STATEMENT of Major WILLIAM FRASER of Kilmuir and Newton.
NEWTON, NAIRN, 16th October 1883
I observe in the Inverness Courier of to-day, that on Saturday it was mentioned to effect, by the Chairman of the Commission, that if any gentleman wished to send a written statement with reference to the proceedings there, that he could do so. I also observe that at your sitting of yesterday at Kingussie, I am referred to, both as to my family and my small tenants in Strathglass of days gone by, and also as to my distinctive Gaelic name ‘Mac Uistean'; on these grounds I venture to again address you. In doing so, however, I pass from what may seem of more or less a personal character, and, taking broader grounds, it appears to me that the crofter question has, on the whole, been perhaps too much scanned from extreme points of view. One deprecates the crofter system in toto, another lauds it to the skies—perhaps we should look more to the happy medium; for my own part, I place my faith in a mixed system of large farms, medium farms, small farms, and a sufficient but not excessive number of crofter allotments. It is an old saying that enough is as good as a feast, and more makes a surfeit,—so with crofters, where congested (as the term now is), they do not thrive, and as a class do not present that happy and contented frame of mind pertaining to those who, in smaller bodies elsewhere, find sufficient employment for their labour. Besides, as the arm which is scarcely used loses its muscle, so with labour that is seldom exacted, its motive power degenerates, and thus, in places where there are large populations, with little or no public industries to support them, indolence becomes a second nature, and provides a subject fit for the manipulation of those who, in agitation and discontent, see the summum bonum of a crofter's paradise. In illustration of this, let us see where there are strife and discontent, and, on the other hand, where there appear to be peace and prosperity. Skye and Lewis are said to be pretty well peopled. What is the result of an over-crofted system there ? The crofters give us their tale, and what is the deduction ? Too many mouths and not enough to fill them. Then take the mainland opposite. Shall we say that they are contented there? The same complaint I fear prevails, only limited by the mouths being fewer in proportion to the number of fillers. We then step inland : it's all still, little is to be heard beyond the wind sighing through the forest heaths, and the sound of running waters. We inquire, and find we have left the crofters and are amongst the deer and ptarmigan. Few Highlanders here, unless four-footed, and apparently little material for royal inquiry. Having crossed the heights of the country, we now fall into the straths and opens of the eastern watershed. Here we find estates well laid out, mansions in fair abundance, nice farms, and good farm-houses, with a suitable sprinkling of crofters here and there, fit for their work, and which almost at their doors they get. And what is the result ?—peace and contentment And so it is then, I think, that a fair and moderate number of crofters on his estate, in suitable proportions to its value, and with ample occupation for them, is what any reasonable landlord would be glad to have. But is it desirable that large numbers of people, even though of good ancestry, and naturally of themselves of well disposed, should be encouraged to remain at home in a state of inactivity as regards physical employment, to be the tools of agitators and the victims of political enthusiasts, when, for all that may choose to improve their condition, there are fertile lands in the further West only awaiting to be tilled, and to return in many-fold the results of labour spent thereon ? With my own experience of the Far West, the South, and the East, I can only feel it as a deplorable fact that so many should in ignorance, and perhaps for the benefit of other interests, be induced to remain in their undrained and sunless wastes, when happy lands elsewhere are ready to welcome them. Whilst, then, I think a certain number would be immensely benefited by emigration from congested districts, I think likewise those remaining would also be improved in condition by finding more work and occupation; for, of course, if the demand for labour should come to equal the supply, so in proportion would be the benefit to those remaining in their native homes. Hoping that the present agitation, and its companion—Poverty, may now receive a check by a return to peace and ordinary industrial pursuits.