly into exile; to Glasgow; to whatever patch of land they might be offered to scrape a living. Some went to join their kinsmen across the Atlantic. After the events of 1813, there had been further evictions and emigrations in 1815, when 700 Kildonan clansfolk left for the Canadian settlements along the Red River and in Glengarry County. They had a hard time, and had to fight not only the harsh Canadian winter but Cree Indians and renegade Frenchmen. They called their new home Kildonan.

Glen Loth, East Sutherland

GLEN LOTH IS A LONELY LITTLE GLEN a mile or two south of the scattered township of Loth itself. The glen cuts due north through the hills of east Sutherland from the main A9 Brora/Helmsdale road to the Strath of Koldonan. A narrow, little-used single-track road runs through the glen and descends into the Kildonan valley above Duible; it meets the Kildonan road a mile south of Suisgill.
Glen Loth is one of those places which shows signs of habitation over a very long period - on a scarp above the main road at the entrance to the glen there is a tumbled broch; a few hundred metres further into the glen another better-preserved broch - Carn Bran - lies across the waters of the Glen Loth burn, and at two places elsewhere there are standing stones.
On the slope above the little road soon after it leaves the A9 there are many ruins; not much is above knee-height but a lot of people lived here, once. Further up, into the glen proper there are further ruins across the stream; on the opposite side of the valley there is a substantial sheep-fank, the best-preserved ruin in the glen and probably still in use after the 2nd world war.

The sheepfank

The sheepfank

IN THE FLAT, WET BOTTOM-LAND OF THE GLEN there are no real ruins to be seen; no-one would have choosen to live down there (the nameLoth means marshy); a single shepherd's cottage has only recently lost its roof and is probably still being worked on by someone.
At the north end of the glen, before it descends towards the Strath of Kildonan there is another low stone ruin beside the road; a little further on flattened,grassed-over walls show where someone lived, some time in the past. No-one lives here today.

Ruins in Glen Loth

Ruins in Glen Loth

GLEN LOTH WAS CLEARED at the same time as nearby Kildonan, in three waves in 1809. 1813 and 1819. Across the county to the west, Strathnaver was burning. The recent biography of Patrick Sellar, who ruthlessly cleared these glens and town -ships, has a lot to say about the clearance of Glen Loth - some of that we will incorporate here, when possible.

Late afternoon in Glen Loth
The distribution of the clans
Mr Dennis MacLeod. has recently conducted an exercise to establish the distribution of the clans in the period immediately prior to the clearance of the strath.

The method he has used is to compare the number of entries recorded in the Kildonan parish register for each clan over the period 1795 to1815 with regard to births, deaths and marriages. While this method is not as absolute as a census in determining relative numbers, it is nevertheless reasonably accurate because of the large number of entries (1400). The number of entries should not be confused with population numbers which were probably about the 2000 level.

From the distribution numbers (see Table below) it can be seen that the Sutherlands and their affiliate Gordons make up 24% followed by the Mackays and their sept Polsons at 20%. the Gunns and Bannermans are also prominent at 13% and 7% respectively, followed by the Mathesons, Macleods and Macbeths. It is interesting to note that Highland clans comprise over 99% of the entries, the Gilchrists being the exception.
Number of Entries by Clan in the Parish Register for Kildonan in the Period 1795 to 1815

Clan (1)
No. of Entries (2)
Distribution (%)

(1) Including all spelling variations.
(2) Comprised of births, deaths and marriages.
(3) Including, in descending order; Campbell, Henderson, Gilchrist, Stewart, Mackenzie, Macintyre, Macintosh, Nicol and Macnicol; and with single entries for Keith, Sinclair, Robertson, Cuthbert, Gray, Chisholm and Mowat.
 The clearances psalm sheet....
Copy supplied by Kenny Mackenzie (red kenny the plumber)

This sheet belonged to a George Munro of Navidale(kenny's great grandfather)who happened to be the Precentor that day.Shortly after the event "Toffs" came down with their "keepers" and removed all his papers photos etc. for burning. George had kept this order of service within a zipped bible and he challenged the intruder with the words "if you dare burn that bible you are really in trouble" this was enough to frighten him off , and so the bible was handed down to his son Angus who in turn gave it to Kenny in 1950.......

13th Century -- The Seer Thomas of Erceldoune (a.k.a. Thomas the Rhymer or True Thomas) reportedly prophesied about the Highlands:"The teeth of the sheep shall lay the (useless) plough up on the shelf." Approximately 350 years later, Coinneach Odhar, the Brahan Seer,expanded on Thomas' vision:

The day will come when the Big Sheep will put the plough up in the rafters... ...the Big Sheep will overrun the country till they meet the Northern Sea... ...(and) in the end, old men shall return from new lands...


1739 -- MacDonald of Sleat and Macleod of Dunvegan sell selected Clan members as indentured servants to landowners in the Carolinas.

1746 (April) -- Following the Battle of Culloden, surviving Highlanders are sent to the Caribbean as slaves.

1747 -- the Act of Proscription bans the wearing of tartan, the teaching of Gaelic, the right of Highlanders to "gather," and the playing of bagpipes in Scotland.

1747 -- the Heritable Jurisdictions Act forces Highland landowners to either accept all English jurisdiction or else forfeit their lands. Many Highland landowners and Clan chiefs move to London.

1762 -- Sir John Lockhart-Ross brings sheep to his Balnagowan estate, raises tenant rents, installs fences and Lowlander shepherds.

1782 -- Thomas Gillespie and Henry Gibson lease a sheep-walk at Loch Quoich, removing more than 500 tenants, most of whom emigrate to Canada.

1782 -- the Act of Proscription is repealed, but many Highland landowners, who have been born and raised in London or other metropolitan areas, remain in their urban homes, distancing themselves from the tenant Clan members on their lands.

1780s (late) -- Donald Cameron of Lochiel begins clearing his family lands, which span from Loch Leven to Loch Arkaig.

1791 --The Society of the Propagation of Christian Knowledge reports that over the previous 19 years more than 6,400 people emigrated from the Inverness and Ross areas.

1791 -- "The dis-peopling in great measure of large tracts of country in order to make room for sheep (is taking place)," observes the Reverend Kemp after visiting the Highlands.

1792 -- Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster brings the first Cheviot Sheep to his Caithness estates. These sheep would later be referred to as four-footed Clansmen, indicating the tenants' rage at being removed in favor of animals.

1792 (late July to early August) -- Angry tenant farmers drive all the Cheviots in Ross-shire to Boath. The 42nd Regiment intervenes, and the sheep are returned to Ross-shire.

1800-1813 -- Extensive clearances in Strathglass, Farr, Lairg, Dornoch, Rogart, Loth, Clyne, Gospie, Assynt, and lower Kildonan..

1801 -- The first clearances of the Strathglass area by William, the 24th Chisholm. Nearly 50% of the Clan living there are evicted.

1801 -- The emigrant ship The Sarah sails from Fort William to Pictou. By contemporary laws, only 489 slaves would have been allowed to be carried in the ship's holds. But no such laws govern emigrants, and almost 700 people are crammed into the ship, with nearly 50 people dying on the journey and countless others falling ill.

1803 -- Seeing their labor-base diminishing due to emigration, landowners in the Hebrides work for passage of the Passenger Act, which limits the number of people who can emigrate to other countries, trapping and keeping many tenants in poverty.

1807 (Whitsun) -- Evictions at Farr & Lairg -- the first major Sutherlandshire clearances.

1807 (October) -- The Rambler, carrying 133 emigrants from Thurso, sinks in the Atlantic. Only three passengers survive.

