REMARKS upon the Land Question in general, and in the Island of Lewis in particular,
by the Rev. DONALD J. MARTIN, Free Church Minister, Stornoway.
My age is 36 last birthday. I am the son of the late Dr Donald Martin, sometime proprietor of Roshven, parish of Ardnamurchan, lately tacksman of Monkstadt, Isle of Skye. I have a competent knowledge of Gaelic. I have resided in the Island of Lewis since December 1875. It was not to-day, nor even in connection with the Commission, that I began to think of the land question, or of the condition of the crofter population in the Highlands, though I have had my attention drawn to the subject more closely of late in connection, firstly, with the destitution of last winter, and, secondly, the appointment of a Royal Commission. I have come to any conclusion upon the matter entirely from the workings of my own mind with regard to the question/and from facts within my own knowledge, apart from any agitation from without or within this island, or the arguments of any person, except so far as these tended to throw light upon the subject. In regard to this I may say that I have got more light in controversy with opponents of some of my views than from some of the professed friends of the crofters, for in examining into counter statements and their foundation, I have been led at times into a confirmation of my own views of the matter. I was far, very far at first from approving the action of either the Braes or Glendale crofters, but when upon the back of this agitation came the general destitution due to one storm of not over great severity, and the failure of one crop, I was awakened to the fact that underneath both these things there lay some great reason, some principle. We had only surface manifestations in these effects, the causes of which had to be found out, as also the remedies, not, as subscriptions and charity, surface ones, but such as would cope with the causes. I could not believe, and I do not yet believe, that either of the causes assigned will account for the effects. It has been said, and perhaps such views may have some weight with the Commission (I hope not), that the manifestations in Skye were due to agitators alone, and that the destitution all over was due solely to the one bad season. To my mind these reasons are not sufficient nor satisfactory, because, while giving all due allowance to both these factors (and no reasonable man can deny their existence), yet they do not account for all nor even most of the effects. Of this the appointment of the Commission itself is a proof. It proves that the Government of the day saw cause for inquiry. An old proverb says, ' there was water where the stirk was drowned.' Taking even the most unfavourable view of the action of agitators, how could such manifestations of determined and combined assertion of rights to be secured and grievances to be redressed have been either got up or maintained without a sense of wrong and suffering, long smouldering but suppressed. It is not a thing of to-day this feeling in Lewis, and this demand by the people for land once theirs. The Rev. Hector Cameron told me that as far back as nineteen years ago, when he was teacher of the Ladies' Association School in Park Lochs the feeling was almost as strong as it is to-day. That would, I think, have been about the time that Sellar took the farm, the lease being, as at last Whitsunday, the circumstances thus corresponding exactly with those of this year. Again the secession in Uig from the Free Church was as much if not more of a land question than a church one. These are the two spots in Lewis, Park and Uig, in which at this time the move for land began, and the people there both took action before there was any word of the matter either by agitators or others. How again could one storm and one bad season produce all this general want ? It stands proved, to my mind at least, whose workings I here give to the Commission, that under all this agitation and this general destitution there lie causes to be explained other than surface or present, and remedies to be applied other than superficial or temporary.
My observations throughout the Highlands have led me to the conclusion that most, if not all, of the lands that exist, either as arable or pasture farms, have been made what they are by the crofters that once occupied them and redeemed them, in part at least, from waste throughout their long term of occupancy. I believe that the crofters have in the past been the real improvers of the Highlands, for even where the proprietors have subsequently improved you find the foundation of that laid by the crofters ; and where that has not been the case, but where the proprietor has worked directly upon the primitive bog or even ' cul,' the work has been altogether or in part a failure. This was acknowledged by Mr Mackay, and I have heard it said, but the truth of it I cannot vouch for of course (the Commissioners may perhaps know), that the Duke of Sutherland now repents not having given out the ground in Sutherland to those who would have in time taken it in, in place of himself spending so much upon it, the return for which he will never get. As to the Lewis, no greater mistake in the interests of the crofters themselves, not to say of truth, could have been made than to assert that Sir James never did anything for this island. Figures and facts prove the contrary; Sir James must get his due. But these improvements were in great measure a mistake according to the chamberlain's own evidence—a mistake not of heart but of head. I find the people, as a whole, ever ready to admit the fact of Sir James's expenditure for improvements' sake, and also his kindly intentions in all these. What the people at least meant in denying such improvements or such efforts for their good was that the benefits of such never reached them directly—in other words, that the way in which the land improvements were carried on was a mistake. That is my own opinion, for I firmly believe that if Sir James were