You are here

Statement on Lordism and Waste Lands

Statement on Lordism and Waste Lands

Statement on lordism and waste lands submitted to the Deer Forest Royal Commission of Inquiry by Donald Maccallum, Minister of Lochs, Lewis

Before bringing before you the evidence most directly relevant to your inquiry, I wish, with your permission, to make a general statement as to the causes that operated in bringing about the present grievous condition of the great mass of the people in relation to their occupancy of the land. The gist of the evidence I submit to you is that there is a great amount of land waste in this parish, and at the same time that the various townships are greatly congested - that the remedy to which the people look is permission for the cottars to reoccupy every inch of the land in the forests and large farms on equitable terms.

Great evils have necessarily resulted from the fact that land, lake, river, and estuary are appropriated to the sole use, and regulated by the will of a few irresponsible individuals styled by themselves and others as lords. The right of the people, freely and equitably to use the land and the water, was wholly ignored by the legislature till the Crofters Act recognised it so far as present crofts are concerned. And the principal evils under which the people suffer are directly traceable to the system of absolute lordism that previously prevailed. Since I became a preacher of the truth, I have endeavoured to find out how my countrymen were situated, what are their rights, in how far have they been deprived of them, the best means of preserving them the rights still left them, and of restoring them those they have lost. In disseminating the truths I have learned regarding the usurpation of the people's rights by the lords, and the people's miserable condition, I have laboured to the utmost capacity of my time, strength, and substance. For some of my words and deeds, at the hands of the powers that be I have suffered much-persecution and imprisonment. I am, often denied the common civilities of civilised society. In offering my hand to a brother clergyman I am often repulsed with the taunt I shake hands with gentlemen only. Often by an old acquaintance I have been regarded as thin invisible air.

In regard to the temporal right of the people and the evils of lordism the learned are profoundly ignorant and the unlettered are deeply apathetic. The most exasperating nonsense is often spoken and written on these subjects. The fashion is to glorify lordism as divinely, appointed system of which it would be sacrilege but to speak or write but in praise, lordism being considered beyond criticism. On the question of the people's rights the fashion is to pour forth the most scathing contumely and sarcasm ingenuity, can invent, as an ugly monster brought forth by the addled brain of the demagogue.

Every man has a right, natural, and God-given; to the earth and its fullness. lts fullness of light air, and water of vegetation and fruit, of beast bird and fishes of metals and minerals. A nation, which by its laws and armed forces, deprives its people, of their right to a share of the earth and its fullness is using its acumen and its power to hasten its own utter extinction. Certainly there should be land laws, not laws such as ours, whose chief end is to deprive the nation of its land with all its benefits, and to assist those to whom it is given to retain absolute and undisturbed possession of it, but laws such as reason teaches and the word of God approves, whose chief end would be to give every man his own share of the earth and its benefits, and to compel each to make a proper use of his share.

I believe the lords of the Highlands think that I condemn none but the rulers of the land for the grabbing of the land and its benefits by them, and for reducing the people to the condition of a conquered nation. The fact is I consider the people who allowed the land to be grabbed by so-called lords even more guilty than those who grabbed it. The answer which Naboth gave to Ahab when he asked him to give him his vine-yard for its value in money, or for a better vineyard, should have been given by our fore-fathers to each lording who coveted and would take their lands, not for payment nor for better lands, but as their spoil as the conquerors of the people. - God forbid that we should give you the inheritance of our fathers. There will be no prosperity till the people get the

The lords who first sold the land had no right to do so, and therefore the lords who bought the land are not the owners thereof, that which a man has no right to sell cannot become the property of the man who buys it. Not only have the lords, who at present possess the land, no right to compensation for restoring the use of it to the people, but the people are entitled to payment from the lords for having so long held possession of their rights-not that the wholesale destruction of life and property, effected by the lords grabbing and holding the land and its benefits, can ever be compensated.

The people of this nation regard with superstitious awe the possessors of its soil-the lords. They would like liberty to use the land, but they will not take upon themselves to ask but for very little bits - smallholdings. They will not be so bold as to ask these but for a very small section-labourers. To show their humility they will promise to pay three times their value for these little bits. That they may not detract from the beauty of the scenery around the castles of their idols; they will only take these little bits in, out of the very corners. In short, they will only ask for little bits of comparatively worthless land, for a few people, if it will be the will and pleasure of the lords of the soil to grant them, on most exorbitant terms. They would like sometimes to reclaim pieces of land from the sea, but they will not take upon themselves to do so without the consent of the lord of the land, who will only grant leave on their binding themselves, and those who will be allowed to inhabit the land after them, to pay to him an enormous yearly tax. The reverence of the people of this nation towards the possessors of the soil, in my estimation, borders on superstition. The people of this nation would like to have leave to climb its mountains, but they fear the lords too much to ask leave to do so but for a few of their number-painters, invalids, and geologists. Of course they will only ask leave for these to climb but at certain stated times of the year, and only a few of the mountains will be scheduled as available for the purpose.

