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April 1978 IndexBulletins Index

Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin
1978 - April

A copy of the following essay was recently received from a member of the Field Club. It is a contemporary account written in 1884 by a young student who at the time had recently entered Moray House College.

"Perhaps the event of greatest importance in my native place during the last year was the visit paid by Her Majesty's Commissioners to inquire into the grievances of the Highland crofters in July last.

Very great interest was manifested in the proceedings of the Commissioners all over the Highlands and Sutherlandshire was no exception to the rule. From the time of the appointment of the Commission preparations were made by those interested for giving evidence relative to the state of the Crofters.

Meetings were held in every hamlet in the North and men were appointed to appear before the Commission as delegates. It was felt by all that there was a pressing need of some amelioration being made in the condition of the crofter-fisher population and the announcement of the appointment of a Royal Commission was hailed with great satisfaction by all classes, and when intimation was made that they would hold a sitting at Bettyhill every one looked eagerly forward to the eventful day.

The Commissioners had been in Orkney and were conveyed to the mainland by a steamer specially chartered for the purpose. The intention was to land at Bettyhill, but the weather proved so boisterous that after the steamer had appeared on the coast no landing could be affected and they had to put back to Thurso thirty miles distant and hire thence to Bettyhill. Notwithstanding the weather a great crowd had collected at Bettyhill early on the day from all over the North of Sutherland and anxiously awaited the Commission. Men of all occupations were there, factors, sheep farmers, crofters etc.

The Free Church of Farr was crowded by an enthusiastic audience. The delegates were then examined and each gave evidence relating to the condition of the people in each township. Old men, who had been eyewitnesses of the cruel evictions of sixty years ago when a peaceful law abiding and brave race were driven from the glens and straths of Sutherland to find a miserable home on the barren sea shore or in the backwoods of North America gave a recital of those shameful deeds. They told of the comfortable circumstances the people were in before the days in which they had to go forth from their burning homes to make way for sheep and deer.

Others spoke of the grievances of the present day under which the present race suffered, and the want of proper facilities for developing the industries of the county. It is satisfactory to see that the Commissioners have recommended that harbours should be constructed in several places for the furtherance of the fishing industry.

It was late at night before the meeting terminated, and the Commissioners wishing if possible, to hear all the evidence proposed to have a sitting next day. Evidence of a similar nature to that on the first day was given, and several cases of oppression by factors were brought before the Commissioners. Statistics were given of the rental paid by crofters, and the non-resident capitalists who hold most of the sheep farms and deer forests in the north of Sutherland.

The Commissioners seemed greatly impressed by the independence and sturdiness of a people suffering under such hardships as the crofters have been shown to be. It was the earnest wish of all present excepting some whose selfish interests might suffer from any change on the existing state of things, that something tending to ameliorate the condition of the people would be the result of the Commission, and in the hope they have not been disappointed.

Although the report of the Commission is satisfactory as far as it goes, still it is felt by some that they have not gone far enough, while others bewail the insertion of the thin end of the wedge of Socialism, which they appear to think the recommendations of the Commissioners tend to bring into any future legislation on the subject."


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