alive to-day he would be the first to acknowledge his mistake, and also, so far as in his power lay, to remedy it. my belief is, that if instead of spending his money as he did with the noblest of intentions, he had devised a scheme either of loan previous to or of compensation after improvements to the people themselves, mora land would by this time have been reclaimed, more permanently improved at less outlay, and with the money returned by this time in rent, interest, and land value. Is it not a fact that farms from which small tenants have been removed in the course of a few years deteriorate ? Monkstadt, as attested by the rigs, had once been all occupied by crofters. It is so in this island. Park, the Uig farms, Dalbeg, Galson, & c , were all once occupied by crofters ; even the rich parks about the town were once so held. There is another thing I remember in connection with my father's farm ; there was attached to it a narrow but rich strip of hill pasture between the hills of two crofter townships, Totescore and Graulain. So little return did my father get from the hill that he had to give up the lease. The case came to this, that either of two things would need to happen—either that the crofters of Graulain should get Linicro, or that they should he removed and their hill and township be added to the tack. This latter, of course, my father would not consent to, neither would the landlord give him off the rent of the hill; so he gave up the lease. What happened ? I do not know how it happened, but the crofters of the two townships opposite, Tote and Graulain, were removed (Mr Macdonald, factor, said they were not evicted), and sent, I do not know all where, but some of them were, I know, crowded on to the Kilmaluag township, and the next time I passed through Kilmuir the tacksman of Monkstadt's sheep and cattle were browsing amidst the ruins of the once well-known hamlets of Hole and Graulain. This is only a specimen of the way in which matters have been moving. It is not for me to dictate to others, the possessors of the soil, but my opinion, in looking back, is that the process should have been reversed, and that instead of the tacksman getting those townships with their hills, the townships should have got Linicro at a fair rent. In my view it is a mistake having arable even, but especially grazing farms, in the vicinity of crofters, except under two conditions:—first, that the crofters have sufficient run to render trespass on their part unnecessary and therefore inexcusable ; and secondly, that the two be properly fenced against one another. What one deprecates is, that, as has hitherto been in most cases the case, the matter has almost always been decided against the crofter. That has at least been the tendency, which state of matters of course bears an explanation. Two things lie at the root of this:—(1) the better rent that tacksmen give, or rather have given; (2) the eaving of trouble and expenses in connection with the lifting of the same,—or, as the Duke of Argyle put it, the pleasure to the landlord of getting his rent in one large sum twice a year without any trouble or expense. In the sequel I shall notice both of these. Another thing I should notice in connection with the question is that of rotations of crop. As a fact, for I used often to notice it as a boy, and my father often remarked it, the crofter next us, John Macdonald, had his rotation as regularly as my father, though even John did not make the most of his ground, but his good sized holding enabled him to have a rotation and graze his horses and cattle without trespass or need of it.
As to Lewis and its problem, this can be stated shortly. It is not a question of rent at all, that is to say, of price per acre. I think Mr Maciver, Uig, was entirely wrong in his view. I believe there is no laud in Scotland cheaper per acre than Lewis land, and as I consider that in this land question the interests of landlord and tenant should be shown to be identical, as I believe they are, I deprecate any reduction of rent, and am of opinion rather that with more land per family the crofter could and would give more per acre, so that so far from the rent being halved, it could at any rate be maintained at the same figure, or even raised. It is entirely a question of the quantity, not the price, and in some instances the quality. I may have an acre for nothing, but I could not live on it; but give me, say one hundred—some arable, some pasture, and I could not only live, but afford to pay a price per acre remunerative to my landlord. As you diminish the holdings you necessarily make the little the crofters have to pay a burden ; but as you increase them you necessarily lighten the burden of the rent, even though it be higher per acre. It is a question at present of congested population and how to relieve it. Here is the thing at a glance. In 1846 the population of Lewis was about 18,000, in 1883 it is 26,000, or about half as much again, though they occupy less, or at any rate, not more ground than in 1846. I cannot lay my hands on the acreage under crofters in 1846 as compared with 1883 ; but looking at Uig removals and those of Galson, I think it would show that not only has there beer a natural increase of population, but also a decrease of area. The Commissioners themselves might inquire into this. Let us suppose the area to be the same, then we have a population half as much again as in 1846 upon the same area. Stornoway. [I need not here enter into the question of the subdivision and how it came about, whether by blame of people or estate management, or both combined; what we have to do with is the present state of matters, however brought about.] So far we arc all agreed; but when we come to fix upon the remedy, then come difference and difficulties.
I. The crofters own remedy and demand is more land. There is objected to this—
1. That there is no land.
2. That even supposing there is land, it is inexpedient to extend the crofter area.
Let us examine these separately.
