Glasgow, 20 October 1883 - Rev John Mcneill / Islay

Rev. JOHN M'NEILL, Minister of the Free Church, Port-na-haven, Islay (39) —examined

44726. The Chairman.
—Have you got a written statement to make?
— Yes. Before I read the written statement, will you allow me to make reference to two letters which I have got here, bearing on the delegates who have come with me from Islay. The delegates are from two different estates. Two are from the estate of Mr Morrison of Islay and three from the estate, of Mrs Baker of Liverpool. I wrote to Mr Morrison's factor about the men from Mr Morrison's estate, and he says
—' I can assure you that no action will be taken against the delegates from Port Wemyss on account of any evidence by them before the Commission in Glasgow on the 20th. The other letter is from Mrs Baker, the proprietrix of Cladach and Port-na-haven, to the following effect:
—' I am favoured with your letter this morning. I distinctly refuse to bind myself by any such terms as your ask for. I hope your delegates are not losing their brave spirits, and beginning to show the white feather. They shall have all the credit of their bravery, and shall not give evidence under shelter of any promise of protection from me. Your representatives seem to be chosen from the worst specimens in the village'
—they are here before you—but I should not like to put much faith in the Highlanders, as I am afraid they are a little treacherous.'

44727. Was this letter intended to be read here by the lady who wrote it?
—That is what I meant when I wrote to her. I asked such a promise, and she distinctly refuses,

44728. Yes, but you might have stated the fact without reading the letter
—I mean not particularly with reference to the assurance, but with reference to the character she gives of the delegates. Do you think the lady, when she wrote the letter, wished and understood that you were to read the letter aloud in so far as the character of the delegates is concerned ? Do you think the lady would like that?
—I don't know that.

44729. Do you think she intended that letter to be read aloud in a public assembly or not?
—Well, she did not desire me not to read it.

44730. Perhaps she could not anticipate you would read it. However, it is read now, and I cannot help it. I am bound to say I regret it was read, because I think you could have communicated the fact. The only important thing to us was that this lady refused to give any assurance. I think you might have stated that fact without reading the letter, another portion of which is apt to destroy the confidence or kindly feeling between the lady and her tenants, and which she did not probably expect to be read. You have now a written statement to make ?

44731. Will you be so good as to read it?
—The area of Islay is about 500 square miles, its extreme length is 30 miles and its breadth is nearly 25 miles.

l. Acreage, . . . . 150,000
2. Gross rental, . . . .£38,498 13s 9d ; rental in 1872, £30,076.
3. Public buildings not assessable, . £302 10s
Subtotal £38,196 3s 9d
4. Deduction of 5 per cent. 8&9 Vic. cap. £1,909 16s 2d
5. Net amount, . . . .£36,286 7s 7d, or a rental of 4s. 10d. per acre
6. Population, . 7500 = 20 acres per inhabitant, inclusive of proprietor and pauper.
7. Families, . 1500 = 100 acres to each family.
8. Ratepayers, . 750 = 200 acres for each ratepayer; 1300 ratepayers in 1873.

The 750 ratepayers comprise the half of the families in the island, and consequently the 150,000 acres must be all nearly in their hands. The other 750 families or non-ratepayers include all whose rent for land is under £ 4 ; these represent generally the landless class, who are wretchedly poor. Further, taking the present agricultural rental of Islay at £36,000, and adopting the ordinary mode of computing rental from produce, say that the half of the farms are dairy farms, yielding an amount equal to three rents ; and the other half pastoral farms yielding two rents, it will be thus found that the whole agricultural produce of the island amounts to £90,000, so that again this sum in the hands of the half of the families in Islay, the favoured landed class.

