The Glen Garry Evictions

Anniversary of the Battle of Culloden | Transceltic - Home of the Celtic  nations

One could argue the infamous Clearances, driving people off their land without a care where they go or what happens to them, began as soon as an overweight 23-year-old Butcher Cumberland was desperate to raise his reputation after losing the Battle of Fontenoy against the French. He found it soon enough by taking revenge on the Scots, and in particular, their alliance with the French. He embarked on a campaign of vengeance that can only be described as genocide.

The Marquess of Berkhampstead, Viscount Trematon and Earl of Kennington, son of King George II and his wife Caroline of Anspach, Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, knew his destiny. He found the moment: stopping Prince Edward Stewart’s claim to the throne, and snuffing out the Jacobite rebellion’s series of battle wins, including one at Prestonpans.

The brutal campaign to pacify an entire nation did not end on the blood red grass of Culloden. Like a secretary of state working from his office away from the reality he detests – let the Scots know, there shall be no referendum! – Cumberland gave orders from his headquarters to take no prisoners, to pusue the wounded and the fleeing from Culloden, sending out several contingents of troops with sword and bayonet to do their worst. Like the massacre of Glencoe, the Scots needed another lesson in who was the ultimate boss of their nation.

The instruction was simple, destroy any semblance of life in the Highlands, in what was nothing less than genocide – if it moved, kill it – played out by Royal soldiers. They set alight to homes, murdering, imprisoning and raping as they carried out their instructions.

This barbaric methodical approach to wiping out the Jacobite cause extended to the economy, soldiers rounding up over 20,000 cattle which sustained the community, and moving them south. These clinical tactics made sure that the Highland community was effectively crushed physically, economically and spiritually. This has been England’s way to keep possession of Scotland ever since, right down the ages but without the need for bloody battles. Battles were on European lands in the early twentieth century, and then arid dry deserts in the late part of the century. That kept our men and youth busy, until Margaret Thatcher reaped her kind of war on Scotland by devastating our heavy industry. London heaps invasions and battles of a different sort on Scotland in modern times. And there are Scots here to welcome them.

Divide and rule

Divide and rule was the strategy of the day as it is today. The barbarous tactics whilst vilified in the Highlands by the populace as the stories of atrocities past one to another, were better received elsewhere, particularly in the Lowlands where there was no love lost for the Jacobites. Instead, the people of the Lowlands sought to reward Cumberland for bringing the rebellion to an end, offering him the Chancellorship of Aberdeen and St Andrew’s University.

An age-old tactic: create supporters by dint of bribes or debts, and then claim you were invited in by your ‘many’ supporters (just as many silent but counted as not), to quell dissidents, and create ‘peace’. Do it by invasion, onerous taxes, harsh laws, and allegience as a means of subduing the population. The English monarchy has a long list of attacks on Scotland’s rights, the most recent a whisper to a group of journalists that people should ‘think very carefully’ about how they will vote in an independence referendum. (As opposecd to voting in a silly, jokey, abandoned way.)

The lie that England’s royal family are strictly divorced from everyday politics was emphasised by Cumberland, as it is today witnessing Gordon Brown’s cosy chat with Prince William, heir to the throne, on ways to derail Scotland’s wish for genuine democracy. By tradesman’s side-door method, it can be denied HM Queen Elizabeth took part in any regressive discussions.

12 Highland clearances ideas | scotland, scotland history, vintage scotland
The Last of the Clan’, by Thomas Faed

The assault on the Highlands

And so it came to pass, that the alien designation of ‘landlord’ and ‘tenant’ were foreceably imported into the Highlands, largely a pastoral and agricultural society. Until the Clearances, a clan and its septs were loyal to the Clan chief, the ‘father’ of the clan. They tilled the soil and tended the cattle and hunted the fish in the river.

Separated from their land by an alien Act of Parliament, clan chiefs had no choice but to supply human fodder for English regiments, infantry for foreign wars. They cared little for whatever quarrel England had with its European neighbours; the impoverished clan chief had to sustain the clan one way or another, part of the solution was accepting reward from London for his devotion to the British Crown.

Highlanders knew little English, a crime in the eyes of England’s parliament; they had no way of perceiving their land had been handed over to their chief and overnight they had become serfs. Very soon senior soldiers in the Highland regiments – now effectively English regiments, moved up the social scale. They disdained to cut an inferior status to the ‘poor, sodden peasants’, and felt thoroughly entitled as the new elite. In short measure, an ersatz English class system permeated Scottish life.

