The Clearance of Rannoch and Breadalbane

from Alexander MacKenzie's History of the Highland Clearances, 2nd edition, 1914

Project Gutenberg eBook 51271


Regarding the state of matters in this district a correspondent writes us as follows:—I am very glad to learn that you are soon to publish a new edition of your “Highland Clearances.” You have done good work already in rousing the conscience of the public against the conduct of certain landlords in the Highlands, who long ere now should have been held up to public scorn and execration, as the best means of deterring others from pursuing a policy which has been so fatal to the best interests of our beloved land.... And now, if I am not too late, I should like to direct your attention to a few authenticated facts connected with two districts in the Highlands, that I am familiar with, and which facts you may utilise, though I shall merely give notes.

In 1851 the population of the district known as the quoad sacra parish of Rannoch numbered altogether 1800; at the census of 1881 it was below 900. Even in 1851 it was not nearly what it was earlier. Why this constant decrease? Several no doubt left the district voluntarily; but the great bulk of those who left were evicted.

Take, first, the Slios Min, north side of Loch Rannoch. Fifty years ago the farm of Ardlarich, near the west end, was tenanted by three farmers, who were in good circumstances. These were turned out to make room for one large farmer, who was rouped out last year, penniless; and the farm is now tenantless. The next place, further east, is the township of Killichoan, containing about thirty to forty houses, with small crofts attached to each. The crofters here are very comfortable and happy, and their houses and crofts are models of what industry, thrift and good taste can effect. Further east is the farm of Liaran, now tenantless. Fifty years ago it was farmed by seven tenants who were turned out to make room for one man, and that at a lower rent than was paid by the former tenants. Further, in the same direction, there are Aulich, Craganour, and Annat, every one of them tenantless. These three farms, lately in the occupation of one tenant, and for which he paid a rental of £900, at one time maintained fifty to sixty families in comfort, all of whom have vanished, or were virtually banished from their native land.

It is only right to say that the present proprietor is not responsible for the eviction of any of the smaller tenants; the deed was done before he came into possession. On the contrary, he is very kind to his crofter tenantry, but unfortunately for him he inherits the fruits of a bad policy which has been the ruin of the Rannoch estates.

Then take the Slios Garbh, south-side of Loch Rannoch. Beginning in the west-end, we have Georgetown, which, about fifty years ago, contained twenty-five or twenty-six houses, every one of which were knocked down by the late laird of Struan, and the people evicted. The crofters of Finnart were ejected in the same way. Next comes the township of Camghouran, a place pretty similar to Killichoan, but smaller. The people are very industrious, cleanly, and fairly comfortable, reflecting much credit upon themselves and the present proprietor. Next comes Dall, where there used to be a number of tenants, but now in the hands of the proprietor, an Englishman. The estate of Innerhaden comes next. It used to be divided into ten lots—two held by the laird, and eight by as many tenants. The whole is now in the hands of one family. The rest of Bun-Rannoch includes the estates of Dalchosnie, Lassintullich, and Crossmount, where there used to be a large number of small tenants—most of them well-to-do—but now held by five.

Lastly, take the north side of the river Dubhag, which flows out from Loch Rannoch, and is erroneously called the Tummel. Kinloch, Druimchurn, and Druimchaisteil, always in the hands of three tenants, are now held by one. Drumaglass contains a number of small holdings, with good houses on many of them. Balmore, which always had six tenants in it, has now only one, the remaining portion of it being laid out in grass parks. Ballintuim, with a good house upon it, is tenantless. Auchitarsin, where there used to be twenty houses, is now reduced to four. The whole district from, and including, Kinloch to Auchitarsin belongs to General Sir Alastair Macdonald of Dalchosnie, Commander of Her Majesty’s Forces in Scotland. His father, Sir John, during his life, took a great delight in having a numerous, thriving, and sturdy tenantry on the estates of Dalchosnie, Kinloch, Lochgarry, Dunalastair, and Morlaggan. On one occasion his tenant of Dalchosnie offered to take from Sir John on lease all the land on the north side of the river. “Ay, man,” said he, “you would take all that land, would you, and turn out all my people! Who would I get, if my house took fire, to put it out?”

