Report - Emigration

The last of the remedial measures we have proposed for the present condition of the Highlands and Islands is the encouragement of emigration, but it is principally in the Northern Hebrides, and to some extent on the adjacent coasts of Ross, and perhaps even of Sutherland, that we think it should be resorted to.

The destitution which called for public charity last spring was in the main limited to those districts, and there too, more emphatically than elsewhere, the crofters' complaints turned on the smallness of their holdings. No doubt, extraneous relief was also given last year in Glenelg and in some parishes of the Southern Hebrides, but there is reason to hope that in these last the great evil of too small holdings is being gradually extinguished, and on the coast of Inverness¬shire it might be questioned whether overcrowding is due to an actual want of land in the neighbourhood. Our remarks then on emigration will relate to the districts we have named, in reference to which the subjoined table gives an abstract of the census from the earliest return by Dr Webster in 1755 down to that of 1881. Dr Alexander Webster, minister of the Tolbooth, Edinburgh, who in 1755 drew up an account of the people of Scotland for the information of Government; this was the first time they were systematically enumerated.

Harris, Uist & Barra
Western mainland of Ross
Western mainland of Sutherland



It has been repeatedly stated in the evidence that there is no need for emigration, as there is plenty of land in the Highlands and Islands for all the people they contain, were it only divided among them. Even if this were so, it is clear that such a division would involve the exclusion of the whole wealthy and wage-paying class, a result which no one acquainted with the Highlands could contemplate without concern. But those who thus hold emigration to be unnecessary, have not, we think, given sufficient attention to the statistics bearing on the subject. The following table shows the population, rental, and acreage of all the parishes in Skye and the Long Island, and the rental and acreage per head in those parishes respectively. The population and the acreage are taken from the census returns of 1881, and the rental from the County Valuation Rolls of 1883-84; the figures thus obtained may be accepted as sufficient for practical purposes, but to ensure thorough accuracy they should be subjected to an analysis which we have not in all cases had the means of making.

Rental of parish
Rental per head
Acreage of parish
Acreage per head
£3,215 17s 0d
12s 1d
£14,490 9s 7d
27s 10¾d
£4,159 11s 8d
13s 2¾d
£5,071 5s
29s ¾d

£26,937 3s 1d
21s 1¾d

6,231 6s 4d
25s 10½d
North Uist
5,482 19s 10d
25s 8½d
South Uist
6,739 14s 1d
22s 2d
2,425 0s 8d
22s 5 ¼d

20,879 0s 11d
24s 1 ¾ d

6,965 6s 2d
149s 11 ½d
7,473 17s 10d
34s 7¼d
5,988 19s 4d
46s 9d
8,406 8s 6d
52s 8¼d
4,452 16s 11d
43s 2¾d
5,418 8s 5d
51s 1¾d
5,538 4s 8d
42s 4d

44,244 1s 10d
49s 8½d
Overall total
92,060 5s 10d
30s 4½d
The number of families is 12,073, which gives 6.02 persons to each family.

The census was taken when many of the able-bodied young men were away from home. In Lewis, four hundred militiamen were absent, it is said, at the time. The rentals include shootings and house property. Of the valuation of Lewis (entered at £226,937, 3s. 1d., including house-property in Stornoway, Glebes, Manses, &c), only £18,163 5s 8d relates to the property of Lady Matheson,—the sole landowner in the island,—and it appears in evidence that but £12,713, 4s. 10d. of this is properly land rental. The acreage of the four Lewis parishes includes foreshores and water; what proportion of the area of each parish these occupy we have not ascertained, but the area of the whole island, exclusive of foreshores and water, is 32,745 acres less than the extent stated in the census return. On the other hand, it may be contended that the population of the trading town of Stornoway, amounting to 2693, is wrongly included in a table dealing with a land question. If effect be given to this contention, and allowance made for the absent militiamen, the population of the rural part of Lewis may be taken at 23,000, and dividing the corrected acreage and rental above given over this number, the result is 17.58 acres, and a rental of 11s. 0½d. per head for Lewis. It will be observed that the acreage per head is not very different from the figures in the table.