These statistics clearly prove that Islay is not over-populated, but contrariwise that there is in it enough of land and to spare for a population fully twice as large as its present number. There is therefore no necessity in reason nor in policy for the adoption of a compulsory scheme of emigration with reference to Islay. If there are centres of congested population in the island, they are entirely restricted to badly plauned villages, the receptacles into which have been unwisely compressed the capriciously evicted crofters, the helpless remnants of emigrated families. The cruel process of eviction commenced in Islay in the year 1831, under the so-called mild administration of the Campbells, whose ancestor, Mr Daniel Campbell of Shawfield, bought it one hundred years before that for £6080, sold at £450,000. This silent system of depopulation and consequent deportation was vigorously prosecuted all over Islay during the decennium terminating at census 1841. During the currency of that period a few emigrant vessels left Lochindaal, on board one of these were packed off 402 souls. During this decade from 1831 to 1841, 1300 emigrants sadly departed from the fertile shores of green and grassy Islay. The beautiful glens and the sunny bens were ruthlessly denuded of over 1200 native peasantry during the decennium ending with 1851. The two successive census periods of 1861 and 1871 show the hitherto unprecedented decrease of 4176 in the rural population of Islay. The census of 1881 exhibits a further decrease of 613. Fifty years ago the population of the island was 14,992, now it is only 7526. The family dispersal policy, begun by the Campbells, was bitterly intensified under their trustees, and was consummately perpetuated under the succeeding landlords till within a recent date. The various agents and agencies that co-operated to produce these woeful results might form a patriotic subject of study. The parish of Kilchoman, which includes the parliamentary parish of Port-na-haven, is the finest district in Islay, and presents a pleasing aspect of arableness and agricultural enterprise. Sir Walter Scott, with intuitive appreciation of scenery, refers to the most conspicuous natural characteristic of the island in these words
" the green Islay's fertile shore " and " Islay's verdant coast." This description holds eminently true of the parish of Kilchoman. Its acreage is 150,000, the most of which is arable land. The population in 1831 was
4822 ; in 1881, 2548; decrease 2274. This decrease is mainly attributable to the grouping together of moderately sized holdings into large farms, thus gradually converting extensive tracts of arable land into a waste howling wilderness, and consequently inhumanely depriving the well-to-do tenants of their ancestral possessions, and the contented cottars of labour and of their happy homes. As no schemes of useful steady employment were devised by the landowners to benefit the expelled crofters and the houseless homeless cottars, those of them who could afford it left the parish, and the dispirited surplus was drafted into unhealthy poverty-stricken villages, the Bethesdas of the landless and the afflicted, where with nothing to morally elevate them, but surrounded with much fitted to enervate and depress them, they live a cheerless, hopeless life. The only village industries are whisky distillation, a kind of unsteady work which has a most ruinous influence upon the community. Another prolific source of poverty and misery are the insanitary distillery taps, the village dramshops, to whose pernicious effects the villagers are constantly exposed. I wish the sanitary principles so clearly stated and so ably discussed by Dr Richardson and Dr Carpenter at the sanitary congress recently held in Glasgow could be practically applied to every parish in Islay. In the parish of Kilchoman, exclusive of the parliamentary parish of Port-na-haven, there are only fifty crofters whose rent is under £20 each. These probably pay from £3 to £6 each. These are generally in straitened circumstances, and their crofts are too highly rented. There are fifty-five tenants whose rent ranges from £20 to £200 each. These are in somewhat comfortable condition. There are three large sheep farms and many smaller ones. Port-na-haven is the designation given both to a village and to a portion of the parish of Kilchoman for parliamentary purposes. The population of this parish is 859. Its extent is about 4200 acres arable land and about 2300 acres pasture ground. There are four large sheep farms, the tenants of two of these are non-resident, and have large farms in the other parishes. They are represented each by a shepherd in the parish of Port-na-haven. About 3000 acres of the ground now under sheep was once arable land. There are four small farmers, whose rents range from £20 to £200. These are fairly well off. The rest is a mixed population of crofters and fishermen. Ten of these crofters have holdings averaging from nine to eighteen acres each. The remainder, the large majority of the population, occupy most inadequately small crofts from half an acre