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The Leviathan of Highland and Emigration History: A conference in honour of Eric Richards

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The Leviathan of Highland and Emigration History : A conference in honour of Eric Richards

Friday 10th and Saturday 11th June 2022

Highland Archive Centre Inverness


FRIDAY 10th June 2022, 09:00

09.00: Welcome to the conference

09.00-10.00: Keynote lecture, Professor John M. Mackenzie: ‘Eric Richards: migrant scholar, personal experience and profound histories’

Chaired by Annie Tindley

10.00-12.30: Panel 1 – the changing landscapes of Highlands and Islands history

Ewen Cameron: Eric Richards and the Afterlife of Patrick Sellar.

Michael Anderson and Corinne Roughley: Counting crofters: digitised census enumeration books as a new source for the later nineteenth century

Linda Ross: The Highlands and Islands: an evolving history

12.30-13.30: Lunch

13.30-15.00: Panel 2 – Clanship and militarism in the Highlands and Islands

Martin MacGregor: ‘Militarism and land rights in Gaelic Scotland before, during and after the Clearances.’

Thomas Archambaud: The protective ethos of clanship? The Macphersons, the British Empire and ‘improving strategies’ in late 18th-century Badenoch.

Juliette Desportes: The Estate as a Question of Scale: Soldiers and Sailors on the Annexed Estates, 1763-1784.

15.15-14.45: Panel 3 – Planned towns and unplanned consequences

Jane Thomas: ‘Dingin’ doon the braes’: summary justice and salmon fishing in 18th century Scotland

Jaime Bockoven: The Rise and Fall of the Planned Fishing Village on the Sutherland Estate: Helmsdale and Golspie in the Nineteenth Century

15.00-16.30: Panel 4 - ‘...... cha do thuig iad am port’ (‘but they didn’t understand the tune’): further scrutiny of Clearance and Emigration.

Hugh Cheape: ‘Our ancestors land under Lowland shepherds’: taking further stock of the Gaelic voice in the Clearances.

Dòmhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart: Epidemiology of an emigration epidemic: some causes of the West Highland emigration of the early 1770s.

Gòrdan Camshron: Emigrant, catechist, tourist, diarist: providential journeys between West Canada and the West Highlands.


09.00-10.00: Keynote lecture, Professor Marjory Harper: ‘Audible Adventures and Epistolary Exploits: Using Personal Testimony to Plot Patterns in Scottish-Australian Migration.’

Chaired by Professor John Mackenzie

10.15-12.15: Panel 5 – Migration, Emigration, Immigration

Graeme Morton: Climatic determinism and Scottish emigration in the long nineteenth century

Allan Kennedy: Migration, Settlement and the Image of the Highlander in Early Modern London

Jim MacPherson: Fraser in Fearn: migration, diaspora and empire in the return visits of Peter Fraser (New Zealand Prime Minister) to the Highlands, 1935-1949

Jessica Danz: Across the Sea - Fragments and Folk Song from St Kilda to Australia

12.15-13.00: lunch

13.00-14.30: Panel 6 – Highland estate management

David Taylor: ‘That Wretched and Ruined Country’: the post Napoleonic War depression in Badenoch

Malcolm Bangor-Jones: The Durness riots of 1841

Finlay McKichan: The Stewart Mackenzies and their management of their Wester Ross estates, 1817-1837

14.30-16.00: Panel 7 – Islands past and present

Mathew Nicolson: Towards the Island Councils: Opposition to Regionalisation in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, 1966 – 1975.

Alexander Boyd: Làrach: St Kilda - An Absence

Iain Hutchison: Evacuation or Clearance? The 1862 Fair Isle emigration to New Brunswick

16.00-16.45:Summary of the conference, Prof Annie Tindley

(chaired by Professor Jim Hunter)


This conference is free but to help with the organisation please register at:

If you have any dietary requirements, please let Annie know by Friday 29th April 2022 on:

This conference has been generously sponsored by:

The Economic and Social History Society of Scotland

Northern Scotland

The Scottish Historical Review Trust


Counting crofters: digitised census enumeration books as a new source for the later nineteenth century

Michael Anderson and Corinne Roughley

Eric Richards repeatedly argued for stronger quantitative underpinnings to historical studies of the Highlands and Islands. The recently available complete digitised census enumerators books provide a new source of information from 1851 to 1901, which, although problematic, gives new opportunities for studies of this contested period. The records detail each person, their parish of residence, sex, age, marital status, relationship to household head, birthplace, and occupational title, including, to 1881, acreages of agriculturalists and employee numbers.

