Alexander Mackenzie.

The history of the Highland clearances online

. (page 16 of 25)
Online LibraryAlexander MackenzieThe history of the Highland clearances → online text (page 16 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

beside the fire, and would not move an inch. One of the
assistants threw water on the fire and extinguished it,
and then joined the other two in forcibly removing the
poor widow from the house. At first she struggled hard,
seized hold of every post or stone within her reach, taking
a death grasp of each to keep possession. But the officers
were too many and too cruel for her. They struck her
over the fingers, and compelled her to let go her hold, and
then all she could do was to greet and cry out murder !
She was ultimately thrust out at the door, from where she
crept on her hands and feet to a dyke side, being quite
exhausted and panting for breath, owing to her hard
struggle with three powerful men. Whenever they got


her outside, the work of destruction immediately com-
menced. Stools, chairs, tables, cupboard, spinning-
wheel, bed, blankets, straw, dishes, pots, and chest,
were thrown out in the gutter. They broke down the
partitions, took down the crook from over the fire-place,
destroyed the hen roosts, and then beat the hens out
through the broad vent in the roof of the house. This
done, they set to work on the walls outside with picks
and iron levers. They pulled down the thatch, cut the
couples, and in a few minutes the walls fell out, while the
roof fell in with a dismal crash !

When the factor and his party were done with this
house, they proceeded to another district, pulling down
and destroying dwelling-places as they went along. The
shades of night at last closed in, and here was the poor
helpless widow sitting like a pelican, alone and cheerless.
Allan Macdonald, a cottar, whose house was also pulled
down, ran across the hill to see how the poor widow had
been treated, and found her moaning beside the dyke.
He led her to where his own children had taken shelter,
treated her kindly, and did all he could to comfort her
under the circumstances.

When I visited Knoydart I found the poor widow at
work, repairing her shed, and such a shed, and such a
dwelling, I never before witnessed. The poor creature
spoke remarkably well, and appeared to me to be a very
sensible woman. I expressed my sympathy for her, and
my disapprobation of the conduct of those who so un-
mercifully treated her. She said it was indeed most
ungrateful on the part of the representatives of Glen-
garry to have treated her so cruelly that her prede-
cessors were, from time immemorial, on the Glengarry
estates that many of them died in defence of, or fighting
for, the old chieftains and that they had always been
true and faithful subjects. I asked why she refused to go
to Canada ?

" For a very good reason," she said, " I am now
old, and not able to clear a way in the forests of
Canada \ and, besides, I am unfit for service ] and, fur-
ther, I am averse to leave my native country, and rather


than leave it, I would much prefer that my grave was
opened beside my dear daughter, although I should be
buried alive ! "

I do think she was sincere in what she said.
Despair and anguish were marked in her counten-
ance, and her attachment to her old habitation and its
associations were so strong that I believe they can only
be cut asunder by death ! I left her in this miserable
shed which she occupied, and I question much if there
is another human residence like it in Europe. The wig-
wam of the wild Indian, or the cave of the Greenlander,
are palaces in comparison with it ; and even the meanest
dog-kennel in England would be a thousand times more
preferable as a place of residence. If this poor Highland
woman will stand it out all winter in this abode it will be
indeed a great wonder. The factor has issued an ukase,
which aggravates all these cases of eviction with peculiar
hardship ; he has warned all and sundry on the Knoy-
dart estates from receiving or entertaining the evicted
peasantry into their houses under pain of removal.

Allan Macdonald, aged 54, a widower, with four chil-
dren, was similarly treated. Our informant says of him :

" When his late Majesty George IV. visited Scotland in
1823, and when Highland lairds sent up to Edinburgh
specimens of the bone and sinew human produce of
their properties, old Glengarry took care to give Allan
Macdonald a polite invitation to this ' Royal exhibition.'
Alas ! how matters have so sadly changed. Within the
last 30 years man has fallen off dreadfully in the esti-
mation of Highland proprietors. Commercially speaking,
Allan Macdonald has now ijo value at all. Had he been a
roe, a deer, a sheep, or a bullock, a Highland laird in
speculating could estimate his ' real ' worth to within a
few shillings, but Allan is only a man. Then his children ;
they are of no value, nor taken into account in the calcu-
lations of the sportsman. They cannot be shot at like
hares, blackcocks, or grouse, nor yet can they be sent
south as game to feed the London market."