The next table gives the same statistics for the opposite mainland coasts of Ross and Sutherland ; but the district here included contains so much larger a proportion of ground of high elevation, remote from lands suitable for habitation, that the same inferences cannot safely be drawn from this table as from the first. For this reason it will be more convenient to confine to the islands our present investigation of how far the land is sufficient for the maintenance of the people.

Rental of parish
Rental per head
Acreage of parish
Acreage per head
£5,948 8s 0d
120s 6 ½d
4,979 4s 11d
65s 3 ½d
5,845 1s 9d
42s ½d

Loch Broom
15,250 13s 3d
72s 9¼d
11,513 2s 10d
50s 1½d
4,079 14s
36s 5¼d
5,679 19s 7d
78s ¼d
5,850 16s 9d
57s 1d
5,954 15s 4d
173 1½d
4,526 14s
218s 3d
Overall total
69,628 15s 5d
66s 6d

Whatever may be the merits or defects of the crofting system as pursued in the Highlands and Islands, it may be assumed that, for some time at least, it will continue in operation, and therefore in the course of this inquiry it became proper to ascertain what, in the opinion of the ordinary crofter, would be for him a comfortable holding. There was some difficulty in arriving at a just conclusion on this point, from the fact that every one, whatever the extent of his occupancy, professed to need more than he had. For instance, Samuel Nicolson of Skerrinish in Skye, a cottar without land, seemed only to desire such a piece of ground as the crofters about him complained of as insufficient; Donald M'Donald of Torlum in Benbecula, said if he had two crofts instead of one he would not be so badly off, but at the same time he admitted that a neighbour who had four of these same crofts complained he could not make a living ; and William M'Crimmon of Bernera, Glenelg, speaking for crofters who were in possession of such a stock as was aimed at by the people of the Northern Hebrides, and who paid a rent of f 16 each, said they wanted small farms of from £30 to £40 rent. Instances of this sort abound in the evidence. Whatever a man's position was, he had a laudable ambition to improve it; and therefore to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion on this point, the evidence of crofters' whose holdings are of exceptional size must to some extent be disregarded.

The real desire of these people seems to have been fairly put by Malcolm M'Innes of Tighary, North Uist, who says,' the very ' thing we want is to live as farmers on a farm where we could 'make a living out of our crofts by our labour;' i.e., they want to be able to earn a living on their own land without having to leave home to seek employment for wages. It was stated in evidence in Skye, that the minimum size of a croft which would enable them to do this would be one having enough cultivated land to support a family, with pasture for four or five cows and fifty to a hundred sheep. In Uist, the estimate was as much arable land as would supply a family with food, and pasture for sjx cows, two horses, and forty to fifty sheep ; and in Lewis, from six to ten acres of arable land, from six to ten head of cattle, and from forty to fifty sheep. These estimates do not materially differ. In counting the value of grazing for stock, a cow is usually held equivalent to five sheep, two young cattle to a cow, and a horse to two cows. The above estimates of requisite pasture reduced to sheep's grazing would thus be :—
In Skye: from 70 to 125 sheep.
In Uist: 90 to 100 sheep
In Lewis: 70 to 100 sheep
Total: 230 to 325
making the average estimate . . 6)555 of requisite pasture equal to the grazing of 92½ sheep. The extent of land required for a sheep's grass in the mountain pastures of the north varies from three to six acres. In the Northern Hebrides, and on the adjacent parts of the mainland, the grazing cannot certainly be said to be above average quality, and though parts of Skye may be classed as superior, much of the Long Island is so poor that over the whole islands it is safe to say not less than 4½ acres would be necessary for each sheep. But as this calculation refers to the sheep of the large farmer, it must be modified for those of the crofter, which are generally of inferior size, and from figures before us we think not more than three acres of pasture apiece should be allowed for them. If the average crofter were to keep stock equivalent to 92½ sheep, he would thus require 277½ acres of pasture land. He would also need nine or ten acres of arable ground, or 287 acres in all. The average number of persons per family in Skye and the Long Island is 5.02: hence, taking the people's own view of what is essential for the maintenance of a family in comfort, over fifty-seven acres per head are necessary. It has to be borne in mind that the country is naturally adapted mainly for pastoral farming, and it is for this reason that the land in the Islands and Highlands is so little suited to support a large number of inhabitants. Many persons would consider that a population of crofters having no more land or stock than is above described would not be in a safe position. Few will deem that a wholesome state of rural society where only holdings on a uniformly low scale are to be found, or will think that twice the extent per head above indicated would be too high an average toadmit of the gradation in the size of farms which is everywhere desirable ; but with the single exception of Bracadale, there is not a parish in Skye or the Long Island where the relation of acreage to population approaches this figure, while the average number of acres per head over all these islands is only 19*43. The people's views are naturally founded on imperfect knowledge of the actual capacity of the land to realise their aspirations, and when their wishes are brought to the test of figures, it becomes evident that in Skye and the Long Island they could not be satisfied even by dividing among them the large farms and forests. We believe that a condition in some degree similar exists on certain parts of the mainland, though, from the fact already mentioned, it is not so easy to show it in figures.

