Tragic Highland Clearances, Chapter 4:Murder of Ross women, clearance mythology?, final thoughts.

İThe Tragic Highland Clearances

Chapter 5 : Murder of Ross women; Clearance mythology?; legacy & final thoughts.

by Robert M Gunnİ
All Rights Reserved, by all international copyright law exclusively to the author and İSkye-Net, RM Gunn

Chapter Five: Conclusion

Many Islands and rural areas were completely depopulated to make way for deer and sheep. The Highlander became very wary of their landlords and motives.....but not wary enough, as the landlords kept developing new schemes to trick the people into leaving the land. And, if they didn't leave, they burned them out or killed them (on more than one occasion).


On the Islands of Barra and South Uist, people were called to special meetings by their landlord, Gordon of Cluny, with the notion that the meetings were about discussing fair rents. They were threatened with a two pound fine (a hugh sum then) if they didn't attend the meetings.

After the clansmen and clanswomen arrived they were tied hand and foot, thrown unceremoniously into ramshackle hellships and sent to America with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Even the sheep were treated with more dignity and humanity.

The Slaughter at Greenyards (Strathcarron) - (Also known as Massacre of the Ross Women.)

The story nearly reaches its blood-thirsty climax in 1854, the year of the great killing of the women of the Rosses, which once more, like the Skye evictions, had nothing to do with the chiefs anymore.

That year it was decided to clear the Greenyards in Strathcarron. The landlord was Alexander Munro, and rumor began to spread that he intended to evict his tenants. When questioned directly by some of them, he emphatically denied it and said no warrants would ever be applied for in his name.

However, twice writs of eviction were attempted to be delivered to the people, mostly women and children, but the Ross women were prepared -- at least initially.

The Ross females had received word that men were on their way with writs of eviction and they ambushed the two men along the road. The females laid hold of one agent named Macpherson, searched his pockets, took out the summons' and burnt them. Then they let the men go. But the agents, probably to save face, offered a very different story to the court stating they'd been attacked by a 'mob or a number of disorderly persons' who threw them to the ground.

Two weeks later another attempt was made to deliver the summons. This time three men came out of a tavern shouting they were sheriffs officers on their way to 'warn out' the tenants of Greenyards. In fact they might have been drunk to announce their own premature arrival, but they were there to deliver the writs. They were intercepted by the women and some children and were promptly challenged.

They lost some of their bravado then. They begged to be let go -- they claimed they were just excisemen. But the women were steadfast and said no mere excisemen would practise such a cruel trick. One of the men got nervous and foolishly pulled out a pistol. A boy "seeing the gauger's pistol levelled at his mother's head, took out an old rusty pistol he had for scaring away crows and told the man that if he dare meddle with his mother, he must stand the consequences." The men all ran from Strathcarron. But the story they told their superiors was one of resistance against heavy odds and riots. They made themselves look very noble by not wanting to "oppose the females."

On 31 March, after fortifying their courage with "baskets full of alcoholic liquors, of which they drank copiously, " the constables from Ross and Inverness set off to clear the Greenyards. They were met by the women, who protested that their landlord had given them assurances that they would not be cleared. The procurator (a man named Taylor) began to read aloud the Riot Act to the women, although a witness claimed that the Riot Act was neither read much less produced.

The women did not budge. Taylor gave the order "Knock them down!", and get on with the job. In the nineteenth year of Queen Victoria's reign the police, armed with truncheons, set about beating the Ross women.

"The police struck with all their force", said eyewiteness 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."
[D. Ross]

A woman of fifty, Christy Ross, was beaten up by three constables, kicked on the head and kicked again on the breasts. She was kicked again by nailed boots on her face, breasts and shoulders. Due to the extent of her injuries, she went completely insane; in short, a maniac.

