STATEMENT of the Rev. ANGUS M'RAE, Free Church Minister, Glen Urquhart, Inverness-shire.
FREE CHURCH MANSE OF GLEN URQUHART, INVERNESS-SHIRE, 2nd November 1883.
I BEG to submit to the Royal Commission that there has been a decrease of the population of this parish during the last ' census decade' of 342 in a population of 2438, which I ascribe principally to our large deer forests.
The late laird of Glenmoriston, who was one of the kindest and most humane of the proprietors in the north, erred latterly in adopting the system of turning farms into deer forests ; but it is to be hoped that the young heir will reverse this system as soon as he gets full possession of the estate.
The deer forest of Balmacaan, in Glen Urquhart, is about twelve miles in length, and is rented for £3000 per annum ; to this forest a great deal of good ]and has been added, even within the last sixteen years, besides the large tracts that were added to it at different periods formerly. About the year 1867 the whole township of Balmacaan, where there were over twenty families who were living pretty comfortably, had to be turned out in a body as the place was to be added to the forest. But the late Earl of Seafield, who was a kind and unoppressive man, gave patches of land elsewhere to such of them as had land at Balmacaan, which they had to improve and build houses upon; and since that time a large piece of the pasture of the farm of Drumclune was added to the forest. Some of the people here remember to have seen sixteen tenants on the farm of Sheuglie in comfortable circumstances, where there is now only one farmer and a gamekeeper, the most of the pasture having been added to the forest. Of course, there was a small forest above the ordinary pasture from time immemorial, but recently there has been added to it the grazing of about 10,000 sheep from the following farms, viz.:—
2000 on the hill pasture of Sheuglie.
500 „ „ Drumclune.
1300 „ „ Glencoiltie.
1600 „ „ Monadh Leumnach and Melfourvonie.
800 „ „ Cat-House.
700 „ „ Lochletter.
300 „ „ Allanmore.
2000 ,, „ Divach.
1000 „ „ Ruskich.
Consequently we have a great many acres of good land that was under cultivation, and a long stretch of the finest pasture, situated in a very convenient part of the country, some of it even reaching down to the very foot of the glen, all under the deer forest, while we have scores of families who have no land at all and others but very small portions, for which they pay less than £ 2 per annum, and numbers of their families have to go north and south in search of work. Whereas if suitable portions of the said forest were divided amongst them for fair rents, they
might live comfortably and happy, and, no doubt, it would be pleasant to the proprietor himself to see his tenantry living in comfort and happiness, and so walking up to the Scriptural recommendation, where it is said that our Lord was rejoicing in the habitable part of His earth; and my delights were sons of men. —Pro v. viii. 31.
The Seafield family have always been disposed to continue the same tenantry, but there are cases which show that it is necessary to have fixity of tenure, one of which I will mention. My predecessor, the Rev. Alexander M'Donald, had a farm from Lord Seafield for which he paid yearly rent of some £16, this farm he improved very considerably, especially the pastoral part of it, without drawing anything from the proprietor. Mr M'Donald died in 1864, and I succeeded him in 1866, but the farm was given to another person in 1865 without any notice being given to the congregation or their representatives of this arrangement, which, when they heard, grieved them, and they immediately petitioned Lord Seafield to continue the farm in connection with the manse ; but of this no notice was taken, and all that I asked of it was the grazing of a cow, and this was not given, though I was willing to pay full value for it, and though the farmer holds the farm on' from year to year.
Another case very similar to that happened here only a few months ago, but I need not here go to particulars, as that which I have already mentioned will suffice to show that in the present state of matters very unjust things may be done, even under good proprietors, and it would be well that they would make inquiry into cases of the kind in an impartial manner. I am told that our neighbour, Lord Lovat, sets a very good example before others in things of this kind—that he attends personally in his office for so many days in the week to hear any complaint that his people may have to make to him, which is no doubt calculated to establish good feeling between them.
In regard to rents, they used to be pretty reasonable on Lord Seafield's estate, but a good many now require to be reduced. I shall mention only one case as an example—the farm of Torshee, which is rented at £27. This farm was taken by Duncan M'Dougall and his brother-in-law some good many years since, but, after the trial of some years, they found it difficult to take the rent out of it, so they applied to the factor for a reduction of rent, who told them that he would take the farm off their hands. When Donald M'Rae, the present tenant, took it, he had money at the time, and now the whole of it is spent there, and he is an old man and not able to make ends meet, after spending his strength and money on the farm. Other cases of similar kind might be given, but this will suffice to show that fair rents, by impartial valuation, ought to be fixed.
I consider all the shootings on Dr Cameron's estate of Lakefield to be more beneficial than hurtful to the people on that estate, but larger stripes of ground should be given to the new crofters there ; and there is room for fair rents there, though Dr Cameron is a very good proprietor.
I consider the shootings on the estate of Mr Ogilvy of Corrimony to be more beneficial than hurtful to the people there, as they get a good deal of work in connection with them. Mr Ogilvy has the largest sheep farm in the Glen, it fetches £488, 13s. 7d of a yearly rent; this large farm has been consolidated of some small farms since a long period of years, the extremity of which is Tullich, where there was once some small farmers, but none now; hence the phrase ‘ from Tullich to Temple,' which includes the whole Glen. Mr Ogilvy is a good proprietor.
While I advocate in the behalf of the small tenants, I disclaim having any desire to make a crusade against proprietors. I have much respect for all the proprietors of whom I have spoken above, they are all good proprietors, it is not with them at all that I have the quarrel, but with the system, that is capable of being greatly abused. Many grievances are capable of being greatly assuaged if not entirely removed, if proprietors would listen to, and kindly consider the complaints of their people; but, at the same time, the interposition of Parliament I consider to be necessary, with conciliatory legislation ; and an alteration of the land laws is urgently demanded for the encouragement of the multiplication of small farms of different sizes, for securing to the small farmers the capital they expend on the improvement of waste land, and in increasing the productivity of the soil, and for the substitution of leases with a security of tenure, instead of the existing arrangement of tenure at will, with its state of helpless dependence.