STATEMENT by WALTER ELLIOT, Esq., Manager for T. V. Smith, Esq. of Ardtornish.
Ardtomish Estate, including Achranich and Acharn, all as possessed by T. V. Smith, Esq., extends to about 40,000 acres, and is entered in the valuation roll as of the annual value of £2200. Three-fourths of the estate is under sheep, and the remaining one-fourth is under deer and black cattle. There are really no crofters on the estate, Murray, who pays £ 8 of rent, being a road contractor. There have been no crofters on this estate for many years. It was all under sheep when purchased by the late Mr Sellar, from whose representatives it passed to the late Mr Smith.
The family are resident on the estate for six months in the year.
We employ from thirty-five to forty men all the year round : they are paid fortnightly. Labourers' wages run from 17s. to 18s. per week of 60 hours; blacksmith, joiners, and foremen from 20s. to 27s. Some of these have houses and potato ground, the others walk from the village of Lochaline. These men do not include gamekeepers, gardeners, shepherds, and farm servants. Our women workers get Is. 3d. per day, summer and winter. We supply those on the estate with milk at half the price it would cost them in town. They seldom cut peats, but get the best household coal at present laid down at their door for 15s. per ton.
For the last twenty years Mr Smith and his father have been spending from £2000 to £3000 a year more than the return from the estate. His shepherds' and workmen's houses, to the number of twenty-two, are all recently built, and have each cost over £200.
The estate has also been improved by planting, fencing, draining, liming, and road-making. Ne w mansion-house, manager's house, and offices have also been built.
Mr Smith has built all his houses of concrete, which, with the aid of a foreman, enabled him to employ the native population to a greater extent
I may say that Dugald M'Gregor, who gave evidence at the meeting, removed from the estate of his own accord, and in doing so gave me four days' notice. Malcolm M'Lachlan, who works to us as mason, and gave evidence on behalf of Barr crofters, has 27s. per week, and house and potato ground. Alexander Cameron, mason's labourer, who also gave evidence, has 18s. per week. I leave Her Majesty's Commissioners to judge whether these men are better off with these wages, or as stated by Mr Cameron, teacher, in his evidence, with a cottage and two cows, which the delegates themselves think too dear rented at £7 per annum.
No doubt, the men imagine they would have the croft and still obtain work when they felt inclined ; that, in my opinion, is quite a mistake, as, were the estates all dotted with crofters, there would be very little money spent by proprietors.
The crofters also on their side could not afford to pay a sufficient rent for suitable houses and crofts ; the house rent alone would require to be as much as that of an ordinary croft of the present day. My own opinion is, that crofters cannot farm land profitably either for themselves or the country, unless they hold as much land as will keep themselves and an ordinary sized family (not in food [What I mean by 'not in food,' is, that in place of a man always being asked how much land will keep him in food, he should be asked how much land he could work with
an ordinary family.]) but in employment all the year round, which means at least a rental of
from £40 to £100 sterling.
My opinion also is, that the crofter question will in the course of from ten to fifteen years solve itself, that is, provided Government gives an efficient postal and telegraph service to all suitable districts still unprovided for. A railway from Glasgow to Inverness via Fort William, with a branch to Loch Houme, would also be a great boon. These advantages, along with the education now given, would make a great change in the time I have stated. Such a change, I consider, has already taken place in the parish of Morvem at the present day. I should say that not more than one-third of the population at present in the parish are the pure natives. We have men from men from Skye, Ardnamurchan, Mull, and other parts of Argyllshire : they now move from one part to another, and try to better themselves of their own accord.
In the meantime, I should advise crofters to exercise industry and patience, and landlords to give them all the assistance in their power.