The Highlanders call the land they love-" Tir nan gleann, 'a nam heaun, 'a nan gaisgeach." It is now more properly described as "Tir na cain, a mhail, a nun Sas'-nach." It is not enough for the Highlander. to be the slaves of the lords at home in the land which was once their fathers'. When their idols continue maltreating them till they must runaway with their lives in the land of their pilgrimage you will find them hiring town halls where they may glorify their lords without fear, being far from their jurisdiction. On the cards, calling the expatriate Geals to their yearly chief festival, will be printed this magnificent misnomer -- Tir nan gleann, nam beauns nan aisgeach.

Lordism impoverishes the land. The wealth that is on sea and land, instead of being used in rearing the families of those who earn it, is spent in providing luxuries for idle lords. The destitution and the plague which follow in the wake of this usurper lift up their voices against it and condemn it. Lordism devastates the land. The people, weakened and impoverished by landlord exactions are unable to do full justice to the land or the fishing. Owing to the enormous amount of rack rent and violent profits claimed and exacted by the lords for allowing their fellow men to cultivate the land, through time, the cultivators must starve or give up the struggle. On the face of the deserted villages, once the happy homes of the free and the brave, now lying in silent desolation, we read : -The scourge of lordism has passed over us. I never heard of any creature having a swallowing capacity equal to that of lordism. The cattle and the ears of corn which Pharaoh saw in his dream come nearest to it.

Parliament thinks it has done great things for the Highlands in the new laws it has enacted within recent years. It has not done so much as it thinks. It is better to revoke one bad law than to enact many good ones. The old laws are the old rotten clothes, and the new laws are little pieces of good cloth sewn on the old clothes which make the rent worse. Owing to this being overlooked by Parliament, we have to bear the burdens of two kinds of government-Aristocratic and democratic, without getting the benefit of either.

Lordism is a curse to the lords themselves. If the lords think it is not as their best friend I would ask the lands devastated by them and held in their possession, to be given to be cultivated and inhabited by the people they are very much mistaken. This is what the prophet declares-Woe unto them that join house to house, and add field to field, till there be no room left, that they may live alone in the midst of the earth. In the deer forests and wastelands held by the lords are there not fields added to fields? To make warm the great hearth of the shooting lodge were there not many made cold? The lords have no reason to thank the ministers, who, in order to enjoy their support and friendship, will not declare the truth in all its fullness.

Lordism only wants time and opportunity to appropriate every right and privilege capable of appropriation possessed by the people. It is not more reasonable and just that all fish found in lake, river, and estuary should be the property of the lords, than that all fish found in loch, sound, and ocean, should be their property. It is not more just and reasonable that men should be imprisoned for catching a salmon than that they should he imprisoned for catching a herring. Let lordism go on unchecked on its conquering career, and this is a sample of what will happen. All the fishing banks in the ocean will be appropriated by it. War vessels will be equipped and appointed to guard them from human poachers. Sea constables, finals, and sheriffs, will be appointed and paid enormous salaries-to be provided by the people-to arrest, prosecute, and punish any one who will dare to put a net or hook in loch, sound, or ocean, without the consent of the sea-lords, who will the fishing-banks to sea-bank farmers for rack rents and violent profits. Just as you will now find landlords calling themselves by the names of parishes, districts, counties, nations. You will find the sea-lords calling themselves by the names of loch; sounds, bays, seas, oceans Just as now there are landlords who sign their name-Lochiel, Sutherland, Argyle, Wales, there will be sea-lords who will sign their names-Little Minch, Lochourn, Great Minch, Atlantic Ocean. Both solo of assumed names are equally reasonable or un-reasonable. Or rather, they are equally vainglorious and audacious. The reason why the lochs, sounds and. oceans are not already appropriated by sea-lords and guarded by sea-officials, appointed and paid by the people from inroads by themselves, Is that lordism has not yet had time and favourable conditions to flourish and ripen to the full extent of its magnitude and fruitfulness.

