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The History of the Highland Clearances
Ross-Shire - Lochcarron


By ALEXANDER MACKENZIE.

The following account was written in April, 1882, after a most careful enquiry on the spot:—So much whitewash has been distributed in our Northern newspapers of late by "Local Correspondents," in the interest of personal friends who are responsible for the Lochcarron evictions—the worst and most indefensible that have ever been attempted even in the Highlands—that we consider it a duty to state the actual facts. We are really sorry for those more immediately concerned, but our friendly feeling for them otherwise cannot be allowed to come between us and our plain duty. A few days before the famous "Battle of the Braes," in the Isle of Skye, we received information that summonses of ejectment were served on Mackenzie and Maclean, Lochcarron. The writer at once communicated with Mr. Dugald Stuart, the proprietor, intimating to him the statements received, and asking him if they were accurate, and if Mr. Stuart had anything to say in explanation of them. Mr. Stuart immediately replied, admitting the accuracy of the statements generally, but maintaining that he had good and valid reasons for carrying out the evictions, which he expressed himself anxious to explain to us on the following day, while passing through Inverness on his way South. Unfortunately, his letter reached us too late, and we were unable to see him. The only reason which he vouchsafed to give in his letter was to the following effect:- "`Was it at all likely that he, a Highlander, born and brought up in the Highlands, the son of a Highlander, and married to a Highland lady, would be guilty of evicting any of his tenants without good cause?" We replied that, unfortunately, all these reasons could be urged by most of those who had in the past depopulated the country, but expressing a hope that, in his case, the facts stated by him would prove sufficient to restrain him from carrying out his determination to evict parents admittedly innocent of their sons proceedings, even if those proceedings were unjustifiable. Early in April, 1882, we proceeded to Lochcarron to make enquiry on the spot, and the writer on his return from Skye a few days later reported as follows to the Highland Land Law Reform Association:-

"Of all the cases of eviction which have hitherto come under my notice I never heard of any so utterly unjustifiable as those now in course of being carried out by Mr. D. Stuart in Lochcarron. The circumstances which led up to these evictions are as follows:—In March, 1881, two young men, George Mackenzie and Donald Maclean, masons, entered into a contract with Mr. Stuart's ground officer for the erection of a sheep fank, and a dispute afterwards arose as to the payment for the work. When the factor, Mr. Donald Macdonald, Tormore, was some time afterwards collecting the rents in the district, the contractors approached him and related their grievance against the ground officer, who, while the men were in the room, came in and addressed them in libellous and defamatory language, for which they have since obtained substantial damages and expenses, in all amounting to £22 13s. 8d., in the Sheriff Court of the County. I have a certified copy of the whole proceedings in Court in my possession, and, without going into the merits, what I have just stated is the result, and Mr. Stuart and his ground officer became furious.

"The contractors are two single men who live with their parents, the latter being crofters on Mr. Stuart's property, and as the real offenders—if such can be called men who have stood up for and succeeded in establishing their rights and their characters in Court—could not be got at, Mr. Stuart issued summonses of ejection against their parents—parents who, in one of the cases at least, strongly urged his son not to proceed against the ground officer, pointing out to him that an eviction might possibly ensue, and that it was better even to suffer in character and purse than run the risk of eviction from his holding at the age of eighty. We have all heard of the doctrine of visiting the sins of the parents upon the children, but it has been left for Mr. Dugald Stuart of Lochcarron and his ground officer, in the present generation—the highly-favoured nineteenth century—to reverse all this, and to punish the unoffending parents, for proceedings on the part of their children which the Sheriff of the County and all unprejudiced people who know the facts consider fully justifiable.

"Now, so far as I can discover, after careful enquiry among the men's neighbours and in the village of Lochcarron, nothing can be said against either of them. Their characters are in every respect above suspicion. The ground officer, whom I have seen, admits all this, and makes no pretence that the eviction is for any other reason than the conduct of the young men in prosecuting and succeeding against himself in the Sheriff Court for defamation of character. Maclean paid rent for his present holding for the last sixty years, and never failed to pay it on the appointed day. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather occupied the same place, and so did their ancestors before them. Indeed, his grandfather held one-half of the township, now occupied by more than a hundred people. The old man is in his 81st year, and bed-ridden—on his death-bed in fact—since the middle of January last, he having then had a paralytic stroke from which it is quite impossible he can ever recover. It was most pitiable to see the aged and frail human wreck as I saw him that day, and to have heard him talking of the cruelty and hard-heartedness of those who took advantage of the existing law to push him out of the home which he has occupied so long, while he is already on the brink of eternity. I quite agreed with him, and I have no hesitation in saying that if Mr. Stuart and his ground officer only called to see the miserable old man, as I did, their hearts, however adamantine, would melt, and they would at once declare to him that he would be allowed to end his days, and die in peace, under the roof which for generations had sheltered himself and his ancestors. The wife is over 70 years of age, and the frail old couple have no one to succour them but the son who has been the cause, by defending his own character, of their present misfortunes. Whatever Mr. Stuart and his ground officer may do, or attempt to do, the old man will not, and cannot be evicted until he is carried to the churchyard ; and it would be far more gracious on their part to relent and allow the old man to die in peace.

