22245. The Chairman.
—You have a statement, Mr Rampini, I understand, which you are prepared to read : we shall be glad to hear it?
—In accordance with the desire of the Commissioners I have the honour to submit the following notes on the peculiarities of the measurement and tenures of land in Shetland, the condition of the peasantry, the valuation and population of the county, and the development of the white and herring fisheries.
1. A Shetland "town" or township is a collection of cottages built of stone and generally straw-thatched, surrounded by feul dykes, which separate the township from its hillpasture or scattald. In front of the cottages are the town-maills—a piece of ground always left uncultivated, and on which are tethered the stock required by the crofters for their domestic use. Lower down are the kail-yards of the cottagers, and patches of arable growing crops of here, potatoes or oats, always unfenced, and sometimes held in runrig. At a distance from the township are the plantis-cruives or crubs of the community —circular patches or outsets of land reclaimed from the scattald, surrounded with dry stone dykes, and used as nurseries to their kail-yards.
2. The measurement of land in Shetland is in some respects peculiar. The unit of extent is the merk or mark, which originally was held to comprise 1600 square fathoms, but is now, owing to variation in the quality of the sod, of uncertain extent, comprising any amount of land from three-quarters of an acre to fourteen acres. Two or three acres may be considered a fair average. Each merk is divided into eight ures or ounces. The origin of the merk as a unit of extent is stated by Hibbert [p. 178] to be as follows:
—"The Norwegians in the time of Harold Harfagre [by whom the islands were conquered and erected into an earldom] appear to have known scarcely any other [standard of valuation] than what was suggested by the course woollen attire of the country, called Wadnel. Eight pieces of this cloth, each measuring 6 ells, constituted a mark. The extent, therefore, of each Shetland site of land bearing the appellation of mark was originally determined by this rude standard of comparison; its exact limits being described by loose stones or shells under the name of merk-stones or meithes—many of which still remain undisturbed on the brown heaths of the county It was sometime after the colonisation of Shetland that it became necessary to reduce each measurement of ground into still smaller allotments. But although the division was into eight parts, its correspondence to the similar one of a mark of Wadmel was not immediately derived from this measurement. A nearer standard of comparison had succeeded to the Wadmel, formed of a certain weight of some inferior metal. The division, therefore, of a mark-weight of this substance into eight ures or ounces, appears to have suggested a name for the same number of portions into which a mark of land began to be resolved.
3, The merks lands of Shetland are generally considered—although the point is not free from doubt—to have been originally the arable only, and were held at first by udal. tenure. But in addition, each proprietor of merks land within the " room" or township was entitled to a share in the hill pasture adjoining and appertaining to the township, proportionate to the extent of his merks land. This hill pasture was and is still known by the name of scattald or scathold, because such lands paid scat or land tax to the crown —an imposition from which udal lands were exempt. Lands reclaimed from the scattald were termed " outsets," and were and are still regarded as the freehold of the reclaimer, after an undisturbed possession of forty years.
4. It must not, however, be supposed that, at the present day, all merks lands in Shetland are held by udal tenure. This holds good only in the case of the smaller proprietors. The lands of the larger proprietors have been, for the most part, feudalised; and such feudalised lands constitute by far the greater portion of Shetland territory. Up to the commencement of the present century, transmission of udal lands without writing was the rule. But of late years, in transferences to singular successors, the forms of feudal conveyance have been adopted, mainly for the sake of the security which registration affords.
5. A large proportion of the crofters are udal proprietors; and whatever may be their social condition, the possession of even four ures of land constitutes the proprietor a small, or, in the vernacular, a peerie" laird. The proprietrix of half a merk of land was once described to me as " a lady in her own right." The purest Norse blood in the islands is to be found amongst these peerie lairds. Few of the large landed proprietors can claim a longer connection with the islands than that of a hundred or a hundred and fifty years.
6. When a proprietor of merks lands desires to ascertain the extent of his scathold right, he institutes a process of division of commonty in the Court of Session, and calls his co-proprietors into court as defenders. A commission is thus granted,—generally to the judge-ordinary of the bounds,—to perambulate the scattald, to examine the titles of the claimants, to survey the scattald, and thereafter to allocate the same amongst the various parties who can instruct a right to share in the division. The allocation completed, march stones are erected; and on the commissioner's report being approved, a decree is pronounced by the Court of Session and the allotments become the absolute property of the persons to whom they are allocated. The procedure is under the old Scottish Act of 1695, c. 38. Any common proprietor has a title to sue. Most of the scattalds in Shetland are now divided. I may mention in regard to this point that what is meant by large proprietors taking scathold from a poorer one, is that they have probably instituted a division of the property for this purpose.
