George Granville Leveson-Gower
George Granville Leveson-Gower was the son of the 1st Marquess of Stafford. George became the 2nd Marquess of Stafford, 3rd Earl Gower and Viscount Trentham, 4th Lord Gower of Stittenham in Yorkshire, 8th baronet of the same place on his father’s death and he also became the 1st Duke of Sutherland, in the last six months of his own death in 1833. He had also become the benefactor of his father’s great wealth, estimated to have been the wealthiest man of the nineteenth-century, surpassing even that of Nathan Rothschild. The precise value of his estate at death is unknown; it was simply classed as 'upper value'. He was described by Charles Greville as a "leviathan of wealth" and "...the richest individual who ever died". For much of his adult life his annual income was some 300,000 pounds.
Stafford saw Sutherland as a wild, rude county where all was wrong in his eyes. He had set his mind on interfering with the intention of setting things right, to civilise Sutherland in the manner in which he was accustomed to. As money was no object he merely treated it as an experiment with no regard to the tenants who had worked the land passed on through generation of the ancestors before them. These people were mere Celts who had changed little through tradition, they were now being asked to turn from farmers to fisherman in the shortest possible notice. Stafford had no regard for any of them what so ever; he wanted to make as much money from the land as possible and proceeded using bullying English tactics. When he emptied the glens through the use of his commissioners, factors, law agents and ground officers aided very promptly by the police and the army if so requested, he then let the land to landowners who brought in some 200,00 sheep. All of this had cost him about two thirds of one years income.
In 1807 Elizabeth Gordon, 19th Countess of Sutherland, touring her inheritance with her husband Lord Stafford (later made Duke of Sutherland), wrote that "he is seized as much as I am with the rage of improvements, and we both turn our attention with the greatest of energy to turnips". As well as turning land over to sheep farming, Stafford planned to invest in creating a coal-pit, salt pans, brick and tile works and herring fisheries. That year his agents began the evictions, with ninety families forced to leave their crops in the ground and to move their cattle, furniture and timbers from their former houses to the land they were offered some 20 miles (30 km) away on the coast, living in the open until they had built themselves new houses. Stafford's first Commissioner, William Young, arrived in 1809, and soon engaged Patrick Sellar as his factor who pressed ahead with the process while acquiring sheep farming estates for himself.
In 1809 Patrick Sellar came to Sutherland. He was an advocate who had studied law at Edinburgh University, and had already attained position of Proculator-Fiscal of Moray. With Sellar was William Young, who had been made commissioner by Lord Stafford. Sellar would think nothing of evicting individuals or families leaving them with nothing but the open sky for shelter, this was after his ruthless actions, which would include burning the homes to the ground whether the occupants were in the house or no. Although Sellars was the hench man, Stafford was behind it. There was little point of the evicted complaining as they spoke gaelic and Stafford did not. In any case Stafford would never watch the actual physical process of eviction himself, he preferred to plan his improvements from behind his desk in London. His “Great Experiment” was on a roll. Parliament was offering half the cost of new roads and bridges, but the landowners were expected to cough up the remainder. Lord Stafford instructed his agents to impose a poll tax of four shillings on all tenants, whether they owned a quarter of an acre or thousands.
In 1807, at Whitsun, 90 families in the parish of Farr and Lairg were evicted. Their crops were left on, or in the ground, and they had to leave carrying as much possessions as they could: furniture, roof timbers for their new dwellings. If they could find no shelter or build a rudimentary one they slept in the open – women, children, old and sick alike. This was the pattern which Patrick Sellar would continue. ‘For many years mothers would frighten young children with his name’
It is quite ironic really, when Sellars first came to Sutherland he had no love of sheep at all, but evicted individuals and families to replace them with the very thing he hated. Sellar him self converted to liking sheep and attacked his job with converted zeal. Regrettably, with only a few notable exceptions, the ministers on the various estates sided with the landowners, often acting as host, ally and interpreter.
Although Sellar committed many ruthless acts of cruelty, one that stands out was in June 1814, when Sellar arrived to evict the people of Strathnaver. Most of the men were away in the hills, searching and retrieving lost cattle. Sellar arrived with four officers and twenty men. On the Sunday he attended had a church service, at which the reverend David MacKenzie threatened the people with hell – fire if the showed any disobedience. The next day the torches were lit.
The house belonging to a man called William Chisholm, was especially singled out. Chisholm was a tinker, and probably a squatter, but this does not condone the act. In the house was the mother of Chisholm’s wife, a bed ridden woman of over 90. When Sellar was told she was to old to be removed, he replied “ Damn her, the old witch: she has lived too long. Let her burn!!” The house was set alight and by the time she was pulled out, the blankets in which she was covered were also burning. She was taken to an adjoining shed which only with great trouble was prevented from being burned also. Through the old woman’s sufferings, she died within the week.
News of this act and others like it began to spread from glen to glen. Sellar was taken into custody and a trial began on 23rd April 1816. The jury consisted of 15 men, 8 were local land proprietors, 2 Merchants, 2 Tacksmen, 1 Lawyer and most were Magistrates and Justices of the Peace. Sellars was charged with Colpable Homicide. When Lord Pitmilly came to sum up, he instructed the jury to bear in mind the character of the tinker, Chisholm, versus the character of the accused. The jury were quite clear what he meant, and returned a verdict of NOT GUILTY in 15 minutes.
Sellar continued to evict that summer, but was more careful not to burn the houses until after the people had gone. He retired from Stafford’s service in 1818, by which time he had became the most prosperous sheep farmer in the area. Stafford had provided him with a large area of land of course. Sellar’s work as a factor for Stafford would be remembered in Sutherland as Bliadhna an Losgidh, the year of the burnings.