It may possibly be replied that the Hebrideans do not rely solely on farming, that they are to a large extent fishermen and take their living out of the sea. The fisheries have been dealt with in another part of this report. We need only point out here that if half the population were to give up all share in the land there would be barely thirty-nine acres apiece for the remainder, instead of the average of fifty-seven requisite to furnish all with the substantial croft to which they aspire; and after making every allowance for the number of people who may be expected to derive the whole or the greater portion of their livelihood from the sea, we are of opinion that a resort to emigration is unavoidable. Were trade more flourishing, a movement to the great seats of industry might provide a natural outlet for the surplus population, but our overcrowded towns are themselves crying out for State-aided or State-directed emigration, and while individuals may still find openings in them, no great stream of migration can at present with advantage flow towards our industrial centres.

It will be found in the evidence that while the upper and middle classes resident in the crowded districts generally refer to emigration as the true solution of the crofter question, the crofters themselves express aversion to it. Now, emigration from the Highlands and Islands, mainly consequent on want of employment at home, has been more or less continuous for the last hundred and fifty years. A writer [Gartmore MS, published in Appendix to 5th edition of Burt’s Letters from the North of Scotland] in 1747 calculated that the population of the Highlands and Islands (including Orkney and Shetland) was 230,000, and that there was ' not business for more than half ' that number and during the remainder of the century that ' business' was in some ways being diminished, as a consolidation of farms was constantly going on. Some of the original settlers in Georgia in 1733 were Highlanders. The Highland settlement in North Carolina dates from about the same time, and there is evidence of Highland emigrants having been in Virginia at an earlier date. In the third quarter of the century, emigration proceeded with great rapidity. Dr Johnson describes it in 1773 as ' a fever of emigration’. In the three years preceding the outbreak of the American War of Independence, 30,000 persons from different parts of the Highlands are said, by Dr Garnett, to have crossed the Atlantic.

The year 1782-83, which saw the close of the war, was one of extraordinary scarcity in the Highlands. In the appendix will be found some remarkable resolutions passed in 1783 in Easter Ross (then cultivated on the old Highland system) which portray vividly the destitution of the time. The pressure of circumstances naturally drove the people again to resume emigration, and by the end of the century it bad reached such proportions, and was esteemed so momentous, that the Highland Society, in their report for the years 1799-1803, treat as the most important of their proceedings those relating to emigration, ' which at this time began to revive with a spirit more universal and determined than at any previous period.' It is evident then that the repugnance to emigration which has been expressed by Highlanders to-day, is due to a fluctuation of opinion, and is not to be ascribed to an ineradicable sentiment.

