INFORMATION respecting the Island and other Estates of His His Grace the Duke of ARGYLL, K.G., K.T.
1.—DUKE OF ARGYLL, E.G., K.T., to the CHAIRMAN, ROYAL COMMISSION (Highlands and Islands).
When I addressed my letter of the 1st of October last, I was not in possession of any detailed description of the condition of my Island estates at a date earlier than about 1768. But by the kindness of the Earl of Home I have lately recovered a document of great interest upon this subject, being a detailed report on these estates by a man no less distinguished in the history of Scotland during the last century than the Lord President Forbes of Culloden.
It is well known that this eminent judge and statesman was an intimate friend of John Duke of Argyll and Greenwich, as well as of his brother, the Earl of Islay, who succeeded him in the dukedom in 1743. In the exercise of this friendship Duncan Forbes of Culloden was in the habit for many years of giving to John Duke of Argyll and Greenwich the benefit of his assistance and advice in the management of his estates, which must have been all the more needed and all the more valuable to the duke, engaged, as he habitually was, in military life or in the most critical politics of a very critical time.
Accordingly it appears that in the last year in which Forbes could with propriety have discharged such duties, being the same year in which he was appointed to the high office of lord president, he undertook a mission to Mull and Tyree for the purpose of effecting a renewal of leases then about to expire, and a readjustment of conditions and of rents.
A detailed account of the mission and of its results was addressed by Forbes to the duke in a letter dated Culloden, September 24, 1737. It has now been found among the papers of Lady Mary Coke, the last surviving of the duke's daughters, and has been most kindly sent to me by Lord Home, into whose possession it had come.
In my former letter I pointed out (page 9) that the conditions under which leases were granted in 1776 proved that the class which has since been called crofters had never possessed, by custom or otherwise, any right of possession or any continuity of tenure, but had been, on the contrary, simply subtenants, holding absolutely at the will of the various ' tacksmen’ or leaseholders. Not only is this conclusion confirmed by the report of Culloden, but a further conclusion not less instructive is established, namely this, that the relations between the gentlemen tacksmen and their sub-tenants, instead of being paternal and poetic, according to the character assigned to them in the imagination of some modem writers, were relations under which the sub-tenants were treated most arbitrarily and most injuriously to the interests of agriculture. The rents or dues which they paid to the tacksmen were not fixed rents secure against augmentation for any time, however short. They were rents paid 'in kind,' that is to say, in produce and in services, which were varied from time to time as the needs of the exactors might arise; and so systematically was this power exercised that Forbes describes the sub-tenants as ground down and impoverished by the exactions to which they were exposed, and as already beginning, by emigration, to threaten an excessive depopulation of the estates.
Remarkable as this fact is, it is not more remarkable than another fact which comes out prominently in Forbes's report, and that is that the sub-tenants had so little perception of the real causes of their own poverty, and were so accustomed to the operation of them, as the natural working of the old conditions of Celtic society, that the tacksmen had no difficulty in getting them to combine with themselves against the new proposals of the duke and of his wise adviser. The aim of these two eminent men was, in the first place, to let as many as possible of the farms to the sub-tenants themselves, holding directly from the proprietor; and, in the second place, to abolish or limit services, and to convert the rents into fixed and definite sums of money, which were to be incapable of increase during a considerable term of years. They calculated that when the cultivators came to enjoy their new tenure, securing them against arbitrary exactions, they would be able both to pay a somewhat higher money rent, and
also to be much more comfortable themselves.
But proposals of this kind, involving, as they did, a complete change of old customs and a complete breaking with tradition, were far beyond the intelligence of the people. The tacksmen easily persuaded them to think of nothing but the small apparent increase of rent which was expected, although this was far more than balanced by the abatement and abolition of arbitrary exactions. They combined with the tacksmen, and for some time obstinately refused to accept the terms offered by Culloden—some of them declaring that they did not want or care for the new and secure terms of tenure. It required all the tact and firmness of Culloden to overcome this resistance. He gave the tacksmen clearly to understand that the duke would not let his lands again to them at the old rents and under the old conditions. He persuaded some Highland gentlemen in his own company to make offers, with which he immediately closed. He prevailed on some of the sub-tenants to make similar offers, which he as readily accepted; and by this skilful and determined conduct he broke down the barriers of prejudice and of ignorance so effectually, that before he left the islands he had accomplished the reletting under the new conditions of nearly all the duke's farms in Mull, in Morven, and in Tyree. In no subsequent document is there any complaint made of arbitrary exactions levied by the tacksmen upon subtenants. Thenceforward this evil disappeared, and at least the opportunity and the possibility of improvement was established.