The conversations heard in posh Edinburgh houses boasting a hundred candles in silver sconces and in the regimental forts was one of superiority. Highland riff-raff had to be shifted to make way for the new economy, sheep a great part of it.

As the factor of Glen Garry said, “The poor of the land can go to America or Canada where the land is rich in resources. They love their own land, so what? They starve here? They defy our advice! They will not leave peacefully. The rights of property must be respected. Leave this to me. I know how to break their stubborn spirit.”

This last remark is one that can be heard in any corridor of Westminster or the House of Lords. That English entitlement has never managed to break Scotland’s right to an independence of mind in over three hundred years, yet it does not trouble the colonial mind.

The clearing of Glen Garry

Glen Garry’s factor duly ordered the people of the glen to emigrate to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, or Canada. They received nothing in writing, few could read English, they were warned verbally. Those who took no notice or pleaded for leniency saw their furniture thrown out in the fields, their house burned to the ground. Many were beaten, humiliated, and driven to depair. Suicides were not uncommon among those who had given up hope, and thought God had given up on them.

Those among us today who laud the blessings of the Union, tell us the Highlands (and a great swathe of the Lowlands) had to give way to ‘progress’. Of course, progress did not include consulting the people who lived off the land, which was most Scots in those days, only about eight percent living in towns.

The Highland Clearances and land reform in Scotland: The country's  semi-feudal great estates face reform | The Independent | The Independent
A cottage of the type inhabited by John Mackinnon

One example

Among those who refused to leave the land he thought he owned, and his father had cultivated, and his father before him, was one John Mackinnon, a cottar, aged 44, with a wife and six children. The record sets the events that followed in detail.

Mackinnon spent three nights burrowed down among a shallow rock cave from the worst of the elements. Only when he thought the factor and his men had left the area did he leave his shoreline improvised dwelling and return to his cottage. What he saw was the roof removed and only a ruin left. The men had demolished the building to such an extent rescue was impossible. However, the chapel was nearby and still had part of the roof remaining. He and his family moved nettles aside, propped cabers onto the inside of the gable wall, threw cotton sales over the top, and spread bedding underneath on the grass. There they kindled a fire, added a pot of water to it, and boiled some potatoes, their first meal in days.

Mackinnon’s wife, in poor health and deeply stressed, had a premature birth and contracted consumption. The scene must have seemed hopless, lying on clumps of damp straw almost open to the elements, where only a dying fox would take shelter.

The House of God was no santuary. The manager of Knoyart and his cudgel swinging minions returned and proceeded to wreck the basic dwelling Mackinnon had constructed. His chair, stool, table were thrown outside and broken up. They hay bales he had used as bedding was set alight, and the lean-to roofing taken away. The officers told Mackinnon they would be back next day and do the same if he had not left the area.

One officer of conscience reported, “The children looked at me as if I had been a wolf; they crept behind their father, and stared wildly, dreading I was a law officer. The sight was most painful. The very idea that in Christian Scotland, those tender infants should be subjected to such gross treatment refelcts strongly upon ouir humanity and civilisation. Had they been suffering from the ravages of famine, or pestilence, or war, I could understand it and account for it, but suffering to benefit the ambition of some unfeeling speculator, I think it most unwarranted, and demanding the emphatic condemnation of every Christian man. Had Mackinnon been in arrears of rent, which he was not, even this would not justify the harsh, cruel and inhuman conduct persued towards himself and his family. No language of mind can describe the condition of this poor family – exaggeration is impossible.”

In Strathglas, Kintail, Glenelg, Outer Hebrides, Borcraig, and Suishinish, South Uist, and Barra too, the same scene was enacted and reinacted about family and home, one after the other. And one after another they were hered up and marched to a sailing ship to take them to a far off land, people totally unfit for a long sea voyage. Nutrition onboard was terrible, scurvy rampant. Women often refused to deficate watched by others on the crowded ships. Consequently, pestilence broke out. Many passengers never reach the ‘promised land of riches’. They finished their lives committed to the sea. When the waves folded over them they were free at last from the assaults of their masters, from the stinging whip of English power, and the cares of this world.

But from every human-made tragedy there arises art and story and poetry. The clearing of the glens bred a tougher Highlander, each glen producing a poet and a philosopher and a damn good fiddle player. We sang the songs they composed and spoke the poetry the penned, passing the stories of our forefathers from son to daughter and down the generations. And those men who will great hill climbers and moutaineers proved better soldiers for the English regiments than any Englishman had as a companion.

