The Sorrow and the Shame


Vast tracts of the Highlands offer arable land, fit for modern farming methods

If clearing people from their land by force is not cleansing what is it?

The term ethnic cleansing to denote over a hundred years of clearing Scots from their land is a phrase rejected by those who see Scotland’s ills issuing from its weather, strange culinary habits, an odd language, and a people a little too inclined to be chippy. Alba, it seems, is full of vexatious people who do nothing but complain.

Using ‘cleansing’ is condemned as out of context, erroneously contemporaneous, too emotional because it was often Scot against Scot.

Well, I have news for slimy proselytisers. It was Jewish guards given temporary preferment who hustled Jews to the gas chambers less their belongings and clothes. They had no choice. It was do or die. Who would dare not call that barbarity a cleansing?

Evictions, deportation in all weathers cause deaths, especially of children, pregnant mothers and the elderly. Many Scots died from the vicissitudes that befell them, some from losing their wits, and more perished on the emigrant ships.

After the battle of Culloden – its repercussions I explain later – British rule arrived with a vengeance. New laws and taxes were imposed on Scotland leaving only the most rebellious prepared to protest. Clan chiefs found themselves in the invidious position of being landlords forced to report on their clan’s behaviour monthly to prove they were loyal to the British Crown and keeping the peace.

Colonial power always avers it’s for your own good

The Clearances – and I refer to both the Lowlands cleansing as well as the Highlands, were carried out over decades not a few intense years, often without witness or written record. You have to search for court summonses and eviction orders, or rely on the oral tradition to find detail of village clearances.

Those who died on the journey south or out of Scotland given an unmarked pauper’s grave. Keep in mind, only 7% of Scotland’s population lived in large towns making it fairly easy to evict people living in remote areas, and do it without fear of reprisal.

The heartless try to tell us life was hard, houses hovels, people lived in appalling conditions, a truism of other agrarian societies in France, Italy, Spain, and most of the Balkan countries, none of which cried out for English intervention to restore them to economic health. The ‘hard life’ theme is the apology for clearing thousands off the land they tilled and their forefathers before them.

English rural dwellers encountered a similar fate when Westminster decided full-blown capitalism was a core principle goal of a civilised nation, workers needed for the industrial revolution, but in Scotland evictions were comprehensive, enforced, savage and relentless.

There were two distinct types of ‘clearance’. The first was forced settlement on barren land usually near the sea. Homes were burnt and tenants forced to leave at the point of a sword or musket, carrying little or nothing as they headed towards an unknown fate.

Clearances of 2,000 a day were not uncommon. Forced eviction was one method, draconian rent increases another.


A kelp cart used by farmers pushed to the sea’s edge

A lack of documentation is not a lack of evidence

An absence of an official record is very convenient. It allows discounters of history freedom to claim almost anything they want. They can describe lost communities as progress, villages ‘abandoned‘ rather than the vestiges of evictions. They can avoid the pain and suffering, they can dismiss the stench of authoritarian rule. They don’t have to talk about individuals or specific families; they can talk in generalities and platitudes.

Sadly for apologists there are written accounts. Here is one, published in book form, (I have a copy) by the eminent geologist Sir Archibald Geikie, an honest witness to evictions on the Isle of Skye. Readers will forgive his use of ‘valley’ that should be glen.

“I had heard rumours of these intentions to clear people off their land but did not realise they were in the process of being carried out in effect until one afternoon, as I was returning from my ramble, a strange wailing sound reached my ears at intervals on the breeze. On gaining the top of one of the hills on the south side of the valley I could see a long and motley procession winding along the road that led north from Suishnish. It halted at the point of the road opposite Kilbride, and there the lamentation became long and loud. As I drew nearer, I could see that the minister with his wife and daughters had come out to meet the people and bid them all farewell. It was a miscellaneous gathering of at least three generations of crofters. There were old men and women, too feeble to walk, who were placed in carts; the younger members of the community on foot were carrying their bundles of clothes and household effects, while the children, with looks of alarm, walked alongside. There was a pause in the notes of woe as a last word was exchanged with the family of Kilbride. Everyone was in tears; each wished to clasp the hands that had so often be-friended them, and it seemed as if they could not tear themselves away. When they set forth, a cry of grief went up to heaven, the long plaintive wail, like a funeral coronach, was resumed, and after the last of the emigrants had disappeared behind the hill, the sound seemed to re-echo through the whole valley of Strath in one prolonged note of desolation. The people were on their way to be shipped to Canada.”

