Inverness, 12 October 1883 - Rev John Mctavish

Rev. JOHN M'TAVISH, Free Church Minister, Inverness (67)—examined.

42015. The Chairman.
—Do you appear as a delegate?

42016. As a general representative?

42017. Will you have the goodness to read your statement?
—My design in appearing before you is not to specify particular cases of grievance, but to state in a general way the effects produced by, and under the present land laws, and which I in common with many others have long and sadly deplored, and to indicate the only apparent remedy. I am not influenced by any feeling of opposition to landlords as a class or to any individuals, but I object to the preseut land laws—
(1) Because they tend to the accumulation of property in few hands.
(2) Because they are dividing the occupants of land into autocrats and serfs.
(3) Because under them our people may be, and in many cases are crushed, some driven to foreign shores, others into our towns to swell the mass of poverty and increase the number of the discontented, and (I fear I may say) of the dangerous classes which may, under a sense of wrong and oppression, become dangerous to the peace and wellbeing of society.
(4) Because under these laws the productive power of our country is in many cases actually diminished, and thus our wealth as a nation, and we are becoming more dependent on other countries for our supply of food.
(5) Because under these laws our strength as a nation is reduced, and the disposition of our people to defend its shores and its institutions is lessened. I am not opposed to landlordism, though maintaining that the Crown should never have given to the chiefs the property which belonged to their clan or tribe. That has been done, and the question now is, how far, and in what way, the wrong done can be redressed, and the evils which have flowed from it can be remedied. The only remedy I can see is to give the people back the land on fair terms. That it be valued by competent parties appointed for the purpose, and not by the proprietors as is often done now. That the people be secured in possession of their holdings, as long as they pay their legal rents; and that when they do remove, compensation be given them for all their improvements. There is no necessity for their emigration. No man can go over Scotland with his eyes open and not see that in the Highlands at least there is waste land that is capable of tillage, which once supported a comfortable peasantry now returning to its original condition. Emigration is therefore not needed. And besides, it will not cure the evils under which the people groan. It would, I doubt not, benefit those who may emigrate to do so, at all events if our present land laws are maintained. Colonial government gives lands in some cases for nothing. They wish their land occupied. Our country looks on while our land is being made desolate, as if the great thing to be aimed at is the increase of rent rolls, and the reduction of the population. The first step in this process is to remove people to make room for sheep, and next to remove these to make room for deer. By each of these changes the community loses. It loses the people as producers and consumers, and the supply of food is lessened. The only parties who gain are the proprietary and a few shepherds and gamekeepers, and the shopkeepers who supply the lodges during the sporting season. All the benefit that the community reaps from the deer forests is the value of the deer killed as food; the rents paid, and other expenses beyond that value, do no more to increase the national wealth than the payment of gambling debts j the money passes from hand to hand, but without any increase or even any equivalent. The money circulated by sportsmen in the Highlands is, I may say, spent for non-productive ends, and a portion of it in a form fitted to deteriorate recipients. What we need is not a race of serfs or gillies, but of men able to bear a share in our national burdens, and aid in national defence. Here I may mention that there is a growing feeling in all our colonies, and in the United States, against land monopolies, because these are adverse to settlement; and in Prince Edward Island some years ago, the Government arranged for breaking down some large estates, and making the tenants proprietors, and causing the unoccupied lands to be sold. The dread of a peasant protrietary is, as the Commissioners know, a bugbear. It is assumed by many that the people will not improve the land should they get it. But who have made a large part of the improvements in the past, both in this country and in our colonies? And why should they not improve now if only the opportunity be given them? The Lord settled a peasant proprietary in Canaan, and had his laws been observed hat must have continued, and surely He understood political economy. Since writing these lines I turned to look at what Von Stein did for Prussia. Smiles, after stating that he held that the true strength of a kingdom was not to be found in the aristocracy but in the whole nation, quotes him thus
—"To lift up a people it is necessary to give liberty, independence, and property to its oppressed classes, and extend the protection of the law to all alike. Let us emancipate the peasant, for free labour alone sustains a nation effectually. Restore to the peasant the possession of the land he tills, for the independent proprietor alone is brave in defending hearth and home. Free the citizen from monopoly and the tutelage of the bureaucracy, for freedom in workshop and town-hall has given to the ancient burghs of Germany the proud position he held. Teach the landowning nobles that the legitimate rank of the aristocracy can be maintained only by disinterested service in county and the state, but is undermined by exemption from taxes and other unwarrantable privileges. The bureaucracy, instead of confining itself to pedantic book knowledge, and esteeming red tape and salary above everything else, should study the people, live with the people, and adapt its measures to the living realities of the times. I have nothing more to add further than this, that I have seen the same class of people in North America. I was among them. I have gone through from Nova Scotia nearly to Lake Winnipeg. I lived twenty-three years amongst them, and I may remark that the early settlers entered at far greater disadvantages than they would have if you put them down on any piece of cultivatable land in Scotland that I know of. They did not even know how to handle an axe, and had to take everything out of the forest; and yet they have done well, and if our present land laws are to be maintained I would recommend every one to go there. I should be sorry to see it, because I think we have not an over-population now, though there may be cases in some particular districts. The witness who preceded me told you he could not get men to work There is evidence, I think, that in that part of the country at all events the population is not in excess. I do not wish to occupy your time at any length, and I have drawn up this paper just because I wished to delay you as little as possible, but I am fully convinced that the country will never be satisfied until there are very great changes made. It is said this has been the result of agitators. I think I am fully as old as the witness who preceded me; and I know fully as much, and perhaps more, of the people, and I know the feeling has existed from my boyhood, and has been only growing in intensity; and I do not believe that as education advances you will find the people more easily quieted. They understand their power, and as they understand their power you will find the necessity of giving them what has been hitherto withheld. The political changes which I certainly desire to see I fear under the present system. I fear giving the people, even the poor people, a vote, because I know in many cases they dare not vote according to their convictions. They feel afraid. There are estates I know where they would be perfectly free. I know that some of our aristocracy would be above taking advantage of their circumstances, but, looking at what I know is the sort of feeling, if it be an evil to influence anybody with anything in the shape of money, I am afraid you will have the same operation unless you give fixity of tenure.

