Rev. GUSTAVUS AIRD, Free Church Minister of Creich (70)—examined.
39993. The Chairman
—Of what part of the country are you a native?
—A native of Ross-shire.
39994. Have you been conversant with the class of small tenants from your earliest years?
39995. And you have devoted particular study and attention to their condition?
—Well, I have known them from my earliest years and all along.
39996. In this part of Ross-shire?
—In Easter Ross, about twenty miles from here.
39997. Does your knowledge extend to Sutherland also?
—I have been through almost the whole of Sutherland. I have been in the Reay country and Assynt, but I have not resided there. My first charge was in Ross-shire, and I came here forty years ago.
39998. Will you kindly make a general statement with respect to your impressions as to the condition and prospects of the small tenants?
—I would beg leave to read a short statement.
—' The estate of Skibo contains most of the crofters in this parish. Part of it, viz., Balblair, was sold about twenty years since to Mr Sidney Hadwen, the present proprietor. About eighteen years ago the whole estate was sold by Mr Dempster to Mr Chirnside, who soon thereafter disposed of it to the present proprietor, Mr Sutherland Walker.
—About fifty years since several families were removed from Balchraggan, Reeneare,and Acharrie, and their lands now form the corn farms of Balblair,Fload, and Acharrie. I was told that a number of those then evicted emigrated to America. In the place of Coiloag seven families were removed, and the place turned into a miniature deer forest, not to the advantage of the crops of the people in the neighbourhood. About 1850 six families were removed from Little Creich, and their lands now constitute the farm of Little Creich. About 1876 three families were removed from Clachnasheenag and its surroundings, and their grazing is unlet. About 1876 seven families were removed fromMoine-ghaoir, and the lands are unoccupied since then. About 1876 and 1881 seven families were removed from Souardale, and these places now form the farm of Meikle Souardale. Their dwellings and offices were of stone and clay, and suitable enough for the size of their places. They agreed to the rents proposed by the proprietor, but could not to the conditions imposed, viz., to rebuild new houses and offices, remove the old ones, trench, drain, and lime most poverty-stricken soil, and remove surplus stones to wherever the proprietor saw fit. All these changes would cost an enormous expense, and must be borne by themselves, which it was impossible for them to face, and which the tenant who succeeded never did, and never promised to do, although a new slated square of offices has been erected, and yet six of these tenants were evicted, All the removals above referred to comprehend
—1. As to rents, the sod is naturally far from being fertile. When Mr Dempster (who still survives) held the property the people considered their places rack-rented. But since then, when it could be done, they were increased; as, for example, the only settlement which could be obtained by the following crofters about 1880, when their leases expired, was tenure from year to year, and 50 per cent, additional rent. The county valuation roll shows the former and the present rent
(1) Wm. Campbell, Barracks, . . paid £ 5, 0/ 0 now pays £7, 10/ 0
(2) Angus Munro, „ . . £5, 10/ 0 now £7, 15 / 0
(3) James M'Kay, Leithall, . . £ 8, 10 / 0 now £12, 15 / 0
(4) Robert Calder, Migdale, . . £5, 0 / 0 now £7 10/ 0
During the past forty years I have been told by not a few of the tenants on the Skibo estate that generally those on it, paying a certain rent, could with difficulty keep but one cow, yet for the same rent on the Sutherland estate two or three cows could be kept. At Whitsunday last (1883) one of the largest and most fertile farms in Easter Ross was let for nineteen years at several shillings per acre less than was paid by the former occupant, whilst a large outlay is to be made during the currency of the lease by the proprietor for improvements. Thus, whilst a large reduction per acre has taken place on one of the finest farms in Ross-shire, 50 per cent, has been added in this parish on crofters who were considered to be rack-rented, for very inferior soil, which proves to demonstration the necessity for a measure to prevent such exorbitant exactions on poor men, and also to prevent the erection of a first-class manufactory for producing paupers.
2. As to meliorations for buildings, there is:
—(1) The case of Alexander Grant, late of Souardale, now in Sydney, N.S. Wales, as may be seen from his letter dated 25th August 1880. When his father entered the place he paid meliorations for the houses, and held a paper signed by Mr Grant upon Dempster (the proprietor at that time) promising meliorations on removal. He was never paid meliorations by Mr G. Dempster, and he states in his letter that when application was made to the present proprietor he declined paying them, as the document promising them was not stamp paper (as if the ninth commandment were of no authority unless extended on stamp paper). The meliorations amounted to £174, 10s. All this was done after the poor man was evicted by Mr Sutherland Walker, and he had with his family to emigrate to N.S. Wales, and was never a shilling in arrears.
