STATEMENT of Rev. JAMES STRACHAN, M.A., Minister of Barvas, near Stornoway.
MANSE OF BARVAS,
28th Sept. 1883.
The average rent of a crofter's holding in the parish of Barvas is £3, which with rates and road money added, will generally amount to an annual payment of £3 , 16s. It is obvious that, in order to render farming on so humble a scale sufficiently remunerative to yield to the fanner and his dependants the commonest necessaries of life, a very large percentage of profit must be realised. Still, an ordinary lot (as it is called) of land, embracing as it does five acres of ground under cultivation, and a run of moorland or meadow commonty calculated to pasture three cows with their followers, one horse, and twenty to thirty sheep, might be expected to maintain a family of the class in question in circumstances of comparative comfort. The crofter, however, or small tenant, does not, as a rule, reap the full benefit designed for him by the proprietor. For:
The space intended for the support of a single household is, in many cases, crowded with two, and, in some cases, with even three distinct families. A youth is scarcely turned twenty when it behoves him, or (what is the same thing) it pleases him, to take unto himself a wife ; and there being no other means of subsistence open for the young couple (and their coming offspring), the father or father-in-law receives the venturesome pair into his own, or into a hastily improvised contiguous dwelling, and constitutes them shareholders on his own old lot. This system of subdivision—carried on, be it borne in mind, in defiance of the estate rules, and likely to be continued in a community where a man who passes the age of thirty-five without marrying is looked upon as committed to hopeless celibacy—must go far to explain the general poverty. But:
The common crofter fails to turn the soil in his possession, such as it is, to proper account. His agriculture is of the most primitive sort. Trenching, draining, fencing—all so requisite on land subjects of even the best description—are to him operations either wholly unknown or rendered all but useless from the slovenly manner in which they are performed. It is in vain that one points out to the individual crofter how vastly he might better his condition at little expense beyond the labour of his own hands. He is too conservative to adopt any suggested change, or too gregarious to take any departure from the ways of his fellows. There is, doubtless, a good deal of point in the plea that he does not enjoy the security of a lease, and has, consequently, no guarantee that improvements effected by him may not at any time be used for the advantage of another. But after all is said, pro and con, in regard to amelioration of any kind, the question ever uppermost in the Lewis crofter's mind is,' Why ought he not to rest contented with the system, including in its entirety the huts and "lazy-beds" of his fathers ?' or, Why ought he to do differently from his neighbours ?'
Bitter complaints have been made of the taxes and imposts, civil and ecclesiastical, reckoned by many amongst the causes which have been at work for the last forty years in lowering the material condition of the Lewis crofter. These and such like causes have been, it is submitted, of comparatively minor force in
relation to the point at issue. In so far as injurious moral effects have been produced, to that extent it must be allowed that the causes referred to have
contributed to the social deterioration of the people; but the main factors in the process under consideration have been the two above stated—the subdivision
of the land lots, and the imperfect cultivation of the soil. For the first evil there appears to be a choice only of two possible remedies, viz.,
(a), As the leases of large tacks expire, let the people be spread over a greater extent of territory ; or,
(b), Let there be established a system of partial emigration, on such a scale and on such conditions as shall appear best to the wisdom and benevolence of those w h o may have it in their power to promote that mode of relief.
For the second evil, a double remedy seems to be required :
(a), Crofters' leases on reasonable terms as to rent and duration; and
(b), A sufficient infusion into the townships of persons who shall be thoroughly up to agricultural work, and show the native population ' how to do it'—how to treat their arable land—how to improve the breed of their live stock—how to build houses fit for human occupation.
The foregoing statement contemplates the crofter qua crofter pure and simple. No allusion has been made to fishing, because it is believed that fishing ursuits, so often superadded to the crofter's toils, are not often found compatible with the crofter's success in the pursuit of his proper calling.