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The History of the Highland Clearances
Argyllshire - Morven


The population of this extensive parish in 1755 was 1223; in 1795 it increased to 1764; in 1801 to 2000; in 1821, it was 1995; in 1831, it rose to 2137; and in 1841 it came down to 1781; in 1871, it was only 973; while in the Census Returns for 1881 we find it stated at 714, or less than one-third of what it was fifty years before.

The late Dr. Norman Macleod, after describing the happy state of things which existed in this parish before the clearances, says:-

"But all this was changed when those tacksmen were swept away to make room for the large sheep farms, and when the remnants of the people flocked from their empty glens to occupy houses in wretched villages near the sea-shore, by way of becoming fishers—often where no fish could be caught. The result has been that 'the Parish,' for example, which once had a population of 2200 souls, and received only 11 per annum from public (Church) funds for the support of the poor, expends now [1863] under the poor law upwards of 600 annually, with a population diminished by one-half [since diminished to one-third] and with poverty increased in a greater ratio. . . . . Below these gentlemen tacksmen were those who paid a much lower rent, and who lived very comfortably, and shared hospitality with others, the gifts which God gave them. I remember a group of men, tenants in a large glen, which now has not a smoke in it, as the Highlanders say, throughout its length of twenty miles. They had the custom of entertaining in rotation every traveller who cast himself on their hospitality. The host on the occasion was bound to summon his neighbours to the homely feast. It was my good fortune to be a guest when they received the present minister of 'the Parish,' while en route to visit some of his flock. W Ie had a most sumptuous feast-oat-cakes, crisp and fresh from the fire; cream, rich and thick, and more beautiful than nectar,—whatever that may be; blue Highland cheese, finer than Stilton; fat hens, slowly cooked on the fire in a pot of potatoes, without their skins, and with fresh butter—'stored hens,' as the superb dish was called; and though last, not least, tender kid, roasted as nicely as Charles Lamb's cracklin' pig. All was served up with the utmost propriety, on a table covered with a fine white cloth, and with all the requisites for a comfortable dinner, including the champagne of elastic, buoyant, and exciting mountain air. The manners and conversations of those men would have pleased the best-bred gentleman. Everything was so simple, modest, unassuming, unaffected, yet so frank and cordial. The conversation was such as might be heard at the table of any intelligent man. Alas! there is not a vestige remaining of their homes. I know not whither they are gone, but they have left no representatives behind. The land in the glen is divided between sheep, shepherds, and the shadows of the clouds."

The Rev. Donald Macleod, editor of Good Words describing the death of the late Dr. John Macleod, the "minister of the Parish" referred to by Dr. Norman in the above quotation, and for fifty years minister of Alorven—says of the noble patriarch:-

"His later years were spent in pathetic loneliness. He had seen his parish almost emptied of its people. Glen after glen had been turned into sheep-walks, and the cottages in which generations of gallant Highlanders had lived and died were unroofed, their torn walls and gables left standing like mourners beside the grave, and the little plots of garden or of cultivated enclosure allowed to merge into the moorland pasture. He had seen every property in the parish change hands, and though, on the whole, kindly and pleasant proprietors came in place of the old families, yet they were strangers to the people, neither understanding their language nor their ways. The consequence was that they perhaps scarcely realised the havoc produced by the changes they inaugurated. 'At one stroke of the pen,' he said to me, with a look of sad ness and indignation, 'two hundred of the people were ordered off. There was not one of these whom I did not know, and their fathers before them ; and finer men and women never left the Highlands.' He thus found himself the sole remaining link between the past and present —the one man above the rank of a peasant who remembered the old days and the traditions of the people. The sense of change was intensely saddened as he went through his parish and passed ruined houses here, there, and everywhere. `There is not a smoke there now,' he used to say with pathos, of the glens which he had known tenanted by a manly and loyal peasantry, among whom lived song and story and the elevating influences of brave traditions. All are gone, and the place that once knew them, knows them no more! The hill-side, which had once borne a happy people and echoed the voices of joyous children is now a silent sheep walk. The supposed necessities of Political Economy have effected the exchange, but the day may come when the country may feel the loss of the loyal and brave race which has been driven away, and find a new meaning perhaps in the old question, 'Is not a man better than a sheep? ' They who `would have shed their blood like water' for Queen and country, are in other lands, Highland still, but expatriated for ever.

From the dim shieling on the misty island,
Mountains divide us and a world of seas,
But still our hearts are true, our hearts are Highland,
And in oui dreams we behold the Hebrides.
Tall are these mountains, and these woods are grand,
But we are Exiled from our father's land."


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