Acaila wrote:Was given permission to rant about this in the Cafe thread but thought it might be more appropriate here.
Ok, so The Highland Clearances....
Anyone ever wondered why there are so many people of Scottish descent all over the world? Why Canada has a New Scotland (Nova Scotia) where they speak Gaelic? Why New Zealand is actually named after the Shetland Isles? Why there are pipe bands in the USA? Why it is that everyone seems to claim "Wow I'm from Scotchland!" due to some great great grandmother?
The Highland Clearances is one of the main reasons.
After Scotland joined with England (and Wales which was part of England) to form the United Kingdom, there was occasional unrest in Scotland through the next 50 years because the Stuart line of monarchs was basically done away with. People who thought they should bring back the Stuarts were called Jacobites, and there were a couple of famous Jacobite uprisings in 1715 and 1745. These, particularly the second, are big cultural icons of Scottish history. In Scotland at that time, things were still run by clan chiefs in an almost feudal system. It was the clan chiefs whose support made those uprisings possible because men would fight for their clan rather than their king, be it a dispossessed Stuart prince or the king in London. After the 1745 rebellion was eventually put down, the UK government decided that Scotland, particularly the Highlands had to be brought into line. Carrying weapons was forbidden, but most of the other laws were cultural oppression so things like playing the bagpipes was forbidden, wearing tartan or kilts was forbidden, speaking Gaelic (still a native language in most of the Highlands at that point) was forbidden. And with these came laws that broke apart the traditional systems that had made the clans a support structure at all levels, so you were basically left with poor farmers and rich landowning clan chiefs.
The Highlands are a very rural place and Highlanders of the time lived through mostly subsistence farming. With little obligation to their tenants now, the landowners of the time wanted to make as much money from their land as possible. New breeds of sheep gave wool yields that were more profitable than the farmers they already had on the land. Simple decision huh? Only problem was, to make room for all these profitable new sheep, they had to get rid of the farmers who lived there.
So the landlords wanted their tenants off the land. And they got their way, by any means necessary. Your family has lived and worked this land for hundreds of years? Too bad! Some farmers were given poor land on the coast where they could barely make a living, some were put onto emigrant ships to the New World, some were just told to clear off, and if they objected, were violently evicted or burnt out of their homes. Too old or sick to move out of your house? We'll see if you can't move once the burning ceiling is falling in on you..... And after all, it's not like the legal system will favour you over the wealthy low-land English-speaking representatives of the landowners who ordered the burning if you want to bring criminal charges is it? And after all, such people in their own words considered the Highlanders to be barbarous savages in dire need of "civilising".
As has already been alluded to, it was difficult for many to resist legally. To add to that, many of the men were away in the army, which had always done well recruiting in the Highlands, perhaps due to a lack of any other options and increasing overpopulation, so it was often left to women to try and resist being thrown out of the places that had been their homes for generations. Attempts were made, sometimes they were even successful, but those with the money had access to all of the repressive power of the state, including the legal system, army and police. This is one such example of what happened when the people tried to resist:
"The police struck with all their force", said eye witeness Donald Ross, "...not only when knocking down, but after the females were on the ground. They beat and kicked them while lying weltering in their own blood. Such was the brutality with which this tragedy was carried through, that more than 20 females were carried off the field in blankets and litters, and the appearance they presented, with their heads cut and bruised, their limbs mangled and their clothes clotted with blood, was such as would horrify any savage."
Just one example of many stories of brutality from across the Highlands.
Some people died in the evictions and resistance, others wasted away and died when they had no homes to go to and lived in a makeshift tent in their local churchyard. Starvation and cholera killed more Highlanders. As for the rest, some went south to the growing urban centres of the lowlands, but most (often followed by those who had gone south and struggled because of the huge populaation influx as a result of the Clearances) ended up boarding ships and heading for the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Depopulation never really stopped in these areas. In the mid eighteenth century, this part of Scotland was home to 20% of the population. Two centuries later, it was home to 3% of the population. And in many parts, the decline still continues today.
Some people think the Highlands are beautiful for their quiet tranquility. Maybe they don't notice the ruins of burnt out farm houses under their feet when they're looking at the peaceful scenery?
We in Ireland have had similar issues but not to the same scale as the highland clearances.
We also had a famine.