Clearances in one place, settlements somewhere else: Iain Hutchison, ‘The 1862 Fair Isle Clearance to New Brunswick’, The Scottish Historical Review, 102, 1, 2023, pp. 91-115


Abstract: In May 1862, sixty-five adults and seventy children under twelve years of age left their homes on Fair Isle bound for Canada. Following a carefully orchestrated journey via Westray, Kirkwall, Granton and Glasgow, they boarded the Olympia to cross the Atlantic to St John, New Brunswick, where they were to embark upon building new lives. This article explains how hardship encountered by these families on Fair Isle in 1861 placed them in a situation of impending destitution that encouraged their departure from their native island, located halfway between Orkney and Shetland, and resulted in their resettlement in North America the following year. When emigration was proposed as a solution to their plight, glowing reports of opportunity in New Brunswick provided the ‘pull’ stimulus to counter their desperate situation on Fair Isle. Was the 1862 Fair Isle emigration an act of compassion and concern on the part of sponsors and facilitators? Or was islanders’ growing desperation used as an opportunity to remove the poorest 40% of Fair Isle’s population a decade after that process is widely accepted as having come to an end in the Highlands and islands of Scotland? Correspondence in the lead-up to the emigration of the beleaguered islanders suggests that their departure, while portrayed as benevolent intervention and offering them opportunity in a new land, was accompanied by self-interested agendas on the part of landowners and their agents who facilitated their departure. The article argues that the 1862 Fair Isle emigration was a removal of unwanted families facilitated by ‘assistance’ to them that was couched in language of compassion and concern. Landed interests orchestrated ‘aid’ and engaged in soothing public rhetoric to achieve an end that was ultimately to their own benefit.

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