STATEMENT by the Rev. JAMES GRANT, Minister of Kilmuir, Isle of Skye.
MANSE OF KILMUIR, 22nd May 1883.
I have had a twelve years' acquaintance with the North-West Highlands, and have been five years in this parish. I have had free, friendly, and agreeable intercourse with my parishioners of all classes, and of both religious denominations, and have heard their minds frequently expressed on the subject of the land, and have seen much of the poverty of which they complain with my own eyes. They say that in the good old days, they had, though they were more in number, greater comforts than they now have; that they had mutton, and occasionally beef, more meal, and more fish. They admit that there were often hard times then, and some say that meal in summer was then often unknown, that they were more indebted to the sea-shore than they now are. I can easily understand that butcher meat which is now unknown in many townships I may say, and wool for day clothes and night clothes, which is scant enough when there is little money to buy it, were plentiful then, when markets were not so near hand, and the prices low, and the ground now occupied by sheep stock, worth, I should say, between £20,000 and £25,000, then occupied by crofters either as arable land or as common pasture. I can easily understand that milk was more plentiful, for two reasons: (1) There was not the same temptation to bring good stirks to the market, and (2) the cows were likely not so high bred or so pure as they now are. The cry now is for hair and horns, and such is the demand for them that the dam suckles the calf, allowing but a small pittance of milk for the children, or if the calf gets less milk than he would require, it often gets the children's meal, and £4, £5 , or £6, is the year's outcome of a cow, after robbing the children of their meal and milk perhaps. When the calf is weaned, the cow refuses as a rule to give the milk, and so, after three or four months, there is no milk, nor butter or cheese, in store for the winter. Cattle must be reared, but the system of rearing them, while best for the calves, and to be adopted where there is a number of cows, is not the one best calculated to give the poor man the benefit of his one or two cows. Even cottars, who manage to keep one cow, will not break through the custom of the country. It is a beautiful picture to see the humblest cottar possessing a cow, but the picture on closer inspection becomes a caricature. Let the cottar sell his cow's calf and feed his children and provide some butter for the winter months. The tacksmen complain that the crofters' cattle and horses trespass on their grass. The crofters complain that the tacksmen's sheep destroy their corn. The shepherds hunt the cattle with their dogs, or poind them, but the crofters complain that they can neither poind the tacksmen's sheep, nor keep dogs to hunt them away. The Glebe marches with the tack of Duntulm, and while many of my cattle and horses have occasionaUy strayed on to the Duntulm grass, the Duntulm sheep have often injured the Glebe com and turnips. Mr Stewart kept a herd for the Marches, and when he was faithful, which was the exception and not the rule, my crops escaped injury, and when my cowherd was careless his grass suffered. The remedy is stone or iron fencing, fail dykes being of no use. Major Fraser, the proprietor, is said to be preparing to fence the tack of Monkstadt. My neighbours and myself hope the Duntulm tack will follow suit.
The crofters, who as a class are undoubtedly poor, and, they say, much in debt, allege that the loss of the hill for sheep and horses, and the raising of the rents, have been the causes of their present growing difficulties. When the east coast fishing is fairly successful, families who can send sons there may be able to meet their obligations, and when they are able they make a point, as a rule, of clearing off what they can. A great many young women go south, some to hold work in the Lothians, but the greater number to domestic service. There is not an unemployed young man left at home during the summer, and many of them go away in winter.
There is no "cairbhist” or personal service to the landlord that I have heard of, nor is there any peat-moss or sea-ware grievances worth speaking of. I have heard it said that Mr MacLeod, the tacksman of Monkstat, allows a man what sea-ware he requires for one day's work in harvest. The frequent thatching of the exposed houses of the people, and the necessity for heather ropes to secure the thatch, throw the crofters into the arms of the tacksmen for heather and sometimes for rushes. The people feel sore in being debarred, as they say, from the free use of what was their fathers' privilege. As both heather and rushes have a grazing value, I cannot see what is possible for legislation to do in that case. Only, when the heather ground is held by a limited class, the people may feel that they require to be on more than their good behaviour, in order to have the ropes they require for the season. The crofters cry for more land, and the cottars for some land. Some of the crofters have apparently more than enough, as there is a great deal of tillage sold every year to the crofters who can manage more than they have. But, clamorous as the crofters are for more room, I do not believe that they wish the abolition of large farms, for they are not insensible of the advantages they have had of getting bulls on hire from the famous Duntulm and Monkstadt herds. They see very well, that were there no gentlemen farmers able to breed high-class cattle, that the market value of their own would soon go
down. Much is made of the want of security of tenure. It is the excuse they offer for not improving their crofts, and for their fear, real or imaginary, of eviction or the raising of their rents. The security of tenure they cry for I fail to understand. It is either a catchword which they do not understand themselves, or it is some kind of proprietary right to the soil I was astonished to hear, at Uig and Stenscholl, me n of more than ordinary shrewdness and intelligence declare that they did not want leases. It is reported that they were advised to do so by an agitator, but of this I am not certain. I think it desirable that tenancies at the will of the landlord should cease, and that improving leases should be offered for such a term of years as might be agreed upon by landlord and tenant, and at such a rent as might be agreed upon, the fair rent in the event of disagreement to be settled, not by a Government court or by any outside parties, but by arbiters chosen by the landlord and the tenant. Much as it may be objected to, to bring any compulsion to bear upon landlords, I fail to see how the problem can be solved except by granting improving leases. Compensation for disturbance would be demanded by tenants at will, as well as compensation for improvements, a kind of thing for which there should be no room in this country. In the event of the crofters declining to accept leases on fair and equitable terms, their mouths would be stopped. As opportunity arises, I would thin the townships by other means than by eviction, and where, and as soon as possible, create new farms of different sizes, give leases on liberal conditions, and invite offers for rent, giving a preference “coeteris paribus” to such as were anxious to leave their smaller holdings for larger. The crofts as they became vacant, to be given for such rent as might be agreed on, let either as a separate holding, or, if a small one adjoining a small, they might be united, and the future subdividing of crofts should be absolutely prohibited. A simultaneous rearrangement of the crofts, such as the special legislation for the crofters would necessitate, which many seem to desire, I would not approve of. There would be a disagreeable and dangerous scramble for land. The weak and even the worthless would be clamorous for an equal share with the active and industrious, and the condition of things might be worse than the present system, where the similarity in size of the crofts is a marked weakness. I disapprove of the passing of an Agricultural Holdings Act for Scotland, until such time as the results of the present searching and open inquiry are submitted to Parliament, and laid before the country for consideration, as nothing would, in my opinion, be more undesirable than one land law for the Lowlands, and another for the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Dreamers there are in the Highlands, as in other places, who fancy the Royal Commission and Government can, as if with a magician's wand, make every crofter and cottar the happy possessor of horses, cattle, sheep, and fish, if they only put on the wishing cap. These fancies have been encouraged by outsiders, and they may have given to the present demands the colour of unreasonableness which many have. For all that, such is the deep-seated, innate respect of the Highlanders for landlords and for the powers that be, that I feel confident, that any mutual concessions, a solution of the vexed question is possible, which will be both conservative and liberal, and more satisfactory in the long run to both landlords and tenants. Highlanders would like their children to be better scholars than themselves, to be able to read the Scriptures in Gaelic, but to be also able to speak English and carve their way through the world. And as one who knows the Highlands and Lowlands quite as well as the strange teacher at Stein, I must differ from him in his opinion of the incapacity of Highland children. When they have competent teachers they can leam as well as Lowland children, were their comforts at home the same, which I am sorry to say they are not.