Lord Seaforth and Highland estate management in the First Phase of Clearance (1783-1815)

Finlay McKichan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Professor Allan Macinnes coined the phrase and defined ‘The First Phase of Clearance’. He argued that in this period chiefs embraced wholeheartedly the Whig concept of progress and deliberately subordinated, if not threw over, their personal obligations as patrons and protectors of their clansmen and that a result was a gradual but inexorable re-orientation of estates towards the market at the expense of clanship. This article is a case study of First Phase Clearance based on the proprietorship of Francis Humberston Mackenzie of the Seaforth estate in mainland Ross-shire and Lewis. It argues that he was slower than other proprietors in abandoning traditional attitudes and in following the dictates of political economy. It shows that customary, political and commercial pressures pulled him in different directions, which led to ambiguities and contradictions in his policies. In the first part of the article the importance for him of customary concerns, traditional attitudes and political influence and the implications for estate management are examined. However, he also wanted to enjoy the financial benefits of commercialisation and in some respects he undoubtedly acted commercially. This is considered in the second part. The consequences of these competing pressures are discussed in the final part. The article concludes that, while Seaforth reflects many of the characteristics associated with First Phase Clearance proprietors, his estate management policy does not display inexorable adoption of commercialism, but rather confusion and inconsistency under pressure. This was to the detriment of his own interests and those of his family and began the process by which in the nineteenth century most of the Seaforth estate was sold.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-68
Number of pages19
JournalScottish Historical Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2007


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