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The History of the Highland Clearances
The Hebrides - South Uist and Barra


Napoleon Bonaparte, at one time, took 500 prisoners and was unable to provide food for them. Let them go he would not, though he saw that they would perish by famine. His ideas of mercy suggested to him to have them all shot. They were by his orders formed into a square, and 2000 French muskets with ball cartridge was simultaneously levelled at them, which soon put the disarmed mass of human beings out of pain. Donald Macleod refers to this painful act as follows:-

"All the Christian nations of Europe were horrified, every breast was full of indignation at the perpetrator of this horrible tragedy, and France wept bitterly for the manner in which the tender mercies of their wicked Emperor were exhibited. Ah! but guilty Christians, you Protestant law-making Britain, tremble when you look towards the great day of retribution. Under the protection of your law, Colonel Gordon has consigned 1500 men, women, and children, to a death a hundred-fold more agonising and horrifying. With the sanction of your law he (Colonel Gordon) and his predecessors, in imitation of his Grace the Duke of Sutherland and his predecessors, removed the people from the land created by God, suitable for cultivation, and for the use of man, and put it under brute animals; and threw the people upon bye-corners, precipices, and barren moors, there exacting exorbitant rack-rents, until the people were made penniless, so that they could neither leave the place nor better their condition in it. The potato-blight blasted their last hopes of retaining life upon the unproductive patches—hence they became clamourous for food. Their distress was made known through the public press; public meetings were held, and it was managed by some known knaves to saddle the God of providence with the whole misery—a job in which many of God's professing and well-paid servants took a very active part. The generous public responded; immense sums of money were placed in the hands of Government agents and other individuals, to save the people from death by famine on British soil.

"Colonel Gordon and his worthy allies were silent contributors, though terrified. The gallant gentleman solicited Government, through the Home Secretary, to purchase the Island of Barra for a penal colony, but it would not suit. Yet our humane Government sympathised with the Colonel and his coadjutors, and consulted the honourable and brave MacNeil, the chief pauper gauger of Scotland, upon the most effective and speediest scheme to relieve the gallant Colonel and colleagues from this clamour and eye-sore, as well as to save their pockets from able-bodied paupers. The result was, that a liberal grant from the public money, which had been granted a twelvemonth before for the purpose of improving and cultivating the Highlands, was made to Highland proprietors to assist them to drain the nation of its best blood, and to banish the Highlanders across the Atlantic, there to die by famine among strangers in the frozen regions of Canada, far from British sympathy, and far from the resting-place of their brave ancestors, though the idea of mingling with kindred dust, to the Highlanders, is a consolation at death, more than any other race of people I have known or read of under heaven.

"Oh! Christian people, Christian people, Christian fathers and mothers, who are living at ease, and never experienced such treatment and concomitant sufferings; you Christian rulers, Christian electors, and representatives, permit not Christianity to blush and hide her face with shame before heathenism and idolatry any longer. I speak with reverence when I say, permit not Mahomet Ali to deride our Saviour with the conduct of His followers—allow not demons to exclaim in the face of heaven, 'What can you expect of us, when Christians, thy chosen people, are guilty of such deeds of inhumanity to their own species?"

