STATEMENT by the Rev. JAMES BAIN, Minister of Duthil, Inverness-shire.
THE MANSE, DUTHIL, AVIEMORE,
23rd October 1883.
In Strathspey it is all but universal the feeling that the condition of the fanning and labouring classes in the district admits of fair comparison with that of those who of old were required to make ' bricks without straw;' and though their cry has not hitherto been either loud or long, their sufferings have been sharp and keen, as will, I think, appear from the following facts with reference to the parish of Duthil, with which I am more immediately connected. But for the circumstance that I feel it to be a duty which I owe to my parishioners,—who are themselves afraid to state their complaints,—I would not now intrude upon the Commissioners with this statement:—
1. The population of Duthil in 1841 was 1767, in 1861 it was 1928, while in 1881 we find it down to 1664. This latter figure includes the increase of population arising from the two railway stations situated in the parish together with their respective villages which, in round numbers, may be held equal to about 200. Deducting that number from the actual population, as in 1881, there would remain about 1460, showing a decrease of about 300 as compared with 1841, and over 500 as compared with 1861.
2. In 1841 the actual rental of the whole parish amounted to £3329 or thereby, while in 1883 the actual rental amounts to £11,733. So that while the population has materially decreased, the rental on the other hand has increased nearly fourfold. In view of the decrease of the population, and the labouring circumstances of the people, this is an important fact. Especially so, when it is remembered that a vast extent of the land under sheep and cattle in 1841 is now under growing timber, and enclosed.
3. Duthil has long and justly been celebrated for the abundance and quality of its pine forests. Till about the year 1860, the manufacturing and carting of the timber afforded steady and remunerative employment to the small farmers and labouring classes. In or about 1861, however, the railway works were in progress, and almost the entire available timber in the district was then sold off, in consequence of which the small tenants and labouring classes were
deprived of the main source from which they hitherto derived their living. When the woods were thus sold off, and the railway works at an end, the labouring classes, in particular, were thrown out of work, and had nothing to look to, either for themselves or their families, but starvation or emigration. No other employment was provided for the people, and the authorities—almost all of whom are outsiders—had no sympathy with them. In these circumstances it is not too much to say that, except for greater educational advantages, the lot of the labouring classes in Strathspey would, since 1861, have been even more trying than that of the same class on the coast, for there when landward labour fails, they have the alternative of turning their attention to the sea.
4. As regards the tenants. About the time mentioned, 1860, a new system of estate management was introduced, and is still carried on. To make up for the quantity of timber put into the market, large areas of the best pasture land in the parish were enclosed for large sheep farms, plantations, and a deer forest. It is estimated that the extent of ground so dealt with is equal to about three-fourths of the area of the whole parish. This necessitated the small farmers generally to part with a considerable number of their sheep and cattle, and with that loss they had henceforth to depend for their rents and living, mainly on the produce of their arable holdings, than which nothing could be more precarious and uncertain as a source of livelihood, especially in Strathspey, where the arable farmer has, to a large extent, to contend with soil of an extremely poor quality, as well as many other difficulties. Among these he has to contend with what is known as the ' early and late frosts.' The effect of these frosts—as, for example, the present year—is in a great measure to blast the poor farmers' prospects for a whole season. No deduction of rent was made in favour of the tenants in respect of the pasture of which they were deprived. On the contrary, in many cases the rents, though already oppressive, were increased. So that with the loss of pasture, increase of rents, and bad seasons, the marvel is that the poor Strathspey farmer has hitherto been so long suffering ; and. but for the circumstance, that they and their families are a hard working and industrious class, they would have been sold out long ago. But there are limits to human forbearance, and it is to be hoped that justice will be done to them ere those limits are reached.
5. Till about 1860 or so the dwelling-houses and offices on the holdings were the property of the tenants. These, however, under the new system of management, had to be made over to the proprietor at a valuation, it is understood, equal to two years' rent. The amount, however, whatever it may have been, was not as it ought to be paid down to the tenant. On the contrary, it was doled out to him in yearly instalments extending over the currency of the lease in name of a reduction of rent which in reality was no reduction, seeing that the rent had been increased at the beginning of the lease to an extent, in some cases, exceeding the value put upon the buildings. That being so, the talk about a reduction is a fallacy, and as some would say, ' a delusion and a snare.' Besides, when the tenant happens to be in arrear, he is charged interest at the rate of 5 per cent, on the full amount of his rent—his own instalment, it is believed, included. To have been forced to part with their right to houses and offices, which they themselves or their fathers built, and spent so much labour and money on, was to many of them like parting with a right hand. They keenly felt, and still feel that they were by that act made to part with a birthright and all with a view to make it so much the more easy for the proprietor to part with themselves at the expiry of the lease if not earlier.