to four acres each of those who have land, but some of them have no land. The rent of these poor patches is too high, and has been increased during the currency of the last forty years in some cases 50 per cent, and in other cases over 100 per cent. While some of the large farmers were allowed abatements of rent, I am not aware that any of the poor crofters have got any reduction of their rent. This policy with reference to the latter class is one-sided, discouraging, and oppressive. The village of Port-na-haven was formed on exposed, bare, barren rocks in the year 1818 by Captain Walter Campbell of Sunderland, Islay. It contains a population of 361 souls. The original idea was to make it a fishing village, but practically it has been a haven of refuge for the migratory individuals of rural families who had been dispossessed of their homes. They were allowed to erect one-storied dwelling houses, consisting of one room and kitchen as a rule, on the following co-operative principle —site for house and small plot of ground for garden, annual rent 13s., the tenant to build a house according to proprietor's plan, the tenant to furnish all the building material at his own expense, except the wood and slates, which were furnished by the proprietor at 7½ per cent, per annum during the currency of the lease, a period of ninety-nine years. The tenant at the same time was bound to keep the roof in sufficient repair at his own expense, besides paying 7½ per cent, yearly on the outlay on roof, amounting to sums varying from 19s. and 27s. in the case of each tenant who agreed to build on this principle. It is very significant that when the people of those days were granted a site on this co-operative system a vessel with a cargo of wood was wrecked in the immediate vicinity of this village, and no person was allowed to buy a log of it save the superior, who secured it all, and gave the use of it to the tenants on the above most unreasonable terms. This roof money was so oppressive that some of the poorer tenants fell into arrears, and thereby lost their houses. Others felt it so burdensome that after paying it for thirty, forty, and fifty years they bought the roof. One tenant, who between himself and his father has been paying about 20s. roof money yearly for his house (with liberty to keep it in repairs) for sixty years, is to his great satisfaction to be relieved of this exorbitant tax after this year. The lady who now owns the village being led to understand how ridiculous and unjust this last case was, granted the craved-for relief to this poor tenant, who in roof money alone paid as much as would purchase twice over his dilapidated domicile. This village lies unhealthily low, exposed to floods afore and aft.
1. Householders without crofts twenty-two; twelve of these have neither croft, boat, cow, nor house of their own. They are all in deep poverty.
2. Householders with most inadequately small crofts fifty-three, in all about seventy-five families. There are about sixty-six and a half of these crofts, each averaging one and a quarter acre, with rents varying per acre from 15s. to 30s.
The number of families who have cows is under twenty, and only a few of these have grazing for their cows on their own small patches of ground ; and as there is no village common, the other fourteen or fifteen cows have to be grazed on another estate, viz., Mr Morrison's. The people who formerly could secure peats on their own lots have now to cut them on a neighbouring farm, each family paying annually for a bad and insufficient supply from 5s. to 10s. The superior gets this money, but the people at their own expense have to keep the peat ground from being flooded with water, because having been in some cases cut twice and thrice it is irregularly hollowed out, and much water lodges on it. The fishing, which has been a comparative failure for some years, cannot be prosecuted under existing conditions for more than four months in the year; and as there are neither public works, agricultural industries, nor any other local remunerative employment, the ill-used, able-bodied fishermen, to keep the wolf from the door, are compelled to seek work outside the island. Some go to sea, others go to centres of trade and commerce, such as Greenock and Glasgow. I know the islands well from the Butt of Lewis to the Rhinns of Islay, and independently of their earnings outside Islay, the villagers of Port-na-haven are the poorest class of fishing crofters ever I saw. Those of them who have neither crofts nor cows are constantly on the verge of starvation. As the landlords take little interest in them, were it not for their proximity to the Clyde shipbuilding yards, where they get work in winter, they would absolutely perish with hunger on a productive wealthy island. A district called Balmeanach, with a goodly number of comfortable and thriving crofters and cottars, was cleared out by Captain Walter Campbell, although none of the crofters were in arrears of rent. This township was added to a neighbouring farm, and the capriciously removed families sought shelter in the neighbouring villages.