“A seal would lift its head, and a basking-shark its sail, but today in the sea-sound a submarine lifts its turret and its black sleek back threatening the thing that would make dross of wood, of meadows and of rocks, that would leave Screapadal without beauty, just as it was left without people.” The Raasay Clearance, by Sorley MacLean

And yet, we stop to ponder – these events would never have taken place had Scotland not shut down its Parliament. What a wonderous thing is a people’s palace. The earls and the lawyers and the clergy who signed the Treaty of Union were criminals twice over, accountable for the all the later deaths of their kith and kin.

Kings of Croesus

And what of the modern Croesuses? The Queen and her family have Balmoral, the spoils of invasion, there to be used when London seems jaded and boring. And new-age landowners have their deer hills and grouse moors, and ghillies and gamekeepers to keep the rest of us ‘aff the chook’s grund!” No peasant can come between the Highland homes of the wealthy and their nobility. They have enough Scots subjugated to protect them and a Scottish parliament fearful of radical social change, about as courageous as a bird on the nose of a crocodile.

No surprise then, that now, in the twenty-first century, when two immigrants, late to renew their visas, living and working in the community for years, were rescued in Pollokshields from England’s deportation officials by an angry crowd of local Scots who knew right from wrong. Some of those good people can trace their ancestry back to the Highlands.

Westminster parliamentarians and Scotland’s colonials should understand, we Scots carry the scar of a terrible injustice than squats deep in our psyche. There shall be no clearances in Scotland, street, village or Highlands ever again – and we bloody mean it.

The Duke of Cumberland died at the youthful age of 44, of a heart attack, overweight, gouty, but not burdened by a conscience.


‘The Highland Clearances’ by Alexander MacKenzie. Eviction Records, National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh. ‘How Scotland Lost its Parliament’, Charles Waddie.


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17 Responses to The Glen Garry Evictions

  1. diabloandco says:

    I take it you don’t subscribe to Neil Olver’s notion that the Scots were emigrating? And no mention of the brutality the burning out of families in his weee mind.

  2. tombkane says:

    There you are again, Gareth. I don’t really want to pay a quick tribute to this beautiful essay, it’s one, among many of your others that I will visit again and again.

    I am a Greenockian… Many of us are a mix of Highland, Island, Irish and Norwegian. My great grandmother came to Greenock a single mother with two sons to different fathers and only the Gaelic. She found her way, but even her sons found it hard, being Scots Gaels … They lived a lot of poverty. Nevertheless, my great grandfather, her son, won a military medal of valour for extreme bravery in the first world war. A quiet man.

    There is something bigger too, than the great damage that was caused by those clearances, those brutal murders and rapes, and burning of houses and schools and places of worship, and the imposition of a Presbyterianism above all… There is the haunting of the land.

    I will never forget my first visit to Mull. An island that supported 10,000 people. All cleared brutally. It’s an astounding beauty that Mull has, and it took me more that one visit to even see it. The rubble that is left of its first society demands attention and challenges the heart. Looking at that was part of my generational disgrace. The spiritual poverty of a people lies also in not being able to speak their own truth and have it heard. Instead having monarch if the glen and ballamory

    I will leave this circular nonsense now, Gareth, and just say thank you. Although I cannot truly put the moments of the slaughter at Culloden in place, or the plight of John MacKinnon, his wife and their children, you have touched the truths again, and they are abhorrent.

    Our debt to the Highlands and Islands is that we should bring them back to life in all their beauty, and made an essential part of Scotland’s economy, powered by all of Scotland’s ingenuity, wealth, conscience and common decency.

    Gareth… Thank you. Respect.

  3. socratesmacsporran says:

    Another brilliant and inspirational piece Gareth. You are sucking diesel my man.

  4. tombkane says:

    Sorry for the misspells, Gareth… A bit of editing might have been a fine thing .. though I didn’t expect to write so much.
    It was my great, great grandmother who came down, first to be a farm worker who was paid in milk, and then as one of the women who cut the herring in Greenock… A hard-working woman all her life.

  5. jancowanrocketmailcom says:

    My parents and grandparents, having lived through the two world wars were well and truly conditioned to believe themselves British. I was fortunate in that my Primary7 teacher taught us Scottish history. But my teacher of recent local history was a grumpy old neighbour who told me about the Duke of Sutherland’s evil treatment of the people. The fact that angered him most was that the crofters had each been forced to pay a shilling towards the construction of the Duke’s monument on the hill behind Golspie – or lose their tenancy. No wonder old Dannie was angry. The ultimate insult. These British people certainly know how to trample upon a nation.

