Posts Tagged ‘Highland Clearances’

As an addition to my post on the clearances of Guisachan, I think I should give you an idea of what these farmers thought about their lands being turned over to shooting estates.

Robert Burns, who worked as a tenant farmer in South Ayrshire, penned these words that probably perfectly captured the sentiments of these poor evicted crofters:

Now westlin winds and slaughtering guns
Bring autumn’s pleasant weather
The moorcock springs on whirring wings
Among the blooming heather
Now waving grain, wild o’er the plain
Delights the weary farmer
And the moon shines bright as I rove at night
To muse upon my charmer.
The partridge loves the fruitful fells
The plover loves the mountains
The woodcock haunts the lonely dells
The soaring hern the fountains
Through lofty groves the cushat roves
The path of man to shun it
The hazel bush o’erhangs the thrush
The spreading thorn the linnet
Thus every kind their pleasure find
The savage and the tender
Some social join and leagues combine
Some solitary wander
Avaunt away! the cruel sway
Tyrannic man’s dominion
The sportsman’s joy, the murdering cry
The fluttering gory pinion
But Peggy dear, the evening’s clear
Thick files the skimming swallow
The sky is blue, the field’s in view
All fading green and yellow
Com let us stray our gladsome way
And view the charms of nature
The rustling corn, the fruited thorn
And every happy creature
We’ll gently walk and sweetly talk
Till the silent moon shines clearly
I’ll grasp thy waiste and, fondly pressed
Swear how I love thee dearly
Not vernal showers to budding flowers
Not autumn to the farmer
So dear can be as thou to me
My fair, and lovely charmer.

Here’s Dick Gaughan performing these lyrics of the Bard of Ayrshire:


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Guisachan House in the 1890's.

Guisachan in the 1890's.

Virtually all breed books discuss the prominent individuals within a given breed’s history in a positive light. Negative facts are usually left aside, for the focus is more on how the breed developed, not a discussion of the social, economic, and political history that made the breed possible. Granted, people do not buy dog books to understand these issues. Most people just want to read about the creation story of their dog, and the breed fanciers like to bask in the glory of the past.

However, it important to at least consider some of the negative parts of a breed’s history. As someone who prefers history to hagiography, I think it is a good idea to understand that the golden retriever would not have been possible had their not been some human suffering.

What do I mean by “human suffering”?

First of all, we have to start with who the founders of the golden retriever were.

The golden retriever’s founders were part of the economic and political elite of British society. The reason why we know so much about the dogs is that only people with considerable means would ever bother to keep such meticulous records of the dogs in their lines, and only people with that sort of wealth would even dream of keeping a dog with such a limited utility.

A dog that picks up shot game is certainly useful, but the average person could not bother with keeping or breeding such dogs. Working people needed dogs that could earn their keep. Dogs were bred according to their utility, not their pedigree, and after many generations breeding for utility only, tracing these bloodlines becomes next to impossible.

However, if one has money, time, and employees to maintain kennels, one can keep close records on the dogs. That is why we have such a complete record of the dogs at Guisachan.

Dudley Marjoribanks was not a poor man. Dudley had made a considerable fortune as chairman of the Meux Brewery Company, and he had inherited a lot of money from his father’s estate. He had a posh mansion in London’s Park Lane called Brook House. He also had holdings in the Scottish (now registration) county of Berwickshire, which was where he was born.

A Border Scot who had done well in this world, Marjoribanks began to look for new real estate. By the mid-nineteenth century, the Scottish Highlands had experienced a total image makeover. In the eighteenth century, it was seen as a backward place, full of Gaelic-speaking insurgents called Jacobites who were too busy raising hell and livestock to be recognized among the civilized.

The work of Sir Walter Scott had totally changed that popular perception. In his writings, Scotland became a romantic place, where the last vestiges of wild Britain existed alongside a turbulent history.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert also helped changed this perception. They began visiting Balmoral in 1848, and eventually purchased the estate in 1852. This purchase set off a land boom in Scotland. All sorts of wealthy aristocrats began buying up land in Scotland.

In 1853, Dudley Marjoribanks was elected as the Liberal MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, and it is very likely that he was caught up in the Scottish euphoria the had swept through these elite circles. His lands in Berwickshire did not count for much. He needed an estate deep within Caledonia, and you can’t get much more Caldeonian than a shooting estate in the Highlands.

Marjoribanks purchased Guisachan (“Place of the Firs”) in 1854. It was the perfect place to go grouse shooting and deer-stalking. It was also not a bad place to bring his fellow politicians for deal-making and negotiations.

Now, our popular perception of the Highlands is of a sparsely populated place with spectacular landscapes.  The land is inhabited by a few shepherds and some rare wild creatures, like the Scottish wildcat.

