The Highland Clearances


Glynn Currie
 

I have just finished reading The Highland Clearances by TM Devine and wanted to share it . Following this note is a review I wrote.




In The Scottish Clearances, TM Devine argues the Highland clearances are quite misunderstood. Popular fiction, sensationalist accounts and sentimental story telling have created a myth that clouds the facts and hides the truth behind a mist of romanticism. In this book Devine takes on the task of setting the record straight.

Devine believes the highland clearances were not a singular event, but a part of a broader action that covered the entire country. He studied the removal of people from land worked by generations of their ancestors across the whole of Scotland. Historical events of the time, as well as the social history and the economic patterns of the time are marshalled together to support his claim.

In anticipation of counter arguments, Devine looked at his thesis from many perspectives. Several times I formed an argument against his thesis only to read his response in a later chapter.

Because of the broad approach which Devine takes to his topic he provides the reader with an excellent view of life in 18th and 19th Century rural Scotland. For someone interested in genealogy, the opportunity to learn about farming practices and life on the croft is appreciated.

According to Devine, economic forces were the cause of the clearances, not only in the Highlands, but in the rest of Scotland as well. They were inevitable and lacked any moral concern. While hard on tenants, land owners had little choice and were forced to remove people from their land in order to play a role in the new agricultural economy.

This is where I diverge from Devine’s thesis. His history is sound, but he approaches it from a mechanistic viewpoint supporting free market capitalism. He assigns no blame to land owners, in their callous disregard for their farmers, because the impartial broom of the free market swept people away in an amoral pursuit of progress.

He doesn’t consider the theft of the land by the landlords as a concern. He accepts that as a given. But it is that theft which lies behind the problems faced by the tenant farmers who were removed from their land.

In an earlier time, clan chiefs were not the owners of land, but the leaders of a community. The land was owned by that community and the produce from it was shared among everyone, including the chiefs who didn’t actually work the land. Land was owned by the community and the chiefs were responsible to administer its use. So social was the community resource that individual farmers worked different patches of land from year to year in order to share the good and the bad land in a fair manner. For those farmers to be forced from their land so the descendants of the former chiefs could claim the land and increase their wealth was treachery on a grand scale.

For people who are interested in Scottish history and who wish to understand the lives of their ancestors this book is a must read. It is the story of the people of Scotland caught up in a changing world and forced to contend with forces beyond their control. With a stoic manner and the fortitude gained from a lifetime of suffering and hard work, they met the challenge thrown at them and persevered. That is the legacy they have left to us, their descendants.

 

Devine, T.M. The Scottish Clearances, Penguin Books, 2019.


John Kemplen
 

Here is an Islay-specific piece:
https://www.islayinfo.com/islay_clearances.html

My family (McKellars) moved in to Islay around 1840 when many others were being moved out, to live at Kilbranan (where four farmers had been evicted), working as shepherds, I believe, for the under-factor Webster who appears to have been one of the main villains of the piece.


On 08/04/2021 03:14, Glynn Currie wrote:

I have just finished reading The Highland Clearances by TM Devine and wanted to share it . Following this note is a review I wrote.




In The Scottish Clearances, TM Devine argues the Highland clearances are quite misunderstood. Popular fiction, sensationalist accounts and sentimental story telling have created a myth that clouds the facts and hides the truth behind a mist of romanticism. In this book Devine takes on the task of setting the record straight.

Devine believes the highland clearances were not a singular event, but a part of a broader action that covered the entire country. He studied the removal of people from land worked by generations of their ancestors across the whole of Scotland. Historical events of the time, as well as the social history and the economic patterns of the time are marshalled together to support his claim.

In anticipation of counter arguments, Devine looked at his thesis from many perspectives. Several times I formed an argument against his thesis only to read his response in a later chapter.

Because of the broad approach which Devine takes to his topic he provides the reader with an excellent view of life in 18th and 19th Century rural Scotland. For someone interested in genealogy, the opportunity to learn about farming practices and life on the croft is appreciated.