(2) The case of the late Donald Fraser, miller, Migdale, who died about 1876, left a widow and child.
His grandfather, John Fraser, had one of the leases given by Mr G. Dempster of Dunnichen, about 1798, and, I understand, full meliorations were promised in the event of his heirs being removed. The buildings (exclusive of hundreds of yards of stone dykes), were valued at from £800 to 900; the widow was only allowed a fraction of this as she had not the means of bringing the case to the Court of Session. When Hugh Fraser succeeded his father John Fraser, about 1810, the factor measured the land, consisting of a number of small separate pendicles of about four acres, and valued it along with the mill at £7, 10s. At his death, about 1875, there must have been from eighteen to twenty acres arable, and the yearly rent of mill and land is now £60 and all this owing to the improvements effected by father and son, and yet the son's widow and orphan were evicted by Mr Sutherland Walker.
III. What is wanted.—
1. Fair rents.
2. Safety or security of tenure. There is much need of this, as, for example, if there is no measure
passed ere long, in 1885 or 1886 the whole of Migdale and of Tulloch (about thirty families) may be evicted, and the lands turned into a deer forest.
3. Meliorations for permanent improvements on land and requisite buildings.
4. Hill pasture turned into club farms. The people formerly had the hill pasture; were deprived of it by the factor of that time who occupied it himself, and who, it is said, ruled the estate for years not with a sceptre of mercy. The tenants have ever since been without this grazing, but no abatement of rent was allowed on the arable land in consideration of this, but an increase was imposed at various times. On this point I may read a few pages from a paper by the late Mr George Dempster of Dunnichen, in the Old Statistical Account of 1793. The Rev. George Rainy, the minister of this parish, was asked by Sir John Sinclair to introduce that paper into the Statistical Account. I merely refer to it as stating what he laid down for the improvement of Highland estates (vol. VIII. p. 375) :
—Plan for improving the estates of Skibo and Pulrossie. These estates contain about 18,000 acres of land, extending from the point of Arducalk, on the north bank of Dornoch, westward to Port Leak, being an extent of twelve or fourteen miles. The bulk of the estate is hilly, but the hills are of no great height, seeming generally to rise about from 500 to 700 feet above the level of the firth There may be about 200 families living on these estates, with the exception of the mains or home farm of each place. The farms are of small extent in regard to arable ground. They produce some corn and potatoes, hardly sufficient to maintain the families of the tenants. The tenants pay their rents by the sale of cattle, which are fed in their houses of straw through the winter, and pick up a miserable subsistence on the waste and common ground of the estate during the summer. The whole of the present rent is from £700 to £800 a year, of which more than a fourth part is paid by the two large farms belonging to the manor or mansion-house." It is stated that " it is not the intention of the proprietors to exact for some time any increase of rents from these people, but, on the contrary, to encourage them by every possible means to improve their little spots of land, to erect for themselves more cornfortable houses, and to build them of more durable materials." The writer then describes certain efforts which were being made to introduce spinning and weaving into the district, and proceeds to say, " that the people may have nothing to divert their attention from their own business, all the services performed by them and their cattle to their superiors are commuted into money, and thirlage by the mills of the baronies is also abolished. Measures are taking to give the people secure possession (for their own lives at least) of their houses, gardens, and arable lands, with full liberty to cultivate as much of the waste land as they please. Their cattle are suffered to pasture on the other waste lands, as long as they shall remain in a waste condition; but the proprietors reserve to themselves the power of enclosing and planting all such parts of the waste lands as are fit for no other purpose. Some plantations of this kind have been already made, and the trees seem to thrive very well on the lightest soils. The trees are principally the larch, the Scotch fir, and the birch, intermixed with beech and mountain ash. The rest of the waste land is open to every settler who shall incline to cultivate it. Twenty or thirty new settlers have already exhibited strong proofs of what Highlanders can do in the improvement of their own country, when secured in the enjoyment of the fruits of their Labour. It may be worth while to mention the nature of this security. The first settlers may improve as much land as they find waste around them, for which they pay only Is. a year during their lives. When they die, their heirs have the refusal of their father's possession at an apprized value, to \be fixed by arbitrators mutually chosen. This rent is invariable till
the next generation, when the valuation is to be repeated; and so on every generation. A little iron for tools, wood for their houses,and seed potatoes and corn is furnished to them for the first two years. They are exempted from every species of personal service."
