A Useless Body

David Craig

  • Set Adrift upon the World: The Sutherland Clearances by James Hunter
    Birlinn, 572 pp, £14.99, September 2016, ISBN 978 1 78027 354 9

James Hunter’s work has analysed with utter thoroughness the culture of the Highlands and the diaspora that was forced on it. In his latest book, Set Adrift upon the World, he doesn’t try to describe, in a novelist’s or a journalist’s way, how individuals suffered and grieved and retaliated. Rather, he lays out the way systematic dispossession was managed, legally, by the class who engineered the process and who did so for their own gain. The justices of the peace, judges and estate factors made money and entrenched their own power by robbing thousands of small farmers – peasants, if you like (although that isn’t really a British term) – of their lands and turning the country into ranches for big herds of sheep. The new farmers could pay two to three times as much in rent and the landowners felt no duty to their tenants: after all, as the Countess of Sutherland wrote in 1799, tenants who refused to enlist in ‘her’ regiment, the 93rd, ‘need no longer be considered a credit to Sutherland, or any advantage over sheep or any useful animal’.

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