Q. 1. That there is no land.
—Those that say there is no land must mean no waste, or rather unoccupied land. This the crofters grant, but point to the large arable and pasture farms, especially those once under crofters ; and I think as thus put, especially as they have in their request for land regard to present leases, the fact of there being land is indisputable and undeniable. Whether there be enough is another question. my general answer to this last would be, let it be honestly tried. There is one serious charge I have myself to bring against the present management, and that is that no attempt has been made even to try any remedy in this direction, and I think that much of the irritation on the subject among the people is due to the stubborn refusal even to look at their demands with which their appeals have been met. I myself think that if there had been some concessions hitherto, or even now, it would tend to allay the irritation, and would also lead to calmer views of the question of voluntary emigration as betraying a kindly and honest attempt as far as possible to meet the people's request for more land in the place of their birth. To give an answer to the cry of ' more land' the direct and curt reply ' no land !' and that to men that can see every day they rise plenty of land where their forefathers and some of themselves lived and walked, is surely unwise—a way by no means to still that demand, but fitted rather to make it go beyond all bounds—the damming up of a stream to stay it for a time, but only to have it break forth in lawless courses. To do as at Park, in the very face of the demand ; and without even giving the people an opportunity of offering, to give the land asked to two of themselves that had enough already, seems to me still more unwise. The people use their eyes and cannot help seeing land—and good land too—that might be given. I have never so spoken to the people themselves, but I have to Mr Mackay himself. I did so at the relief committee, and I cannot help laying much of the blame of the irritated state of the people at the door of this obstinate refusal even to entertain their demands—demands moderate and reasonable enough at first, but which, being denied and unmet, threaten to go beyond all bounds. A little concession would have gone far to allay this irritation. Perhaps this refusal even to entertain proposals by the crofters, as in the Park case, may arise, and I believe has so arisen, from irritation on the other side. After the meeting at Lochs of the Commission I made some further inquiry about this matter of a threat referred to in Lady Matheson's letter, and I find that this had reference to a P.S. to the crofters' last letter, in which, I am sorry to say, some language that might be construed into -a threat, but which, I am given to understand, was not meant as such, was employed. This naturally irritated her Ladyship, but I do hope that both she and the chamberlain, to both whose kindly interest in the people otherwise I have to testify, will pass over this, and taking the needs and others of the people into consideration, will meet their seemingly reasonable demand for more land.
But Mr Mackay stated publicly that he had reasons for not giving more land, that they could not give the rent (though they never got the chance), and that he did not want to extend the crofter area. Yes ; but that is not quite the same as saying that there is no land. There is none he is willing to give to crofters, but that is a very different thing from saying that there is none, in fact this confession of his is an admission that there is, and so by his own evidence we must place his refusal of the request for more land not under the first objection that there is no land, but under the second, that it is neither profitable nor expedient to increase the number of crofters. But before noticing this second objection, I beg to submit to the consideration of the Commission some calculations based on Mr Mackay's own figures, showing that there is land that could, in part at least, if not in whole, meet the demand for the present:—
Parish of Uig
Rent per acre: 5 3/4d
Rent: £1274, 15s
Rent per acre: 7½d
Total acreage: 122496
Total rent: £3907 15s
Crofters (1881) 2385 cattle, 27 acres per head; 8097 sheep, 7 3/4 acre per head
Crofters (1882) 1989 cattle, 32 acres per head; 7489 sheep, 8 3/4 acre per head
Tacksmen (1881) 434 cattle, 92 acres per head; 4232 sheep, 9 acres per head
Tacksmen (1882) 333 cattle, 120 acres per head; 3406 sheep, 12 acres per head
Four hundred and fifty-seven crofters have at present by this calculation 140 acres each between arable and hill, and putting crofters and cotters together about 100. But we must take into consideration the way in which the acreage of the crofter is made out. The land of the tacksmen and the forests laid aside are definitely known, then the remainder all accounted as the tenants', including peatland, &c. Tacks and forests would give the 147 cottars 400 acres each. Taking total of 122,496, it would give 604 lots of 200 acres each at say 45 = 43020, and 4900 for the shooting only, and leave the present rental 43920, or leaving forests and placing cottars on part of tacks would have say 150 lots of 200 acres each, leaving 9920 for large farms and the forests intact.
Rent: £2330 4s 6d
Rent per acre: 7 1/4d.
Galson Tack: 7290
Glebes &c: 940
Total rent: £315
Rent per acre: 10 3/4d.
Crofters (1881): 549 horses, 3591 cattle, 24 acres per head; 14238 sheep, 5 acres per head
Crofters (1882): 580 horses, 3421 cattle, 24 acres per head; 13795 sheep, nearly 5 acres per head
1 cow and only 5 sheep on every 24 acres or 4 cows and 20 sheep on every 96 acres
Tacks (1881): 71 cattle, 102 acres per head, 1643 sheep, 4½ acres per head:
1 cow and 23 sheep on every 102 acres
Tacks (1882): 37 cattle, 197 acres per head, 1816 sheep, 3½ acres per head:
1 cow and 56 sheep on every 197 acres
This gives to the 812 crofters average lots of 94 acres and Galson 7290 would give lots of about 83 acres to the 87 squatters.
About 600 crofters and 250 cottars hold 55,601 acres at a rent of £2075 17s, 8 3/4d per acre rent.
