The evil shepherds who preyed on their own flocks

The Highland Clearances are a shameful blot on the Christian church, both Protestant and Catholic. Their respective clergy, with a few notable exceptions, were fully prepared to stand by and watch the Highland Clearances happen without complaint. Worse still were the clergy, the majority it must be said, who actively aided and supported the landowners in their odious work of evicting the people of the clans from their ancestral lands.

How could any Praying Man of God watch such an injustice take place and remain silent? How could they also take advantage of the Clearances to increase their own wealth and comfort, even amidst the dreadful horrors of crop failure and starvation? How could they stay silent during the horrors of the potato blight, when cereals were shipped out of the Highlands to fetch a better price in the south whilst Highland people starved? How could they remain mute when the landowners had armed men guard the salmon rivers as the people went hungry?

The evil shepherds

In the early years of the 19th century, when the evictions of tenants began to bite in Sutherland, Donald Macleod from Strathnaver, a stone mason and literate recorder of events, noted the willingness of the clergy to turn a blind eye and make profit from the misery of their flocks. He wrote how the landlords built new manses for the men of the cloth, with carriage roads to their doors and granted them a few acres of sheep pasturage, in order that they might turn a tidy profit. In return for this, the churchmen gave God's authority to so-called 'improvement' and threatened those tenants who resisted eviction with eternal damnation.

This threat of damnation from the clergy was used as one of the tools to remove the people of Clan Gunn from Kildonan. This, along with the legal writs of eviction and the threat of the bayonets of the 21st Foot, was enough to force the people to leave - some for dire plots of land on the Scottish coast and some for Canada.

The greedy praying hypocrites who aided and abetted the Highland Clearances

David MacKenzie was another church minister who benefited from his aiding and abetting the Highland Clearances. The Duke of Sutherland handsomely rewarded him with the Parish of Farr, an impressive manse, a fine church and a glebe consisting of the best land in the area. This in exchange for telling his flock that it was God's will they leave the land of their ancestors and obey those whom God had placed above them. The landowners appointed Church of Scotland ministers in breach of the Treaty of Union, and those ministers sold their souls to the devils of eviction in return.

Perhaps the most despicable act of all was the inaction of church ministers during the great famine of the mid 1830's. In Sutherland, of all 17 parish ministers not one was moved to action by the suffering of the starving people. In their sermons they stated that the Lord had sent the famine as a punishment for the wickedness of the people, in order to bring them to repentance. During these times, David MacKenzie had increased his landholdings, and on this new land he demanded the removal of the eight families living upon it. They were promptly driven out.

In Alexander MacKenzie's classic 1883 book on the Highland Clearances, he states that the clergy in their sermons of 1833 in Sutherland espoused the following ungodly view:

"that the Lord had a controversy with the land for the people's wickedness; and that in his providence, and even in his mercy, he had sent this scourge to bring them to repentance"

What foul cesspit had these disgusting men of the cloth crawled from? They should have been defrocked and whipped. Instead they were handsomely rewarded by the landowners and their factors, for their evil deeds in pursuit of their own material gain.

The good shepherd

To their great credit, there were some in the church who did stand up to the landowners. One such was Mr Eric Findlater, a Free Church minister. In a sermon he rounded upon the oppressors of the people, the landowners and their factors: 

'A ravenous spirit of avarice seems to have spread like an epidemic and seized on all those who were the owners of property in the Highlands. They hastened to be rich, and in the determination to succeed they cast away all claims of gratitude and justice. They became so blinded with this lust after riches that the strong bond which had for ages knit chieftain and clan became as withes which were broken in a moment - ancestral associations were cast to the winds - those whose fathers had bled and fought and died for their fathers were henceforth to be cast out - and a sheep was now to rank higher than a man.'

The scattering of the Gael

There can be no better example of avarice and greed corrupting the calling of those who were supposed to be serving God and protecting the weak against the strong. The brutality of the Highland Clearances was a test for the moral fibre of the church and its ministers, and with a few honourable exceptions they were found to be badly wanting. Caught between the grasping greed and betrayal of clan chiefs and landowners, and the eternal damnation promised by the ministers of the church if they did not leave their lands, the clansmen and their families had no choice but to bow to the inevitable.  

Eviction and Displacement - Scotland No More

The clan chiefs and the church in Scotland must bear much of the blame for the destruction of the Highland way of life, and for the destruction and scattering of its Gaelic speaking peoples. As John Prebble states in the closing lines of his book 'The Highland Clearances' :-

 'The Lowlander has inherited the hills, and the tartan is a shroud'

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ęCopyright - James of Glencarr