The Highland Clearances - A Strange Connection

The inspiration for the Stevenson Way lies in the route taken by David Balfour and Alan Breck in the novel “Kidnapped”.   On its journey through the western Highlands the Stevenson Way traverses areas which were deeply affected by the Highland Clearances.  This gives us another, indirect and rather surprising, link with Robert Louis Stevenson.

The historical event known as the Highland Clearances was the removal by landowners of tenant farmers from their property to release the land for the more profitable practice of sheep-rearing.  This took place in the late 18th and 19th centuries, after the times described in “Kidnapped”.  The Duke and Duchess of Sutherland were amongst the landowners who decided to introduce sheep in the place of tenant farmers.  Their factor, Patrick Sellar, acquired notoriety for brutality in evicting tenants. 

One of his sons, William Young Sellar, studied classics at university and went on to be a professor.  He married a young lady from Glasgow, Miss Eleanor Dennistoun.  Mrs Sellar in later life wrote memoirs[1] to record the family history for the benefit of her children and grandchildren.  In this book she mentions having been bridesmaid to Stevenson’s mother, Margaret Balfour.  She reminisces about visits to the Stevenson household commenting on the infant RLS as “ … a fractious little fellow … though decidedly pretty …”.   She also mentions that her family were warm admirers of the adult Stevenson’s works.

The memoirs do not recount how Miss Balfour and Miss Dennistoun had become acquainted.  If anyone has the answer, please let us know.

[1] Recollections and Impressions, E. M. Sellar, published by William Blackwood and Sons, 1907.

Note: The details on this web page were kindly provided by Elizabeth Baird.