"Mackenzie has paid rent for over 40 years, and his ancestors have done so for several generations before him. He is nearly sixty years of age, and is highly popular among his neighbours, all of whom are intensely grieved at Mr. Stuart's cruel and hard-hearted conduct towards him and Maclean, and they still hope that he will not proceed to extremities.

"The whole case is a lamentable abuse of the existing law, and such as will do more to secure its abolition, when the facts are fully known, than all the other cases of eviction which have taken place in the Highlands during the present generation. There is no pretence that the case is anything else than a gross and cruel piece of retaliation against the innocent parents for conduct on the part of their sons which must have been very aggravating to this proprietor and his ground officer, who appear to think themselves fully justified in perpetuating such acts of grossest cruelty and injustice."

This report was slightly noticed at the time in the local and Glasgow newspapers, and attention was thus directed to Mr. Stuart's proceedings. His whole conduct appeared so cruelly tyrannical that most people expected him to relent before the day of eviction arrived. But not so; a sheriff officer and his assistants from Dingwall duly arrived, and proceeded to turn MMackenzie's furniture out of his house. People congregated from all parts of the district, some of them coming more than twenty miles. The sheriff officer sent for the Lochcarron policemen to aid him, but, notwithstanding, the law which admitted of such unmitigated cruelty and oppression was set at defiance; the sheriff officers were deforced, and the furniture returned to the house by the sympathising crowd. What was to be done next? The Procurator-Fiscal for the county was Mr. Stuart's law agent in carrying out the evictions. How could he criminally prosecute for deforcement in these circumstances? The Crown authorities found themselves in a dilemma, and through the tyranny of the proprietor on the one hand, and the interference of the Procurator-Fiscal in civil business which has ended in public disturbance and deforcement of the Sheriff's officers, on the other, the Crown authorities found themselves helpless to vindicate the law. This is a pity; for all right-thinking people have almost as little sympathy for law breakers, even when that law is unjust and cruel, as they have for those cruel landlords who, like Mr. Stuart of Lochcarron, bring the law and his own order into disrepute by the oppressive application of it against innocent people. The proper remedy is to have the law abolished, not to break it; and to bring this about such conduct as that of Mr. Stuart and his ground officer is more potent than all the Land Leagues and Reform Associations in the United Kingdom.

Mr. William Mackenzie of the Aberdeen Free Press, who was on the ground, writes, next morning, after the deforcement of the sheriff officers:-

"During the encounter the local police constable drew his baton, but he was peremptorily ordered to lay it down, and he did so. The officers then gave up the contest and left the place about three in the morning. Yesterday, before they left, and in course of the evening, they were offered refreshments, but these they declined. The people are this evening in possession as before.

"When every article was restored to its place, the song and the dance were resumed, the native drink was freely quaffed—for 'freedom an' whisky gang thegither'--the steam was kept up throughout the greater part of yesterday, and Mackenzie's mantelpiece to-day is adorned with a long tier of empty bottles, standing there as monuments of the eventful night of the 29th-30th May, 1882.

A chuirm sgaoilte chualas an ceol
Ard-sholas an talla nan treun!

"While these things were going on in the quiet township of Slumbay, the Fiery Cross appears to have been despatched over the neighbouring parishes ; and frmo Kintail, Lochalsh, Applecross, and even Gairloch, the Highlanders began to gather yesterday with the view of helping the Slumbay men, if occasion should arise. Few of these reached Slumbay, but they were in small detachments in the neighbourhood ready at any moment to come to the rescue on the appearance of any hostile force. After all the trains had come and gone for the day, and as neither policemen nor Sheriff's officers had appeared on the scene, these different groups retired to their respective places of abode. The Slumbay men, too, resolved to suspend their festivities. A procession was formed, and, being beaded by the piper, they marched triumphantly through Slumbay and Jeantown, and escorted some of the strangers on their way to their homes, returning to Slumbay in course of the night."

As a contrast to Mr. Stuart's conduct we are glad to record the noble action of Mr. C. J. Murray, M.P. for Hastings, who has, fortunately for the oppressed tenants on the Lochcarron property, just purchased the estate. He has made it a condition that Maclean and Makenzie shall be allowed to remain; and a further public scandal has thus been avoided. This is a good beginning for the new proprietor, and we trust to see his action as widely circulated and commended as the tyrannical proceedings of his predecessor have been condemned.

It is also fair to state what we know on the very best authority, namely, that the factor on the estate, Mr. Donald Macdonald, Tormore, strongly urged upon Mr. Stuart not to evict these people, and that his own wife also implored and begged of him not to carry out his cruel and vindictive purpose. Where these agencies failed, it is gratifying to find that Mr. Murray has succeeded; and all parties—landlords and tenants—throughout the Highlands are to be congratulated on the result.


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