‘Honest’ George Dempster and the Spinningdale Experiment

Katie Louise McCullough is an historian and the Director of the Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University. Her research focuses on the economic and social development of the Highlands and Islands during the Improvement Era. Katie has spent many wonderful trips to Dornoch and the surrounding areas hiking and walking the beautiful countryside with her good pal Elizabeth Ritchie.

In Spinningdale, on the north side of the Dornoch Firth, stand the remnants of a cotton mill. It was built from 1792-4 by the Balnoe Company for the agriculturalist and politician George Dempster, Esq. of Dunnichen (1732-1818), owner of the Skibo estate, and his Glasgow partner David Dale. The men raised over £3000 for the mill, largely from Glasgow businessmen. It was part of a broader plan for social and economic development in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland that championed the provision of employment and poverty relief rather than clearance and turning over land to sheep walks.

cotton mill at Spinningdale

Photo from collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

As an MP Dempster had a reputation for incorruptibility, gaining him the sobriquet of ‘Honest’ George. He brought his honesty and hard work to his development interests. Dempster was part of a network of improvers centred on the Highland Society of London (est. 1778) and its sister society the Highland Society of Scotland (est. 1784). Key players in these societies formed a subsidiary company the British Fisheries Society (Dempster was a director of the HSS and BFS) in 1786. In order to provide employment, the BFS established planned fishing villages in the western Highlands and Islands, an area noted by these men for its “underdevelopment.” Colleagues found within these networks blamed slow economic development and poverty on the Whiggish improvers of the early- and mid-eighteenth century who blamed Highlanders for their own poverty. In contrast, Dempster and like-minded friends felt the solution was not in raising great numbers of sheep but, as Sir John Sinclair argued, “by the introduction of arts and agriculture. The first will increase the number and wealth of the people; the latter will augment the quantity of the production of the soil, both for the maintenance of people and cattle. But neither arts nor agriculture can prosper, unless the inhabitants are secure in the tenure, by which they occupy the spots on which they live.” And so, Dempster and his colleagues came up with plans to build homes and transportation links, provide suitable local employment, and reduce or freeze rents until people got on their feet.

The Spinningdale mill was intended to provide employment for people from the nearby parish of Criech and its environs, including the Pulrossie estate, owned by Dempster’s brother. Local people lived off the sale of cattle and grew some potatoes and corn. Some considered this to be “hardly sufficient to maintain the families of the tenants,” resulting in difficulty paying rent and outmigration. Young men and women often temporarily migrated to the south: some “got high wages, and returned in winter to their parents, or relations, somewhat in the stile [sic] of gentlemen, and were a burden on their friends the whole winter, until they set out again in spring.” Some did not return; possibly marrying, dying, emigrating, or being “picked up by recruitment parties.”

cotton mill

Photo from collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

Emulating the fishing villages built by the BFS in the 1780s (Ullapool, Stein, and Tobermory), two villages were lotted on the Skibo estate: Criech and Spinningdale, in preparation for new housing. A warehouse was also built to hold goods for export. The Dornoch Firth was considered ideal for cotton manufacturing as it was damp and had access to transportation, the firth being “navigable for 24 miles [and] vessels of 50 tons burden can land their cargoes at this place,” and Spinningdale had a nearby burn for water power. Unlike many other landowners in this period, Dempster chose to freeze rents until manufacturing took off and people were placed in their new homes. This plan was intended not only to bring wealth to Dempster through rent, and to investors through profits, but also to raise the standard of living of inhabitants who “will enjoy perfect security, as occupiers of land. That those advantages will lead them gradually to better their houses, to improve their lands, and to alter their own condition in every respect for the better.”

cotton mill I

Photo from collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

Unfortunately, this ambitious plan was a failure. Unable to coax locals to work in the factory with regularity (they were otherwise engaged in seasonal work; lambing, harvesting, peating, or searching for higher-wage work in the south) the mill did not turn a profit. A fire gutted the factory in 1806 and it was not rebuilt. Though the mill was a failure, Dempster’s plan reveals the benevolent intentions of some landowners who sought to attract local workers to planned towns with the provision of employment and infrastructure rather than clearing people on to crofts leaving the best land for sheep and cattle, a system designed to build wealth only for the landowner. Lotted towns and villages like those built by the British Fisheries Society, and many others, including Creich and Spinningdale, were intended to create employment and to reduce poverty for common Highlanders, eliminating the need to leave home in search of a better life.


