The Clearances retold at historical society

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Jim Henderson of Lamlash gave a talk on the Clearances in Scotland at the last meeting of the Arran Historical Society held on Monday March 16.

The Clearances started around 1700 in the Lowlands and continued up to 1830. Changing circumstances meant there were various reasons over the 130 years during the farming modernisation with the people concurring to it or resisting it. Jim’s appetite for the subject was whetted by his research into the history of Arran and the connection between Arran and the 18th and 19th immigration to Canada. He called his book, Arran to Canada – one way.

His education in the 40s and 50s did not mention the Clearances. He feels this is a very important subject and every Scot should be aware of the Clearances.

The island of Britain has the mostly infertile rocky Highlands isolated at the northern extremity. For centuries the Highland people had an independent lifestyle, based on loyalty to the clan, the chief and by the 17th century had a different religion, language and supported the Stewarts Scottish claimants to the British throne.

The people south in the Lowlands for centuries looked down and distrusted the Highlanders. The Highlanders in the west had Viking heritage following the Lord of the Isles, one of many leading Scottish families who undermined the power of the early Scottish Kings. They did support Robert the Bruce in the wars with England. Any other king who tried to ‘civilise’ them was distrusted and was fair game. They were considered to be very brave and loyal, fighting rather than talking to settle disputes.

In the 17th and 18th century their chiefs supported the Stewart dynasty which was on the wane. The Highlands and islands had a subsistence economy with one cash product, whisky, desired in the lowlands. Taxes imposed in the 18th century were used by the British state to finance continental wars. This caused smuggling on a large scale until the 19th century when whisky became a modernised industry.

They were also cruelly persecuted for their support of the Stewart dynasty from the Glencoe massacre in 1692 up to the Battle of Culloden in 1745.

Between 1620 and 1700, about 60,000 Scots immigrated to America, England, Europe and Ulster due to famine, religious freedom and modernisation. These were mostly Lowlanders. There were severe famines all over Europe when it is estimated that three million died, including an estimated 180,000 Scots.

During the 1700 the Lowlands were influenced by famines and then population growth, and accepted modern farming ideas earlier and over a longer time than the Highlands. The Lowlanders were more integrated with England but still retained a Scottish identity. There was political integration with the union of the parliaments in 1703 after the disastrous Darien Scheme.

During this time developments in science, farming, technology and government advanced. This was called the age of enlightenment. The advances were driven by many famous Scottish names and associated with Arran were the geologist James Hutton, who visited the island, and publisher Daniel MacMillan.

This was a time of population increase and industrial development which supported in the Lowlands initially gave employment. There were still influences and large unemployment when demand fell.

There were economics factors: employment – starting in 1707 with jute and hemp production – the end of the runrig farming system, the destruction of ‘fermtouns’ in the Lowlands, development of commercially viable farms and the potato famine in 1846.

After the defeat at Culloden immigration from the Highlands increased to avoid persecution, and after modernisation of farming destroyed the Highland way of life.

The long ocean voyages on the small sailing ships and the prevalence of aged, overcrowded conditions resulting in rampant disease has been recorded in detail, as one advance in Scotland had been education of many.

Jim related as an example the Arran immigrants of 1829 to Megantic who had a terrible voyage and immense hardship, and many other similar stories of Highlanders many of them displaced after 1745. The problems initially in Canada with a more extreme climate and integratation was only averted by help from the local Abenaki tribe.

On conclusion, Jim was thanked with round of applause. Due to the pandemic meetings of the historical society are all cancelled until further notice.