Thus were the indispensable foundations laid for some progress in agriculture, by the introduction of that first element of success—the element of definite conditions of bargain on which both parties can rely. This great step towards a more civilised condition was a step taken, as all subsequent steps were taken, by the proprietor, and not by the people. It was a reform rendered possible only by the possession and by the exercise of the fullest rights of ownership. It is a signal illustration of the complete ignorance of facts upon which certain current popular imaginations are founded in respect to the conditions of society in the Highlands before the old Celtic customs melted into the modem relations of landlord and tenant. Instead of 'clansmen' being deprived, by that process, of any rights, or of any status which they had ever enjoyed, we see men who had been absolutely dependent on petty chiefs raised to the condition of farmers having a profession and a business, and endowed, for the first time with conditions of tenure which enabled them to prosecute that business with such industry and with such knowledge as they might be able to acquire. But no one knew better than Forbes of Culloden that this great reform was a first step and nothing more. He saw that the people, so far as the knowledge and practice of agriculture were concerned, had yet to rise from a condition of things which can only be described as a condition of utter barbarism. It is difficult to believe that only one hundred and forty-six years ago, when already great advances had been made in agriculture south of the Highland mountains, the habits of the people in an island within two days' sail of the Clyde should have been so rude as those described by Culloden.
‘To touch at present,' he says,' but one article: barley is the great product of Tyree. There never was one sheaf of barley cut in Tyree since the beginning of the world ; nor can it well be cut so long as the present method of culture continues, which occasions their pulling up the straw by the roots, the burning the grain in the straw, and all the other ridiculous processes of husbandry which almost utterly destroy the island. By burning the straw their cattle perish for want of fodder in hard winters. The burnt corn is ground in querns, and thereby becomes hardly saleable. For want of fallowing, or leaving out one yard of their ground any one year, the whole is so overrun with rank strong weeds, that it is an absolute impossibility to drive a sickle through it. I never saw fields covered with greater loads of herbage than their corn-fields are ; but when you come to examine them hardly one-tenth part is corn— the rest is all wild carrot, mustard, &c. The poor creatures do not know which way to clear their fields of these weeds, and think of nothing but to pluck up the corn as their ancestors did, which leaves the seeds of the weeds time to ripen and shed in order to more complete crops of them against next year’.
Culloden suggests that a skilled farmer should be brought from East Lothian, or any other county, to teach the people the elements of husbandry.
There is not a word in this report referring to the potato, or to kelp. But it was not long after this date that both were introduced : and it cannot be doubted that the real progress of agriculture was retarded by the acquisition of new resources which enabled the people to live without much exertion, and in a kind of low abundance which they had never possessed before. On the other hand, it is to be considered that the introduction of any root-crop was a step towards that rotation of produce which is an essential condition of modem agriculture.
It is a curious illustration of the extreme difficulty of establishing among Highlanders any new practice whatever, however obvious or simple, or however well established close beside them, that to this day, although there has been immense improvement, the crofters in the West Highlands hardly ever possess a garden, or even a kailyard. In the Ross of Mull the servants and officers of the Lighthouse Commissioners have made, upon the land they hold from me, most excellent gardens, which have proved the high productiveness of the soil in the growth of the finest vegetables. Yet within sight of these gardens, the crofters, who often possess naturally much richer sod, have in no one instance, so far as I know, attempted to imitate so excellent an example. In one crofting township close to my own residence at this place, by dint of instruction and encouragement by prizes, gardens have been made by the tenants, which produce all the commoner, and some of the more delicate, vegetables with complete success. But in this as in all other things, every beginning has to come, and has always come, from the proprietor. Yet it is not too much to say that in a county where stones are abundant for the building of enclosures, and where there is often plenty of time on hand, a very moderate amount of exertion in making and maintaining a kitchen-garden well stocked with beet, carrot, parsnip, tumip, and the commoner greens,' would often make all the difference to a family between scarcity and comfort. I have already made a proposal, and have offered assistance in this matter, to one of the crofter delegates who appeared before the Commission in the Ross of Mull, and I hope that some day my tenants there may see their way to the practice of a very simple art which almost everywhere else in the low country is at once a great pleasure and a great economical resource.
31st December 1883
2.—SECRETARY, ROYAL COMMISSION (Highlands and Islands), to His Grace, the Duke of ARGYLL, K.G., K.T.
I am directed by the chairman of the Royal Commission to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of 31st December, which has been printed and laid before the Commissioners, and which will be reproduced in the appendix to their report.
Your Grace has referred in your present interesting communication to a report addressed by Mr Forbes of Culloden, to John, Duke of Argyll and Greenwich, respecting the condition of his estates in Mull, Morven, and Tyree, in the year 1737. Your Grace would confer an obligation on the Commission by communicating to them the report in question in extenso if you think it right to do so, and also a copy of any instructions under which Mr Forbes of Culloden may have been acting, if such exist, and any other document in your possession illustrative of the tenure of land, or the condition of the Mull tenants at that period.
The chairman would be obliged to your Grace if you would have the goodness to state whether at the time referred to, there were any examples of small tenants occupying and cultivating a township or farm in common, and paying rent directly to the proprietor, or whether the small tenants were invariably sub-tenants to the tacksman in the districts with which the family of Argyll was connected.