The crofters give two reasons for their present attitude—first, that those who go abroad encounter serious risks, and have continuous difficulties to contend with there; and secondly, that while emigration has always been spoken of as a panacea for the ills of those that remain, it has ever left them just as they were. Probably it is not without some toil and hardship at the outset that an emigrant can make a position for himself in the colonies, but the reward may be said to be sure. In his evidence at Inverness, Mr Alexander Mackenzie, editor of the Celtic Magazine, stated that he had visited all the Highland settlements of any note in Canada, and found their condition very satisfactory, and that those who had emigrated in recent years had only themselves to blame if they were not very prosperous ; and in an article published in his magazine in November 1879, writing from Canada, he said: ' I have taken considerable pains to find out the feeling here among those who came out themselves, as well as among their descendants, and I cannot recall a single instance in which any of them who have settled down here on their own lands would wish to go back and live in the Highlands.' Highland emigrants have been equally successful in Australia; and the first of the crofters objections may fairly be set aside as insufficient. But it is quite true that the residuary population has in the past received little benefit from the emigrations that have taken place. When lands have been vacated during the present century, it has generally been after a time of distress. Proprietors had been put to expense in meeting the destitution, and had come to dread an extension of the crofter population, which seemed to them ' always augmenting and always trenching on the verge of redundance,' and they usually made consolidated farms of the vacated land. Where the crofters had the capital to put this land to a profitable use, it was doubtless a mistaken policy not to give it to them, and in any case it would have been desirable to have made some greater effort to improve their condition than was done. The crofters have perhaps reason to complain of neglect; and in the case of future emigration the policy of the past would have to be reconsidered. We are inclined to think, however, that the prevailing land agitation has not been without considerable influence in prompting the expressed dislike to emigration, and we hope that when overpopulation is clearly shown under any distribution of the land that could take place, and when the people are satisfied that the interests of those who remain at home will be cared for, their aversion to emigration will disappear.

Emigration offers few difficulties to the young and able-bodied, but it is obvious that it can be no benefit to a country to lose its workers alone, and that it is only by the removal of entire families that any serviceable relief from congestion will be experienced. Comparatively few, however, of the crofters in the districts under consideration are likely to have the means of moving their families to a new home across the seas, and of starting themselves there with something approaching a certainty of success, nor can much direct assistance be expected from the proprietors of these impoverished parts.

We are well aware that objections may be made to an appeal to the Government for help. There is a tendency at the present time to draw on public funds to enable things to be done which ought to result from spontaneous exertion; and it has been pertinently enough asked whether perpetually increasing drafts should be made on the hard-won earnings of the provident, in order, in too many cases, to help the improvident. The interference too of the State in emigration as in other departments of social life, naturally tends to weaken self-reliance, and to substitute for it a habit of dependence on some one else. But this objection applies equally to the intervention of proprietors or of local authorities of any kind, and if it is to the advantage of the community that a redundant population should be removed, and if its members have not the means and cannot procure the private a distance necessary to enable them to leave, one of those exceptional cases seems to have been made out which have from time to time been held to justify State aid. On such grounds the Irish Arrears Act of 1882 and the Tramways Act of 1883, have authorised the Government to assist emigration from Ireland, and for like reasons the Act of 14 & 15 Vict. cap. 91 (1851), offered loans for promoting emigration from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, it being at that time considered that the distress there ' would be most effectually relieved by affording facilities for the voluntary emigration of a portion of the population of those districts.' [The loans for emigration under this Act were authorised to be made out of sums provided under the Lands Improvement Acts ; and it appears from a communication from the Treasury that the amount applied for and sanctioned for emigration purposes was .£15,544, 17s. 10d., but that of this sum there was only actually advanced £5249, 11s. On the 30th November 1883, there was still a balance of £5343 available for emigration.] We are of opinion that the need of emigration now is in some districts as urgent as it was in 1851, that this need must shortly bring about the desire for it, and that without making any drafts on the public revenue, beyond the cost of establishing an Emigration Agency, in connection with a Scottish Government Department, and without infringing economic principles, the State might give most valuable assistance to intending emigrants, and ought to do so where localities are overcrowded.

It would usually be very imprudent for a family in poor circumstances to attempt emigration without previous arrangements having been made for them in the colony to which they are proceeding. Single men and women have little or no difficulty in finding remunerative employment, and, should the work be but casual or the pay small, they have only themselves to support. It is very different with a family. The chance of obtaining employment is in this case more uncertain, while the necessity for constant wages is more absolute. There seem to be only two ways in which previous provision in the colonies can be made for emigrant families; either contracts may be entered into with employers of labour to receive them for a certain time, or they may be settled on homesteads where by labour on their own land they can produce the means of subsistence, provision being made for their maintenance till the first crop is harvested.

