05-Jun-03, 16:02
Neil Ascherson in his new book Stone Voices raises an interesting question – which he fails to answer – about the Highland evictions.
Why he wonders, did this warlike race, accept so passively the hideous experience of being cleared away from their ancestral homes to make way for sheep?
There are no records I can find of evicting landlords being shot, of sheep being mutilitated or of any real resistance.
Ascherson makes the useful point that the Battle of the Braes in Sky was about 70 years too late, a kind of epilogue to clearances that had gotten seriously underway from 1815 onwards.
Yet in Ireland, in that same period, there was a robust underground tradition of shooting landlords, maiming cattle, and rebelling against the crown.
What could account for these differences?
Scottish highlanders with a tradition of convulsing the kingdom with sword and fire, Scottish highlanders famed for their total lawlessness and bloody handed approach to central government by 1815 have become WIMPS by contrast with their fellow Celts in Ireland.
Any explanations?

05-Jun-03, 17:50
From what I have read, and what I know of my own Caithness ancestors, I would blame the Kirk and its ministers for subliminally supporting the clearances, by preaching to devout Highlanders to "turn the other cheek".

05-Jun-03, 20:03
But many ministers were anti-landlord. And even if they were on the landlord's side they must have given some amazing sermons to get people to just up and leave. Especially when to be effective the sermons would need to be in Gaelic. Would a knowledge of Gaelic not have made the ministers more sensitive to the mental world of their parishioners?

Mr Sensitive
06-Jun-03, 10:41
Rich, you know the answer. They all went off to Canada in search of a better life. Ring any bells?

06-Jun-03, 19:26

I don't think there are any simple answers other than that the Scottish Highlanders were not wimps!!

Have you gone back and read Ian Grimble and John Prebble, amongst others, to search for clues and possible answers?

Your comparison with the Irish Celts is an invalid one because the prevailing social state was different: the Irish clan system had been destroyed centuries earlier by the colonising power and the landlords were English or their representatives; the Scottish clan system was still in being (at least in the lives of the peasants) when the clearances began.

Why am I telling you this? You know it perfectly well - your surname tells all!


06-Jun-03, 21:11
Im hesitant to say it but i know all so little about the clearances. However Richs post got me thinking and htwood gave a valid explanation for the mind set of the people. Now Partan youve raised more questions, but from the innuendo i detect messrs Prebble and Grimble gave different versions.
All i know is these people had a very lean time from life. I agree Partan they certainly wernt wimps but somehow over the course of years they allowed themselves to be enslaved and at the mercy of people who had used people to meet their own needs for centuries.
These folks were a cultural minority. They were helpless in the face of ruthless landords.

I wondered Partan, what was the connection between these landlords and the clan chiefs?

07-Jun-03, 05:04
Often wondered the same about the Jews lack of resistance during the holocaust, contrast that with the goings on in Israel/Palestine and it soes not seem to be the same people :confused
My understading is that Prebble paints a shortbread tin history of the time, when in reality the conditions were so bad that the people would not have been able to sustain themselves - but like you Gleeber, I dont have much knowledge of the clearances.

07-Jun-03, 08:27
im not to up to date on the clearances.. but did the scots have weapoons? because remember at one time the king (english) had banned scots from carrying any weapons speaking galic and wearing kilts.. i know it was to break their spirts .. also you have to take into account that like the irish the scots were starved. and starving men canna fight.. they were just people and like all people we get to a point after we are beaten down so badly and have taken so much abuse we crumble.. and reach a point to where it dosent matter any more ... maybe they thought.. if i fight i will die and so will my family but if i leave then at least we will have a chance at survival..
but them again this is just ann oppinion and not saying this is what happened .... i mean look at this.. in america the slaves.. i mean most slaves were warriors that had been caught by rival tribes and sold... look how long they were treated as inhuman beings cattle.. and their masters had the right of life and death over them.
the human being is a very complex and varried race.. we may never know why these things happen

