Rev. John Matheson.
Having been minister of the Free Church at Lairg for the last thirty-eight years, I have had opportunities of obtaining some knowledge of the system of estate management in Sutherland, and of the condition of the people during that period. In the parish of Lairg, with which I have more particularly to do, there are two landed properties —one of them belonging to Lady Matheson of Achany, the other to his Grace the Duke of Sutherland. With regard to Lady Matheson, it is proper to observe that it is only a short time since she came to have the property of Achany in her own hands, and this, of course, is to be taken into account in connection with anything that may be said concerning its present management. From what I know of her Ladyship, I have reason to believe that she would be ready to remove any well-grounded causes of complaint on the part of her tenants on such being rightly represented to her. With respect to the Duke of Sutherland, it is due to his Grace that his kindness to the people of the parish of Lairg should be acknowledged. His improvements in the reclamation of land in the district of Shinness, on such a large scale, were of great benefit to them in giving them employment in their immediate neighbourhood for years. His Grace, moreover, showed his interest in their true well-being by erecting an elegant iron church for the workmen, and for those who were to be permanent residents in that locality, and more recently by giving his own luncheon house to accommodate the missionary of the district. The people, I have no doubt, would all desire that these obligations should be gratefully acknowledged. The Duke's estate in Sutherlandshire being so extensive, it is, of course, a matter of importance that it should be under a sound system of management. I beg to submit to the Commission my opinion as to some things in which I think the system of management is capable of improvement.
1. The want of middle-class farms appears to be a great defect in the division of land in Sutherlandshire. In general there are only two classes of farms those that are very large and those that are small. A gradation of farms is very desirable for various reasons. It would tend to promote more kindly intercourse between different classes of the community, and a larger number of young men might be expected to obtain a university education. The number of persons belonging to this county who study for the learned professions is comparatively small.
2. Those having small farms being tenants at will, or having their holdings only from year to year, have no great encouragement to improve either their land or their dwellings. Their having a lease, or some equivalent security, as well as the prospect of compensation for improvements that may be made with the concurrence of the proprietor, is much to be desired.
3. The time of a family's bereavement, in the removal of the head of the household by death, being made the occasion of increasing the rent, is unseasonable. Those left behind are then in general in less favourable circumstances than before.
4. When a tenant's rent is about to be increased his lot of land might be valued by competent persons on whose impartiality reliance could be placed.