William Young and Patrick Sellar
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The cheviot sheep had been first introduced into Sutherland in 1794 by a company of southern sheep farmers on the estate of Lord Armadale. The experiment was successful and it was commended because the population of the estate had actually increased and because the people were 'encouraged ... to improve and be industrious seamen'. Other removals were also engineered by neighbouring landowners. Lord Reay marked out forty acres near Sandgoe on the north coast to accommodate twenty families, while on the Strathy estate eighteen families who had paid £185 rent in the high strath were replaced by a sheep farmer paying £400. The sheep population of the county grew rapidly to an estimated 94,750 in 1808 and large numbers of families were pressed out towards the coasts-at Portskerra there were twenty-nine families living off twenty-three acres of arable land and the fish they could catch, to which was added a further eleven families of new settlers. In Edderachyllis, fifty families were removed 'and their places occupied by sheep'; those thus removed seem to have been left to their own devices which meant that the coastal areas were increasingly congested with families living on less than two acres each. 1
The estate of the Countess of Sutherland did not follow the general trend until about 1806. There were two reasons for the delay-the husband of the Countess did not inherit his fortune as Lord Stafford until 1803, and most of the estate was tied up by leases which were not expected to run out until 1807. Plans, however, were considered in the 1790s. In 1799 furtive communications were passed between
agents and the Countess outlining a policy of removals on the expiration of the leases, subject to the assent of her husband-with the hope that 'when a considerable thinning comes to take place, may not many of the people be preserved, and with advantage, by making a village on the coast of Assynt?' Earlier in 1791 the efforts of George Dempster to introduce cotton manufacture into the country were viewed with keen interest-and the estate factor speculated that 'if it succeeds Lord Gower can enlarge the plan on going into the county.' 2
The first clearance of the Sutherland estate seems to have occurred in 1806 when the Northumbrian sheepfarmers, Atkinson and Marshall, took over a large tract of land in Lairg and Strathnaver. It is likely that many of the men of these districts were absent, fighting in the Countess's own regiment against France; it is equally probable that they believed that their tenancies were secure by hereditary customary succession.3 About seventy-seven families were evicted from the upper parts of the strath; no land appears to have been reserved for them and they congregated on the northern coastside which was already at least partly occupied. No village had been created for their future subsistence; in fact, many decided to emigrate to America; the ship carrying them and its 140 passengers were lost in a storm off Newfoundland.