Appendix LIX

REMARKS on the Agricultural Classes in the North Isles of Orkney.
WALTER TRAILL DENISON, Esq.
WEST BROUGH, SANDAY, ORKNEY,
August 1883.

From the absorption of the udal lands by feudal superiors down to a comparatively recent period, the occupiers of and labourers on land in Orkney may be classed as follows :—
1. Proprietors farming the whole or part of their own lands. Previous to 1730 landowners often rented farms from other proprietors, placing in such farms greives or managers. The reason of this was the want of capital, which would have enabled other men to become farmers.
2. Tenants holding large farms from 50 to 1500 acres, inclusive of wasteland. These were men who, by steady and industrious conduct, had raised themselves a very little above their class, and who never could have been able to take a large farm but for the existence of steelbow.
3. 'Peerie tenants,' that is, small tenants holding farms from 10 to 50 acres. The second and third class paid rents almost wholly in kind, having little else to pay. These rents were paid, part to the ' king'—that is the superior duty, part to the minister—teind, and the remainder to the landlord. When a boy, the writer has heard a very old farmer of the second class say, ' Miny a peur year it gae me enouch adeu tae pay the king and the minister; and deily stiver o' siller, or settin o' bere got the laird frae 'me/
4. ' Oncas.' The word cottar is of more modem use in Orkney, but may be regarded as synonymous. The onca held from the large farmer a house, a piece of cultivated land called a haerst fee, one, two, or three ' coogils' of grass land—a coogil was a cow's grazing, for which he paid in ' crish butter' —that is coarse butter, in spinning, and in fowls. He had right to keep a certain number of sheep on the ' hagi,' or out pasture common to the district, for which he paid a tenth of the wool and a tenth of the produce of his
sheep. The onca wrought to the tenant in harvest, helped to thatch the steading, to thrash Yule straw, to take up ware—sea-weed—in Yore; spring, mell clods in bere seed, to weed thistles and cut peats in summer. In short, he was called on whenever his master required him. And for his occasional labour he received an allowance of bere.
5. Bowmen, that is ploughmen in modem phrase. If married, the bowman had a house, sometimes a bit of land, and a cow's grass. His wages paid partly in money, principally in bere and meal. He was allowed half a cow's hide a year for 'shoddin/ out of which he made a substitute for shoes. So late as 1848 the writer knew farms on which bowmen rose at four o'clock A.M. in winter, plodded in the darkness over wet paths from their homes to the farm-house, where they thrashed com with flails till daylight began, which would be about four hours. They then fed their horses, went home for breakfast, returned and yoked plough or cart before ten o'clock, and wrought while daylight lasted. They then, if their ' stent'—that is the number of sheaves each was obliged to thrash per day—was not finished in the morning, had to go to the barn and finish their allotted task. They then went home carrying a 'baet' of bent—that is a small sheaf or bundle of bent, which each man had to wind into cords during the evening at his own fireside and present to the barn man in the morning. In stormy weather the bowman was employed in making straw baskets and mats, much used in the old husbandry. During the press of work in spring and seed time the bowman had a most laborious life, working from fourteen to sixteen hours a day. Such were the agricultural classes in Orkney while the old mode of farming was pursued.

