Abandoned Communities ..... Strathnaver
In 1809 the Countess appointed two men from Morayshire, William Young and Patrick Sellar, to act as her agents. Young came with the title of Commissioner, Sellar was his factor. Over the next three years clearances were executed in several of the parishes of Sutherland. Donald MacLeod, a stonemason from Rosal, Strathnaver, later published his memories of the clearances. As he put it, "A large portion of the people of these parishes were in the course of two or three years almost entirely rooted out, and those few who took the miserable allotments [on the coast] and some of their descendants continue to exist on them in great poverty".

Donald MacLeod, Gloomy Memories in the Highlands of Scotland, originally published in 1857 but published again in a new edition by the Strathnaver Museum in 1996.

By 1814 Young and Sellar were ready to tackle Strathnaver. Sellar had acquired an additional interest in the clearance of Strathnaver when in December 1813 he successfully bid for the tenancy of a large area of land on the eastern side of the Naver. At the auction, which took place at the Inn at Golspie, William Young announced that all tenants currently occupying parts of Strathnaver and certain other parts of Sutherland would be required to leave by the following Whit Sunday. Soon afterwards Sellar went to Achness, near the eastern end of Loch Naver, and gave formal notice to quit to some of the tenants on his land. He informed the local people that others would have to leave at a later date, and that it was intended that the whole of Strathnaver would be cleared within four years. At the same time he promised that surveying would start soon with a view to allocating crofts on the north coast.

Many of the people to be evicted made preparations to leave, and before the deadline had moved with their belongings to the coast. With great difficulty some of them took with them timber and other construction materials from their dwellings in the expectation that they could be incorporated into their new homes. Other people, however, failed to move. Some of them were sick or disabled. Some were the cottars and tinkers who would have no entitlement to homes on the coast. Others simply could not face the prospect of having to move.

Forced evictions began on Monday 13 June. A posse of four law officers and twenty men went from one clachan to another removing anyone still inside their home, and then setting fire to each house to make it impossible for it to be re-occupied. Patrick Sellar guided and supervised their work. A general account of these events was later given by the stonemason Donald MacLeod, mentioned earlier. His report may be exaggerated, but I am willing to accept that it contains a good deal of truth. He wrote: "Many deaths ensued from alarm, fatigue, and cold. Some old men took to the woods and precipices, wandering about in a state approaching to, or of, absolute insanity; and several of them, in this situation, lived on a few days. Pregnant women were taken with premature labour, and several children died. To these events I was an eye-witness."

One of the houses whose burning was witnessed by MacLeod was occupied by a tinker by the name of William Chisholm. When the posse arrived Chisholm's elderly bed-ridden mother-in-law was still lying inside. Donald MacLeod informed Sellar that she was too ill to move. According to MacLeod the reply was "Damn her, the old witch; she has lived too long. Let her burn." On being carried from the house in singed blankets Chisholm's mother cried out "God receive my soul! What fire is this about me?" She did not speak again, and died five days later.

Other events recalled by people who had been evicted during the 1814 clearances can be read about at this address.

After a long legal process Patrick Sellar was brought to trial in Inverness in 1816. Among the many intriguing aspects of the events before the trial and of the trial itself are:

•  The lengths to which Robert MacKid, who since 1809 had been Sheriff-Substitute of the county of Sutherland, went to gather evidence against Sellar.
•  The support given to the prosecution by the Military Register, a newspaper which, though published in London, took a full interest in news from the Highlands.
•  A petition on behalf of the people of Strathnaver that reached the Countess of Sutherland via her son, Earl Gower.
•  The role of the judge at the trial. The judge, Lord Pitmilly, instructed the jury that if they were in doubt about their verdict they should take into account the character of the accused. The court had received a number of favourable character references on behalf of Patrick Sellar.
•  The constitution of the jury. It comprised fifteen men, of whom eight were local landowners, two were merchants, two were tacksmen, and one was a lawyer.

Portrait of Patrick Sellar, seen on a whiteboard in the office of Strathnaver Mueum