08-Jun-03, 01:52
For any of you that have the time read " Butcher's Broom" by Neil Gunn that gives a greater insight into the clearances that John Prebbles "The Highland Clearances" which although interesting is almost a documentary of what histroic records remain.
Fortunately my people endured neither starvation or clearances and we had more than a basic knowledge of the english language whilst the gaels still spoke their own language and there was often no-one to interpret.
Each time I pass Dunrobin Castle I feel I wan't to change the spelling to Dunrobbing!
If you cannot understand the language that you are being addressed in then what chance do you have to understand what is being said and the strictures that are being imposed on you?
The reference to "The Holocaust" is pertinent becouse they too did not believe that this could possibly be happening and alas like too many minorities they woke up too late to their situation.
It was a black time in the history of Scotland as the ruined crofts bear witness to but rejoice too because your people went out albeit by force to populate a whole new world.
Despite everything that has happened in your turbulent history you have survived..be proud of your heritage and always remember that even 100yrs ago attitudes were very different to what they are today.
These are the mere reflections of a sawsenak..sassenach to you..and although two thirds of the population of my home county also departed for foreign parts we have not lost our heart or our culture.
Take heart be proud and love your land

08-Jun-03, 12:44
Well said LIZZ it takes a fellow Celt to point out our fragmented history to the rest of the world, more power till your pen ( or fingers) [lol]

08-Jun-03, 19:25
Gleeber said:

"I know all so little about the clearances."

Kw14ultra said:

"I don’t have much knowledge of the clearances."

Brandy said:

"I’m not to up to date on the clearances."

Three readers interested enough to enter this thread but claiming little knowledge. That’s fair enough and, assuming they want to further their knowledge, the next step could be to do some reading as I suggested above.

Gleeber – I had not intended any innuendo re Prebble and Grimble and I am not sure how you detected any. They both have their strengths and they differ in approach but I believe they are complementary.

You asked (somewhat ingenuously, I thought!) what was the connection between the landlords and the Clan chiefs. My understanding is that, in most cases, they were the same people.

Kw14ultra – I think you are being a bit harsh when you say “Prebble paints a shortbread tin history of the time.” Prebble’s great strength as a historian and writer was to make history available to ordinary people like myself who find the academic approach difficult. This populist approach and his academic excellence make his books both readable and accurate. I shall have to return to Prebble to check it out but I am pretty sure that he noted accurately the problem of the subsistence level existence of the Highlanders. His take was that the solution of eviction and land clearance was arbitrary and to the net benefit of the landlords not the peasantry.

LIZZ – I totally agree that Neil Gunn’s “Butcher Broom” is a very evocative novel describing the impact on the people of Highland glen faced with eviction. Well worth reading (in fact, one of my favourite books). However, it should not be read in preference to factual reconstructions such as Prebble’s. Though Gunn was making political and social points in the novel (and he made them expertly) a novel is no substitute for well documented research.


08-Jun-03, 20:45
Thanks for your response Partan.
My ignorance of Scottish history, i believe, is down to the stuff i was taught at school. I remember nothing of the clearances being taught to me.
The innuendo i thought i detected was when you mentioned Richs surname may have had something to do with the plot. My ears pricked because i wasnt sure what you were inferring. Im still not.
However i slightly disagree when you say a novel is no substitute for well documented research. I wondered what the difference might be between fact and fiction in a case like this. Sometimes i think facts can interfere with our abilities to feel something of the pain these people really felt.
A novel knows no boundaries and can explore as far as the novelist is able to go, the pains and anguish of the human soul.

09-Jun-03, 00:48
Thanks for the remonstrance Partan, was merely pointing out that the two books give differing perspectives and that Prebble can be a little hard going on this particular subject.SORRY hope you will excuse me after all I am from over the border :roll:

09-Jun-03, 17:53
Partan, I have acopy of Prebbles Highland clearances - but never get round to reading it. The shortbread tin quote althoughmine was taken from speaking to a couple of people who have read it - sorry if I inferred it WAS a shortbread tin view, I meant to say that this is what I had been told.

