THE NAPIER COMMISSION IN ORKNEY
Part 1 of 4
In July 1883, the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Conditions of Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands, held investigative sessions in Orkney. The commission was set up as a response to crofter and cottar demonstrations against excessively high rents, lack of security of tenure on land that had been in families for generations, and the forced evictions of crofters.
The demonstrations started in Wester Ross and Lewis in the 1870’s, and by the early 1880’s had moved to Skye. Local police forces were called upon by the landlords to enforce what they believed to be their rights. However, with limited resources, the police found it difficult to cope with the increasing demands put upon them.
Therefore, it became an issue needing government attention. Under the orders of Prime Minister William Gladstone, and backed by Royal approval, the commission was appointed in 1883, by the Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt.
The commission began its work in Skye and travelled the length and breadth of the Highlands and Islands (including Orkney and Shetland) gathering evidence from crofters, landlords, and others who were familiar with the plight of the indigenous population. The final report was hastily published in 1884 and led obliquely to the 1886 Crofters’ Holding Act.
The six members of the Commission taking evidence in Orkney were:
Francis Napier, 10th Lord Napier and 1st Baron Ettrick, Chairman.
Sir Kenneth Smith Mackenzie of Gairloch, 6th Baronet.
Sir Donald Cameron, Esq. of Lochiel, M.P. for Inverness-shire.
Charles Fraser-Mackintosh, Esq., M.P. for Inverness Burghs.
Sheriff Alexander Nicolson of Kircudbright, LL.D.
Professor Donald Mackinnon of Edinburgh University, M.A.
The Rousay crofters were well-prepared for the visit of the Crofters Commission to Kirkwall, mainly due to the intelligence and diligence of their chairman, James Leonard. A series of meetings were held at the Sourin school and a statement of grievance was prepared and the names of delegates were put forward for their evidence to be given to the Commission.
As the Crofters’ Movement centred on the Sourin Free Church community, it was inevitable that the minister, the Rev Archibald MacCallum, should be drawn into the conflict, and it was he who acted as their spokesman, presenting the statement of grievance on their behalf before the meeting in Kirkwall.
The following witnesses from Rousay appeared before the Commission in Kirkwall on Monday July 23rd 1883:
The Reverend Archibald MacCallum, Rousay.
George Leonard, Crofter, Triblo, Rousay.
Mrs Georgina Inkster, Hammer, Rousay.
James Leonard, Crofter and mason, Digro, Rousay.
James Grieve, Cottar, Outer Dykes, Rousay.
Frederick William Traill Burroughs, Lieutenant-General, Proprietor, Rousay.
The following comprehensive text, seldom seen elsewhere other than in the newspaper reports of the day, was made available to me by the late John Reed, Lower Hammerfield, Rousay.
Kirkwall, Orkney, 23 July 1883.
The Reverend Archibald MacCallum, Rousay, aged 30 – was examined:
He was asked by the Chairman: – How long have you been in your present charge ?
MacCallum replied: About 3½ years.
You are minister of the Free Church ?
Have you been elected a delegate by the people of the place ?
I may state that I have nothing to do with the origination of these meetings at all as I was south when they were begun, but a deputation of the crofters waited upon me last week, and requested me to attend their meeting, which was held last Saturday. I did so, and the statement which I now have was read and carefully examined by them and adopted as their own; and they requested me to read it to your Lordship and your fellow Commissioners.
Did they appoint any other delegate of their own class at the same time ?
Yes. James Leonard, George Leonard, and Thomas Grieve; and two short written statements were prepared.
But you were their chief representative ?
Will you have the goodness to read the statement ?
[reads] “We, tenants and crofters of Rousay, desire to represent to the Commissioners, that we are in a condition generally of great and increasing poverty, and that we are convinced that our present condition is owing to the system of land management in Rousay for the last forty years, and especially for the last twenty years. A comparison of the rental, population, and tenures of lands, and other particulars, as these were forty years ago, and as they are now, will show that the rental has been increased on the island of Rousay, according to our best information, not less than threefold, whilst in that same time the population has decreased, and their substance also become less.
(1st), Thus in 1841, the rental of the whole parish (which includes the islands of Rousay, Egilshay, Veira, and Eynhallow) was only £1500; it is now £3876, 19s. 4d. It is necessary to know, in order to see that the great increase has been on the island of Rousay and Veira, and on them only, that the rental of Egilshay (which belongs to another proprietor, namely Dr Baikie) has been very slightly increased, as is well known, and that almost all Egilshay tenants sit under good leases, and that the increase has been therefore almost entirely on the Rousay estate.
(2nd), The population in 1841 was 1263 souls; it is now 1118; – in the nation at large a like decrease would have caused alarm and indicated our decay as a nation.
(3rd), This smaller population, which pays at least a triple rental, is relatively much poorer. A proof of this is that in 1841 there were eighteen herring-boats carrying ninety tons; there are now only four.