Another case is that of Archibald Macisaac, crofter,
aged 66 ; wife 54, with a family of ten children.


Archibald's house, byre, barn, and stable were levelled
to the ground. The furniture of the house was
thrown down the hill, and a general destruction
then commenced. The roof, fixtures, and woodwork
were smashed to pieces, the walls razed to the
very foundation, and all that was left for poor Archi-
bald to look upon was a black dismal wreck. Twelve
human beings were thus deprived of their home in less
than half-an-hour. It was grossly illegal to have des-
stroyed the barn, for, according even to the law of
Scotland, the outgoing or removing tenant is entitled to
the use of the barn until his crops are disposed of. But,
of course, in a remote district, and among simple and
primitive people like the inhabitants of Knoydart, the
laws that concern them and define their rights are un-
known to them.

Archibald had now to make the best shift he could. No
mercy or favour could be expected from the factor.
Having convened his children beside an old fence where
he sat looking on when the destruction of his home was
accomplished, he addressed them on the peculiar nature of
the position in which they were placed, and the necessity
of asking for wisdom from above to guide them in any
future action. His wife and children wept, but the old
man said, " Neither weeping nor reflection will now avail;
we must prepare some shelter." The children collected
some cabars and turf, and in the hollow between two
ditches, the old man constructed a rude shelter for the
night, and having kindled a fire and gathered in his
family, they all engaged in family worship and sung
psalms as usual. Next morning they examined the
ruins, picked up some broken pieces of furniture, dishes,
etc., and then made another addition to their shelter in
the ditch. Matters went on this way for about a week,
when the local manager and his men came down upon
them, and after much abuse for daring to take shelters
on the lands of Knoydart, they destroyed the shelter and
put old Archy and his people again out on the hill.

I found Archibald and his numerous family still at
Knoydart and in a shelter beside the old ditch. Any


residence more wretched or more truly melancholy, I
have never witnessed. A feal, or turf erection, about
3 feet high, 4 feet broad, and about 5 feet long, was at the
end of the shelter, and this formed the sleeping place of
the mother and her five daughters ! They creep in and
out on their knees, and their bed is just a layer of hay on
the cold earth of the ditch ! There is surely monstrous
cruelty in this treatment of British females, and the laws
that sanction or tolerate such flagrant and gross abuses
are a disgrace to the Statute book and to the country
that permits it. Macisaac and his family are, so far as I
could learn, very decent, respectable, and well-behaved
people, and can we not perceive a monstrous injustice
in treating them worse than slaves because they refuse
to allow themselves to be packed off to the Colonies just
like so many bales of manufactured goods ?

Again :

Donald Maceachan, a cottar at Arar, married, with a
wife, and five children. This poor man, his wife, and
children were fully twenty-three nights without any
shelter but the broad and blue heavens. They kindled
a fire, and prepared their food beside a rock, and then
slept in the open air. Just imagine the condition of this
poor mother, Donald's wife, nursing a delicate child, and
subjected to merciless storms of wind and rain during a
long October night. One of these melancholy nights
the blankets that covered them were frozen and white
with frost.

The next case is as follows ;

Charles Macdonald, aged 70 years, a widower, having
no family. This poor man was also " keeled " for the
Colonies, and, as he refused to go, his house or cabin was
levelled to the ground. What on earth could old Charles
do in America ? Was there any mercy or humanity in
offering him a free passage across the Atlantic ? In
England, Charles would have been considered a proper
object of parochial protection and relief, but in Scotland
no such relief is afforded except to " sick folks " and
tender infants. There can be no question, however, that
the factor looked forward to the period when Charles


would become chargeable as a pauper, and, acting as a
" prudent man," he resolved to get quit of him at once.
Three or four pounds would send the old man across the
Atlantic, but if he remained in Knoydart, it would likely
take four or five pounds to keep him each year that he
lived. When the factor and his party arrived at Charles's
door, they knocked and demanded admission ; the factor
intimated his object, and ordered the old man to quit.
" As soon as I can," said Charles, and, taking up his plaid
and staff and adjusting his blue bonnet, he walked out,
merely remarking to the factor that the man who could
turn out an old, inoffensive Highlander of seventy, from
such a place, and at such a season, could do a great deal
more if the laws of the country permitted him. Charles
took to the rocks, and from that day to this he has never
gone near his old habitation. He has neither house nor
home, but receives occasional supplies of food from his
evicted neighbours, and he sleeps on the hill ! Poor old
man, who would not pity him who would not share with
him a crust or a covering who ?