Allow me next to draw attention to a few of the more prominent points in the history of agriculture here. No one can thoroughly understand this history who does not make himself acquainted with the fraudulent exactions, cruel wrongs, and tyranny practised on the Orcadians for centuries by the representatives of the crown. But that subject is beyond my [l-aits], and would be to the Commissioners a tiresome theme. Previous to the fourth decade of the eighteenth century, the condition of the labouring class in Orkney was miserable in the extreme. The land was burdened by intolerable taxation, and the people fleeced by rapacious crown donataries, who acted more like Turkish pachas than the representatives of a civilised and Christian Government. The-scanty surplus, which a crippled husbandry enabled the country to export, was carried to ports in Norway and the Netherlands in vessels ill fitted for crossing the German Ocean; and grain was often transported to Norway in open boats. The county was for long without schools; the working people were sunk in abject poverty, in deepest ignorance, and abominable filth. And there was no help, no hope for them. No emigration for the surplus population, which went on increasing in the face of terrible and long-continued privation. The only help that came to the wretchedly poor men and women was devastating epidemic in the shape of fever and smallpox, and their only refuge the churchyard. The manufacture of kelp was the first gleam of hope that dawned on this night of misery. So far as the writer can discover, kelp was first burned in Orkney on the island of Stronsay by a Mr Fea in 1719. The first cargo of kelp was shipped from Orkney in 1725. From that time the manufacture of kelp gradually increased until it became a most important article of export, creating a trade with Newcastle and other British ports. This manufacture had a very beneficial effect on the labouring people living near the shores. The writer has heard an old man tell how he heard his grandfather say that he never had a coin in his hand, never saw the colour of money, until he was forty years of age, when Westove gave him money for burning kelp. Men in the poorest class saved a little money, and were able to take farms. Farmers saved a good deal of money, and were able in some instances to become proprietors, while many proprietors, by extravagant expenditure of increased revenue, went to the wall. And here let it be remarked that ware, sea-weed for manure, and kelp shores have ever been regarded as the property of the landowner. While kelp was slowly producing a change in the social system, agriculture remained almost stationary. In the first half of last century Sir James Stuart introduced improvements on his property. But he was hated as an innovator, stigmatised as a 'mesterfu’ man; and having taken part in the rebellion of 1745, died prematurely in prison. A few enterprising gentlemen tried improvements, during the latter half of last century; but it was only towards the close of the eighteenth and beginning of the present century that an improved mode of husbandry was introduced here. And in noticing its introduction I shall continue myself to my native island of Sanday. In this island Malcolm Laing the historian first began improvements on his farm of Stove. When he began there were on the property twelve cottars, including four on a mortification in the management of the kirk-session and four small tenants. Four houses were built for the holders under the mortification, and four for crofters by the proprietor. Each house had a piece of good arable land and right to pasture on a piece of ground enclosed for the purpose. The cottars and tenants not accommodated in these crofts were provided for on other parts of the estate. It needed a brave heart at that time and place to commence improvements on such a farm. The cultivated ground would not amount to 200 acres, lying in fields of every conceivable shape, here and there mixed up with patches of grass land belonging to some cot, the cots scattered among the arable land in every imaginable position, as if fallen from the clouds. Some of what is now cultivated land was an impassable bog. One part, where com-helds now wave, formed the basin of a lake, on the small islets of which hundreds of aquatic birds built their nests. And, worst of all, five or six hundred acres of land covered with heath, coarse grass, and used as a common, common not to the public, but to the district well defined. In old charters this common is called the ' hagi o' the toon.' By the people it was called the ' clow-gong o' the boon's.' The first step that an improver of the land had to take was the cutting off the wild native sheep, an animal whose depredations no common fence could prevent. His next and equally unpopular step was putting a stop to winter pasturing, to explain which, it must be understood, that whenever the com crops were brought in the yards, horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs were allowed to roam at large over the whole country. Laing, or rather his brother, who succeeded him in the estate, drained when draining was a novelty here, squared and enclosed his fields, put an end on his property to the wild sheep