Working alongside a research team at the Cambridge Group, we are building a picture of changing spatial distributions across Scotland of small ‘agriculturalists’ with different titles and sizes of holdings, focused especially on the expanding use of the term ‘crofter’. Interesting spatial contrasts are emerging, which we explore further through carefully selected case study parishes in ‘crofting areas’ both within and outwith the ‘crofting counties’. This provides us with new quantitative insight into the processes whereby ‘crofters’ and related groups aged and became increasingly feminized over time. In particular, a markedly increased waiting time to obtain a ‘croft’ in Skye and the Western Isles emerges by the 1880s and quantifies an important context in which to consider the timing of the “Crofters’ War”.

The protective ethos of clanship? The Macphersons, the British Empire and ‘improving strategies’ in late 18th-century Badenoch

Thomas Archambaud

This paper examines ‘improvements’ in the county of Badenoch, and the clan Macpherson’s response both before and during clearances.

Badenoch has been traditionally seen by historians of the Highland clearances as a case of ‘good’ land management. Although affected by clearances, they remained remarkably limited in scale. The role of clanship and imperial investments are instrumental to reexamine the diversity of methods and actors, as advocated by Eric Richards in The Highland Clearances (2006). Richards’s position contrasted with David Taylor’s study (2016) which demonstrated that Badenoch’s successful economy was due to the rise of the Macpherson tacksmen who benefited from the clan chief’s absence. This paper focuses on Macpherson clanship as an alternative force to traditional clearances to explore the intersection between land management and capital made in the Indian empire. In the 1770s, the poet and colonial agent James Macpherson came back to his native Badenoch and recovered the forfeited estates for his kinsmen. Enjoying popularity among his tenants, like his son after him, James was involved in large-scaled projects but reluctant to impose purely commercial improvements because of the large amounts of money drawn from the East India Company. However, the extent to which the works at Loch Insh were inspired by James’ early acquaintance with theories of improvements developed by thinkers of the Edinburgh Enlightenment remains an open question. By looking at the impact of Scotland’s imperial involvement on local Badenoch, this paper aims at reevaluating the transformations of clanship and hierarchies in late 18th-century Highlands.

The Durness riots of 1841

Malcolm Bangor-Jones

In August 1841 a sheriff officer serving charges of removal at a township in the

parish of Durness was deforced violently by a crowd of mainly women. Further incidents culminated in the sheriff substitute, procurator fiscal, superintendent of police and a party of constables being driven out of the district in fear of their lives.

The Durness Riots posed challenges for the local authorities in charge of law and order and came to the attention of the Home Secretary. They demanded delicate handling by the landlord, the Duke of Sutherland, and his estate managers. They have been examined by several historians particularly Richards. While the events can be seen as a classic example of Richards’s model of anti-clearance riots, the availability of new evidence has enabled a more detailed consideration. The paper focuses on the motivating factors; the involvement of women; the role of the minister; the efforts made to ensure that the reputation of the Duke of Sutherland did not suffer; the actions of the local authorities; the strategy of the Home Secretary, Sir James Graham and the relationship between central and local authority, particularly over the issue of military assistance; and the aftermath.

Làrach: St Kilda - An Absence

Alexander Boyd

The St Kilda Archipelago is perhaps the best known of Scotland's offshore islands, its story forever entwined with that of the evacuation of the population of Village Bay on Hirta in 1930. The emergence of other histories, such as Eric Richards masterful examination of the emigration of 36 islanders to Australia has encouraged more academic inquiries into our understanding of the island chain. The decades which followed post-evacuation, and St Kilda's changing role during the Cold War as part of the Ministry of Defence's Hebrides Ranges, are subjects that require further research. In this paper I intend to examine the post-war photographic depiction of the islands, focusing on their representation in the popular imagination. Utilising a methodology established in trauma studies, and examining the islands from a post-colonial perspective, I shall seek to establish why Hirta's role as part of the military-industrial complex has become largely obscured by a number of competing narratives. From the roles played by bodies such as the National Trust for Scotland, Unesco, Historic Environment Scotland, Visit Scotland, and defence contractors Qinetik, this paper shall examine absences in the visual record, and how these have a larger bearing on our understanding of land management across Scotland.

