Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Duke & Dutchess of Sutherland

Nobody pursued the clearance policy with more vigour and cruel thoroughness than Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, and her name is still reviled in many homes with Highland connections across the world to this day.

Her husband was George Levenson-Gower, Marquis of Stafford who was made 1st Duke of Sutherland in 1832. Both usually lived in London, rarely visited the Sutherland estate and neither of them spoke Gaelic. The income from their Stafford estates alone brought in the huge sum of 300,000 pounds annually, but despite this enormous wealth, which is equivalent to several million pounds at today's values, they rushed through an "Improvement" program for their remote Sutherland estate.

They employed a lawyer called Patrick Sellar and a factor called James Lock to carry out the actual "Improvements" or, as the tenants would have it, "To Clear" them. Both of these men hated the Gaels and they are still remembered in the Highlands to this day due to their cruelty and barbarity towards the tenant farmers.

The estate records show that evictions at the rate of 2,000 families in one day were not uncommon. With no shelter remaining for the cleared families many starved and froze to death where their homes had once been.

Removing the Duke's Statue
In 1994, Sandy Lindsay of Inverness proposed that the Statue of the Duke of Sutherland be removed from its lofty perch on Ben Bhraggie, in Golspie, Sutherland. He appealed to the descendants of the Highland Scots who were driven off their lands by agents of the Duke of Sutherland, often with their houses burned over their heads.

The plan was later amended to remove, rather than demolish the statue and to site some information panels on the top of Ben Bhraggie, in memory of the people who were cleared and harried by the Duke.

The man, whose memory still offends so many, stands on a 76ft pedestal casting his proud, stony gaze on the town of Golspie below. The Sutherland statue is seen by many Scots, particularly in the North, as a symbol of power, greed, oppression and heartless evictions. It represents a family, a ruling class, and a period in history which split communities and sent families to the far corners of the earth in search of livelihood denied them on their own soil.

A harsh land, a harsh sea, and a harsh climate were hard enough burdens to be borne by the people, but harsh overlords backed by unfair laws, and servants of these laws, were the final tribulations, which brought a way of life to an end for many for the benefit of a privileged few.

Many see it as a monument to the greed and vanity of the Sutherland family, the toadyism of their hirelings, and the efficient extortion racket which squeesed contributions from unwilling tenants.

The Duke of Sutherland cleared 15,000 people from his land to make way for 200,000 sheep. Evictions at the rate of 2,000 families in one day were not uncommon. Many starved and froze to death where their homes had once stood. Until today the Sutherland family own vast estates of stolen land in the Highlands of Scotland.