October 15, 2013
The Highlander Magazine
Lady Sutherland and the Highland Clearances; Tragedy in the Name of Progress
Composition: Mountain Landscape, by Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, Duchess-Countess of Sutherland, date unknown, Photo: © Tate, London 2013
In the time before the Jacobite Rebellions, landowners and clan chiefs were entrusted with safeguarding their tenants, the crofters. Life was hard for these crofters who farmed, raised cattle and horses, and whom their clan chief could call to military service at any time, but despite the hardships, this relationship was a reasonable compromise for most Highlanders. Revolutionary theories introduced during Scotland’s Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century would cause this traditional lifestyle to change dramatically. The adoption of agricultural advancements on the estate of the Countess of Sutherland in the early 1800s led to the displacement and death of many Highlanders, and mass migration to the colonies in the New World.
The Jacobite uprisings and the subsequent retaliation by the English government had caused the deaths of countless Highlanders. The freedom of these hardy people was restricted due to the Acts of Proscription, enacted after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, which banned traditional Highland cultural practices upon penalty of imprisonment, indentured servitude, or execution. The English army had established a strong presence in the area to discourage more rebellion, maintaining garrisons across the Highlands. Scottish military expert Duncan Murchison estimates that 30- to 40,000 innocent people, including women and children, were massacred in the Highlands in a four to five year period by government forces following the Acts of Proscription.1 The people, in this humbled state, were in constant fear for their lives and livelihoods.
Elizabeth Sutherland was born May 24, 1765 to the Earl of Sutherland, Chief of Clan Sutherland, and his wife, who owned a...