Across the Sea - Fragments and Folk Song from St Kilda to Australia

Jessica Danz

Several years ago I made the trip out to St Kilda archipelago, spending several days walking over the hills of Hirta with my violin, documenting landscape performances, and playing inside the church. I subsequently conducted some research into the surviving music, poetry and stories of the St Kildans, discovering Professor Eric Richards' pamphlet From Hirta to Port Phillip: The St. Kilda Emigration to Australia in 1852. Finding this fascinating link between St Kilda and Australia sparked my creative imagination, inspiring me to embark on a composition project based on the story of the 36 people who left Hirta in 1852 to seek a new life in Australia. This timeless tale of travel, hardship, tragedy and new beginnings has personal reverberations - I'm Australian, but my British and European heritage has shaped many aspects of my life, and in 2016 I moved across the world to make a new life in Scotland. Eric Richards research has been the starting point for a musical work-in-progress that will weave together fragments of the music of St Kilda, elements of related Gaelic traditions, and my own music: a work that asks important questions about the links between home, identity and migration.

Eric Richards and the Afterlife of Patrick Sellar

Ewen Cameron

I was present in the HIghland Council Chamber in Inverness on 12 November 1999 when Eric Richards presented the paper that was later published in TGSI as 'Patrick Sellar and his World’. This lecture was delivered just before the publication of his biography of Sellar and was preceded by a wee stooshie. Some journalists had attempted to portray Eric's book as a whitewash and, reportedly, a local MP had called for it to be boycotted by bookshops in the Highlands. The book was, of course, not a whitewash but the tendency of the mention of Sellar's name to stimulate extreme reactions was nothing new. This paper will examine why Sellar has, in Eric's words in the ODNB entry, 'come to personify the entire process of the highland clearances' and will examine a series of such episodes in the years since the Strathnaver Clearances of 1814 and his trial at the High Court of Justiciary in Inverness in April 1816.

Emigrant, catechist, tourist, diarist: providential journeys between West Canada and the West Highlands

Gòrdan Camshron

In the opening pages of the 1841 Census for Applecross, north-west Scotland, the enumerator records that around 20 families had left the district over the preceding decade and that many wished to return if they could. This note indicates that not all ties were severed in the act of crossing the Atlantic. This paper focuses on the journal of an emigrant, a catechist, embarking on a mid-19th century ancestral tourism experience, journeying from his new home in Canada West to his birthplace in the parish of Applecross, Wester Ross, and back to Ontario to work as a missionary among other Gaelic emigrants. It briefly examines notions of accuracy and reliability of primary source materials, and places John Gillanders and his experiences in their contemporary context as the population of the Applecross parish moved from a period of relative prosperity and stability to a sweeping sequence of migrations and societal upheaval. The story of this journal’s discovery also speaks to the precarious nature of both our material culture and how good fortune is often as valuable a resource as rigorous research in unpacking our past.

The Estate as a Question of Scale: Soldiers and Sailors on the Annexed Estates, 1763-1784

Juliette Desportes

Eric Richards’ re-assessment of the usefulness of neglected estate archives continues to have a long-lasting impact on the work of Scottish historians today. Professor Richards saw the estate unit as the theatre of complex socio-economic change both at the micro and macro scale. Following on his ambition, this project uses concepts from the field of historical geography and the history of science to capture the estate as a question of scale as part of a doctoral project titled ‘Geographies of Scottish Improvement: The Forfeited & Annexed Estates, 1746-1784’. This paper focuses on the Soldiers and Sailors scheme led by the Board of Commissioners of the Annexed Estates which settled disbanded soldiers and sailors from the Seven Years War throughout the Highlands in the 1760s. Thinking in terms of scale and space allows the projection of national issues within a smaller space of analysis. At the local scale, the scheme fostered concerns over land distribution and the practical applications of ‘improvement’ ideology. At the national scale, the estate unit was also the focus of national anxieties over the place of Scotland within the Hanoverian state and larger imperial world.

Evacuation or Clearance: The 1862 Fair Isle emigration to New Brunswick

Iain Hutchison

In May 1862, sixty-five adults and seventy children under twelve years of age, sailed from Fair Isle, via Westray, to Kirkwall on the precariously overloaded thirty-four tonne sloop, No Joke. From Kirkwall they voyaged on the Aberdeen, Leith & Clyde Shipping Company’s steamer Prince Consort to Granton where they were met by a Free Church of Scotland representative and presented with bibles and tracts. Following an escorted railway journey to Glasgow, they boarded the Olympia on which they were to cross the Atlantic to St John, New Brunswick, to embark upon building new lives. While considering the established influences of push/pull factors on such ‘mass’ migrations, this paper considers the vested interests of various players in their coordination and promotion of this movement of people. It was consistently described as an ‘emigration,’ but I suggest that it was no less than a manipulative clearance of the poorest third of the population of Fair Isle so as to serve the interests of certain gentlemen players who professed their concern for ‘these poor people.’