When Anne Ross, 40, was knocked down she cried out "Murder!" and another officer came up, said, "I'll put you to crying!" and he beat her as she lay on the ground. She was beaten senseless. Another woman tried to help Anne and was struck three violent blows on her breasts with truncheons. She tried to hide in a bush but was kicked in the head till she crawled out. The police knelt on her breasts in order to handcuff her.

It went on....

Another woman was so terribly beaten in the head that in prison it was discovered she's lost all of her mental faculties. Yet another was beaten, knocked down and kicked in the breasts. The batons left deep cuts, some 3 and 3/4 inches long on her head. Her scalp was torn away, revealing shattered frontal and parietal bones. Marks of hobnails remained on her breasts for days afterwards. She was, or had been, a pretty woman but now,

"Her long hair, clotted with blood, could be seen in quantities all over the ploughed land."

It was said she died later.

Her sister, Janet, ran forward to protect her, but was struck on the shins and then.

"...the policemen rolled her over onto the ploughed land and there she was with her face in the earth and the blood gushing from her wounds in her head and shoulders."

A woman of forty-seven, the mother of seven children, was clubbed to death on the spot, and a young girl was kicked savagely on the breasts and then the crotch. An eyewitness said :

"Had Naomi [the young girl] been wandering on the banks of the Danube and been ill-used there, I could understand it; but in Christian Scotland to be butchered alive, who can think about it without a blush of shame?"

An elderly man of sixty-eight, a veteran of Waterloo, who tried to help was knocked down and kicked on the ground until senseless. Two young boys were chased and attacked for allegedly throwing stones, and one was clubbed into insensibility.

David Munro, a man from Culrain, gave the police the only serious resistance they had to face. He was attacked by three constables, and struck on the head by the first. "He seized the policeman by the waist and pitched him 5 yards", and then the other two officers beat him to unconsciousness.

The list of injuries in the fifteen minutes of insane violence goes on and on....

The police having done their intended work, burned down the houses, took prisoners back to the Tain jail where they were charged with rioting and disorderly behaviour!

The whole story of the clearances fills a book or volumes of books. What is important is that these were crimes, cloaked by the authority of the law, committed by Scotsmen against Scotsmen and Scotswomen, often at the instigation of others.

Parliament did nothing about it, although it was widely reported in the press. But much of the Press made it clear they didn't believe the story. The "Inverness Courier" refused to carry the story at all. The only cry that went up in that year, 1854, even after the the killing of the Ross women, was when parliament and country asked "Where are the Highlanders?", when it was learned that only three Highland Regiments were fighting in the Crimea.

The answer is they had been driven out of their glens in Scotland. Those that remained, after hearing of the brutal atrocities committed on the families, were reluctant to serve a country which treated their families as worse then vermin.

Of the thirty-three infantry battalions that were sent to the Crimea, only three were Highland -- the 42nd, the 79th and the 93rd. By autumn, when Colin Campbell's Highland "Brigade" at Balaclava consisted only of 93rd Sutherlanders, the bewildered British Government and Parliament again asked,

"Where are the Highland Regiments?"

The recruitment of the Highlander had begun to fall completely. Now that the rents were high, the people no longer lived there, for over fifty years, evictions for profit had dispersed them to all corners of the world and had destroyed the old influence of the chiefs.

" My people have been set wandering" said the bard Callum Campbell MacPhial, "many are the places to which they have been scattered..."

"When the strife begins
the poor man will be needed
the gentry will be calling for him
over the face of the hills.
Echo will answer
'Do not be afraid in this day of stress,
when you have an abundance of hornless sheep.' "

With typical lack of tact or perception, the Duke of Sutherland, when asked to raise more Highlanders for the war in Russia, sent factor James Loch into Sutherland to get volunteers. He was despised only less than Patrick Sellar and Lord and Lady Stafford themselves. After six weeks he returned with no volunteers. Donald Ross wrote of it:

"In Sutherland not one soldier can be raised. Captain Craigie, R.N., the Duke's factor, a Free Church minister and a moderate minister, have been piping the days 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 poor Sutherland serfs could not be raised to fighting power. The men 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 have preferred sheep to men, let sheep defend you!"

