Glasgow, 20 October 1883 - Andrew Ross / Gaelic Societies

ANDREW ROSS, Teacher, Paisley (61)—examined.
45064. The Chairman.
—You have a written statement?
—I have a written statement, and I may say it is entirely suggestive of remedies for present grievances.

45065. Then will you read your statement ?
—I am the son of a crofter, and from earliest years until the twenty-third year of my age I wrought on a Highland croft of about three and a half acres. I may say that for part of that time I was virtually a crofter, because I had to manage for my widowed mother. The croft held by her, and on which I was brought
up and laboured, was at Brora in Sutherlandshire. I may state that my mother with her parents were evicted from Dunrobin Glen at the time of the Sutherlandshire clearances. They got a small space at Backies, in the neighbourhood of Golspie, to convert into a croft. At her marriage my mother settled in the village of Golspie. Shortly after the death of my father, she was, with a family of five, removed by the factor at the instigation of a stepson, to the croft at Brora. I wish in this statement and in my verbal evidence to refer to my personal knowledge and experience of the life of a crofter, and to state briefly what, after a life-long study, I consider to be the best means for their improvement. In order that my position may not be misunderstood, I have to state that I hold no extreme or radical views on the land question. I am no communist. I do not wish to exterminate landlords. Only as a lover of my fellow countrymen and as a patriot (for the question has a most important national aspect), I appeal to Highland landlords to remember that property has its duties as well as its rights, and to entreat them to attend to these duties ere it be too late. The discharge of their duties to the tenants will result in such advantages to themselves as will amply reward them. The path of duty here is plain and thoroughly practicable. It requires no legislation. The landlords have the means and ample power at their disposal for the discharge of their duty. I may state, without enumerating them, that the crofters have many real, substantial grievances. I consider the greatest of these grievances to be the painful, depressing feeling produced on their minds by the fact that they are mere tenants at will—that they are absolutely at the disposal of the landlord, or rather of the factor. The factor was monarch of all he surveyed, and with his right or rather power there was none to dispute. I have often analysed my own feelings as a crofter, especially in connection with what transpired at and after the Disruption, and I always arrived at the same conclusion, namely, that entire dependence on, and being completely at the mercy of the factor, produced a feeling the most depressing, I might add the most demoralising. I desire to speak with the utmost respect of the Sutherland family. More kind-hearted and indulgent landlords did not exist than the members of that family who were in possession of the estate during my residence in the county. I am satisfied they were ignorant of most, if not of all the harsh treatment received at the hands of the factor and the other officials, but it was done in their name, and they must therefore be held responsible. I shall first refer to the extent of land held by the crofter. My own experience coincides with the evidence given everywhere that the croft is far too small to enable a family to live in comfort. This brings me to one of the chief causes of all the grievances complained of. If the crofter is to be located in the Highlands, he must have sufficient land to maintain himself and his family properly. The amount of land held by him must be sufficient for his proper maintenance, independent of external resources, such as fishing, &c. A certain amount of stress is being laid on the fishing as a source of subsistence to the crofter. The fishing round our western and northern coasts is too important to be considered merely as supplementary to the crofter's means of living. Besides the two industries, farming and fishing, are so entirely incompatible that they cannot be combined. Application to the one unfits the individual for the other. Not only so, but it must be evident that the one can be prosecuted only at the expense of the other. I mean, of course, continuous fishing, that during the year including the herring and white fishings. The herring fishing, as prosecuted in my early days on the east coast, can be prosecuted by the crofter, and that often very much to his advantage. The fishing then extended from the middle of July till the end of August. This involved an absence from his home of only six weeks, and at a season of the year when he can be best spared from his croft. The fishing, as a means of subsistence to the crofter, must be altogether excluded in considering his improvement. The land alone must supply all that is required for this purpose. If the crofter has to supplement the produce of his croft for the support of his family and that of his stock, he will come ultimately to bankruptcy, poverty, and ruin. My next proposition is, that unless the crofter holds as much land as will admit of a regular rotation of crops, the land will, in the course of time, become unproductive, the capital and labour expended will have no adequate return. Poverty and ruin will be the result. Again, the crofter from his surroundings and his remoteness from the great centres of industry and remunerative employment, must be independent of all external sources of aid. His surroundings forbid him maintaining himself by wages. From the very nature of things, the Highlands and Islands do not, and cannot present such a field of employment as will enable him to live exclusively by wages. This, as brought out in the evidence, has been tried and failed. Sir Alexander Matheson settled