According to Devine, economic forces were the cause of the clearances, not only in the Highlands, but in the rest of Scotland as well. They were inevitable and lacked any moral concern. While hard on tenants, land owners had little choice and were forced to remove people from their land in order to play a role in the new agricultural economy.

This is where I diverge from Devine’s thesis. His history is sound, but he approaches it from a mechanistic viewpoint supporting free market capitalism. He assigns no blame to land owners, in their callous disregard for their farmers, because the impartial broom of the free market swept people away in an amoral pursuit of progress.

He doesn’t consider the theft of the land by the landlords as a concern. He accepts that as a given. But it is that theft which lies behind the problems faced by the tenant farmers who were removed from their land.

In an earlier time, clan chiefs were not the owners of land, but the leaders of a community. The land was owned by that community and the produce from it was shared among everyone, including the chiefs who didn’t actually work the land. Land was owned by the community and the chiefs were responsible to administer its use. So social was the community resource that individual farmers worked different patches of land from year to year in order to share the good and the bad land in a fair manner. For those farmers to be forced from their land so the descendants of the former chiefs could claim the land and increase their wealth was treachery on a grand scale.

For people who are interested in Scottish history and who wish to understand the lives of their ancestors this book is a must read. It is the story of the people of Scotland caught up in a changing world and forced to contend with forces beyond their control. With a stoic manner and the fortitude gained from a lifetime of suffering and hard work, they met the challenge thrown at them and persevered. That is the legacy they have left to us, their descendants.

 

Devine, T.M. The Scottish Clearances, Penguin Books, 2019.


Virus-free. www.avast.com


bqbarnard@...
 

Clearances in Scotland, evictions in Ireland and enclosures in England -- different names for the same phenomenon. Subsistence farmers were removed from the land, forced into towns or to emigrate, so that the land could be turned over to sheep whose wool fed the looms of the industrializing midlands, along with the cotton produced by slaves in the American south and Britain's Caribbean islands. Sheep were highly profitable and didn't rebel. Scottish Land Commission: "It found that about 1,125 owners, including Highland lairds and major public bodies such as Forest Enterprise and the National Trust for Scotland, own 70% of Scotland’s rural land, covering more than 4.1m hectares (10m acres) of countryside." And these days those "lairds" are mostly of English descent. 


Glynn Currie
 

It is no wonder those farmers came to Canada where they suffered huge deprivations and hard work. Here, depending on time and place, they received 200 acres of land for themselves! They were used to hardship and hard work anyway and the entire crop belonged to them. They could  build a better life for their families.

Glynn

Sent from Mail for Windows 10

 

From: bqbarnard@...
Sent: April 8, 2021 4:39 PM
To: Islay@Scotland-Genealogy.groups.io
Subject: Re: [Islay] The Highland Clearances

 

Clearances in Scotland, evictions in Ireland and enclosures in England -- different names for the same phenomenon. Subsistence farmers were removed from the land, forced into towns or to emigrate, so that the land could be turned over to sheep whose wool fed the looms of the industrializing midlands, along with the cotton produced by slaves in the American south and Britain's Caribbean islands. Sheep were highly profitable and didn't rebel. Scottish Land Commission: "It found that about 1,125 owners, including Highland lairds and major public bodies such as Forest Enterprise and the National Trust for Scotland, own 70% of Scotland’s rural land, covering more than 4.1m hectares (10m acres) of countryside." And these days those "lairds" are mostly of English descent. 

 


Marian Meldrum
 

There was a programme on TV in UK some months ago which told the story of some families- they were recruited by a priest to go t Canada - promised all sorts - on arrival in Canada there was nothing and they were destitute - - they lived rough - and worked for very little and mainly of them succumbed to disease - the descendants were interviewed, and many still in touch with the families in Scotland - they conceded that their ancestors suffered - and were duped into going, however, their struggle meant their descendants now had a better life.

