21850: Napier Royal Commission of Inquiry

The Napier Commission (officially the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Condition of Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands) of 1883 was set up by the Liberal Government (under Gladstone) to look into the condition of the crofters and cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Gladstone appointed a Scottish professional diplomat and colonial administrator to chair the commission. He was Francis Napier, 10th Lord Napier.

From the early 1800s, when the forced evictions of the people started, up to the year 1881, the population of Lewis had increased from 9,000 to over 25,000 and the land that they had to cultivate for food had shrunk, due to the fact that many of the villages had been cleared to make way for sheep and the people were displaced into already overcrowded areas.

In 1882 the potato blight, that had first appeared in 1845, ruined their crop; the fishing had been a complete failure and the winter was the worst ever experienced by the people. On the 1st October a severe gale scattered the stacked corn and in some districts up to 70% of the grain was lost. The people were in a desperate condition when the Commission sat in Keose Schoolhouse on 12th June 1883.

Meetings had been held throughout the islands prior to the hearings in order that the villages could appoint people to speak on their behalf.

In the Isle of Lewis the Chamberlain of the Lewis estate made a statement repeating what he had previously said in Uig, that no-one who would come forward to state their grievances would suffer anything in consequence.

In 1886 the Crofters Holding (Scotland) Act was passed, giving security of tenure and fair rents. The land dispute was not over, however, as in Lewis there was still not enough arable land available to the crofters, who continued to agitate, with raids in Pairc, Aignish, Galson and Reef, amongst other places, over the ensuing decades.

The five volumes of the 1884 Report of the commission are available in PDF format via the website of the University of the Highlands and Islands. Also available is an index to the reports, created by Guido Blokland.

See also Angus Macleod’s two papers: a general account of the commission and his further assessment.

The Napier Commission witness blogspot provides biographies, arranged geographically, for Outer Hebridean witnesses.

Record Type:
Historical Event
Date / From:
Type Of Event:
Land Issues
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