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Highland Clearances
Ross-shire Clearances: Glencalvie


Eighteen families, 88 people, lived here in Glencalvie in turf cabins indistinguishable from the brown hills, growing barley and oats, herding cattle and sheep on a total holding of no more than 20 acres. The most incredible rent, almost four times what a farmer in England would pay for the same land, was paid for this land for generations without arrears except for some weeks during the famine in 1836. The little community had no paupers on the poor roll and no inhabitant of this valley had been charged for any offence since years back. During the wars it had furnished many soldiers.

After departing their homes, the people were seated for a church service on a green brae by the Carron, the women all neatly dressed in net caps and wearing scarlet or plaid shawls; the men wearing their blue bonnets and having their shepherds' plaids wrapped around them. This was their only covering, and this was the Free Church. There was simplicity extremely touching in this group on the bare hillside, listening to the Psalms of David in their native tongue and assembled to worship God. They sang the 145th Psalm. In the Parliamentary Church at Croick there were two families who had not followed their neighbours into the Free Church, ten men, women and children holding a service in English and the Gaelic.

The week-end the only refuge for the people was the churchyard at Croick, a little walled enclosure sheltered by a few trees. Although it was May, the weather was wet and cold. Behind the church, a long kind of booth was erected, the roof formed a tarpaulin stretched over poles, the sides closed in with horsecloths, rugs, blankets and plaids. Their furniture, excepting their bedding, they got distributed amongst the cottages of their neighbours; and with their bedding and their children, they all removed on Saturday afternoon to this place. They had been round to every heritor and factor in the neighbourhood, and 12 of the 18 families had been unable to find places of shelter. With the new Scotch Poor Law in prospect, other cottages were everywhere refused to them. Many of them, indeed, wished that their lot had landed them under the sod with their ancestors and their friends, rather than to be treated and driven out of house and home in such a ruthless manner.

It was a most wretched spectacle to see these poor people march out of the glen in a body, with two or three carts filled with children, many of them mere infants; and other carts containing their bedding and their requisites. The whole countryside was up on the hills watching them as they silently took possession of their tent. No one dared to succour them under a threat of receiving similar treatment to those whose hard fate had driven them thus among the tombs.

A fire was kindled in the churchyard, round which the poor children clustered. Two cradles with infants in them, were placed close to the fire, and sheltered round by the dejected looking mothers. Others busied themselves into dividing the tent into compartments by means of blankets for the different families. Contrasted with the gloomy dejection of the grown-ups and the aged was the, perhaps, not less melancholy picture of the poor children thoughtlessly playing round the fire, pleased with the novelty of all around them. There were 23 children in the churchyard, all under the age of ten, and seven of them were ill. There were also some young and unmarried men and women, but most of the refugees were over forty.

Within a week the churchyard was empty. Where the people went, to what southern town or what emigrant colony is not known. The six families for which it was claimed settlement was found, were as thus: David Ross and his son got a piece of black moor near Tain, 25 miles off, without any house or shed on it, out of which they hoped to obtain subsistence. Another old man was given a small lot at Edderton, and these three alone received anything from which they might confidently expect to get the barest of livings. The other three families were given turf huts near Bonar Bridge. The rest are hopeless, helpless.

When they took shelter in the graveyard at Croick, some of the people scratched their names and brief messages on the diamond-paned windows of the church. They wrote in English, as if acknowledging that their own tongue would pass with them and would not be understood in time. The words they wrote are still there:

"Glencalvie people was in the church here May 24, 1845..."
"Glencalvie people, the wicked generation..."
"John Ross shepherd..."
"Glencalvie people was here..."
"Amy Ross..."
"Glencalvie is a wilderness blow ship them to the colony..."
"The Glencalvie Rosses..."

From accounts on the Highland Clearances
by John Prebble and Alexander Mackenzie


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