MS00126 George Dempster Papers Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

Sir John Sinclair, Statistical Account of Scotland (1791-1799) Vol 8 Criech, County of Sutherland.


The Highland Land League and the School Boards in Clyne and Kildonan

Alison McCall’s love of history was fuelled by tales of family history told by her grandparents. Her PhD thesis The Lass o’ Pairts: Social mobility for women through education in Scotland, 1850-1901, includes a section on east Sutherland.

Two acres of croft land in West Helmsdale barely sustained the Bruce family: the ‘Widow Bruce’, young George and Mary, and her widowed mother. Jane Bruce’s husband had died in 1848, aged 32, when their children were aged four and one. The family were poor, but they were not alone in this. Poverty was endemic among families whose forebears had been cleared down the Strath of Kildonan to the area around Helmsdale.

George became a baker in Helmsdale. He joined the Highland Land League, which campaigned to have politicians sympathetic to the crofters’ cause elected to Parliament. In 1888 George was elected onto the Kildonan School Board. Elections had been held throughout Scotland every three years since the Education (Scotland) Act 1872 transferred control of schools from churches, charities and private individuals to locally elected School Boards under government control. Clergymen, businessmen, landowners, academics and other pillars of society were returned as School Board members. Women were eligible to stand, but were elected only onto the larger city Boards. In East Sutherland voters recognised the School Boards gave them the opportunity to vote politically. And they voted for men such as George Bruce.


George Bruce outside his shop on Lilleshall Street, Helmsdale. Photo: Courtesy of Timespan Heritage Centre

Unfortunately the first minute book of Kildonan School Board is missing, but the rise of Land League influence can be traced in neighbouring Clyne. As the Land Leaguers gained strength and confidence the composition of the School Board changed. The first was chaired by the Duke of Sutherland’s factor, Joseph Peacock. The second included the Hon. Walter Stuart, the Duke’s grandson. In 1877, one matter was referred to “the Duke of Sutherland, being the principal ratepayer, and being also deeply interested in the educational welfare of the people.” Regardless of the voters’ wishes, the Duke was the ultimate authority. The crofters’ breakthrough came with the third Board. In 1879 were elected George Grant and George Murray, both tailors, George MacKay, Joseph Peacock and George Lawson, a farmer. The three crofters’ candidates elected Grant as chair. Grant was out of his depth. Apparently unused to using a pen, he proposed to take minutes in pencil, to be written up later. Peacock and Lawson objected. Grant said that “he could not even dictate a minute” but hoped to learn in the next month. Lawson asked Grant to withdraw as chair in favour of Peacock, but Grant refused. School Boards members throughout Scotland were usually well educated and highly literate. Clyne may have been unique in having a Chair uncomfortable using pen and ink. However, the community regarded him highly. He was re-elected in 1882, 1885, but were always in a minority. Voters had subverted the educational purposes of School Board elections for political opposition to the Duke, and the furtherance of land politics.

Back up in Kildonan, by 1888 when George Bruce was elected, the rest of the Board was largely composed of those sympathetic to the crofters cause. James Fraser, fishcurer, was chair and the other members were Robert Hill, farmer, William Cuthbert, fishcurer, and Joseph MacKay, crofter. Hill farmed 102 acres at Navidale, and was one of those who had benefitted from the cleared land. By contrast Joseph MacKay was one of eight crofters threatened in 1882 with eviction for grazing sheep. The eight employed a solicitor and the summons was withdrawn. Cuthbert and Bruce were prominent local Land Leaguers. Cuthbert was re-elected in 1891, 1894 and 1900. Bruce was re-elected in 1897 and 1900, indicating ongoing political support.