—More land, to all the fishermen who are anxious to have it, and are willing to pay a reasonable rent for it, as they are convinced this would benefit themselves and their families ; or from four to six acres for cropping purposes, and a common grazing ground capable of carrying a cow and follower for each family; Balmeanach added to the village lots would nearly serve this puprose.
Perpetuity of tenure ; they are at present tenants at will.
Reduction of present rents in cases where they are too high; this done by arbitration ; title-deeds to house property.
Peat ground paid for according to the perches of it cut and kept drained by superior.
The village of Port Wemyss, projected by Mr W. F. Campbell of Islay early in this century, has a population of 263 souls, or about fifty families. The houses were erected by the tenants at their own expense, slate roofed, and mostly consist of one room and kitchen, with plot of ground for garden. Annual rent for site of dwellinghouse and garden, 15s. With very few exceptions, the tenants possess neither building leases nor title-deeds for their house property. They are fishermen. Thirty-eight have crofts, average two acres each; rents, lowest 7s. 6d., highest 27s. per acre. There are twelve fishermen without lots. These are poorer than those who have a small piece of ground. Peats were free at first, because secured on village crofts which originally consisted mainly of peat moss. Now each family pays 5s. yearly for peat ground on a neighbouring farm. They do not grudge to pay this sum, on condition a proper road is made to the peat moss. When the
season is wet the want of a proper road to this ground is felt to be a great drawback. About the half of the fifty families have no cows. The fisherman without lot or cow is very poor. There is a village common, designated characteristically Cladach dubh, mostly the bottom of used-up peat ground, a coarse, barren space, where the cows have to be hand-fed duriug the summer season, or else they give no milk. This park is even a help, as it keeps the cattle together while the lots are under crops. To have a cow and follower in Cladach dubh costs 28s. yearly. If all the families had each a cow and follower there during summer, if not otherwise fed, they would absolutely starve. There is a class of crofters who about thirty-two years ago got money advanced them for draining purposes at about £6 per cent, per annum, on condition that at the termination of twenty-one years the interest should cease; but as it is now part and parcel of the rent, the crofters are still forced to pay it. There is another class of tenants who never received a farthing for reclaiming, draining, or improving their crofts, but who, with much persevering labour and personal inconvenience to themselves and to their families, and entirely at their own expense, converted boggy peat ground into arable land, yet these and others forty years ago, to their great discouragement, had their rents raised by Mr William Webster, factor. In some cases this increase of rent was 50 per cent., in other cases over 100 per cent. This rise of rent when clapped on was not known to the crofters for two years, and then it had to be paid as arrears in addition to the original rent. These high rents they still pay. But the most of these grievances are of long standing, for the crofters have been subjected to these excessive exactions before the present proprietor bought the estate. When Mr Charles Morrison of London purchased the Islay estate a large number of the crofters were deeply in arrears, but to their credit let it be stated that with very few exceptions they have paid them up. When the late proprietor, Mr Campbell, planned the village of Port Wemyss, he personally pointed out to the people all the land that was to be attached thereto. On the strength of this promise, families secured sites for dwelling houses and settled in the village. This promise as yet remains unfulfilled. Only 104 acres of Cladach dubh out of the large stretch of land promised them were ever given them.
Remedies suggested
—Reduction of rent to a judicially fair amount in each case, average value of each acre from 7s. 6d. to 12s. 6d. The ground is but soft, porous and generally underlaid, and dotted with rocks. It by continuous cropping yields but a most scanty return to its tillers. The whole of Cladach dubh, in proportion to what the large farmers pay for the same kind of land, is to the, villagers worth about £5 yearly ; larger holdings at least to the extent of the original promise, or from six to thirty acres to each crofter as he is willing and able to pay for it. The discontinuance henceforth of the interest on the drainage money; perpetuity of tenure ; title-deeds for house property; the formation of a road to the peat ground; and the abolition of the system of competition, compelling the occupying tenant to bid on his own industry. The Port Wemyss crofters are hopeful that their landlord, whose management of the village has been on the whole humane and considerate, will take the earliest opportunity of redressing their grievances. The erection of a pier between the villages of Port Wemyss and Port-na-haven, and the construction of local harbour accommodation for the fishing boats, would tend to develop the fishing resources of the district and to create trade. The scheme to build a pier is in my opinion quite practicable. The old " Pharos," of the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners, periodically for
eight years called at the very point where it is proposed the pier should be erected. Depth at low water, fourteen feet; distance from two opposite islands which are like a natural breakwater to protect it, about 800 feet ; distance from the current of the sound intervening between the villages and the lighthouse, one hundred feet. From either village a horse and cart can almost get to the water edge of this contemplated pier rock. It
would command the whole trade of the parish of Port-na-haven, as the nearest pier is from six to nine miles from the most of the parishioners. The poor fishermen are compelled to haul ashore their luggers in winter.
A proper harbour would be an immense boon to them, as they could have their boats sheltered and ready for use if required during winter.

