Thursday, 14 June 2012


The Report from the Napier Commission in the Outer Hebrides contains a number of letters (contained in Appendix XXXII), sent by people who had been 'encouraged' to emigrate from Benbecula. When transcribing this section in 2010, I felt considerable cynicism over the veracity of the letters, if not the actual writing then certainly the spirit in which they were written. Lady Gordon-Cathcart has a very poor reputation in the Southern Isles, as the evidence, heard in Benbecula, South Uist and Barra bears out. Some landowners, as the Napier Report shows, actively felt that emigration was the only cure for the ill of the landless pauper in the Highlands and Islands.

However, a comment on this Appendix XXXII testifies that some of the emigrants were actually quite satisfied with the resettlement programme, resettlement at (amongst other places) Wappella Station in modern-day Manitoba, Canada. And, objectively speaking, there is no doubt that many of the emigrants would find conditions there a vast improvement to the congestion which they experienced in Benbecula.

Transposing this argument to the present day, I am reminded of two statues, one erected in Winnipeg, Canada and one at Strath Kildonan, Sutherland. I copy from the Manitoba Highland Dancers website:

This monument recognizes the Highland Clearances where Scottish villagers were forcibly removed from their homes and immigrated to Point Douglas in 1813. These settlers sought a better life in a far-away land and upon arrival fostered a relationship with the Peguis First Nation which was essential for them to prosper in this formidable land. Chief Peguis and his band taught vital hunting, trapping, clothing, shelter and winter survival skills without which the settlers would not have survived.

This 1813 immigration tallies with the second Clearance of Glen Loth (near Strath Kildonan) (the others being in 1809, 1813 and 1819). The story from Winnipeg does bear out frequent complaints, heard over the duration of the Clearances, that people were left to fend for themselves. And if it had not been for the humanity of the Peguis, those that had been left at Point Douglas would not have survived this first winter. 

A similar statue stands near Helmsdale, and I reproduce this image from the webpage for the community of Helmsdale.

Whilst recognising the undoubted achievements of the evicted Sutherlanders, the question does arise: why were these good people not allowed to make such achievements at home?

And which country in the world, in its right mind, throws its resident population off their land, and out of their own country? However, history should always be seen through the eyes of that time.

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