Once the Treaty was signed in 1707, and after the failed resurrection against English rule at the Battle of Culloden in 1745, when ‘Butcher’ Cumberland rampaged on a mission of genocide against survivors and innocents, British authorities acted hard and decisive to suppress clan loyalties.

British imperialism has rarely confined itself to the role of colonial resource extractor. Imperial rule has to alter society to its own ends in order to survive. You enslave a people and then teach them cricket to show you mean no harm. In the case of the Clearances the tale of repression included prohibitions.

 A musket barrel’s view of the Clearances

1708: England increases taxes on the Scottish population to be collected by clan chiefs, the annual sum gathered to repay half the loan given to Scottish nobles who lost money on the Darien Schemes, the schemes blocked by England’s trade war.

1720: The Disarming of the Clans Act forces warriors and their families to leave Scotland.

1725: Propelled by sustained unrest over the Act of Union, General Wade upgrades cattle trails to proper roads and bridges – from one English loyal garrison to another.

1730: England’s demand for cattle and sheep increase ten-fold – the Highlands the place to graze them. Clan chiefs encouraged to shift their people off the best ground.

1735: Clearances begin in earnest, emigration rate rises dramatically.

1746: After the Battle of Culloden Highland stragglers, those without a home – sent to the Caribbean as slaves.

1747: Act of Proscription – wearing of tartan banned; the teaching of Gaelic banned; the gathering of clan members banned; playing bagpipes banned; hoarding weapons banned. English language made first language.

1747: Heritable Jurisdiction Act imposed – Highland landowners must accept English rule or forfeit their land. Many clan chiefs step down and move south, some to London.

1762: Clearances is full spate all over the Highlands and spreads to the Lowlands. Some Lowland villages flattened to incorporate the land into a single one-owner estate.

1782: Loch Quoich – flocks of sheep replace 500 souls forced to emigrate to Canada.

1782: Westminster decides Scotland’s rebellious nature is tamed and the Proscription Act is repealed. But remaining clan members stay mere tenants.

1788: Donald Cameron of Lochiel begins clearing his lands of villagers and farmers.

1791: Records show over 7,000 people emigrated from Inverness and Ross lands.

1792: The ‘Year of the Sheep’ – it is estimated that there are now more sheep than people north west of Perth. Sheep deemed ‘more profitable than farming’.

1792: Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster introduces vast flocks of Cheviot sheep to Caithness, ‘four footed clansmen’ replace people, two for one.

1800: Edinburgh and Glasgow turn cities as Highlanders and Lowlanders leave the land.

1807: Highland economy collapses. This is the excuse given for the need to reuse land for ‘better’ purposes. A calamity wholly man made is exploited to propel greed.

1811: Clearances begin in earnest in Sutherland under the auspices of the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland. In 1811 the scattered population was recorded at 1,574. By 1831 the number was 257, most serving the Duke’s estate.

1816: Patrick Sellar, a factor who burned down cottages, walks free from court.

1820: Landlords propose ‘crofting villages’ as enclaves of cheap or free labour.

1846: First serious potato famine speeds up Clearances once more.

1853: Women in Gruinard village, (Greenyards) Ardgay, Strathcarron, their men absent, soldiers fighting in the Crimean war, repel Glaswegian police for weeks, by guile and  ploys, attempting to evict them. Police finally succeed with bloody baton charge.

1900-1958: With two world wars concentrating the British mind, Clearances continue without pause placing great swathes of Scotland in the hands of a few wealthy owners, leaving tenants with few rights.

1960 – Present: Large tracts of supposedly infertile land in the Highlands and many Islands change hands for millions of pounds, Gruinyards included.


Those who resisted eviction saw their home razed to the ground

Freedoms never arrive with colonial rule.

If there exist still people in Scotland who think they are safe under British rule they are condemning themselves and the rest of us to the destruction of Scotland as a nation state. Can you understand the fury that issues from being a perpetual colony?

What difference is there between the vengeance exacted upon Scotland after Culloden, and the reprisals enacted by Westminster now? The repercussions from that lost plebiscite on the fateful 18th of September, 2014 are barbed wire ‘Made in England’.

In no special order: artificial austerity imposed on a wealthy nation, forced withdrawal from Europe, grabbing of Scotland’s powers by Westminster; loss of welfare rights and pensions, forced repatriation; Scots regiments moved south, shared institutions closed in Scotland, empty shipyards where naval vessels were promised, removal of worker protection rights; bedroom tax; the drip, drip withdrawal of the Barnett Formula, theft of Scotland’s oil, the swell of English xenophobia infecting British life, sustained smearing of our Parliament as a useless executive – they all amount to teaching the natives a lesson they won’t forget.