We are uncertain how far the first of these systems is capable of extensive application. At present free passages are given to nominees of colonists in some of Your Majesty's Australian dependencies (presumably in return for a corresponding obligation); and the Canadian Act of 35 Vict. cap. 28, recognises engagements by emigrants, in consideration of money advanced, to enter the service of an employer in Canada on their arrival there, and makes the breach of such engagements punishable. If a family can pay for their own passage, the arrangement under which employment might be found for them on their arrival would not bind them to retain it longer than it suited them; but if the head of the family should be destitute of means there can be no objection to his being bound to serve a certain employer till the cost of the passage has been repaid, provided the engagement is voluntarily entered into after its terms have been fully explained, and is afterwards fairly carried out. This could be secured if there were a Government Emigration Agency where a register was kept in which colonial employers and intending emigrants could record their respective wants. Applications by employers for the services of a labouring family might be lodged along with security for repayment of any advance required for the cost of emigration ; and to ensure the validity of the security, this should be done through the Colonial Government, which might even undertake to recover the sum secured. The Scottish Emigration Agency should frame a deed of obligation equitable both to emigrants and employers, and, when parties were suited, see it formally executed; while by arrangement with the Colonial Governments provision might be made under legislative enactment to ensure the proper fulfilment of these obligations. The transfer of labour from the mother country to the colonies thus conducted might be beneficial to both; and if the cost should have in the first instance to be advanced by the Imperial Government, its repayment would be guaranteed. Under the local supervision of the Colonial Government it would not be possible for the employer to infringe the terms of the contract, and the emigrant would have no reason to complain of a temporary restraint on the free exercise of his labour consequent on an engagement entered into with his free consent. The term during which such an engagement would endure would probably be one of not less than twelve months, but should it exceed this period, we think the emigrant ought to be entitled to enfranchise himself after a year's service, on repaying the amount for which the employer had rendered himself liable, and which had not already been deducted from the servant's wages. If emigration could be carried on to any extent on such a system, it would probably be the best form that could be adopted by a working man's family possessed of no capital except their labour. But with a very small amount of capital, and help from temporary advances to the extent of perhaps £ 100, repayment of which could be safely secured, families might be advantageously settled on the homestead allotments of 160 acres in the North-West Territory, of which free grants are made by the Canadian Government. An experiment of this sort was tried last year by Lady Gordon-Cathcart, and an account of its cost is given in the evidence. In this case, seven emigrant families possessed an average capital of £ 107, 15s. 1½ d., and received a loan of £ 100 each besides. So far as these emigrants are concerned, the experiment up to this time seems to have been quite successful. But in the districts whence emigration is most required the crofter in average circumstances who is free of debt and able to assist himself will probably not have more than £40 or £50 of his own to start with, while it might not be desirable that he should encumber himself with a greater burden of debt than £100, even if a larger loan were available.

We have made minute inquiry in various quarters, from those best entitled to speak on the subject, as to what is the least amount of capital with which it would be advisable for a Highland crofter to emigrate as a settler in the North-West Territory. We have been informed that while many have done well who started there with not more than £20, a man with a family should not be recommended to attempt it with less than £100 or £120 at his disposal after reaching his destination; but that a Highland crofter would be safe in commencing with this sum were sufficient care taken beforehand in selecting the ground for him, and in providing him economically with the necessary frame-house and stores. The cost of the journey from this country to Manitoba is usually reckoned at about £30 for a family of average size; it may thus be assumed that with £150 at his command, a crofter, physically fitted for it, might safely undertake to settle there with his family if only the Government Emigration Agency could provide the pre-arranged local guidance, which is on all hands described as being a most important element of success. Since the conclusion of the active part of our inquiry, communications have reached us throwing doubt on the sufficiency of this estimate for the more distant and inaccessible parts of the North-West Territory. It may have to be revised as emigration proceeds westward ; but it would be one of the special duties of the Scottish Government Emigration Agency to ascertain and to make known what means were indispensable to the successful settlement of an emigrant family. The Canadian Land Companies, who last year offered to settle in Manitoba 10,000 emigrant families from Ireland for an advance of £1,000,000, calculated that the profits of farming there were such that within ten years a settler could repay (with interest at 6 per cent, after the second year) a loan of £100. Others who have communicated with us take a more sanguine view, and think the debt might be paid off in five years. The Canadian Legislature have allowed homestead quarter sections of 160 acres to be mortgaged to the extent of £100, and as the value of these lands increases as the adjacent country becomes settled, a mortgage of that amount should be a safe one. It would seem therefore that of the £150 necessary for a settler's family, £100 might be borrowed money if it could be obtained on reasonable terms. Objections have been raised to the climate of these provinces, and though we are not inclined to lay undue weight on them, we have thought it right, as an alternative, to enter into communication with the agents in this country of Your Majesty's colonial dependencies in the Southern Hemisphere, in order to ascertain whether there was a likelihood that a similar system of settlement could be carried out in any of them. We stated that it would be essential to the success of such a scheme as we contemplated—