The present proprietor has virtually turned out the great bulk of those that Sir John had loved so well. Though, it is said, he did not evict any man directly, he is alleged to have made their positions so hot for them that they had to leave. Sir John could have raised hundreds of Volunteers on his estates—men who would have died for the gallant old soldier. But how many could be now raised by his son? Not a dozen men; though he goes about inspecting Volunteers and praising the movement officially throughout the length and breadth of Scotland.

The author of the New Statistical Account, writing of the Parish of Fortingall, of which the district referred to by our correspondent forms a part, says:—“At present [1838] no part of the parish is more populous than it was in 1790; whereas in several districts, the population has since decreased one-half; and the same will be found to have taken place, though not perhaps in so great a proportion, in most or all of the pastoral districts of the county.”

According to the census of 1801 the population was 3875; in 1811, 3236; in 1821, 3189; in 1831, 3067; and in 1881 it was reduced to 1690.

Upwards of 120 families, the same writer says, “crossed the Atlantic from this parish, since the previous Account was drawn up [in 1791], besides many individuals of both sexes; while many others have sought a livelihood in the Low Country, especially in the great towns of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Perth, Crieff, and others. The system of uniting several farms together, and letting them to one individual, has more than any other circumstance” produced this result.


Mr. R. Alister, author of Barriers to the National Prosperity of Scotland, had a controversy with the Marquis of Breadalbane in 1853, about the eviction of his tenantry. In a letter, dated July of that year, Mr. Alister made a charge against his lordship which, for obvious reasons, he never attempted to answer, as follows:—

“Your lordship states that in reality there has been no depopulation of the district. This, and other parts of your lordship’s letter, would certainly lead any who know nothing of the facts to suppose that there had been no clearings on the Breadalbane estates; whereas it is generally believed that your lordship removed, since 1834, no less than 500 families! Some may think this is a small matter; but I do not. I think it is a great calamity for a family to be thrown out, destitute of the means of life, without a roof over their heads, and cast upon the wide sea of an unfeeling world. In Glenqueich, near Amulree, some sixty families formerly lived, where there are now only four or five; and in America, there is a glen inhabited by its ousted tenants, and called Glenqueich still. Yet, forsooth, it is maintained there has been no depopulation here! The desolations here look like the ruins of Irish cabins, although the population of Glenqueich were always characterised as being remarkably thrifty, economical, and wealthy. On the Braes of Taymouth, at the back of Drummond Hill, and at Tullochyoule, some forty or fifty families formerly resided, where there is not one now! Glenorchy, by the returns of 1831, showed a population of 1806; in 1841, 831;—is there no depopulation there? Is it true that in Glenetive there were sixteen tenants a year or two ago, where there is not a single one now? Is it true, my lord, that you purchased an island on the west coast, called Luing, where some twenty-five families lived at the beginning of this year, but who are now cleared off to make room for one tenant, for whom an extensive steading is now being erected? If my information be correct, I shall allow the public to draw their own conclusions; but, from every thing that I have heard, I believe that your lordship has done more to exterminate the Scottish peasantry than any man now living; and perhaps you ought to be ranked next to the Marquis of Stafford in the unenviable clearing celebrities. If I have over-estimated the clearances at 500 families, please to correct me.” As we have already said, his lordship thought it prudent, and by far the best policy, not to make the attempt.

