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The Sheep-farming Years, 1780-1830

Iain S. Macdonald

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Subject: Scottish History
Royal octavo
Illus. No
ISBN: 1 86232 159 0
Paperback £16.99

The early sheep-farming period in the part of the Highlands examined in this study was characterised by a great deal of geographical, social and financial movement. Two general points can be made. One is that chiefs, tacksmen, clansmen, and even southern sheep-farmers were all individuals reacting to the circumstances in which they found themselves. The other is that these circumstances were characterised by a great deal of economic turbulence. It has been widely accepted in the past that sheep-farming in the Highlands was developed and undertaken by southern incomers. Some modern historians have even dismissed the possibility that Highlanders could have become sheep-farmers because they lacked the necessary skill and capital.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, some southern sheep-farmers did indeed move into the Highlands but they were greatly outnumbered by native Highlanders who saw a future in sheep-farming, initiated it themselves, and pursued it vigorously. When the Minister of the Parish of Kilmanivaig wrote about sheep-farming in 1842 he said: ‘It is supposed that there are upwards of 100,000 sheep reared in this parish every year… Mr Cameron, Carychvilly (Corriechoille), the most extensive grazier in the north, stated a few years ago, that in the preceding year he had clipped upwards of 37,000 sheep … Mr Greig of Tullach (Tolloch), and the Messrs M’Donnell of Kappoch, are supposed to have each near 100 square miles under sheep: the one on the north and the other on the south banks of the Spean.’ Cameron and the MacDonalds were Highlanders. Greig was a Lowlander. That must surely tell us something.

Author: Iain S. Macdonald is a retired Public Health Medical Officer. He lives in Falkirk.