1807 (November) -- a gathering of The Northern Association of Gentlemen Farmers and Breeders of Sheep agree to move their activities into Ross-shire, Sutherlandshire, and Caithness. This decision would lead to massive clearances in those areas.

1809 -- The Chisholm enacts another large clearance of his lands in Strathglass, advertising to interested sheep-farmers lots holding between 1,000 and 6,000 sheep.

1811 -- More than 50 shepherds are brought into Sutherlandshire and made Justices of the Peace -- thereby giving them legal control over the native tenants.

1811 - 1851 -- The demand for seaweed (or kelp) falls. The harvesting of kelp was taken up by many cleared farmers who were relocated to the coast of Scotland. The lowering demands for kelp returns those farmers to poverty.

1813 -- Lord and Lady Stafford, the landowners of Sutherlandshire, hire James Loch to oversee the clearing of their lands.

1813 -- Nearly 100 tenants of Strath Kildonan emigrate to Canada aboard the Prince of Wales and settle near Lake Winnipeg.

1813 -- Sir George MacKenzie of Coul writes a book justifying the clearances, citing: The necessity for reducing the population in order to introduce valuable improvements, and the advantages of committing the cultivation of the soil to the hands of a few....

1813 (Spring) -- Lady Stafford writes that she would like to visit her Sutherlandshire estate but: at present I am uneasy about a sort of mutiny that has broken out in one part of Sutherland, in consequences of our new plans having made it necessary to transplant some of the inhabitants to the sea-coast from other parts of the estate

1813 (Spring) -- a group of Strath Kildonan residents march towards Golspie in order to have their grievances against the clearances heard. They are met by soldiers and the Sheriff, who, aided by local church ministers, intimidate the tenants into returning to their homes to await their eviction notices.

1813 (December 15) -- Tenants of the Strathnaver area of Sutherlandshire go to Golspie at the direction of William Young, Chief Factor for Lord and Lady Stafford. The tenants are told they have until the following Whitsunday to leave their homes and relocate to the wretched coastlands of Strathy Point.

1814 (April) -- Under the direction of Patrick Sellar, a Factor for Lord and Lady Stafford, heath and pastures surrounding Strathnaver are burned in preparation for planting grass for the incoming sheep. The native tenants of Strathnaver make no motion of moving to Strathy Point, or anywhere else.

1814 (June 13) -- Patrick Sellar begins burning Strathnaver. Residents are not given time to remove their belongings or invalid relatives, and two people reputedly die from their houses burning.

1815 -- The Sheriff-Substitute for Sutherlandshire arrests Patrick Sellar for:willfull fire-raising...most aggravated circumstances of cruelty, if not murder. Not surprisingly, a jury of affluent landowners and merchants acquit Sellar in April of

1816. Soon after, Sellar continues clearing vast areas of Sutherlandshire.

1818 -- Patrick Sellar retires to his Sutherlandshire estate, given to him by Lord and Lady Stafford in acknowledgment of his work.

1819 (May) -- Another violent clearing of Strathnaver residents. Donald Macleod, a young apprentice stonemason witnesses: 250 blazing houses. Many of the owners were my relatives and all of whom I personally knew; but whose present condition, whether in or out of the flames, I could not tell. The fire lasted six days, till the whole of the dwellings were reduced to ashes or smoking ruins.

1819 (May) -- The Kildonan area is cleared. Donald MacDonald later writes: ...the whole inhabitants of the Kildonan parish, with the exception of three families--nearly 2,000 souls--were utterly rooted and burned out.

1819 (June) -- The Sutherland Transatlantic Friendly Association is formed to assist cleared tenants who wanted to emigrate to America. It generates little interest and soon folds.

1820 -- James Loch publishes his account of enacting the clearances, or, as he calls them, the improvements. He declares that Gaelic will become a rarity in Sutherlandshire.

1820 -- Journalist Thomas Bakewell severely criticizes both Loch's book and his actions during the clearances.

1820 (February and March) -- Hugh Munro, the laird of Novar, clears his estates at Culrain along the Kyle of Sutherland. A riot ensues when the Sheriff and military arrive to evict the tenants. Remonstrated by the minister Donald Matheson, the tenants eventually cease fighting and move away.

1821 (April) -- Officials bearing Writs of Removal for the tenants of Gruids, near the River Shin, are stripped, whipped, and their documents are burned. Fearing another riot like Culrain, military and police accompany the Sheriff back to Gruids where, faced with such strong opposition, the tenants gathered their few belongings and moved to Brora.

1826 -- The Island of Rum is cleared except for one family. MacLean of Coll pays for the other natives to emigrate to Canada.

1826 -- The emigrant ship James arrives in Halifax. Every person on board had contracted typhus during the voyage.

1827 -- Lady Stafford visits her Sutherland estate and receives gifts from the tenants. Those gifts, wrote Donald Macleod, were provided by those who would subscribe would thereby secure her ladyship's favor and (that of) her factors -- and those who could not or would not were given to understand very significantly what they had to expect by plenty of menacing looks and an ominous shaking of the head.

1829 (September) -- The Canada Boat Song, a poem protesting the clearances, appears in Scotland's "Blackwood's Magazine."

1830 -- Lady Stafford visits her Sutherlandshire estate and visits the tenants living in primitive sheds. Unable to comprehend how people could live under such conditions, but speaking no Gaelic, she is not able to ascertain the condition of her tenants lives.

1830 (October 20) -- While stonemason Donald Macleod was off working in Wick, his wife and children were surprised in their home: ...a party of eight men...entered my dwelling (at) about 3 o'clock, just as the family were rising from dinner.
The party allowed no time for parley, but having put out the family with violence, proceeded to fling out the furniture, bedding and other effects in quick time, and after extinguishing the fire, proceeded to nail up the doors and windows in the face of the helpless woman.... Messengers had (previously) been dispatched--warning all the surrounding inhabitants, at the peril of similar treatment, against affording shelter, or assistance, to wife, child, or animal belonging to Donald Macleod. ...After spending most part of the night in fruitless attempts to obtain the shelter of a roof or hovel, my wife at last returned to collect some of her scattered furniture, and (built) with her own hands a temporary shelter against the walls of her late comfortable residence...(but) the wind dispersed (the) materials as fast as she could collect them.
Buckling up her the best manner she could, she left them in charge of the eldest (who was only seven years old), giving them such victuals as she could collect, and prepared to take the road for Caithness (in search of her husband). She had not proceeded many miles when she met with a good Samaritan and acquaintance...Donald Macdonald, who, disregarding the danger incurred, opened his door to her, refreshed and consoled her, and still under cover of night, accompanied her to the dwelling of (a friend), William Innes...of Sandside.

1832 -- Despite the fact that he forcibly evicted them, exiled members of Clan Chisholm swear allegiance to their chief back in Scotland.

1832 (late summer) -- Cholera runs through the Inverness area, claiming almost 100 lives. Many fear the illness came from the impoverished cleared tenants who beg on the streets, and strict laws are enacted to persecute these itinerants.

1833 -- At a party in honor of King William IV, Lord and Lady Stafford become the first Duke and Duchess of Sutherland.

1833 (winter) -- After the Duke of Sutherland's death, plans are made by some of the gentry for a monument to be erected in his honor. The tenants are "asked" to contribute, but Donald Macloed writes: all who could raise a shilling gave it, and those who could not awaited in terror for the consequences of their default.

1836 (autumn) -- a famine strikes the Highlands and Islands, leaving thousands to starve, despite efforts to fund emergency rations.