The people who voted against Scotland’s right to govern its self once more, those who blocked a wealthy country from its legitimate civil rights, are petty accomplices in the clearances of modern Scotland. What they missed was obvious. We are at a point where Westminster under Tory and its alter ego Labour aim to keep the populace uncertain, busy watching our backs, our tomorrows not quite guaranteed. They are imposing constant political upheaval, or as Karl Marx put it, “an uninterrupted disturbance of social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation”.

Liberty happiness, autonomy, individuality, spirituality, self-guided development are ideals we all are heir to. There is only one way to realise the clamour for Scotland’s permanent freedom, and it isn’t inviting more tourists to visit the Highlands to take picturesque snapshots of a banished civilisation.

In the face of increasing colonial power where one nation is manipulating the other, Scotland’s worst enemy is apathy and passivity. Toss away the hand-me-down sliver of Union Jack. The label should read ‘Made in Scotland’.


NOTE 1: This is the first part of a two-part essay. See “A Letter from the Clearances“:

NOTE 2: See also: ‘Scotland’s Emigrants’.


This entry was posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

64 Responses to The Sorrow and the Shame

  1. Excellent article, I was not taught any of that at school. If Scots knew about their own history from they might not be quite so keen to think of Westminster as a benign operation.

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    It was an emotional slog getting it together and editing extraneous material.

  3. daibhidhdeux says:

    Should be compulsory reading. Thank you for it. Have shared widely.

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    Many thanks for your support, DDD.

  5. David Howdle says:

    What many people don’t realise is that there were lowland clearances as well. I live just north of Dumfries. The village of Duncow, once a thriving village, is now no more than a small cluster of houses. Apparently most houses were knocked down to allow the Duncow estate to be formed. The people were sent to Canada.

  6. Marconatrix says:

    “… inviting more tourists to visit the Highlands to take picturesque snapshots …”
    Och, but those empty hills and glens are just so atmospheric, haunted you might even say …

    Tha’n uiseag anns na speuraibh, a’ seinn a luinneig gleusda,
    ‘s gun neach ann ‘ga h-eisdeach, nuair a dh’éireas i àrd.
    Cha till, cha till na daoine, ‘ bha cridheil agus aoibheil:
    mar mholl air latha gaoithe, chaidh an sgaoileadh gu bràth.

    Oh how quaint, whatever could all that pretty gibberish mean?

    TBH I’d have thought everyone would have read Prebble’s book (or similar) by now :

  7. angusskye says:

    Originally I learned about the Clearances from my grandmother in the 50s. I heard nothing about them in either primary or secondary school. As my knowledge of them grew, I remember the feeling of impotent rage, and still do this morning after reading your excellent article.

    The British State is very very good at turning the people it colonises against themselves, assimilating part of them and relying on them to keep the rest in line. And so it was in the Highlands with the clan chiefs who were “welcomed” into the House of Lords and who, rather than looking out for their clans, saw them as income sources. When this wasn’t enough they brought in sheep and imported shepherds from the Borders. Border family names can still be seen all over the Highlands and Islands, stemming from these times. We, of course, have another example of this close to home in Northern Ireland where it was Scots, “encouraged” to move to Ulster. We all can see how that worked out.

    The genocidal acts carried out against the Scots in the 18th and 19th centuries have shaped Scotland. I fear that we will soon see a more modern, more (or less) subtle and less (or more) physical approach being used by the British State to stamp out the desire – and ability to go for – Scottish Independence.

    We need to waken up.

  8. FlikeNoir says:

    One of the first books I wanted to post was Donald McLeod’s ‘Gloomy Memories’ as I found so many Scots were of the mind a potato famine caused the depopulation of the Highlands when that effected those remaining for only a short period of time, quite a bit after the evictions had started. I’ve heard it said the failure of the potato crops was human-created in a bid to hurry the eradication of the Highland population. If anyone fancies reading contemporary witness testimony I highly recommend Mr. McLeod’s book –

  9. grumpydubai says:

    One word – SUPERB.

    Thank you for showing how modern events confirm this evil continues and, that so many are blind to it.

  10. Kit Scott says:

    Thank You for sharing your insights on this history. Living here in Perth Australia i constantly hear Indigenous Aboriginals protest & share their pain & intergenerational trauma around colonisation, genocide of their people & stealing of their land. I came across this, and it appears that the British Empire hav been going on like this for a long time.