IV. How matters may be rectified.
—On a pretty large scale this has been done in Ardross by Sir Alexander Matheson, and on a small scale on Airdens in this parish by D. Gilchrist, Esq. of Ospisdale. Leases for nineteen years were granted in 1859, renewed about 1880. Waste land was reclaimed; powder and dynamite were used, not to blow up the Houses of Parliament, but in promoting the useful and peaceful arts of agriculture by blasting boulders and oak roots. According to the valuation roll, the present rent is £28, 7s.; under the former lease it was about £22, 3—increase, £6, 4s. According to the Old Statistical Account the rent of Skibo, including Balblair, was from £700 to £800; according to the present valuation roll, it is about £4813, or six times more than it was in 1793.
V. Character of Tenants and Crofters.—
1. At one time this parish must have supplied the British army with a large body of recruits. When I came to it forty years ago there were residing in it twenty-four pensioners; they are all gone years since, but their places have not been supplied by others.
2. So far as known to me, the people pay their rents.
3. The people are very industrious , and so far as I remember, I do not know a lazy man in my congregation. There is no public work within reach of their homes, so that they have to go in quest of it wherever it may be found. Nearly forty years ago, I was informed by a man in this district of country, who was in the habit of taking extensive contracts of work, and of employing a number of tradesmen and labourers yearly, that the people of this parish were noted for their industry. Ever since the erection of the Bonar Bridge in 1810, and the formation of the Parliamentary Road, this was the first piece of work which they ever had an opportunity of engaging in at their own homes, and they availed themselves of it, felt the benefit, and ever since diligently pursue it wherever it can be found—as, for example, when the railways were being constructed south and north—then at the extensive improvements at Ardross for seven or eight years, then at the improvements at Shiness by the Duke of Sutherland, which benefited a good many of them.
4. Great numbers from this parish have emigrated to the colonies since 1853; to my knowledge upwards of 266 to Australia, and of 100 to America, besides a large number to the large centres of population in the south; and many of those who went to Australia were most dutiful to their parents whilst they survived.
5. They are expert at farming operations, and adopt a regular rotation of cropping, however small their allotments. Most of them have limed the land, use artificial manure, and all these at their own expense.
6. There is much waste land in the parish; some of it might be reclaimed. So far as known to me, during the past forty years, not one of the three proprietors on the Skibo estate has advanced a shilling from their own pockets for the reclamation of an acre of muir ground, and if example is more powerful than precept in this connection, the people have not had the most edifying example set before them.
7. Is it mere policy for the rulers of this nation to allow such a class of people to be treated as if they were serfs ?
39999. The Chairman.
—You have stated that, within the last forty years, within your personal recollection, about thirty families have been evicted ?
—Have been removed. I draw a distinction between removal and eviction. I call it eviction when they have to go off the estate and go elsewhere. Some of those removed may have been removed out of their places and found places upon the same estate. I make a difference between eviction and removal. There were thirty families removed out of their places. Some of them found localities elsewhere on this estate, while some were evicted and some went to the colonies.
40000. If a tenant is removed by the proprietor from his place, and is allowed to shift for himself in this country, do you call that removal or eviction ?
—I would call it removal, if he removed to some other locality belonging to the proprietor; but if he went to another estate, I would say that was an eviction, or if he went to the colonies.
40001. Now, there have been about thirty families evicted or removed within your personal recollection?
—Yes, many more than that. I merely stated these from the places, but there is a paper that will come afterwards—by Mr Black—and he tells the number of removals upon the whole estate for a number of years.
40002. In the case of those removals generally—either removals or evictions—have the proprietors endeavoured to provide the families so shifted with holdings under their own control, or left them to find their own subsistence in the world ?
—With regard to a great number of those I have referred to, they had to provide for themselves elsewhere, and some of them are hither and thither in the colonies. Some may be still within the parish.
