STATEMENT by the Rev. D. M'CALLUM, M.A., Duirinish, Isle of Skye.
MANSE OF DUIRINISH, BY DUNVEGAN, SKYE, June 1883.
I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of a note, informing me that the Royal Commission will be glad to receive any written statement which I may be disposed to offer. Considering that Glendale is in the parish of Duirinish, this invitation is perhaps what might be reasonably expected. Although, however, that once peaceful Glen is one of the districts of the parish, yet, nearly the whole of its population was never brought within the reach of my instructions or spiritual superintendence. For me, therefore, to attempt to do anything in the way of advice or remonstrance during that commotion in Glendale which has attracted so much public notice in the three kingdoms, would, without the co-operation of their own minister, be apt to aggravate the evils which I earnestly wished to alleviate. During my long ministry in this parish, I have been frequently in the Glen, and been able, I hope, to be of some little benefit to the people in various ways, both there and in some of the surrounding districts. Their circumstances are well known to me. It is with painful interest that I viewed the unexpected and extraordinary measures which they had been led to adopt, in order to obtain a remedy for what they considered a grievance. Scores of men were one day seen to pass the manse, armed with sticks and clubs, on their way to the Dunvegan Hotel, with the intention of driving beyond the boundaries of the parish some of the police and other officers who, they heard, had been ordered to go to Glendale in order to take some legal steps against certain men there, accused of having broken the law. A middle-aged man who formed one of the rear of this strange procession I happened to overtake; he said he had come from a remote part of the Glen and felt tired. I asked him if he did not think that in this kind of work he was doing what was sinful, and that in resisting the law of the land he was acting contrary to the example left us by our blessed Saviour, and to the express command of his Apostles, who say—"Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake," "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers," "Whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God." After a short pause, the man replied—" Well, I sometimes think that what we are doing is not quite right." The brief conversation that I had with this man confirmed me in the belief that if, at the beginning of the disturbance in Glendale, the people had been more distinctly told that their projects were unscriptural and sinful, and inconsistent with their character as professing Christians, the confederation into which they had entered for resisting the law of the land would not have become so formidable as it has done. They have been always a peaceful and law-abiding people, and a people who could very likely be influenced by religious considerations. Emissaries from other places, however, and sentiments expressed regarding their doings by me n of influence in large cities, have led them to believe that resisting the law in the circumstances in which they are placed, and for the gobjects which they have in view, is meritorious and highly honourable. All the grievances of the Crofters in Skye, and in some other places, are found under the three heads—Evictions, Unjustifiable Raising of Rents, and Insufficient Extent of Land for their Crofts. On each of these three subjects I now proceed to offer a few observations.
1. -Evictions.—Removing crofters from holdings long in the possession of themselves and of their ancestors, in order to suit an arrangement which the proprietor may think it advisable to make, and settling them on another part of his estate, where there is reason to believe that they will be fully as comfortable as they were before their removal, is an eviction which no person, having a regard to the rights of property, can make any objections. But to evict whole townships of fellow subjects, and fellow Christians, from holdings where they lived in comparative comfort, and to crowd them in a comer of the estate, to treat them like sweepings to be gathered out of the way, and to consign them to a place where they must be reduced to a state of extreme poverty and wretchedness, as has often been done in many parts of the Highlands, is a proceeding which cannot be contemplated without a feeling of righteous indignation. Evictions of this description, however, are happily of rather an old date, and the force of public opinion will, it is hoped, prevent their repetition. The appointment of a Royal Commission, and the information which their inquiries have elicited will, it appears to me, have in this respect a very salutary effect. Should no other good result from it, it may be regarded as having accomplished a very important and desirable object.