09-Jun-03, 17:55
On the subjects of education, scottish history and novels etc - I can remember having to do Consider the Lillies, Ian Crichton Smith for English at School, so maybe the Novel is a good way of broaching the subject - although maybe not in my case :roll:

09-Jun-03, 22:09
I have the beginnings of a theory about why the evicted Highlanders went so quietly.
And I do think it is valid to compare them with the Irish who underwent similar travails at the hands of their ladlords.. It's an instructive contrast.
Let's start with geography.
The part of Ireland that most resembles the Highlands is Mayo in the North West. In terms of resistance to evicting and despotic landlords Mayo ranks rather low on the scale. Mayo lent its name to the Land League of the 1870s but this was the result of shrewd PR by one Michael Davitt, whose invention the Land League largely was.
Maybe it's something about the West. You find the original virtous Irish/Scots among the mountains of the west. Maybe it's a romantic hangover...
ANyway, the history of resistance in Mayo would suggest that there is something about peat bogs, turf fires, rain, and beautiful scenery that actually inhibits revolt.
Which leads to the next item in my analysis.
This is economics by another name. Anyway there weren't many cows in Mayo. There wasn't much of a dairy industry there or in the Highlands. TO be sure Highlanders - like the Drover in Butcher's Broom or Scotts Two Drovers - used to move vast herds down into England. BUt this was beef to eat. (I think this tradition accounts for the many Highland drovers in texas who made good like Chisolm of trail fame)
But the point is that if you want to exacerbate rural tensions there is nothing like a conflict between graziers (dairy farmers) and tillage peasants (potatoe growers).
Ireland is saucer shaped with all the rough country in the west - the whole centre and east coast is lush and ideal for agriculture.
Under population pressure one can see how a tradition of revolt would grow as peasants demand more land to feed their families.
And in Ireland we find the agrarian secret societies - WHiteboys, Peep-O_-Day boys, Defenders etc etc who maimed cattle, shot landlards, burned houses and who were a constant problem.
Nothing like this in the Highlands no matter how bad things got.
Which leads me to the third strut in this argument and I'll take iot up later which is COMMUNICATIONS

10-Jun-03, 20:01
Thanks for the remonstrance Partan, was merely pointing out that the two books give differing perspectives and that Prebble can be a little hard going on this particular subject.SORRY hope you will excuse me after all I am from over the border :roll:

Och, och, the crabby mannie has upset someone again!!

No rebuke was intended - honest. Just suggesting that novels are liable to shape historical facts to suit the poetic licence of the author. I believe Gunn was less likely to do so than many of his profession.

I am offended that you think I would value your opinion less because of your nationality - many of my best friends are English. :D :D In fact I am more likely to scorn you because of your preference for Rugby rather than the beautiful game. :) :eek:


I don't think we are too far apart on the question of the value of a well constructed, historically accurate novel in getting an insight to how individuals and groups handle crises in their life. In my opinion, Gunn was particularly good at this.

My reference to Rich's surname was a last minute footnote to my original posting. Like most last minute additions it was not well thought out. Perhaps Rich will tell the Board his surname and the allusion may become clearer.


10-Jun-03, 21:06
It's Sutherland.

10-Jun-03, 21:18
What also may have helped the Irish along the road to violent resistance against landlords was that, compared to the Highlands, they had an excellent system of roads, and by the 18th century a functioning canal system that traversed the island.
When the Normans came to Ireland in the Middle Ages they covered the place with castles at every significant river crossing or ford. Of course where you have a castle you have commerce as the castle needs to purchase everything from food to weapons to swanky clothing for the banquets and feasts that are a feature of life in a castle.
And where you have roads you have communications.
So if you were a member of an agrarian secret society in, let us say, Cork, news from let us say Limerick or Dublin would travel down to you along the highway. Which offers the chance of co-ordinated resistance.
Language affects communications to. The rural people spoke Gaelic. Their landlords did not. The result was the landlords were out of touch.
There is a wonderful book about this called The Hidden Ireland by Daniel Corkery.
So in the Highlands, few roads, little communication, virtually no cohesive strategy for survival, chiefs who were fluent in Gaelic while hating it, little or no tradition of class violence. You can begin to see why there was little resistance.....

George Brims
11-Jun-03, 18:40
By the time of the clearances there WERE roads - the General Wade roads, installed to make sure the British Army could get to and squash any further rebellion that might come out of the north. The Highlanders also had very few weapons available to them.