1837 -- The European historian/economist J.C.L.J. de Sismondi writes of Sutherlandshire: But though the interior of the county was thus improved into a desert--in which there are many thousands of sheep, but few human habitations, let it not be supposed by the reader that its general population was in any degree lessened. So far was this from being the case that the census of

1821 showed an increase over the census of 1811 of more than two hundred... the county has not been depopulated--its population has been merely arranged in a new fashion. The (Duchess of Sutherland) found it spread equally over the interior and the sea-coast, and in very comfortable circumstances--(but) she left it compressed into a wretched fabric of poverty and suffering that fringes the county on its eastern and western shores.

1840 - 1841 -- Donald Macleod publishes a series of letters in the Edinburgh Weekly Chronicle, describing his own eviction and other eyewitness testimony of the clearances.

1841 (February) -- Henry Baillie, Parliament Member for Inverness, forms a committee to investigate the situation in the Highlands. The committee concludes that there are too many people living in the Highlands and that a course of aggressive emigration should be established.

1841 (August and September) -- Given writs of removal by legal officials, the tenants of Durness and Keneabin riot and attack police and sheriffs with stones and sticks. Only after being threatened with an onslaught of military troops do the tenants accept the writs and grudgingly move away.

1845 -- Denied shelter within the church itself and believing themselves to be cursed by God, ninety evicted tenants of Glencalvie take temporary shelter in the churchyard at Croick, and leave messages scratched into the glass windows: ...Glencalvie people the wicked generation... ...John Ross shepherd... ...Glencalvie is a wilderness blow ship them to the colony... ...the Glencalvie Rosses...

1845 -- The potato blight, which had devastated Ireland the previous year, wipes out most of the potatoes in the Highlands.

1846 (December) -- The Reverend Norman Mackinnon of Bracadale Manse wrote to the Chaplain in Ordinary to Queen Victoria: Oh, send us something immediately.... If you can send but a few pounds at present, let it come, for many are dying, I may say, of starvation...

1847 (February) -- James Bruce, a writer for "The Scotsman," reports that the Highlanders' problems are due to their own laziness and suggests the best solution is for the native tenants: as soon as they are able to labour for themselves, be removed from the vicious influence of the idleness in which their fathers have been brought up and have lived and starved.

1849 -- Despite some rioting by the native tenants, Lord Macdonald clears more than 600 people from Sollas on North Uist.

1849 -- Thomas Mulcok, a somewhat bizarre writer and journalist with the Inverness Advertiser arrives in the Highlands and vigorously attacks landlords and factors in print. So vigorously, in fact, that he eventually flees to France when faced with charges of slander.

1850s (early) -- Clearances of thousands of tenants in the Strathaird district, Suishnish, and Boreraig on Skye; and Coigach at Loch Broom.

1851 -- Sir John MacNeill, under the direction of the Home Secretary, tours the Highlands and reports back that the Highland poor are "parading and exaggerating" their poverty and are basically lazy. The only solution MacNeill sees is emigration.

1851 (August) -- The clearance of Barra by Colonel Gordon of Cluny. The Colonel called all of his tenant farmers to a meeting to "discuss rents", and threatened them with a fine if they did not attend. In the meeting hall, over 1,500 tenants were overpowered, bound, and immediately loaded onto ships for America. An eyewitness reported: "...people were seized and dragged on board. Men who resisted were felled with truncheons and handcuffed; those who escaped, including some who swam ashore from the ship, were chased by the police...." When officials in Glasgow complained to the Colonel about many of Barra's homeless wandering their streets, he stated: "Of the appearance in Glasgow of a number of my tenants and cottars from the Parish of Barra--I had no intimation previous to my receipt of your communication. And in answer to your enquiry--what I propose doing with them--I say 'Nothing'."

1853 -- Knoydart is cleared under the direction of the widow of the 16th Chief of Glengarry.
More than 400 people are suddenly and forcibly evicted from their homes, including women in labor and the elderly. After the houses were torched, some tenants returned to the ruins and tried to re-build their villages. These ramshackle structures were then also destroyed.
Father Coll Macdonald, the local priest, erected tents and shelters in his garden at Sandaig on Loch Nevis, and offered shelter to as many of the homeless as he could. Donald Ross, a Glasgow journalist and lawyer wrote articles outlining the clearance of Knoydart, which generated little sympathy.

1854 -- The clearing of Strathcarron in Ross-shire. Some Clan Ross women tried to prevent the landlord's police force by blocking the road to the village. The constables charged the unarmed women, and, in the words of journalist Donald Ross: "...struck with all their force. ...Not only when knocking down, but after the females were on the ground. They beat and kicked them while lying weltering in their blood....(and) more than twenty females were carried off the field in blankets and litters, and the appearance they presented, with their heads cut and bruised, their limbs mangled and their clothes clotted with blood, was such as would horrify any savage."

1854 -- Archibald Geike, describing a recent clearance on Skye, states he saw: (The house was) a wretched hovel, unfit for sheep or pigs. Here 6 human beings had to take shelter. There was no room for a bed so they all lay down to rest on the bare floor.
On Wednesday last the head of the wretched family, William Matheson, a widower, took ill and expired on the following Sunday. His family consisted of an aged mother, 96, and his own four children - John 17, Alex 14, William 11, and Peggy 9 - the old woman was lying-in and when a brother-in-law of Matheson called to see how he was, he was horror struck to find Matheson lying dead on the same pallet of straw on which the old woman rested; and there also lay his two children, Alexander and Peggy, sick! Those who witnessed this scene declared that a more heart-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 grandchildren lying sick, one on each side of her.

1854 -- An emigrant ship is described by "The Times" as: The emigrant is shewn a berth, a shelf of coarse pinewood in a noisome dungeon, airless and lightless, in which several hundred persons...are stowed away, on shelves two feet one inch above each other...still reeking from the ineradicable stench left by the emigrants on the last voyage... After a few days have been spent in the pestilential atmosphere created by the festering mass of squalid humanity imprisoned between the damp and steaming decks, the scourge bursts out, and to the miseries of filth, foul air and darkness is added the Cholera.

1854 -- Highland landowners are asked to gather troops from their tenants to fight the Crimean War.
Most of the Highlanders refuse, one telling his laird: "should the Czar of Russia take possession of (these lands) next term that we couldn't expect worse treatment at his hands than we have experienced in the hands of your family for the last fifty years."

1856 -- The writer Harriet Beecher Stowe visits Sutherlandshire. Her tour is carefully orchestrated by the current Duchess of Sutherland to avoid sites of eviction, and so Stowe erroneously proclaims the tales of the clearances to be mostly fictional.

1872 -- A Parliamentary Select Committee is established to investigate claims that tenant farmers are being evicted in the Highlands to make room for deer. As the people had been cleared for sheep and not deer, the Committee finds no evidence.

1874 (spring) -- Starving tenants of Black Isle, Caithness and Ross areas attempt to commandeer grain shipments going from Lairds' estate farms to export ships. Military forces are called in to guarantee safe shipment of the grain.

1948 (November) -- The Knoydart area was originally cleared in 1853 by Josephine MacDonell and the former tenants were sent to Nova Scotia. Ninety-five years later, on 9-Nov-48, seven men who had served in World War II staked out claims on the Knoydart property, saying it was their right to stake out crofts on land that was being purposely left to go to waste. In the ensuing months, the 7 men gained the support of the populace, mostly due to the pro-Nazi philosophies of the then Knoydart laird, but a Court ruling eventually forcibly evicted the men.

1976 -- Crofters are legally allowed, for the first time, to purchase their own croft farms.

