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The History of the Highland Clearances
Notable Dicta - Mr. Joseph Chamberlain


In a speech delivered at Inverness, on 28th September, 1885, Mr. Joseph Chamberlain said:-

"The history of the Highland clearances is a black page in the account with private ownership in land, and if it were to form a precedent, if there could be any precedent for wrong-doing, if the sins of the fathers ought to be visited upon the children, we should have an excuse for more drastic legislation than any which the wildest reformer has ever proposed. Thousands of industrious, hard-working, God-fearing people were driven from the lands which had belonged to their ancestors, and which for generations they had cultivated; their houses were unroofed and destroyed, they were turned out homeless and forlorn, exposed to the inclemency of the winter season, left to perish on the hillsides or to swell the full flood of misery and destitution in the cities to which they were driven for refuge. In some cases the cruel kindness of their landlords provided the means of emigration—in some cases they were actually driven abroad. They suffered greatly in foreign countries, being unprovided with the means of sustaining themselves until they could earn a livelihood, but the descendants of those who survived have contributed in no mean degree to the prosperity of the countries in which they finally settled. Those who remained behind had, I am afraid, little cause to be grateful for the considh ration which was shown to them. In the course of years they were deprived of all the advantages which they had previously enjoyed. They had never had legal security of tenure, and they were transferred from their original holdings in the glens and straths, which at one time resounded with their industry, and they were placed out upon barren patches on the sea-shore where it was impossible for the most exacting toil and industry to obtain a subsistence. The picture that I have drawn was no doubt relieved in some cases by the exceptional generosity and kindness of particular proprietors, but, speaking generally, I think it is the fact that the Highland country was to a considerable extent depopulated by those clearances. The general condition of the people suffered, and it has gone on deteriorating until it has become at last a matter of national concern. If I am correct in the statement in which I have endeavoured to summarise what I have read, and learned upon this subject, I ask you whether it is not time that we should submit to careful examination and review a system which places such vast powers for evil in the hands of irresponsible individuals, and which makes the possession of land not a trust but a means of extortion and exaction?"


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