Highland ClearancesStarted by Admiral John Ross of Balnagowan Castle in Scotland in 1762 (although Maclean of Dunvegan had done some experimental work on Skye in 1732), the Highland Clearances consisted of the replacement of an ancient almost feudal system of land tenure with the rearing of sheep. As a result, many families living on a subsistence level were displaced.
The Highland Clearances had their roots in the failure of the Jacobite rebellion afer the Battle of Culloden in the 18th Century: subsequently, legislation was introduced which was apparently designed to destroy the simple way of life of the Highlanders. The traditional clan system in Scotland was subsequently broken up, destroying the supporting social structures of small holdings and cattle-droving.
Predominantly English and Lowland landlords, in partnership with ex-clan chiefs, 'encouraged', sometimes forcibly, the population to move off the land which was then given over to more profitable sheep farming. The people were accommodated in poor crofts or small farms in coastal areas where farming or fishing could not sustain the communities, or they were directly put on emigration ships.
As in Ireland, the potato crop failed in the early 19th Century, and a widespread outbreak of cholera further weakened the Highland population. The ongoing clearance policy resulted in starvation, deaths, and a secondary clearance, when families either migrated voluntarily or were forcibly evicted. There were many deaths of children and old people. As there were few alternatives, many emigrated, joined the British army, or moved to the growing urban cities, like Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee in Lowland Scotland. In many areas people were given economic incentives to move, but few historians dispute that there were also many instances where violent methods were used by the landlords to clear the indigeous population. Elizabeth, First Countess of Sutherland and her factor were especially cruel and their names are reviled in Sutherland to this day.
Donald McLeod, a Sutherland crofter, later wrote about the events he witnessed:
The consternation and confusion were extreme. Little or no time was given for the removal of persons or property; the people striving to remove the sick and the helpless before the fire should reach them; next, struggling to save the most valuable of their effects. The cries of the women and children, the roaring of the affrighted cattle, hunted at the same time by the yelling dogs of the shepherds amid the smoke and fire, altogether presented a scene that completely baffles description -- it required to be seen to be believed.
A dense cloud of smoke enveloped the whole country by day, and even extended far out to sea. At night an awfully grand but terrific scene presented itself -- all the houses in an extensive district in flames at once. I myself ascended a height about eleven o'clock in the evening, and counted two hundred and fifty blazing houses, many of the owners of which I personally knew, but whose present condition -- whether in or out of the flames -- I could not tell. The conflagration lasted six days, till the whole of the dwellings were reduced to ashes or smoking ruins. During one of these days a boat actually lost her way in the dense smoke as she approached the shore, but at night was enabled to reach a landing-place by the lurid light of the flames. 
While the collapse of the clan system can be attributed more to the persecution and repression that followed the Battle of Culloden, the widespread evictions resulting from the Clearances severely impacted on the viability of the Highland population and culture. To this day, the population in the Scottish Highlands is sparse and the culture is diluted, and there are many more sheep than people. However, the Clearances did result in significant emigration of Highlanders to North America and Australasia, and in some areas like Nova Scotia the Highlanders arrived in such numbers that there are now more Gaelic speakers there than in Scotland.
- Highland clearances
- The Countess of Sutherland
- The Highland Clearances, John Prebble, Penguin Books, 1963, ISBN 0-14002837-4
- An overview of the Clearances, Alexander McKenzie, 1881.
- Gloomy Memories, Donald Macleod, 1857 (first-hand account of Sutherland clearances).
- The Highland Clearances,Eric Richard, Barlinn Books, 2000,