42018. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Speaking of Canada and the northwest, in your twenty-three years' experience was there ever a period of scarcity?
—No, not of actual scarcity. I have known periods when the price of land rose and fell very materially, during the American war, and there have been some places and some seasons when provisions were comparatively scarce, but nothing like a famine.

42019. You mention in your paper that the land in the Highlands once supported a comfortable peasantry; is it not the case that there were frequently years of scarcity in old times in the Highlands?
—I believe so.

42020. Do you think the land in Canada or the climate of Canada is better situated for agriculture than ours in the Highlands, especially the West Highlands?
—To a large extent it is, and in the north-west there is an extent of territory to which our country is as nothing.

42021. It is with reference to the comfort of the people I put the question regarding the possibility of scarcity arising. Don't you think there is less likelihood of scarcity arising in Canada than of scarcity among the repopulated Highlands?
—I don't know. When I look into the history of the past, I find that the finest lands are sometimes visited with scarcity. Egypt has been visited with famines, and Palestine, and Rome, and I do not know you are ever secure. I think that depends not on the soil, but I think the question of famine may sometimes depend upon their religion, and this is a matter which is in the Lord's hand, and which we cannot count upon.

42022. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How old were you before you left the country to go to Canada?
—I have only been back six years. I was about thirty-six years when I went.

42023. You were a clergyman in this country before you went?
—Yes, I was a settled minister.

42024. Where were you officiating?
—I was in Ballachulish.

42025. Are you acquainted with any other part of Scotland? Were you there all the time?
—No; I have walked nearly the whole way from the Mull of Cantyre to Inverness.

42026. What part of Scotland do you belong to originally?
—I am a native of Jura, but was brought up principally in Islay.

42027. And this matter about the condition of the crofting population in the Highlands has occupied your attention for a long period?
—For a long period.

