Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 2nd Duke of Sutherland

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About Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 2nd Duke of Sutherland

The 2nd Duke of Sutherland is best-known for burning the homes of thousands of peasant farmers to clear his neighboring region to create more grazing pasture for his sheep.

The Duke took advantage of the recent enclosure movement, by claiming common ancestral land as his own, using Parliamentary connections to make it law.

Upon deciding to replace farming with sheep, he brutally evicted thousands of families with little or no notice, by setting thousands of homes on fire all at once. When house-holders later huddled and crouched upon the smoldering remains of their homes, until they starved to death, he did nothing to assist. His wife, the Duchess, callously described the starving Scottish families as follows: they "do not fatten like larger breed of animals" in a letter to a friend, with no compassion for the suffering by starvation, exposure, loss of home, and loss of all hope.

The Highland Clearances (Scottish Gaelic: Fuadach nan Gàidheal, the expulsion of the Gael) were forced displacements of the population of the Scottish Highlands during the 18th and 19th centuries. They led to mass emigration to the sea coast, the Scottish Lowlands, and the North American colonies. The clearances were part of a process of agricultural change throughout the United Kingdom (called enclosure elsewhere), but were particularly notorious as a result of the late timing, the lack of legal protection for year-by-year tenants under Scots law, the abruptness of the change from the traditional clan system, and the brutality of many evictions.

It was in the mid-nineteenth century that the second, more brutal phase of the Clearances began; the cumulative effect was particularly devastating to the cultural landscape of Scotland in a way that did not happen in other areas of Britain.

Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, Duchess of Sutherland, and her husband George Leveson-Gower, 1st Duke of Sutherland, conducted brutal clearances between 1811 and 1820.[5][6] Evictions at the rate of 2,000 families in one day were not uncommon. Many starved and froze to death where their homes had once been. The Duchess of Sutherland, upon seeing the starving tenants on her husband's estate, remarked in a letter to a friend in England, "Scotch people are of happier constitution and do not fatten like the larger breed of animals."[7]

In 1807 Elizabeth Gordon, 19th Countess of Sutherland, touring her inheritance with her husband Lord Stafford (later made Duke of Sutherland), wrote that "he is seized as much as I am with the rage of improvements, and we both turn our attention with the greatest of energy to turnips". As well as turning land over to sheep farming, Stafford planned to invest in creating a coal-pit, salt pans, brick and tile works and herring fisheries. That year his agents began the evictions, and 90 families were forced at once to leave their crops in the ground and move their cattle, furniture and timbers to land 20 miles (32 km) away on the coast, living exposed in the open until they could built themselves new houses. Stafford's first Commissioner, William Young, arrived in 1809, and soon engaged Patrick Sellar as his factor who pressed ahead with the process while acquiring sheep farming estates for himself.[3]

Donald McLeod, a Sutherland crofter, later wrote about the events he witnessed:

 ''The consternation and confusion were extreme. Little or no time was given for the removal of persons or property; the people striving to remove the sick and the helpless before the fire should reach them; next, struggling to save the most valuable of their effects. The cries of the women and children, the roaring of the affrighted cattle, hunted at the same time by the yelling dogs of the shepherds amid the smoke and fire, altogether presented a scene that completely baffles description — it required to be seen to be believed.
 ''A dense cloud of smoke enveloped the whole country by day, and even extended far out to sea. At night an awfully grand but terrific scene presented itself — all the houses in an extensive district in flames at once. I myself ascended a height about eleven o'clock in the evening, and counted two hundred and fifty blazing houses, many of the owners of which I personally knew, but whose present condition — whether in or out of the flames — I could not tell. The conflagration lasted six days, till the whole of the dwellings were reduced to ashes or smoking ruins. During one of these days a boat actually lost her way in the dense smoke as she approached the shore, but at night was enabled to reach a landing-place by the lurid light of the flames.[4]'

Accounts like those above of McLeod and General David Stewart of Garth brought widespread condemnation and The Highland Land League eventually achieved land reform in the enactment of Crofting Acts, but these could not bring economic viability and came too late to relieve any suffering, at a time when the land was already depopulated of the families who had lived there since the Iron Age.

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Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 2nd Duke of Sutherland's Timeline

August 8, 1786
Portland Place, London, Middlesex, England
May 30, 1824
Age 37
August 8, 1825
Age 39
April 15, 1827
Age 40
December 19, 1828
Age 42
Hamilton Place, Piccadilly, Westminster, Middlesex, England
November 11, 1832
Age 46
June 16, 1834
Age 47
November 21, 1843
Age 57
August 2, 1845
Age 58