Highland Clearances?

Harris, Isle of Rum by Tony Page

I have often wondered, whether my MacKinnon ancestors, whom I have traced to late 18th century Inverness-shire, were living there in abject poverty as a result of the Highland Clearances?  Had they been moved on from the Highlands by a landowner throwing them out of their homes so that large sheep farms could be established?

It would seem from a recent DNA match that I have made via Ancestry, that this was not the case.  I have established that they came from the Isle of Rum and they probably left around 1770 because of the collapse of the Kelp trade and over-population of the island.  My family moved across to the mainland and found work in subsistence farming.  Meanwhile, Rum was becoming increasingly overcrowded.  About 450 tenant farmers were given notice to quit their homes.  They were persuaded to move to Canada.  On 11 July 1826, about 300 of the inhabitants boarded two ships, the Highland Lad and the Dove of Harmony, bound for Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Canada.  In 1827, the remaining residents boarded the St Lawrence with a group of inhabitants from the Isle of Muck.

The islanders did not find a land of milk and honey.  The land in Canada was inhospitable and it took many years for them to establish themselves in their new country.

Hugh Miller, who visited Rum, described the abandoned island;-
"The evening was clear, calm, golden-tinted; even wild heaths and rude rocks had assumed a flush of transient beauty; and the emerald-green patches on the hill-sides, barred by the plough lengthwise, diagonally, and transverse, had borrowed an aspect of soft and velvety richness, from the mellowed light and the broadening shadows. All was solitary. We could see among the deserted fields the grass-grown foundations of cottages razed to the ground; but the valley, more desolate than that which we had left, had not even its single inhabited dwelling; it seemed as if man had done with it for ever. The island, eighteen years before, had been divested of its inhabitants, amounting at the time to rather more than four hundred souls, to make way for one sheep farmer and eight thousand sheep. All the aborigines of Rum crossed the Atlantic; and, at the close of 1828, the entire population consisted of but the sheep farmer, and a few shepherds.”

It is estimated that 70,000 Highlanders emigrated, mainly to the colonies in North America and Australia and New Zealand, between the 1760s and 1803, and that over 150,000 were forced off their lands from 1783 to 1881.  It is impossible to measure whether their life opportunities were improved by emigration or how many seized the chance of a new life, but they had hard lives and sorrow, both before and after their emigration.

Sunset, Rum by Nell Roger

Ambroise Garneray, artist and corsair

In a recent auction, a collection of paintings by Napoleonic prisoner of War, Ambroise Louis Garneray (1783-1857), were sold.  They included a picture he had painted, while held by Britain for eight years, of a line of prison hulks and warships anchored in Portsmouth harbour, which sold for over £11000.

Portsmouth Harbour c.1812

Garneray was born in Paris where his father was court painter to Louis XVI.  At the age of 13 he ran away to join the navy and sailed to the Indian Ocean.  In 1799, his ship was captured by the British off Mauritius but he swam ashore and made his escape.  There being no other naval ship present, he joined the corsair Confiance where he was a crew-member when it captured the Kent in 1800.  Using his share of the prize he became vice-captain of a slaver and then served on merchant ships until the renewal of war with the British gave him the opportunity to re-join the French 
navy in 1803.

Discovery of the island of Lanzarote

Unfortunately, three years later the Belle Poule, on which he was serving, was captured by the British and this time he was imprisoned on a hulk in Portsmouth harbour from 1806 until 1812.  His good behaviour and artistic talent meant that he was allowed ashore for the last two years of his confinement where he painted a series of views commissioned by an English picture merchant.

The return from Elba

On his release in 1815, Garneray returned to Paris and there he was commissioned by Napoleon to paint two paintings of returning ships, but these were unfinished for many years, due to the regime change.  He became the painter of the French navy in 1817 and went on to become director of the museum of Rouen.  As his career declined, he was awarded the L├ęgion d'Honneur by Emperor Napoleon III.

Garneray was an imaginative man who wrote his own biography including many exciting, impossible achievements.  Some people consider it to be the first maritime adventure novel.  Indeed, he has been cited as an inspiration for the events of “Moby Dick.”

All pictures from Wikimedia Commons