"Come, then, for the sake of neglected humanity and prostrated Christianity, and look at this helpless, unfortunate people ; place yourselves for a moment in their hopeless condition at their embarkation, decoyed, in the name of the British Government, by false promises of assistance, to procure homes and comforts in Canada, which were denied to them at home--decoyed, I say, to an unwilling and partial consent—and those who resisted or recoiled from this conditional consent, and who fled to the caves and mountains to hide themselves from the brigands, look at them, chased and caught by policemen, constables, and other underlings of Colonel Gordon, handcuffed, it is said, and huddled together with the rest on an emigrant vessel. Hear the sobbing, sighing, and throbbings of their guileless, warm Highland hearts, taking their last look, and bidding a final adieu to their romantic mountains and valleys, the fertile straths, dales, and glens, which their forefathers from time immemorial inhabited, and where they are now lying in undisturbed and everlasting repose, in spots endeared and sacred to the memory of their unfortunate offspring, who must now bid a mournful farewell to their early associations, which were as dear and as sacred to them as their very existence, and which had hitherto made them patient in suffering. But follow them on their six weeks' dreary passage, rolling upon the mountainous billows of the Atlantic, ill-fed, ill-clad, among sickness, disease, and excrements. Then come ashore with them where death is in store for them—hear the captain giving orders to discharge the cargo of live stock—see the confusion, hear the noise, the bitter weeping and bustle; hear mothers and children asking fathers and husbands, where are we going? hear the reply, `chan eil fins againn '---we know not; see them in groups in search of the Government Agent, who, they were told, was to give them money ; look at their despairing countenances when they come to learn that no agent in Canada is authorised to give them a penny ; hear them praying the captain to bring them back that they might die among their native hills, that their ashes might mingle with those of their forefathers; hear this request refused, and the poor helpless wanderers bidding adieu to the captain and crew, who showed them all the kindness they could, and to the vessel to which they formed something like an attachment during the voyage; look at them scantily clothed, destitute of food, without implements of husbandry, consigned to their fate, carrying their children on their backs, begging as they crawl along in a strange land, unqualified to beg or buy their food for want of English, until the slow moving and mournful company reach Toronto and Hamilton, in Upper Canada, where, according to all accounts, they spread themselves over their respective burying-places, where famine and frost-bitten deaths were awaiting them.

"This is a painful picture, the English language fails to supply me with words to describe it. I wish the spectrum would depart from me to those who could describe it and tell the result. But how can Colonel Gordon, the Duke of Sutherland, James Loch, Lord Macdonald, and others of the unhallowed league and abettors, after looking at this sight, remain in Christian communion, ruling elders in Christian Churches, and partake of the emblems of Christ's body broken and shed blood? But the great question is, Can we as a nation be guiltless and allow so many of our fellow creatures to be treated in such a manner, and not exert ourselves to put a stop to it and punish the perpetrators? Is ambition, which attempted to dethrone God, become omnipotent, or so powerful, when incarnated in the shape of Highland dukes, lords, esquires, colonels, and knights, that we must needs submit to its revolting deeds? Are parchment rights of property so sacred that thousands of human beings must be sacrificed year after year, till there is no end of such, to preserve them inviolate? Are sheep walks, deer forests, hunting parks, and game preserves, so beneficial to the nation that the Highlands must be converted into a hunting desert, and the aborigines banished and murdered? I know that thousands will answer in the negative ; yet they will fold their arms in criminal apathy until the extirpation and destruction of my race shall be completed. Fearful is the catalogue of those who have already become the victims of the cursed clearing system in the Highlands, by famine, fire, drowning, banishment, vice, and crime."

He then publishes the following communication from an eye-witness, on the enormities perpetrated in South Uist and in the Island of Barra in the summer of 1851 "The unfeeling and deceitful conduct of those acting for Colonel Gordon cannot be too strongly censured. The duplicity and art which was used by them in order to entrap the unwary natives, is worthy of the craft and cunning of an old slave-trader. Many of the poor people were told in my hearing that Sir John M'Neil would be in Canada before them, where he would have every necessary prepared for them. Some of the officials signed a document binding themselves to emigrate, in order to induce the poor people to give their names; but in spite of all these stratagems, many of the people saw through them and refused out and out to go. When the transports anchored in Loch Boisdale these tyrants threw off their masks, and the work of devastation and cruelty commenced. The poor people were commanded to attend a public meeting at Loch Boisdale, where the transports lay, and, according to the intimation, any one absenting himself from the meeting was to be fined in the sum of two pounds sterling. At this meeting some of the natives were seized and, in spite of their entreaties, sent on board the transports. One stout Highlander, named Angus Johnston, resisted with such pith that they had to handcuff him before he could be mastered; but in consequence of the priest's interference his manacles were removed, and he was marched between four officers on board the emigrant vessel. One morning, during the transporting season, we were suddenly awakened by the screams of a young female who had been re-captured in an adjoining house, she having escaped after her first capture. We all rushed to the door, and saw the broken-hearted creature, with dishevelled hair and swollen face, dragged away by two constables and a ground officer. Were you to see the racing and chasing of policemen, constables, and ground officers, pursuing the outlawed natives, you would think, only for their colour, that you had been, by some miracle, transported to the banks of the Gambia, on the slave coast of Africa.