Migration, Settlement and the Image of the Highlander in Early Modern London

Allan Kennedy

When we think of migration from the Highlands in the early modern period, we generally think of movement to Scottish towns or overseas, to North America and, latterly, Australasia. In so doing, we potentially miss another important destination – London. Recent research has underlined the often-overlooked importance of the capital in the story of the Scottish diaspora, and against this backdrop, this paper will seek to explore the extent and nature of Highland settlement in London during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. From this basis, the paper will explore how the presence of Highlanders in London influenced English image-making about the Highlands, which was burgeoning at this time. The paper will suggest that, once in London, Highlanders and Lowlanders tended to blend together in English eyes, rendering the ‘Highland’ component of the Scottish community in London largely invisible. This, it will be argued, has important implications not only for the way historians understand both the Highland/Lowland divide and the Scottish diaspora in the pre-modern period, but also for our understanding of migration and assimilation as wider processes. This paper could potentially be considered for inclusion in the published conference proceedings.

Militarism and land rights in Gaelic Scotland before, during and after the Clearances

Martin Macgregor

One theme present in Eric Richards’ work on the Sutherland Clearances is the argument of the tenantry that military service on behalf of estate and state should immunise them from removal, and the argument of the estate – apparently complementary and affirming the tenantry’s case – that refusal to enlist in the proprietorial regiment should constitute sufficient grounds for removal. This paper asks whether investigation of the relationship between militarism and land rights in Scottish Gaelic society in earlier eras can aid understanding of their relationship in the era of the Clearances, and beyond.

Fraser in Fearn: migration, diaspora and empire in the return visits of Peter Fraser (New Zealand Prime Minister) to the Highlands, 1935-1949

Dr Jim MacPherson

Peter Fraser (Prime Minister of New Zealand, 1940-1940) is one of the Highlands most celebrated and successful emigrants. Having left the Easter Ross village of Fearn just before the First World War, Fraser made a new life for himself in New Zealand, where he rapidly climbed the heights of Labour party politics. Despite becoming one of the leading politicians of the Commonwealth, Fraser continued to return home to visit family and friends in Fearn, coming back on five separate occasions. Building on Eric Richards’ pathbreaking studies of migration and diaspora in the Scottish Highlands, this paper explores the extent to which ties of belonging between Scotland and New Zealand were diasporic in nature during the mid-twentieth century. Using press coverage and rare radio broadcasts, this paper examines how a shared belief in empire connected folk in the Highlands with diasporic Scots, such as Fraser, on the other side of the world. It argues that Peter Fraser’s return visits to Fearn nurtured this sense of imperial connection and concludes with an examination of how Fraser’s Highland homecomings are remembered in the region, demonstrating the ongoing legacies of empire that continue to shape Scotland to this day.

The Stewart Mackenzies and their management of their Wester Ross estates, 1817-1837

Finlay McKichan

When James Alexander Stewart married Mary Elizabeth Frederica Mackenzie, Lord Seaforth’s heir, in 1817 he became proprietor of the Seaforth estates in Lewis and Wester and Easter Ross. The estate adviser Robert Brown recommended that on financial grounds Kintail, the lands from which the Mackenzies were believed to have sprung in the Middle Ages, should be marketed. On the contrary, Stewart Mackenzie attempted to buy back some Kintail lands previously sold and purchased two other Wester Ross estates, Kernsary, near Inverewe (1823) and Torridon (1825). In the event, the Kintail repurchase failed because he could not meet the asking price and Torridon (1838) and Kernsary (1844) were ultimately sold as uneconomic. Eric Richards argued that the Seaforth debts were so high that the capital Stewart Mackenzie brought from his own estates (Glasserton and Muirkirk) simply vanished. Was he unwisely worsening the position by his Wester Ross purchases? This paper will consider his motives and treatment of his small tenants and assess the results of his management of the Wester Ross estates from 1817 until he and his wife left the UK in 1837 for him to become governor of Ceylon.

Climatic determinism and Scottish emigration in the long nineteenth century

Graeme Morton

The evidence gathered through government enquiry into the state of destitution in the north-west highlands and the islands of Scotland supported those who maintained that emigration was the necessary response to the realities faced by a superabundant population scratching a living in a challenging climate. This climatic push to emigrate was simultaneously bolstered by reports of more salubrious environments found in the settler colonies, with sometimes extravagant stories spread of the health benefits gained from relocation. Such accounts came from recent and long-gone migrants’ own evaluation of their new settlements, but also from the evidence made public by colonial and private agents who looked to incentivise migration, and through the work and publications of the Colonization Committee at Westminster.