(4th), There were in 1841 thirteen proprietors of land in the place; there is now in Rousay only three; and two of these are but small farmers. The people are in this way bound by the regulations of one proprietor, to which they must submit so long as remaining in their native island. The main cause of our present state is an excessive rack-renting of land. But we have further to complain of the taking away from our use of the hill pasture and commons. In 1841, there were 10,440 acres of land which was uncultivated and in waste, or in use as pasture free to all; as also at that time 7500 acres of undivided common; and the people from time immemorial had the privilege of grazing and pasturing cattle, sheep, horses, and pigs without payment of any kind. All this has been taken away from us, and appropriated by the proprietor for his own use or for letting.
We complain that this very large loss was without our consent, and we were never in any way compensated for it by reduction of rent. On the contrary, rents have been raised at the same time; and some rents have been even quadrupled, that is, increased fourfold, in the last forty years. It is an old belief among us, handed down to us from our forefathers, that we have a right to these hill pastures and commons; and we would respectfully ask Her Majesty’s Commissioners that they be pleased to make searching inquiry into this matter, that some explanation at least be got of so great an amount of property being taken from the body of the people to the use of one; and we also ask a strict investigation into the way in which the old Orkney tenures and settlements, so much more favourable to us than the present feudal tenures and arrangements, were lost, and these latter imported from the south by a gradual, and, as we think, wrong process.
We have also long believed that a right of settlement on the land of our fathers was secured to us by ancient custom amounting to law, and that this was reserved to us always, even when the Orkney Isles were given over to the Scottish Crown by Denmark in the treaty or contract then made between Scotland and Denmark. We humbly beg you to investigate that treaty, and any other ancient documents or customs that bear on these points, for our satisfaction and your own assistance in your present task.
We complain, in any case, of harsh and needless evictions, of which we may give examples – evictions of large bodies of people. Whether the landlord has this power or no, we complain of the harshness of these evictions, and that they were unnecessarily oppressive to the people, while leading to no corresponding profit to the proprietor. One case of this was that in or about the years 1842-3, a number of families (almost exactly forty families), were ejected from the lands of Greendale [Quandale] and Westside in Rousay against their wishes and requests to remain, and all their lands were joined for sheep pasture. Some went abroad, and some were allowed to settle on other parts of Rousay, where the land was much poorer in quality, and for the most part uncultivated; and the lots given to those who settled there after their eviction from Greendale and Westside, were not only poorer in soil, but smaller in extent. Those evicted then and so settled, especially in Sourin, were most of them just permitted to settle on heather land, and to reclaim and bring in this for themselves, and also to build houses for themselves on this wild land or hill.
When they had thus brought waste land into a state of cultivation, and built houses for themselves and families after their eviction from one place, rents were laid upon them for these lands and houses which they built and reclaimed entirely by their own industry and labour, procuring themselves even the materials of the buildings, such as they are. We complain that if rents were to be laid on us in such a case, we should at least have been paid for our labours in building and reclaiming. But no compensation of any kind, either for eviction from the old places or for our improvement of the new, was given; and the rents first put on the latter have been frequently raised, and we sit as mere tenants-at-will, liable to be again evicted from houses we built ourselves, and to be rack-rented even if allowed to occupy them.
Another case was that of the Nears eviction, in which three families were ejected by force about the same date, and in the depth of winter; the people and their household goods being laid out on the open hill, and one aged woman fainting after this oppressive act several times, and shortly afterwards she died. A very recent case of a similar kind, occurring only two years ago, was the eviction from his land of the tenant of Hammer, in the district of Wasbister – a man of delicate health, and reduced by this act now to poverty, whereas formerly he was always able to meet his rent. His family still remains in the house, but the land being added to another farm, they are left destitute, and are now applying for parochial relief, while his own health has been so shattered by the loss of the only means of livelihood open to him, that he has now become an inmate of the Edinburgh Infirmary. (I may state that this man returned on Saturday night, after this was written.) We complain especially that this poor man’s wife and family – although they applied for parochial relief some time ago – have had no provision made for them yet, and would thus have been left in a state of absolute destitution, but for their friends and neighbours.
Another case is that of the present occupier of East Cray in Sourin, who at an advanced age reclaimed land there and built a dwelling for his old age, entirely at his own coast; and shortly after doing this, by the authority of the proprietor a rent was imposed upon him, and that first rent has now been increased about fivefold, and a special aggravation of wrong in this case is that he had been previously evicted from a house and croft which he had built and reclaimed (with the exception of a quarter of an acre), also himself at his own cost.
Another matter is the lack of compensation for improvements, and that we do not possess or get liberty to improve or build new buildings necessary for our cattle, even when we are willing and offer to do so at our own cost; but we only get leave to make improvements necessary for the safety of our stock on the terms named by the proprietor, which involve an intolerable and apparently interminable burden of interest on money borrowed by him, which interest seems to form practically a permanent increase of rent. There is no inducement for the sober and industrious man to labour and improve his home and farm, but the contrary; for the fruits of his labours and outlay, even when allowed, are taken from him without any compensation. And the utter insecurity of tenure again acts with this disheartening effect on us. We humbly beg therefore that you will do what you can to secure the revaluation of land, so that a fair rent may be fixed as between proprietor and tenant, and that we shall have security of tenure in our holdings; and that these holdings may be increased as necessary for the adequate support in comfort of our families, and that the question of the hill pasture and undivided common be settled in some way – say by restoration or otherwise.
