Stornoway, Lewis, 11 June 1883 - Rev James Greenfield

Rev. JAMES GREENFIELD, Minister of the Gaelic Free Church, Stornoway (51)—examined.

17031. The Chairman.
—You have, I daresay, been following the evidence which has been taken in the Lewis?

17032. Have you anything to state with reference to the circumstances which have brought about the appointment of this Royal Commission ?
—I have been about eleven years in the island, and have visited most of the islands, and there were three things that pained me exceedingly. One thing was to see places, large farms, that were previously occupied by crofters, and where no crofter was to be seen when I passed through these places. One of them was Galston. I was very much pained when I saw Galston under sheep, knowing that crofters had been there. The second thing was the poverty of the people, and especially the want of comfort in their homes. I have been called upon frequently to engage in prayer, and in doing so I had to kneel, and I have often had to kneel, I might almost say in the mud—no floor to the houses, and some of them exceedingly wet—almost floods of mud. The third thing that has pained me is this,—that our young men in the country places who have no lots, as I understand, are prevented from marrying. Now, I have always been in favour of young men getting married; and I think any country which is to prosper must give a young man the privilege of falling in love when he sees a worthy young woman, and marrying her if she is willing to accept his offer. After hearing the grievances which have been stated, I have been thinking that there are remedies for the island. And the first remedy I would mention is this,—to have the whole island divided for the people of the island, be they crofters or farmers. I was just thinking how that could be done. I find in round numbers there are 404,000 acres in the island. These 404,000 acres, divided, into lots of 20 acres each would give a lot of 20 acres to each crofter among 21,200; or 10,600 crofters, to have 40 acres each. Allowing that these 20 acres to each crofter would
be given for 5s. an acre, then the rental of the island would be £101,000 a year. If these lots were rented at 2s. 6d. per acre, the rental of the island would be £50,000. In the one case, allowing 5s. an acre for the lot of 20 acres, the rental would be £83,000 more than the present rental; or, allowing 2s. 6d. per acre, the rental of the island would be £32,500 more than the present rental. Then I have looked at the amount that was paid for the estate by Sir James, and I have been told that he paid about £190,000 for it. Suppose he paid £190,000 for the island, then, if my calculations are correct, I hold that two years' rental at 5s per acre, supposing the island to be divided into 20 acre lots, would be as much as the whole amount that was paid for the estate; or taking 2s. 6d. per acre, the rental of the island would in four years amount to £200,000, or a little more than was paid for the estate. It may be asked how could the land be divided among the people, so that each crofter should have 20 acres. I would suggest that every man above eighteen years old should be allowed to take a croft if he wished, and not only that, but every woman above eighteen should also have the same privilege, so that a young man and a young maiden, if they wished, might take up crofts beside each other before they were married, and get married and join the two crofts into one. That was suggested to me, for instance, in other lands, such as Canada. In Manitoba the Government gives a croft of 160 acres, and every man above eighteen, and every young woman, who likes, can take a croft, so that a young man and young woman who like to get these lots can go and take them and get married and join their lots. I may be asked what would be done with the large farmers. Well, I would suggest that the best thing would be, if they did not like to have their farms broken up, to emigrate to Canada, and there they would get farms as large as they wished, and I am confident they would be better off than they would be in this island. It may be asked, if the whole island is divided into small crofts, how can the crofters cultivate these lots, especially when some of these would be inland and moorland. I hold, from my knowledge of farming—and I have been about thirty-nine years in Canada, and know a good deal of farming— that a crofter having 20 acres, even inland on the moor, could cultivate these 20 acres with his family, so that he could have sufficient cows, sheep, and even a horse, if not two horses, and manure the 20 acres for himself independent of the sea. I am aware that the black land that covers a great deal of the island is difficult of removal, but there is a way of removing it. When many of the farmers entered Canada at first they had to take possession of grounds that were covered with wood, and they cleared those woods, took out the stumps, and removed the stones, and made first-class farms of those lands. Now, I cannot see why a crofter should not take possession of 20 acres, and, if need be, cut up the peat and burn it,—dry it, make piles of it, burn it, and scatter the ashes on the ground, leaving half a foot or a foot of the black soil over the gravel so as to mix it with the gravel. Another idea presents itself. It may be said it would be exceedingly difficult for poor crofters to work these small lots of 20 or 40 acres—that they could not do it without assistance from Government or some other party; but I believe they could. I believe that the men in this island, if they had the land for themselves, could work these small lots so as to bring them into a good state of cultivation, and be in a measure somewhat comfortable on these lots. Still, while holding these views, and thinking the island might be divided, I would not wish the Commissioners to understand that I believe the crofters would be then in clover. I don't believe that. I don't believe that this island is so rich in its soil that even when the land was subdivided it would support the people so that they would be in clover. Hence, I have a second remedy to propose, and that is voluntary emigration. At present the Government of Canada offers 160 acres free to every man or woman who wishes to settle in the country, and along with that the Government will sell 160 acres at two dollars an acre, making in all 320. Parties might be informed of the advantages in connection with Canada, so that they might emigrate and take up lands there and have them for their own. I have been in Manitoba. I went nearly f)00 miles west of Winnipeg, and saw first-class farmers from the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, who took lands there for themselves and their sons, and I found out from them that the north-west was a remarkably good country, not only for pioneers, but even for old settlers. For instance, an Irishman about three years ago bought 640 acres at some distance from the city of Brandon. He paid parties to plough 400 acres the first year, and after sowing those 400
acres, and paying all expenses in connection with the working of the farm, he had 15,000 bushels of oats, besides wheat and other crops. The first crop was such, that after paying all expenses he had 100 per cent, of profit. I think parties wishing to emigrate should be assisted by Government, or in some other way to take advantage of those benefits. Of course, for the other crofters I mentioned—young men who are not able to get married—that would be the remedy, if they had land for themselves, or if they went to another country where they could have land.