1993 -- The 130 tenant residents of Assynt raise £130,000 and, with the assistance of various grants and loans, buy their 21,000 acre homeland when it goes up for sale by the landowner. The Assynt Crofters Trust Ltd is established to oversee the land, instead of the traditional laird. A spokesman for the Trust states: "On the 1st February 1993 we became the first crofting communities to take complete control of our land. Our success means that we have put an end to the stranglehold of absentee landlords on the Crofting communities of North Assynt and set in motion an irresistible change in the land tenure system throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.".

1994 -- Mr. Sandy Lindsay, a resident of Inverness and a former SNP councillor, initiates a movement to have the 27-foot red sandstone statue of the Duke of Sutherland, that sits atop Ben Bhraggie in the Golspie area, destroyed or removed.
Lindsay considers the statue offensive to the descendants of the tenants that the Duke removed from his lands. Lindsay gathers worldwide support and a petition is presented to the Highland Council's Sutherland Area Committee in May of 1996. The Council rejects the petition, but agrees to construct a series of information plaques describing the Clearances in the Ben Bhraggie/Golspie area.

1996 -- The Pictou Waterfront Development Corporation begins an effort to construct a replica of Hector, an emigration ship that brought 200+ passengers to Canada from Ross-shire.

1996 -- According to Auslan Cramb's Who Owns Scotland?, the top twenty landowners of Scottish lands are:



The Forestry Commission = 1,600,000 acres
Duke of Buccleuch/Lord Dalkeith: 4 estates in the Borders = 270,000 acres
Scottish Office Agriculture Dept: 90% crofting land = 260,000 acres
National Trust for Scotland: (including the 75,000-acre Mar Lodge) = 190,000 acres
Alcan Highland Estates: land used for electricity generation = 135,000 acres
Duke of Atholl, Sarah Troughton: Estates around Dunkeld/Blair Atholl = 130,000 acres
Capt. Alwyn Farquharson: Invercauld on Deeside & smaller estate, Argyll = 125,000 acres
Duchess of Westminster, Lady Mary Grosvenor: = 120,000 acres
Earl of Seafield: Seafield estates, Speyside = 105,000 acres
Crown Estates Commission: 3 main estates, including Glenlivert = 100,000 acres


Andras Ltd, Malaysia: Glenavon, Cairngorms/Brauen, Inverness = 70,000 acres
Mohammed bin Raschid al Maktoum: = 63,000 acres
Kjeld Kirk-Christiansen, head of Lego, Denmark: Strathconon, Mid Ross = 50,000 acres
Profs Joseph and Lisbet Koerner, Swedish Tetra Pak heiress: Corrour, Caithness = 48,000 acres Stanton Avery, USA: Dunbeath, Caithness = 30,000 acres
Mohamed Al Fayed: Balnagowan, Ross and Cromarty = 30,000 acres
Urs Schwarzenberg, Switzerland: Ben Alder, Inverness-shire = 26,000 acres
Count Knuth, Denmark: Ben Loyal, Sutherland = 20,000 acres
His Excellency Mahdi Muhammad al-Tajir, UAE: Blackford, Perthshire = 20,000 acres
Prof. Ian Roderick Macneil of Barra, USA: Barra and islands = 17,200 acres

1996 -- Michael Foljambe, the landlord of the Melness Estate on the Kyle of Tongue, arranges for the free transfer of his lands to the resident crofters. The crofters set up Melness Crofters Estate Ltd. to govern their lands.

1997 (March) -- The 31-Mar-97 edition of The Scotsman reports: "The tenth Earl of Airlie, a former Lord Chamberlain to the Queen and brother of Sir Angus Ogilvy, has started an action to evict Norman Ogg, 58, a farmer, from his 125 acre farm on the 40,000 acre Airlie estate. "Nearby, in a separate action, Captain Alwyne Farquharson, chief of the Clan Farquharson and 16th baron of Invercauld, is trying to evict Jean Lindsay and her son, Sandy, from the 2,500 acre hill farm she has farmed for 26 years in Glenshee. "Capt Farquharson wants to extend the area available for grouse habitat -- and at Kinwhirrie farm, near Cortachy, Lord Airlie wants to improve the pheasant shooting."

1997 The residents of the Isle of Eigg raise over $2.4 million to buy their island from the landowner. Former laird Keith Schellenberg, who sold Eigg several years earlier, had called the island residents "drunken, ungrateful, dangerous and barmy chancers" and threatened them with eviction.

1997 (November) -- Klaus Helmersen, the Danish clothing manufacturing millionaire purchased the 42,000-acre Glenfeshie estate as a deer hunting estate, despite a campaign to make it public lands. A spokesman for Mr. Helmersen told The Scotsman: "We will not close it to people... we certainly do not want to stop ramblers or anyone else from coming on to the estate. We have public access laws in Denmark and are well used to allowing people into all forests."

1997 -- Scottish Industry Minister Brian Wilson outlines his Iomairt air an Oir (Initiative at the Edge) plan, to address issues such as depopulation in outlying areas of Scotland. The plan will involve Government agencies like the Crofters' Commission, Scottish Homes, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and local authorities.

"Unless a difference is made in the next five to ten years, there are going to be more dead communities in the Highlands and Islands," Mr. Wilson told The Stornoway Gazette.

1997 -- The Scotsman reported that the owners of the Highland Spring mineral water bottling company are allowing the houses on their 3,000-acre Blackford estate in Perthshire "to crumble as they fall vacant."

Scottish National Party MP Roseanna Cunningham said "...the owners appear to be pursuing a policy of deliberately allowing perfectly serviceable properties to fall into disrepair rather than providing much needed rural housing."

1997 (November) -- The first new crofting community in more than 50 years is to be set up at the Orbost Estate on Skye. The Estate was recently purchased by the publicly-owned Skye and Lochalsh Enterprise, which plans to build about a dozen croft houses and farms.

1998 (March 13) -- A conference entitled The Western Isles: an Economy in Crisis meets to discuss the economic problems facing the Islands. Mr. Angus Graham, the vice-convener of the Western Isles Council told the newspaper the Electronic Herald that "...every day you hear stories from parents who are worried their young folk can't get work and will have to leave.

"Over the past four or five years we have been faced with a steady decline in some of our basic industries, industries that provided some kind of economic stability in the past: Harris tweed; fishing; fish-farming; the ability of the council to create employment through capital projects. We have seen our initial capital & consents progressively reduced: the current figure is 44.5% less than it was five years ago, and next year we expect it to be just about 50% less - an appalling reduction. The fish farming industry which was such a hope in the 1980s has rationalised to such a degree that the employment is almost half of what it was in 1987-88."

1998 (late April) -- the Scottish Landowners' Federation suggests that it is time to apologise for the Highland clearances.

1998 (April) -- From The Scotsman: The 6th Earl of Granville, the Queen's godson and a man whose favourite pastimes include scuba diving for scallops, is invoking an archaic law, "foreshore entitlement", which allows him to levy royalties on kelp harvested from his 60,000-acre estate in the Outer Hebrides.

While he sits in his elegant seven-bedroom mansion in Callernish accumulating royalty cheques, around 40 crofters on North Uist eke out a meagre living using sickles to hack tonnes of the crop from rocks jutting out of freezing Atlantic waters.

After labouring in the bitter cold for as long as eight hours a day, the cutters are likely to earn just £15.20 per tonne. On a good day they may receive £45 for the seaweed harvest, which is shipped to the mainland and turned into a thickening agent for toothpaste, ketchup and jam.

The 38-year-old Earl, Fergus Leveson Gower, is entitled to a percentage of the value of the seaweed crop simply because it is washed up on his piece of shore.

Earl Granville has done his best to defend the seaweed royalties, amounting to around £800 a year, saying the money was paid by the alginate company Kelco-NutraSweet and did not affect the price paid to cutters. However, the crofters say the Earl's argument is disingenuous. They argue the tax is passed on to them in the form of reduced rates for their crop.

