STATEMENT by the Rev. ARCHIBALD CLERK, LL.D., Minister of the Parish of Kilmallie, Inverness-shire
KlLMALLIE MANSE, FORT WlLLIAM, N.B., 24th October 1883.
In answering the queries which you have sent me, allow me to say that I was minister of the parish of Duirinish in the years 1840, 1841, 1842, and that I then wrote an account of the parish, which was published in the Statistical Account of Scotland, 1841. Thus I have beside me the statements made regarding matters which were before my eyes at the time, and do not depend on memory alone for what I am about to submit to you.
In regard to the general condition of the crofter population in Duirinish, it was poor and distressing beyond anything which I had previously seen. The dwelling-houses were dark, damp, and very hithy. The main door led into the byre, where the cattle—some of them tied in a very primitive manner, others running at large— were kept There was no drain to carry off the liquid. All the manure was allowed to accumulate for four or five months, until it was carried out to be laid on the land. It sometimes rose to a height of two feet above the level of the next apartment, the kitchen, which often formed the only one for the family. On descending to this apartment very little furniture was to be seen. The seats generally consisted of two or three stools made of wood; round stones, and pieces of dried turf. There were two openings in the wall. In these I have occasionally seen panes of glass. Generally, however, one of them was stuffed with straw or ferns, while the other was kept free for the admission of air and light, this being regulated by the direction in which the wind blew. The rafters forming the roof were always laid on the inner, instead of the outer edge of the wall; consequently, the rain, entering the top of the wall, was continually oozing through, keeping the house in constant damp.
The food of the crofters was scant and poor. Some of them had a small supply of oatmeal, and their cattle gave them milk; but their chief dependence was on potatoes and fish,—often on potatoes and salt Their clothing was very coarse, and personal ablution was not much practised by them. Their mode of tillage was most unprofitable. I have often seen oats sown for three, sometimes for four, successive years in the same spot, during the last two of which there was scarce any return except a small quantity of straw; and the land was thus rendered utterly unproductive for years afterwards. At the same time potatoes were planted in the same patches year after year. It would be easy to follow at least a two years' shift, but this was rarely done. I have seen in Glendale the furrows drawn right across the face of sloping ground, and thus, by preventing the downward flow of the water, turning good land into a puddle. The agricultural implements, if they deserve such a name, were most unsuited to their purpose. The cas-chrom, unwieldy in itself, and merely scarifying the ground, was preferred to plough or spade. The ground was harrowed often by a hand-rake, and sometimes by a larger harrow with wooden teeth. Hay was gathered with a forked stick, or with the hands alone. It is
needless to state that land thus treated did not yield a sixth of the produce which it would return under good culture. These remarks apply to the crofters who held their lands from the proprietor, paying from £ 2 to £8 or £9 annual rent. But there was a very numerous class known in Skye as 'lottars,' elsewhere as 'cottars,' who held a house and a very small patch of land from a farmer or a crofter. These paid no money rent, but were bound to give labour to those who allowed them a house stance. Their condition was far beneath that of the crofters, and the great heaps of shells constantly to be seen before their doors gave painful evidence of the abject poverty in which they were sunk. The daily wages given to labourers were 1s. 6d. in summer, 9d. or 10d. In winter. Female servants got from 10s. to £2 in the half-year; and, as a proof of the barbarous manner in which both servants and labourers were sometimes treated, I may mention what was no uncommon practice for a farmer in dining those who were engaged in his harvest work. A huge quantity of boiled potatoes were put into a cart with a proportionate supply of salt herrings thrown on the top of the potatoes. These were driven to the held, and shot out on the grass in piles here and there according to the number of the reapers. It is right also to mention an extraordinary waste of time and labour which I have seen in the cutting of peats. In other places a man cuts the peat, and lays it off his spade on a barrow placed conveniently to him on the bank. Two ' spreaders' carry this away, and ' spread' the peats on the drying ground. In Duirinish three men were employed at each spade, and gave occupation only to one party of 'spreaders.' One cut the peat, another lifted it up on the bank, while a third reposed himself on the ground, ready to relieve either of