(1) that each family should at once find means of subsistence on the homestead from the day of its arrival;

(2) that the cost of preparing the homestead and removing the family to it from this country should not exceed what it might reasonably be expected the family could repay in eight or ten years; and

(3) that the Colonial Government should take an interest in the success of the scheme, make
provision for the immigrants on their arrival, see them established and undertake to recover from them repayment of any advances made by the Imperial Government.'

There has not been time to receive definitive answers to these communications, which it has generally been necessary to refer to the Colonial Governments. The cost of the unassisted passage to the Australian colonies is considerably greater than to the North West Territory, and the Australian Governments are not so liberal as that of the Dominion in giving free grants of land. On the other hand, the cost to emigrants of the assisted passage to some of the Australian colonies is less than to Manitoba. We have learned that the Government of the Cape of Good Hope has had it under consideration to make proposals for forming an agricultural settlement of Skye crofters in that colony with the assistance of the Imperial Government, but the details of the project (if it has been formulated) have not reached us, and our own communication on the subject has been referred to the Cape. Our consideration of this question of family emigration from the overcrowded districts of the Highlands has led us to recognise the very great advantage there would be in promoting it by means of State loans under the direct control of a separate Government agency for Scotland. This agency could also negotiate with the Colonial Governments for the care and reception of immigrant families, for their establishment in the colony in some pre-arranged capacity, and for the recovery of moneys advanced. The overcrowded localities where State aid is to be given to emigration might be scheduled by the Board of Supervision which for the present is practically the Local Government Board for Scotland. The rules under which State advances might be granted would be framed by the Scottish Agency for Emigration, with the sanction of the Treasury. When an emigrant could deposit £50 or more, the loan might be of sufficient amount to enable him to venture on land as a settler; but where he desired to emigrate under a contract to labour for an employer in the colonies, and that employer obtained from the Colonial or Imperial Government assistance for the transport of the emigrant, the amount advanced should be limited to the actual cost of outfit and passage-money, and should be repayable by the employer within a specified time. And as the object of relieving the over-crowding is to assist those at home as much as those who go abroad, we suggest that it should be made a condition of granting an advance to a crofter desiring to emigrate, that the landlord should undertake in all cases where practicable to utilise his vacated croft, if rented at less than four pounds, for the purpose of enlarging other crofters' holdings, and should be bound to accept and pay for his stock at valuation, so as to enable him to realise at the time of year most suitable for embarkation.

The advantages of State direction which the Government Agency would confer should not be limited to emigrants requiring aid in the way of advances. Strangers in the colonies, without local guidance, waste both time and means in the selection of land and the search for employment, and, ignorant how to supply the requirements of their new position, they frequently make needless sacrifice of their small capital in providing for their earlier wants. The State agency, if fitly equipped at home and abroad, could make arrangements beforehand which would save the crofter emigrants from these sources of loss.

We think it important that assisted emigration should be placed under the immediate direction of officers of the Imperial Government rather than under the control of local authorities. It would be the interest of the latter to shift poverty from their own locality, irrespective of the prospects of the poor who were removed, and almost inevitably this interest would to a greater or less extent prejudice the careful selection of emigrants. If emigration by families is to be conducted successfully, the proportion of dependants to bread-winners in the emigrant family must not be lost sight of. A family that could advantageously remove to one of the colonies in two or three years time might attempt it very unsuccessfully to-day; and it is only with careful discrimination that State aid should be granted, or the system will be brought into discredit. But believing as we do that emigration properly conducted is an indispensable remedy for the condition of some parts of the Highlands and Islands, we strongly recommend that in connection with any measures which may be framed for improving the position of the crofters and cottars, such provision should be made as we have indicated for assisting emigrants both by State advances and State direction.

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