Your Grace has stated that Mr Forbes persuaded some Highland gentlemen in his own company to make offers with which he immediately closed.' I am directed to ask what is the exact sense of the words 'in his own company,' whether it refers to persons by whom he was attended, or to officers belonging to some company of Highland Malitia which had been raised by Mr Forbes or by the Duke. It would also be important to know in what measure the new settlement was effected with the new tacksmen, and in what measure with the sub-tenants directly, whether in the case of the new tacksmen, distinct provisions were made for the protection of the sub-tenants from services and exactions, and whether the transaction was attended with an increase of rental, and to what degree. A copy of a lease granted to the new tacksmen, or to the sub-tenants, raised to the condition of tacksmen or tenants would also be of interest to the Commissioners and to the public.
Your Grace will kindly excuse the trouble which may be imposed upon you by these enquirers. The Commissioners are sensible that it is in the records of estate management that the most trustworthy sources of information respecting the social condition of the Highland people in former times may be found, and such records are naturally most frequently preserved in families which, like that of your Grace has long possessed a hereditary interest in the same province.
MALCOLM M'NEILL, Secretary.
EDINBURGH, 10th January 1884.
3.—The DUKE of ARGYLL, K.G., K.T., to LORD NAPIER and ETTRICK, K.T.
MY LORD,—I readily comply with your Lordship's request that I should communicate to the Commission for publication in extensor the very curious and interesting report on the island estates of my family, addressed to John, Duke of Argyll and Greenwich by Forbes of Culloden in 1737. In regard to one matter, however, I do so almost with a feeling of computation. That report is expressed with great severity as respects the conduct and habits of a class which then was, and had long been, one of the most essential elements of society in the Highlands—the class of gentlemen tenants who held farms under leases or tacks from the proprietor. The remnants of this class survived almost down to our own times, and I have a personal recollection of some of them, all of whom were excellent, and some of them even distinguished men. Some of them were old soldiers, whilst not a few were the descendants from collateral branches of the Argyll family, or relatives of other proprietors in the county. None of them were farmers in the modern sense of the word, although some of them acquired a taste for and knowledge of the breeding of cattle, by which they made an adequate profit over the very moderate rents which they generally paid. Beyond this, and perhaps the making of some fences, very few of them were agricultural improvers, and I know of no case in which any great step was taken by men of this class in introducing into the Highlands those reforms in the cropping of land of which the country stood so much in need. On the other hand, all those whom I have known or heard of belonging to this class were gentlemen in the best meaning of the term,—men incapable of a dishonourable action, and disposed to deal as justly and humanely with their inferiors as was consistent with the standard of obligation universally recognised in their day and generation. It is possible that Forbes of Culloden, though himself a Highlander, may not have kept fully in mind what that standard of obligation was in the remoter parts of the country where the progress of law and of legally defined rights had not yet broken down the vague customs and usages which were universal in the middle ages. It is well, however, that the glamour which fiction and romance have cast around those usages should be dispelled by the broad daylight of Culloden's evidence, and that the incompatibility of those custom, with the first elements of our modem civilisation should be seen now as it was seen before the ' Forty-Five’ by a great lawyer and a great statesman, brought into personal contact with the whole condition of which they were a typical example.
In particular, I would direct your Lordship's attention to the nature of the services' or ' exactions' which were imposed on the sub-tenants by the tacksmen or leaseholders. They were doubtless the same as those usually paid to proprietors where there were no tacksmen, and where such proprietors were of the smaller class, living on the spot as the tacksmen did. The precise nature of these services is not explained by Culloden; but your Lordship will find them given in detail in a very instructive paper drawn up in 1795 by the celebrated Sir John Sinclair for the Board of Agriculture. That paper refers especially to the northern counties of Cromarty, Ross, Sutherland, and Caithness, with the Islands of Orkney and Shetland. But the same customs prevailed everywhere in the Highlands, and, indeed, at a still older date, over Duke of the whole British islands. Specie or money being very rare, the rents of the small tenants were principally paid in grain-bear or oatmeal. ' In addition to the rent,' says Sir John, ' the tenants of that description were bound to pay the following services, namely, tilling, dunging, sowing, and harrowing a part of an extensive farm in the proprietor's (or tacksman's) possession, providing a certain quantity of peats for his fuel, thatching a part of his houses, furnishing straw ropes, or ropes of heath for that purpose, and for securing his corn in the barnyard, weeding the land, leading a certain quantity of turf from the common for manuring, mowing, making, and ingathering the hay, the spontaneous produce of the meadow and marshy ground, cutting down, harvesting, threshing out, manufacturing, and carrying to market or seaport, a part of the produce of the farm. Besides these services, the tenants paid in kind, the following articles under the name of customs, namely, straw bags, ropes made of hair for drawing the plough, reeds used for similar purposes, tethers which being fixed in the ground by a peg or small stake, and the cattle tied to them, prevented them from wandering over the open country —straw for thatching, &c. The tenants, also, according to the extent of their possessions, kept a certain number of cattle during the winter season,—paid vicarage on the smaller tythes ; as of lamb, wool, &c, a certain number of fowls, and eggs, veal, kid, butter, and cheese ; and on the sea-coast, the tithe of their fish, and oil, besides assisting in carrying sea-ware for manure. Sometimes also a certain quantity of lint was spun for the Lady of the house, and a certain quantity of woollen yarn annually exacted. Sir J. Sinclair tells us that such were the 'services' 'which almost universally prevailed,' in the county of Caithness, so late as thirty or forty years before he wrote—that is so late as say 1760, or twenty-four years later than the report of Forbes of Culloden. It is needless to say that payments, and services so numerous, so various, and so indefinite in amount might be so worked, and indeed, could not fail to be so worked as to leave the tenant no certain time for the cultivation of his own land on any improved system.