his companions when exhausted with the hard toil! It may be asked whether anything was done to improve the wretched condition above described. I am sorry to say that I never heard of anything being attempted beyond relieving cases of individual want. In this both landlords and tacksmen were very liberal, and the crofters were ever ready to help one another according to their power. In 1837 such scarcity occurred, owing to failure of crops, that public aid was sought and found. Thousands of pounds were distributed in meal, & c, & c , throughout the islands, and portions of the mainland; but this aid was most injudiciously given without exacting labour in return, consequently its ultimate effect was to lower instead of raising the character of the people, producing a spirit of dependence and beggary among them. In case you may think my statements in any degree exaggerated, I beg leave to refer you to the accounts given of the other parishes in Skye, in the Statistical Account already referred to. The Rev. Roderick Macleod, a man revered—I might almost say worshipped—by the islanders, says of the parish of Bracadale, in which he was minister:—' As to the food of the people, they are generally considered not ill provided for who can feed on potatoes and salt, and during the last season even that would have been a luxury to many of them.' Again, as to their clothing,—'There were found in the parish 140 families who had no change of night or day clothes.' Mr MacGregor, well known for accurate statistical knowledge, writes of Kilmuir, which used to be called ' the granary of Skye,' and gives a woeful picture of its condition. He says, ' the lotting system has ruined the country;' and so it is in every parish throughout the island. The same sad tale is told—an overcrowded population steeped in poverty; no public employment; the land miserably mismanaged; education in a backward state; fears of famine entertained; and emigration recommended as affording the only prospect of relief. As to the present condition of Skye, I have always understood that the extensive emigration which followed, when the great famine of 1846-47 actually came, did much to relieve the pressure on the means of subsistence; and that the island has to a considerable extent shared in the general progress of the country, so that the state of the people is now by many degrees superior to what it was in 1840. But not having visited Skye for many years back. I cannot speak from personal knowledge; nor is this of any consequence, as the Commissioners have so recently seen the state of matters for themselves.
I am asked in the second place to describe the condition of families who have emigrated. In doing so I confine myself to those who have gone from the parish of Kilmallie, as it is of these alone I can speak with certainty. In 1844, when I became minister of the parish, the population was very numerous, upwards of 5000; and many of them were very poor. The potato failure in 1846 brought matters to a crisis. The proprietors and tacksmen gave liberal aid, but it was the public relief fund which really saved the people from starvation here as elsewhere. In Kilmallie there were 800 people who received of this fund, which, fortunately, was given only in exchange for labour. At this time the gold-fields of Australia opened a door of relief; and in the course of a few years more than a thousand persons from this parish went to Australia. Several of these have maintained a correspondence with me, and I am well acquainted with their circumstances. I specially mention one man, who died two years ago, and concerning whoma long laudatory article, published in one of the Sydney newspapers, was sent me. John Cameron was a crofter in Trieslaig, paying £7 of rent. He had a family of seven children, all grown up, and all, like himself, of the highest character. He took about £50 of capital with him. He and his family kept close together, and at the time of his death possessed among them land and capital more than double the value of the estate on which he had been a crofter; and, let me add, in striking contrast to this, that two of his neighbours, me n of as good character as he, who stuck to their crofts, both died paupers.