In another letter the same writer says:—

“You must be aware that your late father raised 2300 men during the last war, and that 1600 of that number were from the Breadalbane estates. My statement is, that 150 could not now be raised. Your lordship has most carefully evaded all allusion to this,—perhaps the worst charge of the whole. From your lordship’s silence I am surely justified in concluding that you may endeavour to evade the question, but you dare not attempt an open contradiction. I have often made inquiries of Highlanders on this point, and the number above stated was the highest estimate. Many who should know, state to me that your lordship would not get fifty followers from the whole estates; and another says:—‘Why, he would not get half-a-dozen, and not one of them unless they could not possibly do otherwise.’ This, then, is the position of the question: in 1793-4, there was such a numerous, hardy, and industrious population on the Breadalbane estates, that there could be spared of valorous defenders of their country in her hour of danger, 1600; highest estimate now, 150; highest banished, 1450. Per contra—Game of all sorts increased a hundred-fold.”

In 1831, Glenorchy, of which his lordship of Breadalbane was proprietor, was 1806; in 1841 it was reduced to 831. Those best acquainted with the Breadalbane estates assert that on the whole property no less than 500 families, or about 2500 souls, were driven into exile by the hard-hearted Marquis of that day.

It is, however, gratifying to know that the present Lord Breadalbane, who is descended from a different and remote branch of the family, is an excellent landlord, and takes an entirely different view of his duties and relationship to the tenants on his vast property.


Glenorchy, of which the Marquis of Breadalbane is sole proprietor, was, like many other places, ruthlessly cleared of its whole native population. The writer of the New Statistical Account of the Parish, in 1843, the Rev. Duncan Maclean, “Fior Ghael” of the Teachdaire, informs us that the census taken by Dr. Webster in 1755, and by Dr. MacIntyre forty years later, in 1795, “differ exceedingly little,” only to the number of sixty. The Marquis of the day, it is well known, was a good friend of his reverence; the feeling was naturally reciprocated, and one of the apparent results is that the reverend author abstained from giving, in his Account of the Parish, the population statistics of the Glenorchy district. It was, however, impossible to pass over that important portion of his duty altogether, and, apparently with reluctance, he makes the following sad admission:—“A great and rapid decrease has, however, taken place since [referring to the population in 1795]. This decrease is mainly attributable to the introduction of sheep, and the absorption of small into large tenements. The aboriginal population of the parish of Glenorchy (not of Inishail) has been nearly supplanted by adventurers from the neighbouring district of Breadalbane, who now occupy the far largest share of the parish. There are a few, and only a few, shoots from the stems that supplied the ancient population. Some clans, who were rather numerous and powerful, have disappeared altogether; others, viz., the Downies, Macnabs, Macnicols, and Fletchers, have nearly ceased to exist. The Macgregors, at one time lords of the soil, have totally disappeared; not one of the name is to be found among the population. The Macintyres, at once time extremely numerous, are likewise greatly reduced.”

By this nobleman’s mania for evictions, the population of Glenorchy was reduced from 1806 in 1831 to 831 in 1841, or by nearly a thousand souls in the short space of ten years! It is, however, gratifying to find that it has since, under wiser management, very largely increased.

In spite of all this we have been seriously told that there has been no DEPOPULATION OF THE COUNTY in the rural districts. In this connection some very extraordinary public utterances were recently made by two gentlemen closely connected with the county of Argyll, questioning or attempting to explain away statements, made in the House of Commons by Mr. D. H. Macfarlane, M.P., to the effect that the rural population was, from various causes, fast disappearing from the Highlands. These utterances were—one by a no less distinguished person that the Duke of Argyll, who published his remarkable propositions in the Times; the other by Mr. John Ramsay, M.P., the Islay distiller, who imposed his baseless statement on his brother members in the House of Commons. These oracles should have known better. They must clearly have taken no trouble whatever to ascertain the facts for themselves, or, having ascertained them, kept them back that the public might be misled on a question with which, it is obvious to all, the personal interests of both are largely mixed up.

Let us see how the assertions of these authorities agreed with the actual facts. In 1831 the population of the county of Argyll was 100,973; in 1841 it was 97,371; in 1851 it was reduced to 88,567; and in 1881 it was down to 76,468. Of the latter number the Registrar-General classifies 30,387 as urban, or the population of “towns and villages,” leaving us only 46,081 as the total rural population of the county of Argyll at the date of the last Census, in 1881. In 1911 the total population for the county had dropped to 70,902.