Now, it is important to observe, that most of these services and exactions even when due, never could have been actually imposed by the great land owners, because they had no farms in their own hands scattered all over the country upon which alone such labour could be of any value. But the smaller proprietors could, and did exact them at least near their own residences; and when ' tacksmen' were allowed to sub-let without restrictions, these services must have become widely oppressive and destructive to industry. The reform, therefore, which must have resulted from the double operation of letting farms directly to those who had been sub-tenants, and of limiting or abolishing the power of imposing services in the hands of individual tacksmen was a reform of the first order of importance.
Not having been able to find any copies of the leases actually given so early as 1737, in pursuance of the new system recommended by Culloden, I do not know the precise matters taken to enforce the change. But it is certain that the change was affected, because amidst the numerous subsequent reports upon the barriers to improvement on the island estates, of which I am in possession, I find no allusion or reference to the evil which is the great burden of Culloden's animadversion.
But as I am in possession of some of the leases which were granted nineteen and twenty years later by Archibald, Third Duke, I am able to explain the general nature of the passage which was effected from the old to the modern Duke of usage. As the Lord President Forbes was as intimate, a friend of this Duke as Argyll be had been of his more illustrious brother, it is probable that Duke Archibald's leases embodied the recommendations of Culloden. In the first place, the 'tacks' or leases given in, and subsequent to 1755, prohibited sub-letting altogether, unless by the special permission of the proprietor, which permission could always be made conditional, and it is remarkable that they prohibited also, as part of the same, system, all' precarious tenures' that is tenures at will, with dues as uncertain as the tenure. In the second place, the least holder himself although still bound to perform for the proprietor certain services as part of his rent, had these services not only strictly limited and defined, but made redeemable at a fixed and specified rate of commutation. So many days' service each year—twelve or twenty-four days—was the usual stipulation, and it is a curious illustration of the enormous change in the value of labour, as well as in the value of money, that one days labour was commutable at the rate of one penny—so that twelve days service in the year was redeemable by the addition of one shilling sterling to the rent. It was, moreover, a special part of the stipulation that the labour or service could not be exacted either at seed time or at harvest. In this modified form, the rendering of a certain fixed amount of service Or days labour each year, the stipulation survives at the present day ; and there are cases in which tacksmen have a most just and equitable right to similar fixed amounts of service, as in the spreading of seaweed for manure, where it is the recompense for privileges of access to the shore through the tacksmen's fields.
The report of Culloden in its full text will answer several of the questions which I am asked in the letter of Mr M'Neill now under reply. Your Lordship will observe that not the smallest doubt or difficulty is even alluded to as regards the Duke's perfect freedom to let his farms to whomsoever he pleased at the termination of the old leases, so that the tacksmen had no customary tenure whatever, but were bound to remove, if required to do so, at the end of the term specified in their written contract. This is worthy of observation, because it shows that these technical difficulties, in respect of removals, had not yet arisen, which nineteen years later, in 1756, compelled the Court of Session to pass the Act of Sederunt of that year, by which the enforcement of written contracts was facilitated, and the principles of the old Act of 1555 received a logical and legitimate application to the new conditions of agriculture. Your Lordship will find a remarkable statement as to the salutary influence of the highest court in Scotland, upon the conditions of tenure in the report of Dr Anderson on the county of Aberdeen, in 1795, one of the same series of reports to which I have before referred, as addressed to the Board of Agriculture, of which Sir John Sinclair was president. Dr Anderson's statement is to the effect that the authority of the court was always adverse to vague and indefinite obligations—and especially to covenants which were not such as could be ordinarily enforced, but were only calculated to deprive tenants of that security which their leases purported to give.
My former letter to your Lordship, dated October 1st, 1883, will have explained to your Lordship that the overcrowding, and poverty which arose in Tyree, were entirely due to the abeyance into which the prohibition against sub-letting and subdividing were allowed to fall, after the introduction of the potato and of the kelp manufacture had blinded the eyes both of proprietor and people to the precariousness of the abundance on which they relied.
In conclusion, I ought to explain to your Lordship that the lands referred to in Culloden's report in Mull, represent large estates which no longer belong to me, whilst also the whole of the farms in Morven are now in other hands. And Duke of to this fact, I may be allowed to add, that so far as I know the lands which still Argyll remain in my family are, the only lands where crofters still form any considerable portion of the tenantry.—Yours truly,
16th January 1884.
