Scotlands History

The Clearances

In the late 18th century well into the 19th century, Highland estates moved from arable and mixed farming, which supported a large tenant population, to the more profitable sheep-farming. Surplus tenants were ‘cleared’ off the estates from about 1780; and the Clearances were ongoing nearly 70 years later at the time of the potato famine in 1846. 

Not all clearances were brutal, but some were. Nor were they confined to the Highlands. But the Highland experience was the most traumatic. The Highland Clearances devastated Gaelic culture and clan society, driving people from the land their families had called home for centuries.

Planned towns sprang up and took some of the cleared populations: places like Dufftown, Fochabers, Grantown-on-Spey, Hopeman, Inveraray, Kingussie, Kyleakin, Plockton, Tomintoul and Ullapool, but the vast majority of Highlanders were forced to emigrate to the cities or overseas.

The first mass emigration was in 1792; known as the ‘Year of the Sheep’, when most of the cleared clansmen went to Canada and the Carolinas. Scots left their native soil to live out their lives in America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

  • An image of an evicted Scottish family circa 1895 photographed on the ruins of their house.

Click on the image to view a larger version.

A man in a black, flat hat, white shirt and red kilt plays the bagpipes

Highland Clearances: Why did so many people leave

Weigh up the evidence you discover in this interactive source to decide why so many people were forced to leave Scotland during the Highland Clearances.