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The History of the Highland Clearances
Ross-Shire - The Eviction of the Rosses


In a "Sermon for the Times," the Rev. Richard Hibbs' of the Episcopal Church, Edinburgh, referring to these evictions, says:—"Take first, the awful proof how far in oppression men can go—men highly educated and largely gifted in every way—property, talents, all ; for the most part indeed, they are so-called noblemen. What, then, are they doing in the Highland districts, according to the testimony of a learned professor in this city? Why, depopulating those districts in order to make room for red deer. And how? By buying off the cottars, and giving them money to emigrate? Not at all, but by starving them out; by rendering them absolutely incapable of procuring subsistence for themselves and families; for they first take away from them their apportionments of poor lands, although they may have paid their rents; and if that don't suffice to eradicate from their hearts that love of the soil on which they have been born and bred—a love which the great Proprietor of all has manifestly implanted in our nature—why, then, these inhuman landlords, who are far more merciful to their very beasts, take away from these poor cottars the very roofs above their defenceless heads, and expose them, worn down with age and destitute of everything, to the inclemencies of a northern sky; and this, forsooth, because they must have plenty room for their dogs and deer. For plentiful instances of the most wanton barbarities under this head we need only point to the Knoydart evictions. Here were perpetrated such enormities as might well have caused the very sun to hide his face at noon-day." Macleod, referring to this sermon, says:-

"It has been intimated to me by an individual who heard this discourse on the first occasion that the statements referring to the Highland landlords have been controverted. I was well aware, long before the receipt of this intimation, that some defence had appeared ; and here I can truly say, that none would have rejoiced more than myself to find that a complete vindication had been made. But, unhappily, the case is far otherwise. In order to be fully acquainted with all that had passed on the subject, I have put myself during the week in communication with the learned professor to whose letter, which appeared some months ago in the Times, I referred. From him I learn that none of his statements were invalidated—nay, not even impugned; and he adds, that to do this was simply impossible, as he had been at great pains to verify the facts. All that could be called in question was the theory that he had based upon those facts—namely, that evictions were made for the purpose of making room for more deer. This, of course, was open to contradiction on the part of those landlords who had not openly avowed their object in evicting the poor Highland families. As to the evictions themselves—and this was the main point—no attempt at contradiction was made."

In addition to all that the benevolent Professor [Black] has made known to the world under this head, who has not heard of "The Massacre of the Rosses," and the clearing of the glens? "I hold in my hand," Mr. Hibbs continued, "a little work thus entitled, which has passed into the second edition. The author, Mr. Donald Ross---a gentleman whom all who feel sympathy for the downtrodden and oppressed must highly esteem. What a humiliating picture of the barbarity and cruelty of fallen humanity does this little book present! The reader, utterly appalled by its horrifying statements, finds it difficult to retain the recollection that he is perusing the history of his own times, and country too. He would fain yield himself to the tempting illusion that the ruthless atrocities which are depicted were enacted in a fabulous period, in ages long past; or at all events, if it be contemporaneous history, that the scene of such heartrending cruelties, the perpetrators of which were regardless alike of the innocency of infancy and the helplessness of old age, is some far distant, and as yet not merely unchristianized, but wholly savage and uncivilized region of our globe. But alas! it is Scotland, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, of which he treats. One feature of the heart-harrowing case is the shocking and barbarous cruelty that was practised on this occasion upon the female portion of the evicted clan. AIr. D. Ross, in a letter addressed to the Right Hon. the Lord Advocate, Edinburgh, dated April ig, 1854, thus writes in reference to one of those clearances and evictions which had just then taken place, under the authority of a certain Sheriff of the district, and by means of a body of policemen as executioners:—`The feeling on this subject, not only in the district, but in Sutherlandshire and Ross-shire, is, among the great majority of the people, one of universal condemnation of the Sheriff's reckless conduct, and of indignation and disgust at the brutality of the policemen. Such, indeed, was the sad havoc made on the females on the banks of the Carron, on the memorable 31st March last, that pools of blood were on the ground—that the grass and earth were dyed red with it—that the dogs of the district came and licked up the blood; and at last, such was the state of feeling of parties who went from a distance to see the field, that a party (it is understood by order or instructions from headquarters) actually harrowed the ground during the night to hide the blood!