7. As has already been incidentally mentioned, land in Shetland is held either by feudal or udal tenure.
The Earl of Zetland is superior of the islands. But he exacts no duplicaud or other fine on the entry of singular successors. Udal or allodial land is land held in all-hood. The word udal is said to be a compound of the Teutonic odi, signifying property or possession, and of oh or ab, which, in the same language signifies ancient. And thus by an udal or abend, an odel or alod, it meant an ancient inheritance, patrimony or possession." " The heritage of the udal man," says Mackenzie, in his Grievances and Oppressions of the Isles of Orkney and Shetland, " is so entirely his own, ut eo nomine, rulla regus gratia, regus merces, regus opera debeantur, that neither homage, nor rent, nor service is due from it. And the reason is, he owns no seigneural superior, but holds de Deo et sole, of God and heaven only. For this reason, the udalman was likewise called Rothmen or Roythmen, i.e. self-holders, or men holding in their own right, by way of contradistinction to feudatories, who held derivatively, or by a dependence on others.
8. Every one udal-born had the odalsjord —the right to share in the patrimony of his ancestors. How far this odalsjord operated in the nature of an entail of the lands in the family of the udal or, I am not prepared at present to say. The udaller could dispose of his lands by will. But when he died intestate the lands passed to his children in equal shares. At a later period the bull, head-bull, or bu, the chief house on the estate, came to be regarded as the appanage of the eldest son, and each daughter's share was restricted to half a son's portion. During the subsistence of the old local courts of the Fondric, a transference to singular successors was often for the sake of publicity embodied in a Shynd Bill; and finally a modification of the Shynd-Bill in presence of the king came to be regarded as necessary to legalise the purchase, sale and transference of almost every udal right, to evade the right of redemption which originally each Shynd Bill contained, and to give the Scottish purchaser the un-odal security of a written bill in his own language—a combined form of disposition and sasine. [See Balfour's Oppressions of the Sixteenth Century in Orkney and Zetland Introd. p. xxxiv.] At the present day the rules of udal succession are the same as feudal. But the heir makes up no titles.
9. I believe the Shetland peasantry have, on the whole, few real grievances to complain of. Within my own official experience I have met with no cases of oppression by landlords or merchants. There is little destitution, though there is much poverty. The Shetland peasant is inops inter opis. He has his fuel from the Scathold, his food and light from the sun; but even with these advantages, and with, in the majority of cases, a feu croft, he has difficulty to support his wife and family. Taxes and rates are very high in Shetland; and the old and pernicious system of dealing still extant between merchant and fishermen is one of the greatest obstacles to his attaining a higher level either of comfort or of intelligence. As chairman of the Shetland Fishermen's Widows' Relief Fund, I am aware that a large proportion of the fishermen who lost their lives in the great storm of 20th July 1881 were in debt to the local merchant at the time of their death. I append to these notes a copy of the report of the Shetland Relief Committee, from which it will be seen that the committee refused to hold themselves responsible for the debts of the deceased fishermen, or to entertain any of the claims made against the representatives of the deceased fishermen on account of the loss of the boats—many of which were, in accordance with the customs of the country, hired out to them for the fishing season.
10. Although no cases of truck, properly so called, have come under my official notice, the days of the system undoubtedly remain. By advances of goods furnished to the fishermen at the commencement of the fishing season, and by supplies made to his family during his absence, the fisherman puts himself under an obligation to sell his fish to his creditors. I have within the last year tried some six or eight small debt actions, in which the local merchant was pursuer and fishermen defenders, in all of which I found that no proper settlement had taken place between parties at the end of the season. The balance—in all the cases to which I refer, a debit one—-was carried over to next year, and the account ran on in almost every instance till past the prescriptive period. As it has become proveable only by the writ or oath of the debtor, a reference to the fisherman's oath ensued. The nature of the evidence given by the debtor was, in each instance, the same. He admitted that the goods had been supplied, and that the prices stated were those usually charged for the commodities. But he added that he believed his share of the fishings had extinguished the debt; but having kept no account be was unable to substantiate the counter-claim. It seems to be that the Shetland peasantry are at present in a transition state. There appears to be a growing inclination to increase the two pursuits of fishing and crofting, and I cannot doubt that it would be of advantage to the islands that these two occupations should be separately pursued.
11. The following return shows the total valuation of the county for the last ten years. The increase within the last few years is largely owing to the improved system of valuation adopted by the commissioners of supply.
1873-74 - £33175/15/8
1874-75 - £33844/16/2
1875-76 - £34178/7/2
1876-77 - £35406/7/6
1877-78 - £36705/6/0
1878-79 - £36499/2/11
1879-80 - £36503/6/4
1880-81 - £38130/15/1
1881-82 - £40425/17/11
1882-83 - £42442/2/6
12. The population of the county was in 1871, 31,608; and in 1881, 29,705; showing a decrease of 1903 for the decennial period.