    I became an SNP member in 1975.

    With Nicola Sturgeon the SNP became British. But ALBA, ISP and AFI came to the rescue. INDEPENDENCE

  6. Grouse Beater says:

    Tomkane: No need to apologise – my eyesight deteriorated commensurate with my illness and even after checking I miss typos. You contributed a first class piece.

  7. alfbaird says:

    An excellent synopsis of Scotland’s true predicament and the real reason for independence – colonialism – which is both a scourge and a disease of the mind.

    According to Albert Memmi: “there is only one way out of the colonial situation, and the colonized realizes it sooner or later. His condition is absolute and cries for an absolute solution; a break and not a compromise.”

  8. jim4indy says:

    ‘And yet, we stop to ponder – these events would never have taken place had Scotland not shut down its Parliament.’
    A simple sentence, yet when thought upon, as stunning as a thunderbolt.
    All of the lords who signed the treaty left their people at the mercy of the English.
    They are coming for us again. All of you elected MSP’s, who have recently been given the privilege of protecting your people – be worthy of it.

  9. Howard Cairns says:

    Thanks Gareth, as a Scot over in Australia I never had the opportunity to read all about Scottish history. You have improved my understanding of so many aspects of Scotland’s history. I read all your essays. If you ever put out a book of essays please keep me in mind. I would love to have one.

  10. Grouse Beater says:

    Will do, Howard, will do. But first I need to check for typos! 🙂

  11. Hugh Wallace says:

    My family history is a bit vague in precise details but my mother’s family ended up in Canada & New Zealand. Some we know were wealthy enough to have chosen to emigrate to the New World while others we suspect were Cleared. Almost certainly all were impacted by the Clearances & the upheavals of the time.

    One of my cousins is researching one of the great great (?) grandmothers who made it to Ontario. There is no mention made of why she & other Scots left Scotland in the historical accounts kept in Canada. My mother’s suggestion is that the Clearances were such a traumatic event for those forced to leave that they didn’t tell their children & grandchildren so the descendents of the Scottish diaspora are left to assume their ancestors emigrate for the opportunity rather than because of need.

    Nobody wants to think of their people being subjected to genocide, perhaps especially if you realise that you have in turn benefited from the genocide of the indigenous peoples your ancestors displaced.

  12. A related poem and three quotes:

    Mac-talla saighdeir òig

    fo fhòid Chùl Lodair:

    “Abair na mìltean

    de gheòidh ghlòrach

    a sgèith thairis  
air na leòinte

    an là reòite ud

    fhuair mi am bàs.”


    Echo of a young soldier
    from beneath Culloden’s turf:

    Those myriads
    of clamorous geese
    the dying
    that frostbitten day
    I met my death.]
    An extract from an email to a friend last year:

    “The Culloden Exhibition Centre has an audio-visual presentation. I am of course not a Jacobite, but that battle thrust a fatal sword through the heart of Gaelic and so I also have fallen heir to the still bleeding scar (there were Gaels on both sides of course). My inner outrage, frustration, and desolation never allowed me to venture into that audio-visual part of the Centre. Until that visit with G—. Eerily, as it happened, the two of us were actually standing in there absolutely alone together in the modestly-sized presentation room. The B&W video of the battle filled all four walls from floor to ceiling. Full chest thumping surround sound. At the end of it I found myself crumpling instantly to my knees and weeping uncontrollably.”
    And on foreign battlefields from 18th to 20 Centuries, the blood of Gaelic-speakers never ceased to flow. Here is one of worst single losses:

    “The Battle of Loos started in September 1915. It was the first time Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, used armies of volunteers in a major attack – around 30,000 Scots took part in the Battle. It was also the first time the British army used poison gas as a weapon. The attacking British soldiers had almost no cover and were in full view of the German machine gunners who cut down soldiers in their thousands. Battalions from every Scottish regiment fought in the Battle of Loos and suffered huge numbers of casualties. Of the 21,000 killed, over 7,000 were Scottish soldiers. Almost every town and village in Scotland was affected by the losses at Loos.”
    Below is a Gaelic video which recounts the catastrophic loss of Gaelic-speaking soldiers at Loos. Here is a quick translation of some of it —