Alexander Macdonald, aged 40 years, with a wife and
family of four children, had his house pulled down. His
wife was pregnant ; still the levellers thrust her out, and
then put the children out after her. The husband argued,
remonstrated, and protested, but it was all in vain ; for
in a few minutes all he had for his (to him once comfort-
able) home was a lot of rubbish, blackened rafters, and
heaps of stones. The levellers laughed at him and at his
protests, and when their work was over, moved away,
leaving him to find refuge the best way he could. Alex-
ander had, like the rest of his evicted brethren, to burrow
among the rocks and in caves until he put up a temporary
shelter amid the wreck of his old habitation, but from
which he was repeatedly driven away. For three days
Alexander Macdonald' s wife lay sick beside a bush, where,
owing to terror and exposure to cold, she had a mis-
carriage. She was then removed to the shelter of the
walls of her former house, and for three days she lay so ill
that her life was despaired of. These are facts as to which
I challenge contradiction. I have not inserted them


without the most satisfactory evidence of their

Catherine Mackinnon, aged about 50 years, unmarried ;
Peggy Mackinnon, aged about 48 years, unmarried ; aand
Catherine Macphee (a half-sister of the two Mackinnons),
also unmarried ; occupied one house. Catherine Mac-
kinnon was for a long time sick, and she was confined to
bed when the factor and his party came to beat down the
house. At first they requested her to get up and walk out,
but her sisters said she could not, as she was so unwell.
They answered, " Oh, she is scheming ; " the sisters said
she was not, that she had been ill for a considerable
time, and the sick woman herself, who then feebly spoke,
said she was quite unfit to be removed, but if God spared
her and bestowed upon her better health that she would
remove of her own accord. This would not suffice ;
they forced her out of bed, sick as she was, and left her
beside a ditch from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., when, afraid that she
would die, as she was seriously unwell, they removed her
to a house and provided her with cordials and warm
clothing. lyet the reader imagine the sufferings of this
poor female, so ruthlessly torn from a bed of sickness and
laid down beside a cold ditch and there left exposed for
seven long hours, and then say if such conduct does not
loudly call for the condemnation of every lover of human
liberty and humanity. Peggy and her half-sister Mac-
phee are still burrowing among the ruins of their old
home. When I left Knoydart last week there were no
hope whatever of Catherine Mackinnon' s recovery.

I challenge the factor to contradict one sentence in this
short narrative of the poor females. The melancholy
truth of it is too palpable, too well-known in the district
to admit of even a tenable explanation. Nothing can
palliate or excuse such gross inhumanity, and it is but
right and proper that British Christians should be made
aware of such unchristian conduct such cruelty towards
helpless fellow- creatures in sickness and distress.

The last case, at present, is that of

Duncan Robertson, aged 35 years, with wife aged 32
years, and a family of three children. Very poor ; the


oldest boy is deformed and weak in mind and body, re-
quiring almost the constant care of one of his parents.
Robertson was warned out like the rest of the tenants,
and decree of removal was obtained against him. At the
levelling time the factor came up with his men before
Robertson's door, and ordered the inmates out. Robert-
son pleaded for mercy on account of his sick andtimbecile
boy, but the factor appeared at first inexorable \ at last
he sent in one of the officers to see the boy, who, on his
return, said that the boy was really and truly an object
of pity. The factor said he could not help it, that he must
pull down. Some pieces of furniture were then thrown
out, and the picks were fixed in the walls, when Robert-
son's wife ran out and implored delay, asking the factor,
for heaven's sake, to come in and see her sick child.
He replied, " I am sure I am no doctor." " I know that,"
she said, " but God might have given you Christian
feelings and bowels of compassion notwithstanding."
" Bring him out here," said the factor ; and the poor
mother ran to the bed and brought out her sick boy in
her arms. When the factor saw him, he admitted that
he was an object of pity, but warned Robertson that he
must quit Knoydart as soon as possible, so that his house
would be pulled down about his ears. The levellers peep
in once a week to see if the boy is getting better, so that
the house may be razed.