Gaining control of the School Boards and using them for political control was a unique tactic of the Land League in East Sutherland.


This gravestone was erected by ‘our’ George Bruce. Photo: Alison McCall

Post script. George Bruce died in 1922, but the family bakery firm continued. In 1932 they baked a wedding cake for George’s great niece, Mary Bruce MacLeod. It was decorated with silver horseshoes. In 1989, Mary’s granddaughter, the present writer, had one of horseshoes sewn onto the sleeve of her wedding dress.


The sleeve of Alison’s wedding dress. Photo: Alison McCall.

MacLeod, Joseph, Highland Heroes of the Land Reform Movement (Highland News Publishing Company, 1917)
obituary of William Cuthbert in John O’Groats Journal, 9 January 1931

“Set Adrift Upon the World”: New Book on the Sutherland Clearances Launched in Dornoch

Last week James Hunter launched his new book in Dornoch, at an extraordinarily well-attended event organised by the Centre for History, University of the Highlands and Islands. People from all over the north connected with Jim and who share his passion for the history, and the future, of the Highlands and Islands gathered to congratulate him and to purchase truckloads of the volume with which to bless all their friends and relatives this Christmas. Weel-kent faces were easy to spot. There was John MacDonald, Rogart who showed Jim the documents about Ascoilemore which first inspired this book. And Malcolm Bangor-Jones, Inverkirkaig, whose meticulous research into eighteenth and nineteenth-century Sutherland ensured the accuracy of commentary about the evictions. Elizabeth Ritchie of the Centre for History interviewed Jim about the research for, and implications of, his book and a thought-provoking time was had by all.

SetAdriftUpontheWorldJim has provided a sneak preview here:

“Jessie Ross’s life began to be taken apart at about two p.m. on Thursday 31 May 1821. That was when as many as ten or a dozen men took possession of the Ross family home in the Strath Brora community of Ascoilemore. Those men were there to evict this young mother, her two small daughters, aged five and three, and her two-month old baby girl. They were also there to empty the house of everything the Rosses owned.

Jessie’s baby, Roberta, had been born less than a year after another baby, a boy who did not live. In just twenty months, then, Jessie Ross had been through two pregnancies – one of which had ended tragically. Unsurprisingly, she was not in good health. This was of no concern to the men invading Jessie’s home. Their remit was to make way for the expansion of a nearby sheep farm by ridding Ascoilemore of its inhabitants.

The man in charge of proceedings, a sheriff-officer called Donald Bannerman, began by ordering out the two Ross girls, Elizabeth and Katherine. Their mother, however, refused to go with them – in the hope, it seems, that her continued presence would lead to the family’s belongings being handled with at least a little care. ‘She would not leave … until the whole furniture was off,’ it was afterwards explained. On Jessie Ross also refusing to help move the wooden cradle in which her baby was sleeping, one of the party, William Stevenson by name, picked it up – roughly and angrily it was said – with a view to carrying both cradle and baby outside.

Perhaps, as would be alleged, Stevenson was drunk – he and his colleagues having got through ten bottles of whisky the previous night and another three that morning. Or perhaps he was just clumsy. At all events, Stevenson somehow ran the cradle up against the Ross home’s door or doorframe. Two-month old Roberta, though not tumbled out, was shaken awake and began to cry in alarm. She was still in distress when her cradle was set down in such shelter as an exterior dyke or wall provided from a chill wind out of the north-east.

