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The Sutherland Clearances of 1819

The reckless lordly proprietors had resolved upon the expulsion of their long-standing and much-attached tenantry from their widely extended estates, and the Sutherland Clearance of 1819 was not only the climax of
their system of oppression for many years before, but the extinction of the last remnant of the ancient Highland peasantry in the North. As violent tempests send out before them many a deep and sullen roar, so did the
advancing storm give notice of its approach by various single acts of oppression. I can yet recall to memory the deep and thrilling sensation which I experienced, as I sat at the fireside in my rude little parlour at Achness,
when the tidings of the meditated removal of my poor flock first reached me from head-quarters.

Notwithstanding their knowledge of former clearances they clung to the hope that the ‘Ban-mhorair-Chatta’ would not give her consent to the warning as issued by her subordinates, and thus deprive herself of her people, as truly a part of her noble inheritance as were her
broad acres. But the course of a few weeks soon undeceived them. The people received the legal warning to leave forever the homes of their fathers with a sort of stupor, that apparent indifference which is often the external aspect of intense feeling. As they began, however, to awake from the stunning effects of this first intimation, their feelings found vent, and I was much struck with the different ways in which they expressed their sentiments. The truly pious acknowledged the mighty hand of God in the matter. In their prayers and religious conferences not a solitary expression could be heard indicative of anger or vindictiveness, but in the sight of God they humbled themselves, and received the chastisement at His hand. Those, however, who were strangers to such exalted and ennobling impressions of the gospel breathed deep and muttered curses on the heads of the persons who subjected them to such treatment. The more reckless portion of them fully rec-
ognised the character of the impenitent in all ages, and indulged in the most culpable excesses, even while this divine punishment was still suspended over them. These last, however, were very few in number, not more than a
dozen. To my poor and defenceless flock the dark hour of trial came at last in right earnest.

It was in the month of April, and about the middle of it, that they were all, man, woman and child, from the heights of Farr to the mouth of the Naver, on one day, to quit their tenements and go, many of them knew not whither. For a few, some miserable patches of ground along the shores were doled out as lots, without aught in the shape of the poorest hut to shelter them. Upon these lots it was intended they should build houses at their own expense, and cultivate the ground, at the same time occupying themselves as fishermen, although the great majority of them had never set foot on a boat in their lives. Thither, therefore, they were driven at a week’s
warning. As for the rest, most of them knew not whither to go, unless their neighbours on the shore provided them with a temporary shelter; for, on the day of their removal, they would not be allowed to remain, even on the bleakest moor, and in the open air, for a distance of
twenty miles around. Donald Sage, Memorabilia Domestica (1889). Sage was the minister of Farr. His hand-wringing acquiescence in the ‘God-given’ clearance was typical
of the ministers of the time. The Ban-mhorair-Chatta was the Gaelic name for the Countess of Sutherland.

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