42028. And you have taken a somewhat active part of recent years in this town in connection with the matter?

42029. Have you been present during a good deal of the discussions that took place to-day and yesterday?
—I heard part of yesterday's evidence.

42030. And you have no doubt been watching the proceedings of the Commission in other localities?

42031. Do you consider, generally speaking, that the complaints of the crofting population as to want of room and high rents are in the main correct?
—I have no doubt; I am sure of it.

42032. And, on the other hand, do you believe there is in this country sufficient land for the present crofting population to live in comfort?
—I am quite satisfied of that.

42033. And while not at all objecting to voluntary emigration, you at the same time state, from your knowledge of the hardships that emigrants have to encounter in foreign lands, that it might be as well for them to remain at home if opportunities were given to them to improve their condition?
—I may answer in reference to that, that the difficulties which emigrants are liable to now are not what they were liable to at that early time. At the same time, I am satisfied the people might be comfortable at home, and that it would be a national benefit to us to retain them. We could have them as producers, we could have them for the defence of the country; and I can tell the Commissioners that the feeling which used to exist in my early days is dying out. People do not care for the defence of the country now as they did in those times.

42034. You mean that in the humbler classes there is not that patriotic feeling which formerly prevailed?
—Yes, they tell me that frequently.

42035. Did you hear the whole of the statement of the last witness?
—I heard a portion of it.

42036. The Chairman.
—You spoke about emigration as compared with migration—settlement abroad as compared with settlement in this country. You stated that emigrants were subjected in former times to very great hardships on their first settlement, and might be still subjected to hardships, though not so great?

42037. Do you not think that the labouring classes would be prepared to submit to very great hardships with the prospect of becoming eventually the free proprietors of the soil on which they live?

42038. In fact, that perhaps they would be inclined, with that prospect, to submit to greater hardships abroad than they would be in this country if the prospect was to become tenants on the lands of others even on favourable terms'?
—I have no doubt of it, unless you give them permanent security—permanent holdings.

42039. Do you mean by permanent holdings property in fee simple, or do you mean tenure of the land of others on very favourable terms?
—I mean a tenure of it, but a tenure that could not be broken as long as the people paid their rents. I don't know but there might be a revaluation after a term of years, but that they could not be removed.

42040. Don't you think there is something in human nature which would lead men to prefer becoming absolute proprietors to being tenants, on terms however favourable?
—I have no doubt there is.

42041. There is also the prospect of families. Don't you think there is very great encouragement to emigration compared with migration in the unbounded security the poor have for comfort and prosperity in the next generation?

42042. So there are really advantages belonging to emigration which do not belong to migration?
—Yes. My contention, however, is that it is not for the advantage of the country to stimulate emigration. I would be perfectly willing that people should go if they pleased, and I believe in a large number of instances they would benefit themselves, but I would not stimulate them.

42013. Coming to the economical side of the question, you say it would be very desirable to establish people in our own country as producers or consumers. Granted; but are you not prepared to admit that there may be cases in which our countrymen by emigrating to our territories abroad may become much more happy, both producers and consumers, and producers and consumers to a far greater extent than if they remained in this country?
—I admit that, but not necessarily to our advantage in this country.

42044. Not necessarily to our advantage in this country in as far as our colonies abroad consume commodities taken from all countries and export their commodities to all countries; but still up to the present time has it not been proved that the markets created by emigration have been chiefly conducive to the prosperity of the mother country?
—No doubt of that, but I look at it in this aspect. You cannot secure the allegiance of these colonies. Times of difficulty may arise; you are cut off from your supplies; and I would like to be as little dependent upon foreign lands in these circumstances as possible.

42045. I don't wish to under-rate the value of allegiance and of common nationality, but still whether they belong to us or to our Crown and country, should not they still remain consumers and producers who may be of great value to our industry?
—No doubt of that.

42046. Then you do admit that emigration may be of great value to the people, and has recommendations which migration has not?
—I have never denied that.

42047. Then I would like to know on what ground you would place migration in this country. I suppose that you don't contemplate the transfer for instance of Highland people here to the great centres of industry as labourers—either factory labourers or agricultural labourers?

