Thursday, March 1, 2012

Trouble on the Seaforth Estate

If you have ancestors who lived on the Seaforth Estate or are interested in the period known as “First Phase of Clearance” (1783-1815), you might be interested in case-study by Finlay McKichan.

McKichan examines the proprietorship of Francis Humberston McKenzie of the Seaforth Estate located in mainland Ross-shire and Lewis. He places McKenzie’s action in the context of his background, ambitions, and the actions of other landlords during this period. McKenzie grew up in London and had no expectations of inheriting the estate. Consequently, he was an outsider when he came to the Highlands and  Romantic notions may have clouded his judgment regarding the business of the estate. More than some other landlords, McKenzie did try to balance his responsibility to his tenants and his patrimony, with economic necessity. He did try not to sell land or evict tenants. He was also a tireless military recruiter which brought him a tidy income. These actions do place McKenzie in a favorable light. On the other hand he had a penchant for nice things and living a luxurious lifestyle and so consistently outspent his income. Finally, he did have to sell land, knowing that the new owners would evict the tenants. Debts at the time of his death in 1815 were almost £150,000 and by 1862 most of the estate had been sold off.

This article has as its focus the actions of the landlord, Francis McKenzie and hardly mentions the tenants at all.  As such it is part of the historiography of the Clearances that focuses solely on landlord action. Although, in this article it is implicit, not explicit. McKichan does not examine how McKenzie’s actions or inactions impacted the tenants. On the other hand, it is only an 18 page article, and there is only so much that can be accomplished in that amount of space.

For family historians, this article will not provide you with names (or any information really) about the tenants, but does provide the context in which they lived. For academics, the article provides more insight to this relatively overlooked period of Scottish emigration.

McKichan, Finlay. "Lord Seaforth and the Highland Estate Management in the First Phase Clearance (1783-1815)," The Scottish Historical Review, vol. 86, No. 222 (Apr., 2007), 50-68.  The abstract to the article is here; check to see if your library has a subscription to Academic Search, the rest of the article might be available there.

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