We should also like the Commissioners to visit our island and inspect our houses, many of which are unfit for human habitation; and in the event of disease of an infectious or contagious kind getting into them, it is almost impossible to root it out. We specially hope that for all these grievances that so long and so hardly oppress us as a community, a speedy and sure remedy will be procured, as we cannot much longer meet the overpowering burdens laid on us. We desire you to receive this statement, and to receive any other testimony that you may wish to hear, from the following, whom we have chosen as delegates and witnesses for us, namely, – James Leonard, occupier of the croft of Digro, Rousay, chairman of our meetings; George Leonard, occupier of the croft of Triblo, Rousay; James Grieve, part-occupier of the house of Outerdykes, Rousay; James Mainland, occupier of the house of Gorehouse, Rousay; William Robertson, occupier of the croft of East Cray, Sourin, Rousay.
We ask you to hear these as our representatives, who know our circumstances well, as they are all natives of Rousay, and as they have with one exception been resident in our island for almost all their lives. Had your arrangements permitted you to come amongst us, we would many of us, especially of the older inhabitants, been able and willing to give personally before you, fuller details of their own cases than can be given in any other way. We have in this statement, and by the appointment of these witnesses, done our best to show our position after a long course of impoverishment. Nor is it merely in our substance that we feel the burden and evil effects of the present land system as it is wrought here. The utterly inconsiderate and unrighteous manner in which we are treated tends to produce in our once peaceful and happy community those features of disturbance and outrage which have made another part of the three kingdoms so much an object of remark and attention. This is the case with us in too great a proportion, and it must increase unless relief is afforded us.
The facts we have stated with reference to the eviction of the tenant of Hammer alone would account for the disturbance and evil feeling that we are sorry to know is arising in our midst. But, it is said, “Oppression will make wise men mad.” Ever since that eviction, which was accompanied by a change of the lands of four farms, against the wishes and interests of at least three of them, the district there has been in a state of disturbance, in which various acts of outrage have, been committed. A sheep of one farmer has been made away with, no one knows how; implements of husbandry, as scythes or ploughs, have been broken at night, and violent scenes have taken place between individuals who have felt themselves aggrieved and injured in their feelings and interests, some even to the loss of all, even health itself, by the needless and oppressive changes. There was one of those cases before the Sheriff-Court. The Procurator-Fiscal for the county, who is also law-agent for General Burroughs, the proprietor, visited the district to obtain evidence for a trial in another case, but failed to do so. The proprietor, who resides on his property and who takes control of everything on the land, visited the district with his factor several times, to endeavour to make the parties keep quiet, but without any permanent effect, as no redress was offered or provided even for the tenant who was turned out of all except a house, and who is confined in the Infirmary, and unable to do anything for his wife and their large family, the members of which are all young – the youngest being an infant.
We feel that all these things are not as things ought to be amongst a free and Christian community, and we humbly beg that Her Majesty’s Commissioners may speedily cause a removal of all these evils and hardships that are the source of such a state of affairs.
[Signed] James Leonard, chairman; George Leonard, James Grieve, James Mainland, William Robertson, delegates.”
If your Lordship would allow me to add, it is the fact that this statement is entirely the crofters’ own. And I should also like to say that, so far as I am aware – and I know the land pretty well, as the majority of the people adhere to my congregation – that this movement is not at all concerned with personal feelings against our distinguished proprietor, General Burroughs, or his factor, but entirely against the system and manner in which they use the powers which the law gives them.
The memorial which you have read is written in a style very superior to that in which most of the memorials we have received are composed, and I can hardly imagine that it is entirely the spontaneous natural composition of persons in the position of crofters or small tenants. Can you tell me who actually wrote or composed the document ?
[James Leonard replied] The facts were furnished by me, and Mr MacCallum assisted in putting them together.
The composition of the paper is in great measure your own, Mr MacCallum ?
[Mr MacCallum]. I may mention that the document was dictated almost entirely to me, and all I had to do was to correct the grammar.
James Leonard]. I had written it before.
[Mr MacCallum]. I had no desire to take any part whatever in the matter. It was owing to my being waited upon by the people that I came to have anything to do with it. The document was gone over sentence by sentence, and there were some words altered even on Saturday night.
I don’t wish to attach any blame to you for taking an interest in the matter, but the document apparently having been perused and partly composed with your assistance or entire approval, you substantially agree with the statement throughout ?
I understood the memorial to say that the rental had been increased threefold, and the first rental given to me was £1500 and the last £3876 ?
But that is not threefold ?
I explain that in the document, to the effect that the parish consists of four islands, two of which only belong to General Burroughs, so that the increase of the whole parish has therefore to be debited against Rousay, because it is well known that the island of Egilshay is moderately rented.
In fact, the rent of that particular estate of Rousay has been increased threefold ?
Yes, that is the meaning. The island of Eynhallow is now uninhabited.
Has this increase of rental been chiefly caused by the consolidation of small holdings in large, and is the increase upon large farms, or has it been equally apparent on the small holdings which have remained ?
At least equally. There are statements made from small crofters that their crofts have been raised fivefold – their small holdings. I think the large farms are perhaps moderately rented, so far as I know.