Sunny Vs Gloomy Memories

In 1856, only two years after the slaughter of the Ross women, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote "Sunny Memories." She had twice been the honoured guest of the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland - yes, the Marquess of Stafford had been rewarded for his philanthropy by being given a dukedom and was insensitive enough to take the name of a county where his own name was cursed. To this day, there is a hugh statue to the Most Noble Marquess, built by his tenant Highlanders - under orders, standing in front of Dunrobin Castle.

In "Sunny Memories", Harriet Beecher Stowe cames hotly to the defence of her friend the 2nd Duchess of Sutherland. This was the woman who wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin" because of the plight of American Negores had aroused her anger. Like Queen Victoria, who also visited Dunrobin Castle but failed to see the significance of the empty glens, she could find nothing but good to say about the Duke and his Duchess.

One of the Highlanders I've been quoting, Donald MacLeod, now from the safety of Canada, responded with "Gloomy Memories". In it he agreed that the Duchess of Sutherland would never have dreamed of doing any harm to any person (he had a weakness for her Ladyship), at least anymore than her despised mother, the 1st Duchess.

Nevertheless, he pointed out, it had all been done in their names, with their money and with their knowledge. The fact that they had others willing to dirty their hands in the grim work didn't exonerate those who employed them.

The whole appears to have been simply about money. Alasdair MacDonell couldn't play-act the Highlander nearly as much as he wanted without selling his lands - thus his clansmen; the Countess of Sutherland's estates were poor in comparison to her new husbands and she wanted more. "Improving" the Highlands meant improving rents, the yield from the land. It had nothing to do with improving ecology, and least of all with improving the lot of the people. It even had more sinister motives than money, it was about removal of a race of old, outmoded Celtic people, who were in the way of 'progress'.

The end of the Highlands as a separate history comes, then, in 1854, after which the Highlanders were regarded somewhat contemptuously as simpletons, when not serving in the army. Thereafter, they (or those that were left) became British, and in theory the law would protect them -- the same law which evicted them.

As Prebble so aptly stated:

"The Lowlander has inherited the hills, the tartan is a shroud."

A Final Thought On the Clans

Much has been made by some of the nature of the clan system. It has been subjected to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and even over-glorification. But however we, as modern individuals, look at the ancient clan system, we are not likely to look at it in the same manner in which a 16 or 17th century clansman did.

The system, with all its imperfections and faults had been in existence for possibly a thousand years. It was one of the last remnants of an older Celtic society which has now gone on towards "progress", and in its wake, we either misunderstand it by applying our values to it, or cherish it for the apparent freedom it gives the individual. Simply, it was a means of survival and a method of keeping the members of an often feuding family in line. It was not perfect, what human institution is? But it had worth and value to the people it served and who served it. It had a purpose.

The clan did contribute to the happiness and well-being of the people -- certainly more than less. Much will depend on which century is being considered, as well as which corner of the Highlands. But overall the clan was not lagging behind other basic human institutions of the times. It may have appeared that way to outsiders, but the clan system lasted far longer than many small kingdoms and countries.

Old Clansman

The clans had respect for the indiviual and respected their dignity as well. At the height of the clan system, evey clansmen, however humble, had his part to play in the clans'life. Others depended on him as he did on others. The system, the institution, made this essential.

The institution was certainly not perfect. Men are not perfect, and their institutions cannot hope to be. But the clan stands up well against the institutions of the so-called civilised, prejudiced, ignorant, supercilious and careless people who despised all things Highland -- whether they were other Scots from other areas of Scotland, foreign English or visitors from other countries.

Perhaps a lasting tribute to the clans is the fact that they still exist, albeit with a very limited and modified power structure, all over the world today. They exist now out of our hearts desire and our want of the old clan system -- not out of survival -- and perhaps this is another example of validation of its importance to the clans descendants.

