Just ‘moved’ or ‘burned out’ during ‘controversial’ or ‘violent’ clearances?

From BBC Scotland, ever the state broadcaster, this morning we hear of:

A highland settlement whose population was moved during controversial clearances in the early 19th Century. Rosal in Strathnaver was emptied of its population between 1814 and 1818.

Controversial? Like the debate over leaving the EU?

Here’s a first-hand account by Donald Macleod, a native of Rosal, of the first Strathnaver clearances in 1814 [while highland soldiers were away in France to face Napoleon], It was known locally as the “year of the burning”. 15,000 people were cleared from the 1.5 million acre estates of the English Duke and Duchess of Sutherland to increase the income from the land by letting it to sheep farmers:

“The consternation and confusion were extreme. Little or no time was given for the removal of persons or property; the people striving to remove the sick and the helpless before the fire should reach them; next, struggling to save the most valuable of their effects. The cries of the women and children, the roaring of the affrighted cattle, hunted at the same time by the yelling dogs of the shepherds amid the smoke and fire, altogether presented a scene that completely baffles description, it required to be seen to be believed.”

“A dense cloud of smoke enveloped the whole country by day, and even extended far out to sea. At night an awfully grand but terrific scene presented itself – all the houses in an extensive district in flames at once. I myself ascended a height about eleven o’clock in the evening, and counted two hundred and fifty blazing houses, many of the owners of which I personally knew, but whose present condition – whether in or out of the flames – I could not tell. The conflagration lasted six days, till the whole of the dwellings were reduced to ashes or smoking ruins.”


This cleansing happened all over the Highlands:

Highland Clearances – Leslieville Historical Society

Last year, ignoring witness accounts and burning of homes, BBC presenter Neil Oliver didn’t even rate it controversial:

Our reader thinks Neil Oliver is an affront to Scotland

They left their windswept crofts behind looking for adventure and the promised land.

In 1959, at 8 and with my family, we were evicted for overcrowding my granma’s house, after my dad’s job loss and a move across the country, to live for 7 years in a half-empty dockland tenement flat, among rats and with drunks pissing in the close – what an adventure that was.


17 thoughts on “Just ‘moved’ or ‘burned out’ during ‘controversial’ or ‘violent’ clearances?

  1. Yup, “balanced” British nationalist propaganda.

    “Balanced” as in—“we burned you out of your house, but look at the rent we saved you”!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. There are a few good books on the clearances most focused on the Highlands but it happened in the southern upland as well. A very shameful episode in our history. Why was it done? Greed and belief in new more productive methods that removed the cost of people. This destroyed the clan system.
    As always Neil Oliver is below contempt.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. You are right to make the point that ‘clearances’ occurred in other places, too. As someone who is the child of Gaelic speakers, I know well the accounts of the mistreatment of the people of the Highlands and Islands. However, there were ‘Lowland clearances’, too. There is a book of that name. And, such clearances were not confined to Scotland. The land-grabbing class, having enclosed the common lands, moved people off, in the main without any concern for their welfare. And, it happened across the Empire, too. For example the Chagos Islanders are seeking a return of their homes from which they were removed to create ‘strategic’ military installations.

      Of course, it was all ‘perfectly legal’, because the land-grabbing class also controlled the Parliament and made the laws which made their inhuman actions ‘legal’.

      Interestingly, I once heard a Marxist, in the days when the Labour Party allowed such people defend the clearances as a ‘necessary’ stage in the development of society.

      Liked by 6 people

  3. I see the latest wheeze to invoke a “trade war” with the EU, is to insist that the European Court of Justice should not have oversight of the Protocol (that the British government proposed and signed up to).

    I trust then, in that spirit, they would no longer wish the Supreme Court to rule over the Scotland Act.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Aye, only a muppet like Oliver would draw a parallel between the thatch burning over heads in 1814 and an eviction notice in 1959, being left with nothing and nowhere to go and an “adventure”. 🙄 “They left their windswept crofts behind looking for adventure and the promised land” – Left FFS…

    As to the BBC’s “moved during controversial clearances”, I look forward to their next feature on WW2…….

    Liked by 4 people

  5. From the very outset of the union we have had an establishment in London hostile to Scottish interests and ensuring their placemen and women in Scotland kept Scots subservient.
    The Jacks,Ross’s etc are just the latest in a long line of overlords doing London’s bidding by ensuring Scotland is kept in poverty and that any time Scots seem to be getting out of line,economic hardship is imposed,Brexit being the latest.
    The clearances may not have been a direct policy from London but allowed unscrupulous Scottish landowners to treat their fellow clansmen with contempt,the very people they had stolen the land from in the first place.
    Our history as a nation within the union has been a mixed one but always it has been about England’s domination of our country and ensuring we are not allowed to act independently.
    Unless we can do something about Brexit,we are going to see many more Scots being forced into leaving their land for foreign shores.
    And so it continues.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. I was about to buy two books yesterday about the Highland and Lowland clearances but the bookshop was packed with coughing people so had to get out!

    When I first moved to Scotland, I read ‘Consider the Lilies’ by Ian Crichton Smith, a short book about the Highland clearances. I had no idea before about it before that.
    Dreadful. Most books which mention the clearances, tell us how the people ‘left’ the land, not that they were burned out of their homes. It was a genocide really, and yes the lowlands were cleared as well.

    This is very good, a long read and I hope Ok to share, it’s an excellent site anyway, but hasn’t been updated, not sure why. Scroll down to part 5.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Scone Estate. The local community was moved out of sight. Planned towns over Scotland were linked to local estates. Many rural towns were planned around the local estate for estate/farm workers. Church and school. A central square.

    The Sutherland Estate was notorious for clearing the inhabitants. They were moved to shore land which was rocky with no means of cultivation. Many people had to emigrate to Canada, NZ, Australia and the US. Many were deported for minor ‘crimes’. The Jacobite rebellion 1714/45 was brutally repressed. Many participants lost their land and homes. They were exiled or had to flee. People were replaced by sheep. 19C.

    People (Catholics) were banned from owning a horse (transport), owning a sword (defence), banned from wearing tartan and owning land. Ireland was affected by the potato famine. The staple diet.

    In Ireland there was mass Home Rule movement. Led by Protestant landowners. Charles Stuart Parnell. Protestors were killed by the British Army. The Black and Tans brutally put down any protests. In Ireland there was a strong Land League movement, campaigning for a fairer distribution of land.

    Scotland has a ‘right to roam’. Tourism raises £Billions. Many visitors from overseas are descended from those who had to leave. Returning to look for their heritage.


  8. The first time I was aware of Rossal, was on a cycle tour in the late 1980s. The village was described on one of those big brown road signs as a “heritage site”. Memorials to those slaughtered or burnt out of their homes by lackeys are now more tasteful than they were in the 1980s. But I still cannot make sense of the use of the word “heritage” in relation to any aspect of the clearances. How can such wickedness be part of any heritage? Heritage usually signifies aspects of history that are to be celebrated or that have contributed positively to the society we value now, in the present. Though I guess with the likes of Oliver revising history, the continuing decline in Gaelic culture, no prospect of reform of medieval attitudes to land ownership, the usual economic forces pushing up house prices, etc etc etc, burning folks out of their houses probably should be seen as part of our heritage. I cannot write down what I feel should happen to Oliver, but perhaps something to illustrate what it is actually like to be homeless, destitute and brutalised. Such knowledge might perhaps help him pass as an actual historian.


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