and to winter grazing, and was abundantly cursed for doing so. He demolished the cots, removing the cottars; but was far too liberal and humane to injure them by their removal. The late John Traill Urquhart of Elsness next began the new system of farming in Sanday, carrying the improvements on in the same manner. One of his improving tenants in another island met with lawless opposition, having his implements flung over high crags, and so determined was the opposition he met with from the people that the farmer had to give up. And the farm of Housbay, now the finest in the county, had to lie for forty years more in its primitive and wilderness state. But did these pioneers of good husbandry profit by the improvements they introduced? Alas, no. Some time after the commencement of improvements, Mr Laing's profits for one year on the farm of Stove were reported to be 5d. And on another improving farm on the same estate the whole profit was 3d. And succeeding years give not even profit in pence, but heavy and increasing loss. And improvements were stopped by the estate becoming insolvent. The same fate followed the improving estate of Mr Urquhart. And by many who regarded innovations with distrust, if not with hatred, those two examples were pointed to as conclusive evidence against the new mode of farming. A dock was seen to grow on or near the grave of one of those innovators, and the people said—' Providence thus showed displeasure at the war he had waged against weeds when alive. But the real reasons of failure were obvious, and may be shortly stated thus. Incompetent, extravagant, and dishonest managers on the improving farms. The introduction of merino sheep wholly unsuited to the climate. And above all, the difficulty of sending produce to market, these improvements having been begun before the era of steam. Add to this, the sudden and excessive fall in the price of kelp, which crippled many, and ruined some of the Orkney lairds. Let us now see how it fared with the cottars, who, during these improvements, had become crofters. Being best acquainted with the four crofters on the property of Stove, the writer takes them as an example. The land they cultivated sustained their families, leaving a small surplus for sale. By the manufacture of kelp they paid their rents. And they had opportunity, then eagerly embraced, of earning daily wages at the large farm,—in short, they were looked upon by the neighbouring cottars as the best-conditioned labouring men in the parish. And to show that where careful they were in a position to save money, the following is given :—One of the crofters having held his croft, and wrought most industriously for about fifteen years, was desirous to obtain one of the crofts on the mortification alluded to above—where he might sit rent free. The kirk-session was the managing trust, but the minister made himself the sole manager. The worthy crofter had no legal right to the bequest, but he possessed something more potent, namely, Philip's golden key. The crofter gained the much-coveted prize, and enjoyed it till his death. The writer once jocularly said to this man, 'You must be well off, man, sitting in this nice croft and paying no rent." "Aye, aye," said he, "it's a' ye ken aboot it. I tell you, between what I paid the minister, and what I paid to the lawyer, I just paid £120 o' clean siller afore I got the house, and many a present beside." Not bad savings for an Orkney crofter before the days of steam. The next great epoch in our agriculture was the introduction of steam communication betw een Orkney and the ports of Leith and Aberdeen, 1833. And if steam may not be regarded as the creator, it assuredly has been the nursing-mother of agriculture in Orkney. By this time the public were more familiar with modern husbandry, gradually, and more judiciously introduced. And now the old cottar and bowman system has become a thing of the past. Cottars have been removed to positions more convenient alike for them and for the working of the larger farms. And in reference to the statement of a witness before the Commission in Sanday, to the effect that the crofters had been banished to poor scraps of land, the writer shall only say, that on Colonel Balfour's property in this island, many of the crofters hold land equal in quality to the best on any of the large farms. When cottar system was done away on the property of Colonel Balfour, the cottars regarded it as a deliverance from Egypt. And no one can deny the benefits conferred on the cottars of Orkney by the change. There are perhaps two exceptions to this, namely, the islands of Rousay and Eday; where, in the writer's opinion, high rents charged from the crofters seriously diminish the benefits derivable from the change. It must not be forgotten that, in some instances, a modified system of cottary is still retained; that is, near some of the larger farms some of the occupiers of email holdings are obliged to work on the large farm when wanted. Where the occupiers hold direct from the proprietor, the rule was generally laid down that such labour should be paid for at the average rate in the country. Where the small occupier held from the farmer, he of course was a party to his bargain, but if he stayed in his place had only the good feeling and conscience of the farmer to prevent that bargain being a hard one for him. And the writer is extremely sorry to say that in some cases
