Sanday, Orkney, 20 July 1883 - Rev Matthew Armour

Rev. MATTHEW ARMOUR, Free Church, Sanday (63) —examined.

23658. The Chairman.
—You are the only Free Church minister in the island?

23659. How long have you been here?
—About thirty-five years

23660. Do you belong to the county?
—No, I do not; I belong to the West of Scotland.

23661. What county?
—Renfrewshire; I belong to Paisley.

23662. Looking back on the condition of the people when you first came here, what is your opinion? has their condition been progressive? are they better off physically and morally than they were at that time?
—Their circumstances have improved, no doubt, and they are better, I won't say physically—they were a strong people then, and perhaps some of them stronger than any living now —but I think that morally and socially the people are very greatly advanced. I believe the increase of intelligence has caused the present dissatisfaction, and that they want fair play.

23663. Their physical circumstances are better, and their spiritual interests are more cared for?

23664. With reference to education, do you find it improved?
—Yes, quite distinctly advanced as to that.

23665. Since the Education Act of 1872, have the schools been better taught and better attended than before that?
—I don't exactly think they are better taught, but they are better attended; they are under compulsion now to be present and they must of course, be more generally elevated than before.

23666. Then, there has been a physical, religious, and intellectual progress among the people during your time?
—I believe so.

23667. And that has taught them to compare their condition with what they think it ought to be?

23668. Will you briefly inform us in what respect you think the people don't get fair play?
—Yes, I am quite prepared to keep that as a text. The people, of course, have eyes, and they know the parishes and see how the land is laid out, and they cannot, for the life of them, understand how there should be favouritism in the arrangement. You have the whole island as it were divided amongst no more than a dozen people, say, at the head of their families. The population is 2000, and they cannot understand at all the reason why these twelve individuals should monopolise the land of the parishes; they don't see any distinction in the lives of these people that occupy and monopolise the land, to entitle them to such a position and such privileges. There are plenty of plain people, humble men, who are quite able to improve the land, and to exercise their skill and ability on more than they can possibly get to employ them; and I believe that that weighs with those who have not sufficient employment in leading them to desire that they might have more scope, for their abilities, more employment for their precious time. That is one view I take of it; and I have no doubt but that is the view they take of it. I should like it to be well-known that there is an undercurrent throughout society of great dissatisfaction, and nothing but some effectual remedy will bring peace and contentment to the community in this matter.

23669. You used the expression that ' as it were the whole island.' I presume you mean the greater part of the island had been appropriated as a matter of favouritism to about twelve families. We are in possession of an analysis of occupiers in the island—a short statement—which, I think hardly bears out that view of the subject. I don't think the monopoly of the land has been quite so great as you imagine?
—You will find, perhaps, about twelve large farms over the area of the island.

23670. Professor Mackinnon had the great kindness to prepare a short analysis of the state of the land occupancy in the island which I shall ask him to show.
—[Professor Mackinnon]. The total rental as shown by the valuation roll is £ 6,401 and there are 270 occupants. Ten of these 270 occupy farms of about £100 a year; all the other farmers are under £100. The gross rental of the ten is £2642, 15s. leaving £3760 to be distributed amongst 260 holdings each under £100?
—Well, that quite concurs with my statement. The twelve represent the larger farms; that was my statement.

23671. The Chairman.
—Your statement was that the whole island was divided amongst twelve persons?
—I was referring to the bulky portions of the island in the hands of no more than about twelve persons—twelve families. I am keeping out these smaller ones, because you observe the grievance arises from those that are holding these large tracts.

23672. Taking off these ten or twelve, how many occupiers are there besides them?
—[Professor Mackinnon]. 260.
—[Rev. Mr Armour]. I understood that the position of the subject before us was this; that those having less land, the numerous people, were placing themselves before you as petitioners for more land, and my statement referred, and was limited, to the holders of the great proportion of land.

23673. The Chairman.
—The question between us is simply a question of degree; you are speaking here before a large number of persons who may be influenced by your statements, and I understood you to say that the whole of this place was divided between twelve families. I don't suppose you meant really the whole; but the fact is that it is only two-fifths of the rateable value of this island which is divided amongst these twelve persons, three-fifths belonging to the smaller class of occupiers. I don't mean to say it is right or wrong, but we must be very careful of the language we use ?
—I have explained what I mean, that if you take a walk through the island you will see these large districts in the hands of as many people as I have mentioned, and the other people are distributed over the small portions generally. There are some of the farms under these large ones that are considerable farms, I allow; but I was just pointing more especially to the arrangement which is objected to.