2. An unjust rise on the rents.—The Commission, in course of their inquiries, have already ascertained that in Skye there is an extensive estate on which there have been no less than three rises on the rent, on three different occasions. A clergyman, dead some years ago, within whose parish this estate is situated, told me that in a conversation which he had with a crofter, who was complaining of the first rise as a grievance, he said to him : " I suppose your new proprietor has found reason to suspect, that you have been till now, not only living pretty comfortably, but that you have saved a little money, and that he thinks that a rise on your rents will be the most effectual way of getting it out of you." The crofter's reply was to the effect, " If we have done so, I for one am determined that it is not to him that I will give the fruits of my economy and industry." In accordance with this resolution, he and a few others, I believe, emigrated, and thus escaped the grievance of being subjected to the second rise. Before the third rise, it is to be hoped, that he, and those who accompanied him, found themselves in a state of comfortable independence. In the parish of Duirinish there have been considerable rises on the rents of the large farmers, but none on those of the crofters. Complaints of dear crofts are never heard among them, nor do I believe that there are any grounds whatever for such complaints, particularly on the estate of MacLeod of MacLeod. The general complaint here, and indeed throughout the greater part of Skye, is not too high-rented crofts, but the email extent of ground given to them
3. Insufficient extent of land— Neither a rise on the rents, nor insecurity of tenure, is what the crofters of Skye generally complain of. The more general complaint is that their crofts are too small to enable them to live. Indeed the cry everywhere seems to be for more land. How this grievance can be remedied without interfering with the legal rights of proprietors is a problem very difficult to solve. Still it is a grievance which proprietors, if disposed, have it in their power to alleviate in some considerable measure. It may be remedied so far, by taking slices from very large farms, and laying them out as suitable crofts. I may give one instance out of many which might be mentioned in which this may be done without any loss to the proprietor. The large farm of Feorlick in this parish is now, and has been for a period of about thirty years, held by a non-resident farmer. Bordering on this farm of Feorlick is the small farm of Vatten, the rent of which I do not know for certain, but is, so far as I have been able to ascertain, about £120. Vatten is now added to Feorlick, the farm of the non-resident tenant. In a conversation which I lately had with an intelligent and industrious crofter, I asked him, how much land would he like to have as a crofter ? His answer was—land to such an extent, as would require him to pay a rent of £12. He further stated, that if ten of the smaller crofters were to get crofts, as they earnestly wished on the farm of Vatten, they would willingly pay the full amount of rent what is now paid for it. Proprietors, however, are impressed with the idea that the payment of rents by crofters cannot be depended upon with certainty. If Government were to offer to become security to the proprietors for the payment of the rents of the crofters on their estates, the offer in many cases would be readily accepted. To such an arrangement as this there are, no doubt, serious objections. It is perfectly evident, however, that if the state of crofters throughout many parts of the Highlands is to be improved, a sacrifice must be made in some quarters, and it appears more equitable that that sacrifice should be shared in by the whole nation, than that it should be made entirely by the land proprietors, or any one particular class.
In conclusion, I beg leave to refer to a statement made regarding one of the districts of the extensive parish of Portree, and a district in which I have reason to feel a special interest. At the first meeting of the Royal Commission, which took place at the Braes, a locality which has of late obtained so much notoriety, it was, it would appear, suggested to one of the delegates appointed to enumerate the various grievances to which crofters have been subjected, to tell the Commission that at the Disruption two families at Sconcer were ejected from their holdings because they entertained two Free Church elders. Sconcer is separated from the Braes by Loch Sligachan, across which the ferry is only about two hundred yards broad. The former place and its surroundings formed a part of my first ministerial charge. I was its ordained missionary minister before and after the Disruption, and resided at a distance of a little more than two miles from the scene of my labours. The Free Church minister of Portree, who came to Skye some time afterwards, was present at the first meeting of the Commission, and made a few remarks which went to show that the extraordinary statement of the delegate was quite credible. As what has some bearing on that statement, I may mention that on the Sconcer side of Loch Sligachan there is an upland called Moll, stretching down to the sea, which had
been added to the deer forest. Not far from its base some crofters were removed because their crofts were considered too near to that part of the forest. There is nothing, however, of which I am more certain than that no family was ever removed on account of their showing Christian hospitality to members of the Free Church, or for any reason of a similar character. If a persecution on the MacDonald estates had been instituted against the Free Church so severe as the extraordinary statement referred to would lead many to suppose, I would like to ask, how did it happen that in the Braes, a district under the management of the same factor, the great bulk of the population were at the Disruption easily induced to join the Free Church, and how it does happen that since then the Free crofters there have been enjoying the counsels and ministrations of their minister without its being possible to give a single instance of a crofter being evicted, or subjected to any disadvantage whatever, on account of his connection with the Free Church. All the crofters at Sconser remained steadfast in their attachment to the Established Church at the Disruption, and they continue so to this day. This is probably what cannot be said of any other township in Skye. In this respect Sconser is quite unique; this state of things is probably to some parties disappointing and unaccountable, but surely a better and more charitable explanation of the fact might be given than by telling a Royal Commission, and through the Commission the Christian public, that at the Disruption two of the Skye crofters were evicted because they entertained two elders of the Free Church.