This new book from popular historian Jim Hunter explores the Sutherland Clearances, one of the most harrowing episodes in Scottish history.
Hunter, whose previous work includes the critically acclaimed On the Other Side of Sorrow, takes the reader back to the harrowing times of early 19th century Scotland to witness the Sutherland clearances; the enforced depopulation of this Scottish county by its wealthy landlords. Ejected from their homes, many families embarked on a year long journey to the Manitoba prairies where they founded the settlement that is now known as the city of Winnipeg.
While previous historians such as Dr. Iain Grimble and Eric Richards have covered the clearances in depth, few have managed to write about it in such a way that evokes such strong emotion and feeling. Hunter succeeds in this respect; his evocative retelling of the event is both gripping and heart-rending, and he gives a much-needed voice to the thousands of nameless Scots that were forced from their homeland during the Clearances in Sutherland by skilfully portraying the events from the perspective of the tenants affected.
Through Hunter’s words, the reader can experience the tenants’ hopes, fears and ambitions. Eviction scenes are depicted in gut-wrenching detail, while resistance to the atrocity is powerfully portrayed. Readers are invited to follow the characters through one of the most traumatic experiences in their lives and indeed in Scottish history.
The characters are laid out clearly for the reader and it is impossible not to become emotionally involved in their stories as the tale unravels. As a result, the book is easily accessible to everyone, not just history buffs.
Documenting the Sutherland Clearances succinctly is no mean feat, but Hunter moves swiftly between personal stories and historical fact, while consulting a vast array of sources.
The book manages to cover the century-long clearances in just under 400 pages, without becoming stale or repetitive. Hunter takes his time when
describing some of the more intrinsic details of the conflict, enabling readers with no prior historical knowledge of the event to understand what is happening.
This fascinating book is packed full of personal stories, detailed accounts, and, above all, historical fact and research. It also contains numerous maps and photographs that add to the reader’s understanding. Hunter has successfully managed to make a distant historical event relatable by exploring the timeless emotions and reactions of those involved.
A fantastic overall account of the Sutherland Clearances, this book is sure to become a core text on the topic.
Set Adrift Upon the World The Sutherland Clearances, by James Hunter, published by Birlinn, £25.