Did I mention my interest in Scottish-Canadian connections? Today we stumbled on the ruins of a tacksman’s house in Upper Bornish Clearance Village. This brought us face to face with a well-documented Highland Clearance that sent thousands to Canada. We were rambling around on South Uist, roughly ten kilometres north of Lochboisdale, where the ferry arrives from Oban. At the Kildonan Museum, after visiting the nearby birthplace of Flora Macdonald, we had picked up an archaeological guide pointing the way to notable ruins. It spoke rather grandly of a “Kildonan Trail,” but we found ourselves beating across pathless, marshy ground to the ruins of this little known village.
In the 18th century, the guidebook told us, Upper Bornish comprised half a dozen households, the people living mostly “in long houses shared at times with livestock.” The tacksman among them, the senior tenant, was the only one who could afford a separate byre for sheep and cattle. Decades came and went, people lived and died, and in August 1851, the poor farmers whose ancestors had toiled here for centuries were among those commanded to attend a public meeting at Lochboisdale, where a sailing ship called the Admiral stood at anchor.
According to an eyewitness, many of the people “were seized and, in spite of their entreaties, sent on board the transports.” The next morning, the writer adds, “we were suddenly awakened by the screams of a young female who had been re-captured in an adjoining house, she having escaped after her first capture. We all rushed to the door, and saw the broken-hearted creature, with dishevelled hair and swollen face, dragged away by two constables and a ground [local] officer.”
Those constables caught twenty more people who had fled into the hills and carried them aboard the Admiral, “in consequence of which four families at least have been divided, some having come in the ships to Quebec, while the other members of the same families are left in the Highlands.” This brutal incident was part of an extended clearance that saw roughly 2,000 people evicted from the Outer Hebrides. Those who survived the weeks-long voyage arrived destitute in Quebec, and most of them, assisted by previous arrivals, made their way to Upper Canada.