"The conduct of the Rev. H. Beatson on that occasion is deserving of the censure of every feeling heart. This 'wolf in sheeps' clothing' made himself very officious, as he always does, when he has an opportunity of oppressing the poor Barra men, and of gaining the favour of Colonel Gordon. In fact, he is the most vigilant and assiduous officer Colonel Gordon has. He may be seen in Castle Bay, the principal anchorage in Barra, whenever a sail is hoisted, directing his men, like a gamekeeper with his hounds, in case any of the doomed Barra men should escape. He offered one day to board an Arran boat, that had a poor man concealed, but the master, John Crawford, lifted a hand-spike and threatened to split the skull of the first man who would attempt to board his boat, and thus the poor Barra man escaped their clutches.

"I may state in conclusion that, two girls, daughters of John Macdougall, brother of Barr Macdougall, whose name is mentioned in Sir John M'Neil's report, have fled to the mountains to elude the grasp of the expatriators, where they still are, if in life. Their father, a frail, old man, along with the rest of the family, has been sent to Canada. The respective ages of these girls are 12 and 14 years. Others have fled in the same way, but I cannot give their names just now."

We shall now take the reader after these people to Canada, and witness their deplorable and helpless condition and privations in a strange land. The following is extracted from a Quebec newspaper "We noticed in our last the deplorable condition of the boo paupers who were sent to this country from the Kilrush Unions. We have to-day a still more dismal picture to draw. Many of our readers may not be aware that there lives such a personage as Colonel Gordon, proprietor of large estates in South Uist and Barra, in the Highlands of Scotland. We are sorry to be obliged to introduce him to their notice under circumstances which will not give them a very favourable opinion of his character and heart.

"It appears that his tenants on the above-mentioned estates were on the verge of starvation, and had probably become an eye-sore to the gallant Colonel! He decided on shipping them to America. What they were to do there was a question he never put to his conscience. Once landed in Canada, he had no further concern about them. Up to last week, some 1100 souls from his estates had landed at Quebec, and begged their way to Upper Canada; when in the summer season, having only a daily morsel of food to procure, they probably escaped the extreme misery which seems to be the lot of those who followed them.

"On their arrival here, they voluntarily made andsigned the following statement:—"We, the undersigned passengers per Admiral, from Stornoway, in the Highlands of Scotland, do solemnly depose to the following facts: That Colonel Gordon is proprietor of estates in South Uist and Barra; that among many hundreds of tenants and cottars whom he has sent this season from his estates to Canada, he gave directions to his factor, Mr. Fleming of Cluny Castle, Aberdeenshire, to ship on board of the above-named vessel a number of nearly 450 of said tenants and cottars, from the estate in Barra; that, accordingly, a great majority of these people, among whom were the undersigned, proceeded voluntarily to embark on board the Admiral, at Loch Boisdale, on or about the 11th August, 1851; but that several of the people who were intended to be shipped for this port, Quebec, refused to proceed on board, and, in fact, absconded from their homes to avoid the embarkation. Whereupon Mr. Fleming gave orders to a policeman, who was accompanied by the ground officer of the estate in Barra, and some constables, to pursue the people, who had run away, among the mountains; which they did, and succeeded in capturing about twenty from the mountains and islands in the neighbourhood; but only came with the officers on an attempt being made to handcuff them; and that some who ran away were not brought back, in consequence of which four families at least have been divided, some having come in the ships to Quebec, while the other members of the same families are left in the Highlands.