I remember another man on the Lochiel estate, who, owing to various losses, became absolutely poor. He had a numerous and very good-looking young family. He emigrated in 1850. He died last year, leaving 800 acres of good land to his family. His daughters have made good marriages. One of them drives her carriage, and all of them, sons and daughters, are comparatively wealthy. These are, undoubtedly, exceptional cases, but I pledge myself to the accuracy of the following statement. Every one who has devoted himself to land work, whether agricultural or pastoral, and conducted himself with ordinary propriety, is in highly prosperous circumstances, or has left his family in possession of free land and stock. I have known of several going to the 'diggings' and to public-houses. Few, if any, of these have done well, but those who stuck to land have thriven most remarkably. In regard to emigration, I hope you will allow me to state that it has conferred very great benefits on those who remained at home, as well as on those who have gone away. The successful emigrants were wonderfully kind to the friends left behind. I had it from the late bank agents in Fort-William—Mr Thomas MacDonald and M r James MacGregor—that for some years, when the Australian goldmines were in full operation,a sum exceeding £3000 was annually sent through their hands from Australia, not for Kilmallie alone, but for the district of which Fort William is the centre; and while I am sorry that this rich stream has greatly diminished in flow, there are still regular remittances coming from Australia to Lochaber. Let it be stated, to the credit of the emigrants, that many who left home deep in debt sent full payment of all their obligations shortly after being settled in Australia.
2. The lessening of the supply of labour naturally increased its value, and day's wages have risen from Is. 6d. to 3s. a day.
3. Further, the landowners have adopted strict and proper measures for preventing an undue increase of population, measures which unfortunately seem to have been utterly neglected in Skye and in Lewis. Sub-letting or ' lotting' has been absolutely prohibited, and vacant crofts have been added to the neighbouring ones. It has been a special advantage to Kilmallie that the late Lochiel wiped off all the crofter arrears— £1300—which had accumulated during the years of destitution, and also reduced the rents by 20 per cent.—a reduction which his successor has not disturbed; and it is proper to state that the above extensive emigration was voluntary. There were no evictions. I do not mean to represent Kilmallie parish as in all respects a model one. There are still poor houses, poor crofts, poor men and women to be seen, or I might substitute ' bad' for ' poor.' But I do say that a great and most beneficial change has taken place in the condition of the people since 1844, and while a great many causes have concurred in producing this change that it began in the emigration of one-fifth, or actually nearly one-fourth of the crofter population. I am glad to state that the improvement in the moral conduct of the people has kept pace steadily with that in their economic condition, that drunkenness, fighting, and petty thieving have been on the decrease for the last thirty years.
I trust you will bear with me for a moment, though it is going beyond my proper province, when I say that, seeing emigration and consolidation of crofts have produced such benefits in this parish, it is deeply to be regretted that these measures are not resorted to in other places. Every right-thinking person would wish that the Highlanders should be maintained in their native land, if this could be done consistently with their own comfort, and the general interests of all classes of the community. The plan of giving small farms, or large crofts to such as have capital to stock them—granting them leases, as all the large farmers have—promises much good. The fishing in the western seas also affords scope for the employment of many men. But after all, there are many thousands absolutely destitute of means for stocking or cultivating land, or for procuring boats and nets for themselves; and I need not say that the mere occupancy 6f land is of no conceivable profit to a man who has not the means of utilising its productiveness. In the parish of Duirinish, where the entire rental as it stood in 1840 would not give £1 a head to each of the inhabitants, the surrender of the whole land to them free of rent, would not give them food for half the year. It is to me a very deplorable thing that people, seeing such easy means of reaching comfort, and even affluence, should continue in a state of dire poverty, ignorance, and utter discomfort; and it is very marvellous to see those who call themselves the ' crofters' friends' encouraging them in this most unwise resolve, debarring them from a course which would infallibly raise them to high prosperity, and also greatly benefit those who remained at home, chaining them down to a state of debasing and painful poverty. I trust judicious measures may be devised for relieving the present distress of the Highland crofters. I cannot conclude, however, without stating my firm conviction that in a good education is to be found the only permanent and effective safeguard against those sad visitations of famine which have periodically invaded the Highlands for a long time back. If the young acquired an intelligent mastery of the English language, which must be learned through Gaelic—the unknown through the known, as in learning all other new languages—one generation would wipe away this oft-recurring reproach of begging aid from others, and make the Highlander as independent as the Lowlander. I stated this opinion in the Statistical Account so often mentioned, and after forty-two years' additional experience of Highlands and Lowlands, I beg leave to repeat it with much deepened conviction, and with increased earnestness for its being acted on.
ARCHD. CLERK, LL.D.