P.S.—Since writing the above letter. I have recovered some leases given in 1738-9 in pursuance of Culloden's advice, and by him acting as Commissioner for John, Duke of Argyll and Greenwich. One of these is given to a number of small tenants holding one of the farms in the Ross of Mull. It confirms the explanation I have already given in respect to services. A fixed money rent is substituted for these, which for the future are expressly abolished or discharged; and the only services of labour retained are for certain specified purposes connected with the general good of the district and of the island, such as ' repairing’ harbours, mending highways, and making or repairing mill-leads/ ‘ for the ' general benefit of the island.
4.—DUNCAN FORBES of Culloden to JOHN, DUKE of ARGYLL and GREENWICH, dated 24th September 1737.
MY LORD,—In pursuance of what I acquainted your Grace with in my last, I set out from Edinburgh the 3rd of August on my insular expedition, and got back to this place the 16th of September at night, so tyred that I was not able by the post that went from Inverness next morning to give your Grace any account of my proceedings.
From Edinburgh, I was accompanyed by Ronald Dunbar Macmillan and by Sir Duncan Campbell, who was so oblidging as to make out the whole campaign with me, in which he was of great use, his boat and a serjant with eight men of his company, whom I begged of Brigadier Guest, contributed not a little to the transportation and security of ourselves and our luggage. Our road was throw Broadalbine and Glenorchy to Lochawside, where we were received by the Sheriff and the factors, with whom, after waiting a few days at Sir Duncan's for the barge, we proceeded to Arros in Mull, where we sojourned some time under hutts and tents, but the inclemency of the
weather soon made the last impracticable.
Upon my arrival in Mull I called the tenants of that island and of Morvem before me, and acquainted them with your Grace's favourable intention of delivering them from the tyrrany of taxmen, of freeing them from the oppression
of services and Herezelds, and of incouraging them to improve their farms by giving them a sort of property in their grounds for 19 years by leases, if they showed themselves worthy of the intended favour by offering frankly for their farms such rent as honestly and fairly they could bear. Your Grace may remember I did not, from this proposition, expect any considerable advance of rent on the farms that were in the occupancy of the natives. The smal tennents, whose rents were already stretched by the late taxmen as high as they could well bear; but I nattered myself that these would have cheerfully offered the rent they payed to their late taxmasters with some trifle more. I hoped that the exemption from oppression and the certainty of possessing their grounds for the term of their leases, would have enabled them to pay to your Grace the rent stipulated better than hitherto had been done, and I imagined that the late taxmen and their friends, who are called gentlemen, to whom they let farms very cheap, either from favour or for grassums would have bid reasonably for their severall possessions in consideration of the intended lease.
But to my very great surprise, every creature, from the highest to the lowest; seemed to undervalue the leases proposed. The little tennents, for so I shall call the tennents, offered all to a man far short of what they payed to the late taxmen. These taxmen, and those whom I lately called gentlemen their friends, offered far short of the value of their possessions, and justified the little tennents for their low offers, alledging the badness of the seasons, and the low price of cattle for some years as reasons for their inability to pay more ; and when they were asked whether the possessions of those little tennents were not worth as much under the conditions proposed by the leases, as they were formerly when subject to the oppressions of exactions of the taxmen, they answered that the little tennents were now totally impoverished and unable to pay, and that they could not be brought to understand the value of a lease, and in conformity to this way of reasoning the little tennents pleaded poverty to a man, and severall of them declared themselves more willing to pay a high rent without than with a lease.
This sort of behaviour, which was exceedingly disagreeable to me, led me very soon to discover that the whole was the effect of a combination, which for some time had been framing without any care taken to counteract it. The late taxmen and their friends the gentlemen, who possess at easy rents, were, with reason apprehensive, that if the little tennents bid the value of their possessions, their own must be considerably raised, they, therefore found means to persuade those poor people who, to *tell truth, are in miserable circumstances, and naturally desirous to take advantage, that if they stood out unanimously they might have their ffarms for what they would; that the inclemency of the weather would soon drive me out of the island, and leave them in possession of it at what rents they might think fit to offer; that their lowering their rents might well be justified by their present poverty occasioned by the badness of the seasons and the low price of catle for some years past, and those inducements were backed by apprehensions of danger industriously sowed amongst them; that if any of them did presume to offer the full rent, he should be overbid by some of the gentlemen, who would be preferred to him, and be consequently driven from his possession into beggary and starving.
A combination of this kind was not easy to be broke by reasoning or persuasion, especially when all those who understood my language were, from interest, the promoters of it, I therefore, after many days patient attendance found out two or three people who offered above the rent for so many farms. I struck the bargain that moment with them, declared that since all the rest of the people of Mull and Morvern had, by their rascally conduct, proclaimed themselves unworthy of your Grace's favour, I would let no more of your Grace's lands to them, but leave them in the same misery and distress in which I found them ; that if the lands were to ly waste till better tennents could be found, you could bear it, at. Ì would much rather choise to do so than to have it possessed by such rogues and fools as would enter into confedracys, to defraud a person who had entertained so compassionate purposes towards them ; and immediately gave orders for sailing to Tiry. But before I went on board I suffered myself to be intreated to call on my return at Mull, and to receive any further propositions that might be made to me.