We could give additional particulars of the cruelties
which had to be endured by the poor wretches who re-
mained cruelties which would never be tolerated in any
other civilized country than Britain, and which in Britain
would secure instant and severe punishment if inflicted
on a dog or a pig, but the record would only inflict further
pain, and we have said enough.

Retribution has overtaken the e victors, and is it a
wonder that the chiefs of Glengarry are now as little
known, and own as little of their ancient domains in the
Highlands as their devoted clansmen ? There is now
scarcely one of the name of Macdonald in the wide district
once inhabited by thousands. It is a huge wilderness in
which barely anything is met but wild animals and sheep,


and the few keepers and shepherds necessary to take care
of them.



It has been shown, under " Glengarry," that a chief's
widow, during her son's minority, was responsible for the
Knoydart evictions in 1853. Another chief's widow,
Marsali Bhinneach Marjory, daughter of Sir Ludovick
Grant of Dalvey, widow of Duncan Macdonnell of Glen-
garry, who died in 1788 gave the whole of Glencruaich
as a sheep farm to one south country shepherd, and to
make room for him she evicted over 500 people from their
ancient homes. The late Edward Ellice stated before a
Committee of the House of Commons, in 1873, that about
the time of the rebellion in 1745, the population of Glen-
garry amounted to between 5000 and 6000. At the same
time the glen turned out an able-bodied warrior in sup-
port of Prince Charles for every pound of rental paid to
the proprietor. To-day it is questionable if the same dis-
trict could turn out twenty men certainly not that
number of Macdonalds. The bad example' of this heart-
less woman was unfortunately imitated afterwards by
her daughter Elizabeth, who, in 1795, married William
Chisholm of Chisholm, and to whose evil influence may
be traced the great eviction which, in 1801, cleared Strath-
glass almost to a man of its ancient inhabitants. The
Chisholm was delicate, and often in bad health, so that the
management of the estate fell into the hands of his strong-
minded and hard-hearted wife. In 1 80 1, no less than 799
took ship at Fort William and Isle Martin from Strath-
glass, the Aird, Glen Urquhart, and the neighbouring
districts, all for Pictou, Nova Scotia ; while in the follow-
ing year, 473 from the same district left Fort William,
for Upper Canada, and 128 for Pictou. Five hundred
and fifty went aboard another ship at Knoydart, many of
whom were from Strathglass. In 1803, four different
batches of 120 souls each, by four different ships, left


Strathglass, also for Pictou ] while not a few went away
with emigrants from other parts of the Highlands. Dur-
ing these three years we find that no less than 5390 were
driven out of these Highland glens, and it will be seen
that a very large portion of them were evicted from
Strathglass by the daughter of the notorious Marsali
Bhinneach. From among the living cargo of one of the
vessels which sailed from Fort William no less than fifty-
three souls died, on the way out, of an epidemic ; and,
on the arrival of the living portion of the cargo at Pictou,
they were shut in on a narrow point of land, from whence
they were not allowed to communicate with any of their
friends who had gone before them, for fear of communi-
cating the contagion. Here they suffered indescribable

By a peculiar arrangement between the Chisholm who
died in 1793, and his wife, a considerable portion of the
people were saved for a time from the ruthless conduct of
Marsali Bhinneach' s daughter and her co-adjutors.
Alexander Chisholm married Elizabeth, daughter of a Dr.
Wilson, in Edinburgh. He made provision for his wife in
case of her outliving him, by which it was left optional
with her to take a stated sum annually, or the rental of
certain townships, or club farms. Her husband died in
I 793> when the estate reverted to his half-brother,
William, and the widow, on the advice of her only child,
Mary, who, afterwards became Mrs. James Gooden of
London, made choice of the joint farms, instead of the
sum of money named in her marraige settlement ; and
though great efforts were made by Marsali Bhinneach' s
daughter and her friends, the widow, Mrs. Alexander
Chisholm, kept the farms in her own hands, and took
great pleasure in seeing a prosperous tenantry in these
townships, while all their neighbours were heartlessly
driven away. Not one of her tenants were disturbed or
interfered with in any way from the death of her husband,
in February 1793, until her own death in January, 1826,
when, unfortunately for them, their farms all came into
the hands of the young heir (whose sickly father died in
1817), and his cruel mother. For a few years the tenants


