On this site have been posted transcripts of the findings of the Napier Commission during its sessions in Caithness and Sutherland in the summer and autumn of 1883. More formally, this Commission is known as The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Condition of Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands.
UHI (University of the Highlands and Islands) Millennium Institute, at its campus at Lochaber College, Mallaig, has digitised the thousands of pages of the report and made it available on their website, from where the below background information was copied.
The commission was set up as a response to crofter and cottar demonstrations against excessively high rents, lack of security of tenure on land that had been in families for generations and the forced evictions of crofters.
The demonstrations started in Wester Ross and Lewis in the 1870's, and by the early 1880's had moved to Skye. Local police forces were called upon by the landlords to enforce what they believed to be their rights. However, with limited resources, the police found it difficult to cope with the increasing demands put upon them. Therefore, it became an issue needing the attention of Prime Minister Gladstone’s government and he ordered the appointment of the commission.
Under the orders of William Gladstone, and backed by Royal approval, the commission was appointed in 1883, by the Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt. Francis Napier, 10th Lord Napier, was selected as chairman, with five other members - Sir Donald Cameron of Locheil; Sir Kenneth MacKenzie of Gairloch; Charles Fraser – MacIntosh MP; Sheriff Alexander Nicolson of Kicudbright and Professor Donald MacKinnon of Edinburgh university – making up the panel.
The commission began its work in Braes on the Island of Skye and travelled the length and breadth of the Highlands and Islands (including Orkney and Shetland) gathering evidence from crofters, landlords and others who were familiar with the plight of the indigenous population.
The final report was hastily published in 1884 and led obliquely to the 1886 Crofters’ Holding Act.
The Napier’s Report is a valuable piece of documentary evidence from the Highlands and Islands (including Orkney and Shetland) in 1883, presenting facts and information on the population, as well as the political, historical and social climate of the time.
The text of the original report has been broken up into locations (listed in the panel to the right). On the front page of each location, the witnesses have been listed by category (e.g. crofters, clergymen, factors &c).
The text was copied from the PDFs, supplied by UHI Lochaber, and pasted into a word processor for cleaning up and correction, where necessary. In case of doubt, the original text was consulted. Spelling errors in local names have not been corrected.
The six members of the Commission taking evidence in Caithness and Sutherland were:
Lord NAPIER AND ETTRICK, K.T., Chairman.
Sir KENNETH S. MACKENZIE, Bart.
DONALD CAMERON, Esq. of Lochiel, M.P.
C. FRASER MACKINTOSH, Esq., M.P.
Sheriff NICOLSON, LL.D.
Professor MACKINNON, M.A.
It should be noted that evidence was taken in the western parts of Sutherland in July 1883, with submissions resuming in Caithness and eastern Sutherland in October of the same year.
The evidence from two witnesses, heard at Dingwall on 10 October 1883, is included as it pertains to the hearing at Bonar Bridge the day before.