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Highland clearances

Highland clearances were evictions which eliminated the bulk of the Gaelic-speaking population from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Between 1763 and 1775 thousands of Highlanders migrated to colonial British North America motivated by resentment at higher rents and consolidation of farms, and led by tacksmen, former clan gentry who were leasees of land, but were being eliminated as unnecessary middlemen.

Next, large-scale sheep-farming came to the Highlands, based on the replacement of the small indigenous sheep by commercial breeds such as the black-faced Linton. With Lowland sheep came Lowland farmer-capitalists and often Lowland shepherds, though some former tacksmen contrived to thrive. By the early 19th cent. this revolution had reached the vast Sutherland estates north of Inverness. Tenants were resettled on the coastal areas to combine fishing with farming and ancillary activity such as gathering kelp on the beaches to make commercial alkali.

The collapse of kelping due to cheaper imports after 1815 was followed by the decline of wool prices due to the arrival of cheap Australian and then New Zealand wool, and in 1848–9 by widespread famine conditions. After 1860, tenants were cleared to create deer forests, treeless shooting estates which, by 1914, covered 3½ million acres in the Highlands. By 1886 a residual crofting population clung to the margins of the region with legal security of tenure.

Bruce Philip Lenman

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