were left in possession, but only waiting an opportunity
to make a complete clearance of the whole Strath. Some
had a few years of their leases to run on other parts of the
property, and could not just then be expelled.

In 1830 every man who held land on the property was
requested to meet his chief at the local inn of Cannich.
They all obeyed, and were there at the appointed time,
but no chief came to meet them. The factor soon turned
up, however, and informed them that the laird had
determined to enter into no negotiation or any new ar-
rangements with them that day. They were all in good
circumstances, without any arrears of rent, but were
practically banished from their homes in the most
inconsiderate and cruel manner, and it afterwards be-
came known that their farms had been secretly let to
sheep farmers from the south, without the knowledge of
the native population in possession.

Mr. Colin Chisholm, who was present at the meeting at
Cannich, writes : "I leave you to imagine the bitter
grief and disappointment of men who attended with glow-
ing hopes in the morning, but had to tell their families
and dependents in the evening that they could see no
alternative before them but the emigrant ship, and choose
between the scorching prairies of Australia and the icy
regions of North America." It did not, however, come
to that. The late Lord Lovat, hearing of the harsh
proceedings, proposed to one of the large sheep farmers
on his neighbouring property to give up his farm, his lord-
ship offering to give full value for his stock, so that he
might divide it among those evicted from the Chisholm
estate. This arrangement was amicably carried through,
and at the next Whitsunday 1831 the evicted tenants
from Strathglass came into possession of the large sheep
farm of Glenstrathf arrar, and paid over to the late tenant
of the farm every farthing of the value set upon the stock
by two of the leading valuators in the country a fact
which conclusively proved that the Strathglass tenants
were quite capable of holding their own, and perfectly able
to meet all claims that could be made upon them by their
old proprietor and unnatural chief. They became very


comfortable in their new homes \ but about fifteen years
after their eviction from Strathglass they were again
removed to make room for deer. On this occasion the
late Lord Lovat gave them similar holdings on other
portions of his property, and the sons and grandsons of the
evicted tenants of Strathglass are now, on the Lovat pro-
perty, among the most respectable and comfortable
middle-class farmers in the county.

The result of the Strathglass evictions was that only
two of the ancient native stock remained in possession of
an inch of land on the estate of Chisholm. When the
present Chisholm came into possession he found, on his
return from Canada, only that small remnant of his own
name and clan to receive him. He brought back a few
Chisholms from the Lovat property, and re-established
on his old farm a tenant who had been evicted nineteen
years before from the holding in which his father and
grandfather died. The great-grandfather was killed at
Culloden, having been shot while carrying his commander,
young Chisholm, mortally wounded, from the field. The
gratitude of that chief's successors had been shown by his
ruthless eviction from the ancient home of his ancestors ;
but it is gratifying to find the present chief making some
reparation by bringing back and liberally supporting the
representatives of such a devoted follower of his for-
bears. The present Chisholm, who has the character of
being a good landlord, is descended from a distant col-
lateral branch of the family. The evicting Chisholms,
and their offpsring have, however, every one of them,
disappeared, and Mr. Colin Chisholm informs us that there
is not a human being now in Strathglass of the descend-
ants of the chief, or of the south country farmers, who
were the chief instruments in evicting the native popu-

To give the reader an idea of the class of men who
occupied this district, it may be stated that of the
descendants of those who lived in Glen Canaich, one of
several smaller glens, at one time thickly populated in the
Strath, but now a perfect wilderness there lived in the
present generation, no less than three colonels, one major,


three captains, three lieutenants, seven ensigns, one
bishop, and fifteen priests.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25

Online LibraryAlexander MackenzieThe history of the Highland clearances → online text (page 16 of 25)