Tacks: 60355 acres at £1176 rent, 4½d. per acre rent
Forests: 16,000 acres
Have not got this but fancy that like rest it would show overstock. Have not got the exact number of crofters and cottars, but above approximate average acreage per crofter about 70, with cottars 60. Surely out of the 76,000 acres unoccupied by crofters land could be got to provide for some, if not all, the 250 above.
About 600 crofters and 250 cottars hold 44,747 acres at a rent of £2491, 1s. 6d., 1s 1½d. per acre rent.
Tacks: 16851 acres at £1102 rent, 1s. 3½d. rent per acre.
Crofters (1881): 3074 cattle (14 acres per head), 5732 sheep (8 acres per head)
Crofters (1882): 2805 cattle (17 acres per head), 5880 sheep (7 3/4 acres per head)
Tacksmen (1881): 192 cattle (87 acres per head), 2047 sheep (8 acres per head)
Tacksmen (1882): 282 cattle (86 acres per head), 2007 sheep (8 acres per head).
That is the crofters have on their ground six times as many cattle and the same number of sheep as tacksmen, and horses besides, per acre.
TOTAL Acreage not under crofters, total, 159,163 acres.
Grand total about 400,000 acres, would give 100 acres to 4000 crofters.
Present average for 2881 on rent roll = 84¼ acres.
The 124,416 acres under tacks would give 155½ acres to 800 „
124 „ 1000 ,,
100 „ 1200 „
having forests intact.
[Summary omitted from transcript]
Lots smaller on east side, and a larger cottar population, and also the price per acre, more especially in Stornoway. All this points to the advantage of a good seaboard and ready market for sea produce. But for the sea, evidently the east side would be worse off than west. Develop fishings more and you can have a class of cottars living entirely by the sea. Develop the fishings all over Lewis, and it will, with the land, easily bear its inhabitants at present. Overstocking evidently a weakness of the crofters. The number of horses again is simply ruinous and ridiculous. Surely more land could be given when little more than the half is held by the crofters.
Obj 2. And now I come to the second objection to give more land to the crofters, viz., that it is both unprofitable and inexpedient. (1.) It is unprofitable as they cannot pay the same rent for the land as the tacksman or sportsman.
Now, looking at the above statement of rent per acre in Lewis, the average per acre paid by the crofter is only 3/4 d. per acre less than that paid by the tacksman. My endeavour will be to show that apart from the question of the respective qualities of the land held by crofter and tacksman respectively—supposing them to be (a thing the crofters at any rate dispute) of equal quality, that the disadvantages under which the crofter labours will sufficiently account for this, and that the removal of these would be likely to place him, not only on a par with, but perhaps above the tacksman. I will but mention two of these disadvantages in Lewis—(1) the distance of the crofter from his hill pasture; (2) the restrictions under which he is placed with regard to its use.
(1) As to the first, while the tacksman's tack stretches continuously from his own door without interruption, right up from arable around his own door to the hill beyond, so that he can leave his milk cows about his door, or out in the hill as he likes, and can leave the most of his stock out in the hill summer and winter, thus getting the use of the Mil grazing without break by season or intervening lands; the crofter has to send his cattle out miles to reach the hill pasture, and of much that has been put down as his, and in regard to which he has been quoted as paying less rent per acre than the tacksman, he gets the use of it only for a limited time in the year, viz., a few months in summer (rule 6). Are there any such restrictions on the tacksman ? Has he not got the run of his hill all the year round, bringing his stock down to the low lands in severe weather, and that easily, as he has only to work them up and down on the same continuous stretch. Take Bemera, for instance, where they have to ferry the cattle to the hill pasture. Take Barvas, where the cattle go out some of them four miles or more in the morning, and back the same length at night, so that they look more like race horses or roadsters than like milch cows. Take the district of Point (Knock-Garrabost, Swordale, Aird, Portnaguirean, &c), beginning at Portnaguirean up to Knock. Their hill pasture or Airidhean Re from four to six miles out of Stornoway along the Lochs and Uig road, some of them having to send their cattle fifteen or sixteen miles along the high road to reach the summer pasture. The morning that the Rev. Hector Cameron, Back, and I drove over from Stornoway to attend the meeting of the Commission at Breasclete, we passed the Point sheep going out to the hill pasture, the ewes with lambs shorn at that early date, because they were going too far from home to give the men the opportunity of clipping them before they left for the east coast fishing. Let me picture the march of these sheep to their pasture. After leaving Garrabost six miles from Stornoway, they had first to pass the farm of Agnish on the right, then the farm of Holm on the left, on through Stornoway with its rich pasture parks, past the manor farm, past the rich parks outside the castle grounds held by Sellar of the Park, past the mill farm, through the town peat-lands, till at last they would reach their own hiR pasture after having traversed from twelve to fifteen miles of hard road. To me it is simply marvellous that those poor crofters manage to pay within 2d. per acre of what the tacksmen of the same parish pay whose pasture stretches from their very door, the park gradually passing into the hill. Place the crofters on the same footing and you are safe in saying they will pay penny for penny what the tacksmen pay, or even more.
