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The History of the Highland Clearances
The Hebrides - North Uist


The people of Skye and the Uist, where the Macdonalds for centuries ruled in the manner of princes over a loyal and devoted people, were treated not a whit better than those on the mainland, when their services were no longer required to fight the battles of the Lords of the Isles, or to secure to them their possessions, their dignity, and power. Bha latha eile ann! There was another day! When possessions were held by the sword, those who wielded them were highly valued, and well cared for. Now that sheep skins are found sufficient, what could be more appropriate in the opinion of some of the sheepish chiefs of modern times than to displace the people who anciently secured and held the lands for real chiefs worthy of the name, and replace them by the animals that produced the modern sheep skins by which they hold their lands; especially when these were found to be better titles than the old ones–the blood and sinew of their ancient vassals.

Prior to 1849, the manufacture of kelp in the Outer Hebrides had been for many years a large source of income to the proprietors of those islands, and a considerable revenue to the inhabitants; the lairds, in consequence, for many years encouraged the people to remain, and it is alleged that they multiplied to a degree quite out of proportion to the means of subsistence within reach when kelp manufacture failed. To make matters worse for the poor tenants, the rents were meanwhile raised by the proprietors to more than double—not because the land was considered worth more by itself, but because the possession of it enabled the poor tenants to earn a certain sum a year from kelp made out of the sea-ware to which their holdings entitled them, and out of which the proprietor pocketed a profit of from £3 to £4 per ton, in addition to the enchanced rent obtained from the crofter for the land. In these circumstances one would have thought that some consideration would have been shown to the people, who, it may perhaps be admitted, were found in the altered circumstances too numerous to obtain a livelihood in those islands ; but such consideration does not appear to have been given—indeed the very reverse.


In 1849 Lord Macdonald determined to evict between boo and 700 persons from Sollas, in North Uist, of which he was then proprietor. They were at the time in a state of great misery from the failure of the potato crop for several years previously in succession, many of them having had to work for ninety-six hours a week for a pittance of two stones of Indian meal once a fortnight. Sometimes even that miserable dole was not forthcoming, and families had to live for weeks solely on shell-fish picked up on the sea-shore. Some of the men were employed on drainage works, for which public money was advanced to the proprietors; but here, as in most other places throughout the Highlands, the money earned was applied by the factors to wipe off old arrears, while the people were permitted generally to starve. His lordship having decided that they must go, notices of ejectment were served upon them, to take effect on the 15th of May, 1849. They asked for delay, to enable them to dispose of their cattle and other effects to the best advantage at the summer markets, and offered to work meanwhile making kelp, on terms which would prove remunerative to the proprietors, if only, in the altered circumstances, they might get their crofts on equitable terms—for their value, as such—apart from the kelp manufacture, on account of which the rents had previously been raised. Their petitions were ignored. No answers were received, while at the same time they were directed to sow as much corn and potatoes as they could during that spring, and for which, they were told, they would be fully compensated, whatever happened. They sold much of their effects to procure seed, and continued to work and sow up to and even after the 15th of May. They then began to cut their peats as usual, thinking they were after all to be allowed to get the benefit. They were, however, soon disappointed—their goods were hypothecated. Many of them were turned out of their houses, the doors locked, and everything they possessed—cattle, crops, and peatsseized. Even their bits of furniture were thrown out of doors in the manner which had long become the fashion in such cases. The season was too far advanced—towards the end of July—to start for Canada. Before they could arrive there the cold winter would be upon them, without means or money to provide against it. They naturally rebelled, and the principal Sheriff-Substitute, Colquhoun, with his officers and a strong body of police left Inverness for North Uist, to eject them from their homes. Naturally unwilling to proceed to extremes, on the arrival of the steamer at Armadale, they sent a messenger ashore to ask for instructions to guide them in case of resistance, or if possible to obtain a modification of his lordship's views. Lord Macdonald had no instructions to give, but referred the Sheriff to Mr. Cooper, his factor, whose answer was that the whole population of Sollas would be subject to eviction if they did not at once agree to emigrate. A few men were arrested who obstructed the evictors on a previous occasion. They were marched off to Lochmaddy by the police. The work of destruction soon commenced. At first no opposition was made by the poor people. An eye-witness, whose sympathies were believed to be favourable to the proprietor, des-scribes some of the proceedings as follows:-

