Eilthireachd agus Na Fuadaichean/ Emigrations and the Clearances

Emigration from all parts of the Hebrides has been constant since at least 1750, but there are particular periods of concentrated activity, described briefly below.

Emigration Voyages from Lewis

Emigrant Voyages from Lewis (1774-1924) – Emigrant ships sailed from Stornoway from at least the 1770s, though it was also common for emigrants to travel to Glasgow, Liverpool or other centres before embarking on the Atlantic crossing.

Early emigrations from the Hebrides consisted overwhelmingly of young single men seeking a new life in the Dominions, there were also family groups amongst the early out-migrants.

The outstanding difference between the early and later emigrants is that those who left in the later 1700s had the financial wherewithal both to emigrate and to enable them to establish a new life in countries that were free from the social and economic constraints that persisted in the Hebrides, the later emigrants had been dispossessed from their homes and land and forced to emigration.


Hudson’s Bay Company – The Hudson’s Bay Company was founded in 1670 by King Charles to exploit the natural resources of the North American Colonies, notably around Hudson’s Bay in northern Canada (as it was to become).

Early emigration (1770s)

To follow.  The Hudson’s Bay Company was for many boys a path away from the island; some returned, and some settled in Canada after their tour of duty with HBC was complete.  

Evictions and Clearances 1820s-1850s

Toiseach nam Fuadach /Start of the Clearances (1820s)

In the 1820s, pastoral farming, requiring large tracts of land, was introduced as a means of shoring up estate finance as the profits from kelp continued to fall.  The first villages cleared of their people were Scaliscro, Cleit a’ h-Og, Kinloch and (in the 1830s) Drovernish for the creation of Scaliscro, Morsgail and Linshader sheep runs. Small, uninhabited islands, used for summering the cattle, were also withdrawn from crofting use. 

Timisgearraidh air Fhuadach airson Cliob/Timsgarry cleared to make way for the Glebe (1826)

Doilgheas nam Fuadach/Heartbreak of Mass Eviction (1837)

A period of systematic clearance began in 1837. The arable land of five or six villages were cleared and converted into Timsgarry and Ardroil sheep farms. Around 48 families (400 people or more) were evicted. It may have been in response to this episode that Rev Alexander MacLeod wrote to the proprietor:

“ The present prospects of many parishioners of Uig are most disturbing and heartbreaking. Upwards of 40 heads of families came here this day to request me to write to the proprietor on their behalf. Saying that they are without friends and without means, and upon the eve of being removed out of their present properties without any encouraging prospects for the future. That in case of their being removed from Uig, they say that there is not one of them who would feel disposed to go Ness, there is no promise of land there or of stocks to support their families” (GD 46 13:199. Letter from Rev A. MacLeod, February 22nd 1837).

Clearance and Canada (1838)

At the Seaforth ownership of Lewis was winding down amid deaths and debts, attempts were made to rationalise the tacks in Lewis that were not yielding any income, principally by means of evicting the small tenants and letting the land as larger sheep farms to new tenants – mostly incomers.  The displaced families were in some cases moved to new ground in other parts of the island, and in some cases offered the chance to emigrate to Canada.  In Uig, Mealista was cleared in 1838 and some 24 families acquired plots in the Eastern Townships of Quebec from the British Land Company.

Crìoch Linn nan Sìophortach/End of Seaforth Era (1838)

“Our places were crowded first when Mealista was cleared (1838). Six families of that township were thrown in among us; the rest were hounded away to Australia and America, and I think I can hear the cry of the children till this day”
(Norman Morrison, Breanish, in evidence to the Napier Commission, June 4th 1883)

There were further evictions from Reef and Kneep in 1842 before the Seaforth era came to an end. James Matheson a native of Lairg in Sutherland and partner in Jardine, Matheson and Company of Hong Kong purchased the island in 1844.

Buil nam Fuadach /The Reality of Evictions (1851-52)

“He has been summoned out of his lot as he is in arrears of rent about £2. 10/-   …. he owes about £10 for meal advanced to him by the proprietor; he is part of the crew on a boat engaged at the cod and ling fishing…he and his brother and their families have been offered free passage to America and will go, but would rather remain if he could find the means of subsistence here”. 
(Donald MacLean, Carnish 1851).

“Carnish, Reef and Kneep were to be cleared completely …. ground officers were instructed to destroy forthwith the houses, after the emigrants had vacated them”.
(Diary of John Munro MacKenzie, 1851)

“Beannachd leis an Talamh Eòlach…”/ “Farewell to the Familiar Earth

When the work schemes were withdrawn, new estate proposals involved the removal of 400 people. John Munro MacKenzie, Sir James Matheson’s factor, kept a diary of his transactions, including the logistics of forced emigration… The estimated arrears of each village, and the pitiable value of the stock, are recorded in the diary. 

Figure 4-6: Numbers selected for emigration

Village          1                 2                  3                    4                      5
Kneep          6               43               £74               £27.5s               1      
Valtos           8               50              £111.15           £39.15s             1
Breanish       4               27              £52                £6.5s                 None
Islivig             3               18              £54.9s            £14.5s              None       
Mangersta   6               34              £72.15.5         £38.12s             2       
Carnish        12              61              £183.10.8       £57.5s                5       
Crowlista      6              44              £34.8.4           £16.15s             4        
Aird Uig         8             43              £41.10s            £68.00s           6                 
Geshader      2               4               £19.9.7            £10.10s             1        
Carishader    2              11               £22.1.6            £3.10s               2
Enaclete        1                8               £1.10s             £10.10s             1
1. =Families to emigrate: 2. =Souls: 3. =Arrears: 4. =Value of stock: 5. =Willing to emigrate ( Munro- MacKenzie 1994)

Bàrdachd Calum Mhurchaidh ‘ic Leòid, Crabhlasatadh ‘s e falbh a Chanada/ The Poetry of Calum MacLeod, Crowlista, as he left for Canada, in 1851.

Chunnaic mise là an deallaich
Aig an eaglais mhòir ud
Leigeil beannachd le na clachan
‘S leis an talamh eòlach.

I saw the day of the departing
At the high church there
Leaving farewell to the stones (walls)
And the familiar earth.

Source: Comunn Eachdraidh Uig, Sanas (1986)

If you would like to leave a comment or get in touch with us…

You can visit our facebook page Uig Historical Society where we will be able to contact you. We have a great facebook family who are always happy to help with anything from dates, photographs and any information regarding Uig.