STATEMENT by MACLEOD OF MACLEOD, Skye.
DUNVEGAN CASTLE, 9th July 1883.
Having purposely avoided appearing before the Commission, in order that the crofters on my property might feel quite free to say what they pleased, I should now be glad to offer a few observations for the consideration of the Commissioners. They will, I hope, attach some weight to my views, when I mention that from 1835 till 1848 I resided almost continuously in Skye. I was my own factor for some part of the time, and was always in very intimate and friendly communication with the people, both crofters and cottars. With the result of the inquiry in Skye I think the proprietors have no reason to be dissatisfied. For some considerable time there have been agitators in every corner of the island, circulating the most communistic doctrines, and endeavouring to set tenants against their landlords. Wherever the Commissioners have held meetings, they have been preceded by me n who have not only sought to influence the peoples' minds, but have put the very words into their mouths which they were to say. They have told them carefully to avoid mentioning any kindness they may have received at the hands of their proprietors, and to make out their condition as one of the greatest misery and hardship. Under such guidance, which I think it was very unfair to exercise, and in great contrast with the conduct of the proprietors, who wished the crofters to speak openly and freely, it was natural to expect a very dark picture. It is not indeed in the nature of mortals to be satisfied with their lot, if they are told by men of a class above them that they have been unjustly treated, and I do not blame in the least our people for listening to advice which promised an amendment in their condition. When people are invited to relate their grievances they are sure to have some to relate; for there is no class of men obliged to work for their living, or indeed any class of men, who have not grievances of some sort. It appears to me therefore eminently satisfactory to find that the delegates have been mostly obliged to search for grievances in times long gone by, and have misrepresented these, as they were pretty sure to do, when in ignorance of all the circumstances attending them. As to the present time, which is really the important question for inquiry, there seems to exist no substantial cause of complaint of ill treatment on the part of the crofters. They have just had indeed an exceptionally bad year, and every one has been glad to help them. If in a good year they were to complain, it would in my opinion be because they have no means of comparing their lot with that of others of the same class in England or in foreign lands. They have, however, now had the opportunity of stating their case, and it will be for the Commissioners to judge whether the grievances they complain of are greater or less than those which exist among all similar classes elsewhere, either in agricultural districts or in large towns. Their case, as stated by themselves, appears in substance to be, that the crofts are too small, and that there are many large farms in the island held by tacksmen, which they would wish to occupy. The wish thus expressed is very natural, but I draw an inference from it, to which I should be glad to direct the attention of the Commissioners. One witness at Edinbain, when asked where lands could be got, replied that there was plenty of land in Minginish and Bracadale, showing that the people have no objection to remove from one place to another, and that the hard word " eviction" has often been improperly used, to describe what was not eviction at all. If removal from one place to another can be properly called eviction, I myself may be charged with eviction under the following circumstances :—In the year 1843, the fine farm of Glendale, which then belonged to me, but was afterwards sold by my creditors, fell out of lease; and as Poltiel was one of the best fishing stations in Skye, and much of the land very good, being considered the granary of Durinish, I determined to place crofters in it, there being at that time none except at Holmsdale. I had the land carefully valued by competent persons, who fixed the rent according to the number of cows each township was estimated to keep. The scheme was hailed with great satisfaction by crofters, and with special approval by an advocate of theirs, the Rev. Roderick MacLeod, at that time Free Church minister of Snizort. I received a great number of applications, each applicant stating at my request how much rent he could afford to pay. One of my objects was to make some of the crofts, which were far from the fishing station, large enough for families to live comfortably on without going elsewhere for work. Accordingly in Lavricle. which has 96 Scotch acres of arable land and 1666 of pasture with a bold and rocky shore, I placed ten families at rents of £12 each. In Ramisaig, which has 128 Scotch acres of arable and 1055 acres of pasture, I placed twelve families at rents of £10, 10s. each. In the case of these two glens it was difficult to find tenants who had the means to stock the ground. Ultimately, however, I obtained the required number, of whom some came from Bracadale and some from other places. With the two Milovaigs I dealt differently, being of opinion that the holdings should not be so large as to make the occupants independent of fishing, the crofts being near the landing place at Poltiel. Accordingly fourteen crofters were placed in Outer Milovaig at rents of £ 4 , 4s. each, with 132 Scotch acres of arable and 386 of pasture; and sixteen in Inner Milovaig, fourteen at rents of £ 4 each and two at £6, with 115 Scotch acres of arable and 461 of pasture. Of these many belonged already to Holmisdale in Glendale, and some came from other parts. I have been particular in describing this experiment of mine, because