"In evicting Macpherson, the first case taken up, no opposition to the law officers was made. In two or three minutes the few articles of furniture he possessed--a bench, a chair, a broken chair, a barrel, a bag of wool, and two or three small articles, which comprised his whole household of goods and gear—were turned out to the door, and his bothy left roofless. The wife of the prisoner Macphail (one of those taken to Lochmaddy on the previous day) was the next evicted. Her domestic plenishing was of the simplest character—its greatest, and by far its most valuable part, being three small children, dressed in nothing more than a single coat of coarse blanketing, who played about her knee, while the poor woman, herself half-clothed, with her face bathed in tears, and holding an infant in her arms, assured the Sheriff that she and her children were totally destitute and without food of any kind. The Sheriff at once sent for the Inspector of Poor, and ordered him to place the woman and her family on the poor's roll."

The next house was occupied by very old and infirm people, whom the Sheriff positively refused to evict. He also refused to eject eight other families where an irregularity was discovered by him in the notices served upon them. The next family ejected led to the almost solitary instance hitherto in the history of Highland evictions where the people made anything like real resistance. This man was a crofter and weaver, having a wife and nine children to provide for. At this stage a crowd of men and women gathered on an eminence a little distance from the house, and gave the first indications of a hostile intention by raising shouts, as the police advanced to help in the work of demolition, accompanied by about a dozen men who came to their assistance in unroofing the houses from the other end of the island. The crowd, exasperated at the conduct of their own neighbours, threw some stones at the latter. The police were then drawn up in two lines. The furniture was thrown outside, the web was cut of the loom, and the terrified woman rushed to the door with a infant in her arms, exclaiming in a passionate and wailing voice—"`Tha mo chlann air a bhi' air a muirt" (My children are to be murdered). The crowd became excited, stones were thrown at the officers, their assistants were driven from the roof of the house, and they had to retire behind the police for shelter. Volleys of stones and other missiles followed. The police charged in two divisions. There were some cuts and bruises on both sides. The work of demolition was then allowed to go on without further opposition from the crowd.

Several heart-rending scenes followed, but we shall only give a description of the last which took place on that occasioij, and which brought about a little delay in the cruel woxk. In one case it was found necessary to remove the women out of the house by force. "One of them threw herself upon the ground and fell into hysterics, uttering the most doleful sounds, and barking and yelling like a dog for about ten minutes. Another, with many tears, sobs, and groans put up a petition to the Sheriff that they would leave the roof over part of her house, where she had a loom with cloth in it, which she was weaving; and a third woman, the eldest of the family, made an attack with a stick on an officer, and, missing him, she sprang upon him, and knocked off his hat. So violently did this old woman conduct herself that two stout policemen had great difficulty in carrying her outside the door. The excitement was again getting so strong that the factor, seeing the determination of the people, and finding that if he continued and took their crops away from those who would not leave, even when their houses were pulled down about their ears, they would have to be fed and maintained at the expense of the parish during the forthcoming winter, relaxed and agreed to allow them to occupy their houses until next spring, if the heads of families undertook and signed an agreement to emigrate any time next year, from the 1st of February to the end of June. Some agreed to these conditions, but the majority declined; and, in the circumstances, the people were permitted to go back to their unroofed and ruined homes for a few months longer. Their cattle were, however, mostly taken possession of, and applied to the reduction of old arrears."

Four of the men were afterwards charged with deforcing the officers, and sentenced at Inverness Court of Justiciary each to four months' imprisonment. The following year the district was completely and mercilessly cleared of all its remaining inhabitants, numbering 603 souls. [A very full account of these proceedings, written on the spot, appeared at the time in the Inverness Courier, to which we are indebted for the above facts.] The Sollas evictions did not satisfy the evicting craze which his lordship afterwards so bitterly regretted. In 1851-53, he, or rather his trustee, determined to evict the people from the villages of

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