What is the rental of the largest farm or the larger farms – to what rental do they ascend ?
There is one farm of Westness which I understand is rented at £500 or £600. That farm consists largely of ground taken through eviction from Quandale. There are very few large farms on the island.
How many holdings are there altogether – occupancies – upon the estate ?
From 95 to 100 houses.
But I want to know how many holdings there are ?
Almost every house is a small holding.
Have you any idea what area on the estate is occupied by tenants of above £100 a-year, and what area would be in the hands of tenants below £100 a-year? Is the larger part of the area of the estate in the hands of farmers above £100 a-year ?
No. There are very few large farms. There are the large farms of Westness and Saviskaill.
The great increase of rental is not to be accounted for by the consolidation of farms, the larger farms bearing proportionally a higher rental than the small ?
No. I rather think the larger farms are comparatively moderately rented, so far as my information goes.
Is there any form of industry or any new variety of produce introduced into the estate within the last forty years, which would account for or justify this unusual increase of rental ?
Not that I know of; on the contrary, the fishing has decreased.
Has there been a very improved description of stock, bearing much higher prices, introduced ?
I suppose so, but I don’t profess to be a farmer.
You mention Baikie’s estate; is that in Egilshay ?
The rental has been very much increased. Is the country very much of the same nature as the country in Rousay, or is it a poorer description of soil ?
Much of the same nature, but if anything it is better.
Is there a very great difference in the apparent condition of tenantry in Egilshay compared with the tenantry in Rousay – physical and material condition ?
Very great. I can tell an Egilshay man by his look of comfort.
By meeting him on the street ?
Meeting him in the parish.
Has the population of Egilshay remained stationary, or has it increased?
I think it will be largely stationary.
Do you think it has decreased slightly ?
[James Leonard]. There are three islands combined, and the population is all taken together. We cannot tell the population of Egilshay alone, but I don’t think it has decreased. I think it is about the same as it was.
Then the population of both islands has been nearly stationary, because Rousay has not decreased very much ?
[Mr MacCallum]. I should think a very great portion of the decrease is in Rousay, because there were forty families evicted, and many of them went abroad. I know some went abroad.
But if the population of Egilshay has not increased much in the last forty years, it proves that there is some natural cause operating to draw off the population from both islands. It looks as if the population in decreasing in Rousay had not been entirely owing to the system of estate management ?
I am not aware. I think the Egilshay people are very fond of remaining on the property.
How do you account for their not largely increasing in forty years ?
They may have largely increased in forty years, but I have no people in that island.
What communion do the people in Egilshay belong to ?
The majority of them belong to the United Presbyterian Church.
Is the diminution of the boats engaged in the herring fishery to be accounted for in any degree by the substitution of fewer large boats for a greater number of small ones ?
In no degree.
Is it to be accounted for by the desertion of the herring from the coast, or what ?
I don’t think so.
You think the fishing would be just as accessible as it was ?
Then how do you account for the reduction of the fishing industry? It would appear that if the people were deprived of their land they would throw themselves with greater avidity upon the resource of fishing ?
I suppose the people require money to buy boats and nets, and so forth.
Can you state any actual discouragement given to fishing by the proprietor or his factor ?
None whatever. On the contrary, the proprietor encourages many good things on the island, and I am glad to take the opportunity of stating that. He encourages many good things in a moral and social way in the island: his example in many respects is a model to proprietors. We have no complaint against General Burroughs, as I stated; it is against the system, and the law, and the powers in his hands.
The memorial seems to draw a distinction between two kinds of hill pasture: it mentions a large amount which had been withdrawn, and it speaks besides of a commonty. Were there two categories or descriptions of hill pasture ?
I presume the commonty you refer to is about the shore and the valley over to the hill country. Rousay is very hilly land – the most hilly place in Orkney except Hoy.
You said after the reduction of proprietors there were still three in the island: has the whole commonty been apportioned and allotted ?
And fenced ?
Have the small tenants now no share of the old commonty at all: has it all been taken away, or do they still retain part of it ?
Entirely taken away. Those who are near the common may slip across the boundary and feed a sheep or two, but practically it is entirely taken away.
In fact, all the small tenants are within the fences now ?
At the time the commonty was taken away, do I understand there was no reduction of rent at all ?
None: on the contrary, it was increased.
You state that there is an old belief existing in the island, and I have heard of the same belief elsewhere, that the common was in a manner inseparable from the holding of arable ground, and that the people had a kind of prescriptive right in it, or a right under some old treaty or charter – have you investigated that point yourself ?
No, I have not but it is a widely spread belief.
Do you think that belief has always existed in the country, or do you think it has been inspired by recent ideas about land tenure ?
I think it has always existed; it is stated to have been handed down to us from our forefathers. There is a belief that there is a clause in the treaty which ceded the Orkney Islands to Scotland, reserving a right of settlement in the lands for the people then in the island.
But the people are aware that there are Acts of the Scotch Parliament superseding these alleged diplomatic rights ?
Yes; but I understand they hold that the Scotch Parliament had no right to deal with their property in that manner without consulting them. They ask who composed the Parliament. They were never consulted about the disposal of their own property.
