OTHER SCOTCLANS SITES
The GlenCalvie Clearances (Page 1 of 2)
A long drive through beautiful countryside from the small highland village of Ardgay leads down to a small church. Croick church is a pretty building not unlike many other Scottish churches, built from a design by the engineer Thomas Telford. There is little to set it apart, these white hurled walls and manicured churchyards can be seen all over Scotland.
As you walk around the church you pass the east window, small diamond panes of simple clear glass. A step beside the window invites you to look closer so you do, only to discover that each pane contains a small inscribed message; some just a date or a name, others more evocative messages. The careful scripted writing suggests that this is not just youthful graffiti, these are the words of the Glen Calvie residents, evicted from their lands in the infamous Highland Clearances.
The Highland Clearances are one of the dark stains on our nations history; although in a wider perspective they were simply part of the agricultural changes happening all over the United Kingdom, the low level of protection offered to small subsistence farming tenants under Scots law, coupled with the brutality of their treatment made the highland clearances particularly shameful.
Since the end of the Jacobite risings the British government had been working on many 'improvements' designed to keep the highland clans in line. Many clansmen were emigrating to America to seek a new life and at the same time the increasing demand for cattle and sheep across Britain led to new breeds better equipped to survive in highland climates. Some landowners and clan chiefs such as Admiral John Ross of Balnagowan Castle and MacLeod of MacLeod began to remove people living on suitable land, many being forced to less workable coastal areas where they would fish or gather kelp.
In 1807 Elizabeth Gordon, 19th Countess of Sutherland and her husband Lord Stafford (later made Duke of Sutherland) became seized by the idea of turning much of their land across to sheep farming. Sutherland’s agents soon began evicting families from the land they had worked for generations, many having no time to lift their crops they were moved by force to coastal lands with no shelter. The Countess of Sutherland and her factor, Patrick Sellar, were especially cruel and their names are reviled in Sutherland to this day. Donald McLeod, a Sutherland crofter, later wrote about the events he witnessed:
"The consternation and confusion were extreme. Little or no time was given for the removal of persons or property; the people striving to remove the sick and the helpless before the fire should reach them; next, struggling to save the most valuable of their effects. The cries of the women and children, the roaring of the affrighted cattle, hunted at the same time by the yelling dogs of the shepherds amid the smoke and fire, altogether presented a scene that completely baffles description — it required to be seen to be believed.
A dense cloud of smoke enveloped the whole country by day, and even extended far out to sea. At night an awfully grand but terrific scene presented itself — all the houses in an extensive district in flames at once. I myself ascended a height about eleven o'clock in the evening, and counted two hundred and fifty blazing houses, many of the owners of which I personally knew, but whose present condition — whether in or out of the flames — I could not tell. The conflagration lasted six days, till the whole of the dwellings were reduced to ashes or smoking ruins. During one of these days a boat actually lost her way in the dense smoke as she approached the shore, but at night was enabled to reach a landing-place by the lurid light of the flames."
This brutality escalated as many clan chiefs once charged with the protection of their people had become distant landlords who cared little for their plight in favour of greater profit.
Throughout this time the families living in Glen Calvie worked the land as best they could, knowing that some day their time would come, in 1845 the horror of the clearances finally came to this peaceful glen.
For as long as anyone could remember the Glen Calvie people had been model tenants, living in modest turf cabins they grew barley and oats and herded cattle and sheep. Despite being forced to pay a vastly inflated rent for their land almost four times the average there had been very little arrears, there were no paupers and not one person in the valley had been charged with any offence for years. They had been loyal to their chief and to their monarch with many men volunteering to fight for their country.