    “Worst blow 9th Scottish Division, 26th Brigade: On the right were the men of North Uist, Strathspey, and Lochaber. On the left were the men of South Uist, Benbecula, and Skye, under Major Arkshaw(?), who fell at the head of his men. The first two lines went forward and were absolutely wiped out. Line after line was mown down. Of the 760 men who went over the top, only 70 came back. And of the 700 who were killed, you could probably say that 90% of them were Gaelic-speakers. And I don’t think Gaeldom ever got over it. And Scotland as a whole. It was a black day for Scotland. The three Divisions (15th Scottish Division, 9th Scottish Division, and 51st Highland Division) had 14,000 casualties at Loos. Percentage-wise, more Scots were killed in the First World War than any other country. The English lost 11%. The Germans lost 12%. The French lost, I think, 14 or 15%. The Scots lost 27%. I couldn’t get over the figures. And after the disaster of Loos, and the wiping out of the Camerons, Lochiel put out an appeal — I have a copy of it here — saying ‘Another thousand Highlanders wanted for Lochiel’s Brigade of the Cameron Highlanders.’ That notice went up throughout the country, after 700 of them lying dead. [Head shake] That was pretty tough. You know. Pretty tough.”


  13. duncanio says:

    Excellent article GB

    This covers “The Cheviot” act of “The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil”.

    When I was at school in the 1970s – in the Highlands, Mallaig and Fort William to be precise – this part of the syllabus was euphemistically called “Changing Life in Scotland” i.e. destruction of the runrig system of farming, enclosure of the land and forcing people off the land to be replaced by sheep.

    Sheep are not indigenous to the Highlands, the hairy bovine being the native to that land. Unlike cattle the don’t need much looking after so that was just fine – even today you still see these woolly creatures causally walking down the main streets of Highland villages, left to run wild. Because they were cheap, sheep to rear and don’t need much looking after they didn’t need locals to look after them. This served the economic imperialistic purpose of the English invaders, and some of the lowland landlord lackeys very well.

    I enjoyed the time and places where my childhood and teenage youth but, like most from there, had to venture south to ‘get on’, first to Edinburgh for further education then, inevitably, to the Deep South of London for work (as none good be found here in Thtacher’s 1980s, university degree or not).

    Today, as in my younger days, the lowlanders patronise and look down their noses at the ‘tchechters’ whilst their highlanders have a well developed chip that sneers at the Glasgow ‘killies’ and effete posh folk of Edinburgh.

    It’s not as bad as it once was but the divide and conquer of 300 years ago continues to scar Scotland.

  14. Grouse Beater says:

    I tweeted the last section of your very welcome remarks, Duncanio.

  15. Donald MacCormick’s catastrophic Scottish war-loss figures quoted above are corroborated by Sir Tom Devine (T.M.Devine) in his book ‘The Scottish Nation 1700-2000’ (Allen Lane, The Penguin Press 1999, p 309) —

    “Of the 157 battalions which comprised the British Expeditionary Force, 22 were Scottish regiments […] The human losses were enormous and unprecedented. Of the 557,000 Scots who enlisted in all services, 26.4 percent lost their lives. This compares with an average death rate of 11.8 percent for the rest of the British army between 1914 and 1918. Of all the combatant nations, only the Serbs and the Turks had higher per capita mortality rates, but this was primarily because of disease in the trenches rather than a direct result of losses in battle. The main reason for the higher-than-average casualties among the Scottish soldiers was that they were regarded as excellent, aggressive shock troops who could be depended upon to lead the line in the first hours of battle.”

  16. In relation to the aftermath of Culloden, I was just reading this following passage today in the excellent and comprehensive new book by Roddy Maclean about Gaelic place-names in the Inverness vicinity:

    “On the other side of Loch Ness, the country from Aldourie to Erchite (and beyond), reaching as far east as Loch Duntelchaig, is explored in a paper written in the 1920s by the landlord Neil Fraser-Tytler, with corrections and additions by Iain Cameron in 2002. The author’s chief source was James Gow of Erchite Wood, who died at the age of 100 in 1903, and whose grandfather, when a teenager, had hidden in a cave for thirteen weeks in 1746, to avoid being murdered by Cumberland’s soldiers in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden.”

    (‘Place-Names of Inverness and Surrounding Area: Ainmean-àite ann an sgìre prìomh bhaile na Gàidhealtachd’ by Roddy Maclean. Published by NatureScot & Bòrd na Gàidhlig, 2021. Free [sic] from Gaelic Books Council)

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