42048. You perhaps think that the migration of the Highlanders to the southern markets of labour would be accompanied by hardships and even in some degree by social degradation, which you would not like to see them incur?
—I am satisfied as to that.

42049. You think that even in their present depressed state there are some features in their social position which are superior to the position of mere labourers whether in town or country?

42050. That is, whenever they possess some share of the soil?
—Quite so. There is a degree of independence in even these circumstances. A large proportion in our towns now are sunk very low, just from having no trade. They go in there as mere labourers and are thrown among the common mass, and they are very often sunk very low even in the scale of morals; and I don't think that morals depend upon whether it is clay or any other kind of soil.

42051. You think, then, the Highland crofter is a great loser materially and socially by becoming a member of the labouring classes in another part of the country?
—I do.

42052. Well, he is to be settled upon land in his own country or land in the Highlands—because really there is hardly any opening for his settlement elsewhere, and he must be settled in the Highlands, for the most part on uncultivated land, to bring it under cultivation; on what terms do you think the proprietors ought to give uncultivated lands to the crofting class?
—Well, there is a large proportion of uncultivated land that I think is very little worth to anybody just now. There is a considerable portion of land extending mostly on the east side of Loch Lochy, from Fort William up to the centre of Loch Lochy, and some on the other side too. It is mainly on the east side, and I think a good deal might be done with that; and there are stretches of land in other places in the same condition.

42053. Do you think there are, at moderate elevations and under favourable climate, considerable stretches of land in this country where crofts could be established?
—I think so. There is a considerable portion in the island of Islay—land once under cultivation, and now lying waste as far as cultivation is concerned. You will find the houses there now where I knew a very plentiful tenantry, and there is scarcely one remaining. The whole of that large district is nearly laid waste.

42054. What process of recultivation do you advocate? Do you advocate that the land should be given to the people for a term of years at a low or nominal rent under certain stipulated conditions?

42055. Well, at the end of the period for which it is given, and when the land has to be revalued and regranted or released in any form, by whom do you think the increased value of the land should be assessed?
—I think it should be assessed by independent parties—neither by the landlord nor by the tenant.

42056. Do you contemplate the nomination of Government valuators, or do you think that the common usage in the country might obtain, that valuators might be appointed on either side with the power of choosing an umpire?
—I would rather see valuators appointed by the Crown.

42057. Do you think Commissioners appointed by the Crown would be as likely to judge correctly of the variations of soil, climate, and so on in the different districts, as persons selected in the country itself?
—I think they should be parties acquainted with the country. I don't think you could apply any general valuators for the whole of Scotland; it must be for the Highlands alone.

42058. Valuators appointed in the county itself?

42059. In each district?

42060. And then, supposing land reclaimed under a first lease, do you think that at the end of the first lease the land should be valued by these disinterested parties, and that the value of the improvements should be reimbursed to the tenant, or do you think it should be left free to him to make a new lease for instance on favourable terms, and in that way to reimburse himself?
—I don't know which would be the better plan. I think it would be a much better plan if he had security for continuance, on a revaluation by competent parties, that he would not be dispossessed as long as he paid the rent that competent parties assessed him at.

42061. And if he chose to go away?
—If he chose to go away, let his claim be valued, the proprietor having the first claim to the valuation; and if he would not pay it, let it be sold in the market.

42062. Do you think that during the currency of this first lease the occupier ought to have the power of alienating the occupancy—that he ought to have the power of selling his improvements and his occupancy, or do you think he should only be allowed to deal with the proprietor?
—I think he should be allowed to deal only with the proprietor in the first instance, and that he should not be allowed to sell without the proprietor having the first offer.

42063. Do you think that if the tenure of the land was placed very much under the control of the tenant, without any control on the part of the proprietor, there would be still a very great danger in the Highlands of the subdivision of these new holdings?
—I don't think there would, but I don't think that need be left exactly in that form. My impression is that the more independent you make the people, and the more they are enabled to rise, the less disposed they are to divide; and I know in America there is no tendency in that direction, and as education advances there will be less tendency.