It will be necessary to keep in mind that in 1831 the county could not be said to have had many “town and village” inhabitants—not more than from 12,000 to 15,000 at most. These resided chiefly in Campbeltown, Inveraray, and Oban; and if we deduct from the total population for that year, numbering 100,973, even the larger estimate, 15,000 of an urban or town population, we have still left, in 1831, an actual rural population of 85,973, or within a fraction of double the whole rural population of the county in 1881. In other words, the rural population of Argyllshire was reduced in fifty years from 85,973 to 46,081, or nearly by one-half.

The increase of the urban or town population is going on at a fairly rapid rate; Campbeltown, Dunoon, Oban, Ballachulish, Blairmore, and Strone, Innellan, Lochgilphead, Tarbet, and Tighnabruaich, combined, having added no less than some 5500 to the population of the county in the ten years from 1871 to 1881. These populous places will be found respectively in the parishes of Campbeltown, Lismore, and Appin, Dunoon and Kilmun, Glassary, Kilcalmonell and Kilbery, and in Kilfinan; and this will at once account for the comparatively good figure which these parishes make in the tabulated statement in the Appendix. That table will show exactly in which parishes and at what rate depopulation progressed during the last fifty years. In many instances the population was larger prior to 1831 than at that date, but the years given will generally give the best idea of how the matter stood throughout that whole period. The state of the population given in 1831 was before the famine which occurred in 1836; while that in 1841 comes in between that of 1836 and 1846-47, during which period large numbers were sent away, or left for the Colonies. There was no famine between 1851 and 1881, a time during which the population was reduced from 88,567 to 76,468, notwithstanding the great increase which took place simultaneously in the “town and village” section of the people in the county, as well as throughout the country generally.



In his interesting volume entitled Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Gael, Mr. Duncan Campbell, for over twenty-six years editor of the Northern Chronicle, writes as follows with regard to the Breadalbane Evictions:—

As second Marquis, “the son of his father,” contrary to all prognostications, became, as soon as expiring leases permitted it, an evicting landlord on a large scale, and he continued to pursue the policy of joining farm to farm, and turning out native people, to the end of his twenty-eight years’ reign. But like the first spout of the haggis, his first spout of evicting energy was the hottest. I saw with childish sorrow, impotent wrath, and awful wonder at man’s inhumanity to man, the harsh and sweeping Roro and Morenish clearances, and heard much talk about others which were said to be as bad if not worse. A comparison of the census returns for 1831 with those of 1861 will show how the second Marquis reduced the rural population on his large estates, while the inhabitants of certain villages were allowed, or, as at Aberfeldy, encouraged to increase. When such a loud and long-continued outcry took place about the Sutherland clearances, it seems at first sight strange that such small notice was taken by the Press, authors, and contemporary politicians, of the Breadalbane evictions, and that the only set attack on the Marquis should have been left to the vainglorious, blundering, Dunkeld coal merchant, who added the chief-like word “Dunalastair” to his designation. One reason—perchance the chief one—for the Marquis’s immunity was the prominent manner in which he associated himself with the Nonintrusionists, and his subsequently becoming an elder and a liberal benefactor of the Free Church. He had a Presbyterian upbringing, and lived in accordance with that upbringing. His Free Church zeal may, therefore, have been as genuine as he wished it to be believed; but whether simply real or partly simulated, it covered as with a saintly cloak his evictions proceedings in the eyes of those who would have been his loud denouncers and scourging critics had he been an Episcopalian or remained in the Church of Scotland. The people he evicted, and all of us, young and old, who were witnesses of the clearances, could not give him much credit for any good in what seemed to us the purely hard and commercial spirit of the policy which he carried out as the owner of a princely Highland property. Such of the witnesses of the clearances as have lived to see the present desolation of rural baronies on the Breadalbane estates can now charitably assume that, had he foreseen what his land-management policy was to lead up to, he would, at least, have gone about his thinning-out business in a more cautious, kindly, and considerate manner, and not rudely cut, as he did, the precious ties of hereditary mutual sympathy and reliance which had long existed between the lords and the native Highland people of Breadalbane.

