STATEMENT by Rev. JAMES CHISHOLM, C.C., Craigston, Barra, by Lochmaddy.
CRAIGSTON, BARRA, October 1883.
The circular addressed to me by the Secretary of the Crofters' Commission invites me to express my views about the present state of the crofters residing upon this island.
As the grievances of the people have been set forth in their true light before the Royal Commissioners at Castle Bay, I will not enter into particular cases.
Without giving way to any partial spirit, I must say that the entire bulk of the population of this island, with a very few exceptions, are compelled to drag out a very poor existence. The cause of the prevailing poverty is easily arrived at: it is the want of land. The island is particularly hilly and rocky, yet there is enough of good land if it were divided amongst the people. But this does not seem, even to a superficial observer, to be the case. When we consider that the island is thickly populated, and when we advert to the fact that the best half of island is held by large farmers, we must admit that the cry for more land is very reasonable.
At present the crofters are settled on very poor patches of land, which, from frequent cultivation, have a struggle to yield a few potatoes, or a thin crop of barley, and by no means do they return sufficient crops to compensate the labour expended upon them. As long then as the crofts are so small, and the townships so crowded, it will be impossible for the people to emerge out of their present poverty. On this island no fisherman can live from the produce of the sea alone, owing to the tempestuous nature of the coast, and the want of a ready transit to the markets. Those, then, who follow the profession of fishermen should have as much land as would keep two cows, and those who live by the land should have their present holdings greatly enlarged, and rented according to the value of the soil.
In order to remedy the sad state of matters, I would suggest that the large farms should be broken up and converted into smaller farms, with rents axed by disinterested parties, and given to those who are willing and able to pay just rents.
I would also suggest that the crofters should get leases, for those who are tenants-at-will, and are subject to be turned out at any period, have, generally speaking, very little interest in the soil,—that is to say, they would not enter into any expensive improvements, not knowing who might possibly reap the benefit of their labour. Compensation should also be given for improvements. The people in their modes of living and dress are very frugal, and morally good.
We sincerely hope that some scheme will be devised to better our present condition, but such a one as would have for its object the removal of the people to some foreign country would be entirely opposed to the wishes of the people, and instead of being considered a benefit, would be looked upon as dangerous to their interests.