Although Ascoilemore’s other residents had been evicted the day before, there were still people in the vicinity – some of whom now came to the Rosses’ assistance. Among them was a woman called Mary Murray. Like Jessie Ross, she was a nursing mother and, doing something that would be thought unacceptable today – but which, judging by the matter of fact way it was spoken about, must have been standard practice then – Mary quietened Roberta’s cries, a bystander said, by ‘giving the child a suck’ at her own breast.

The settlement of Kilpheddermore is just west of Ascoilemore. Note the size of the longhouse footings set in fertile riverside land. Visiting this site with John MacDonald, Nick Lindsay and UHI students inspired Jim’s book. Photo credit: Iain Copeland.

The settlement of Kilpheddermore is just west of Ascoilemore. Note the size of the longhouse footings set in fertile riverside land. Visiting this site with John MacDonald, Nick Lindsay and UHI students inspired Jim’s book. Photo credit: Iain Copeland.

The older Ross children were not so easily comforted. Not long after the evicting party got to work, Elizabeth, the five-year old, was struck in the face by a piece of planking thrown from inside the house – the culprit again being Stevenson. She too began to cry and, though her crying was said to have stopped after ‘quarter of an hour’, neither Elizabeth nor Katherine, her sister, could have been anything other than traumatised by what was happening to them. Both were reported to have ‘looked cold’ and to have been ‘trembling’ or shivering – their misery compounded by the fact that they had, or were incubating, whooping cough.

Nowadays rare, thanks to a vaccine developed in the 1950s, whooping cough was once a common childhood illness. Its symptoms – usually including a fever and the drawn-out cough from which the infection got its name – were always unpleasant, sometimes severe and occasionally fatal. What happened to the three-year old Katherine Ross some three weeks after the events of 31 May, then, might have happened anyway. But when Katherine died, it is understandable that her father, Gordon Ross, unavoidably elsewhere when his wife and children were evicted, should have insisted that his daughter’s death resulted from what he called the ‘inhuman treatment’ she had experienced the day the Ross family’s home was taken from them.”

Relaunches of “Set Adrift Upon the World” are taking place in Inverness, Helmsdale and Bettyhill if you feel you have missed out and would like to participate! Copies of the book can be sourced in the usual places.

Funny-Looking Bumps and Ridges: Landscape as Historical Evidence

Today’s post considers the evidence of social, economic and agricultural change provided by the landscape in south east Sutherland. Once you get your eye in, it is possible to identify pre-clearance field systems, townships, houses and barns, head dykes and gardens. The next layer of the archaeological palimpsest are the new arrangements of land and settlement introduced in the early nineteenth century. In this area there is not only the more famous crofting landscape, but also that of the big commercial farms which are such a feature along the fertile strip of the east coast. This twelve minute video thinks about what landscape changes in south east Sutherland can tell us.

R. Houston, ‘The Clearances in South East Sutherland’ in J. Baldwin (ed), Firthlands of Ross and Sutherland (Edinburgh, 1986)
S.J.T. Robertson and R.G. Park, Abandoned Buildings of the Evelix Valley (Dornoch: Historylinks Museum, 2009)

From Ardross to Otago: the Odyssey of John MacKenzie

John MacKenzie’s forebears came from Easter Ross. He was partially brought up in Zambia, educated in Canada, and has travelled extensively throughout the British Empire in pursuit of his historical studies. He knows the South Island of New Zealand well. John has published extensively on topics such as ‘The Scots in South Africa’, ‘Imperialism and Popular Culture’ and ‘Imperialism and the Natural World’. http://www.dalmackie.com/

The connections between Highland Scotland and the British Empire are legion. In any community we can find people who went out to the empire as settlers, sojourners (temporary residents pursuing specific professions) or soldiers. Almost every kirkyard in Scotland contains records of such people. Sometimes they died overseas, but are commemorated by their relatives on the family gravestone. However far-flung their lives and deaths, there seems to be a desire in Scotland to bring families together at the home lair where they can be remembered with those who stayed in the locality. Sometimes the so-called ‘people of quality’ place commemorative plaques in churches and cathedrals recording the deaths of sons in colonial campaigns. Some of these migrants became very celebrated figures in their new lives. North of Inverness, it is possible to think of several striking figures who achieved fame in the empire – General Sir Hector Macdonald, for example, whose monument stands at the cemetery in Dingwall, Robert Stout (from Lerwick) or Peter Fraser, both prime ministers of New Zealand, the latter well commemorated in Hill of Fearn.

