The Highland Clearances

The Highland Clearances was a time when people in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland were forced from their homes and had to find new places to live. Why did this happen and what happened to the people cleared from their land?

Find out more about this dark chapter in Scotland's history

The Highland Clearances

  • Before the were removed or 'cleared' from their land, people in the Highlands of Scotland lived and worked in places called crofts.

  • Crofts were small areas of land where people lived and worked as farmers. Highlanders used the land to keep animals like cows and sheep, as well as for planting and growing food.

  • Crofters in one area were often members of the same clans. Some clans had lived in the same cottages for as long as 500 years,

  • But the Highlanders did not own the land. They rented their land from landowners. The landowners were often very rich - people like the Duke of Sutherland, who lived in the North of Scotland.

  • The landowners discovered that they could make more money by grazing sheep on the land than they could from the crofters' rents.

  • So the landowners simply turned the crofters out of their houses. Sometimes cottages were burned down to force people away.

This painting is called The Last of the Clans and it was inspired by the Clearances. It shows members of a clan saying a sad farewell as a ship with their relatives onboard sails to another country.

What happened to the crofters?

  • The Clearances were terrible for many people living in the Highlands and Islands. With nowhere to live and no way to grow food, some people starved or even froze to death without a roof over their heads.

  • Many people went to try and find a new place to live on the Scottish coast or in cities, like Glasgow. They tried to find jobs in fishing or in factories.

  • But many other Highlanders left Scotland and sailed away to start a new life overseas. Moving overseas like this is called emigration.

  • Many Scots emigrated to Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand. Some settled on their own farms or found work on sheep farms or cattle ranches. Some lived as hunters or worked in the timber trade. Others worked in construction, built railways, tried gold mining or started their own businesses.

  • Many people living in countries like Canada and America today have Scottish ancestors who were crofters.

This photograph shows the remains of crofters' cottages in the village of Boreraig on the Isle of Skye. Many families here were forced to leave their homes so the land could be used for sheep to graze.

The Clearances in pictures

Crofters worked their own small area of land. They worked by hand or using tools pulled by animals.

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