conscience and good feeling have not been strong enough to protect the pool man. The necessity for labourers on the large farms is the argument used in defence of this system; and, as the condition of the crofters improve, this necessity will be augmented. Something also can be said in its favour, from the poor man's point of view. A young man newly married wishes a place of his own, but is unable to furnish a house and stock a croft. He asks a farmer for one of the cot-holdings, and also for a loan of money, to enable him to stock the place. The farmer, who may be benefited by his labour, very often grants his request, and the young man mounts the first step in the ladder, which without assistance he could not have done. This is no imaginary case, the writer having often been a party in such arrangements. And now let us briefly compare the past with the present as regards the condition of the labouring class in Orkney. First, as to the value of land. The farm of Housbie, in Stronsay, was let by Lord Collington to Patrick Fea of Whitehall, exactly two hundred years since, for £20 sterling and the public burdens. That farm, including crofts, now yields a rental of nearly £1000 per annum. About the middle of the eighteenth century a property in this island was offered to be sold by Coventry of Newark to the writer's grandfather for £200; that property now yields a rental of £350 per annum. A farm now valued at £200 was, in 1798, offered on lease to my father for £30 a year. As to the improved state of the land, only one example is necessary. When Mr Laing began improvements on the farm of Stove there were under 200 acres of cultivated land on the farm, there is at present a square mile of cultivated ground on the place. Now turn to the labouring class, and first, their houses. During the last bygone, and through many years of the present century, the chosen site for a cottar's house was the south side of a rising ground. The earth was dug away from where the house or rather hut was to stand, until a perpendicular face of earth was cut on the north side, equal in height to the north wall of the house. This natural embankment gave shelter, and also saved stones, as the north wall was built with what was called one-face; the natural ground forming at once the outer surface and support of the wall. The side walls were generally from 4½ to 5 feet high. The gables often built of turf. Mortar rarely used, but loose earth thrown in among the rubble work while building. The only door often consisted of a straw mat. There was no window, no opening but the ' lum-hole,' near the middle of the roof, and a reek-hole in one end of the hut, always stuffed up unless when the smoke became intolerable. The fireplace was in the middle of the floor. Parallel to, and about two feet from the horridly damp north wall, a row of Hags was set up on edge, fixed in the earthen floor. The trough formed by the damp wall, for back, the damp earth covered with a little straw or heather for bottom, and having the cold flagstones for front, was the bed of the Orkney peasant during the greater part of last century. Perhaps the greatest improvement in the domestic economy, occurring towards the close of that century, was the introduction of close wooden beds. These beds, though utterly opposed to our modem ideas of fresh air and ventilation, were probably well adapted for the draughty huts in which they stood- The writer, when young, has frequently seen cot-houses having the inside walls plastered with cow-dung. And, if he may be allowed to quote from a note-book of his, some idea may be formed of how cottars sometimes accommodated themselves at night. The date of day is obliterated. 'March 23 or 25, 1847. Took a very long walk in search of specimens. Attacked by a monstrously uncivil storm of wind and rain. Sought refuge in the house of T. R., weatherbound there for three hours. Gave T. R. a piece of tobacco and chatted with him on affairs of Church and State. His is a miserable house some 14 by 13 feet. Seeing only one bed in house, asked him how he and his wife and six children put up all night. "Weel," said he, " jeust look i' the inside o' the bed, an' ye'll say it's weel planned tae baud eight o' us. The wife and I lie wi' our heeds at the head o' the bed, the twa eldest lie with their heads at the foot o' the bed, the peerie t'ing—that is the baby—lies i' his mither's bosom, the ain next the peerie t'ing lies i' mine, and the middle twa lie on a shelf in the foot o' the bed, over the heads o' the eldest twa. An' trath I can tell you we are no' cauld gin I close the bed doors. But plague on the dogs, gin the eldest ain is no' growing sae lang, that miny a time he gaes me 'a box wi'his foot under the chin." Struck with his ingenuity in packing human beings, I took the following measurements of the family packing! " - length of bed 5 feet 8 inches, breadth 