(2) Take again the restrictions laid upon them. It was asked again and again of them why they had not availed themselves of the offer of leases contained in the rules and regulations of 1879. I would wish the Commissioners to study these and the conditions annexed. In the very offer of a lease the observance of
aR these rules and regulations is stated as a condition of the granting of the lease at all, and in article 25 it is distinctly stated that the lease, ipso facto, ceases in the event of the tenant contravening ' any of the foregoing conditions, rules, and regulations.' Now, at the outset, I always thought that conditions of lease were settled at the time of negotiating the same and not before, and that the conditions thereupon agreed were entered in the lease to be observed in the future, not before but after the granting of the lease ; but here the conditions must be fulfilled to the letter before the lease could be granted, the party granting to be the sole arbiter as to whether these previous conditions had been fulfilled or not. Passing this I come to the conditions themselves. I believe they are such as no tacksman would ever agree to nor landlord ask him to embody in his lease. Take rules and regulations 5, 6, 13, and 14; would any tacksman or ordinary farmer consent to have the estate appoint his herds ? or walk his own hill only on certain days mentioned by the estate ? or only burn and pull heather as allowed or directed by a gamekeeper ? I venture to say that tacks would be unmanageable and unprofitable on such conditions, and yet the crofter is handicapped with all these restrictions, and notwithstanding it all, he runs a neck to neck race with the tacksman. Remove these restrictions and disadvantages, let the crofter have equal advantages with the tacksman, and he will, I am bound to say, equal if not outstrip him. The case stands thus at present; while the tacksman has an uninterrupted run all the year round with restrictions not worth speaking of, the crofter has the connection between his home and hill pasture interrupted, sometimes by miles of intervening farms, pasture, or forest, and in many cases only gets the use of it for a few months in summer; besides that, in that same use he is restricted by regulations never imposed upon the tacksman.
(3) Add to this that the tacksman gets a good dwelling and steading built for him; the crofter, though in some instances he may have got improved lands, has never had anything done for him in the way of giving him a good house. In any case, even that of lease, he himself would have to build it.
(4) The tacksman occupies under a lease-tenure; the crofter is a tenant at will. So far in regard to the question of profitableness. Now as to the inexpediency of increasing the crofter area. I think that general statements in regard to the morality and physical quality of the Highlander, when true, are not irrelevant to the matter in hand; they show the desirability of nurturing amid their native hills such a sturdy race to form recruiting grounds for our civil and professional life, and that sheep and deer, however valuable, should not even from an economical point of view be allowed to take the place of sturdy Highlanders. Most landlords, I suppose, will grant that if it be profitable to give crofters land, it will likewise be expedient. By trying to suggest ways in which it would be profitable, I have thus so far tried to meet the landlord's objection on expediency, but many landlords, I am happy to say, are not content with having their own advantage made clear, they desire also that it be shown to be to fhe people's advantage. I believe many good and kindly landlords, and others interested in the crofters, object to increasing of the crofters' area, because they think it would be unprofitable for the crofters themselves, and that in their own interest they should all seek land and pastures across the sea. Now I must say that I think the giving of more land throughout our own Highlands would not only be to the profit of the landlord but to that of the crofter. One thing I missed very much in the crofters' evidence in Lewis was the evidence of some of the better-to-do among themselves, that it was possible not only to live but to live comfortably, and not only comfortably but profitably on the original unbroken lot. I spoke to some of them about this, but their answer was that even the unbroken lot was not so profitable as formerly, because the pasture land attached was overstocked by the subdivision of adjoining lots. This I saw so far as it went was unanswerable, viz., that these whole lots were more profitable when all in the township were also whole; but that did not satisfy me that, even still amidst all the overcrowding, they are not to this day profitable. I believe it is so, though it may not long be so. This I am sure of, that if the townships were thinned out to the original allotment, say of 58-61, and those thinned out provided for by land within the kingdom or across the sea, the crofter population remaining on the old and transplanted to the new under the new conditions would be comfortable and profitable. In my opinion, under new conditions it would be profitable and expedient to landlord and tenant alike to extend the area of the present crofter population by thinning out the overcrowded townships to their proper number, and providing the cottars and those of the crofters thinned out with land under strict rules against squatting (except at seaports). One other thing I must in justice say, if the crofters are to get more land they must undertake to manage their lands better and have better stock. This I have no doubt they would do under better conditions and encouragements. The old system of rigs could be abolished except in very wet places. They should learn to sow both com and potatoes more thinly, and not as at present sow corn as if they were feeding hens, and plant potatoes as if they were, dibbling beans. I have no doubt but that restricted holdings of arable land gave rise to this, the poor man thinking that the more he put in the more he would take out. If more land were granted this would cease. Again, as to stock, they must learn to keep fewer and of better breed. At present, more in Skye I think than in Lewis, they cross and cross and cross till the result is an animal that would almost compete for one of Darwin's originals. The order of development has been as it were reversed. The corn and potato seed should in the same way be renewed periodically. It is really wild oats that they grow in some places, and the potato failure last year was due, I believe, to the exhaustion of the potatoes more than to anything else. I would expect this and much else to pass away under a liberal and wise readjustment of the land and its laws.