The world has indeed benefited from the infusion of Highland blood all over the world -- but it's tragic so many had to suffer so terribly for us to get where we are today. It wasn't necessary and shouldn't be forgotten or dismissed.

Let us not let the memory of the Highland Clearances die - please preserve and keep the history alive.

Clearances History: Conspiracy of Silence or Denial?

In my years of studying Scottish history, there have always been a few incidents that ruffle the feathers of Scottish historians, writers and Scots in general. Being of Scottish blood and education, but remaining an American citizen, I am in a somewhat unique position to tell the history of my hearts true home. Few subjects in Scottish history disturb Scots more than Glencoe, the dislike of Highlander and Lowlander in the past, and most of all, the Highland Clearances. Being of stubborn Highland blood, I wrote about the first two topics early on in my writing career.

I've taken my share of lumps for my efforts and I've made some Scots upset. But telling the non-sugar coated history of Scotland has been worth every lump. Telling the truth of history, to the best of ones ability, even the blackest side, is the most important aspect of history to tell. How do we as humans ever hope to progress beyond our natural prejudices and close-minded attitudes if we don't admit our own faults and short-comings. We are after all, only human.

In researching for this Clearacnes history, I have made a startling discovery which doesn't, unfortunaltely, truly surpise me, but bothers me deeply. The sources for in-depth and reliable, accurate information on the Clearances is tragically small. The prestigious "Encyclopedia Brittianica" has only several paragraphs on the subject and only mentions one of the clearances -- the worst of them -- the Sutherland clearances. But even there they give only the minutest of details and quickly rush to another topic. It is hardly worth reading. The 'Collin's Encyclopedia of Scotland', a very expensive and large volume printed and published in London has a surprisingly poor section on the Highland clearances. Of course it was not written for the Highlander. They go into detail about Acts and Statutes and some dates.....but the meat of the subject is glossed over from all but the opening paragraph. It is glossed over so badly it almost gives the (intended) impression that the Highland clearances were just an unfortunate occurrence which was due primarily to economic concerns. It mentions evictions and some brutality but gives no specifics, less we empathize with them too much. It also left this author with an impression that if the Highlander had not been so emotional and been the backwards Gael he was, it need not have been so traumatic. That is the inference this author picks up from reading their cold and "blameless" explanatons.

I was very disappointed to see this tome take a distant attitude such as this, but is an encyclopedia for modern Scots more than anything -- and that means Lowland Scots for the greater part. They mention the large names -- Cheviot sheep; Countess of Sutherland; Patrick Sellar; James Loch, etcetera. But there isn't one reference to the forced evictions turned violent - not one mention of beatings, riots, killing of the Ross women; not one single negative remark that would make Scotland look bad. Even worse, the editors take the condescending attitude at the end of their first paragraph that it (the clearances) are:

"...fraught with emotive undertones and remains both sensitive and contentious."

This is a very pleasant way of conveying to the reader that far too may people are too emotional and quarrelsome about this whole (best forgotten) subject -- with no real reason -- and suggests that the clearances, (especially the Highland clearances) have been romanticised too much to discuss rationally, thus dismissing the subject. I find nothing 'romantic' about the brutality of the Highland clearances and all the violence and barbarity committed by the sheep interests from the south.

Later it states this regarding who was to blame:

" Whether the evil of the clearances can be attributed largely to the greed of the landlords depends partly on one's social perspective and partly the evidence selected. Estate records often contradict the popular polemics, let alone the later mythology; population figures contradict the notion that clearance boosted emigration."

So, it wasn't the fault of the chiefs or landlords; unless you are a poor pauper looking for social injustice. It suggests other 'evidence' but offers none of its own. It suggests that clever writers who have a forte with of the art of argument have misled folks to a "clearace mythology" and that the populations didn't really emigrate as much as has been suggested. This is the type of pompous, elitist, blameless history and cover-up that prompted me to write this history of the clearances.

