The Clearances in Sutherland
Ben Bhraggie stands some 750 metres above the green waters of the Dornoch firth. Atop this peak, rears a red sandstone effigy, standing on a pedestal some 23 metres high. His back is to the highland glens which he emptied of clansfolk. It faces the sea which he forced thousands of people to cross leaving their ancestoral homelands forever behind them. He is undoubtedly the most hated man in the Highlands. Even today this statue is daubed with graffiti and his grave is spat upon.
George Granville Leveson-Gower, second marquess os Stafford, third earl Gower and Viscount trentham, fouth Lord Gower of Stittenham in Yorkshire, eighth Baronet of the same place, and eventually the first Duke of Sutherland.
Born a delicate child in England in 1758, and described by his grandson as "notably dull" He goes on to say " I have searched in vain in his dispatches to find what manner of man he was. Neither have I heard that he ever did anything or said anything that was worth remembering" He is however remembered in the Highlands of Sutherland.
Lady Elizabeth Stafford, Countess of Sutherland. descirbed as 5 feet high, hair and brows light chestnut brown, noce well made, mouth small, chin round, forehead low, face rather small. She had been a Countess and Ban Mhorair Chataibh, the great lady of Sutherland since she was six years old.
In 1785 Elizabeth married George Granville Leveson-Gower and he inherited almost the whole of Sutherlandshire, thus becoming the richest and greatest landowner in all of Britain. With more than one Million acres and tens of thousands of tenants he drew a monumental income from rent of 900,000 pounds per annum. The land in Sutherland which George Granville Leveson-Gower married into comprised of some seventeen hundred and thirty five square miles, running from Cape Wrath to the Dornoc firth. For an estate of this size the rental return was minimal at little more than forty five thousand pounds per annum.
The Clans people of Sutherland were a hardy and proud race, largely cut off from outside influences by indifference and by the fact that there was not one single road in all the county. These people were farmers who scratched a living from their hash environment, breeding a few goats and black cattle, growing oats and potatoes and distilling highland whisky. They lived in crude huts made of sod and stone and in 1801 there were about twenty five thousand of them. They were scattered across this vast county in huddled townships and villages and were content with wjhat little they had.
Lord Stafford and Lady Elizabeth recruitred the services of a Mr William Young and Mr Patrick Sellar, with the view to making "improvements" to thier land. There was money to be made in sheep. Wool and mutton were in huge demand in the south and early trials proved their profitability to the Marquess. So began the Highland clearances.
The parishes of Farr and Lairg were the first to be affected. Ninety families were removed at Whitsun 1807. These people had to remove their cattle and furniture, leaving their crops still in the ground. They were forced to pull down their own houses and to carry away the timber to the land they were being reloacted to. This land consisted of scrapd of moor and bog land in the Dornoch moor and Brora where it was next to impossible to exist. Thios was a scene that was to be repeated over the next twenty years, however with time thses evictions became more ruthless and more and more violent as the inhumanity of the officers hired to execute these orders increased.
Young and Sellar acting on behalf of the marquess secured the support of the tacksmen (these men gathered the rents and were usually well regarded by the Highlanders) and the parish ministers, who advised the people to leave without protest, sternly warning them that is was the wish of their Clan Chief that they should obey her agents in all things.
Once the people had been cleared of course there was no need for the Tacksmen and they too found themselves being evicted by Young and Sellar, the men they worked for. In 1810 Young and Sellar turned their attention to the parishes of Assynt, Golspie, Loth, Clyne, Rogart and Dornoch and in the following two years a large portion of these parishes were almost entirely cleared.
A few took the miserable allotments offered to them and existed in great poverty. Many chose to emigrate. The clearances continued for many years, thousands of Highlanders were burnt out of their homes and left to perish in the chill winter weather of the highlands. If they resisted the army was called in to "assist" with the removals. Clans folk were scattered throughout the world as the dispossessed Highlanders left behind the land of their birth and emigrated to start a new life.
In July 1833 George Leveson-Gower died at Dunrobin castle. Six months Earlier he had been elevated to the position of "1st Duke of Sutherland" at a dinner party held by King William IV. He was buried at the Dornoch cathedral. The day of his funeral was ordered to be a day of fast for the tenantry, "under the highest displeasure of those in authority".
After the Funeral the late Duke's factors decided to take a collection so a suitable monument may be erected in his memory. (the statue on Ben Bhraggie) Some very questionable tactics were resorted to, to make the small tenants subscribe. All who could raise a shilling did so and those who could not, sat in fear of the consequences. In the Parishes of Assynt and Farr where evictions had been so bitter, the five hundred people remaining gave no more than 22 pounds and in Kildonan they could only raise 36 pounds. From the Ross-shire parish came the meagre sum of 6 pounds and this from only two people. There is today a petition being circulated requesting that the statute be removed from Ben Bhraggie, where it has stood since 1838 and the debate is raging on. That the first Duke caused so much suffering is unquestionable. But rather than see this statue as glorifying the Duke, many see it as a memorial to those who were forced to leave Sutherland never to return.
The Duke of Sutherland's statue on top of Ben Bhraggie.
At the outbreak of the Crimean war, Britain turned instinctively to the Highlands, where once thousands of men could be recruited into regiments to fight. However after the clearances it was a very differnet story. Certainly the population of young men able to fight had significantly dropped but more importantly the loyalty to the crown and the clan Chief had gone. The writer Donald Ross wrote of it thus :
"In Sutherland not one single soldier can be raised. Captaion Craigie, the Dukes factor, a free church mnister and a moderate minister, have been piping for volunteers and recruits and yet after many threats on the part of the factor, and sweet music on the part of the Parsons, the military spirit of the Sutherland serfs could not be raised to fighting power" In reponse the Men of Sutherland told the Parsons " We have no country to fight for. You robbed us of our country and gave it to the sheep. Therefore since you preferred sheep to men, Let sheep defend you"
The current chief of clan Sutherland. Elizabeth Sutherland-Leveson-Gower
is the Countess of Sutherland in her own right, and the twenty fourth holder of this title. She is also the third woman and the third Elizabeth to inherit the Earldom. She is married to Mr Charles Janson and they have three sons and a daughter. the eldest son, Alastair, Lord Strthnaver is heir to the Earldom.
On a personal note, I find it Ironic that the current Countess hosts a Clan Sutherland gathering bi-annually at Dunrobin. After her forbears had scattered the clan around the world with such disregard for those they were supposed to support and protect. I for one would certainly never attend. Even after two hundred years this clan Sutherland decendent still find the actions of the First Duke despicable in the extreme.