23674. How many farms do you think there are between £30 and £100?
—I don't suppose they are very numerous.

23675. Professor Mackinnon.

23676. The Chairman.
—How many are there under thirty.

23677. Professor Mackinnon.
—[Rev. Mr Armour]. That is the district where the complaint lies.

23678. The Chairman.
—The first complaint you make is the consolidation of large areas of the better land in few hands?
—Yes, and I would like you to allow me to make a statement. I should not like any person to draw the inference that these holders of land are held by me in anything else than the highest esteem. There is one individual especially who stands very much out in my mind for admiration—a farmer in this island, and a farmer in other places in Orkney. I suppose he will have four large farms under his management. I look upon that man with admiration, because I see he is a man of energy, and a man
who is to be imitated so far as people can imitate him. He is a man evidently of ability and energy; I respect him.

23679. Is he an Orkney man?
—Yes; I would not like it to be inferred that I held in disesteem those who have that property; that is
not my meaning. And in regard to our respected friend who gave evidence to-day —Mr Brims—I wish to say that I heard a person who knows him better than I do say regarding him (his name was mentioned here to-day —Mr Purves—one who is interested in these questions when discussing his position and that of others in the same class, that he was - Joseph in Egypt.' Well, there was an Egypt, you observe.

23680. You stated the first particular in which you think that injustice is done to the people. What next, or do you think that is the capital grievance ?
—I think that those who are managing as things are managed just now, are very much the victims of a system; that they feel as they have told you, that they are in a manner helpless. But while they were giving that evidence it occurred to me, over and over again, that they need not be helpless. The large holders need not want working men; they can restrict the area and get their work accomplished easily by distributing the land amongst those that are willing to work it. If there is a hunger for land on the part of those men who have most it is natural surely that those who have little should have the same if not a greater hunger for a little more land that they might be kept occupied, and advance as others have advanced.

23681. Do you think this obligatory labour is a material grievance and the cause of much discontent ?
—No doubt of that, if you heard the people speaking on that subject you would be saddened, they dislike it so. They look upou it as bondage, of course—the bondage of Egypt, you know. They would like to be free to deal with the proprietor—they would like to have more material on which to operate—and they would like their families to be kept at home; they would like to do justice to them in every possible way; and that, I believe, is the real remedy for all that is wrong in this place.

23682. Do you think there is legitimate ground for complaint with reference to the state of the houses; that the proprietors don't spend sufficient money upon repairs and amelioration of the houses ?
—Generally the building of houses is left to the people just to do their best. Mr Brimm's has told you about his proprietor's way of doing, which is so far well, and is appreciated very highly, but, generally speaking, the people have to do the whole thing, and when they are going out of it, they have no hold upon the proprietor to get one penny.

23683. Do the public officers—officers of health for instance—perform their duties properly ?
—I would rather not say anything of that, because I have not had it very particularly before me.

23684. And the inspectors of poor?
—I would not like to touch on that; I would not like to say anything of that.

23685. Have you no positive good to say ?
—Well, you see they are not a very popular class of people in any community.

23686. With reference to the action of the School Boards, is it effectual in obliging children to go to school ?
—It is pretty effectual; it is not perfect. I would be very willing to answer any questions in regard to the evidence that has been placed before you, as a witness, as to whether the evidence was capable of being corroborated by any independent observer.

23687. You have heard the evidence during the course of the day, do you think that given on the side of the small tenants is generally correct ?
—I have reason to believe it is; and I should have liked if we had more evidence of that description because it comes from the fountainhead; they know the thing from their own bitter experience, many of them. They know the grievances they have groaned under and wish to have removed.

23688. Do you think there are any grievances affecting that class which have not been alluded to?
—That grievance in regard to the small farmers confined to sand has not been emphasised. I have been grieved to see sometimes, the animals and property of that description mere skeletons, with no means of recovering their health. They have to sell as often as possible so as to have living creatures, the sand seems so deleterious to their health. Now the remedy for that is to give these people a mixture of land —what we call land is just a cure apparently for the disease. They have to shift them about to keep them in life and they have to exchange turnips with those who have land, so as to prevent as far as possible the consumption and death of their animals. Now, I think there should be some arrangement to keep these poor people.