3 feet 10 inches, height from bottom boards to roof, 4 feet 8 inches/ At the present time the crofters generally have two, sometimes three apartments, one fitted up as the best room, with wooden floor, grate in fireplace, curtains, blinds, and geraniums in window. With regard to dress in last century, the peasant, when a boy, wore only one woollen garment fitting close, having sleeves, and covering the body from neck to knees, it was cailed a jupe. With head and feet bare, this was his only dress until he was able to work. When first hired as a servant, his first wage was often a blue bonnet as arls or earnest, a h am shirt, wad mill to make coat and breeches, and half a cow's hide for rivlings. I am was an exceedingly coarse cloth made from the refuse of Sax; wadmill, home-spun woollen cloth; rivlings were a sort of sandal, made of cow-hide, with the hair clipped off. As the man grew in ability, a waistcoat was added to his simple wardrobe, and the hair shirt was exchanged for a home-knitted woollen one called a 'frock.' The peasant wore on his head à Scotch blue bonnet, and more anciently a conical woollen cap of many colours. W hen out of doors, in snow or wet weather, he wore round his legs, from ankles half up to knees, a straw rope neatly wound round each leg. Long coarse stockings, tied above the knees with long garters, completed the costume of the Orkney peasant in past times. The hair, of which shirts were made, was so hard and coarse in texture that it seemed best fitted for the penitential shirt of an ascetic monk. Old men have told me that, when wearing these shirts, they always threw them off at night, because the straw was softer to the skin than the ham. They slept on the bare straw, covered with a h am sheet and one coarse blanket. They often reversed the good wife's order of bed-clothes, by putting the blanket below the sheet. The fanner who preceded me in this farm came to the island some time between 1800 and 1810; he told me that when he came there were in one parish only two labouring men who possessed a cotton shirt. During the old regime the Orkney peasant's food was not only meagre in quantity, but in quality inferior, if not pernicious. His "morning piece," when he arose, was half a bannock of bread made from bere ground on the quern (handmill), in which the seeds of all manner of weeds were carefully retained so as to increase the quantity of meal. His breakfast was porridge and milk, porridge when the cow was dry. The porridge was made from meal of the black native oats, in which there was a still larger quantity of wild plant seeds. His dinner was fish if possible, not often fresh, for he preferred it sour; sour fish having been the Orcadian's marine venison. Failing fish, he had shell-fish or crustacea, with which the shores abound. The dinner was in summer sometimes diversified by nettle broth, the nettles being boiled with a little meal. The water in which the dinner hsh, or shell-fish, had been boiled was carefully preserved, and in it the cabbage for supper was boiled. After supper the vessels—wooden plates, or basins and cogs—were carefully washed, the washings, along with any remains of cabbage, were kept till morning, and then mixed and boiled with the breakfast porridge. The only salt was salt water; with that the peasant's wife seasoned all her food. Salt was sold in the beginning of this century for its weight in oatmeal. As a rule, the cottar never tasted flesh unless on holidays. On those days he certainly took revenge on the poor ordinary fare by enjoying himself to the utmost. The above may be regarded as the normal bill of fare; but in years of scarcity the privations endured by the peasant were often extreme. And even in average years I have often been told by old people that they never tasted bread made from grain for three months in the year, that is, from the time the old crop was finished and until the new was ready. If during this time the peasantry ate bread at all, it was what they called ' routhie breed'—that is, bread made from the seed of wild mustard reuth being the name of that seed in Orkney. But to go into details on this subject could only pain and disgust the humane mind. It should not, however, be forgotten that the peasant of the past had no cheering cup of tea or soothing pips to solace him in his hardships. The first luxury seems to have come to him about the close of the first half of last century in the form of snuff. With regard to his dress in the present century, enough to say that the Orkney peasant or crofter is now equal with, if not superior to, any of his class in the kingdom. Perhaps the most important change is the improvement in the quality and comfort of his underclothing. It is needless to say that an equally important and satisfactory change has taken place in regard to his diet. Tea and loafbread are now more common in the houses of the peasantry than they were in the houses of landowners eighty years since. Jams, jellies, and fancy bread are now sold in the country shops. A respectable wholesale merchant told me that about ten years ago he sold in one year to the shopkeepers in this island, containing about 2000 inhabitants, hair