"The affair at Greenyard, on the morning of the 31st March last, is not calculated to inspire much love of country, or rouse the martial spirit of the already ill-used Highlanders. The savage treatment of innocent females on that morning, by an enraged body of police, throws the Sinope butchery into the shade; for the Ross-shire Haynaus have shown themselves more cruel and more blood-thirsty than the Austrian women-floggers. What could these poor men and women—with their wounds and scars, and broken bones, and disjointed arms, stretched on beds of sickness, or moving on crutches, the result of the brutal treatment of them by the police at Greenyard—have to dread from the invasion of Scotland by Russia?'"

Commenting on this incredible atrocity, committed in the middle of the nineteenth century, Donald Macleod says truly that:—"It was so horrifying and so brutal that they did not wonder at the rev. gentleman's delicacy in speaking of it, and directing his hearers to peruse Mr. Ross's pamphlet for full information. Mr. Ross went from Glasgow to Greenyard, all the way to investigate the case upon the spot, and found that Mr. Taylor, a native of Sutherland, well educated in the evicting schemes and murderous cruelty of that county, and Sheriff-substitute of Ross-shire, marched from Tain upon the morning of the 31st March, at the head of a strong party of armed constables, with heavy bludgeons and fire-arms, conveyed in carts and other vehicles, allowing them as much ardent drink as they chose to take before leaving and on their march, so as to qualify them for the bloody work which they had to perform ; fit for any outrage, fully equipped, and told by the Sheriff to show no mercy to any one who would oppose them, and not allow themselves to be called cowards, by allowing these mountaineers victory over them. In this excited, half-drunken state, they came in contact with the unfortunate women of Green-yard, who were determined to prevent the officers from serving the summonses of removal upon them, and keep their holding of small farms where they and their forefathers lived and died for generations. But no time was allowed for parley; the Sheriff gave the order to clear the way, and, be it said to his everlasting disgrace, he struck the first blow at a woman, the mother of a large family, and large in the family way at the time, who tried to keep him back; then a general slaughter commenced; the women made noble resistance, until the bravest of them got their arms broken ; then they gave way. This did not allay the rage of the murderous brutes, they continued clubbing at the protectless creatures until every one of them was stretched on the field, weltering in their blood, or with broken arms, ribs, and bruised limbs. In this woeful condition many of them were hand-cuffed together, others tied with coarse ropes, huddled into carts, and carried prisoners to Tain. I have seen myself in the possession of Mr. Ross, Glasgow, patches or scalps of the skin with the long hair adhering to them, which was found upon the field a few days after this inhuman affray. I did not see the women, but I was told that gashes were found on the heads of two young female prisoners in Tain jail, which exactly corresponded with the slices of scalps which I have seen, so that Sutherland and Ross-shire may boast of having had the Nana Sahib and his chiefs some few years before India, and that in the persons of some whose education, training, and parental example should prepare their minds to perform and act differently. Mr. Donald Ross placed the whole affair before the Lord Advocate for Scotland, but no notice was taken of it by that functionary, further than that the majesty of the law would need to be observed and attended to.

"In this unfortunate country, the law of God and humanity may be violated and trampled under foot, but the law of wicked men which sanctions murder, rapine, and robbery must be observed. From the same estate (the estate of Robertson of Kindeace, if I am not mistaken in the date) in the year 1843 the whole inhabitants of Glencalvie were evicted in a similar manner, and so unprovided and unprepared were they for removal at such an inclement season of the year, that they had to shelter themselves in a Church and a burying-ground. I have seen myself nineteen families within this gloomy and solitary resting abode of the dead, they were there for months. The London Times sent a commissioner direct from London to investigate into this case, and he did his duty ; but like the Sutherland cases, it was hushed up in order to maintain the majesty of the law, and in order to keep the right, the majesty of the people, and the laws of God in the dark.