42064. In America, that is because the younger members always swarm off?
—Yes, because they are educated.

42065. And in this country they will swarm off to the colonies because the area is very limited?

42066. Some witnesses have said there should be an area of holding below which there should not be subdivision; have you ever considered that question?
—No, I have not.

42067. But supposing you are asked an opinion about it, what is the lowest agricultural unit which should be permitted?
—That is a question I am not prepared to answer.

42068. What do you think of the question of the division of the agricultural industry from the fishing industry? Do you think we should aim at the separation of the fishermen from the land and their settlement in fishing communities dependent on that industry, or do you think the two industries could flourish together?
—I think they could flourish together, and I think it would be a grievous hardship to compel people who are now crofters, and perhaps have never practised the fishing, to become fishermen always. I would just like to see some of the large farmers put in the same position. To set men who have never made a business of it to take their living from the ocean would be a piece of cruelty, and we have had too much of that in the past

42069. I think there is now no question of transporting whole communities from the interior to the shore, but you have a shore population more or less versed in fishing, and the question is whether the fishing element is to be separated from the agricultural one, and the fishermen brought down to the neighbourhood of ports and there settled as fishermen pure and simple, while the small crofts they occupied before should be added to the crofts of those left behind them?
—My impression is that if permanent holdings are given near these fishing stations, that is a question that will settle itself. If they find the fishing profitable they will live by it; but the great evil, I think, throughout a great part of our Highlands is the difficulty of getting permanent holdings for houses or for anything else.

42070. Do the fishing people on the east coast generally hold feus ?
—I don't know.

42071. Or are they living as cottars?
—Well, a good many of them are building houses. They must have feus. It is so in Fraserburgh.

42072. But they are in a town or near a town?
—Yes; but if you are to gather them near harbours, you are virtually making towns.

42073. But considering the precarious nature of the resort of fish, do you think it would be prudent to encourage the concentration of population in places of that sort?
—I don't know if it would. If the opportunity was given them for them to try it, they would draw to those points themselves if they had proper harbours, and people could get feus and have their houses so that they could not be removed from them. I think, in many instances, it would be the tendency to draw to these places and settle there.

42074. With reference to the question of deer forests, do you think there is any part of the country which is more advantageously and profitably occupied by deer for purposes of sport, or do you think it ought all to be rendered available, and necessarily available, for agricultural industry?
—I think it ought to be all rendered available.

42075. You don't think there are any portions very rugged and remote in the country which have been occupied from time immemorial more or less for sporting purposes?
—I would set no portions apart, but I would not set about to exterminate the deer. At the same time, I think there is no portion of the country so rugged, as far as I can discover, which if it can support deer could not support sheep.

42076. You speak as one acquainted with all parts of the Highlands; have you gone over all the north?
—No, but I have had intercourse with people over all the north. I am told that wherever deer can thrive sheep can thrive.

42077. Do you think that the law ought to interfere to such a degree as to regulate the appropriation and enjoyment of property, to prevent the exclusive occupation of land for sporting purposes ?
—-I think so. The same principle is recognised when land is taken for railways and objects of general benefit. If it interferes with the benefit of the community, it ought to be prevented.

42078. But in taking land for railways and other purposes of that sort, very large compensation is allotted to proprietors?
—Well, I would not take the land from any proprietor without compensation.

42079. You would not take land, but it is here a question of taking the enjoyment and appropriation of land from the proprietor. Do you mean, if you forbid a proprietor appropriating his land wholly to the purposes of sport, you would compensate him?
—I would much rather do that than see things as they are.

42080. Mr Cameron.
—Had it ever occurred to you that deer forests on these high grounds fetch much higher rents than sheep farms?
—Yes, I believe so.

42081. I suppose you will also admit that the crofter, so long as he is not there, does not care very much whether it is sheep or deer?
—I suppose not.

42082. Then does not the deer forest benefit the croft to this extent, that by increasing the rental of the parish it reduces so far the amount of taxes which the crofter has to pay?
—Yes, it benefits him to that extent.