oil to the value of £20. Tobacco smoking began about the beginning of this century, and is now universal among our peasantry, the average consumption being two ounces of Scotch twist a week per man. Though not altogether a groundless surmise, it is given—as it only can be—as the writer's opinion, that there never was a period of the same length, as that from 1863 to 1883, in which the crofters of Orkney had a larger sum of money in the bank. Be this as it may, the comparative rate of wages is another criterion by which to judge the condition of the peasantry in the past and in the present. And only one instance shall be given to show how matters stood at the close of last century. In 1792 the writer's father, anxious to encourage a good servant who acted as his barn man. raised his wages from 7s. 6d. to 10s. in the six months, the former being the common wage at the time. For doing so he was soundly rated by two of his brother farmers in the churchyard on the following Sunday. Immediately before the granting of public money for drainage enabled some of our proprietors to begin draining on their lands, the daily wage of a man labouring on a farm was 10d. The demand for drainers slightly enhanced the price of labour, and raised the farm-worker's wage to Is. a day of ten hours. This was the average rate of wages when, in 1851, the writer began farming; and he shall now confine himself to his own experience. A man's daily wage gradually rose until it is now 2s. The wage paid by the writer for a man in harvest was, in 1852, without any allowance for food, £2, and is now £3, 5 stones of meal in the month, and 10s. for milk. A girl's daily wage in 1851 was 6d., and is now Is. In 1856 he paid his ploughmen £8 a year, 5 stones meal a month, 2 tons coal, 60 chains of potato drill, one Scotch pint of new milk per day, and a free house. The average wage he now pays his ploughmen is £19, 10s., all the other articles same as before, with the addition of keeping for each ploughman one ewe, and the keep of her lambs till Lammas. By selling his lambs at Lammas the man often adds to his wage from £2 to 50s. The ploughman also keeps a pig and poultry. And as to the comparative value of stock. In a legal apprizing, taken by authority of the Court of Session in 1693, now before me, ' a good milk cow' is valued at £7 , 10s. Scotch, a sheep at Is. 6d. Scotch. But without going into details as to the far past, let one example in recent times suffice. In 1851 the writer, at the displenishing sale of his predecessor in this farm, bought two two-year-old oxen for £7 each. Though the cattle were good, having a dash of Dunrobin blood from their dams, and of shorthorn from their sire, the price at the time was thought extravagantly high. In five years afterwards these cattle, without being stall-fed, brought £40. In 1869 two oxen, two years old, one of them the same girth as one of those already mentioned, the other two inches less, were sold from the same farm for £40, 15s., and this may be taken as a fair example of the rise in value of stock in Orkney. And in the advantage arising from this the crofters have fully participated. The writer has himself bought from a crofter, paying under £4 of yearly rent, a two-year-old for £19, 10s. Crofters of late have often sold one-year-old cattle at from £10 to £13, and two-year-olds at £20. Of course, had the crofter's holding been larger his profits would have been augmented; but this argument holds equally true in the case of the large farmer. In 1836 eggs sold at Id. per dozen in winter, and in summer could not sell at all. Eggs now sell at 8d. in summer and Is. in winter. The writer remembers rabbits being sold at Id. each. Finally, it is not a matter of opinion but of absolute certainty with the writer when he asserts that there never was a time since Orkney became a dependency of Scotland when the Orcadians possessed a larger amount of material wealth, or were so comfortably housed, clothed, and fed as at the present time. When before the Commissioners, the writer said he did not know that any article required by ploughmen had risen in value since 1856. On thinking over the subject, he finds that the price for making clothes has slightly increased. He is told by one w h o has served him since the last named year that a pair of boots then cost him 15s., and now cost 17s. Owing to greater competition groceries are cheaper now than they were thirty years since. And, perhaps, the greatest boon to our peasantry has been cheap parafin oil, by which their miserable old lamp, that gave forth not a dim religious, but a dim and ghostly light, has been superseded by the beautiful modern lamp, giving a light in which all household occupations can with comfort be pursued during the long winter evenings. In regard to the wages paid the manufacturers of kelp, the earliest date before me is in the year 1773. The wage then paid was 17s. per ton. On this farm the wage in 1851 was 27s. 3d. The wage now is £ 2 , 2s. 3d. The writer is not aware of any employment in which a labourer can earn an equal amount of money, in a given time, as in the making of kelp, provided the weather be favourable for drying the drift weed.