It happened very luckily that one of the promoters of this confederacy, Maclean the minister, had an advantagious farm, for which he offered far short of the value, notwithstanding all my arguments and entreaty with him personally, because he could understand me. This was one of the three farms which we found a person to bid the value for. The minister seeing himself by his own cunning beat out of an advantageous possession he had for many years enjoyed, was raving mad, and you may believe his fate caused some speculation in Mull before my return from Tirry.
From Arros in Mull, we set sail in the morning, and arrived in Tirry before sunset. The people we found more wretchedly poor there than in Mull, as they had been more unmercifully pinched by their exactors. I thought it was proper to view with my own eyes the grounds, and to enquire into their manner of managing them, and their condition, before I made any propositions. And having spent two or three days in that sort of occupation, I called the people together, explained the end of my coming to such as understood English, made the Sheriff do the same in Irish, to such as understood no other language, and to prevent mistakes, put the heads of my speech in writing, which I delivered to the Sheriff to be translated into Irish. Severall copies were made and delivered to the tenants of the different districts, who were desired to consider well of them, and to meet me two days after with their resolutions. They came accordingly, but, notwithstanding all the means I had used, they played the Mull game on me all to a man ; their offers were all under the present rent, and several of them persisted they would take no leases. Upon this I was forced to do just as I had done in Mull. Two of Sir Duncan's brothers were by him persuaded to make a handsome offer above the present rent for five different farms, as were also two more persons of the island for other possessions. These offers I immediately accepted off, and declared as I had done in Mull, that I would let no more o/ your Grace's land in Tirry, since the people showed themselves so unsensible of your goodness, or so ungrateful. That I would lease them to their former exactors, which was to them a dreadful threat, and that in two days I would sail on my return to the mainland. In the meantime, I suffered the people who were about me to hint that if proper offers were made before my departure, there were still some hopes they might be received.
Upon seeing some of the lands let, as I have mentioned, contrary to their expectations, and the concert which had been made amongst them broke in upon the threat of leaving them to their former slavery begun to work, they came in one after another with offers, a trifle above what they formerly paid, which, for the poor tenants, whose possessions had been pretty well stretched by their former masters, was as much as what well could have been asked. The gentlemen bid for their own possessions something more. The two ends of Coll, which formerly paid £33, 6s. 8d., were contended for by the Laird of Coll and MacLachlen, one of the former taxmen, and carried by Coll, who is henceforward to pay £58, 6s. 8d. In short, adding one day's patient stay to another so long as the state of our provisions would permit, five-sixth parts of the island, besides the two ends of Coll, were set, and directions were given for receiving offers for the remaining sixth, which for the greatest part, is at present waste.
The unmerciful exaction of the late taxsman is the cause of those lands being waste, which had it continued but for a very few years longer, would have entirely unpeopled the island. They speak of above one hundred family: that have been reduced to beggary and driven out of the island within these Duke of last seven years. Offers were made for parts of some of the farms or townships that are not now set. But I refused to accept of them unless the offerers would find hands to take off the whole township or ffarm together, because the possessor of one part would prohte of the grass of the other, so long as it remained unpossessed, and thereby find it his interest to keep it for ever waste. I am, however till the whole will before next Whitsunday be filled up according to the directions I have given, and that the tennents, who have been overbid in their present possessions, will against next Whitsunday think of securing themselves in those which I left open.
The rent of the two ends of Coll, and that part of Tirry which is set, amounts to £484, 15s. 6d, the rent of the sixth part of Tiny still to be let, if set in proportion to the rest will be £85, 5s. 9d., so that the constant rent in time coming will be about £570. Your Grace may remember the rent payable by the for taxmen even after the augmentation agreed to at Inverara, was no more than £324,17s. 9½ d., and the rental given up by them, according to which they said they collected was £422, 15s. 4½d, so that if our labours produce a constant rent of £570, somewhat is thereby got to your Grace, at least there will be room for making a small expense, hereafter to be mentioned, which will for ever secure a good rent.
The shortness of our provisions, occasioned by a stay much longer than we intended, and the uncertainty of the weather, made us quit Tirry sooner than otherwise we should have done, in our voyage to Mull we touched at Coll, which we spent a full day in viewing, and arrived safe in Mull the third day. It was well we were obliged to leave Tirry so soon, for the factor whom we left behind us for one day to regulate some things, while we visited Coll, was wind bound there for severall days after we found ourselves safe in Mull. To prevent much loss of time in Mull, we sent a messenger before us to give notice of the day we intended to be at Arros, and that we were to remain there for three days, to the end the tenants of Mull and Morven might have ane opportunity more of mending their offers; the examples made before I left the island and the proceedings of the people of Tirry, very different from their expectations, helped much to break in upon their combination. I convinced the little tennents that they were not to stand in awe of the gentlemen ; by preferring them when they bid reasonably for their own possessions to the gentlemen, who out of caprice or picque, attempted to turn them lose into the world by overbidding them, and at last after much patience and tribulation, in eight days time, the whole estate in Mull, except one tenement of £10, 13s. 4d. Rent was set, very much to the surprise of all my company. Your Grace may remember the rent paid by the former taxmen for your estate in Mull was £500. The rental sometime since take up by the Sheriff £69, 8s, 10½ d. And the rental of the set now made, including the rent of the tenement not yet set, is £793. 19s. 5d.
