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Reminiscences of Cromar and Canada
Chapter XI - Proprietors and Tenants


LAND tenure is a subject which has given much concern to many generations of our race. Like every other commodity, land acquires commercial value only when it becomes scarce. When the inhabitants of the world were few, fresh fields extended their welcome to every increase of the population and there was no reason why any dispute as to possession should arise, for outward still extended the inviting fields. A time was bound to come, however, when all the available lands would become occupied. Then would come a realization of the value and importance of land and the desirability of its possession. Not till then would arise the question of title, a matter so important today.

The origin of titles in the Highlands need not here be discussed. Suffice it to say that sometimes landed estates were the gift of Royalty, and sometimes there obtained:

"The good old rule, the simple plan
"That they should take who have the power
"And they should keep who can."

In modern times there are well understood limitations to the right of ownership and possession, by which the interests of the Public have precedence, subject to pecuniary compensation, as mutually agreed or as determined by law. As time goes on, I am of opinion that these limitations are bound to be extended. It is certain at least that no man or Government has made the land. It is therefore a gift from its Maker to humanity in all generations. From its broad bosom every human being, by the Divine beneficence, has his right to sustenance, and no law of man can intervene without wrong. To say that the land should be subdivided and parcelled out to every subject, individually and indiscriminately, would be absurd, but every child of Adam has his right to tread somewhere a portion of earth's surface, and from its soil to derive the food necessary for his sustenance, subject, of course to return of sufficient recompence for the labour of production and marketing. If that view is correct, then the owner of the land can never be more than a trustee for the benefit of the public.

The question of proprietory rights is not confined to land. It extends also to mines, water-powers and all things natural and material.

On Canada's horizon, today looms large, the question of water-powerss. Whose in the future are they to be? Shall they belong to the people of Canada? Or shall they become the property of soulless corporations whose only object will be self-advancement and enrichment?

It is not a question as to which method is likely to prove the more economical in the present or in the future, immediate or remote. We of the present are the trustees and custodians of the property of posterity, which we, as such, have no moral right to alienate. It may be that we are incapable of managing so large an estate, but we have no right to assume that posterity will be as inefficient as we. Their right is to have reserved for them, and delivered to them, their whole estate, with all their natural rights intact, in order that each generation as it comes to maturity, may become the possessor of all its natural heritage, together with the accumulated experience of its management that may have been acquired, successively, by the generations going before.

While these are my individual convictions, I am free to say that I am by no means convinced that landlordism, as it has heretofore existed in Scotland, has been an unmixed evil. Indeed, I am sure that the country would not have been better had any other method been adopted. Had the land been in possession of the tenants, without rent or other burden, the certainty is that in the majority of cases, the holdings would have income subdivided until a living, in most cases would have become impossible, for the majority of the owners, if free to do so, would have sold out their possessions. As it was, the necessity of raising the yearly rental compelled a not too willing or progressive tenantry to habits of industry and thrift that they might not otherwise have attained. The proprietors, in recent years at least, have also been the means of continuing advances in the methods of agriculture, sometimes in the face of great opposition. Another advantage, however little appreciated by the tenants, and for which the proprietors deserve no credit, was the necessity for emigration which the landlord system made inevitable.

On the larger estates the proprietors were mostly non-resident and knew practically nothing of their tenants. Mr. Farquharson, the old laird of Invercauld called once on my father at Tillymutton and seemed inclined to accept an invitation to enter his humble dwelling there, but for Mr. Roy, his factor, who accompanied him, that was too great a condescension, and through his influence, the invitation was declined. His son. Colonel Farquharson. who succeeded to the estate some years prior to our leaving, never visited his Cromar tenants at any time, and not until he had determined to sell that part of his estate, did he ever, to my knowledge, even come to see it. His father seems to have been a man of kindly disposition who would not willingly oppress his tenants. He had, however, a large family to provide for, and the estate being entailed in favour of his eldest son, I suppose he had found it difficult enough to make what he deemed sufficient provision for the rest. My father at any rate, on one occasion of special need, received at his hand, in a handsome manner a special kindness which he never forgot, and which I here record to the credit of the laird.

LONGER LEASES AND NEW LIBERTIES.

The system of tenancy from year to year, deplored late in the eighteenth century by Rev. Mr. Farquharson had been abandoned, and the leases throughout the Invercauld Estate, and probably all through the country, possibly as early as 1809, and certainly not later than 1828, were made terminable at the end of nineteen years after their respective dates. The result was wonderful. Improvements were undertaken that in the absence of security of tenure could never have been thought of. Inspired by hope, fresh courage came to the tenants who with quickened intelligence sought out and adopted new methods, and soon to the least observant came the consciousness that a new era had dawned on Cromar. Not only did new life come to the poor farmer, but to all classes of society came a sort of rejuvenation. The cold and dreary winter had passed, and spring had come with its beauty and promise.

A factor of no little importance, was the French Revolution of 1789, whose reverberations wakened the sleeping world to a realization of the rights of the common people, and of the degradation into which they had been brought by the arrogance and oppression of self-appointed rulers and their satelites. Happily for Britain and the rest of the world, the horrors which the French Revolution developed as it progressed, proved a sufficient deterrent from the adoption of excesses such as those by which that fateful movement had been characterized. Relief of the masses from the impotent degradation of which thinking men had now become conscious, could not be longer postponed. To the cautious and quickened intelligence of a fast-growing aristocracy of industry and wealth, largely the fruitage of the numerous mechanical inventions of the closing years of the eighteenth century, is probably due, under Providence, the wise decision to seek redress by evolution rather than by revolution. The shattering of the monarchy, and the orgies of crime and violence which had characterized the French Revolution were thus avoided, but in the councils of the nation the common people must henceforth have a voice. The agitation for reform, carried on for years, by and by became irresistible, and in 1832 the Reform Act was passed. By this wise and just measure the right to the franchise was extended to tenants whose rental amounted yearly to not less in counties than fifty pounds, and in boroughs to not less than ten pounds.