6. As already observed, when the tenants entered upon their new leases, instead of receiving an abatement of rent such as their curtailed holdings warranted them to anticipate, they were rather increased; but that was not all. In addition to their being compelled to yield up their right to their houses and offices, they were required during the currency of the lease—nineteen years—to reclaim so many acres of waste land, and bring it under cultivation. This, it is well known, could not be done under an outlay of from £20 to £24 per acre. The land so reclaimed, according to the Honourable T. C. Bruce, is in its natural state worth only about 3d. per acre yearly, yet according to the lease the poor tenant is held to have repaid himself for the full amount of his outlay—£20 to £24: per acre—out of the land itself during the currency of his nineteen years lease, which is simply a mockery, for in all fairness it would take a lease of fifty years' duration to enable him in any sense or degree to do so. The land which the Honourable T. C. Bruce, in his statement before the Commission at Kingussie, represented as worth only 3d. per acre, is, after being reclaimed by the tenant, let by the proprietor at a yearly rent of 20s., and sometimes more per acre. In this way the proprietor has hitherto been getting his waste lands improved, and his rental increased by the sweat of the brow of the poor hard working tenant.
7. Another ground of complaint on the part of the people is, that under the new management a large number of holdings, where once highly respectable families were reared in comfort, industry, and plenty, were laid waste to make room for large sheep farms or deer forests. In the district of Easter Duthil, for example, six or eight respectable families were removed from their comfortable homes to make room for a large sheep run where no such run should be. I maintain, therefore, the Honourable T. C. Bruce notwithstanding, that these and many others were removed and forced out of their holdings and their houses; and. as a consequence, some of them were reduced to the position of common labourers; others to the poors roll. It would be adding insult to injury to say that there were no removals in Strathspey for the last twenty years or so. I am assured on good authority that there were, and that some of them were of a painful and heartrending description, and I know that
Wrongs so deep of hearth and home,
Fill the broad breasts of these northern men.
Is it wise then to say that there was no such thing, and to talk of peace and happiness while there is so much suffering ? Till their holdings are restored to them, along with the hill pasture of which they were deprived—as far as that is possible at fair rents with reasonable security of tenure—say leases of fifty years' duration, with compensation for all permanent and unexhausted improvements. Till this or something like this is done for the people it is vain to hope or look for that independence of conduct and character, and that peace and prosperity among them which it ought to be the aim and object of all to work for.
8. Another ground of complaint is the want of proper school accommodation. Till the passing of the Act, 1872, there were some six or seven schools in the parish. Now, there are only three, and these, unfortunately, are all placed in the most out of-the-way situations that, so far as education is concerned, could well be fixed upon. Apparently these situations were fixed upon more with a view to improve the landscape than to advance the cause of education. The consequence is that in some of the outlying districts children of tender age are clean shut out from the means of education, and their parents and guardians are helpless in the matter. They have again and again petitioned the board, but the School Board, like other boards, and the
proprietor or his factor are virtually one and the same. I say so without hesitation, for I have no faith in the practice of using ' good words and fair speeches ' where justice lies bleeding' and plain speaking is called for.
The foregoing are some of the grievances the people of Strathspey complain of, and which they hope and pray the Royal Commission may be the means of redressing, by recommending such alterations in the statute law of the country, as will enable the poorest tenant to treat with his landlord or his factor on a footing that will ensure immunity from all dread of harassing removals.
STATEMENT by the Hon. THOMAS CHARLES BRUCE, M.P.,
Commissioner for the Earl of Seafield.
LONDON, 17th December 1883.
I can only give an emphatic contradiction to Mr Bain's statement. I have been intimately acquainted with Strathspey for thirty years, and in constant intercourse with those who are fully cognisant of its condition, and can speak with knowledge of the general improvement and increased comfort of the people, and that, if by any accident any farm or croft is vacant, there are numerous applications for it, and that higher rents might easily be obtained.
1. The population diminishes, as in all rural districts which I am acquainted with, from the greater opening for labourers in towns and other centres of population, to which there is easy access, as well as in the colonies. The population in 1862 was swelled by people employed on the railway works then in progress. The tendency of labourers to group themselves in houses round the railway stations is a distinct advantage to them.
2. This paragraph is calculated to mislead the Commissioners, by confounding the agricultural rental with that derived from shootings and villages, which latter have materially increased. The details of figures are given in the annexed paper.
