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The History of the Highland Clearances
Ross-Shire - Glencalvie


Great cruelties were perpetrated at Glencalvie, Ross-shire, where the evicted had to retire into the parish churchyard. There for more than a week they found the only shelter obtainable in their native land. No one dared to succour them, under a threat of receiving similar treatment to those whose hard fate had driven them thus among the tombs. Many of them, indeed, wished that their lot had landed them under the sod with their ancestors and friends, rather than be treated and driven out of house and home in such a ruthless manner. A special commissioner sent down by the London Times describes the circumstances as follows:--

ARDGAY, NEAR TAIN, ROSS-SHIRE,
15th May, 1845.

Those who remember the misery and destitution to which large masses of the population were thrown by the systematic "Clearances" (as they are here called) carried on in Sutherlandshire some 20 years ago, under the direction and on the estate of the late Marchioness of Stafford —those who have not forgotten to what an extent the ancient ties which bound clansmen to their chiefs were then torn asunder---will regret to learn the heartless scourge with all its sequences of misery, of destitution, and and of crime, is again being resorted to in Ross-shire. Amongst an imaginative people like the Highlanders, who, poetic from dwelling amongst wild and romantic scenery, shut out from the world and clinging to the traditions of the past, it requires little, with fair treatment, to make them almost idolise their heritor. They would spend the last drop of their blood in his service. But this feeling of respectful attachment to the landowners, which money cannot buy, is fast passing away. This change is not without cause; and perhaps if the dark deeds of calculating "feelosophy" transacted through the instrumentality of factors in some of these lonely glens; if the almost inconceivable misery and hopeless destitution in which, for the expected acquisition of a few pounds; hundreds of peaceable and generally industrious and contented peasants are driven out from the means of self-support, to become wanderers and starving beggars, and in which a brave and valuable population is destroyed—are exposed to the gaze of the world, general indignation and disgust may effect what moral obligations and humanity cannot. One of these clearances is about to take place in the parish of Kincardine, from which I now write; and throughout the whole district it has created the strongest feeling of indignation.

This parish is divided into two districts each of great extent; one is called the parliamentary district of Croick. The length of this district is about 20 miles, with a breadth of from 10 to 15 miles. It extends amongst the most remote and unfrequented parts of the country, consisting chiefly of hills of heather and rock, peopled only in a few straths and glens. This district was formerly thickly peopled ; but one of those clearances many years ago nearly swept away the population, and now the whole number of its inhabitants amounts, I am told, to only 370 souls. These are divided into three straths or glens, and live in a strath called Amatnatua, another strath called Greenyard, and in Glencalvie. It is the inhabitants of Glencalvie, in number go people, whose turn it is now to be turned out of their homes, all at once, the aged and the helpless as well as the young and strong; nearly the whole of them without hope or prospect for the future. The proprietor of this glen is Major Charles Robertson of Kindeace, who is at present out with his regiment in Australia; and his factor or steward who acts for him in his absence is Mr. James Gillanders of Highfield Cottage, near Dingwall. Glencalvie is situated about 25 miles from Tain, eastward. Bleak rough hills, whose surface are almost all rock and heather, closed in on all sides, leaving in the valley a gentle declivity of arable land of a very poor description, dotted over by cairns of stone and rock, not, at the utmost computation, of more than 15 to 20 acres in extent. For this piece of indifferent land with a right of pasturage on the hills impinging upon it---and on which, if it were not a f act that sheep do live, you would not credit that they could live, so entirely does it seem void of vegetation, beyond the brown heather, whilst its rocky nature makes it dangerous and impossible even for a sheep walk—the almost increditable rent of 55 10s. has been paid. I am convinced that for the same land no farmer in England would give 15 at the utmost.

Even respectable farmers here say they do not know how the people raise the rent for it. Potatoes and barley were grown in the valley, and some sheep and a few black cattle find provender amongst the heather. Eighteen families have each a cottage in the valley; they have always paid their rent punctually, and they have contrived to support themselves in all ordinary seasons. They have no poor on the poor roll, and they help one another over the winter. I am told that not an inhabitant of this valley has been charged with any offence for years back. During the war it furnished many soldiers; and an old pensioner, 82 years of age, who has served in India, is now dying in one of these cottages, where he was born. For the convenience of the proprietor, some ten years ago, four of the principal tenants became bound for the rest, to collect all the rents and pay the whole in one sum.

The clearance of this valley, having attracted much notice, has been thoroughly enquired into, and a kind of defence has been entered upon respecting it, which I am told has been forwarded to the Lord Advocate. Through the politeness of Mr. Mackenzie, writer, Tain, I have been favoured with a copy of it. The only explanation or defence of the clearance, that I can find in it, is that shortly after Mr. Gillanders assumed the management of Major Robertson's estate, he found that it became absolutely necessary to adopt a different system, in regard to the lands of Glencalvie, "from that hitherto pursued."