The important question still remains, Have the Orkney crofters any just grounds of dissatisfaction with their present condition? And it is most desirable that parties looking at this question should as far as possible divest themselves of class or selfish feelings. Let us look at the complaints brought before the Commission by the Orkney crofters. One of these complaints was the high rents. So far as the writer's knowledge goes, this complaint is well founded in the islands of Rousay and Eday, and in some cases in the parish of Burness in Sanday. And these, it is thought, should be taken as exceptions to the general rule. The two largest proprietors in the county are the Earl of Zetland and Colonel Balfour. And the writer firmly believes that if an offer was made to the crofters on these estates to rent their crofts by arbitrators mutually chosen, nine-tenths of the crofters would refuse the offer, and would rather trust themselves to the known liberality of their landlords. The truth is that many of those crofts remain at the rent fixed before the rise in the price of cattle. Another complaint is the want of leases. And here, in the writer's opinion, the great majority of Orkney landowners are wholly wrong. A crofter may feel himself secure with his proprietor's promise, but this promise ends with the landlord's life, and his successor may not feel himself bound by another's verbal promises for which there is nothing to show. And the crofter without a lease live, in a state of doubt and suspense, always detrimental, often fatal, to energetic farming. The same thing holds true with regard to another grievance, namely, not being remunerated for improvements, but does not hold on the property of James Traill of Ratter, where tenants are provided with part of the materials required for building by the proprietor. Another complaint was that crofters had been removed to the most inferior land. And this is in most cases simply untrue, and where true, it took place from the desire of the landlord to square his property, and to have land on larger farms unmixed up with smaller holdings. Another grievance was stated to be the existence of large farms. And the desire was expressed that the small farms should be increased in size at the expense of the large. The writer doubts that whatever he may say on this point may have to the ears of others a class ring. Be this as it may, he holds that large farms have been, are, and may be expected to be an advantage to agriculture, and therefore a benefit to the country. Nay, more, that such farms are of advantage to the crofters themselves. It is needless to say that it is only me n possessing some capital, who can introduce and carry on successfully many of our modern improvements in agriculture. Thrashing-mills and reapers, even on the larger crofts, are now quite common here, and were first introduced by large farmers or landowners. The same holds true regarding the improved breeds of horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs. And without the improvement in live stock that has taken place during the present century, Orkney would still be in a semi-barbarous state. Since 1851 there has been paid out on the writer's farm £425 for pure shorthorn bulls, and the surrounding crofters have always had the use of these animals for a small fee. Though carefully abstaining from any abstract arguments in this paper, it may be remarked that the removal of large tenants from the country would be the removal of a link in the social chain that binds society; a link coming between the landowner and the crofter. It should be remarked that crofters did not ask for a greater number, but for an enlargement of the present crofts. Now such an arrangement could only benefit the present holders of
crofts, and would seriously augment the difficulties of a young man seeking to become a crofter, because the larger the croft, the greater amount of capital would be required to stock it. Complaints were made as to the small share the manufacturers had in the profits of kelp. What has been already said may suffice on this subject. With regard to sea-weed, drift, or cut, the landowner's right to such has been immemorial in Orkney. Sea-weed, to all lands having access to the shore, was the very backbone of the old husbandry. A statement was made before the Commission by one of the Sanday delegates to the effect that ploughmen employed on large farms were, when unable to work, thrown aside like useless machines, and became a burden on the parochial board. The following, if a representative fact, shows the fallacy of such a statement:—On August 7th of this year the parochial board of Lady parish, in Sanday, met. The board subjected the pauper roll to a careful analysis, with the following result. Whole number of paupers, twentyseven; paupers who when able-bodied have been employed on large farms, four; doubtful, one; leaving twenty-two to be accounted for by other than the ploughman class. The modified system of cottars complained of has been already noticed. In addition, the writer may say that he has three cottars on his farm, that one of them has been in that