While the wind has long been essential to taking Scots to places all-round the globe, it was the clouds that brought the rain that metaphorically swept the nation clear of its people. By tracing the hold of climatic determinism upon the growing science of meteorology, I examine how climatic variation has underpinned the flow of emigrants from Scotland in the long nineteenth century.

Towards the Island Councils: Opposition to Regionalisation in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, 1966 – 1975.

Mathew Nicolson

The creation of unitary island councils in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles in 1975 has received only limited attention by historians, following a general lack of research into Scottish local government. My paper will begin to address this absence by offering an account of the successful campaigns initiated by the islands’ representatives against regional amalgamations between 1966 and 1975. Facing shared economic challenges and after a century of sustained depopulation and emigration, a consensus emerged in the islands in favour of greater local decision-making as the solution for revitalising their communities and economic prospects. These campaigns were initially led by Orkney and Shetland but their demands for all-purpose authorities detached from Scotland’s new, regionalised local government structure also gained support in the Western Isles. The islands’ arguments focused on the geographical and logistical challenges posed by inclusion within a regional authority, although I will argue the decision to establish island councils was motivated more by popular pressure and political considerations. The islands’ distinct experience of local government reform offers a new perspective into conceptions of local democracy and regional identity in postwar Scotland, while it is also hoped to demonstrate the potential for further study into Scottish local government.

The Highlands and Islands: an evolving history

Linda Ross

The Highlands and Islands is a landscape for living. Whilst the physical presence of its terrain may change little – an 1880s’ photograph of a mountainscape can remain immediately recognisable today – human-made additions to that landscape influence interactions with and perceptions of place. These interventions, whether relating to energy generation and transmission or military or commercial enterprises, bring with them social consequences which shaped the region in the twentieth century. Many of these infrastructures and projects have reached the end of their working lives, leaving behind persisting memories which ensure they remain part of the everyday. Dounreay, for example, will endure through its own folklore in which its distinctive sphere was shaped ‘like a golf ball’ so it could be ‘rolled into the sea’ in the event of an accident. Likewise, thoughts of Kishorn’s heyday will evoke tales of rowdy nightlife in Lochcarron on a Friday: shared recollections become modern mythology. Stories like these – which relate to development – can be found region-wide. These histories, however, tend to be left out of national narratives which focus on modernity as something associated with urban space. This paper will counter this, showing how tradition and modernity combine to create a specific form of contemporary life in the area. Within this there is much diversity, and this paper will review existing studies of the region in the twentieth century. In doing so it will identify areas for future study, paving the way for the continued evolution of Highlands and Islands history.

‘That Wretched and Ruined Country’: the post Napoleonic War depression in Badenoch

David Taylor

Though all Highland historians recognise the impact of the post-Napoleonic War depression, analysis has tended to focus on the kelp-producing western seaboard, with comparatively little attention elsewhere. This paper will examine the consequences of the post-1815 collapse on landlocked Badenoch, a region utterly dependent on the cattle trade. At the heart of the collapse was the triple onslaught of ‘impersonal forces’ (a term much favoured by Eric Richards himself): the impact of peace on a region where the military was second only to farming, the catastrophic collapse of cattle prices, and the prolonged climatic downturn that brought an abnormal sequence of harvest failure, stock losses and food shortage. Human responsibility will, however, also be highlighted through the brutal and futile post-war rental policies imposed by local landowners, before finishing with a brief assessment of the profound social impact of the post-war depression.

‘Dingin’ doon the braes’: summary justice and salmon fishing in 18th century Scotland

Jane Thomas

Salmon was always one of Scotland’s most sought after commodities, being exported to continental Europe from the middle ages. During the 18th century, closer ties with England opened more easily accessible markets, and demand for salmon increased, particularly in its fresh, or lightly preserved forms. This, and the consequent price rise, encouraged proprietors of salmon fishings to exploit these more intensively, use methods of doubtful legality, and push boundaries, straying into fishings others had traditionally regarded as theirs. Challenges inevitably ensued, taking the form of legal or physical interruptions – both legitimate expressions of protest under Scots law and customarily applied for centuries. Physical interruptions of fishing activity occurred from the Spey to the Ness, involving the removal or destruction of fishing equipment, and ranging from the symbolic cutting of nets to the night-time demolition of fishing barriers – ‘dingin’ doon the braes’. Attempts were made at the time to dismiss such activity as the actions of lawless bands of Highlanders, bent on destruction and not justice, and in this paper I will discuss a number of these cases, and whether there was any justification for these assertions.

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Organiser Professor Annie Tindley

Organiser of Copy of Eric Richards Memorial Conference

Prof. Annie Tindley is Professor of British and Irish Rural History at Newcastle University 

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