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The History of the Highland Clearances
The Hebrides - The Island of Rum


This island, at one time, had a large population, all of whom were weeded out in the usual way. The Rev. Donald Maclean, Minister of the Parish of Small Isles, informs us in The New Statistical Account, that "in 1826 all the inhabitants of the Island of Rum, amounting at least to 400 souls, found it necessary to leave their native land, and to seek for new abodes in the distant winds of our colonies in America. Of all the old residenters, only one family remained upon the Island. The old and the young, the feeble and the strong, were all united in this general emigration—the former to find tombs in a foreign land—the latter to encounter toils, privations, and dangers, to become familiar with customs, and to acquire that to which they had been entire strangers. A similar emigration took place in 1828, from the Island of Muck, so that the parish has now become much depopulated."

In 1831 the population of the whole parish was 1015, while before that date it was much larger. In 1851 it was 916. In 1881 it was reduced to 550. The total population of Rum in 1881 was 89 souls.

HughMiller, who visited the Island, describes it and the evictions thus:--

"The evening was clear, calm, golden-tinted; even wild heaths and rude rocks had assumed a flush of transient beauty; and the emerald-green patches on the hill-sides, barred by the plough lengthwise, diagonally, and transverse, had borrowed an aspect of soft and velvety richness, from the mellowed light and the broadening shadows. All was solitary. We could see among the deserted fields the grass-grown foundations of cottages razed to the ground; but the valley, more desolate than that which we had left, had not even its single inhabited dwelling; it seemed as if man had done with it for ever. The island, eighteen years before, had been divested of its inhabitants, amounting at the time to rather more than four hundred souls, to make way for one sheep farmer and eight thousand sheep. All the aborigines of Rum crossed the Atlantic; and, at the close of 1828, the entire population consisted of but the sheep farmer, and a few shepherds, his servants: the Island of Rum reckoned up scarce a single family at this period for every five square miles of area which it contained. But depopulation on so extreme a scale was found inconvenient; the place had been rendered too thoroughly a desert for the comfort of the occupant ; and on the occasion of a clearing which took place shortly after in Skye, he accommodated some ten or twelve of the ejected families with sites for cottages, and pasturage for a few cows, on the bit of morass beside Loch Scresort, on which I had seen their humble dwellings. But the whole of the once-peopled interior remains a wilderness, without inhabitants,—all the more lonely in its aspect from the circumstance that the solitary valleys, with their plough-furrowed patches, and their ruined heaps of stone, open upon shores every whit as solitary as themselves, and that the wide untrodden sea stretches drearily around.

"The armies of the insect world were sporting in the light this evening by the million; a brown stream that runs through the valley yielded an incessant poppling sound, from the myriads of fish that were ceaselessly leaping in the pools, beguiled by the quick glancing wings of green and gold that fluttered over them ; along a distant hillside there ran what seemed the ruins of a grey-stone fence, erected, says tradition, in a remote age to facilitate the hunting of the deer; there were fields on which the heath and moss of the surrounding moorlands were fast encroaching, that had borne many a successive harvest ; and prostrate cottages, that had been the scenes of christenings, and bridals, and blythe new-year's days;---all seemed to bespeak the place of fitting habitation for man, in which not only the necessaries, but also a few of the luxuries of life, might be procured ; but in the entire prospect not a man nor a man's dwelling could the eye command. The landscape was one without figures.

"I do not much like extermination carried out so thoroughly and on system;—it seems bad policy; and I have not succeeded in thinking any the better of it though assured by the economists that there are more than enough people in Scotland still. There are, I believe, more than enough in our workhouses—more than enough on our pauper rolls—more than enough muddled up, disreputable, useless, and unhappy, in their miasmatic valleys and typhoid courts of our large towns; but I have yet to learn how arguments for local depopulation are to be drawn from facts such as these. A brave and hardy people, favourably placed for the development of all that is excellent in human nature, form the glory and strength of a country;—a people sunk into an abyss of degradation and misery, and in which it is the whole tendency of external circumstances to sink them yet deeper, constitute its weakness and its shame; and I cannot quite see on what principle the ominous increase which is taking place among us in the worse class, is to form our solace or apology for the wholesale expatriation of the better.

"It did not seem as if the depopulation of Rum had tended much to anyone's advantage. The single sheep farmer who had occupied the holdings of so many had been unfortunate in his speculations, and had left the island ; the proprietor, his landlord, seemed to have been as little fortunate as the tenant, for the island itself was in the market, and a report went current at the time that it was on the eve of being purchased by some wealthy Englishman, who purposed converting it into a deer forest.

"How strange a cycle! Uninhabited originally, save by wild animals, it became at an early period a home of men, who, as the gray wall on the hillside testified, derived in part at least, their sustenance from the chase. They broke in from the waste the furrowed patches on the slopes of the valleys, they reared herds of cattle and flocks of sheep,—their number increased to nearly five hundred souls,—they enjoyed the average happiness of human creatures in the present imperfect state of being,—they contributed their portion of hardy and vigorous manhood to the armies of the country, and a few of their more adventurous spirits, impatient of the narrow bounds which confined them, and a course of life little varied by incident, emigrated to America. Then came the change of system so general in the Highlands; and the island lost all its original inhabitants, on a wool and mutton speculation,---inhabitants, the descendants of men who had chased the deer on its hills five hundred years before, and who, though they recognized some wild island lord as their superior, and did him service, had regarded the. place as indisputably their own. And now yet another change was on the eve of ensuing, and the island was to return to its original state, as a home of wild animals, where a few hunters from the mainland might enjoy the chase for a month or two every twelvemonth, but which could form no permanent place of human abode. Once more a strange, and surely most melancholy cycle! "

In another place the same writer asks,

"Where was the one tenant of the island, for whose sake so many others had been removed?" and he answers, "We found his house occupied by a humble shepherd, who had in charge the wreck of his property,---property no longer his, but held for the benefit of his creditors. The great sheep farmer had gone down under circumstances of very general bearing, and on whose after development, when in their latent state, improving landlords had failed to calculate."

HARRIS and the other Western Islands suffered in a similar manner. Mull, Tiree, and others in Argyllshire are noticed in dealing with that county.


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