By this Act also were abolished fifty-six boroughs, each of which had theretofore enjoyed parliamentary representation controlled by a single person or family. By that moderate measure there were added to the electorate 500,000 voters. The landed interests generally looked upon the measure with much disfavour and regarded its passage with dire apprehension. The anticipated evil results, however, were never realized. Instead, there came to the common people a sense of their own importance, and of their responsibility for the wise conduct of public affairs. The change was good in many directions, but perhaps no industry in the country derived from it more advantage than did that of agriculture. Through the agency of the more practical if not more enlightened popular representatives by whom the House of Commons was thenceforth diluted, legislation was passed authorizing Government loans at moderate interest for drainage and ether agricultural improvements. Nor were the good effects of the new legislation limited to the departments specially aided, but into the current of hopefulness to which legislative assistance gave no small contribution, were drawn both proprietors and tenants, by whose co-operation large areas of stony moorland and bog were reclaimed and improved, and dwellings and buildings as well as stone fences erected.

It need not be forgotten that the whole burden of the improvements was ultimately borne by the tenant. By a yearly instalment, together with yearly interest in full, in addition to his stipulated rent, the borrowed money, as well as all advances made by the laird, had to be paid by the tenant within a specified number of years as mutually agreed. Not only so, but at the end of his lease the tenant was indeed a fortunate exception if, for renewal of his lease, he was not called upon to pay an advanced rental due to such of his own improvements as he had undertaken on his own initiative and accomplished by his own unrequited Industry.

The usual lease terms were that certain buildings, when necessary, were to be built by the proprietor, the tenant doing all the hauling of materials and usually I believe boarding the builders while at work, the proprietor, of course, taking care that the rental should be such that a profit would inure to him from the transaction. All obligation on the part of the proprietor, however, was a matter of contract, and the tenant had no rights other than those stipulated in the lease. He might find it necessary to add new buildings during the lease. If the proprietor saw fit he might assist in their construction, but if the tenant proceeded with the work without the proprietor's permission and promise to assist, it was done with the knowledge that it was entirely at the tenant's expense, and that the building would nevertheless become forthwith the property of the landlord, subject only to use by the tenant during the currency of his Iease. It is true that with regard to buildings the framing of a law that would be equitable to both parties would be difficult, but surely some provision should have been made for compulsory compensation at the end of a lease, to the extent of its value to the estate, as then legally ascertained. The same is true with regard to ditching, fencing and land clearance, as well as to other valuable improvements which every progressive farmer ought to be encouraged, for the good of the country, to undertake.

A LITTLE LOCAL DESPOT.

Law compulsion, however, is necessary only for the lawless, and I have reason to believe that many proprietors had at least the will to be liberal when the facts were brought before them personally. Sometimes the estate factor, or manager, stood in the way, himself acting the despot without the knowledge of his employer. Such a factor seems to have had employment on the estate of Invercauld for years about the second quarter of the nineteenth century. It was said that he had a hand at an earlier date in the wholesale and inhumanely executed eviction of the tenantry of The Duke of Sutherland from large sections of his estate, for the creation of sheep-runs and deer forest. Such work, whether justified on economic grounds or not, would not he congenial to, and probably would not be undertaken by, a man of just or sympathetic nature, and if undertaken, would not be conducive to the development of such qualities.

These high qualities, if ever existent in this factor, had vanished, apparently, before his advent on the banks of the Dee. From all accounts, he seemed to hold the tenantry in supreme contempt, never deigning to enter a tenant's house. His method of doing business seems to have been to ride up to the door on horse-back and summon out the tenant. Promptly, hat in hand, the tenant would appear, when the great man would immediately turn his horse around, and retracing his steps towards the highway deliver his message from the saddle, as the tenant meekly followed on foot to receive instructions, open the gate and see His Eminence safely through. Shown to a gentleman worthy of respect, the highest courtesy and deference ought to be a delight, but when rendered on the demand of a snob it becomes mere obsequious subserviency.

Sometimes this boorishness was met with the contempt that it deserved. Of one such instance my father used to tell with much appreciation. This factor had once occasion to call upon Donald Farquharson, my father's brother-in-law, at Ballater, on some business, Announcing himself at the door without dismounting, and likely by using his whip instead of the knocker, response was given by my uncle in person. The factor irnmediately proceeded to business, having first declined the hospitality of the house for its discussion, and meantime turning his horse's head towards the street. As soon as his intention became manifest, my uncle bade hint "Good Bye," and returned to the house, preferring to arrange the business with Invercauld's legal representatives in Aberdeen, who were much amused at the factor's method of doing business.

Not much more successful was he in managing a waterbailie, a functionary whose duty it was to prevent poaching on the river Dee. On one occasion the factor himself in passing along the highway made the discovery that poachers were on the river at night with fir torches the double purpose of which was both to attract and reveal the finny beauties. Hastily securing the assistance of his bailie, he took the lead towards the light along the bank of the river. The bailie, however desirous in his own quiet way to put a stop to the infamous practice, had no wish to be a party to the delivers' of the offenders to his superior's tender mercies, so followed stumblingly in the darkness the lead of the latter with ill-concealed annoyance. At last as they neared their objective, the bailie, affecting to have sustained a serious fall, called out in a loud voice, ''Oh, Mr. R. I'm killed." Immediately the torches were submerged, and the poachers escaped in the darkness, to the sad discomfiture of the factor and the secret satisfaction of the bailie.


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