Mr Fraser-Mackintosh: Were there no representatives from Orkney in the Scottish Parliament?
They had no great confidence in them even if there were. It has been known that members of Parliament were bought and sold at the time of the Union.
I don’t speak of their character?
It is their character as representatives that I speak of. Prices were given to them in connection with the Act of Union.
The Chairman: That is very susceptible of discussion. You mention, in connection with the question of houses, the desire of the people that the Commission should visit the place. It will be impossible for us to visit the place, but I should be happy to hear you make a verbal statement as to the lodgings of the poor. Are the houses of so poor a character that you enter the house through the byre, or is there always a separate entrance ?
As a rule, you enter separately to the byre. The byre is usually an outhouse; but the roofs of the dwellings are in some cases, as one of the witnesses may state, letting in water. Where young families are, of course that is very bad, and some of them are in a very undesirable condition. If disease gets in, it just runs through the family.
Are the walls of stone and lime, or open stone ?
Open stone, I understand.
You spoke of the danger of fever; that looks as if the houses were contaminated by cattle or something of that kind. Is the byre built against the house ?
It is often in the same building.
Has there been any fever ?
There was a severe epidemic of diphtheria there some years ago, which caused great havoc.
Has the public health officer ever denounced any building as a nuisance, or dangerous to the health of its inmates ?
May I ask who the public health officer is?
Is there no inspector of nuisances appointed in the parish ?
No; there is an inspector of poor, in a manner, who holds that office.
But no inspector of nuisances ?
No; and he is not a man who has in the slightest degree the confidence of the people.
The inspector of poor ?
Yes; but quite the contrary.
What is his condition ?
He is a retired teacher.
Appointed by the Parochial Board ?
I suppose so; he must be.
There are three proprietors whom you mentioned ?
Have the two smaller proprietors any tenants, or do they farm their own land ?
They farm their own land entirely.
Are they members of the Parochial Board ?
Yes; at least one is; I have heard so from himself; but I don’t remember of seeing the name of the other in the list.
Do they show any interest in the welfare of the parish – do they take an active part in the School Board ?
One of them is a member of the School Board; but he does not attend the Parochial Board, although he is a member of it.
Are the cases of outrage which you mention peculiar to the island, or are cases of malicious injury not rather common to Orkney generally – I mean, is it not rather a distinctive feature in the limited amount of crime in this country, that of malicious outrage ?
I don’t quite understand your lordship’s question.
You have stated that there are cases of malicious injury done to property or animals, and the memorial seems to attribute that to the peculiar management and condition of this estate ?
But I have heard it said that malicious injury to property is rather characteristic of Orkney, in the limited amount of crime which prevails here ?
Yes, but you observe the cause that evoked this outrage was the land.
And not personal resentment or spite of one tenant towards another ?
Of course it was spite, but the cause of the spite was the land arrangement.
You stated that the procurator-fiscal is at the same time the law-agent of the proprietor; what do you understand by law-agent? Has the procurator-fiscal any part in the management of the property, in advising with reference to the management of the land at all ?
I understand he has a very influential part.
Do you think, in your own case, that he is in any degree as it were the factor on the estate ?
Well, to some extent. The proprietor himself is permanently resident.
Has he any other factor ?
He has a resident factor.
Has he a ground officer, or a superior factor?
He has a superior factor. There is also a road contractor, and one or two minor servants.
Is it complained of that the procurator-fiscal should stand in these relations to the proprietor; is it a matter of discontent or suspicion in the place ?
I cannot say that I have had much communication with the people on that point; but of course being procurator-fiscal, in any case betwixt tenant and proprietor, being law agent for the proprietor involves…..
There is an inconsistency in my mind in the language of the memorial on the one side, and your personal reference to the proprietor on the other. You personally state that it is the system which is complained of, and the law, and not the character of the proprietor; but in the memorial, there is the strongest indication of personal maladministration, with which the law has nothing whatever to do, because the law does not consolidate land, does not turn out tenants, does not prevent the proprietor giving compensation. The whole memorial seems to be a direct incrimination of the proprietor. On the other hand, you state you do not complain of the proprietor at all; what do you mean by that ?
I beg your pardon, I don’t think there is anything inconsistent in that. Our complaint is that the laws of the country allow General Burroughs to do such things.
They don’t oblige him to do them ?
Not oblige, but allow.
But they don’t encourage him to do it ?
They allow him; and the complaint is that he does it
I think there is some inconsistency in it. I don’t accuse General Burroughs, but at the same time there is inconsistency in these two statements. But I shall be happy to know, as you indicate, that it is rather the bad system than an oppressive proprietor ?
So far as there are any charges against the proprietor, and his character as such, I abide by the terms of the statement I read.
Then I shall be happy now if you would have the goodness to state what you referred to before – the points in which the proprietor is a benevolent and useful proprietor ?
I meant to say that he shows a good moral example, and discourages all forms of vice, such as drunkenness, in the parish; and that he takes a great interest in such matters as education. He acts as chairman of our School Board. In his personal dealing with the people he is generally kindly; but that of course does not alter at all the facts of the case.
Is there any medical officer in the parish ?