several tenants on a part of his estate. They had a home and a plot of land provided. It was intended they should support themselves by wages. They found employment for a few years in making improvements on the estate. The improvements were completed. The men were thrown idle ; in vain they looked for other employment in the district. By such arrangements the foundation of future famine and distress is being laid. The croft or farm must be to the Highland crofter his only visible means of living. I shall next refer briefly to the amount of land required for such a croft as I have indicated. The land divides itself into arable and hill pasture. If hill pasture for summer grazing cannot be had, the amount of land constituting a croft should be at least thirty acres. On the other hand, if hill pasture is available, twenty acres would suffice. The crofter, in order to succeed, must be independent of the co-operative system so prevalent in the Highlands, in which neighbouring tenants combine for ploughing and harrowing. This system is opposed to the proper cultivation of the land. To put it in another form —whether there are the two, arable land and hill pasture, or arable land alone, the crofter must, in either case, have a pair of horses. It will be noticed from the evidence given before the Royal Commissioners that the crofters are modest in their demands. I believe they are too modest. They ask a fair field and no favour. But for reasons for which they are not to blame they scarcely demand a fair field. The quantity of land they state as sufficient for a croft is too small. The one horse idea is not compatible with independence and complete success and comfort. There must be a pair of horses, and as much land as will admit of a regular rotation of crops. My conclusion under this head is, that it is not the duty of a Highland landlord to assign to a crofter less land than will maintain him and his family in comfort and leave at the year's end a balance, however small, on the right side. Another subject I desire to touch on is, the rent paid by the crofters. Are the rents too high, or in other words are they rackrented. I think the evidence already given proves that in most parts of the Highlands and Islands rents are far too high. Highland estates, when brought into the market, command fabulous prices—prices out of all proportion to their agricultural and pastoral value. The unrivalled beauty of the scenery of the Highlands, their adaptability for sport, and now the formation of deer forests have completely revolutionised the value of landed property in the Highlands. The selling and letting of these are not on strictly commercial principles. Grouse-shooting and deer-stalking are for the pleasure of the few who can afford such an expensive luxury. The prices paid for these ought not to form an element in determining the rents paid for land in the Highlands for agricultural and pastoral purposes. It has been stated in evidence that these forests are not suitable for sheep and cattle. Sheep and cattle will subsist during summer where deer can. The land is of some value for summergrazing for sheep, &c. What then is the value of these forests considered as sheep pasture. I have read somewhere of a deer forest containing 60,000 acres, or upwards of ninety square miles, being let for £3000. I may be wrong in the quantity of land given, I tried but failed to verify the figures. The error is not, I think, so great as to sensibly affect my argument. Such land is capable of maintaining at least one sheep per 50 acres. If this be considered too low an estimate, I am willing for the sake of argument to make it two sheep or even three per 50 acres, although I believe I am nearer the truth at one sheep per 50 acres. What then would be the rent of such a forest, as a sheep farm, at the rate of £ 20 per 100 sheep? At the rate of one sheep per 50 acres, the flock would be 1200 sheep and rent £ 240 ; at two sheep, the flock would be 2400 and rent £ 480 ; and at three sheep, the flock would be 3600 and rent £720, instead of £3000. This does not include winter keep, so that £ 720 is too high a rent. Truly the lessees pay too dear for their whistles, and landlords should remember that a whistle is not a toy that will always amuse. Pleasure and the sources of pleasure are always changing. The pleasures of to-day may not be those that will satisfy twenty years hence. The landlord, therefore, who resists the temptation, and who instead of enforcing his rights, kindly and faithfully discharges the duties which Providence has laid upon him, will in the end be the gainer. So much for deer forests and the influence of these artificial rents on lands in the Highlands. The rents paid by crofters may be tested in another way. Let us take the land held by them and place it alongside agricultural lands in the Lowlands, for example land in the neighbourhood of our large towns, and compared with these I will venture to say that any intelligent practical agriculturist will value them at less than half the value of the latter. Again, transfer the agricultural land in the neighbourhood of our larger towns to the remote Highlands and Islands, and it will be valued at least at one half its present value. From all these considerations, I think I am justified in asserting that the rent paid is, on an average, quadruple what it should be. In the matter of rent and holding, I might compare the condition of the Highland crofter with that of the Irish tenants, who have been for some time and are still verging on rebellion because of the land question. From a residence of some years in Connaught, and an intimate acquaintance with the tenants of that part of Ireland, I could show that the condition of the Irish tenants is much superior to that of the Highland crofter. My contention is that the Highlands, owing to the facilities for sport afforded