II. Emigration.—But what are you to do with the surplus, supposing that there be not land enough within Lewis to give all a due share, or supposing there be not a surplus now, what will you do with the surplus of future years ? Every sensible man must answer ' emigration ' as one of the outlets. The only two points in regard to this on which any difference can be are (a) the place, (b) the time.
(a) Place.—When emigration is spoken of, why are America and the colonies alone thought of ? Surely, before peopling other lands we should people our own and exhaust its resources. Why not try migration to other parts of the Highlands. Though the population in Lewis has increased so much, the population of the Highlands as a whole has decreased. There are large tracts on the mainland, once occupied by stalwart Highlanders, now occupied by sheep and deer. Why not transplant a number of sturdy Lewis m e n into those parts. In other words, could not the present population of the Highlands be so distributed over its surface as to avoid the necessity of emigration to foreign lands, and conserve for our own nation so much strong intellectual and moral fibre. I think that at least it could be tried, and that before the other is finally resorted to, for that the other must come sooner or later is certain, but then this leads to the second question of—
(b) The time.—Is any wholesale emigration across seas expedient at present ? (And in regard to this I must say that in Lewis it is something on a large scale that is needed.) I give the Commission my unbiassed view of the matter. I believe we are on the eve of a large voluntary emigration, but not till the land question at home is settled, and there is afforded to the people bona fide proof that an honest attempt has been made to give them land in the place of their birth, and that yet there is no place for them. Let what of land can be given them at home be given them. This would improve their circumstances, lead them to attend more to their children's education, as also to give them some support when leaving. All these things combined—allayed irritation, improved circumstances, better education—would lead to a stream of voluntary emigration that would of itself keep down the pressure, and gradually thin out the Highlands. How do matters stand, in fact, at present ? Is it not as you rise in the social scale that you find the willingness to emigrate ? The possession of education and capital account for this. The example of tacksmen's, and merchants', and gentlemen's sons has been quoted to the crofters again and again. Do those quoting such examples not see that it works the other way—that the answer it suggests logically is : Raise the crofters by bettering their condition, enabling them to educate and support their sons somewhat as those quoted to them are able to do, and then these sons will emigrate of themselves ? Do not those examples cited go against anything like a wholesale emigration at present till you have first raised the crofter in the social scale by bettering his circumstances in his own land, and then his sons and daughters, having got education, will emigrate, and will not be afraid as at present of leaving him behind. I myself, I may say, in Stomoway here, and a good deal in connection with my own congregation, come in direct contact with the present stream of emigration. Sons of the better crofters come into town to shop or other, and not till they have got themselves brushed up in connection with our Young Men's Mutual Improvement Societies and such like institutions do they venture across sea ; but when at last they do go, it is to succeed. But send a poor ignorant crofter or crofter's family out, and the chances are ten to one that they will be as poor beyond seas as at home. [And here I may say that I do not agree with the view of emigration in families. I doubt if it has succeeded in fact. The only result has been the founding of Celtic colonies beyond the sea, retaining and perpetuating there all those social defects that mark the race in their native land. Isolate the Celt, cut him clean off from all his former associations, and he makes a good colonist. The old people carry with them the old habits, the unthriftiness, the untidiness, &c.; but let the young people go forth, and they will begin under new conditions a better mode of living.] Connect this with what I have said about the original crofters on undivided crofts as being well off. It is from the homes of these that the present stream of emigration issues. Increase the number of these by bettering the home condition of the whole crofter population, and you have a stream of voluntary emigration large enough to drain off any future surplus of population. As a preliminary to all this, you must extend the crofter area.
III. Development of the Fishing Industry.—The real riches of the Lewis lie in the sea around. my ideas on this point correspond with those on emigration.
In the present undeveloped state of the fishing, I fear that you could not have a class without land at all, entirely closed in to the sea for their livelihood, but the clear tendency of things is in that way. I look for the formation of such in time, and indeed I may say that some of the people themselves are awakening to the fact that their east coast friends, who have no land at all, but who are dependent on the sea altogether, are better off than themselves, who have their attention divided between sea and land. I heard one man advocate the giving up of the sea altogether, and their getting as much land as would keep them without being necessitated to go to sea at all. This is mere nonsense, if it be not laziness. The matter should be reversed, and then it would leave more land for those that could give their undivided time to it. The statistics given above will show that the holdings on the east side of the island (the fishing side) are smaller than on the west (the more agricultural side). my difficulty is about the possibility and desirability of establishing such colonies of fishermen at once. I do not think it would be wise at present, except on a very small scale ; but develop the fishing facilities by harbours and more direct communication with the markets in the south, along with the abolishing of the truck and credit system, and I believe that in the course of time there will grow up around the fishing harbours a class of fishermen dependent almost, if not altogether, on the sea fishing.
