Stumbling across a Highland Clearance site is my idea of a good time

Did I mention my interest in Scottish-Canadian connections? Today we stumbled on the ruins of a tacksman’s house in Upper Bornish
Clearance Village. This brought us face to face with a well-documented Highland
Clearance that sent thousands to Canada. We were rambling around
on South Uist, roughly ten kilometres north of Lochboisdale, where the ferry
arrives from Oban. At the Kildonan
Museum, after visiting the nearby birthplace of Flora Macdonald, we had picked
up an archaeological guide pointing the way to notable ruins. It spoke rather grandly of a “Kildonan Trail,”
but we found ourselves beating across pathless, marshy ground to the ruins of this little known village.

In the 18th
century, the guidebook told us, Upper Bornish comprised half a dozen households, the people living
mostly “in long houses shared at times with livestock.”
The tacksman among them, the senior tenant, was the only one who could afford a separate byre for sheep and cattle. Decades came and went, people lived and died, and in
 August 1851, the poor farmers whose ancestors had toiled here for centuries were among those commanded
to attend
a public meeting at
Lochboisdale, where a sailing ship called the Admiral stood at anchor.

According to an eyewitness, many of the people “were
seized and, in spite of their entreaties, sent on board the transports.” The
next morning, the writer adds, “
we were suddenly awakened by the screams
of a young female who had been re-captured in an adjoining house, she having
escaped after her first capture. We all rushed to the door, and saw the
broken-hearted creature, with dishevelled hair and swollen face, dragged away
by two constables and a ground [local] officer.”

Those constables caught twenty
more people who had fled into the hills and carried them aboard
the Admiral, “in consequence of which four families at least have been divided,
some having come in the ships to Quebec, while the other members of the same
families are left in the Highlands.” This brutal incident was part of an extended clearance that saw roughly 2,000
people evicted from the Outer Hebrides. Those who survived the weeks-long voyage arrived destitute in Quebec,
and most of them, assisted by previous arrivals, made their way to Upper Canada.

Leave a Comment