Fraser used to refer in speeches to a notable predecessor as New Zealand politician who had a considerable influence upon the country. This was John MacKenzie from Ardross. Anyone who knows the map of the South Island of New Zealand will see ‘Mackenzie country’, but this is a different Mackenzie, a sheep stealer who came to be regarded as a hero because of his capacity to escape his captors! He is a shadowy figure, perhaps either James or John and born in Ross-shire around 1820. But John of Ardross was a very different character who has a rather striking monument, a grand cairn, at Palmerston near Dunedin, where he farmed and lived.


Born in Easter Ross in 1839, he saw some of the misery caused by the Clearances in his area and it influenced him throughout his life. In 1860 he emigrated to Otago which had first been settled by Scots in 1848, the settler parties arriving at Port Chalmers before moving on to Dunedin. Thomas Chalmers, the great Free Church minister and leader of the Disruption had recently died, so the place was named in his honour. John soon had his own farm near Palmerston and quickly developed political ambitions. He was elected to the Otago Provincial Council in 1871 and after the provincial system was abolished was elected to the New Zealand parliament in 1881, serving until his death in 1901. He was minister of lands and agriculture in the Liberal Government from 1891 to 1900 and, given the settlement and developmental policies of the period, that was probably the most significant of the ministries. It was in this capacity that he used his Scottish experience to good effect. He initiated many reforms and was determined to ensure that the ownership of large tracts in the hands of individuals – as happened in Australia – should be avoided. In New South Wales and parts of Victoria, vast parcels of land had been taken over by early settlers (many of them Scots) who became in effect a new landowning colonial ‘aristocracy’. John wanted closer settlement, which was not good news for the Maori, insisting that land should be divided up into small family farms. Thus the landlordism of Scotland which in his mind had produced the Clearances should be avoided at all costs. His biography with the resonant title Lands for the People has been written by Tom Brooking, a professor at Otago.

'Lands for the People' by Tom Brooking

‘Lands for the People’ by Tom Brooking

Apparently, John made one visit back to Scotland with his daughters. They enjoyed seeing their father’s country, but announced that they considered New Zealand to be more beautiful! He was knighted in 1901 by the Duke of Cornwall, future George V, but had little time to enjoy his status since he died only six weeks later. Brooking notes that he and his fellow Liberals considered New Zealand to be a useful social laboratory for Britain, hoping that their reforms would be adopted in the old country, but that ambition, at least initially, was not fulfilled. Brooking also notes that the tragedy is that McKenzie (the spelling was changed in New Zealand) in setting out to right one great wrong ended up creating a new one, the dispossession of the Maori people.

Field Trip to Aberscross

This week’s post is by Roslyn Galbraith, a third year Scottish history student at the University of the Highlands and Islands. She writes of her experience at Aberscross. All photos are from Roslyn’s collection.

In mid May I met up with a group of fellow students from the Centre for History, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, to explore Aberscross, the site of a Sutherland farming township. The area, near the boundary between Dornoch and Rogart parishes, has a long history of settlement and agriculture. Aberscross was the residence of the Murrays who came to Sutherland in 1198, who were involved in many feuds and battles fighting for the Earls of Sutherland and defending the region from their enemies the MacKays.

Strathfleet. The tides from Loch Fleet are now controlled by the engineering work of Thomas Telford and Sutherland Estate factor, William Young.

Strathfleet. The tides from Loch Fleet are now controlled by the engineering work of Thomas Telford and Sutherland Estate factor, William Young.