42083. Your argument is the very common one that on economical grounds it is an evil, but as to the crofters, if they think at all about it, they should rather think deer forests beneficial?
—Well, some of them, we find, are not beneficial when the process is first to clear out the land for sheep, and then the next step is to clear the land for deer. I have myself seen the deer, when travelling along the coast of Skye, close to the poor peoples' patches of potatoes, and I thought I would try to disturb them, and I went up to the fence and rattled on my hat, but they just stood and looked at me. The people were not allowed to keep a dog to keep the deer off.

42084. Of course, that is damage done to arable ground, which is a separate matter; but I was talking of the difference between high ground being occupied by deer and high ground being occupied by sheep, and so far as that is concerned, is that not a benefit to the crofter so far as it reduces his rates?
—Yes, I admit that freely so far as the rates are concerned.

42085. Have, you ever found any objection on the part of crofters to deer forests among themselves?
—I have not been in contact with them about that.

42086. There was one remark you made; you class gillies and serfs together; why do you do that?
—The reason is this, that a large portion of our population under our present laws are very much serfs; they are hardly in many respects free men, and the gillies I thiuk are largely injured by their employment; I think it is not employment that tends in any way to advantage them.

—42087. Are not the gillies taken very much from the crofter class?
—It may be so, but I think it is not a benefit to them.

42088. Well, they are only occupied two months of the year as gillies?
—I don't know,

42089. If they are occupied two months as gillies and ten months as crofters, do you mean they are serfs for two months and free men for ten?
—No, I mean that the crofter population are so much serfs —that they are so much kept in—that they lose to a certain extent their independence.

42090. The whole population?

42091. You don't mean to say that gillies alone are serfs?
—Oh no; that is not what I mean.

42092. In regard to the valuation of crofts, would you also have crofts actually in existence valued by Government valuators, or did you only refer to new crofts?
—I would have the whole valued.

42093. Don't you think it might be in some cases disadvantageous to the crofter?
—It might be, but I only advocate what is fair and just.

42094. The Chairman.
—You point to a revaluation of the whole of the small tenancies in the country?

42095. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—I forgot to ask you with regard to your remedies. The first and most important remedy you mention is to give the people back the land on fair terms : I suppose you mean to legislate for that purpose ?

42096. In what way would you propose to legislate to give the land back to the people?
—I don't know if I would be prepared to answer that question. I think the Government ought to take steps to secure that the people should have their lands revalued.

42097. Yes, those in possession of lands; but this is the case of lands not in possession of the people that you wish to be given back to them. You wish that those who are tenants at will should have proper security?

42098. But as to those who have no land at all, or not a sufficient quantity, you wish it to be given to them?
—I would tax the waste lands very heavily, and make it an advantage to give them back.

42099. Do you call large sheep farms waste lands?
—In so far as they are unfit for agricultural purposes.

42100. Then you would have a commission employed to find out what lands are unfit for agricultural purposes, and tax them heavily ?
—Yes; to the extent of their value.

42101. The Chairman.
—We have heard, especially on the west coast, that one of the greatest complaints of the people is that there is a deficiency of common pasture and one of their greatest desires is to get sheep pasture. Well, surely you would not look upon sheep pasture appropriated to the service of the crofters as waste lands?
—No, I would not look upon sheep pasture necessarily as waste land at all; but it is land which ought to be appropriated to other purposes, and one of the things I would like to see is something in the shape of a club farm.

42102. If it is not waste land in the hands of crofters, it is not waste land in the hands of sheep farmers?
—No, not the land that will not admit of being tilled.

42103. Then we shall suppose that a portion is recovered from a large farmer and given back to the crofting community; would you tax the land given back to the crofting community, and which might be tilled, if they did not till it?
—Yes, I would tax it all.

42104. In fact, you would not leave any liberty too small or great to judge whether their land ought to be pasture or whether arable?
—There is a certain amount that requires to be pastured from time to time at all events.

42105. But you would not leave that to the judgment of the occupier, whether great or small; you think the Government should settle it all?
—I think the Government should settle it.

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