STATEMENTS submitted by the Crofters of the Parish of Dornoch.
PARISH OF DORNOCH,
21st September 1883.
The crofters and small farmers of the parish of Dornoch having held several meetings in view of the Royal Commission visiting the County of Sutherland, have agreed, as the result of their consultations, to submit the following statement, which shows their grounds of complaint on the one hand, and what they suggest by way of remedy and improvement on the other.
The complainants wish it to be understood that this statement is intended to form a basis for the examination of their delegates, whom they expect to be prepared to enter more into detail.
The various items of complaint may be summarised as follows :—
1. High Rents.—
The complainers are willing to allow that the rents are in some instances throughout the parish reasonable enough, and afford no cause for complaint to the occupiers. Those thus situated are not represented by this document. But, under the recent valuation, lands formerly moderately rented have had the rents enormously increased. The occupiers complain that the rents in many instances are too high under any circumstances, but they feel the grievance all the more, because any value belonging to the land is due to the labour expended upon it by the occupier in company with his father, or some other relative who preceded him. Cases are found throughout the parish of rents which have been increased 50 per cent., and in some instances were more than 100 per percent per annum. The burden of such an increase in rents is felt to be all the more oppressive, because the land so taxed has been improved for the most part from a wild and waste heath to cultivated land.
2. Limited pasture.—
Even where the land has been improved, and when there maybe probably sufficient provender for the winter months, it is complained that there is little or no pasture for the summer months, as the amount of land held is too circumscribed to graze cattle and produce crops at the same time. Because of the privileges allowed to game and sheep, and the exclusion by wood enclosures from land formerly appropriated as a common, either all, or almost all, the ground formerly held by the different townships on which the cattle of their respective tenants were wont to walk is absorbed.
3. Uncertainty of tenure—
The crofters of Dornoch and of Sutherland generally have not hitherto complained of this publicly, but they feel it notwithstanding. They feel that they have not the same encouragement to improve their land or expend upon their holdings, when they are without the guarantee of continuance in respect to the one, and no certainty of compensation in respect to the other. Besides, destitute of this guarantee, they are destitute of that feeling of independence which they believe it good for men to possess, and which is enjoyed by the large farmers.
4. Injury done to the crofts by game.—
The land of crofters is usually situated in the neighbourhood of woods and other places accessible to game. These are making constant incursions on the ground of the crofters ; and the evil is aggravated by this fact that anything done to disturb the game, on any ground, is likely to be resented. So that the crops, scanty and poor enough independent of this circumstance, suffers a considerable reduction in value by the preservation of game.
5. The grass in the woods interdicted—
Formerly, the woods in general, and some of them in particular, formed a common for pasture, but the whole of these are now so carefully fenced in, and the grass which grows inside is so strictly inhibited, that it dare not be even cut; and thus what might suffice for tolerable pasture in summer, if allowed, or if closed against the entrance of cattle in summer, permission were given to cut the grass in certain parts, the supply of provender to the poor crofters might be considerably augmented during winter.
6. Difficulty of obtaining redress.—
Neither the crofters nor the generality of the people on the estates of Sutherland deny that his Grace is approachable by his tenantry, and is disposed to hear what they may have to say regarding their grievances. But his Grace is seldom found on his northern estates, and when found, his Grace is believed to be influenced by his subordinates, by the valuation roll, and by other hard and fast rules of the estate, more than by the real facts of each case. Some of the crofters are of opinion that, while it may be difficult to adduce proof that the discretion given to subordinates is opposed to the generous policy which a liberal proprietor might be expected to observe in his dealings with his tenantry, in any case the crofters have to complain of the extreme difficulty of obtaining redress.
II. The Remedies
The crofters, without condescending upon all the possible remedies, are free
to mention two which they deem of special importance in connection with any
means of redress available.