position for over twenty years, and never showed any discontent with his position until he was employed at a neighbouring mill for 20s. a week. Another of these cottars has held his cot for thirty-one years, and though an active and intelligent man, has never attempted to remove from a state that has been characterised as bondage and slavery. But it is admitted, and with sorrow, that we farmers in our sometimes desperate efforts to keep our own heads above water, occasionally, perhaps unwittingly, give our fellow-men a kick, who are struggling for the same object though on a lower level. The Orkney crofters as a class are energetic and intelligent men, possessing an ample stock of God's best gift, the gift of common sense. But in this island, at least, their intelligence and common sense was by no means represented by the delegates w h o appeared before the Commission. And here it must be said that the Commissioners should have known what nunber of crofters each delegate represented. Because, with the exception of the delegates from Buness, these delegates in reality represented only a very few of their class. And that few was composed of discontented men, who, stirred up and egged on by inflammatory letters in the newspapers, believed that they should immediately obtain an addition to their holdings by simply asking the Commissioners to give them more land. The author of some of these letters is a D.D., a preacher of the gospel. His letters need not be characterised further than by saying that they show a very different spirit from that of the letters of St Paul to the Christian slaves of his time. That man is no patriot, and is a traitor to the spirit of Christianity, who by word or act seeks to widen the breach already existing between the upper and lower classes in our country. This doctor is continually talking about udal rights, but either forgets or docs not know that all the inhabitants not udal thralls, without any civil rights. The crofters on the estates of the Earl of Zetland, Colonel Balfour, and James Traill of Ratter are as a rule in as comfortable circumstances as men who are not proprietors may expect to be until the millennium. But all crofters are by no means so well off. One is known to the writer in the parish of Burncss, whose family has been on that estate for six generations, and who, ever since his rent was raised by the new proprietor, has been obliged to draw out of his small deposit in order to meet his yearly rent. Now, by what means can the condition of the crofter class be improved ? This could be done most effectually by making each crofter proprietor of his own croft. But, allowing such a change to be desirable, none but a visionary dreamer would seek to accomplish it in any sudden or revolutionary manner. However ridiculous such an idea may appear, it is thought that this change would be extremely beneficial not only to the crofter class, but to the community at large. It needs no prophetic eye to decern some ugly rocks ahead of the state vessel. Heaven grant us a good pilot when we near them. Now it is believed that in a time of public commotion or calamity, no class would be found more loyal to the state than a class of peasant proprietors, for loyalty will be found to dwell in the land. But space forbids entering on all the advantages arising from the existence of such a class. But admitting that such a thing is desirable, how is it to be obtained without violent convulsion in the body politic ? It is at once answered, let there be free trade in land as in every other article of commerce. Let land be as easy of transfer as a ship or a bale of cotton. Do away with the barbarous entail laws, and with the law of primogeniture where the proprietor dies intestate. And only in such cases should this law be abrogated, because it is by no
means desirable to force the division of land. Next appoint a commissioner, not a needy or broken down aristocrat, but a shrewd business man, with powers to buy at public expense estates coming into the market. When an estate is bought, he has to survey and cut it up into lots, not smaller than five, not larger than forty acres. These lots then to be exposed for sale by auction, the only restriction being that no single purchaser shall possess more than one lot. It would, however, be worse than useless here to go into details on a scheme which its opponents would regard as revolutionary, and its friends as Utopian. Meantime, it is sincerely to be wished that each claes would realise the duties it owes to the other classes of society. There is no class that can more abundantly enjoy the luxury of doing good than the landowners of our country. But the luxury of self-indulgence is much more attractive to all classes. It may be too gloomy a view, yet it is to be feared that one half of society act on the maxim that man's chief end is to make money, and the other half on the maxim that his chief end is to spend it on his own pleasure. And now, in apology for the unconscionable length of this paper, I can only say with Pascal that I had not time to make it shorter.
WALTER TRAILL DENISON.

No comments:

Post a Comment