With regard to Morvern, upon very careful examination, I found myself obliged not to expect any such increase of rent. The former taxmen had indeed, a very good bargain, because they paid your Grace no more than £222, as I remember upon the determination of their lease the Sherriff was sent thither to take up a rental which, made out, upon what the tennent's were said to be willing to pay, amounted to £67, 4s. 7½ d., and this rental the present factor collects by. But he has been obliged (to prevent lands growing waste) to dispense with some of the casualties. In short, what encouraged the then possessors to offer so high a rent was the vicinity of the works then carrying on with great expense in Sunart and Morven, which afforded mercats for all their product at high prices, the decay of those works reduces the value of their goods, and has been the ruin of several who dealt with them. This being the real case, I was obliged to do the best I could to content myself with the present rent, or a very moderate augmentation, where I could have it; and in two cases to get even a trifle below the present rent. The one is that of the lands of Lawdoll, & c , which formerly payed £54, 14s. 5½d, and are now set to Alexander Maclachlan, late taxman of Coll at £48, the highest offer which is £6, 14s. 5½ d. short of the former rent, but in setting him this possession,
I had consideration of his having raised very high the rent of Coll by bidding heartily for it, as I have already observed. And the other is the farm of Liddisdale which is now in the possession of Sir Alexander Murray at the rent of £41,17s. 7½ d., alongst with the Morven mines. It is in Sir Alexander's option to quit or continue the possession of those mines at next Martinmas. If he continue, he must continue to possess Liddesdale, if he gives up that possession, it must remain open to be set, this was the reason why I could conclude nothing finally about Liddesdale. But I was willing, whilst there, to receive offers provisionally for it, and £41 are offered which I a m told is the full value, tho' a 17s. short of the present rent.
There is but one tenement more in Morven called Invine, more rentalled at £13, 9s. 5^d. by the Sheriff which nobody having come up to the rent of in their offers, I thought fit to leave open to be set by the factor, and on the supposition that this farm shall be set at the full rent, your lands of Morven will stand set at £467, 2s. 5½ d., on the supposition that Sir Alexander Murray shall throw up his farm of Liddesdale, which is but some shillings above the Sherriffs rental, and if he hold that farm, as he now do's, the rent will be some shillings more.
The improvement of the rent of Morven your Grace will observe is a mere trifle. But this I will assure your Grace, that my companions from whom I was to receive my lights, considered the setting of Morven without a considerable diminution as a greater miracle than the augmentation
on the other estates, which at the beginning they seemed also to think impracticable.
Thus, I have given your Grace a rough sketch of what is done. I am sorry my endeavours have not answered your expectations or my wishes, but I am confident your Grace will not suspect the disappointment is owing to any want of care or patience in me. I have assigned, in the course of the narration, the true causes, the miserable poverty of the people, proceeding from the oppression of their late taxmasterr. the badness of the seasons for some years, and the sensible decay of the demand for cattle.
But tho' your Grace's expectations or mine may not be answered as to the improvement of the rent, yet, in this, I have satisfaction, and it may be some to you, that the method you have taken has prevented the totall ruin of these islands. And the absolute loss of the whole rent in time coming to your Grace, had the taxmen been suffered to continue their extortions a few years longer, the islands would have been dispeopled, and you must have been contented with no rent, or with such rent as these harpies should be graciously pleased to allow you ; and if either I or some one else of consideration, and (if you will pardon me for flattering myself) of integrity had not gone of this errand, the havock already committed amongst the poor people by the extortions of their masters would have been a strong argument for giving way to the combination that was formed in the severall estates, and of letting the lands everywhere far under the rent which is now to be expected. His Grace of Another advantage this expedition has brought you is, that the view I have of the grounds, and the knowledge I have gained of the condition and manners of the people may prevent future impositions, and put your Grace in a method of improving your estate, by bettering the condition of your tennents, which in a small time will bring you a secure rent, and put it in the way of yeelding considerable augmentation, if, or when, a new set happens to be made. To touch at present but one article, barley is the great product of Tirry. There never was one sheaf of barley cut in Tirry since the beginning of the world, nor can it well be cut so long as the present method of culture continues, which occasions their pulling up the straw by the roots, the burning the grain in the straw, and all the other ridiculous proces of husbandry, which almost utterly destroys that island. By burning the straw their cattle perish for want of fodder in hard winters, the burnt com is ground in quarins, and thereby becomes hardly saleable ; and the practice of burning and grinding in that manner prevents your Grace's having any rent worth speaking of from Milns. The original error lys in this, that from want of fallowing out one yard of their ground any one year, the whole is so overrun with rank strong weeds that it is an absolute impossibility to drive a sickle through it. I never saw fields covered with a greater load of herbage than their com fields are, but when you examine them, hardly one-tenth part of them is corn, the rest is all wild carrot, mustard, &c. The poor creatures do not know which way to clear their fields of these weeds, and think of nothing but to pluck up the com as their ancestors did, which leaves the seeds of the weeds time to ripen, and shed in order to move complete crops of them against next year. Now, if at your Graces' expense out of the improved rent, a skilful farmer were brought from East Lothian or any other County, by example, to teach the people to clear their ground of weeds, and properly to cultivate them, their crops of com would be double to what they are, leaving more room for grass. The straw saved would save their cattle from perishing in hard winters. Their grain brought to Milns to be dressed would yield a better price, and in that advantage your Grace would share, because some of your rent is still payable in com and meal. Your rent would be secure, and you would have a considerable addition to the Miln rent which at present is a trifle, and which I would not set in lease for a term of years, because I expected this augmentation. Indeed, I have bargained for the building of one miln upon a farm that is pretty high set. The taxman is to be allowed ^20 for erecting it, and is to leave it of the same value at the determination of his lease, and the size of it is to support the new method of culture above mentioned. But the other milns are still left open for improvement as your Grace shall see cause. In Mull, I have also agreed to allow a sum not exceeding £8, 6s. 8d., for improving a miln at Arros, to be left at the determination of the lease in perfect repair, in hopes of bringing the people of that country to a better way of managing their corns.