    Here’s to the healing that’s needed, as we now know “Pain travels thru families until someone is ready to feel it, im feeling it & healing it, will you?” 💖🌍

  11. Grouse Beater says:

    Thank you, Kit. Clearances make depressing reading – especially on a sunny day, but we have to know about them if we are to understand history is repeated now.

  12. Alan Gordon says:

    Thank you, having the timeline of abuse paced out as you have done, allows you to see the cause and effect more clearly.

  13. Marconatrix says:

    Indeed the worst part is knowing that evicted cleared Highlanders and others in a similar situation, were often instrumental in displacing other native peoples around the Empire 😦

  14. tintochiel says:

    One of your best pieces of savage indignation, Grouse Beater, which deserves a wider audience. In Skye, a few survivors of Waterloo were given small crofts as a pension. Needless to say it was the poorest land on the coast, a beautiful place on Broadford Bay but subsistence-level ground. You can’t eat scenery.

    Seeing Prebble’s book reminded me that Gordon Donaldson, sometime historiographer at Edinburgh University, dismissed his work as unbalanced “rubbish”. Unionist place-men and women academics have for too long produced sanitised accounts which simply gloss over and minimise the sustained attacks on Scottish people and culture since 1746. Dissenters like John Prebble, James D Young and Stuart McHardy are not welcome in this self-serving clique.

    I would look forward to more of your writing on this subject.

  15. Kit Scott says:

    I hear you Grouse Beater &

    I’m greatful that this part of hidden history / her story is now being aired, shared & brought to light, as it’s sad & ironic that SO many parts of history has not been taught properly at school.

    Same with here in Perth Australia wer SO many indigenous people murdered & forced off their land, for the ethic cleansing they attempted to do, not teach about the true Aboriginal history in schools & for a hotel resort to be built ontop of unmarked Aboriginal graves similar to what happened in Auschwitz.

    We have to TRULY understand what has happened, heal the chronic pain & unhealed trauma that has been passed on generation after generation, so that it NEVER happens again

  16. Grouse Beater says:

    Tinto: Gordon Donaldson? I hope he’s not alive. I’d like to meet the bastard.

  17. tintochiel says:

    I believe he’s beyond your reach now, GB but other Yoon academics are available, hee, hee.

  18. AR Brown says:

    1725: General Wade improves roads – those from one English loyal garrison to another.

    Minor point, but Wade created entirely new roads. They didn’t exist at all previously to be ‘improved’. And the bulk of ‘Wade’ roads were created by his successor Caulfield.

  19. Dunphail says:

    Another excellent must read article for anyone who is interested in the true history of our nation

  20. Hugh Wallace says:

    Awesome piece GB.

    I’ve another word for you; genocide.

  21. Grouse Beater says:

    Thank you. I hope you’ll disseminate it widely; everybody knows of the Clearances, few know about the Clearances.

    Genocide was certainly the goal of mad man Cromwell, and then Cumberland.

  22. Brian Powell says:

    I wonder if Donald Cameron of Locheil is a forebearer of David Cameron?

  23. Andreae Snee says:

    Thank you, as my father shared these things but I was never taught in any history class in school, say no more. I was indeed shocked with the outcome, finally a justice in sovereignty. Call me naive as living half way around the world it appeared just instinctual from generations past what should have been. But the dumbing down and passivity worked its spell albeit tragically.
    Trauma doesn’t have to define us but instead can, allowed and used as a source to refine us into action.

  24. Grouse Beater says:

    We are still a colony, though unionists who have money in their pocket will never acknowledge it. Take solace in remembering almost the whole of Glasgow voted to reinstated autonomy, many of their forefathers Highlanders.

  25. junius45 says:

    I think David Cameron is a connection of the Locheil family who carried out clearances in Lochaber etc’. The present Locheil’s son sits behind Ruth Davidson!

  26. May Mccabe says:

    Great article should be compulsive reading

  27. Grouse Beater says:

    Poor man. He must be subjected to a lot of foul wind.

  28. Grouse Beater says:

    Thank you. Please send it to anybody you think will benefit. 🙂

  29. I remember the Highland Clearances being touched on in History as part of the runrig/industrial revolution. This is something that needs to be taught in depth as history, as we are seeing, repeats itself.
    I can remember ages ago on Facebook someone recommending a new book on the Darien Scheme. Can ‘t remember the title (Scotland’s something, maybe). Was it yourself or can you think what it might be?

  30. Grouse Beater says:

    Morag – it might be ‘The Darien Disaster’ by John Prebble. Copies available on Amazon. 🙂

  31. You forgot to mention that Clan Chiefs were forced to send their eldest son to England to be educated. When they returned to Scotland they no longer had the feeling for their Tenants that their fathers had.