"In the year 1819 or '20, about the time when the depopulation of Sutherlandshire was completed, and the annual conflagration of burning the houses ceased, and when there was not a glen or strath in the county to let to a sheep farmer, one of these insatiable monsters of Sutherlandshire sheep farmers fixed his eyes upon a glen in Ross-shire, inhabited by a brave, hardy race for time immemorial. Summonses of removal were served upon them at once. The people resisted—a military force was brought against them—the military and the women of the glen met at the entrance to the glen, and a bloody conflict took place; without reading the riot act or taking any other precaution, the military fired (by the order of Sheriff MacLeod) ball cartridge upon the women ; one young girl of the name of Mathieson was shot dead on the spot; many were wounded. When this murder was observed by the survivors, and some young men concealed in the background, they made a heroic sudden rush upon the military, when a hand-to-hand melee or fight took place. In a few minutes the military were put to disorder by flight; in their retreat they were unmercifully dealt with, only two of them escaping with whole heads. The Sheriff's coach was smashed to atoms, and he made a narrow escape himself with a whole head. But no legal cognizance was taken of this affair, as the Sheriff and the military were the violators. However, for fear of prosecution, the Sheriff settled a pension of 6 sterling yearly upon the murdered girl's father, and the case was hushed up likewise. The result was that the people kept possession of the glen, and that the proprietor and the oldest and most insatiable of Sutherlandshire scourges went to law, which ended in the ruination of the latter, who died a pauper."

Hugh Miller, describing a "Highland Clearing," in one of his able leading articles in the Witness, since published in volume form, quotes freely from an article by John Robertson, which appeared in the Glasgow National in August, 1844, on the evictions of the Rosses of Glencalvie. When the article from which Hugh Miller quotes was written, the inhabitants of the glen had just received notices of removal, but the evictions had not yet been carried out. Commenting on the proceedings Hugh Miller says:-

"In an adjacent glen (to Strathcarron), through which the Calvie works its headlong way to the Carron, that terror of the Highlanders, a summons of removal, has been served within the last few months on a whole community; and the graphic sketch of Mr. Robertson relates both the peculiar circumstances in which it has been issued, and the feelings which it has excited. We find from his testimony that the old state of things which is so immediately on the eve of being broken up in this locality, lacked not a few of those sources of terror to the proprietary of the county, that are becoming so very formidable to them in the newer states."

The constitution of society in the Glens, says Mr. Robertson, is remarkably simple. Four heads of families are bound for the whole rental. The number of souls was about ninety, sixteen cottages paid rent; they supported a teacher for the education of their own children; they supported their own poor. "The laird has never lost a farthing of rent in bad years, such as 1836 and 1837, the people may have required the favour of a few weeks' delay, but they are not now a single farthing in arrears;" that is, when they are in receipt of summonses of removal. "For a century," Mr. Robertson continues, speaking of the Highlanders, "their privileges have been lessening; they dare not now hunt the deer, or shoot the grouse or the blackcock; they have no longer the range of the hills for their cattle and their sheep; they must not catch a salmon in the stream: in earth, air, and water, the rights of the laird are greater, and the rights of the people are smaller, than they were in the days of their forefathers."

The same writer eloquently concludes "The father of the laird of Kindeace bought Glencalvie. It was sold by a Ross two short centuries ago. The swords of the Rosses of Glencalvie did their part in protecting this little glen, as well as the broad lands of Pitcalvie, from the ravages and the clutches of hostile septs. These clansmen bled and died in the belief that every principle of honour and morals secured their descendants a right to subsisting on the soil. The chiefs and their children had the same charter of the sword. Some Legislatures have made the right of the people superior to the right of the chief ; British law-makers made the rights of the chief everything, and those of their followers nothing. The ideas of the morality of property are in most men the creatures of their interests and sympathies. Of this there cannot be a doubt, however, the chiefs would not have had the land at all, could the clansmen have foreseen the present state of the Highlands—their children in mournful groups going into exile—the faggot of legal myrmidons in the thatch of the feal cabin—the hearths of their homes and their lives the green sheep-walks of the stranger. Sad it is, that it is seemingly the will of our constituencies that our laws shall prefer the few to the many. Most mournful will it be, should the clansmen of the Highlands have been cleared away, ejected, exiled, in deference to a political, a moral, a social, and an economical mistake,—a suggestion not of philosophy, but of mammon,—a system in which the demon of sordidness assumed the shape of the angel of civilization and of light."