Although the weather forecast was not favourable, the heavens were with us for it stayed dry for the most part. We clambered up one side of Strathfleet. As we reached a certain height it was possible to recognise the valley floor below us. As it was subjected to tidal floods farming took place up the sides of the hills. We came across a large circled area outlined by stones with what appeared to contain at least three separated areas – maybe the foundations of a tower house: residence of the Murrays perhaps?

Not far from this mysterious outline, Dr Ritchie showed us an example of a corn drying kiln, where barley or oats were dried, in preparation for grinding. The kiln would have had a roof, while the hole on the left side of the kiln was where air was bellowed in to help the drying process.

Dr Ritchie on top of a drying kiln

Dr Ritchie on top of a drying kiln

As we climbed further we soon came to a recognisable settlement, which contained a longhouse with turf walls built on a stone foundation. This would have had a thatched roof supported by wooden beams. The family would live at one end with the cattle at the far end or byre-end on a slight downwards slope with drainage to divert animal waste from the cattle’s feet. Between the longhouse and the enclosure ran a curving ditch which was designed to divert water away from the home and living area. There was also a kaleyard for the cultivation of vegetables, such as kale and cabbage; an enclosure where hens and chickens might be kept; and a threshing floor with storage area.

The threshing floor was an interesting discovery, for none of us students knew at the start what this outline might be and had fun guessing its use. This smaller building was probably used for storing grain but it had two doorways opposite each other, in line with the prevailing wind. This section in the middle was where the grain was threshed so the airflow separated the wheat from the chaff. Between the longhouse and the enclosure ran a curving ditch which was designed to divert water away from the home and living area. This whole settlement was much easier to make out from the other side of the hill.

Settlement site, containing enclosure, longhouse, and kaleyard

Settlement site, containing enclosure, longhouse, and kaleyard

Threshing floors/storage buildings on either side with an enclosed field or garden in the middle

Threshing floors/storage buildings on either side with an enclosed field or garden in the middle

Other areas of interest included the runrigs where barley and oats were cultivated in raised ridges with furrows for drainage between them, and the summer pastures for the cattle and sheep on higher ground.

Probable remnants of rig and furrow cultivation.

Probable remnants of rig and furrow cultivation.

The boundary between the infield and the outfield has been overgrown by heather, but the change in vegetation still gives a clue as to where the cattle were grazed in the summer, away from the growing crops.

The boundary between the infield and the outfield has been overgrown by heather, but the change in vegetation still gives a clue as to where the cattle were grazed in the summer, away from the growing crops.

It gave me an understanding to how people lived and farmed pre-clearance, producing enough food and produce for a comfortable subsistence existence provided the weather and harvest seasons were favourable.

We sat for a bit debating on where the cottars might have lived. Were the small square buildings the homes of the poorest members of this society? As there is almost no information about the cottars we could only surmise on what type of building they lived in and in which part of the settlement they stayed.

Perhaps sitting in a cottar's home? Just enough space for a bed, a chair and a fire.

Perhaps sitting in a cottar’s home? Just enough space for a bed, a chair and a fire.

It was soon time to leave and we stumbled down the hill as the heavens opened up, giving us a good soaking. On reaching Pittentrail Inn for our supper we reflected on the day’s findings, which brought what I had learned in class to life. It was a most enjoyable, thought-provoking and interesting field trip.

The Mysteries of Croick Church

This week’s post is submitted by Graham Hannaford who is studying from his home in Australia for his Masters in ‘Highlands and Islands History’ at the University of the Highlands and Islands. He recently visited Sutherland to attend the ‘Land and People in the Northern Highlands’ conference in Bettyhill. On his way north, he stopped by Croick.

Croick church, dating from 1827, is twenty-four miles due west from Dornoch. A Thomas Telford-designed church, its place in history was cemented in 1845 as the scene of an infamous episode of the Highland clearances.