If, in the course of time, lordism will be able grab them and to hold them in their possession, the light of the sun will be sold for so much per ray, the water for so much per drop, and the air for so much per breath. If these blessings are free it is in spite of lordism. It is quite as just and reasonable that the lords should own the light, the air and the water, as that they should own the soil of this globe. The fact is, the lords have already, to a very great extent, appropriated them. The sun that shines on the faces of the Highland mountains, the breezes that blow around them, the lakes that glitter in their bosoms, the streams that trickle down their rugged sides, the lords own. Just try to partake of yon light, and air, and water, and you will find for your foolhardiness in the prison cell, the faintest light, the poorest water, and the rankest air, measured out to you in very small quantities. We asked leave of the proprietrix of this island to enjoy the sunlight in a walk through the waste lands of Aline, and her factor wrote us to say that her ladyship declined to grant us leave to do so. I have seen the road from crofter townships to the harbour cut across with a trench. I have seen landing-places to their shores blocked with stones.

We do not expect to see lordism abolished, but we hope to see it greatly modified and weakened. I wish to point out to you some of the things we hope to see accomplished even under the kings, commonly called lords. We hope to see the lands laid waste by lord-usurpation and greed, inhabited and cultivated by the sons of those who were cleared off them, and are now confined on the barren rocks of the sea-shore. It is a most disgraceful state of matters that while, in this parish, there are good lands lying uncultivated, there are many landless cottars able and willing to work them for the support of their families. There will be no disputes between the townships of this parish as to who should get possession of the different lands we will point out to you as suitable for cultivation. We have made arrangements by which each township shall apply only for the lands allotted to them by common consent. Generally speaking, each township will apply for the lands from which their fathers were evicted.

If we must always see the rent spent unprofitably on luxurious idleness, we hope to see Government more keenly guarding its exaction. "Fair rent" may be au improvement on "rack rent," but the term "fair rent" is an absurdity, unworthy of the intelligence of this nation. If it means anything definite it is this: -something that will keep the lords in style and luxury becoming their exalted station, and that will make it worth their while paying a factor and his underlings to hold a rent collection twice a year. "Fair rent," means nothing more definite than this-something like the thing. Rent is the amount of money realised on a croft, after deducting the value of the seed sown, of the manure used, of the labour expended on the croft, of the food given to cattle other than what the croft produced, and of the interest of the money invested. Even as things are, a lord who would take the profit of crofts, when there would be a profit, should make up to the crofters the deficiency when their working would entail a loss. In other words, the profit or good years should go to make up the deficiency of bad ones. The profit of the years of plenty should be used in feeding the people during years of famine. I do not know of a more humiliating spectacle than to see a lord, after pocketing and spending the profit of an estate for years, asking the peop1e of the nation to provide his tenants with food when the strict exacting of his rent causes them to he starving. There is a certain Lord whom the Highlanders glorify as the most generous of the race, because some old men tell that, in the remote ages of antiquity, an ancestor of his in a year of famine, instead of exacting the rent, gave to his tenants a little meal for making roads around the castle.

It may be that the lands we will show you are not so good as the lands of the mainland, yet they are better than the lands at present cultivated by the crofters. It is because that is so that the lords coveted them and cleared them of human beings to make room for their sheep and deer. Though it is quite true that it is not by the produce of the crofts alone the men of Lewis are reared, yet, with the help it gives them, on these crofts are reared men and women, who in perfection of physical and mental qualities, are not inferior to any at home or abroad. Feuch an laodh's na feuch achuid. Giving the lands we will show you to the Lewismen to be cultivated will be adding considerably to the strength and goodliness of the nation, as well as to the wealth derived from the produce of sea and land.

It will be said that the high rent, which the propietrix of this island gets for the deer forest, is better for the parish of Lochs than that the people should have the lands of the deer forest for their own use, seeing she gives so much per pound sterling to feed and clothe the hungry and starving. The fact is this: -The thing that in this case helps to sustain the poor is the very thing that causes their poverty. That is, the laying waste of fertile fields and fruitful valleys in order to get exorbitant rents for them. The lords, in clearing the people off the best lands to convert them into slaughter-fields for the art and practice of artistic killing of beast and birds, pauperizes the peop1e. When the poor law compels the lords to contribute so much for the support of the poor, they will say to the world- See and bear witness for us. If we cannot get high rents for our deer forests we cannot support the poor. Let the nation support them or let them starve. The addled-brained agitators who hold that deer forests should be abolished must admit that they wish the people to starve. In this lordism is a great house-breaker and cattle-lifter who, after taking away everything the people possessed, comes back with a few boils of meal, a few shirts and blankets, and calls all men to witness that it is the greatest benefactor of the race. - That, without its assistance, the people would starve with cold amid hunger- that it is the duty of all men to support and strengthen lordism.

(Signed) DONALD MACCALLUM.

 

Title: Statement on Lordism and Waste Lands
Record Type: Stories, Reports and Traditions
Type: Testimony Or Evidence
Date: 1893
Record Maintained By: CECL
Subject Id: 7275