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Learn more about a traditional song of the time 'Battle of the Braes'
Clearances - Battle of the Braes


On the island of Skye, the cruelty of the clearances and the disregard for human life and values festered in the minds of the people for many years until eventually the worm began to turn.

Those crofters remaining at the time were denied access to Ben Lee to graze their stock. Although the crofters had agreed to pay a generous rent at the expiry of the old lease, the tenancy was let to the sitting tenant. In the face of this injustice, the crofters decided to go ahead and graze their stock regardless, some even refusing to pay rent until the problem was resolved.

Lord MacDonald decided to have the leaders evicted, but when the authorities moved to carry out the order, the Braes people demanded that the documents be burnt. Against this insurrection, 50 extra police were dispatched to Skye. As they reached Braes, the crofters launched at them with whatever missiles they could find. A number of crofters were taken prisoner, convicted and fined. (Some versions of this story say that not a blow was struck by the crofters before the arrests were made, and that the police baton charged through the crowd, inducing the riot).

The government, weary both with the demands of arrogant Highland proprietors and the agitation of the crofters, was at last stung into action, and a commission of enquiry was set up to investigate "the conditions of the crofters and cottars in the Highlands.... and everything concerning them." It had wide powers to call witnesses, demand any document, and to visit any place deemed necessary in order to obtain the fullest possible information. Starting
in 1883 the commissioners travelled widely among the Highlands and Islands, interviewing hundreds of witnesses, both crofters and landlords. In April 1884 they made their report, less than a year after they had carried out their first interviews in Skye.

Though the Napier Commission's recommendations were less sweeping than some of the crofters had hoped, there was much they could be pleased with. London was slow to act, however, and there was further trouble and more rent-strikes on Skye, to the extent that the Government felt it necessary to send ships and around 400 marines to keep order. Four out of five Highland Members of Parliament were now committed to land reform, and the Liberal Government's slim majority gave them bargaining power. In 1885 the Crofters Act was passed through Parliament, and brought the crofting community substantial benefits. For the first time they had security of tenure, and this could be passed on to another family member. They had the right to compensation for any improvements they carried out, and a Land Court was set up to fix fair rents. It had taken over a hundred years of evictions and banishments, grief and separation, and finally anger and rebellion, but at last the remaining Highlanders had a right to a life in their own country.