However, a more fundamental cause of the lack of resistance to the clearances was that it was the clan chiefs who were doing the clearing. A few generations after the Jacobite rebellions the heirs of the chiefs who led their people to slaughter at Culloden had become Anglified and no longer saw their people as their extended family. Instead they were concerned to turn "their" land into a profit-yeilding resource. The people on the land still looked up to the clan chief as a patriarch, though little good it did them. This betrayal is at the heart of the bitterness felt to this day.

Prebble definitely covers the point that the material state of Highland society prior to the clearances was not good. Many people were barely scratching a living, and starvation in bad years when crops failed was common. I believe he also makes the point (though it might have been some other author) that in Caithness the landlords sought to replace the crude agriculture with newer methods (crop rotation, turnips etc) and thereby ensured the land could support more people rather than less. Of course a lot of Caithness is far more fertile than most other parts of the Highlands, and so more suited to such reforms, but that doesn't let the other landlords off the hook.

11-Jun-03, 18:57
Wade's roads were extremely limited - there were no real roads in most of the west or the north come to that. When John Sinclair of Ulbster went to Westminster as MP for Caithness and - was it Rothesay? - he took the boat. By comparison the Irish had a substantial road network - the product of successive wars and uprisings. The French in 1798 marched along them to some effect. I believe the Highland army of 1745 largely avoided Wade's roads and went cross-country but I may be wrong about that.
And of course there is the larger question about demography. It is seriously argued - and the case has some merit - that the Highland evictions forestalled a demographic disaster like that which overwhelmed the Irish in successive famines betweem 1846 and 1848. All the economists were reading Malthus in the early 1800s!
And how about the historical revisionists - Eric Richards: The Leviathan of Wealth - who think that the Sutherland clearances were part of a benign and well-intentioned scheme to improve life for the tenants. After all then - who built all the wee harbours that played such a role in the herring fishing boom that followed the Clearances! The Duke - that's who!
I'm not saying I agree with this but the case has been made and as is usually the case with serious academic historians they contradict the "whit my granny telt me" school of history.

George Brims
11-Jun-03, 19:30
I think the point about the clearances or *something* having to come along to change things is well made. The economy of the Highlands was a disaster waiting to happen; the question is really how did each landlord deal with the issue.

But that guy saying it was a "benign and well-intentioned scheme to improve life for the tenants" reminds me why I detest many academic historians. Such historians are simply concerned with making a point and building a publication record based on it - they're often no more emotionally invested in the point they make than in a proposition given them to support or counter in a debating society. In fact they often *have* to take a contrarian view just to summon up any interest in what they have to say. They forget that somewhere deep down, the study of history is supposed to be a search for TRUTH.

11-Jun-03, 20:22
Truth in history is a somewhat limited concept. It means not falsifying the documentary evidence. It means you may slant the facts but you'll be whistled down if you slide over into blatant falsehoods.
But capital letter TRUTH?
That's a bone for the philosophers to snarl over...

George Brims
11-Jun-03, 20:31
Historians used to pride themselves on searching for truth, instead of promoting their own agenda or biases. The modern-day "publish or be damned" (or more like "publish or fail to get tenure") culture has made than seem a quaint world-view now.

Oh and just don't get me started on the philosophers!

12-Jun-03, 08:04
There are degrees of TRUTH. As Gearge said the history presented by the scholars is governed by their own agendas and biasis. The same applies to the reader. For me, the bare bones is enough to get by. I will add my own meat, like the novelist who knows no boundaries.
Heres a wee link to a site which explains the clearances adequately for me.
It dosnt explain Richs original question and as is evident from this thread, that wouldnt be easy.
For me, the church and centuries of obedience is enough to answer the question. They allowed themselves to be enslaved, especially after the clan chief got a taste of the high life. They were trapped by the same helplessness as a child in danger would know when it calls out for its parents.
The same prisons still exist to this day.

14-Jun-03, 08:20
I notice an advert for Dunrobin Castle on the homepage fo this website does that make it complicit in its support for the Clearances :roll:

16-Jun-03, 16:50
KW, you don't know the half ot it.
There is something called the Clan Sutherland Society which has regular meetings at Dunrobin and which reveres the Countess(?) Duchess(?) as clan chief.
I find this fascinating as a piece of historical revisionism.
Or is it just snobbery?
Perhaps some member of this travesty "clan" might enter the discussion to provide an explanation of their activities. The normal function of these clan societies is usually to repair the roof of the landlord's castle.....

