The Year of the Sheep, 1792

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The year of the sheep 1792, the Highland clearances, Scottish Highland history,

The Year of the Sheep ( bliadhna nan caorach ) of 1792 was a significant period during what is known as the Highland Clearances ( fuadaich nan Gaidheal ) a period of Scottish history from the mid 1700's to the late 1800's when tens of thousands of men, women and children were violently evicted from their tenent farms or crofts, to make way for large scale sheep farming.

The Highland Clearances had originally began in the aftermath of the Jacobite Revolution and the violent end of the Battle of Culloden in 1745, when King George II had his army general, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, break up the clan system of the Goidelic people - the Gaelic speaking, feudal clansmen of the Highlands - in order to suppress clan loyalty and curb any future uprisings from occuring again.

This act culminated in the beginning of the end for Highland society, the Highlanders rights to land ownership, the Gaelic language and what is the most deplorable and inhumane treatment of any of the mainland British people in the history of the British Isles.

At this time these Highland people were forced to move away to the Scottish Lowlands and Scottish coastal areas to eke out a living.Those that refused to leave their homeland were rounded up and sent to work in the Caribbean as white slaves on sugar plantations. 


During the early 1700's, after decades of cattle rearing, the two commodities of meat and wool from sheep farming began to become a much more lucrative and profitable concern for Scottish landowners.

As one herd of sheep require six acres of mountain grazing in Summer and large sheltered valley areas in Winter, with just one man to look after them, Scottish landlords or lairds, began to evict yet more of their tenent farmers and crofters in a bid to secure more land for this new agricultural venture.

Again, tens of thousands of men, women and children were evicted from their homes, without warning, and left to starve or freeze to death.

Those that were able, went the way of their forebears and retreated to the Scottish Lowlands and coastal areas to take up livelihoods from fishing and kelp farming, but many more were forced to emigrate to Canada.

This period of history had ramifications throughout the U.K, with large rural areas being de - populated or enclosed for the new wave agricultural change sweeping the land, which were dubbed ' necessary improvements ' by land owners.

But for Scotland, due to the lack of legal protection for tenents and the brutality in which the evictions were carried out, it was considerably worse for the Goidelic people of the Highlands. 


Tens of thousands of Highland emigrees set sail on emigration ships bound for the new world in Canada.

These ships were soon to be known as ' coffin ships' , due to the amount of deaths that occured aboard them, due to massive overcrowding and the subsequent disease that these conditions caused.

Those that did make it to the new world arrived in Cape Breton in Nova Scotia ( New Scotland ) or Winnipeg in Ontario. So many people arrived there, that it is said that there are more people with the Highland name suffix of Mac, in these two areas of Canada, than there are in present day Scotland. 


On the 27th of July 1792, fuelled by alcohol consumption and the high spirits of a wedding day celebration, some Ross - shire tenents began to drive sheep along the country roads, where they headed north for Sutherland.

As the procession made it's way to Inverness, the number of men had swelled to 400, with considerably more sheep.

By the 5th of August that year, 6,000 sheep had been herded south to the Highland town of Boath, where soldiers from the King's Black Watch battalion, sought out twelve ringleaders and promptly arrested them.

Of these 12 men, five would appear in court on the 14th of September, where one was ordered to be transported, two were imprisoned and two banished forever from Scotland.

However, all five were to mysteriously escape their incarceration, never to be recaptured.

This escapade may well sound an insignificant and unimportant event, but it was one of the few times during the entire outrageous, miserable and violent displacement known as the Highland Clearances, that Highlanders fought back against the lairds and their plans to allow sheep to dominate the Highlands of Scotland, making it a milestone event in Scottish Highland history. 


Of course this did not quell the Highland Clearances, from 1811 until 1820, over 2,000 evictions a day were being performed across the Highlands by greedy and inhumane Scottish lairds.

It was not until riots on the Isle of Skye during the 1880's that Queen Victoria's government were made fully aware of the brutality in which these clearances had been carried out, the extortionate and over inflated rents being forced upon tenents, the ramifications of the outcome of the decline of kelp farming in the 1820's and the famine endured by the masses in the wake of the potato famine of 1844.

This new awareness by the government culminated in the passing of the Crofters Act of 1886, which gave crofters heritable security of tenure and tenent farmers, controlled rents, although it did not enforce the return of people's stolen lands back in the Highlands.

Not until 1976 were Scottish crofters legally allowed to purchase their own farms.

Many small crofts on the Scottish Isles, although now no longer sustainable to eke out a living in today's economic climate, are still run by the descendents of these first time owners from the 1970's, not for any financial benefits, but simply because of what it took all those years ago, to enable a Scottish crofter to finally own what is his legal birthright, a little piece of Scotland. 


The image used in this article is a photograph of a 10 foot high,bronze statue that is one of an identical pair, both called The Emigree Monument, which are situated in Helmsdale, Scotland and Winnipeg, Ontario, the two sites that the emigrant ships left Scotland and landed in Canada at the height of the Highland Clearances.


Ileen Zovluck
Posted on Feb 8, 2011
M 5446
Posted on Feb 8, 2011
Posted on Feb 7, 2011
James R. Coffey
Posted on Feb 7, 2011
Posted on Feb 7, 2011
James R. Coffey
Posted on Feb 7, 2011