Croick Church (photo: Graham Hannaford)

Croick Church (photo: Graham Hannaford)

In 1842, James Gillanders, factor to an absent landlord, attempted to evict the Glencalvie tenants for sheep. His efforts finally succeeded on 24 May 1845 when eighteen families were cleared from their homes. The Times report of the events was quoted on 12 June 1845 in the UK Parliament during the often-times acrimonious debate on the Poor Law (Scotland) Amendment Bill:

Mr Crawford MP: He referred to the dispossessment of the tenantry of Ardgay near Tain, Ross-shire, parish of Kincardner [sic], the inhabitants of Glencalvie. “These families, consisting of ninety-two individuals, supported themselves in comparative comfort without a pauper amongst them; owed no rent, and were ready to pay as much as anyone would give for the land, which they and their forefathers had occupied for centuries. With the exception of two individuals who were permitted to remain, the whole of the people left the glen on Saturday afternoon and took refuge in their churchyard. They had been round to every heritor and factor in the neighbourhood, and twelve out of the eighteen families had been unable to find shelter. Behind the church a long kind of booth was erected, the roof formed of tarpauling stretched over poles, the sides closed in with horsecloths, rugs, blankets, and plaids. This was the refuge of the Glencalvie people. With their bedding and their children, they all removed late on Saturday afternoon to this place of temporary shelter. A fire was kindled in the churchyard, round which the poor children clustered; two cradles with infants in them were placed close to the fire. Of the people who passed the night in the churchyard with most insufficient shelter, twenty-three were children under ten years of age, seven persons were sickly and in bad health, and ten above sixty years of age, about eight are young married men; there are a few grown-up children, and the rest are persons in middle life, from forty to fifty years of age. On the Monday following they met the agent, who paid them the amount agreed upon for their stock, and their proportion for going out peaceably. The sum they had to receive is evidence that they were not in the condition of paupers; but this sum will soon be spent and then they must become paupers.”

Perhaps the refugees chose to shelter in the churchyard rather than in the church itself because that would have seemed to them a desecration. In 1843, following a schism, the congregation in the established church had shrunk to ten and most of those for whom the church was built had joined the Free Church whose ministers were quick to draw attention to the Glencalvie evictions. Was the church refused to them as a place of refuge because of the schism? Perhaps, more pragmatic considerations prevailed: did the placement of pews in the church render it unsuitable for even a temporary residence for so many people?

Pews inside Croick Church (photo: Graham Hannaford)

Pews inside Croick Church (photo: Graham Hannaford)

Messages scratched on the church windows include: “Glencalvie people was in the churchyard here May 24 1845” and “The Glencalvie tenants resided here May 24 1845” and, most poignantly, “Glencalvie People the wicked generation Glencalvie”. They are in copperplate handwriting, in English. The reporter to The Times claimed he could not speak to the people, as they knew only Gaelic and he only English. However the New Statistical Account of the parish, written only five years before these events, recorded that, while Gaelic remained the dominant language, “the greater proportion” of the thirty-five pupils at the parish school, which was then situated beside the church, could read and write English as well as Gaelic. The long existence of the parish school, and the sporadic appearance of Gaelic Schools in the glen itself since the mid 1810s, suggests that a good number of the Glencalvie people could read or write one or both languages. We will never know which individuals took the time to inscribe those messages in such a permanent way.

Ironically, the sheep for which the people were cleared have now long gone. Glencalvie is now part of a sporting estate.

Landscape around Croick Church (photo: Graham Hannaford)

Landscape around Croick Church (photo: Graham Hannaford)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Edinburgh: 1845)
Richards E., A History of the Highland Clearances: Agrarian Transformation and the Evictions1746-1886 (London: Croom Helm, 1982)
Richards E., The Highland Clearances (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2008)
For the full debate on the Poor Law (Scotland) Amendment Bill see http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/sittings/1845 (The text quoted above was been slightly amended to improve readability.)