STATEMENT of Mr RODERICK CAMPBELL
NORTH DELL, NESS, LEWIS,
17th September 1883.
As a preliminary illustration, I shall endeavour to show the course that should, in my opinion, be adopted in order to redress the grievances now under investigation in the Highlands and Islands. There is scarcely anything certain in the pilgrimage of life but two, viz., mortality and taxation. Now 'taxation' without representation, as every honest man will allow, is hardly, if anything, short of tyranny. After a careful study of this theme, I find that no fewer, or considerably over 3000 crofters are paying taxes in the Lewis alone, to one, we suppose, of the most enlightened and generous of Governments in existence, thus without ever having a representation, the result being that, in almost all cases (though naturally intelligent), they seem to belong to the far off ages of the past than living in the enlightened and fast nineteenth century, quite incapable of expressing themselves in public to advocate their just rights as adult males and honest householders in the human race. Why has England termed herself ' the asylum of the oppressed' if she has extended enfranchisement to her colonies at large, and kept this noble liberty from this class of her most loyal people at home ? Deprived of this ' liberty' has also deprived them of certain amount of moral courage. For instance, at the time of the annexation with Canada of Hudson Bay territory, in 1870, 1871, and 1872 inclusive, it was my chance to be present at many of the treaties so successfully made between the Canadian Commissioners (empowered by a British prerogative) and the several Indian chiefs ; and I can vouch that those ' chiefs' (with their men), almost stark naked, and besmeared throughout with their native clay, 'tac-kee (our ground), spoke out before those ' Commissioners' for over two hours on a stretch, and thus without fear, or even affectation in their elocution—totally uneducated ; and drawing a line of comparison, I will, without difficulty, arrive at this—the one had a native liberty, the other deprived of that ' liberty'. In the fervent view of the Scottish Local Government Board Bill being passed next session of our Parliament, and in conformity with the real want of the Highlands and Islands, on the wide basis of administrative decentralisation it would do an incalculable amount of improvement in rural districts to extend the local franchise to every householder who pays for that noble liberty that has made other countries to prosper in unity and civilisation; it would also conduce to break the omnipotent cord the estate factors in those places have held so long, t.e., great dread, and every public office surrounding them, except that of the parish minister. To proceed, I strongly advocate spontaneous—families and whole villages (not individual)— emigration to the colonies, with a chosen energetic young man as spiritual adviser. Canada being the nearest to Britain, and, above all others, has made the most generous efforts of inducement to all those who would come, to share their profits and losses together, and to fill up her ' second to none' illimitable prairies with her own people. I can conscientiously assert, after an experience of twenty years in the Canadian north-west, knowing the country thoroughly in its genesis and in its growth, that I venture to vouch any overture that may be made by the British Government in this direction, to be one of the best and healthiest climates in the world for Highland people. The part of the Canadian north-west to which I should direct attention is in the same latitude as Penzance, England, and its summer mean temperature, as being wonderfully uniform, tells its own story, and may here be inserted as a guarantee for those who wish to look the subject up :—
Fort M'Leod, 49°41'N 113° 33'W
June 59° 20"
July 64" 43'
August 63° 30'
Mean of summer months: 59° 30'
Penzance, 50° 8'N
June 59° 3'
July 62° 2'
August 61° 2'
Mean of summer months: 60° 9'
There is a westerly current named the ' Chinooks ' which crosses the Rocky Mountains in the lower parts from the Pacific, and passes over the eastern plateau, which acts on this part in a manner similar to the action of the Gulf Stream on the British Isles—the which I have seen to raise the temperature in half a day to 50". Consequently cattle and horses are enabled to live in the open all winter, the grasses being very nutritious. There is no getting over this evidence of facts. Why, the fact of the presence of vast herds of wild cattle from the beginning on those plains at so high a latitude may serve as ample proof of the climatology and productive capacity of this region, which contains at least between 400,000 and 500,000 square miles ; and as I have a personal knowledge of this tract, I maintain it has a capacity to support at least twenty-five millions of inhabitants. The soil is also of an excellent quality, and not easily exhausted, black loam resting on clay sub-soil; and in the valleys vegetable loam resting on the alluvial