17-Jun-03, 22:48
Has any one else read "The Highland Clearances" by Eric Richards? I came across it recently whilst browsing my favourite bookshop.It gives an easily readable well documented account of the whole era.
He argues neither for or against what happened but explores in depth using whatever documentary evidence is available.It may alter or soften some of the views on the matter and gives much insight into a very controversial time in Scottish history.

Partan..Humm at least the PROPER football team win matches [lol] An besides what else could they do with a mighty warrior from Kernow in the attack :Razz

18-Jun-03, 02:29
The clan system broke down after the '45. The popular image of the war-like Highlanders was down to allegience to (or more realistically, a hold over by) the clan chiefs. The destruction of the clan system after Culloden, and the persecution of clan chiefs and sequestration of lands, left the door open for incoming landlords.

And the tenants no longer had the security of clan and community. And they were picked off in small numbers at a time, over a long period, by the likes of Patrick Sellar. What chance of co-ordinated resistance over such a vast geographical area?

The Kirk must take much of the blame. With one or two notable exceptions, eg Croick, the stipend was paid by the incoming landlord.

If your home and all your possessions were burned, your crops razed and your livestock slaughtered; and you had a wife and family to support - would you take up arms, and die a heroic but inevitable death, or would you grab any other option open to you, which gave even the slightest chance of survival for your family?

18-Jun-03, 04:52

18-Jun-03, 12:51
Lol KW14 however thats an easy thing to say when you re warm and well fed in a nice well paid job in Saudi.

Note that these people had nothing - crushed, demoralised and beaten, even their churches as corrupt, cold and mercenary as any landlord what choice did people have?

The only thing they were able to hold onto was pride in their history and their families and their heritage. They passed this down through the generations so that it is visible even here on an internet message board hundreds of years later.

Search these boards and you will see the legacy of those people forced out during the clearances - you will see pride in Scotland, in being Scottish. What greater legacy could they have foreseen? I would suggest none.

18-Jun-03, 13:04
it was of course said tongue firmly in cheek in my best Mel Gibson Scottish accent ;)

19-Jun-03, 14:50
I'm sorry to have to take a slightly different approach, Squidge.
The 19th century was brutal for many working people, not only Scottish Highlanders and their Irish counterparts but for everybody.
The indignation expended on Highland evictees takes on a romantic, death of a civilization, end of an ancient way of life, a lament that positively throbs with emotion.
Does anyone expend similar angst upon Lancashire cotton operatives?
The industrial revolution was nowhere pretty.
But it may have saved the British from a much worse fate. Large numbers of people faced death from starvation due to the expanding population. The population was expanding because certain diseases were quiescent and fewer died in childbirth; also general availability of the potatoe led to higher nutrtition standards.
The price to be paid can be seen in the Irish Famine which was caused in part by the bakruptcy of the irish landlord class. In the rural warfare that racked Ireland the peasants won. And multiplied. And perished.
The factory jobs opened up by the Industrial revolution offered an escape.
To return to the Highland/Ireland comparison. The people who benefitted most from the potatoe famine in Ireland were the graziers. They flourished Until the 1880s when refrigeration was invented and the British market was flooded with frozen Argentinian beef.
Faced with economic difficulties the Irish reacted with rent strikes, boycotts etc.
This was put to political use by the Irish parliamentary party at Westminster and by an organization called the Land League of Mayo.
As soon as the Irish farmers got a decent settlement from the British governemnt the Mayo peasants were abandoned. In spite of the fact that the agitation was in their name. They were still struggling with potatoe blight in Mayo in the 1930s!
Today we call this political use of sentiment and simple minded history spin doctoring.
Is there not an element of spin doctoring in the romantic weeping over the Sutherland evictions?

19-Jun-03, 14:56
SO who in Scotland would have benefited from spin doctoring the Highland clearances?
I would suggest that in the 20th century the Scottish National party fills the bill.
In the 19th century Karl Marx the left wing of the Liberal party, and the crofters candidates who stood in various constituencies including Thurso in (I think) 1886.
In this century various anarchic anti-landlord groups, utopian visionaries, eco-freaks, the tourism industry.