Sunday, 28 November 2010


In recent months, I have been transcribing parts of the reports from the Napier Commission, whose findings were instrumental in bringing about major changes in land management and land ownership in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Having covered the Western and Northern Isles, I am now working my way through the reports for Sutherland, and this afternoon, I reached the evidence for Helmsdale. And, contained in the answer to question 38252 is vindication for my negative stance towards a statue, entitled "Exiles", which was erected near Helmsdale in July 2007.
38252. [Lord Napier, Chairman] Then you stated that the expatriated people, some of them, found their way to America, where they experienced a worse fate. What ground have you for believing that the emigrants generally experienced a worse fate ?

[Angus Sutherland, witness] The fate of my great-grandfather's family. My great-grandfather's family, except himself, all went out in Lord Selkirk's expedition to the Red River. My grandfather was married before he went out, and I have seen in my grandfather's house and my father's house a pile of correspondence describing the vicissitudes they underwent. They were left exposed on the north coast, and they had to find their way from Hudson's Bay to the Red River settlement; and they were exposed to the rigours of a lengthened winter, and, to crown all, the Indians came in and killed some of them, and the rest fled over the winter's snow to Canada. Only seven or eight managed to survive and settle in Canada afterwards.

I copy part of a post I made in July 2007, on the subject of the statue:
The statue [...] shows a family, leaving their homes for a new life overseas. Helmsdale lies at the mouth of the Strath of Kildonan, one of many valleys in Sutherland cleared of their residents in the 19th century. The full background story can be read here.

Whilst I applaud the efforts of Mr Macleod (who initiated the project) to keep the memory of the Clearances alive, I somehow find the positive gloss being cast on this appalling episode in Scotland’s history very, very difficult to stomach.

It would appear, reading Angus Sutherland's words from 127 years ago, that those leaving Strath Kildonan met a far worse fate than remaining in northern Scotland would have brought. And it makes a complete mockery of the reasoning behind the erection of the statue.

1 comment:

  1. Angus Sutherland's witness statement requires a bit of comment. Some of my own great-great-greats... were part of the Selkirk Red River venture. Yes, they did have to walk from Hudson Bay to Winnipeg (as it is now). Winnipeg winters were as cold then as now, and summer mosquitoes as fierce. And many of them (including my great-great-great... as a months-old infant) did abandon the colony and travel to Canada (Ontario as it is now) with the fur brigades. But there were no Indian attacks, and most of the settlers did survive. Some of their descendants still occupy the same farms on the banks of the Red River.