drifts of the rivers, and is extremely rich—so rich that the cereals grow with a strength, luxuriance, and profusion of yield which are the wonder of the new comers. As it has always been a British maxim to receive well-founded grievances, I fain hope that this portion of my statement will graciously receive all due attention and consideration it deserves, and that liberal means will be provided to serve the common interest, to establish a lasting change, by giving a free passage, one year or six months' provisions, some farming implements, a few competent men for one year to show them best how to get on in their new sphere ; and placing them so in contiguous sections, I have no fear of their future welfare in this magnificent portion of Her Majesty's dominion. And I would further ask here, why not provide this remedy for the grievances and misery that have been reported this year in the Highlands and Islands, when we behold Britain daily receiving unto her bosom other nationalities ? For instance, there arrived in Manitoba nine years ago a colony of 7000 or 8000 Mennonites from southern Russia ; those received a tract of land forty miles of a stretch, and the ' Goshen' of Manitoba to boot; there they did dwell, and these are to-day, without a doubt, better off than many German princes. In the event that this project do not work satisfactorily, and this class remain as they are, I have no fear of predicting that matters will work before many years in the direction of a social volcano.
I shall now add a few remarks in reference to the Lewis. Supposing its resources were exhausted, I maintain that there is land presently held by tacksmen, arable, and convenient, to fishing grounds, that should reasonably be given crfoter fishermen. To substantiate this, I was incidentally informed by one of these men, who said, that while North Galson was held by them that he with other boats used to land annually from 3000 to 4000 ling. This port is now vacant, and like it every farm that has been built in the island has been more or less the downfall of the poor man ; and thus because those 'farms' embrace certainly the ' Goshen' of it. Secondly, there is much useless land in the outskirts of the arable in its present condition, but having good subsoil, and easily reclaimable—the bringing in of which the present small holdings might be enlarged, and, indeed, in some localities where the moss has been extensively cleared off, new crofts might be laid out. In connection with this I should point out the necessity of better husbandry in the shape of draining, fencing, rotation of cropping; also grass-sown pastures, well protected for the use of the crofter or crofters reclaiming the same, with a lease of nineteen years, and a full compensation understood. Thirdly, the shape of the dwellings (as all people will allow) needing much improvement also. Fourthly, the promotion of the fisheries by harbours of refuge along the west coast, very much required to better the condition ; likewise & readier access of fresh fish to market by a tramway from the west coast to Stornoway would also be a vast improvement in the circumstances) together with telegraphic communication And lastly, the improving of our educational condition, recommending that, in the present overtaxed condition of the people, should be free to the poor, or at least that aid should be given in the supply of boots and clothing, & c , to the most destitute, would not only prove merciful, but highly honourable in those high latitudes (58° 31'). There seems also a lamentable failure in the schools, and children seem to be kept at school wasting their time, and not taught as they ought to be, especially when the age is increasing at which compulsory attendance was enforced in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland ; having said so, I am rather inclined to blame the system than the teachers; and thus because, in the rural districts, many bright and intelligent children are unquestionably born of poor parents, who are, we must allow, quite unable to send these to higher city schools, so that at the higher standards must both the 'bright' child and teacher remain together—the one quite ready to take a leap in the more light, the other dare not advance another step.
The above sentiments are written entirely and wholly without any prejudicial motive whatever, as I hold no propsrty in Britain—the radical principle being also foreign to my nature, but I fain hope I may safely use the terms of the ancient formula, that' right shall be done in all cases.'
Reviewing the foregoing considerations, I am satisfied that the efforts of the Royal Commission—who will have to perform impossibilities to meet exaggerated expectations—will conduce to a favourable issue in bringing to light many drawbacks hitherto unknown ; and that the Government in turn devote every energy to the promotion of new Acts in Parliament in the full assurance that efforts cannot fail to produce the happiness and welfare of this poor but loyal class in question.