The clan system regarded the land as belonging to their community, worked areas being passed down through the family while additional lands could be rented. As the generations passed, the clan chiefs became more wealthy and detached from their kinsmen, regarding them as their effects rather than their family. By the 18th century it would have been hard to find a clan chief with the same accent as his clan, and harder still to find a clansman with any legal or humanitarian rights.
Agricultural ‘improvement’ by removing humans from their lands and replacing them with sheep was found to be very profitable across the Lowlands in the mid-1700s. The large Cheviot and Blackface sheep that were given the lands generated more wealth than the landowners could ever have squeezed from their clan tenants.
The people were told to fish at the coast and work the kelp to pay the rents for their new locations. They built themselves homes called crofts and their lifestyles became known as crofting.
The Lowland success encouraged an enormous, devastating ‘improvement’ by the traitor landowners all across the Highlands from 1785 which became known as ‘the Clearances’. Tens of thousands were pulled out of their townships and moved, impoverished, to the marginal areas. Because of the Napoleonic wars, emigration of potential soldiers was not encouraged; and there was money to made from recruits.
Bloodshed and betrayal in the Glens. Man’s inhumanity to man is brought sharply into focus as entire communities are swept away…
The evil Countess of Sutherland, for example, used the threat of clearances to blackmail every young man on her vast estates to enlist in her regiment. She then evicted their families later anyway.
There were two forms of clearance. Firstly came the relocation of people onto poor, coastal plots. From 1820, however, these areas were failing to provide any living. Kelp was not as saleable, fishing was poor yet rents were being pushed up. To cap it all came the 1844 potato famine.
New hardships from the first upheaval induced a second movement of people forced to attempt emigration. As the consequences of relocation were becoming apparent, insatiable landowners were still clearing and selling their estates without regard into the 1850s.