It seems that too many Scottish history books are taking the 'safe' approach to the clearances, and simply writing as little as possible about it. The simple facts show from the beginning it was not just for economics but rather a systematic attempt to 'remove' the Celtic population of the Highlands. It was nearly genocide and no other word can explain the way those ancient Gael were treated. It was more than just brilliant economic for sheep, and those of us of Gael descent, already know it.

Whilst I'm not a psychologist, I do know denial when I read it, and Scotland and the U.K are still very much in denial about the Highland Clearances. It will never heal for the scattered Highlander descendants, present day Lowland Scots or even the English until it can be openly discussed and dealt with properly -- in all its gory colours. The clearances continue in subtle ways to this day.

Modern Clearances?

Some attempts have been made to repopulate the still nearly empty Highlands. But most of them involved grandiose schemes of building large factories in the Highlands where it makes more sense to have them in the Lowlands. A serious attempt was made in 1965 with the formation of the Highlands and Islands Development Board. It has had some positive effect, but it is not enough. Meanwhile, the lands of the Highlands and Islands are being bought by foreign investors and even now Scots do not own their own country - at least not in the Highlands and Islands. It may get worse as Highland land becomes a valuable commodity to rich investors from around the globe. In many ways, that is what started the clearances -- the selling off of the land for profit, and it is still happening. The Highlanders are a small and declining number with little political power or influence. If they cannot speak for themselves, then it must be said by their descendants.

More recently, there has been a negative effect of the enthusiatic response to the Highlands as a tourist area -- it is the arrival of what the Gaelic poet, Sorely Maclean, called the 'white settlers'. Some people from the Lowlands, and even more from England, have fallen in love with the area, and bought little cottages as holiday homes. Their arrival has raised the price of small houses beyond the means of local people, and a typical result is a town where so many of the village homes are owned, rehabilitated, by prosperous outsiders who only spend a few summer weeks in the North, that when the holiday season is over, the village almost dies from lack of population.

Another aspect of the 'white settlers' (moreso regarding the English settlers) is the racial prejudices brought with them into the Highlands and Islands. Some of them have brought hate and racial bigotry with the influx of new settlers and a very explosive racial divide sits in Scotland again. It recently became such a large problem in Scotland that a television programme was devoted to it, showing English 'White Settlers' (locals call themselves grey) saying very inflammatory and bigoted statements about the locals, including Lowland Scots. It is a cultural problem Scotland still has not faced or addressed and perhaps a realistic look at the Highland Clearances, attitudes, and Scotland's own role in it, can be a place to start.

The Future

After the end of the Highland clearances, Highland Scotland became a sad and empty desert, and to a large extent, it remains that way to this day. The emptiness of the Northern Highlands today, despite some valiant efforts by the Highland and Island Development Board, is still a lasting reminder of the clearances. New landowners have moved in, some of them big spenders from Europe, Asia, Arabia amd America; for the most part the are more interested in the land than the few people on it. The land is still a valuable commidity, the people are not. It sounds ominously familiar. And yet the depopulation of the Highlands can in the end only be solved by the Scots themselves -- if they truly want to solve it.

It is no doubt true that the Scots (Highlander and Lowlander) have excelled in the New World. Scots are tough, individualistic and have dogged determination. Highlander and Lowlander, men and women, have come to the fore in every conceivable industry and art. Science, invention, buisness, literature and art. Scots have arguably fared better in the "New Worlds" than they might have in the old country. Yet there is a desire, a need if you prefer, for us to be able to touch the homeland again; to feel the Highland air in our lungs, to know that our ancestral home is still there and still welcomes us to see her again. Even after some two centuries, The land and the Scot are bound, to each other in some way that only that Celts and Scots seem to understand. We need the Highlands in our hearts and minds -- it is already a permanent fixture in our souls.

== End of "The Tragic Highland Cleances"==

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