  32. Bill Owens says:

    My Grandmother mentioned the clearances to me, and it was briefly mentioned in the 50’s at school. My father who was a fervent nationalist brought us all up NEVER to trust a Bank or an Englishman.
    I do have some wonderful English friends but I too am a Nationalist through and through.

  33. Grouse Beater says:

    Some can’t see what our issues are, some think us racist, and a few understand the need to be part of the world making our decisions and living by them. I’m certain we will be more convivial than now without self-governance, but whether our English friends can shake off their colonial attitudes is another matter. The politicians they elect are unable to think afresh.

  34. Conan the Librarian says:

    There is a new book out on Darien, A Darien Journey: In Search of Empire
    by John McKendrick ISBN: 9781780275031

  35. Neil McRae says:

    “1883: Patrick Sellar walks free from court”.
    Iongantach! Chaochail Sellar ann an 1851

  36. Grouse Beater says:

    Hi Neil – that stray date was fixed a while back. I write from hand-written notes, but thank you just the same..

  37. diabloandco says:

    Someone should send this article to a certain head tosser who described the clearances as ’emigration’.

    I remember as a young woman going to a small museum in a church in a wee village not far from Golspie , I think called Ford but not to be confused with the Loch Awe Ford. It documented the clearance of the area for sheep.

    I cannot remember Scottish History being taught when I was at school and as a support for learning teacher can only remember King Alexander falling off his horse and then straight on to the WW2 ,the assassination of Kennedy and Cradle to Grave . It seemed to me any other country but our own , any other heroes but our own.

    Thanks Grousebeater.

  38. Marconatrix says:

    Ach tha a leithid ann fhathast?

  39. Helen Gibson says:

    Of course it was ethnic cleansing, and some of the descendants of the original oppressors are still in power, in the House of Lords for example. “An absence of an official record is very convenient.”…just like the destroyed cards recording the legitimate arrival of the Windrush people? It’s still happening.

  40. Grouse Beater says:

    There’s a similarity in the current attitude over the poor and the vulnerable; somehow their predicament is their fault, they should be industrious, work harder, just like the power elite who exploit them. Aye, right.

  41. Helen Gibson says:

    I come from Caithness, so I have been aware all my life of the ruined houses beyond Shebster, and the unsustainable clifftop villages. Back in the 70s, plans to blow up the statue of the Duke of Sutherland were discussed openly..

  42. Grouse Beater says:

    I read an account of that pro-active campaign of resistance.

  43. Macart says:

    The establishment were always monsters Grouse. They are today, just as they were then. Empathy free, vindictive, greedy, arrogant and self entitled.

    Eviction, deportation, starvation, dehumanising and disenfranchising the disabled, the poor, ethnic minorities. All actions you will find featuring in today’s politics and legislation. Now as then, we have those in power who put demographics of their own population in harms way and for their own benefit. They make greed and social exclusion popular. They use their access to a compromised media to appealingly package their actions in living colour and surrounded by z list celeb gossip. Saves the public from pondering the pain, the distress or the desperation.

    Maybe worth folks remembering. A little imagination and empathy can go a long way and imagining yourself walking a mile in another’s shoes can head off a LOT of appalling consequences.

  44. Grouse Beater says:

    True. The mood of Scotland’s adherents of civil rights has altered from defence and explanation to aggressive blocking of repetitious unionist drivel. I wonder how many journalists have noticed that change?

    The notion a people should just keep explaining their rights patiently after cheated comprehensively out of them seems to have gone by unnoticed by the appointed media observers of society.

  45. This is an important article. One small quibble. It’s “razed” to the ground.

  46. Grouse Beater says:

    Many thanks. Lots of readers. Curious, you’re the second person to correct an error long corrected. I’m beginning to wonder if there’s two versions winging around. Anyhow, will write more on this subject soon. Taking a break, first in many months, to visit Rome.

  47. As a USA resident, I knew nothing of this. Thank you for the painful education.

  48. Grouse Beater says:

    Hello Nancy – yes, and that’s only the story told in brief detail. I see I have lots of readers in the USA, so the more you pass on my research to people the more the need to reinstate self-governance is perceived as a normality, not an act of rebellion.

    The strange thing is how the other side has depicted civil rights as unnecessary if governed by English laws and agenda and Scots as separatists. Separation is impossible these days, but governance is not.

  49. Andy in Germany says:

    Thanks for another well researched and timely piece. The post 1900 details were new to me. Could you write an essay specifically on that period?

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