—The population is sixty-six, tenants ten, six have eighteen acres each, and four have nine acres each; rent £12 for each eighteen acres, irrespective of the quality of the soil, whether good, bad, or indifferent. About fifty-six years ago Captain Walter Campbell, the proprietor, deprived the tenants of the use of a common grazing park capable of grazing eight horses, and for this deprivation no abatement of rent was allowed. The original rents ranged from £7 to £10 for each croft of eighteen acres. During the last twenty-five years the rents have been raised twice; the last additional increase was made two years ago, varying from £1, 10s. to £ 2 per eighteen acres, so as to have a uniform rent of £12 each. The Cladach crops are often damaged by the northern and western blasts from the Atlantic Ocean; and as the soil is but soft and porous, it invariably yields but a scanty return to its most skilled cultivators. All these crofters are tenants at will, and receive neither inducements nor encouragements to reclaim or improve the land.
—Reduction of rent to a judicially fair amount in each case; perpetual leases, or reasonable security of tenure; larger holdings; compensation for improvements effected by the tenants themselves.'

44732. Professor Mackinnon.
—The particular portion of Islay from which the delegates are here to-day, along with yourself, is the portion over which you have charge as Free Church minister ?

44733. And it comprises two estates ?

44734. One small one and one very large one ?

44735. Are they all at the fishing—all those who have sent delegates here ?
—Yes, except the district of Cladach.

44736. That is a crofting district t

44737. And we will hear themselves upon that subject?
—Yes; there is a representative here from that district.

44738. Going into the more general question of the island as a whole, from your knowledge of the island and the rents charged, and of other parts of the Highlands, what do you think should be a minimum croft ? What should be the size or rent of a minimum croft in Islay upon which a family could be reared by hard work ?
—From forty to fifty acres.

44739. Arable and moorland both?

44740. And as rents go, what would be about the rent of such a croft ?
—As rents go in our end of the island, that would be nearly £ 1 per acre.

44741. Would you make it a £ 40 croft?

44742. Do you think that a family could be reared in Islay upon a croft of less rent than that, even as rents go at the present moment there?

—Yes, I should think so.

44743. What is the minimum croft, of those you know yourself, where a family could be reared by hard work; what is about the rent of such a croft, as you know them yourself, in Islay just now ?
—I should think thirty acres.

44744. What would be about the rent?
—Over £20.

44745. Do you think a croft under £20 of rent, as rents go there just now, could not bring up a family ?
—Not very well.

44746. What is the average number of a family taking them all overhead?
—About five.

44747. I presume you would not ask, even supposing you got all the remedies you wish for, that all the crofts and holdings in the island should be of one uniform minimum size?

44748. You would like them to go graduated up?

44749. Well, supposing the place was rearranged as you would wish it in crofts from £20 upwards, do you think that the island could support more than its present population ?
—I think it could.

44750. What is its present population ?

44751. What is its present rental ?
—-£36,000 odd.

44752. That would be barely £5 per head of rental ?

44753. The minimum croft you would accept would be £20, and that would be £ 4 per head of rental?

44754. Don't you think that, according to your own distribution of the surface as you wish to see it, it would be all taken up by its present population ?

44755. Of course I add to it this, that you consider the rents at present too high ?

44756. And that might make a very material difference. Then I suppose you would allow also that there would be a certain number of people in the villages in the future ?

44757. And that would also make a deduction ?

44758. You think then with these two deductions a considerable increase in the population might be made, and still that increase of population would be fully better off than those who are there just now ?

44759. Have there been any very great consolidations of smaller holdings into larger holdings within your own memory?

44760. You are a native of the island, I think?

44761. And your memory will go back near about thirty years?

44762. Have you found the reverse process ever attempted in Islay at all—the breaking up of the large farm into small farms and big crofts ?