by them, must be removed from the list of subjects that come under the ordinary rules of commerce. If they are to become once more the home of the Highlander, we must devise some plan of fixing a fair rent. With a fair rent and security against capricious removal, he will soon, by his conduct, disprove the charges of indolence and laziness brought against him by ignorant and interested parties. I must shortly refer to the fishing. It is too important to be ignored altogether. I only insist on the crofter's case being considered in relation to the land and apart altogether from the fishing. In determining his future condition, the fishing ought not to form an element. At present he is compelled to try the fishing to procure the means of subsistence which the croft denies him. Should the fishing fail, he is at his wit's end, and failure, as a rule, it is sure to be, for the simple reason that from his impoverished state he is not able to avail himself of the best appliances for prosecuting the fishing. The success of the fishing is closely connected with a right solution of the land question. Give the crofter sufficient land on favourable terms. Let him have inducements to farm properly, and there will grow up in the course of time a surplus population—that is, a population whose labours will not be required on the croft, or if required, only to a limited extent. This surplus will, in looking out for a sphere of employment, naturally betake itself to the fishing which lies so invitingly at the very door. And this they will do all the more advantageously because they are not forced to it from necessity, and also because of the capital basis of operation they have in the comfortable home on the croft or farm. They will engage in this industry not only free of debt, but with the very best appliances. By such a settlement of the land question as I have suggested there would spring up a class distinct from the crofters, a fishing population devoting itself exclusively to fishing. We would have soon on the west coast what has all along existed on the east coast of Ross, Sutherland, and Caithness, two classes, crofters and fishermen, each devoting its whole time and all its energies to its own proper work. With such inducements and with the aid of steam now so largely employed, the fishing on the west coast should soon outstrip that of the east. Farming and fishing cannot successfully be combined. I can see no objection to the fisherman having along with his house a plot of ground on which to grow vegetables or maintain a cow, but more he cannot profitably cultivate. But lastly, emigration is proposed as a remedy for the grievances complained of. Now emigration per se cannot be a remedy. Emigration has been tried once and again, and it did not cure the evil. The crofters remaining are no better off. Their circumstances have not in the least been improved in consequence of the emigrations that took place. The reason is evident. Those emigrations were not carried out in order to effect an improvement in the condition of the crofters. They were carried out in order to convert the land into sheep farms. If the country is prepared to completely depopulate the Highlands, emigration is the simplest and most effective remedy ; but I do not believe the country will sanction such a remedy. Emigration may come in, but only as auxiliary to a properly devised scheme for the improvement of the crofters. If in carrying out such a scheme it should be found necessary to remove - part of the population, emigration may be resorted to, although I believe the crofters can be improved without having recourse to emigration at all. There is abundance of land, either cultivated or capable of cultiva tion, to meet the whole cases. All that is required is a proper distribution of the land. The question has a national as well as a local aspect. What will most benefit the Highlands, and at the same time be of most advantage to the nation? We are bound to look at both aspects of the question. Can both be combined? They can, and I therefore oppose emigration, and plead for the immediate and permanent improvement of the crofters. We cannot afford to have the country drained of the most loyal and law-abiding part of the people. We greatly need such now-a-days, when treason and rebellion are preached and practised so boldy in certain parts of the empire. The nation is healthy and strong which has its urban and rural population well balanced. The physical, social, and moral well-being of a country depends very much on a fair proportion of .its population being rural. The tendency at present is, and for some considerable time has been, to drive the population from the country into the town. This tendency should be checked, and the growth of a rural population promoted, a loyal and God-fearing people, which would be an honour to the country and its strength in the day of need. We may need their help sooner than any one anticipates, especially when we contemplate the lapsed masses in our large towns, lying seething and weltering at the base of the social columu, threatening every moment to pull it down and overwhelm society in ruin. There is another aspect
We greatly need a rural population, and especially the Highland portion of it, to supply labour for the various industries of the country. In conclusion, let me assure all whom it may concern, that the Highlanders, treated as they ought to be, are as ready now as in the past to tight our battles and defend our homes and altars. On the result of the present inquiry depends the attitude of the Highlanders to the throne and constitution. I do hope that they will not, by the continued neglect of the country to their cry of distress, be driven to sullen rebellion, but that by timeous and wise legislation their respect for law and their loyalty to the throne will be maintained and strengthened.'