40003. You have stated there has been a considerable number of removals or evictions; do you know of any casein which a large piece of ground or a portion of an estate has been devoted to the service of families so removed—cases in which new crofts and new townships have been erected?
—No. What made me refer to the thirty was this—of five different places three have been turned into pretty large corn farms and others into grazings. It was only to these I referred.
40004. But you know no case of new townships or holdings being created?
40005. Do you know any case where common pasture lands, formerly belonging to townships and turned into sheep farms, have been restored to townships?
40006. You don't think, then, there is any change of policy up to the present time on the part of the proprietors; their policy is not more favourable to the small tenantry than it was?
—I merely refer to the proprietors of the estate of Skibo. With respect to Mr Gilchrist, even at the last let, which was in 1880, all the tenants who had leases before had their leases renewed, except one man who differed with the proprietor as to the rent.
40007. Coming to the question of security of tenure, the proposals which you read from that book were rather these : that waste land should be given to the people for the life of the occupier at a nominal rental, and then that at the end of the occupation the improvements should be valued by arbiters appointed on both sides—by the proprietor and by the tenant?
40008. Do you think that this system of granting lands for a life, with increase at the end of the life, is preferable to granting land for a fixed period of years; would you rather see the land given to a man and his widow for life, or would you rather see it given for nineteen or thirty years?
—Well, if there were a lease of nineteen or twenty-five or thirty years, a good deal would depend on the disposition of the proprietor. If he were a gentleman such as the excellent Mr George Dempster of
Dunnichen, I daresay nineteen or twenty-five years' leases would be preferable in some respects; but the evil is this, that the people have a feeling that they are insecure, as they have seen so many removals. That being the case, it paralyses their efforts in the way of trenching and reclaiming the land; whereas, if they had a security, or a feeling that advantage would not be taken of it, that they would not be turned out, I verily believe that a great deal of land might be reclaimed.
40009. But I may ask your opinion on a subordinate point, and that is whether you prefer a formal security of a distinct lease for a term of years to the benevolent system which obtains on the Duke of Sutherland's estate, where they are left in possession for life?
—Well, if it were such as the Duke of Sutherland and many other proprietors, I should prefer a nineteen or twenty-five years' lease.
40010. Do you think a nineteen years' lease is sufficient to prompt the people to take up wild land and trench it and reclaim it, or do you think it would be preferable to give them a thirty years' lease?
—Perhaps, between nineteen and thirty. I did not consider that matter very well.
40011. Do you think the people would be inclined to accept leases?
—I think they would. If the people had security of tenure, and a kindly feeling shown towards them, I have not the least doubt that within a generation there would be an extraordinary improvement.
40012. Supposing, however, they got a lease or got their land for life, a term of years will at last expire when the land has to be revalued. Now, upon the Sutherland estate we understand the valuation is conducted by a valuator appointed by the Duke, who goes there and values the land, and his Grace may then perhaps make some diminution from the amount at which it is valued; but it is his valuation,
—there is no joint arbitration. Is it your proposal that there should be an arbitration; that there should be an arbitrator appointed by each party?
40013. With the power of appointing an oversman?
40014. Is that your distinct proposal?
—Well, I have not any very distinct idea with respect to that. If I were sure of its being the Duke of Sutherland who was my proprietor, and that it was under his Grace's direction, I would have full confidence that he would do every justice in every way through the person appointed by himself; but with respect to formulating the matter and so on, I am not very sure. I have not considered the matter, but, so far as I am concerned, I would be perfectly satisfied with the Duke.
40015. Let us go a step further. Supposing a revaluation is made at the end of nineteen or twenty-five years, I want to know your opinion as to whether the valuation ought to be made upon the land as it stands, without any consideration of the value of the labour put into it during the whole course of years by the tenant or not. Ought it to be taken just as if it were arable ground, and valued at its present value, and that value charged to the successor of the same family, or ought they to retain a portion at least of the value of the labour that they have put into it?