1. The restoration of the land alienated from the ancestors—
Some seventy or eighty years ago, large numbers of the people were expelled from their original holdings on which they had been enabled to live with ease and comparative comfort, and were under the necessity of emigrating to the colonies or settling down on poor and unproductive land, which, after long and expensive labour, scarcely yields a livelihood. What they wish is the restoration of part of the land alienated, and such a redistribution of the land now possessed as that there may be fair remuneration for labour. The crofters do not presume to dictate how this may be done. But they believe his Grace can effect it if he wishes, and if his subordinates can be induced to take the trouble of carrying out his Grace's instructions. By way of suggestion, they would remark that his Grace has several farms presently in his own hand, in consequence of failure or surrender on the part of their occupants. Should his Grace either subdivide or apportion parts of these in lots of sufficient size to afford the means of supporting a family, and not in excess of what limited means might be able to stock, the districts presently overburdened with population would be relieved; and the crofters are confident that his Grace, by a cautious policy of this kind and a little patience, would be no loser financially. To specialise, there is presently a farm to let, or soon to be let, in the neighbourhood of the Poles, nearer the Mound, which, if subdivided between some of the crofters on the north side of the road who are supplied with poor land, and stinted in measure, would have the effect of amply providing for the crofters, and yield as good a return to the proprietor. This is only an illustration of what might be effected without much trouble, and within the bounds of this single parish.
2. The appointment of men to manage the estate who know the people and have sympathy with them.—
The crofters are unwilling to attribute their hardships to the present officials of the proprietor; but they believe and know that much of the hardship and oppression practised upon the people for the last two or three generations, is traceable to the influence of officials who were strangers, and bereft of all sympathy with the people. Much of the harsh treatment experienced might have been avoided, without any detriment to the interests of the proprietor, had men of humanity and men who felt interested in the wellbeing of the people been intrusted with the management. The Highlands of Scotland are not without illustrations of the mutual advantage to proprietor and tenant of humane and sympathetic omcials. They can point to Sir Alexander Matheson of Ardross, whose factor, the late Mr M'Kenzie, arranged the estate of Ardross so that the tenantry were retained on terms advantageous to both landlord and tenant—the principle adopted being a reasonable subdivision of land with aid to stock it and the allowance of reasonable time to pay up both interest and capital. Did the estates of Sutherland enjoy a factorate during any period within the past seventy years similar to that of Mr M'Kenzie, the crofters of Domoch are confident that the lands of the Duke of Sutherland would be prosperous and peaceful, and a model to all the Highland estates in the country. The crofters of Dornoch are free to allow that the Duke of Sutherland, compared with others in the north of Scotland, is a good landlord. They admit that the disposition for wholesale eviction which existed formerly, and which still prevails in some parts of the Highlands, seems to be absent. They further allow that improvements effected are not, as a rule, wrested from those who have been the immediate promoters. They even allow that some crofts are very moderately rented. But with all these admissions it is undeniable that they are tending towards the curtailment of popular privileges all round. Instead of more land being allowed there is rather less ; instead of the common ground formerly held being restored, what is held is being withdrawn; rents are tending upwards without guarantee of tenure or any compensation for improvements made, or compensation for damages by game.
The crofters of Domoch profess to be attached to the Sutherland family, and they believe that his Grace, the present Duke of Sutherland, has both the power and the heart to rectify the grievances of his poorer tenants, provided he takes some trouble and exercises more personal oversight. In respect to territorial possession, he has an opportunity which few or none among Highland landlords have, of adjusting matters between himself and his tenantry. Nor do they regard his Grace as lacking in respect to those generous and noble qualities becoming his order, which would enable him to make such temporary sacrifices for the sale of his poorer people, as would contribute greatly towards repairing the wrongs of the past, and thereby make all his people his servants for ever. In conclusion, they venture to apply to their case the wise counsel given by wise men to an ancient king : “If thou wilt be a servant to this people this day, and wilt serve them and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever.”—1 Kings XII, 7.
At Birechan, at meetings held in the schoolroom there on the 8th of August, and subsequently on the 21st September 1883, the following parties were appointed to act as the delegates of the crofters at the meeting of the Royal Cniomission, and with authority to give evidence on all the questions raised by the Royal Commission. In particular, they instruct Alex. M'Intosh, the sixth delegate, and the oldest of their number, to give evidence on the subject of the Crofters of evictions effected within the last seventy years.
Names and addresses of delegates:—
1. Sergeant M'lNTOSH, Torbal.
2. JOHN CAMPBELL, Balvraid Muir.
3. ANGUS M'KAY, Badninish.
4. DONALD CAMPBELL, Rearchar and Astle.
5. HUGH M'KAY, Birechan.
6. ALEX. MACKINTOSH, Achavaich.
Signed by NEIL TAYLOR, Chairman of meeting