44763. You stated there was a decrease of rents in the bigger farms of late years; do you know, when crofts do become vacant, that there is a considerable run upon them?

44764. There are more crofters than crofts ?

44765. Do you think that would be an inducement to the proprietors of their own accord to increase the number of these large crofts or small farms ?

44766. I suppose the crofts are nearly about as highly rented as the farms are ?
—I think they are more highly rented than the farms are.

44767. You think that is the general impression?

44768. And there is a greater run upon them?

44769. And I presume everybody who knows Islay knows that a very large portion of its surface is remarkably well adapted for small farms ?

44770. There is a due admixture of arable ground and of hill pasture ?

44771. With respect to the fishing population in the place, what is the remedy you would propose in order to make them more comfortable than they are?
—To give them a little more land —to give land to those who have no land.

44772. And a little more to those who have?

44773. It has been stated to us often that it might have been better for the fisherman to be a fisherman and the crofter to be a crofter; would you agree with that view, looking to the state of matters in Portna-haven ?
—I don't think that would suit Port-na-haven. The people cannot prosecute the fishing all the year round, and they would require something to support their families over and above the fishing. The coast is so rough and the current so strong that when a succession of storms comes in winter they cannot go to sea,] and unless they have some land to support their families they must leave the island to earn money.

44774. But suppose they had a croft that would support their families, would they require to stay at home to work the croft, and leave the fishing to its own ways ?

44775. Would they not have to neglect the fishing if they took up such a large croft as would support the family ?

44776. Do you think they could do both ?
—I think they could.

44777. At the present moment, in winter, they have to come to Glasgow in order to earn money ?

44778. Even supposing they had such a big croft, would not some of them require to do that?
—I don't think they would.

44779. You think the crofts would occupy them during the winter?
—With the help of the fishing.

44780. Do they fish through the winter ?
—A little. If they had a harbour for their boats, they might go to fish sometimes in winter; but they must haul their big boats ashore in winter, and though they would have fishing they could not manage it with their boats.

44781. Do they keep them afloat during the summer?

44782. And, of course, with the large size of boat they have, it would be impossible for the few days' fishing they have in winter to launch these boats ?

44783. Where is the fishing ground off Port-na-haven?
—They go to Barra to fish.

44784. But at home?
—A good distance from the shore.

44785. Right out?

44786. What fish do they get—cod and ling?

44787. And they dry and salt it and send it to the southern market?

44788. There is none of it sent fresh?

44789. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—I think you mentioned there were two properties over which you have charge; will you name the proprietors ?
—Mr Morrison of Islay is the proprietor of the village of Port Wemyss, and Mrs Baker of Liverpool is proprietrix of Cladach and Port-na-haven.

44790. Are you well advised in stating that about 3000 acres of the ground now under sheep was once arable land ?

44791. And now totally unproductive as a grain-producing subject?

44792. You also state in your paper that the smaller people have got no abatement of rent, while the large farmers have in many cases ?
—Not that I am aware of.

44793. Is there a deal of poverty within your parish ?
—Yes, a great deal, especially in the village of Port-na-haven.

44794. Has the fact of removing a great number of people, or their voluntarily removing themselves, had a tendency to pauperise to a considerable extent those who remained behind, particularly those who were
in villages ?

44795. So that the rent of a place might rise very much higher, but in point of fact the state of the people might be as bad as though there was congestion of population ?

44796. Is that to some extent the case with you?

44797. Is there any encouragement given to the small people at all by the proprietors?
—Not that I know of.

44798. Are they considered to be in the way ?
—Well, I should think so.

44799. No regret would be expressed if they took themselves off?
—No, I should think not.

44800. Have you occasion yourself to observe, in the performance of your ministerial duties, a deal of poverty in that beautiful and naturally fertile island?
—Yes. Sometimes on a Saturday night, if it is a stormy week, if there is a fisherman who depends entirely on the fishing and has no croft, we have to send him what will tide him over the Sabbath or a day or two after that. That has been done by myself.

44801. Really a case of living from hand to mouth?

44802. And you, as a native of the island, no doubt feel very deeply the position of your fellow islesmen ?

44803. The remedies you suggest then are those you have stated in your paper ?

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