—Well, I didn't consider it from that point of view. I know as to the lease upon the estate of Airdens, in this parish, that in the first nineteen years' lease there was a clause, that if any single one of the tenants should be removed at the end of the nineteen years, he should have at the rate of £5 per acre for the proportion which he improved, and they all agreed to that; and then at the end of the lease, I know that all the tenants who improved their land took a renewed lease, and as far as those were concerned that did the most, there was not much of a rise. It was only the other day I was looking at the valuation roll; but there was that clause in the first lease. It was prepared by the late Mr Kenneth Murray of Geanies; and I know that, at the expiry of the lease every individual removed was to receive at the rate of £ 5 per acre for what ho improved.
40016. Did that include the value of the dwellings, or did that refer to the improvement of the land?
—The improved land. There was no reference to dwellings, as far as I recollect, in the leases. The people built the houses, and have improved very much with respect to that
40017. You say there was a small deer forest constituted here; what lo you mean by a miniature deer forest?
—It is just this, that the quantity of ground is small, and there is very little wood around it. There is part of the Sutherland estate that comes into the estate of Skibo, with a burn between them, and the two might make something together, but it is very small on the estate of Skibo. It is just something like a miniature in comparison with a picture.
40018. Does this little deer forest march with the large deer forest 1
—I cannot say it does. It is merely the estate of Creich, not very large, and there is a good deal of wood upon it.
40019. And divided by a fence?
—By a burn. There is a fence round his Grace's wood.
40020. Are these red deer?
—There are red deer and a number of roes. I think about twenty-five years ago there was a very severe winter and spring, and a good many came down from the Reay country; and got into the wood and never left it again.
40021. Is it all wood?
—It is not all wood. There is a good deal of fir wood and a good deal of birch wood, and it is just at the extremity—the extreme point—that there were seven or eight tenants removed.
40022. Do the people generally complain of the ravages of game in this country? Is there any considerable complaint?
—Well, there are some of them who do complain—those on the heights. It depends very much upon this. If it is an early harvest, there is no complaint; but if it is late, as it is pretty late this year in the north end of the parish, they must be awake all night in order to watch. And then a good many of those near the woods complain very much now of the deer coming out and destroying the turnips
—-not eating them, but destroying them with their horns. One man was mentioning last week a place where he found a deer, and I was quite astonished. It was several miles from the wood, and they were becoming more bold than they used to be. I know there are several of the tenants that complain very much of the depredations they commit upon potatoes and turnips.
40023. When you speak of people sitting up at night to prevent the ravages of game, does that refer to the deer only, .or do they stay up to scare the moorfowl?
—I have heard of people having to stay up during the night for the deer; and that when the corn was cut they would require to go to frighten the moorfowl in the extreme north of the parish, but that just depends upon the season. If it is a pretty late harvest, there is a good deal of them; they must watch them.
40024. On the whole, notwithstanding the disadvantages of land tenure to which you have alluded, what is your impression about the material progress of the people? Do you think there is a sensible progress, or do you think there is a retrogression in the condition of the people ?
—Well, as far as the condition of the people is concerned, they had formerly the hill ground, and had sheep and cattle there. Their clothes may be of finer cloth to-day than they were then —they were all home-made then; but, as far as various other things are concerned, I suspect in former days they were better off and stronger men than they are now. I suspect that their physical strength is not what it was.
40025. Do you consider that the possession of hill pasture, or common pasture, by the crofting population, leads them to trust to the hill pasture and to neglect their arable ground, or do you think that the one kind benefits the other?
—As to the hill pasture, I would prefer having what is called a club farm, and having a club farm there are certain regulations laid down for the carrying of it on that must be kept. There must be a regularly appointed shepherd, as in the case of Ardross, where the tenants got the hill ground, and they got stock; and I understand it has been of the greatest benefit to them. One is not to be ruler over the other. There are regulations laid down, and there is a regular shepherd, and an account kept of everything, and the whole profits are divided.
40026. But whether it is a club farm or whether it is a common pasture, do you think the possession of stock upon the wild ground leads the people to trust to the sale of the stock and neglect the cultivation of the arable, or do you think not?
—If it is a club farm there are shepherds that have the charge of the sheep, and the people themselves must be at home to look after their agricultural operations, and I am perfectly clear it would not be detrimental to the agricultural work when it is in the form of a club farm.
40027. But when it is in the form of an ordinary common pasture, do you think the time of the people is taken up with rambling after their stock, and that they neglect cultivation ?
—Well, as far as I am aware, I am not acquainted with any case of that kind.