1998 (May) -- From The Scotsman: The manager of the troubled Knoydart Estate has been sacked by his new landlords after he raised concerns over their takeover. Ian Robertson learned of the decision, which takes immediate effect, in a letter from John Turville, the recently-appointed managing director of Knoydart Peninsula Ltd (KPL), the company which owns the 17,000-acre estate. He has been told his actions amount to gross misconduct and ordered to clear his possessions from the estate-owned Farm Bothy at Inverie and vacate the house by 1 June.

1998 (September) -- The Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar, announced that he wanted communities to have the right to buy the land where they lived; but said that the Government could not financially support each land purchase by local tenants.

Dewar suggested that legislation should be put into place that would give local people a pre-emptive right to purchase their land before an outsider has the opportunity to do so, and also should stop sales until an outside bid could be matched locally.

"We want to abolish the situation where people can wake up one morning someone or other, of whom they know not, is their new owner having had no discussion with him, know nothing about him and, in some cases, finding themselves at the mercy of someone with rather eccentric views."

1998 (September) -- From The Scotsman: Tony Blair is to announce plans to create a fund worth up to £150 million which could be used by local communities and conservationists to buy Highland estates such as Knoydart.

The measure follows long-standing controversies in Scotland over attempts by local communities and pressure groups to buy Highland estates of outstanding natural heritage or community value, like Glen Feshie in the Cairngorms, Knoydart or the Isle of Eigg.

1999 (January) -- From The Stornoway Gazette 7-Jan-99

Land reform proposals by the Government would give all crofting communities a right to acquire their land at any time.....and there would be a new power of compulsory purchase to suit public interest. The proposals - which the Government described as 'the most far-reaching reform ever of Scotland's system of land ownership' - were unveiled by Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar.

Announcing the final recommendations of the Government's Land Reform Policy Group, Mr Dewar said, "Land reform, for so long an issue out of the spotlight, has now moved firmly centre stage. There is a consensus across Scotland that legislation to break down centuries-old barriers to land reform should be one of the first acts of the Scottish Parliament."

Mr Dewar went on, "The twin themes of public accountability and community involvement form the basis of the proposed legislation. These proposals reflect this Government's commitment to modernising Scotland, and put people at the heart of land reform."

Mr Dewar went on, "We also propose reform on crofting: to give all crofting communities a right to acquire their land at any time, remove barriers to the creation of new crofts, allow for the possibility of extending crofting tenure to new areas within the Highlands and Islands, and simplify the regulatory burden of crofting legislation."

1999 (February) --BBC Scotland Television presents, in Gaelic with English subtitles, Na h-Eilthirich (The Emigrants) an 8-part series that is "a controversial reassessment of the history of emigration from the Highlands and Islands over the past two centuries." The series attempts to show all facets of the emigration: from the Clearances to those Scots who left voluntarily and planned "theirdepartures down to the smallest detail."

1999 (March) - with assistance ranging from the John Muir Trust to theater impresario Cameron Mackintosh, locals of the 17,000+ acre Knoydart Estate purchase their lands. The newly-founded Knoydart Foundation pledges to "procure and manage for the benefit of the public the Knoydart Estate as an area of employment and settlement on the Knoydart Peninsula."

1999 (May - July) - the Scottish Parliament takes power and immediately addresses land reform, land ownership, and rural affairs issues.

2000 (March) - John MacLeod, the 29th MacLeod clan chief, puts the Black Cuillin mountains on Skye up for sale for £10 million. Local residents protest, sparking a debate about who actually owns the land and their rights to sell it.

Proceedings of the Scottish Parliament on 27 September 2000

A Debate on the Highland Clearances

ColÝ700 The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S1M-1004, in the name of Jamie Stone, on the Highland clearances. I make my now familiar appeal to members who are leaving to do so quickly and quietly, so that we can proceed with the debate.

Motion debated : That the Parliament expresses its deepest regret for the occurrence of the Highland Clearances and extends its hand in friendship and welcome to the descendants of the cleared people who reside outwith our shores.

Mr Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): I begin by saying two things. First, from the bottom of my heart I thank the members from all four big parties who have been good enough to support this motion. Secondly, I extend on behalf of the Parliament a very warm welcome to our visitors from the Highlands, who are sitting in the galleries.

The Highland clearances were a catastrophic time for the Highlands. Whatever one may think about the reasons for the clearancesãat lunch time today Mr Michael Fry and I had an energetic and interesting discussion of those on the BBCãthere is no doubt that they happened and that they led to the destruction of the Highlands that Boswell and Johnson saw in their celebrated tour of the Hebrides. At the time of their visit to the north, that process was already in hand, but the clearances were responsible for its completion.

I want first to look back and then to look forward. In looking back, I will make two points. The first is that in the Highlands the clearances are still with us. The memory of them is handed down from generation to generation. I will illustrate that with a short story. Five years ago, some of us, including people in the public gallery, had reason to attend the memorial service at Croick church in Sutherland, which was held to commemorate the clearance of Glencalvie in 1845. Many members will be familiar with the story of how the Munros and Rosses were cleared out of the strath and took shelter under a tarpaulin in the churchyard. They were not allowed into the church; there lies another story. It was due to our great press and to The Times -- "The Thunderer", no less -- that the lid was taken off this story. The newspaper sent a reporter to the areaalas, we do not know who he was, although we have some suspicions--who covered the story and, thanks to the then editor, put it on the front page. That shamed the whole terrible process to a halt.

ColÝ701 I wrote a column in the local newspaper about the memorial service and about what had happened. I speculated about what might have happened to the people who ultimately left the churchyard. In the books of the time and in modern history books, it is reported that a family by the name of Ross took shelter on a black moor some 25 miles away, up behind Tain. Two or three days after I wrote the column, I was walking in Tain when a gentleman came up to me--I wish I had asked his name, but I was too astonished to do so -- and said, "That was my family; that was my great-great-great-grandfather." Memory of that incident is still with one family today. That is one reason why the topic of the clearances is still with us and is still so important in the Highlands.

My second point is that the picture of the clearances is not as clear as some historians would like to paint it. It was not just the great families -- or, to be accurate, some of the great families -- who were responsible for the clearances. Indeed, my family was involved.

I had occasion some years ago to look back into the title deeds of a small farm of which my family has the remains today. My ancestor was a Fraser from Cromarty, who very likely cleared in the Black Isle. He came to Tain in the 1820s and made good -- it will not surprise some members -- with a drink shop.

Mrs Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD): Not a cheese shop?

Mr Stone: No, a drink shop.

He took it upon himself to buy some small parcels of land around the burgh. If we go back in the deeds, we can see that those were small crofts in their day. If we study the history of Easter Ross, round about Kilmuir Easter and Logie Easter, we will see that almost everyone was at it. That is why the situation is not as simple as we might think.

On a lighter note, I point out that Lord James Douglas-Hamilton's ancestor, the fifth Earl of Selkirk --although vilified in some of the books of the time -- was a very good man indeed, who almost bankrupted himself trying to take the cleared from Sutherland to Canada. In 1820, having lost his fortune in that enterprise, he died of consumption owing to his labours. He even bothered to learn Gaelic on the boat over. It is worth remembering that the enterprise failed because the fur trade made it its business to see that it did not work and that the settlers would not prosper. What is interesting about that episode is that the ringleaders of the fur traders were two Highlanders by the name of McGilvery. Again and again, we have Highlander against Highlander in this whole episode.