Not resident. There is one appointed for the parish, but he resides in another parish, and there is an arm of the sea, about two miles wide, between us and him which frequently cannot be crossed, and one may take ill and die before the doctor can possibly come to him.
Sir Kenneth Mackenzie: You mentioned that this paper was read at a meeting last Saturday ?
And approved by the crofters ? We can see by the alterations made that they had been consulted about it step by step ?
Yes, these alterations were made by themselves.
I see this sort of alteration – ‘wanton and inconsiderate inhumanity,’ is altered to ‘utterly inconsiderate and unrighteous manner in which we are treated by the proprietor.’ Was that alteration made at the instance of the tenants ?
The original language was ‘wanton and inconsiderate inhumanity,’ and I suggested that they might say the same thing in milder language, and that was agreed to.
The original sentence was dictated by one of the tenants ?
Do you abide by the statement in the paper, that General Burroughs is ‘utterly inconsiderate and unrighteous’ in his treatment of the people ?
With great respect, I speak as the mouth-piece of the people, and I really cannot withdraw the language.
I suppose the evictions of 1842 were not the work of General Burroughs ?
No, I wished to state this, but I forgot.
The subsequent evictions you referred to are the cases of the tenant of Hammer and the occupiers of East Craie ?
How many evictions were there ?
East Craie was occupied by one crofter. He was evicted from one place which he had built and reclaimed, and then he was allowed to build in East Craie. The rent was then 10s., which has increased until it is now five times that amount.
How long was he in the place before the rent was raised in that way ?
We have a statement from him here – [reads]
‘Statement by William Robertson, crofter, of East Craie, Sourin, Rousay, for Her Majesty’s Royal Commission on the Highlands and Islands:
My croft of East Craie is on the property of General Burroughs of Rousay and Viera. I am a native of the parish of Rousay, and am now seventy-two years of age. About 1845, I took a small croft at another part of the island from that where I now live, and got on that croft about a quarter of an acre cultivated when I entered on it. I paid 22s. of rent on that holding. As I improved, more rent was put upon me, until at last I was obliged to leave it altogether. I then got permission to build a dwelling on the hillside where I now live, where there was no cultivation of any kind, nor houses. I began to build, and got up with much trouble a humble cottage and outhouses suitable. I ditched and drained more than I was able, and got a little of the heather surface broken up. At this time I paid 12s.; but again, as I improved, more and more rent was laid on till I am now rented at a sum which is five times the rent I paid at first for a house I built myself. At the same time the common was taken away from me, as from all others; so that I am now not able to pay such a rent, nor to defend myself in any way, as I am wholly under the control and will of the proprietor.
[signed] William Robertson. James Leonard, witness.’
The Chairman: Whom was the statement drawn up by ?
It was taken from his own mouth by James Robertson [his son] in his own language, and it is signed by himself.
Sir Kenneth Mackenzie: I suppose you don’t know the date when he removed from the one croft to the other ?
I cannot exactly say.
The paper does not say that ?
The Chairman: The statement is written in the same handwriting as the other: whose handwriting is it ?
It is mine, but I merely wrote it because there was no other man able to do it. I was asked to do it, and I should consider it unbecoming of my position if I were to refuse such an office for any one.
Sir Kenneth Mackenzie: Two years ago the tenant of Hammer was evicted ?
That is the only case of eviction mentioned, is it not, in General Burroughs’ time ?
Do you know from what cause he was evicted ?
No cause whatever, except to make a large farm out of four holdings.
There were four tenants removed ?
No; the other two got some land.
What sort of rent was the tenant paying who was removed ?
I think he paid £15 a year.
And the other tenant who was removed, what became of him ?
The tenant of Hammer was evicted out of land, but the changes made then involved changes in three or rather four farms, and one of the tenants got the advantage of the other three by having their land given to him. Of the three who were evicted by that change, two got other land, one was allowed to remain in his own land, because the changes were not carried out owing to the ejections, and one got other land to reclaim, partly at least.
Are the tenants of Rousay in the habit of remonstrating with General Burroughs when he behaves in what they consider an unrighteous way to them ?
Does he pay any attention to that ?
No practical attention; no remedy was given.
But you are aware that these grievances which exist have been represented to him as grievances?
Yes. The woman from Hammer is here to-day, and has been applying for parochial relief.
We are talking of the general complaint of inconsiderate conduct; was that represented to him ?
Have you represented to him that there is this general bad feeling in the parish ?
I cannot remember very well. I have spoken to him on behalf of some of the poor, but I have not been long here, and I have no influence of any kind on the estate.
But you represent your own congregation, I suppose ?
I have spoken perhaps of that.
And you have not found he has paid any attention ?
No; there has been no attention paid, so far as I know.
There are certain large farms which have been made since 1842: has there been any increase in the size of the smaller holdings ?
I may mention before I answer that, that I was written to by the proprietor to visit the district where the disturbance took place, as the people all belonged to my congregation. I had just visited them before I received the letter, and I replied to that effect. He said, unless there was quiet, the sub-tenants would have to go out. In my reply I stated that the same threat ought to be held out to all parties, as it took two to make peace as well as to make a quarrel, and the one could not look for peace unless justice was first given as the seed of peace.
Did you point out the particular case of injustice to which you were referring ?