I understand I am blamed for it now. I cannot, however, see that I deserve to be blamed from the crofter's point of view, and I never heard a complaint from any of them. Changes no doubt have taken place since, and the population has probably increased, as it always does unless sternly checked. Of this, however, I cannot speak personally, as Glendale is no longer mine. I cannot tell what importance the Commissioners attach to the statements of the delegates from townships on my property. I must therefore trouble them by referring to the evidence of one of the Kilmuir delegates. He says his father was evicted four times 48 years ago to make room for sheep and ' deer.' I understand he was removed in my father's time, but not evicted; and as to deer, the word could only have been used as part of what he was advised to say, as I have no forest. This delegate also said that ‘the people of Kilmuir would starve if they did not go elsewhere for work.' It so happens that scarcely any Kilmuir man goes away in search of work. Many of them are tradesmen earning good wages, and I give continuous work at 12s. a week to a number of labouring men. It is quite true, however, as the witness says, that Kilmuir is very crowded. The place is much sought after, and the difficulty is to refuse admission to the many applicants. Reference is made by him to a particular case in which one of the crofters agreed to give to another a small part of his croft. The land was worth five shillings a
year, but the new settler was afterwards allowed to erect a good house upon it, and was therefore required to pay the usual price of a stance. With respect to the general question of crowding, the fact is that when any place becomes too crowded, the fault rests with the people themselves. The children remain at home, the boys pressing for a portion of the croft, and the girls marrying men who are sometimes admitted likewise. I do not observe that any complaint has been made by the crofters on my property that rents are too high. That they are very low indeed will be seen from the fact, that while crofters' rents are either lower, or about the same as they were fifty years ago, tacksmen's rents have risen with the advance in the prices of cattle and sheep. The following list gives the rents of crofters and tacksmen at the different periods, the boundaries being the same:—
Crofters (1833 / 1853 / 1883)
Herrebost - £50 / £49 / £44
Gorip – £50 / £50 / £47
Roag - £100 / £98 / £93
Kilmuir - £100 / £90 / £97
Harlosh - £139 / £137 / £108
Tacksmen (1833 / 1853 / 1883)
Rhundunan - £1000 / £1300 / £1800
Talisker - £520 / £1020 / £1800 (an old lease fell in in 1847)
Drynoch - £610 / £835 / £1260
Totharder - £90 / £116 / £140
Feorlick - £260 / £320 / £465
Claigain - £480 / £514 / £700
Uiginish - £149 / £153 /£225
I should also like to call the Commissioners’ attention to the fact, that not only are the crofts lower rented in proportion than the farms, but in the same interval the crofters have been relieved of burdens on their labour. Since I inherited the estate they are no longer required to give six days' work annually, or 4s. in substitution for it in road-making. They are also no longer bound to give four days' work for cutting and stacking my peats. They have indeed two new charges, which they were not burdened with in my early days, but these are the result of legislation. In 1847 the Poor Law was introduced, and the crofters now pay Is. in the pound of rent. In 1872 the Education Act passed into law, and the crofters have to pay Is. also. I may perhaps say incidentally that both these laws have worked badly in the Highlands. The poor law has introduced generally a very heartless feeling among the young towards the old and helpless. The conduct of the people towards their relatives was formerly kindhearted in the extreme. Since then many try to get rid of burdensome relations, and the kindly feelings that should bind families together are not what they once were. The Education Act caused a number of new schoolhouses to be built in central situations, and displaced the small but well managed schools which had been established in each village. The result is, that whereas the crofters paid next to nothing for the schooling of their children, and left them at school till they were 17 or 18, they now withdraw them as soon as the law allows in order to save the fees, and their children soon forget what they had learnt. But there is another evil in the present arrangement. Many of the children have a great distance to walk from their homes to the nearest school, and it would be hard to force them to go during our frequent storms of wind and rain, for they would have to sit in wet clothes and shoes. Hence a very bad average attendance, insufficient grant, and increased school-rate. The people complain much and justly of these changes. I should wish now to lay before the Commissioners my own opinions on the present condition of the crofters, and I at once state most unhesitatingly and emphatically that they are much better off now than when I first knew them. They live better, that is, they live more expensively; and if the captains of steamers who bring the goods, and the merchants who sell them are asked, they will tell you that the people now use bread of fine flour, and prefer it to oatmeal; in place of molasses, they buy the whitest of sugar, while tea of the best is so largely consumed as to have become indispensable to them. Tobacco was always a coveted article, but in my early days it was beyond the means of many. It is now used to a far greater extent. The people are also much more expensively clothed than formerly. They buy a superior description of cloth, and they are all provided with good boots. I remember in old times asking why three brothers did not all come to work together, and the answer was there was only one pair of brogues in the family. I am sure