It is for that reason that, in my former existence as a councillor, I always strenuously resisted anyÝ ColÝ702 talk of demolishing the Duke of Sutherland's statue.
Mrs Margaret Ewing (Moray) (SNP): I am not sure about that.

Mr Stone: The member may boo, but it is an unwise society that destroys its history. Let us remember that it was Nazi Germany that burned books. It is correct that the duke should be there, to remind us of what happened.

I will speak briefly about the future. Mr Dennis MacLeod, who is with us today, was born and bred in Helmsdale but went abroad and made his fortune in gold. He has an extremely imaginative project in hand to establish a clearances memorial and centre at Helmsdale in Sutherland, not just to commemorate what happened, but to act as a genealogical archive and an information centre. It strikes me that, out of the wickedness of the Highlands of those yearsãthe wickedness that affected and was caused by all classes of Highland societyãsome great good could come.

The motion says that we extend the hand of friendship to the descendants of Highlanders across the world. It strikes me that, if we established the centre and those descendants could come back to the Highlands to research their roots -- we know that our American friends are very keen on thatãthat would be of enormous good to the Highlands.

Why not take those people up to Helmsdale? If they discover that their ancestors came from Ayrshire, let them go back down the road. In the meantime, let us get them north to see John O'Groats and to boost the economy of Caithness and Sutherland. I make no apologies -- the scheme is an imaginative one. Out of wickedness in the past, great good can come.

It has been put to me repeatedly by the press today that I am in charge of some sort of apology. The motion reads that "the Parliament expresses its deepest regret for the occurrence of the Highland Clearances and extends its hand in friendship and welcome to the descendants of the cleared people who reside outwith our shores."

To try to bring back everybody is a very noble idea. Surely every child in this country learns about the clearances. We do not apologise -- we were not responsible. However, in our heart of hearts surely every one of us deeply and sincerely regrets that black era in British history.

I close with words -- written with a diamond ring in the window of Glencalvie kirk -- that many will know and recognise and which can be seen today: "Glencalvie people was in the church here May 24, 1845" -- and this is the saddest thing of al -- ColÝ703 "Glencalvie people the wicked generation . . . John Ross shepherd . . . Glencalvie people was here . . . Amy Ross . . . Glencalvie is a wilderness blow ship them to the colony . . . The Glencalvie Rosses".

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Patricia Ferguson): Understandably, a large number of members have indicated that they wish to speak in the debate. It will not be possible to call them all. I ask those who are called to keep their contributions brief, so that we can accommodate as many members as possible.

Fergus Ewing (Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber) (SNP): I start by congratulating Jamie Stone on lodging this motion. This has been a joint party effort. The text of the motion invites Parliament to express our "deepest regret for the occurrence of the Highland Clearances".

I know that there will be no vote, but I hope that at the end of this short debate the minister will say that he personally joins in the spirit of the motion.

Why should this be done? In other countries, the genocide and ethnic cleansing that has taken place, against the Indians in America and the Aborigines in Australia, was acknowledged long ago. Today, the time to acknowledge what happened to those who were cleared from the Highlands has come. We can now acknowledge and regret what happened and perhaps then move on.

The motion also asks us to extend our "hand in friendship and welcome to the descendants of the cleared people who reside outwith our shores."

Although the descendants of cleared people in Scotland today may number only tens of hundreds, the Highland diaspora extends to tens of millions. With Margaret Ewing, I visited Ellis island, off New York, which commemorates the melting pot of America and where the citizens came from -- the countries that they left.

What a terrific idea Mr MacLeod has, with others, to show the country that people left and how they got to Canada, Australia and America. The centre will show the experiences that they had on the wayãthe hardships, suffering and atrocity that they endured, such as show trials and hangings. I join Jamie Stone in hoping that the Executive will support -- in all ways -- the fruition of that project.

As Jamie Stone mentioned the future, I will mention the present. We had one of the most interesting times for reflection today, when George Thompson reminded us of the dangers of exaggerating what we may see as the wrongs and ills of today in comparison with acts of genocide,Ý ColÝ704 war and suffering on a much larger scale. Although I would therefore not use the phrase "new clearances", I am concerned that voluntary bodies and Government agencies in the Highlands have too much power over the lives of those who live there. I hope that we can deal with the abuse of that power as well as commemorate the wrongs of the past.

Mr Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): I start by commenting on Jamie Stone's reference to the Earl of Selkirk and the Selkirk settlers. The Red River settlement founded Winnipeg, which is today larger than Edinburgh.

I am delighted to support Jamie Stone in this debate. The Highland clearances were a matter of great regret to the people of Scotland. We must never forget the suffering caused to so many innocents. We must learn from history. In the latter half of the 18th century, there was an enormous population explosion, which reached its peak in the 1830s. It was caused mainly by the virtual eradication of smallpox through injection and the introduction of potatoes, which grew easily in poor soil and provided a basic diet.

A social revolution was created in the Highlands and Islands by Government legislation that ended heritable jurisdiction. Formerly, the Scottish kings, without a standing army, had found it necessary to delegate authority to subjects who in return were granted large areas of land. Consequently, the power of a chief lay in the number of men whom he could call to arms. The Heritable Jurisdictions (Scotland) Act 1746 ended that prerogative and landlords, as real money replaced barter, began to make their land commercial through improvement and charging higher rent. The old system of township farming, in which rent was paid mostly in kind, became increasingly uneconomic. Ever-expanding families tried to scrape a living from the land, but they failed. The little island of Inch Kenneth, off Mull, was ploughed from shore to shore, but still there was not enough food to keep the inhabitants alive.

The problem was exacerbated when the Highland regiments raised to fight in Europe were disbanded and all the men came home. The Government tried to help by giving grants towards employment. Many dry-stone dykes remain as evidence of that work. The failure in 1820 of the kelp industry, in which seaweed was burned to make fertiliser, was another blow to the Highland economy. Worst of all, in the 1840s the potato crop failed.

John Ramsay at Kildalton in Islay, where people were on the verge of starvation, paid for a steamer to take some of them to Canada. Later, when heÝwent to visit them, he found them in a prosperous condition. At the time, there was no form of national assistance other than parish relief.

ColÝ705 There was a huge difference, which still exists, between the native Gael culture and its English equivalent. I quote John Robertson, a southern journalist, who wrote in Glasgow's The National: "A Highlander's soul lives in the clan and family traditions of the past. The legends of the Ingle, the songs of the Bards. The master idea of the English mind, the idea of business, has not dawned on his soul, has not developed its peculiar virtues in his character. He is loyal, but not punctual, honest but not systematic. The iron genius of economical improvements he knows not and he heeds not."

Those are wonderful virtues, which still exist in the Highlands and Islands and which Scotland would lose at its peril. I urge the Scottish Executive to promote and protect the Highland culture and to prevent another Highland clearance by aiding the inhabitants, who now face tremendous difficulties in a UK, which, we are told, is prosperous.

Many people emigrated of their own accord. Flora MacDonald, saviour of Bonnie Prince Charlie, is a case in point. Some landlords forced whole communities to go. The poor Rosses of Strathcarron at Easter Ross were bloodily evicted, and Strathnaver and the lands of the Countess of Sutherland were cleared by her husband, the notorious Marquess of Stafford. He, incidentally, has one thing in common with Jamie Stone, in that he too was a Liberal MP for Caithness and Sutherland. His two agents -- James Loch, another Liberal MP, and Patrick Sellar -- cruelly and savagely carried out evictions. When confronted by an old lady of 90 who refused to leave her dwelling, Patrick Sellar is reputed to have said, "Burn it down, the old witch has lived too long."