23689. What is the nature of the sand, is it the sand of the shore?
—No, the sand of the farm.

23690. Is it not the sand of the sea which is blown upon the soil ?
—No, it is the nature of the sand, and the cure, I am told, is putting the animal upon the fruits of the soil. I should like very much for these people's sake that they might have some remedy for what they suffer under.. As to the kelp, I have never heard people saying anything else than that they would gladly get quit of it altogether. They feel no inclination to make the kelp, of course, they may perhaps have a little more light today in regard to what it brings in the market than they generally have had, because there has always been a haze and mystery in their minds as to what the proprietor got. Perhaps they have been magnifying what was got for it, and on that account they have thought that the lion's share went to other parties while they had all the trouble and toil of its production. I have no doubt, to-day, some light has been thrown by Mr. Brim's statement on that subject..

23691. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Mr Traill said the cottars were bound to provide him with one ton of kelp, and that some of his tenants made two or three tons. I suppose therefore, everybody does not object to the making of this kelp The objection is not universal ?
—If it is in idle time or to keep them busy, it is an advantage, only as it occurs that the making of it is at a time when they are engaged at the finest stage of their own farm work, they dislike it, and often it comes to be a hardship. Sometimes they have to let their land stand for the purpose of making the kelp. The fact is that they don't like kelp at all; give them land to occupy them, and they will never shed a tear about the ceasing of the kelp-making.

23692. Mr Cameron.
—As I understand from what you said about the occupation of land, you would recommend a redistribution of the land ?
—I would recommend this, that when a lease came to an end, this rectification having been kept in view, should be made so far as it might be found to be right and proper; keeping in view to supply those who had a little land, with a little additional land. That is the only practical way I can see that it can be done. The truth of the matter is this, that there is too little time, there is too little attention bestowed on arrangements; there is too little time bestowed on the part of those who have the management of these things.

23693. I was pointing more particularly to one question, that you trust entirely to arrangements being made at the conclusion of the leases, and do not wish Parliament to interfere and create a new redistribution of the land from what it is at present ?
—If they will not do it? They can do a great deal if they only had the will and time.

23694. But you are not prepared to recommend a forcible redistribution of the land?
—Far from it; I hold all the proprietors and others in great respect.

23695. I wanted you to be clear upon that point because I was afraid it might be misunderstood?
—There is one thing I would like to say. When Mr Muir used the word 'tyranny' in reference to our respected Dr Trail, he did not intend to convey any such impression as you probably drew from it, Dr Traill is a harmless, kindly, excellent man and proprietor, and I have no doubt it is not his inclination to do harm to a fly, so that I believe Mr Muir will look upon that just as a slip.

23696. The Chairman.
—We don't think he really intended to attribute any cruelty to the proprietor?
—I would not like it to go abroad.

23697. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You were told, from some statistics, that the rental of the parish among the bigger farms, was two-fifths of the whole; have you any idea about the number of acres that they respectively hold ?
—The big holders have the land among themselves, and the little holders have far less than they can manage, because there are some very able men in this island among the little ones.

23698. Is it not quite possible that the larger portion of the island is in the hands of the big farmers—in acres ?
—Well, there is a great part of it, you know, that has not been taken in, in some parts.

23699. Who has got that?
—Of course the large farmers.

23700. Is it not possible that more than half the area is occupied by these big farmers?
—I think so, but there is a thing which has not been noticed—the land of quality is in the hands of the big farmers, and the poor people have only scrappy bits.

23701. Do you think, upon the whole, taking the whole of the island here, that the small tenants are paying more for the area they hold than the big tenants?
—I believe the quality is inferior, and that, of course, makes it wrong to look upon the rental as alike.

23702. The Chairman.
—Before you came to the chair, you mentioned that there were one or two delegates who you desired, should be examined rather than yourself. We thought it was our duty to take you first, because we desired to have a selection and representation of all classes of the community before us, and we had not had, up to the present time, one of the clergy to-day, but we shall now be happy to examine one of the delegates you mentioned. Are the two delegates from the one place, or from different places?
—From different places, one representing the far south and the other the east. I should like both of these to be examined.

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