The "different system" as it appears was to turn the barley and potato grounds into a sheep walk, and the "absolute necessity" for it is an alleged increase of rent.

It was accordingly, in 1843, attempted to serve summonses of removal upon the tenants. They were in no arrears of rent, they had no burdens in poor; for 500 years their fathers had peaceably occupied the glen, and the people were naturally indignant. Who can be surprised that, on the constables going amongst them with the summonses, they acted in a manner which, while it showed their excitement, not the less evinced their wish to avoid breaking the law? The women met the constables beyond the boundaries, over the river, and seized the hand of the one who held the notices; whilst some held it out by the wrist, others held a live coal to the papers and set fire to them. They were afraid of being charged with destroying the notices, and they sought thus to evade the consequences. This act of resistance on their part has been made the most of. One of the men told me, hearing they were to be turned out because they did not pay rent enough, that they offered to pay 15 a year more, and afterwards to pay as much rent as any other man would give for the place. The following year (1844), however, the four chief tenants were decoyed to Tain, under the assurance that Mr. Gillanders was going to settle with them, they believing that their holdings were to be continued to them. The notices were then, as they say, in a treacherous and tricky manner, served upon them, however. Having been served, "a decreet of removal" was obtained against them, under which, of course, if they refused to turn out they would be put out by force. Finding themselves in this position, they entered into an arrangement with Mr. Gillanders, in which after several propositions on either side, it was agreed that they should remain until the 12th of May, to give them time to provide themselves with holdings elsewhere, lan Gillanders agreeing to pay them 100 on quitting, and to take their stock on at a valuation. They were also to have liberty to carry away the timber of their houses, which was really worthless, except for firewood. On their part they agreed to leave peaceably, and not to lay down any crop. Beyond the excessive harshness of removing the people at all, it is but right to say that the mode of proceeding in the removal hitherto has been temperate and considerate.

Two respectable farmers became bound for the people that they would carry out their part of the agreement, and the time of removal has since been extended to the 25th of this month. In the defence got up for this proceeding it is stated that all have been provided for ; this is not only not the case, but seems to be intentionally deceptive. In speaking of all, the four principal tenants only are meant; for, according to the factor, these were all he had to do with; but this is not the case even in regard to the four principal tenants. Two only, a father and son, have got a piece of black moor, near Tain, 25 miles off, without any house or shed on it, out of which they hope to obtain subsistence. For this they are to pay 1 rent for 7 acres the first year; 2 for the second year; and 3 for a continuation. Another old man with a family has got a house and a small lot of land in Edderton, about 20 miles off. These three, the whole who have obtained places where they may hope to make a living. The old pensioner, if removing does not kill him, has obtained for himself and family, and for his son's family, a house at a rent of 3 or 4, some ten miles off, without any land or means of subsistence attached to it. This old soldier has been offered 2s. a week by the factor to support him while he lived. He was one of the four principal tenants bound for the rent ; and he indignantly refused to be kept as a pauper.

A widow with four children, two imbecile, has obtained two small apartments in a bothy or turf hut near Bonar Bridge, for which she is to pay 2 rent, without any land or means of subsistence. Another, a man with a wife and four children, has got an apartment at Bonar Bridge, at 1 rent. He goes there quite destitute, without means of living. Six only of eighteen households, therefore, have been able to obtain places in which to put their heads; and of these, three only have any means of subsistence before them. The rest are hopeless and helpless. Two or three of the men told me they have been round to every f actor and proprietor in the neighbourhood, and they could obtain no place, and nothing to do, and they did not know where to go to, or what to do to live.

And for what are all these people to be reduced from comfort to beggary? For what is this virtuous and contented community to be scattered? I confess I can find no answer. It is said that the factor would rather have one tenant than many, as it saves him trouble! But so long as the rent is punctually paid as this has been, it is contrary to all experience to suppose that one large tenant will pay more rent than many small ones, or that a sheep walk can pay more rent than cultivated land.

Let me add that so far from the clearance at Glencalvie being a solitary instance in this neighbourhood, it is one of many. The tenants of Newmore, near Tain, who I am told, amount to i6 families, are to be weeded out (as they express it here) on the 25th, by the same Mr. Gillanders. The same factor manages the Strathconon estate, about 30 miles from Newmore, from which during the last four years, some hundreds of families have been weeded. The Government Church of that district, built eighteen years ago, to meet the necessities of the population, is now almost unnecessary from the want of population. At Black Isle, near Dingwall, the same agent is pursuing the same course, and so strong is the feeling of the poor Highlanders at these outrageous proceedings, so far as they are concerned wholly unwarranted from any cause whatever, that I am informed on the best authority, and by those who go amongst them and hear what they say, that it is owing to the influence of religion alone that they refrain from breaking out into open and turbulent resistance of the law. I enclose you the defence of this proceeding, with a list of the names and numbers of each family in Glencalvie—in all 92 persons. [London Times of Tuesday, 10th May, 1845.]


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