"The undersigned further declare that those who voluntarily embarked did so under promises to the effect that Colonel Gordon would defray their passage to Quebec; that the Government Emigration Agent there would send the whole party free to Upper Canada, where, on arrival, the Government agents would give them work, and furthermore, grant them land on certain conditions.

"The undersigned finally declare, that they are now landed in Quebec so destitute, that if immediate relief be not afforded them, and continued until they are settled in employment, the whole will be liable to perish with want.'

(Signed)
"HECTOR LAMONT,
and 70 others.

"This is a beautiful picture! Had the scene been laid in Russia or Turkey, the barbarity of the proceeding would have shocked the nerves of the reader; but when it happens in Britain, emphatically the land of liberty, where every man's house, even the hut of the poorest, is said to be his castle, the expulsion of these unfortunate creatures from their homes the man-hunt with policemen and bailiffs—the violent separation of families—the parent torn from the child, the mother from her daughter, the infamous trickery practised on those who did embark —the abandonment of the aged, the infirm, women, and tender children, in a foreign land—forms a tableau which cannot be dwelt on for an instant without horror. Words cannot depict the atrocity of the deed. For cruelty less savage, the slave-dealers of the South have been held up to the execration of the world.

"And if, as men, the sufferings of these our fellow-creatures find sympathy in our hearts, as Canadians their wrongs concern us more dearly. The fifteen hundred souls whom Colonel Gordon has sent to Quebec this season have all been supported for the past week, at least, and conveyed to Upper Canada at the expense of the colony ; and on their arrival in Toronto and Hamilton the greater number have been dependent on the charity of the benevolent for a morsel of bread. Four hundred are in the river at present, and will arrive in a day or two, making a total of nearly 2000 of Colonel Gordon's tenants and cottars whom the province will have to support. The winter is at hand, work is becoming scarce in Upper Canada. Where are these people to find food "

We take the following from an Upper Canadian paper describing the position of the same people after finding their way to Ontario "We have been pained beyond measure for some time past to witness in our streets so many unfortunate Highland emigrants, apparently destitute of any means of subsistence, and many of them sick from want and other attendant causes. It was pitiful the other day to view a funeral of one of these wretched people. It was, indeed, a sad procession. The coffin was constructed of the rudest material; a few rough boards nailed together was all that could be afforded to convey to its last resting-place the body of the homeless emigrant. Children followed in the mournful train; perchance they followed a brother's bier, one with whom they had sported and played for many a healthful day among their native glens. Theirs were looks of indescribable sorrow. They were in rags; their mourning weeds were the shapeless fragments of what had once been clothes. There was a mother, too, among the mourners, one who had tended the departed with anxious care in infancy, and had doubtless looked forward to a happier future in this land of plenty. The anguish of her countenance told too plainly these hopes were blasted, and she was about to bury them in the grave of her child.

"There will be many to sound the fulsome noise of flattery in the ear of the generous landlord, who had spent so much to assist the emigration of his poor tenants. They will give him the misnomer of a benefactor, and for what? Because he has rid his estates of the encumbrance of a pauper population.

"Emigrants of the poorer class who arrive her( from the Western Highlands of Scotland are often so situated that their emigration is more cruel than banishment. Their last shilling is spent probably before they reach the upper province—they are reduced to the necessity of begging. But, again, the case of those emigrants of whom we speak is rendered more deplorable from their ignorance of the English tongue. Of the hundreds of Highlanders in and around Dundas at present, perhaps not half-a-dozen understand anything but Gaelic.

"In looking at these matters, we are impressed with the conviction that, so far from emigration being a panacea for Highland destitution, it is fraught with disasters of no ordinary magnitude to the emigrant whose previous habits, under the most favourable circumstances, render him unable to take advantage of the industry of Canada, even when brought hither free of expense. We may assist these poor creatures for a time, but charity will scarcely bide the hungry cravings of so many for a very long period. Winter is approaching, and then—but we leave this painful subject for the present."


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