It is worth noting that the so-called progressive policy of the liberal Whig party in those days actively encouraged the clearances, while Conservatives at the time were fighting to keep people in the glens to preserve the rural population and to maintain a source of remarkable foot soldiers who had always served the British Army with extraordinary valour.

While we are rightly horrified by the clearances, and while honouring the courage of the men and women who opposed them -- such as the Skye people in the battle of the braes -- we must pay tribute to the enterprise and initiative of those who emigrated of their own free will and improved the lot of their families. They have since strengthened Scotland's links overseas to the benefit of us all.

It is in that positive spirit that we should encourage a visitor centre in the Highlands, which will welcome people to renew contacts with their ancestors' homeland. I support Mr MacLeod and wish his venture every success.

ColÝ706 Lewis Macdonald (Aberdeen Central) (Lab): When I was a child, my grandmother told me a story -- a tale of Highland battle, of sticks and stones and broken bones -- which ended with the complete removal of the crofting population from the township of Sollas on North Uist. My grandmother told that story with such passion and in such detail that it was as if she had been there herself. In fact, it was a story that had been passed on to her by her grandmother, a witness and a participant who was also a seannachie -- a folk historian -- whose job it was to witness and to keep in memory the experiences of her extended family and her community.

The day of the clearance of Sollas in 1849 was the end of that community, but it is remembered in our family as a day of pride as well as a day of anguish. Yes, it was the day on which we lost the land, but it was also the day that the fightback began. The fightback continued. In my teens, I heard another story, from the early days of the Labour and trade union movement in the city of Aberdeen. I heard how Aberdeen Trades Council organised a trainful of townspeople to support the landless cottars and squatters facing eviction from the slopes of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire, which they had brought into agricultural production after being cleared from land elsewhere and over which the owners of the neighbouring estate saw fit to exercise their legal rights to possess and to divide the land among themselves.

On Bennachie in the 1890s, as in Sollas in the 1840s, the people resisted and the landlords won. However, those acts of resistance and the solidarity of working people in town and country helped to change the course of history. It is a tradition of resistance and solidarity of which I, for one, am proud.

The laird who cleared Sollas was not a Sassenach or a stranger or a foreigner; he was a man with the title of Lord Macdonald. As a descendant of his victims, I do not want an apology from this Parliament. I do not even want an apology from the current Lord Macdonald. Instead, I want this Parliament to build on the resistance and achievements of the past 150 years to deliver the far-reaching land reform that will secure the future of our crofting communities, to deliver a secure future also for the Gaelic language and culture as part of the heritage of the whole of Scotland, and to deliver social justice and economic opportunity, which are the shared ideals of Uist land leaguers and Aberdeen trade unionists alike.

Mrs Margaret Ewing: I have a brief point -- I am listening carefully to what Lewis Macdonald and others have said. Does he accept that in the teaching of the Highland clearances we mustÝseparate romanticism from reality? Is not a responsibility placed on this Parliament to ensure that all the children of Scotland are aware of exactly what happened?

ColÝ707 Lewis Macdonald: I support that point. As technically I have given way, I technically have the opportunity to make a further point. It is important that we educate people about their history, but it is also important to recognise that, although many of the descendants of those who were cleared from the Highlands went overseas, many more remained here. Therefore, the responsibility to the descendants of the cleared is not confined to those who are overseas, important though that is. This is also a matter of integrating the cultural tradition of rural and urban Scotland.

Mr John Munro (Ross, Skye and Inverness West) (LD): When I hear Jamie McGrigor talking about Strath Halladale and the duke and Patrick Sellar it puts a cold shiver up my spine because of the atrocities that were perpetrated there.

I welcome this debate. It gives us an opportunity to look back on our history, but I am not sure that this Parliament should express regret for the clearances. After all, these events were terrible atrocities that were perpetrated on a vulnerable, fragile and defenceless community, and were controlled from another distant place. I suggest that our clergy and state church of the time were as guilty as anybody of encouraging the scourge of the clearances. Through their pious pronouncements from their pulpits they declared regularly that this was God's will for His devoted people, and as good and decent Christians they should accept His command and leave their shielings and holdings. But for the benefit of what? The great white sheep that were being introduced to the Highlands. They were considered to be more profitable than the indigenous population, and probably easier to manage and control.

As we have heard, these events took place 150 years ago, but attitudes have not changed. Since then, we have had a much more sophisticated type of clearance. We have seen the steady decline of employment opportunities in our major industries. I think in particular of the decline in our coal mining, our steel industries and our shipbuilding. We have seen the decline of our car manufacturing at Linwood, the decline of British Motor Corporation at Bathgate, the aluminium smelter at Invergordon in the Highlands and the Fort William pulp mill. I will not mention Barmac, where 4,000 people were employed some months ago. These companies were all major employers in their day. Where and when will we reverse this decline, and ensure that people are able to exist in their own country in secure, affordable homes, andÝwith gainful employment?

ColÝ708 In the Highlands at present we are suffering from a more modern malaise. While the clearances removed the people from the land, the new concept removes the land from the people. I refer to the green, creeping sward crawling over every glen and strath in the Highlands, which masquerades under the fancy title of afforestation. That means planting vast areas with foreign tree species of doubtful quality and little commercial value. All of that takes the land away from the people.

In supporting Mr Stone's motion and the sentiments expressed in it, I want to ensure that, when we extend the hand of friendship to our exiled ancestors, they can return to a nation and a people of whom they can be justly proud.

Michael Russell (South of Scotland) (SNP): Among the people whom we should welcome to the chamber today I see the figure of Michael Fry -- it is hard to miss the figure of Michael Fry -- the founder of the clearance-denial school of journalism. I hope that he is listening to the unanimity that is being expressed in this debate as members of all parties describe what happened in Scotland and try to find a way forward.

Mr Brian Monteith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): Will the member give way? I would like to defend Mr Fry.

Michael Russell: I know that Mr Monteith is a dining companion of Mr Fry and I hope that they enjoy their pan-fried duck, but I will not accept an intervention today.

In every nation, there are moments of catharsis. Fergus Ewing has referred to the plains Indians in the USA and the Aborigines in Australia. In almost every nation, there is a moment of huge significance that changes that country for ever -- the Irish famines of the 1840s are an example of such an event. Those events do more than change the course of history; they change the landscape and the ways in which people relate to each other. They are a full stop in the history of a nation, after which something different follows on.

Nobody can travel through Scotland today without seeing some evidence of the clearances. In the Highlands, there is physical evidence in the form of deserted towns and villages. In the south of Scotland, there are signs too. In Bute, which Mr Lyon represents, there is Canada hill, a place so named because people would climb to the top of the hill to get a last glimpse of their emigrating relatives leaving Scotland -- their last glimpse for ever.

ColÝ709 In this city and elsewhere in the south, we canÝsee evidence of the clearances in the Gaelic churches that were founded and in the major industries that were established with the help of labour that came from the north of Scotland. The country was changed -- and changed utterly -- by the experiences of the clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries.

How does Scotland reconcile itself to an event that massive? We have two choices. Jamie Stone has referred to one, which is to blow up the statue of the Duke of Sutherland and to say that the clearances were so terrible that we should blame the victimisers for ever. Indeed, my good friend Dennis MacLeod, who is sitting in the distinguished visitors gallery, told me that he wanted to do that when he was a young man growing up in Caithness.

The other reaction -- into which Dennis MacLeod and many others have grown -- is to reconcile ourselves to our past and learn to understand it. We should consider the benefits of that period, because there were benefits. There are people all over the world who are descended from emigrants who did well and prospered. Nobody thinks that the clearances were a good thing -- I am not practising clearance denial, and I believe that the clearances were an awful event -- but if we can reconcile ourselves to the past, we will learn from it.