17033. WTien you were in Canada, did you see any people who had come from Lewis?

17034. In what sort of circumstances did you find them?
—I may say that when I heard a statement made the other day that they were poorer than the crofters of this island, I at once said to myself that the gentleman who made the statement must have been misinformed. I am confident from my personal knowledge of the country—and I have travelled over a great part of Canada —that the crofters there, even the poorest, unless they are lazy men and persons who do not take care of themselves, are in comfortable circumstances; and from what I know, even if Lady Matheson offered to these people lots from the best of her land in the island, and to have their passages paid, my firm conviction is that they would not accept such an offer. If any one says in regard to Canada that parties who went there and got lands are not in more comfortable circumstances than those in this island, he was misinformed, or did not know much, or did not keep his eyes open. Perhaps he was in a sleeping car when he passed through the country.

17035. You did not observe any who had come to poverty1?
—I did not hear of any.

17036. You don't mean to say that young men should marry without having some prospect of being able to maintain their families ?
—Oh no, but I hold that a young man should have room to make provision for himself and his wife. His country is not worth fighting for unless he can have room to make provision for himself and his wife.

17037. You are aware that the crofters at present have their lands at 8¼d. per acre. You propose the land should be let at 2s. 6d. per acre ?

17038. Don't you think they find 8¼d. heavy enough already?
—I believe they find it heavier than they would find 2s. 6d. or 5s. if they had 20 acres.

17039. They have a great deal more than 20 acres?
—But the common hill is not good pasturage. A few acres of good grass would be far better than a number of acres on the moor.

17040. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Have you carefully considered the statement you made, that you do not think it would be more expensive or more laborious to cut away the peat in the island of Lewis, than it would be for the emigrant to Canada to cut away the heavy timber on his land?
—Yes, I have been considering it for years, and I know something about the clearing of bush land in Canada. I have cleared more than one acre when I was young, and I would undertake to clear off an acre of the land here—to clear away the peat—much easier than I could clear an acre of bush land in some lots in Canada.

17041. I suppose you are aware that in an ordinary peat-moss five, six, or seven feet deep, there is always good sod at the bottom ?
—I think there is. A good deal perhaps is gravel.

17042. But peat is the very thing for mixing with the gravel?
—Yes, I think a mistake is made when most of the peat is taken away. It would be better to leave half a foot or a foot to mix with the gravel.

17043. That makes very good soil, and it is improved by time and cultivation?
—Yes. I may state in connection with this, that I am aware there was an experiment on the island to try and bring in some of the moorland, and it did not turn out very well. I believe that arose from this,—that the crofters were not placed on that land so as to manure it well,—but if there was a large piece of land given to the crofters the result would be different.

17044. Peat land reclamation, in fact, is not suited for a big tack, but for small lots ?

17045. Mr Cameron.
—Are you aware of the ordinary depth of peat in the island ?
—Yes. I think there are some places where it is seven, eight, or nine feet in depth.

17046. You are aware that an acre consists of 4800 square yards, so that to remove peat only three feet in depth would involve the removal of 4800 cubic yards, and if six feet deep it would involve the removal of about 9600 cubic yards?

17047. Are you aware of the ordinary cost of trenching in this country ?
—No, but I am not in favour of trenching.

17048. Are you aware that trenching costs at the lowest rate about £5 per acre?
—I was not aware of that.

17049. And in trenching, the usual depth that is gone to is not more than eighteen inches. Therefore, if it costs £ 8 per acre to remove eighteen inches by trenching, would not the removal of six feet of solid peat be rather beyond the means of any crofter?
—I think not. A crofter who has a family could cut the peat, make small heaps of it after drying it and set fire to it. He would not remove it to any distance, but Greenfield, simply make small heaps of it and burn it.