it will not be denied that the women spend a great deal on dress, which they could not do in former days. These great changes for the better in the condition of the people are most satisfactory, but can only be accounted for by their possessing more money, and the question is how they get it! The answer is, first, that their labour is worth double what it was 40 years ago; and, secondly, that the facilities of going where remunerative work is to be had are very much increased. Some go to the East coast for the herring fishing, others to the South. They return home again having usually earned money enough to keep them without work through the winter. It is certainly to be regretted that there is no continuous employment for them at home, but even if they possessed much larger crofts they would not be able to live so well from them as they do now partly from land and partly from labour. No crofter can possibly in this climate live as well as he now does from the proceeds of his croft alone, however large. When I lived at Dunvegan I farmed largely and experimentally. I tried wheat, barley, and many varieties of oats. Wheat never ripened at all, the returns from the best oats was never large, and always inferior in quality. I have often seen the stooks out in December saturated with wet and almost worthless. My experience is that the people should grow oats chiefly for the straw, as they can buy oatmeal cheaper than they can grow it. In my opinion no extent of arable ground will ever pay a crofter in the climate of Skye under grain; and to keep horses to plough it, as I see many wish to do, would be very unwise, as the horse is an expensive animal. In place of the cas-chrome they should use the spade. I am quite satisfied that in our wet climate the cultivation of the soil should be restricted to potatoes and oats, the latter sown sparingly; and the evidence of all the crofters as to the small quantity of meal they get, is the best proof that I am right They might indeed have better crops, if they would imitate their ancestors in the manufacture of a midden. This they utterly neglect, and the soil for want of manure becomes impoverished, which is a pity, although I am convinced, however well manured the land might be, it would cost them more to grow a boll of meal than to buy it. The result, therefore, at which I arrive is that the only increase of land that would be of use to the crofters would be to add to their hill pasture, so that they might keep more cattle and some sheep. The difficulties, however, in the way are very great, I should say insuperable. In the first place, where are the crofters as a body to find the capital by means of which to put stock on the ground and to build houses ? No sane man would advise a crofter to commence farming on borrowed money. Here and there, no doubt, some crofter may have saved a hundred pound or two, but if he possesses means I think he would surely rather take a farm alone, than weight himself with other men in the township whose possessions in cattle were either small or nothing. A second difficulty that presents itself is that crofters with many mouths to feed cannot collectively or individually pay so high a rent for hill pasture, as the farmer, who, setting aside the question of capital, has the skill of a life's profession, and the freedom of action as to buying and selling, which does not exist among the many. The Highlanders have plenty of cleverness, and they would, I am certain, faithfully endeavour to fulfil with integrity and honour any obligation they had undertaken, but I do not believe they could pay the rent for grazing which a fanner can and does pay. Nor could they produce as much beef and mutton either in quantity or quality. The ground is already fully stocked; it can hold no more; and the crofters would, as I have already jhown, labour under much disadvantage in comparison with the tacksmen. It will therefore be seen that to enlarge the crofters' holdings would certainly reduce the value of the land, besides which I do not think the change would be of general advantage to the crofters themselves; for if universally adopted, it would assuredly in a great measure put an end to the fishing industry. It would encourage small droving, which has ruined many a middle-class man in Skye, and it would increase subdivision, which has caused so large an increase of population in tlie island. I happen to have seen in Austria the. unfortunate result of peasant proprietorships producing, in the short period of 35 years, extreme poverty through the subdivision of lands, and usurious loans which are always pressed on those who have security to give, and that in a climate and soil far superior to those of the Isle of Skye. I am confident that, if the Commissioners could see the state of those poor peasants, they would concur with me in thinking that the Highland crofters' condition is far to be preferred. In concluding this paper, I think it is only fair to myself (for every man values the good opinion of others) to notice the taunt which I understand has been freely used against me by some of the agitators, that I am a non-resident proprietor. That I have been so, except for the six weeks of my summer holiday, is indeed true, but the cause is well known, though perhaps not to the Chairman of the Commissioners. The famine years of 1847 and 1848 found me at Dunvegan. Every morning, when food became scarce, hundreds of people awaited my appearance at the Castle door. I had at the time large supplies of meal for my workpeople, but these were soon exhausted, and I went to Aberdeen for more. I only did what every other man similarly circumstanced would have done; but the strain was too great, and although largely aided at first by many friends and afterwards by the Government, I was myself utterly ruined, and forced to get work in London, and to live there.
MACLEOD OF MACLEOD