The Bonners and the English Clearances



James Bonner and Jane Convery

Our earliest documented Bonner ancestors, James Bonner and Jane Convery, were born in Scotland. By the time they married in 1829, they lived in Kirkcolm, a small town on the western coast of the Scottish Lowlands, just across the Irish Sea from Belfast. James and Jane passed on the story that they were driven from Scotland by the English Clearances.

During the 18th and 19th century in Scotland, most farmers rented their land from wealthy landowners. Beginning in 1762, started by Admiral John Ross of Balnagowan Castle in Scotland, landowners began making "improvements" in their land to make room for more profitable sheep grazing in place of farming. Families were driven off the land they had farmed, sometimes for generations, with little or no warning. In some areas as many as 2,000 families per day were driven from the land, and were sent to coastal areas where farmland was poor and scarce. The process went on intermittently for decades, and caused impoverishment and starvation.

The lack of human empathy felt by the English was typified in a letter written in the early 1800s by an upper class woman, Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, Duchess of Sutherland. After observing the starving tenants on her husband's land, she wrote to a friend in England, "Scotch people are of happier constitution and do not fatten like the larger breed of animals."

Kirkcolm was a typical coastal town that became home for hundreds of such dispossessed families. The Bonners left Scotland soon after their marriage to settle in Quebec, where their first son John was born. John Bonner was R.J. Bonner's father.