17050. But in the process of trenching the earth is not removed; it is only turned over ?
—But I would plough it.

17051. You could hardly plough six feet of peat?
—I mean after the peat is burned, I would then employ horses to plough up the soil and mix the black ground with the gravel.

17052. I am talking of the cost of doing it. In order to burn it, you would require to remove it, and turn it to let the flame get through it. Would not the cost of that removal be beyond the means of the crofter if it costs £ 8 to turn up eighteen inches of soil?
—He could do it for less than that. I understood this year that when some crofters got jobs near their places, they worked with their families, and were able to do in a day or two what several men could not do in a number of days; and I know farther, what I have seen in Canada, that when families went in together they could do things much cheaper and improve their farms without money.

17053. You said that a few acres of good land were better than any number of acres of moorland pasture, but I understood you to say also that in your division you divide the whole surface of the island into lots of twenty acres each. Don't you take the good with the bad there?

17054. Rock and all ?

17055. Well, at present each family has sixty acres, the good with the bad, at 8¼d. They complain first that that is too small, and secondly
that it is too dear. How could they pay at five shillings an acre for twenty acres of that ground ?
—The land would pay itself.

17056. Why does it not pay now?
—Because the arable land they have is so small.

17057. They can increase it?
—I am not aware they can.

17058. There is moorland there?
—But the moorland is not divided. What I propose is that the whole land should be ascertained and divided into small lots and marked, and parties would have these lots to themselves, and fence them and work them.

17059. Can you give me any idea what the cost of clearing an acre of forest land is ?
—When I was in Canada, about fourteen dollars, or a little over £ 3 , would clear an acre.

17060. And you stated you thought that about the same amount would take away the peat, dry it, and burn it upon au acre of the bog land here?
—Well, I was not looking so much to the amount paid for the clearing of the acre as to the labour of the family.

17061. Would it not come to the same thing calculated either way ? Then, I suppose, in Canada, once you have the trees removed, you can just put in the plough ?
—No; the land can only be harrowed, because the stumps are numerous, and they sow the land between the stumps and harrow it, and it is only after some years that they get the stumps removed.

17062. But they are able to sow it when the trees are removed?

17063. One can see here that, even supposing the peat to be removed, the ground could neither be harrowed nor ploughed. Do you think that any horses could go through tough gravel that has not been touched since the beginning of the world?
—I think so, if they had ploughs for the purpose. They have adopted a plan on the prairies where they only turn two inches at the first.

17064. Don't you think the prairie is easier turned than gravel that has lain under the weight of six, eight, or ten feet of moss for generations?
—It may be easier, but they only turn two inches at first, and I think two inches of gravel could be turned.

17065. If the people were to emigrate voluntarily, and a number of them were to get the alternative, of twenty acres of this bog land, or of land in Canada with a free passage there, which would be the best bargain for the redundant population in the west of Scotland?
—I would say at once that emigration was the best. If I were about to commence farming, and if Lady Matheson offered me 160 acres of her best arable land, I would prefer to take 160 acres of prairie land in Canada.

17066. The people themselves declare just now that their holdings are too small by one half. We find, if the holdings were doubled, there is no room for the whole population upon the island ?
—I think there is.

17067. They have 240,000 acres, and there are only 158,000 acres that could be given to them, rock and all?
—I understood there were about 3000 crofters at present on the island.

17068. There are nearly 4000?
—Divide the land among the 3000, and it would give them about 134 acres each.

17069. The statement submitted to us by the chamberlain is that the crofters have 240,000 acres just now, and that there are 158,000 acres besides between forests and large farms. From that I conclude that each croft in the island can not be doubled ?
—Not without giving them the whole island.

17070. Don't you see they have more than one half of the island as it is ?
—But I hold the moorland is of very little advantage to crofters in comparison with what arable land would be. Some only send their cattle a few months during the year to these moorlands.

17071. They have more than half the island just now, and they want more than double what they have ?
—But they only have it in this way. Some have three acres of arable land and several acres of moorland, but these acres of moorland are not worth much. They only support a few cattle, and they are not very good.

17072. You think the best bargain for the redundant portion of them would be to take advantage of the emigration scheme ?
—Yes, I think so.

17073. And in all cases, then, that the cleared land by that process should be added on to the crofts that remain, so as to make the people at home as comfortable as those who would go away?
—Yes, but when I make that statement I remember that the people of this country are fond of their own land and their old associations, and might be unwilling to emigrate; but I am under the impression that if the advantages in connection with Canada were laid before them, and free passages given to them, there are a good many who would emigrate.

17074. I assume that none of us would ever suggest anything but what you call voluntary emigration, but emigration in your judgment would be to those people a better bargain than to attempt to reclaim upon your own scheme the boggy land at home?
—Yes, I think so.

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