Bonar Bridge, Sutherland, 9 October 1883 - Statement Strathcarron

Grievances of Strathcarron Tenantry, on the Balnagown estate, in the parish of Kincardine.

—The Strathcarron tenantry cordially desire to express at the outset that their personal relations with the late Sir Charles Ross, as well as with Lady Ross, have always been of the most amicable nature. The origin of some of their present grievances date far back—to a period when the fathers and grandfathers of some of the present occupiers of the Strath lands were evicted, or removed, lower down, in order to turn the Braelangwell ground into a sheep-farm. At that time only a very small portion of the land now cultivated in the Strath had been reclaimed; but the huddling together of so many families, caused by the removals from Braelangwell, necessitated their turning their attention to reclaiming every inch of ground that could bear reclamation. They were stimulated in their efforts by fair promises of being allowed to reap the benefits of whatever improvements they might effect; but none of them ever received any compensation for their labour or expenditure, and the only practical assistance ever given was a small quantity of lime allowed each crofter upon one single occasion. By-and-by, as the land was being gradually reclaimed and improved, rents began to be put up; and down to this day this has been pretty much the practice upon the Balnagown estate. A few years ago, when a petition had been presented to the proprietor praying for a reduction, after the rental of the Strath had been raised 40 per cent, at one bound, the answer given was that, by letting the Strath in large farms they could receive considerably more rent than they were exacting from the small crofters, and that, by allowing them to remain in their holdings,as then rented, they were acting very liberally, besides losing money. The truth of all this is very questionable; but one thing is certain, however, that neither large, nor even medium-sized, farms could be made in the Strath but for the stretches of heathery wastes reclaimed by the present occupiers and their forefathers. Then, again, the earliness of the place—the earliness of its crops—was held up as a reason why the rents had been so unduly raised. The sod in the Strath is in some parts light and sandy, and in other parts gravelly and stony. This accounts for its earliness, and no other special virtue. The season must be superfluously moist for most other places before the Strath need be expected to yield a fair crop. Another grievance is, that at the date the Strath rents were raised 40 percent, the crofters were deprived of more than a third of their hill pasture, which was added to the Braelangwell sheep farm, the portion taken away being the best part of the ground. This took place in 1878. Although the arable land is held on a ten years' lease, there is only a yearly tenancy of the hill pasture, besides it being separately rented at so much per pound of the croft rents; whereas, until 1878, the croft rents covered the hill pasture as well The crofters look upon these as their worst grievances. Another grievance is, that though wood grows plentifully within a few yards of the crofters' houses, they only get it for building purposes or erecting fences by way of improving their crofts upon equal terms with whoever wants it from anywhere else. Little or no labour is given on the Strathcarron portion of the Balnagown estate, and this, coupled with the smallness of the holdings, render the crofters' circumstances straitened enough.

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