The truth of the matter is that Highlands were not always so empty. There was once a rather large population that lived there.  In Scotland, the lands were enclosed rather similarly to the way they were enclosed in England and Wales. However, these enclosures happened a little later, and they were based upon a different set of economic pressures.  The tenant farmers of Scotland had lived on these estates for centuries as part of the ancient clan system of Scotland. From the mid-eighteenth century onwards, these farmers were driven off these lands to make way for sheep grazing. Many Scottish farmers were without land to work, and they were forced into a level of economic insecurity that  forced them to fight for a chance to labor as virtual slave on estate or join the army (see the song “Twa Recruiting Sergeants.“)

The process of driving these large numbers of small farmers off the land to make way for sheep and cattle grazing and later for setting up posh estates for the wealthy was known as the Highland Clearances, and that is a good description for what happened. The Highlands were literally cleared of people, many of whom emigrated to other parts of Britain, as well as North America, Australia, New Zealand, and other parts of the British Empire.

In the 1850’s, there were still some estates that had tenant farmers working on their lands. When Guisachan was purchased, there were tenant farmers living there. These farmers were forced to leave.

Alexander Mackenzie (not the Canadian prime minister or the explorer) wrote the history of these clearances and worked hard to bring about reform to give these people rights. Mackenzie wrote about the Guisachan Clearances:

The modern clearances which took place within the last quarter of a century in Guisachan, Strathglass, by Sir Dudley Marjoribanks, have been described in all their phases before a Committee of the House of Commons in 1872. The Inspector of Poor for the parish of Kiltarlity wrote a letter which was brought before the Committee, with a statement from another source that, “in 1855, there were 16 farmers on the estate; the number of cows they had was 62, and horses, 24; the principal farmer had 2000 sheep, the next 1000, and the rest between them 1200, giving a total of 4200. Now (1873) there is but one farmer, and he leaves at Whitsunday; all these farmers lost the holdings on which they ever lived in competency; indeed, it is well known that some of them were able to lay by some money. They have been sent to the four quarters of the globe, or to vegetate in Sir Dudley’s dandy cottages at Tomich, made more for show than convenience, where they have to depend on his employment or charity. To prove that all this is true, take at random, the smith, the shoemaker, or the tailor, and say whether the poverty and starvation were then or now? For instance, under the old regime, the smith farmed a piece of land which supplied the wants of his family with meal and potatoes; he had two cows, a horse, and a score or two of sheep on the hill; he paid £7 of yearly rent; he now has nothing but the bare walls of his cottage and smithy, for which he pays £10. Of course he had his trade than as he has now. Will he live more comfortably now than he did then? “It was stated, at the same time, that, when Sir Dudley Marjoribanks bought the property, there was a population of 235 souls upon it, and Sir Dudley, in his examination, though he threw some doubt upon that statement, was quite unable to refute it. The proprietor, on being asked, said that he did not evict any of the people. But Mr. Macombie having said, “Then the tenants went away of their own free will,” Sir Dudley replied, “I must not say so quite. I told them that when they had found other places to go to, I wished to have their farms.”

They were, in point of fact, evicted as much as any others of the ancient tenantry in the Highlands, though it is but fair to say that the same harsh cruelty was not applied in their case as in many of the others recorded in these pages. Those who had been allowed to remain in the new cottages, are without cow or sheep, or an inch of land, while those alive of those sent off are spread over the wide world, like those sent, as already described, from other places. (291-93).

So to make way for his shooting estate, 235 people had to leave. We do not know their names, and we certainly do not know the names of their dogs or even what kind of dogs they owned. However, they were probably collie-types and terriers. They had an actual economic utility, but once their owners were deemed unnecessary for profit, progress, or prosperity of the elite, both the working dog and working man were sent packing.

To make way for Marjoribanks’s shooting estate and eventual development of his strain of yellow wavy-coat, people had to suffer. People lost their livelihoods and the ancient way of life.

This is the dark side of the Guisachan story that has always gone unmentioned in golden retriever histories. I apologize for not mentioning it earlier in this blog. The truth of the matter is that such facts do not often appear within the context of the story of the golden retriever.

However, the story does not end there. Dudley Marjoribanks’s daughter, Ishbel, married John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon, 1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair, who served as  Governor-General of Canada from 1893 to 1898. They were early Social Liberals who worked very hard to improve the conditions of working people in Canada, many of whom were either immigrants or descendants of immigrants who had left Scotland as a result of the clearances.

One wonders if Ishbel (Lady Aberdeen) felt a certain amount of guilt over her family’s clearance of Guisachan. Maybe she was trying to make amends for that injustice.


Lord and Lady Aberdeen purchase the Coldstream Ranch in the Okanagan Valley, which they renamed Guisachan. On that estate, they kept some yellow wavy-coats that were of her father’s strain. These were the first goldens to be imported to North America.

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