45066. As you belong to the teaching profession, can you give us any information with reference to a subject that was brought very warmly before us yesterday, and that is the desirability of giving more prominence to Gaelic teaching in our elementary schools ?
—Well, I may say that all along I have not been in favour of that. I have felt the effects of being first brought up in my infancy and boyhood speaking the Gaelic language alone, so that when I came to use the English language, and was forced to use it, I had first to think in Gaelic and then translate it into English. In other respects, moral and religious, I am strongly in favour of the Gaelic language, but for those who have to leave the Highlands, and go to other parts of the world, it is desirable they should be accustomed to, and made to practise, the English from their very earliest days.

45067. Then you are not in favour of making instruction' in the Gaelic language obligatory in the elementary schools?
—No, further than that it is very useful, and indeed necessary, for the explanation of a phrase or sentence or word is better understood by a child who speaks Gaelic by giving it in Gaelic.

45068. Then, though you would not make the teaching of Gaelic obligatory, you would make a knowledge of Gaelic on the part of the teacher obligatory ?
—Yes, in order to enable him to teach the children more effectively in English.

45069. Then in the Gaelic-speaking districts every teacher, male and female, should be obliged to know Gaelic ?
—They would be very much better equipped for their duties if they knew Gaelic.

45070. You are still a Gaelic-speaking man?

45071. Have you still pursued the Gaelic, and do you take an interest in it and read Gaelic literature ?
—Unfortunately, after I went to Connaught, where the Irish language is spoken, which is very different from the Gaelic of the Highlands, I got up the Irish language there in order to be able to speak to the people and instruct them, and the acquiring of the Irish and practising it for five or six years knocked the old Highland Gaelic out of my head. Of course, I understand it quite well and can speak it, but very clumsily.

45072. Then you are in favour of giving the children as perfect and complete an education in English as can possibly be done in the elementary schools ?

45073. With a view to their success in after life?

45074. Are you not afraid that under that system the use of the Gaelic might gradually expire as a popular language ?
—Of course, that would be the tendency of it ; and although I am a Highlander, and love my country and countrymen very well, I am not blind to the tendency for the last fifty years that the Gaelic language is dying out, and I am afraid it cannot be arrested.

45075. Then you think that is one of the things which may be lamented but which is unavoidable ?

No comments:

Post a Comment