It is quite true that in 1834 the population on the Breadalbane estate needed thinning. The old Marquis had made a great mistake in dividing holdings which were too small before, in order to make room for Fencible soldiers who were not, as eldest sons, heirs to existing holdings. In twenty years, congestion to an alarming extent was the natural result of the old man’s mistaken kindness. There was indeed a good deal of congestion before that mistake was committed, although migration and emigration helped to keep it within some limits. Emigration would have proceeded briskly from 1760 onwards had it not been discouraged by landlords who found the fighting manhood on their estates a valuable asset; and when not positively prohibited, emigration was impeded in various ways by the Government, now alive to the value of Highlands and Isles as a nursery of soldiers and sailors. Although discouraged and impeded, emigration was never wholly stopped, and after Waterloo Glenlyon, Fortingall, and Breadalbane, Rannoch, Strathearn and Balquhidder, sent off swarms to Canada, the United States, and the West Indies. A large swarm from Breadalbane, Lochearnhead, and Balquhidder went off to Nova Scotia about 1828, and got Gaelic-speaking ministers to follow them. In 1829 a great number of Skyemen from Lord Macdonald’s estate went to Cape Breton, where Gaelic is the language of the people and pulpit to this day. The second Marquis of Breadalbane would have won for himself lasting glory and honour, and done his race and country valuable service, if he had chosen to place himself at the head of an emigration scheme for his surplus people, instead of merely driving them away, and further trampling on their feelings by letting the big farms he made by clearing out the native population to strangers in race, language, and sympathies. He was rich, childless, and gifted, and he utterly missed his vocation, or grand chance for gaining lasting fame among the children of the Gael.

At a later period of my life than this of which I am now writing, I looked into many kirk session books, and found that those of the parishes of Kenmore and Killin indicated a worse state of matters in Breadalbane than existed in any of the neighbouring parishes. Pauperism was increasing at a rapid rate, although it was a notorious fact that rents there were lower than on other Highland estates. The old Marquis was never a rack-renter. Other proprietors, when leases terminated, took more advantage than he did of a chance to raise rents, and when once raised they strove ever afterwards to keep them up. But I do not wonder that his son thought that if things were allowed to go on as he found them on succeeding to titles and estates, a general bankruptcy would soon be the result. Without ceasing to regret and detest his methods, I learned to see the reasonableness of the second Marquis’s view of the alarming situation. The population had simply outgrown the means of decent subsistence from the carefully cultivated small holdings which were the general rule. Had it not been for the frugality and self-helpfulness of the people, the crisis of general poverty would have come when the inflated war prices ceased, or at least in the short-crop year of 1826, when the corn raised in Breadalbane, although the hillsides were cultivated as far up as any cereal crop could be expected to ripen in the most favourable season, did not supply meal enough for two-thirds of the people. But the “calanas” of the women, especially as long as flax-spinning continued in a flourishing condition, brought in a good deal of money; and for many years “Calum a Mhuilin” (Calum of the Mill), otherwise Malcolm Campbell, road contractor, Killin, led out a host of young men to make roads in various parts of the country, and these returned with their earnings to spend the winter at home. These sources of profit were beginning to dry up when the old Marquis died.

What came of the dispersed? The least adventurous or poorest of them slipped away into the nearest manufacturing town, or mining districts where there was a demand for unskilled labourers. There some of them flourished, but not a few of them foundered. The larger portion of them emigrated to Canada, mainly to the London district of Ontario, where they cleared forest farms, cherished their Gaelic language and traditions, prospered, and hated the Marquis more, perhaps, than he rightly deserved when things were looked at from his own hard political-economy point of view.