Controversial perhaps - but Something that everyone whose ancestors were taken/forced to go to a different place perhaps should contemplate what their lives would be like if their ancestors had stayed put


-----Original Message-----
From: Glynn Currie <familyhistoryguy@...>
To: Islay@Scotland-Genealogy.groups.io <Islay@Scotland-Genealogy.groups.io>
Sent: Fri, 9 Apr 2021 7:02
Subject: Re: [Islay] The Highland Clearances

It is no wonder those farmers came to Canada where they suffered huge deprivations and hard work. Here, depending on time and place, they received 200 acres of land for themselves! They were used to hardship and hard work anyway and the entire crop belonged to them. They could  build a better life for their families.
Glynn
Sent from Mail for Windows 10
 
From: bqbarnard@...
Sent: April 8, 2021 4:39 PM
To: Islay@Scotland-Genealogy.groups.io
Subject: Re: [Islay] The Highland Clearances
 
Clearances in Scotland, evictions in Ireland and enclosures in England -- different names for the same phenomenon. Subsistence farmers were removed from the land, forced into towns or to emigrate, so that the land could be turned over to sheep whose wool fed the looms of the industrializing midlands, along with the cotton produced by slaves in the American south and Britain's Caribbean islands. Sheep were highly profitable and didn't rebel. Scottish Land Commission: "It found that about 1,125 owners, including Highland lairds and major public bodies such as Forest Enterprise and the National Trust for Scotland, own 70% of Scotland’s rural land, covering more than 4.1m hectares (10m acres) of countryside." And these days those "lairds" are mostly of English descent. 
 


Glynn Currie
 

Very true Marian. Life in early Canada was very rough. But life as a tenant farmer in Scotland was also tough, even before the clearances. It took a hardy soul to survive those first few years in Canada; it was especially tough for those people who were too poor to be properly supplied when they arrived. The hard work, subsistence living and religious faith learned in Scotland was crucial to their survival. But the result was a great boon to Canada, because these were the people that built the country.

Glynn

 

Sent from Mail for Windows 10

 

From: Marian Meldrum via groups.io
Sent: Saturday, April 10, 2021 12:17 PM
To: Islay@Scotland-Genealogy.groups.io
Subject: Re: [Islay] The Highland Clearances

 

There was a programme on TV in UK some months ago which told the story of some families- they were recruited by a priest to go t Canada - promised all sorts - on arrival in Canada there was nothing and they were destitute - - they lived rough - and worked for very little and mainly of them succumbed to disease - the descendants were interviewed, and many still in touch with the families in Scotland - they conceded that their ancestors suffered - and were duped into going, however, their struggle meant their descendants now had a better life.

 

Controversial perhaps - but Something that everyone whose ancestors were taken/forced to go to a different place perhaps should contemplate what their lives would be like if their ancestors had stayed put

-----Original Message-----
From: Glynn Currie <familyhistoryguy@...>
To: Islay@Scotland-Genealogy.groups.io <Islay@Scotland-Genealogy.groups.io>
Sent: Fri, 9 Apr 2021 7:02
Subject: Re: [Islay] The Highland Clearances

It is no wonder those farmers came to Canada where they suffered huge deprivations and hard work. Here, depending on time and place, they received 200 acres of land for themselves! They were used to hardship and hard work anyway and the entire crop belonged to them. They could  build a better life for their families.

Glynn

Sent from Mail for Windows 10

 

From: bqbarnard@...
Sent: April 8, 2021 4:39 PM
To: Islay@Scotland-Genealogy.groups.io
Subject: Re: [Islay] The Highland Clearances

 

Clearances in Scotland, evictions in Ireland and enclosures in England -- different names for the same phenomenon. Subsistence farmers were removed from the land, forced into towns or to emigrate, so that the land could be turned over to sheep whose wool fed the looms of the industrializing midlands, along with the cotton produced by slaves in the American south and Britain's Caribbean islands. Sheep were highly profitable and didn't rebel. Scottish Land Commission: "It found that about 1,125 owners, including Highland lairds and major public bodies such as Forest Enterprise and the National Trust for Scotland, own 70% of Scotland’s rural land, covering more than 4.1m hectares (10m acres) of countryside." And these days those "lairds" are mostly of English descent.