I said he ought not to hold a threat over the head of one and not over the heads of the others, because in that case the threat was not so much in the interest of justice as simply forcing of quiet.
Has there been any increase in the size of the smaller holdings ?
There may be some increase, but it is very largely by the people taking in and reclaiming land themselves.
Will that extension of the arable land not account for the desertion of the fishing ?
I cannot express an opinion upon the question.
Mr Fraser-Mackintosh: How long have you been minister here ?
About three years.
Are you a native of Rousay ?
From where do you come ?
You have been careful upon more than one occasion to state that you appear for the people as a delegate ?
I wish to ask you this question: So far as you yourself have had opportunities of observing the state of the parish in your intercourse with the people, are you disposed to agree in the correctness of the statements in the memorial ?
Yes. I already stated that to his Lordship in the chair, that I entirely concur in the statements.
You individually and personally do concur ?
With reference to the houses, we have been informed in another part of the country, in one of these islands, that there are families occupying one room: do you refer to anything of this kind when you say the houses are unfit for habitation, or do you merely mean that they are in disrepair ?
I have often remarked where all the members of the family could sleep. There are only one or two bedrooms at the most.
You know cases where there is a considerable family and only two bedrooms ?
Yes; and as far as I know only one sleeping apartment, but I should not like to state that definitely. I have often wondered where all the family slept.
Are there leases, do you know, on General Burroughs’ property ?
I understand there are some.
Among the smaller people – those paying under £30 ?
Very few: I should think none, to people paying under £30.
You stated that the rental of the larger farms may have been increased within the last forty years or so ?
You have also stated that in some cases the rent has been quadrupled ?
There is one case, William Robertson’s, in which the rent has been increased fivefold.
Are you aware that any of the big farms have been quintupled ?
No, nor anything like it.
You have stated that you had no objection either to General Burroughs or his factor, but that you objected to the laws which enable him to cause considerable hardship and injustice to the tenants: is that not what you have stated ?
Yes. Of course my objection must apply to the proprietor and the factor both in their capacities as proprietor and factor; with their private character I have nothing to do.
So I understand you to mean that you don’t wish the law to be such as to enable any proprietor, good or bad, to do such things as the memorial complains of ?
That is really what you are pointing at ?
Because you must admit what the chairman has stated that there may be very bad laws and the landlord may be very good, so that these bad laws are practically inoperative ?
The bad laws may be inoperative under a good proprietor, certainly.
But you don’t wish that anybody good or bad should have these powers ?
Mr Cameron: How long has this property been in the Burroughs family ?
I understand that the proprietor succeeded to his uncle. I think his uncle bought the estate, but I am not sure.
You stated that within recent periods – that is to say, within the time during which General Burroughs has been proprietor – there has been only one case of eviction?
Yes, only one so far as I know.
Such as people might complain of ?
I think there have been more previous cases.
But since General Burroughs has been in possession, there has been only one ?
Yes, there have been frequent cases. I heard to-day of one man who had been evicted three times after reclaiming three times.
I understood you to say that this case of Hammer was the only case of eviction by General Burroughs ?
No; the language of the memorial is, ‘one recent case, which only occurred two years ago.’
Can you state any other recent cases ?
There was the case of one of these people who were tenants of Breckan, who first received land some years ago and reclaimed it, partly at least, and after he had made a good farm for himself there, he was evicted at the same time as the Hammer people, and was sent to reclaim other land, or partly at least. He may have retained a part of the good land.
But he is still a tenant on General Burroughs’ property ?
Do you know any other case in recent times where the tenant has been evicted absolutely by General Burroughs – wantonly evicted ?
I cannot state any other case of wanton eviction.
You state that the people are in the habit of reclaiming land ?
Would this fact, coupled with the fact that there have been no wanton evictions, not rather tend to show that there is no great demand, any real demand, by the people for any further security of tenure – the two facts that there have been no evictions, and that the people are satisfied to reclaim land without leases: – does that not indicate that the people themselves have no real cause of alarm lest they should be turned out ?
Not in my opinion.
Were you born in Glasgow ?
Have you ever been in the West Highlands ?
Yes; I am connected with the West Highlands.
You stated that the chief complaint about houses consisted in the wet coming through the roofs ?
Not entirely; they are in an undesirable condition.
But I think, in answer to the chairman, who requested to know in what respect the houses may be made better, you said that the chief complaint was that the wet came through the roof ?
That was the complaint that I heard to-day only, and it may be witnessed to by the parties present. But I regard the houses as not in the most cleanly condition, but far from it.
Comparing the houses here with those in the West Highlands, do you consider that the Orkney or West Highland crofters’ houses, are in the best condition ?
The only part of the West Highlands I have ever been in is Islay, and I consider the houses there are better.
Does wet come more through the houses in the West Highlands, or the houses in Orkney ?
In Orkney; the wet will come through the best houses in Orkney.
But it depends on the quantity of the wet, does it not ?
The Chairman: In the case of small tenants taking up new ground – heather ground – and improving it, and afterwards having their rent, as they think, oppressively raised, are they allowed to sit some years at a nominal rent for the purpose of encouraging them to improve ?
Yes, they are; the old rent is not raised, perhaps for a year or two.