That the Eviction of the Rosses was of a harsh character is amply corroborated by the following account, extracted from the Inverness Courier:—"We mentioned last week that considerable obstruction was anticipated in the execution of the summonses of removal upon the tenants of Major Robertson of Kindeace, on his property of Greenyards, near Bonar Bridge. The office turned out to be of a very formidable character. At six o'clock on the morning of Friday last, Sheriff Taylor proceeded from Tain, accompanied by several Sheriff's officers, and a police force of about thirty more, partly belonging to the constabulary force of Ross-shire, and partly to that of Inverness-shire,—the latter under the charge of Mr. Mackay, inspector, Fort William. On arriving at Green-yards, which is nearly four miles from Bonar Bridge, it was found that about three hundred persons, fully two-thirds of whom were women, had assembled from the county round about, all apparently prepared to resist the execution of the law. The women stood in front, armed with stones, and the men occupied the background, all, or nearly all, furnished with sticks.

"The Sheriff attempted to reason with the crowd, and to show them the necessity of yielding to the law: but his efforts were fruitless; some of the women tried to lay hold of him and to strike him, and after a painful effort to effect the object in view by peaceable means--which was renewed in vain by Mr. Cumming, the superintendent of the Ross-shire police—the Sheriff was reluctantly obliged to employ force. The force was led by Mr. Cumming into the crowd, and, after a sharp resistance, which happily lasted only a few minutes, the people were dispersed, and the Sheriff was enabled to execute the summonses upon the four tenants. The women, as they bore the brunt of the battle, were the principal sufferers. A large number of them—fifteen or sixteen, we believe, were seriously hurt, and of these several are under medical treatment; one woman, we believe, still lies in a precarious condition. The policemen appear to have used their batons with great force, but they escaped themselves almost unhurt. Several correspondents from the district, who do not appear, however, to make sufficient allowance for the critical position of affairs, and the necessity of at once impressing so large a multitude with the serious nature of the case, complain that the policemen used their batons with wanton cruelty. Others state that they not only did their duty, but that less firmness might have proved fatal to themselves. The instances of violence are certainly, though very naturally, on the part of the attacking force; several batons were smashed in the melee; a great number of men and women were seriously hurt, especially about the head and face, while not one of the policemen, so far as we can learn, suffered any injury in consequence. As soon as the mob was fairly dispersed, the police made active pursuit, in the hope of catching some of the ringleaders. The men had, however, fled, and the only persons apprehended were some women, who had been active in the opposition, and who had been wounded. They were conveyed to the prison at Tain, but liberated on bail next day, through the intercession of a gallant friend, who became responsible for their appearance.

"A correspondent writes," continues the Courier, "ten young women were wounded in the back of the skull and other parts of their bodies. . . . The wounds on these women show plainly the severe manner in which they were dealt with by the police when they were retreating. It was currently reported last night that one of them was dead ; and the feeling of indignation is so strong against the manner in which the constables have acted, that I fully believe the life of any stranger, if he were supposed to be an officer of the law, would not be worth twopence in the district."

The Northern Ensign, referring to the same case, says "One day lately a preventive officer with two cutter men made their appearance on the boundaries of the estate and were taken for Tain Sheriff-officers. The signals were at once given, and in course of half-an-hour the poor gauger and his men were surrounded by 300 men and women, who would not be remonstrated with either in English or Gaelic; the poor fellows were taken and denuded of their clothing, all papers and documents were extracted and burnt, amongst which was a purse with a considerable quantity of money. In this state they were carried shoulder-high off the estate, and left at the braes of Downie, where the great Culrain riot took place thirty years ago."


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