Temperance.—One gentleman who read a paper before you, among other things sneered at her Ladyship's efforts on behalf of temperance. Lady Matheson has done noble service in this cause, for which all that desire the good of their fellow creatures are grateful. Though I differ from Mr Mackay, and I suppose from her Ladyship too on the land question, still I hope to do so in a gentlemanly way, and I seek, while fearlessly stating my own views on the matter, and while advocating certain reforms and concessions, ever to do justice to the kindly interest in the people's welfare both of Mr Mackay and her Ladyship in this and in other respects. It is often said of Highlanders that they are too fond of whisky. Now I am not going to defend them in the quantity they drink. They would in opinion be better and richer if they drank none at all; but this I say, that they drink less—Lewis at least—in proportion than elsewhere. Taking the Lewis drink bill at £15,000 per annum, you have about 12s. 6d. per head of population. Taking Scotland as a whole, you have about £ 3 or above. In the Point district, you have a Total Abstinence Society 1000 strong, and in Back one of about 300, and all over the island there are eleven such societies in all. Excess in drink does not lie at the root of their poverty, though certainly £15,000 is too large a sum, but into this total must be thrown the consumption by strangers in Stornoway. Temperance sentiment and practice are gaining fast hold in the Highlands, but not till the supply be stopped will the demand entirely cease. Abolition is the real cure. Again, certain quarters we have read sneers about the Free Church and the Sustentation Fund. If Free Church ministers were to consult their own pockets, as it is so often sneered they do, they would advocate the emigration of all the poorer crofters to-morrow, for by the working of the surplus fund of the church, the fewer you have of non-contributing adherents the likelier you are to get the surplus. But again the Sustentation Fund over the whole island is only about £1100. Of that £400 is contributed by the two Stornoway congregations, leaving only £700 to be contributed by the remaining 22,000. These two charges are the only self-supporting ones in the island, and their ministers are the only ones that have supplements. Of the eleven congregations subscribing, only one (my own) gives up to 6s. per adherent, four come up to 4s., the remaining six being all under 4s. per adherent, above eighteen years. This shows that our Sustentation Fund is not worth speaking of, but if any one still persists in talking of the maintenance of our church by the people as a burden, I have another answer for him, and that is disestablishment, or at least disendowment. The Free Church is notoriously, as to adherentship, the church of the people of the Highlands, and either of two things should happen if the maintenance of the church be too great a burden for the people, either that the endowments of the present Established Church be given to the Free so as to relieve the people of the burden of sustentation, or' else better still, give them to neither church, but to the people to enable them to meet their school and poor rate fees, and let the people maintain for themselves which church they want. This to my mind would be part solution at least of the question of heavy taxation in the Highlands. This would go far to give the free education advocated by one witness. One thing more, I refer to the relation of the crofter to the game and its laws. I do not think that the giving of lands to the crofters would interfere really with game, either grouse or deer. The small tenants would willingly leave the upper reaches and higher hills to the deer. The extent of deer forest would not be so great, and such rents might not be got, but I would venture to say, the sport would be truer and better ; and as in the case of Uig, rent got would swell the total up to the present figure. For grouse shooting, I am not sure but that the hills of small tenants are as valuable if not more so than those of tacksmen. In speaking to a friend on this very point, viz., the giving up to small tenants of a tack (Gress farm) I said, 'But what of the shooting rents ?' ' Why,' he said,' that would be as before if not better. Mr Platt, the shooting tenant of Park, told my brother that the crofters' part of the hill was 50 per cent, better shooting than that of the tacksmen.' I mentioned this to an ex-gamekeeper, and he said it was quite true, that the tacksmen were greater heather burners than the crofters, and that that accounted for the difference. This same gamekeeper gave it as his opinion in regard to the scarcity of salmon in a river, that in former times when the people Lived on its banks, and when there were no game laws, it used to be swarming with nsh, so that the people actually lived during winter on the salted salmon, and that this scarcity was due to over preservation. Formerly the boys and others of the adjoining hamlet by their continual rod-fishing kept down the black trout, whereas now, all fishing whatsoever being prohibited, the trout had got so numerous that they ate up the salmon spawn. I do not pronounce upon these two opinions, but merely give them as they may be of interest to the Commissioners in throwing light upon the relation of the crofters to game, as tending to show that the extension of the crofter area, and the restoring of them to their old townships, so far from spoiling the game, might only restore it to its former excellence.