A year or two sounds very little; but have they a considerable term of years during which they pay a nominal rent ?
No; in some cases, there may be a considerable term, but I have heard great complaints of that, that they have no inducement to improve, because the rent will be at once put on.
Supposing a more considerable term of years at a low rent was given to them, during which they built their own houses and improved the ground, do you think that if they had compensation for improvements, they would object to a reasonable rise of rent at a period ?
Not if they were compensated for labour and material, I suppose. The complaint is that an increase is put upon the rent, which is already excessive.
You were asked about the moral effects of the houses; I should like to hear you state that more exactly. Do you think that overcrowding of the people in one or two rooms exists to such a degree as to be prejudicial to their morality and decency ?
I should be sorry to say that.
Do you think, in many cases, there is only one room actually in the dwelling ?
If your Lordship visited a house, you would observe, when you go out of the door, there is often a vast erection of beds, and you cannot say what is behind. I suspect the beds frequently form a partition betwixt one end of the house and the other. Of course, if you erected beds here it would practically form two rooms.
The box beds make a partition ?
So far as I am aware.
But there is always a partition between the cow-house and the room; or are there cases in which the cow-house is open to the room ?
I know of none such.
Are you aware of any cases in which two families – two married couples with children – are living in the same house of two rooms; I mean a father and his wife, and a son and his wife, or a near relative of the family and his wife ?
One of the delegates mentions a case, but I may say no to the question.
Have you any statement to make in addition, voluntarily ?
None, except that owing to the questions put by your Lordship and the other Commissioners, I desire to emphasise the statement, that I had nothing to do with this movement, but was requested repeatedly to come forward and act as the mouthpiece of the people. I rather avoided taking any part in the matter.
But I think it my duty to reiterate that we don’t wish you to regard any questions which have been put to you on this occasion, or our general attitude to you, as the least indicative of any blame that we cast upon you for having assumed these offices.
I did not understand your Lordship to do so; on the contrary, I must thank you for the courteous manner in which you have received me.
I desire to take this opportunity of supplementing the answer I gave to one of the questions put to me at Kirkwall on the 23rd July. I desire this specially, because the question was put twice – first to myself, and afterwards to General Burroughs of Rousay. It was, I think, Sir Kenneth Mackenzie who put the question on both occasions. The Commissioners will no doubt receive this answer in its ampler form, as the chairman said at the close of the sitting they could not hear any further evidence that day for want of time, although they were anxious to receive all available evidence. This was said in reply to my desire to be allowed to supplement one or two statements; and I therefore trust that this present statement now sent may be received and engrossed. The question I refer to was substantially to this effect –
Did you ever make any remonstrance to the proprietor, or represent to him the complaints of the people?
In replying, I was unable at the moment to remember any special instance of my having done so. I had not expected the question. But before the close of the sittings I recollected and stated two separate instances in which I had so acted. I now desire to state that on my settlement in Rousay I heard much complaint of various kinds from the people, all more or less connected with the land, and I entertained the idea of speaking to the proprietor on their behalf. I was, however, advised by the people not to do so, as it would be useless. They told me that my reverend predecessors in this ministerial charge had both of them expostulated in their day, the one (the Rev. George Ritchie) with Mr Traill, the uncle of the present proprietor, and the other (still living, but now in another charge) with the present proprietor himself. I was told that Mr Ritchie had solemnly warned Mr Traill of the results of his conduct, reminding him that ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.’ This was specially said in view of some evictions intended at the time. Mr Traill, however, persevered in these, or at least in his purpose; but within a twelvemonth, before that purpose was carried out, the cold hand of death laid him in his grave.
I was also informed that my immediate predecessor in this place had frequently remonstrated with the present proprietor, but never with any effect. I was generally dissuaded, therefore, from endeavouring a task apparently so fruitless. I resolved, however, after due consideration and experience, shortly after I was settled in Rousay, that it was my duty in the sight of the Most High to speak – my duty both to proprietor and people. I did speak accordingly to him on the subject of the state and complaints of the body of the people. I did so on an occasion when I met him near his own mansion-house, and was with him for some time. The result was anything but satisfactory, he practically declining to hear anything on the subject, and saying, “They agreed to pay their rents, and must do so” or words to that precise effect. I objected: – ‘What if they cannot?’ and I added, ‘They tell me, many of them, they cannot.’ His answer was, “Well, they must just leave and go elsewhere, and I’ll get others to do it.” After this, and the manner in which it was said, I felt it worse than fruitless to proceed with the subject.
Occasionally, from time to time, I made representations of a like nature. Two instances of this I mentioned in my evidence of 23rd July. On one of these occasions General Burroughs had written to me, requesting me to use my influence to get the peace kept between parties whom certain changes of his on the land had set at variance. I replied, amongst other things, that I had already visited them in the course of regular visitation only a few days previously, but that it was idle to expect peace till that justice of which peace is but the fruit was observed. I declare all this to be true with regard to my own action and experience as concerning proprietor and people. With regard to that of my predecessors in the ministry I now exercise here, I have every confidence in the testimony universally given to me here by those who ought to know well, and they are many.
[That concludes the Reverend MacCallum’s evidence]