That is why the innovation of Dennis MacLeod is significant. As Jamie Stone said, the centre will be a place where we can go and reconcile ourselves to the clearances and where those from the diaspora can go and learn about what happened to their ancestors. I hope that people will not only learn about the clearances in the centre, but will come away with a feeling that that period is over and done with and will pledge, as we should all pledge, not to forget the clearances but to look after, cherish and develop the country that John Munro was talking about, highland and lowland, and make sure that it is worth living in.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Before calling the minister to wind up the debate, I apologise to those members whom we have been unable to call this evening.

The Deputy Minister for Highlands and Islands and Gaelic (Mr Alasdair Morrison): I congratulate Jamie Stone for securing this debate, and all members who have participated in it.

Among the enduring legacies of the Highland clearances, as the motion rightly reminds us, is the enormous Highland diaspora that extends around the world. From the perspective of today's we can to people of Highland descent, wherever they are. It is important that we respond enthusiastically to the warm feelings that those people often have for the Highlands and for Scotland more generally. Scotland, that diaspora is a valuable resource. It is important that we reach out as constructively asÝwe can to people of Highland descent, wherever they are. It is important that we respond enthusiastically to the warm feelings that those people often have for the Highlands and for Scotland more generally.

ColÝ710 When thinking about the thousands -- millions even -- of emigrants who left Scotland in the past two or three hundred years, there is an understandable temptation to concentrate on the success stories. There are certainly many successes to celebrate. They can be read about in Jim Hunter's book, "A Dance Called America", which tells the story -- and does so very well -- of the huge impact that has been made by Highland emigrants, including many victims of clearance, on the United States and Canada. Jim Hunter's book recounts and celebrates the quite remarkable achievements of the numerous Highlanders who, as fur traders, politicians and railway builders, did so much to open up, shape and develop North America.

However, Jim Hunter's book makes another point, which needs to be stressed in the context of today's debate. It is not at all the case that every Highland emigrant family benefited from their emigration. Clearance and emigration shattered an awful lot of lives. Jim Hunter writes that two such shattered lives can be made emblematic of all the others. The lives in question are those of Ellen and Ann MacRae, little girls whose names Jim came across when visiting what remains of the Grosse 'le quarantine station in Canada's St Lawrence River.

Ellen and Anne belonged to Lochalsh. They arrrived at Grosse 'le in 1847. Their father's name is given in the Grosse 'le records as Farre, which I guess is as near as a French-speaking orderly could get to the Gaelic Fearchar. What happened exactly to Fearchar -- in English, Farquhar -- MacRae, his wife Margaret and any other children whom they may have had is not known. Perhaps they died at sea or perhaps, as many others did, they died on Grosse 'le. If so, they are doubtless buried in one of the mass graves that are still to be seen beside the Grosse 'le inlet, which, ever since the 1840s, has been known as Cholera Bay.

Anne and Ellen were left parentless. In October 1847, they were admitted to a Quebec City orphanage. Ellen, who was aged 12, was eventually adopted by a Quebec family. Anne, who was aged 10, was found a home in the United States. They probably did not meet again. Even if they did, other than by means of what they might have recalled of their childhood Gaelic, they could scarcely have communicated, as Ellen would have grown up speaking QuÈbecois French, and the adult Anne would have spoken American English.


Jim Hunter concludes his account of Anne and Ellen with these words: ColÝ711 Ý"Historians have from time to time advanced the thesis -- first propounded, of course, by nineteenth-century landlords -- that the wholesale Highland emigrations of the 1840s and 1850s were in the best long-term interest of the emigrants involved. Such historians, perhaps, should be brought to Grosse 'le, sat down in the cemetery above Cholera Bay and asked how they would set about justifying their opinions to Ellen and Anne MacRae."

Not all emigrant stories, then, had happy endings. In recalling the Highland clearances, it is vital that we remember that. It is equally vital that we reject the glib, unfeeling notion that what happened to people such as Anne and Ellen MacRae was in some way unavoidable. There was nothing predestined or inevitable about the Highland clearances. They were the result of human choices and actions. Given different choices and actions, the Highlands and Islands might well have followed a very different path to the one that it was made to take by the lairds who forcibly removed so many families from their homes.

That is why the best possible memorial to the Highland clearances will be the successful Highland economy that I hope everybody in the chamber is committed to creating. Coupled with that aim is the desire that Gaelic, the language of the Gael, must triumph. It is not only a jewel to be nurtured and cherished in the Highlands but an asset for all of Scotland.

Sadly, no discussion about the Highland clearances is considered complete until someone, somewhere, trots out the tired old notion that the Highlands and Islands were, and are, intrinsically incapable of providing their people with a good quality of life. That always was and still is a lie; today we are proving that.

I mentioned Jim Hunter. As most members know, he chairs the board of Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Last month, when presenting HIE's annual report, he saidãand he was speaking both as HIE's chairman and as an acclaimed historian -- that it is several hundred years since the Highlands and Islands, relative to the rest of Britain, entered a new century in such good shape and with such exciting prospects.

That is not to say, of course, that there is not still much to do in the Highlands and Islands. There are plenty places where the depopulation that started with the clearances has still to be reversed. However, in the course of the past 30 years -- a period when the population of Scotland as a whole has been static at best -- the population of the Highlands and Islands has grown by some 20 per cent. Parts of the area have seen faster rates of increase. Take Skye, for instance. Prior to the clearances, it had a population of 24,000. By the 1960s, that was down to just 6,000. Today, Skye has around 10,000 people once again.

ColÝ712 That has been made possible by a greatly diversified, greatly expanded economy. Our aim is to get that economy extended into those areas where the clearances have still to be decisively reversed -- areas such as Kintyre, my constituency the Western Isles, Orkney's offshore islands and eastern Sutherland. We are certain that that job can be done, and by way of helping HIE to get on with it, we have, as Henry McLeish made clear last week, given HIE additional funding.

Another aspect of our programme is worth mentioning in relation to the clearances: our land reform agenda. I know that Lewis Macdonald knows the area of Sollas well. Sollas, in my native North Uist, is a vibrant and thriving community. Yesterday, it was announced that HIE, in partnership with Scottish Enterprise, has been asked to handle a new opportunities fund programme, which will result in £10 million of national lottery money going to rural communities that wish to take on the ownership of land and other natural resources in their vicinity. That £10 million programme will be known as the Scottish land fund. In order to manage it, HIE, in effect, will be beefing up and expanding the community land unit, which it was asked to set up just after Labour came to power in 1997.

I am pleased to be able to announce that HIE is still actively considering establishing a substantial part of its expanded land unit in Lochalsh. That is very much in accordance with our firm view that public sector activity of that kind can, and should, be located in rural areas.

It may be worth underlining, in conclusion, that it was from Lochalsh that there sailed in 1847 the emigrant family whose fate I touched on earlier. When, one and a half centuries ago, that family joined the long, long list of folk who fell victim to the Highland clearances, it would have seemed completely inconceivable that there would one day be public funds available to help Highland communities to take on the ownership and management of the land from which so many of our people had been evicted.

Today, thanks to this Administration's commitment to land reform, such funds are firmly in place. It is no more than a coincidence that they will be administered from Lochalsh, the birthplace of those two orphan emigrants who, back in 1847, found themselves in such terrible circumstances over there in Canada. But as coincidences go, it is a very happy one.

Meeting closed at 17:48.


© Scottish Parliament 2000

Prepared 27 September 200

Kildonan, Once More - Double Photo



Poem by Calum Macdonald (Runrig) with
fiddle accompaniment by Duncan Chisholm.


If you have any contribution to this page please e-mail