I fear I have been too long, but I would now conclude by summing up suggested remedies:—
1. A fixed tenure of some sort, either feu or lease—anything to secure from arbitrary eviction, or even the fear of it, and to give to the crofter the security not only arising from the benevolent intention and treatment of a kindly landlord or factor, but made sure by law. As to the power of eviction at wilt, I believe that this power, though in recent times at least rarely carried out, has nevertheless up to very recent date been used as a sort of rod over the crofter's head te keep in order. Ministers (a course of conduct I dislike and condemn) sometimes let calls, that they have no intention of ultimately accepting, go on just in order to stir their own people up to some point of duty—put on the screw, in other words—and just so I have known of factors (some have said it to myself) that in warning tenants had no intention of ultimately evicting them, but only of teaching them a lesson of submission. And in cases even where no such steps, or even threats, have been employed, the knowledge that factors and landlords have such power operates unconsciously in the minds of the people, destroying in many cases their independence of character and freedom of action, and that, it may be, from no fault of either landlord or tenant or any abuse of their power, but merely from the fact that such power is theirs ; a state of things not due so much to men as to a system. For, again, there may be a kindly factor or benevolent landlord under whose administration there is a practical guarantee against arbitrary eviction ; but that is only as long as he lives or holds the estate. Another may succeed of quite an opposite character, and the law being still unchanged, he can evict at pleasure. Now, mark you, in the present state of the law with tenancy at will, though under their present factor or proprietor the people are secure from eviction, yet the possibility of his being succeeded by an altogether different man deters the people from availing themselves of the present. You will notice how this operates against even a benevolent proprietor or kindly factor. Benevolence or kindliness forms no tenure or security. Those that have read Uncle Tom's Cabin
will remember a case in point. St Clair was the kindliest of masters, and under him his slaves enjoyed practical freedom, but he never gave them a legal title to their freedom, so that, the law being unchanged, when he died, they, having no legal standing, were sold into slavery—a thing he never would have done, but which the system permitted and legalised. In this whole matter I have advocated, and still do, the raising of it above and the dissociating it from personalities or persons. Sir James was the kindest of landlords and the most benevolent of men, and yet under his proprietorship things were done that were far from the right thing. So now what the people need is a change from this system of tenancy at will to something like a legal title to tenancy or possession short or long, but to be known and fixed. This would do away with that constant feeling of abject subjection which under the present system confessedly exists in the crofter's mind. It is not a question of personal rule, good or bad, but of a system. I could enter here into the question of the people's interest in the land. Suffice it to say that it seems to m e that the old clan system under which the people seem to have had equal rights to, or at least interest in the land with the clan head or chief, came to be superseded by the feudal, which exists to this day, whereby both right and interest were all vested in the feudal lord or proprietor, who drew his title, not now from the people but from the sovereign. All I plead for now is not perhaps the full recognition of this, which might lead to injury to those who have no blame in the matter, and have acquired by purchase and otherwise a right and title to the property, but such a recognition as would give legal security against removal at will.
2. Help and encouragement in conducting improvements, in stocking land, and in building houses ; in other words, the compensation for improvements of which we have heard so much. I care not whether the help come in way of payment before or after, viz., by way of loan or compensation. [As I have already said, to my mind, if Sir James had gone on these Hues his money on improvements would have been better laid out.] The only question is, who are the parties to advance the money ? Three parties come before my mind:
(1) Landlord.—Landlords might be found to do it, as also to pay the tenants on leaving for any additional value that their labour and improvements might have brought into the land, though in order to encourage the landlord as well as the crofter, in case of new land, if the landlord gave it this might be left to him as reward. (2) Government might advance money to crofters to enable them to improve and stock land, or they might buy up land in order to let or sell it out in suitable lots to settlers. (3) Capitalists.—I mean by this especially those that have faith in the crofters' power of repayment and improvement. If landlords have not faith enough in the industry and power of the crofter to venture the experiment, then surely those who advocate the giving of more land to the people, and think that it would pay to do so, should be prepared to bear the risk of carrying out their views by combining to advance the needful, or by purchasing land und allotting it.
3. More land. But where is the land to come from ? I am sure that many landlords will of their own accord give such ; but though by some the proposal may be considered a very radical one indeed, I myself would advocate on this, the Introduction of the principle embodied in our Railway Bills, viz., that of
public necessity—that, as in the case of railways, & c , if a community or company could make out a preamble (a) that there was land to be got; and (b) that
they could work it so as to pay, they could approach Parliament and have the land given them at a valuation.
4. Voluntary emigration, as following migration and education.
5. The development of the fishing industry, by the building of harbours and breakwaters.
6. The making of squatting and subdivision illegal This should not be left to individual landlords to enforce, but should be enforced by law. And this could be done more efficiently, more easily, and with least hardship when accompanied by legislation that would provide land for those wanting it.