History

When Sheep Mattered More than People

Eric Richards, The Highland Clearances (Birlinn, 2000), but latest edition 2008, 486 pages, $24.95 Bringing civilisation to aborigines, natives, savages. Or, destroying a lovably primitive form of communism among romantically noble warriors. That was two hundred years ago. And now: genocide, holocaust, ethnic cleansing, blot, dark chapter. No, the comments refer not to Australia’s Aborigines, but to the Highlanders of Scotland, whose numbers declined precipitously in the nineteenth century and fell to a small proportion of the Scottish population, compared with perhaps up to 40 per cent a couple of centuries earlier. Their fate was very different from that of Aboriginal…

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