The small island of Calva which forms the Bay of Tobermory in Mull, and a neighbouring tenement called Ballyscat, have been bid for above the former rent, but I declined finally to declare them set. Because, the only appearance of wood I observed in all your Grace's lands of Mull is on those two tenements, the wood there, it is true, is at present very scrub, but I am satisfied would if saved, rise to account. I, therefore, acquainted the intended tennents that their leases must be clogged with the preservation of the woods, if any leases were granted to them, but that I would not absolutely promise to let the grounds at all in lease, because your Grace might possibly incline to shut out cattle entirely, and to fence the ground at the expense of loosing the rents for some years, but this there is time to consider of. But what I have said of the misery of the people through the extortions of their late masters, and bad crops, and low prices for cattle, your Grace will guess at the present factors excuse for bringing together so small a portion of your last year's rent. He was not by his factory to receive such part of the rents as were payable by the late taxmen out of their own possessions. That is now directed to be paid to him, and as he received his factory late, and made no provision for disposing of such of the tenants cattle as might be delivered to him in payment of rent, he was forced to leave them in their own hands, who have before this time turned them into money, and it is owing to his having been employed all this while alongst with us that more of the rent is not yet brought together, tho' it is not impossible some of it may be lost by the very poor condition of the tennents who must for some time be tenderly dealt with, till they recover from a disease, which had it lasted very little longer, must necessarily have been mortall; I think the man, tho' slow, a very honest man, will do to the best of his understanding what he is desired, and knows the country better than any one I know who can be trusted. I believe by this time your Grace is heartily tired of me and my islands. This abstract is only intended at present to satisfie your curiosity. Exact accounts of the particulars must come when things can be put more accurately together at Edinburgh. And leases must be made out for your signature, and directions given in conformity to what is projected, if your Grace approve of what we have been about.
I could entertain you with descriptions of the oddity's of your insular dominions, and with many observations that might be of use, but that such entertainment will keep cold. It is very lucky that threw such a tract of bad weather, which the inhabitants of that climate say, was the worst they ever saw, we should all come off without any accident worth speaking of; my son was seised in Mull with a sneaking fever, which I cleared him of by taking between 30 and 40 ounces of blood, and giving him two or three vomits. Sir Duncan's tent, which he imprudently lay in for sometime, could not possibly secure him against the excessive rains and winds which prevail in these watery regions. He was seised with rheumatic pains at Tirry, without any doctor but myself, and I had no medicine but rhubarb and gum pills, however, I doctored him so well as to bring him home in the barge, and as I passed he was perfectly recovered. His volunteering it was undoubtedly of great use, to us.
I do not much wonder that M'Millan and the Sheriff stood it out well enough, because they were accustomed to such jaunts, but I confess I am surprised that Ronald Dunbar who never before lay without the reach of Edinborrow bell, except once, that he attended your Grace in an expedition where everything was snug and convenient, could bear it out as he did. None of the natives complanied less. As the shortest way, at least the best road to Edinburgh, he came alongst with me hither, and now he is to return.
Your barge is a fine boat, her waste is so low for the convenience of rowing, that she is rather to watery for those stormy seas, one moveable plank to be put upon or taken from the waste as occasion might require, would make her more convenient where squales of wind are so frequent, and the waves run so bigh. We had an excellent steersman, and no accident did harm. In our voyage from Mull to the continent, the barge set upon a blind rock, but the wind being easy she got off next tide without any damage of consequence, and I proceeded in her next day to Fort-William, where I landed safe. What proceeds was all written in my own hand, but the scrawl was so bad that I doubted your Grace could not without much trouble read it, wherefore I caused to copy it over in a hand writing that is somewhat more legible. The post calls and leaves me time to say nothing but what you already full well know, that I am very truly,—Your Grace's most humble servant,
CULLODEN, September 24th, 1837.