3. It is unnecessary to go into detail as to the management of the woods, as the returns vary according to the demand. There is far more timber than can be consumed locallv, but the whole statement is exaggerated and untrue. A large quantity of timber was sold, when the demand arose for the railway works. The ground was replanted at great expense, and more labour is required as the trees grow up.
4. As I explained to the Commissioners, the farms were relet in 1862 and 1864 on a valuation on the present marches, and after the making of railways and other means of communication had largely increased the value of the farms, no change has been made since ; and as I have already stated, not only has the appearance of the farms much improved, but there is never any lack of tenants for the arable land.
5. The houses passed into the landlord's hands, and were paid for by him, and vast improvements have been made on them since. In fact, the tenants could not have farmed so as to take advantage of their new facilities of transport with such houses as they could build for themselves. The land which I stated to be worth 3d. an acre was the hill pasture, not all the land of Strathspey. The improveable land was allotted to the tenants under their leases. They have improved some of it to their advantage; some they found too expensive, and did not improve it: but no pressure has been put on them to do so.
6. I have already stated in my evidence no tenant has been removed by me in the parish of Duthil, and the insinuations contained in this statement are absolutely unfounded.
7. The parish of Duthil is not exempt from the Education Act, the provisions of which are fully carried out there. As to the sites of the schools, Mr Bain may settle them with the gentlemen composing the School Board.
N.B.: —I annex a paper containing some details explaining these statements.
THOMAS C. BRUCE.
ANSWERS by the Hon. T. C. BRUCE, M.P., to the STATEMENT of the Rev. JAMES BAIN, dated Manse of Duthil, 23rd October 1883.
1. The railway official population is overstated by fully two-thirds. The decrease in population between 1841 and 1861 is 105, and between 1861 and 1881 is 264. This is accounted for chiefly owing to the fluctuation in the number of labourers engaged in the timber traffic.
2. In 1841 Mr Bain gives the rental of the whole parish at £3329, and in 1883 at £11,733. The latter sum is inaccurate, whether, Rothiemurchus is included or not. The Valuation Roll for 1883 gives the whole parish, including Rothiemurchus, at £12,320—Duthil, £6301; Rothiemurchus, £3204; urban subjects, £627; railways, £2188.
The agricultural and pastoral rents of the whole parish for the year referred to was £5434, showing an increase of rental since 1841 of £2105, which proves that the great rise of rental in the whole parish, as appearing in the Valuation Roll, is principally due to the introduction of railways, shootings, and urban subjects.
3. About the time mentioned, mature timber was cut down, but the ground has been planted, and the proprietor has paid for planting since 1858, £28,716, the work having been done by the resident population. There is at present employment for any person who desires employment
4. About this time tracts of land, which were not adapted for either grazing or cultivation, were reserved for planting. The average rent paid for this land was less than 3d. per acre. No land which could be reclaimed for cultivation nor pasture land was planted.
5. Before 1860 the houses were in a wretched state. The proprietor took them into his own hands, and he has since expended in erections and improvements 450,000.
6. If leases entered into about 1860 contained stipulations for the improvement of land suitable for cultivation, in no single instance has the obligation been enforced, and, as a matter of fact, the reclamation of land since that date was either done by the tenant, by a special arrangement under which he was compensated, or by the proprietor himself. There is not an instance in which a tenant was evicted or removed from one acre of land reclaimed at his own expense. As already mentioned, no part of the land rented at 3d. per acre was capable of improvement otherwise than by planting. The present average rent for arable land is 14s. per acre.
7. No family was removed to make room for sheep or deer. There was one tenant who occupied a croft in the forest of Duthil enclosed for planting. He voluntarily removed. Another was warned to remove, but although the warning was given twelve years ago, he is still in possession of his holding at the former rent.
In the district of Easter Duthil. about four miles into the hill, in a high, cold, and wet part, there were three small farms or crofts:—Kylnamuil, occupied by Duncan Grant, who retired of his own accord from possession on Bruce account of bad health, and very soon thereafter died ; Rymuich, occupied by William Grant, who died there, leaving no issue—his widow removed to
another part; Rychroggan, occupied by Peter Grant—this tenant removed, having got a better farm at Auchnahannet. In consequence of these places becoming unoccupied, as above described, they were included in the Rycraggan grazing let to Mr Allan.
The small hill farm of Balnafeddig was tenanted by William Smith, who retired in consequence of the infirmities of old age ; he was succeeded by John M'Intosh, who only occupied it for a year or two, and then gave it up. assigning his reason for doing so, that it was too high for profitable cultivation. It was then added to Rycraggan grazing,