13. The following table gives the statistics of the cod fishings on the coasts of Shetland, Faroe and Iceland since the year 1856 :
|Years ||No of smacks ||No of boats ||No of men ||Catch for the |
|Total no of |
employed in the fisheries
excluding of the crews of
|1856 ||51 ||669 ||3574 ||44468 ||4863 |
|1857 ||57 ||682 ||3603 ||43625 ||4121 |
|1858 ||58 ||666 ||3632 ||43146 ||4210 |
|1859 ||64 ||653 ||3766 ||60245 ||4185 |
|1860 ||67 ||689 ||3885 ||55960 ||4260 |
|1861 ||65 ||681 ||3757 ||39965 ||4126 |
|1862 ||65 ||683 ||3759 ||51766 ||4200 |
|1863 ||68 ||677 ||3917 ||69699 ||4372 |
|1864 ||107 ||642 ||4149 ||62006 ||4198 |
|1865 ||92 ||628 ||3982 ||66089 ||4079 |
|1866 ||89 ||629 ||4016 ||58455 ||4140 |
|1867 ||85 ||710 ||4196 ||66641 ||4444 |
|1868 ||96 ||660 ||4244 ||62649 ||4154 |
|1869 ||87 ||621 ||3918 ||81812 ||4099 |
|1870 ||85 ||810 ||3899 ||95677 ||4080 |
|1871 ||84 ||627 ||3999 ||658225 ||4053 |
|1872 ||95 ||589 ||3983 ||84932 ||3795 |
|1873 ||81 ||574 ||3760 ||86193 ||3555 |
|1874 ||86 ||551 ||3753 ||89951 ||3456 |
|1875 ||77 ||571 ||3656 ||111812 ||3631 |
|1876 ||70 ||614 ||3603 ||59637 ||3866 |
|1877 ||71 ||623 ||3660 ||97906 ||3921 |
|1878 ||73 ||610 ||3692 ||92470 ||3996 |
|1879 ||74 ||620 ||3558 ||75535 ||4088 |
|1880 ||62 ||614 ||3586 ||87423 ||4295 |
|1881 ||56 ||628 ||3658 ||61105 ||4654 |
|1882 ||40 ||629 ||3441 ||68597 ||5620 |
14. The following table gives the statistics of the Herring Fisheries of SHETLAND
Shetland since the year 1833 :
|Year ||No of boats ||No of fishermen |
and people employed
|Total number of barrels |
|1834 ||1687 ||9061 ||64358 |
|1839 ||1185 ||9418 ||25685 |
|1840 ||1185 ||8706 ||6112 |
|1841 ||1002 ||6672 ||20395 |
|1842 ||1007 ||5976 ||10763 |
|1843 ||900 ||5014 ||2913 |
|1844 ||882 ||4704 ||3053 |
|1845 ||674 ||4621 ||6373 |
|1846 ||931 ||5172 ||5764 |
|1847 ||884 ||4982 ||3395 |
|1848 ||881 ||5032 ||4834 |
|1849 ||859 ||4956 ||3638 |
|1850 ||805 ||4574 ||5652 |
|1851 ||793 ||4580 ||5164 |
|1852 ||793 ||4834 ||9131 |
|1853 ||663 ||4225 ||15300 |
boats only from 1854 onwards
|1854 ||250 ||4588 ||9009 |
|1855 ||282 ||4842 ||14760 |
|1856 ||270 ||1750 ||10200 |
|1857 ||290 ||1848 ||17858 |
|1858 ||337 ||2023 ||11926 |
|1859 ||363 ||2115 ||6676 |
|1860 ||369 ||2106 ||10550 |
|1861 ||374 ||2156 ||8164 |
|1862 ||385 ||2211 ||3720 |
|1863 ||359 ||2057 ||9733 |
|1864 ||359 ||1638 ||650 |
|1865 ||340 ||1220 ||4152 |
|1866 ||274 ||1677 ||13257 |
|1867 ||308 ||1812 ||9946 |
|1868 ||300 ||1698 ||1209 |
|1869 ||288 ||1639 ||1775 |
|1870 ||260 ||1491 ||4200 |
|1871 ||247 ||1365 ||1682 |
|1872 ||206 ||1018 ||1801 |
|1873 ||172 ||765 ||1220 |
|1874 ||96 ||442 ||1180 |
|1875 ||94 ||583 ||2896 |
|1876 ||169 ||1166 ||3828 |
|1877 ||99 ||856 ||5451 |
|1878 ||117 ||975 ||8458 |
|1879 ||206 ||1590 ||8755 |
|1880 ||219 ||1938 ||48552 |
|1881 ||276 ||2602 ||59586 |
|1882 ||372 ||4336 ||134187 |
22216. In consequence of the peculiarities attached to the possession of udal land is there any difficulty in selling it?
—None, so far as I am aware.
22217. The absence of a written title does not constitute any difficulty in sale?
—I believe not.
22218. How does the person who has no written title make up a title at the moment of sale?
—As I have stated, the forms of feudal conveyance are generally adopted, but that is just for the sake of the security afforded by registration of the conveyance.
22249. And a person buying udal land does not feel that he is buying with less security than if he were buying old feudal land?
—I believe not,
22250. You stated that when the people said the proprietor had alienated the scathold land from the occupiers or crofters, that meant that he had instituted a process of partition; but surely they would not say that was taking their land away unless the proprietor had actually become the occupier, and partitioned the land himself, or turned it into a farm. Supposing the proprietor got a partition of scathold, and got his own share of the commonty and left it in the occupation of his own crofters, they would not say that he had taken away their land, would they?
—As a matter of fact I believe it is generally the largest proprietor in the room or township who institutes the process of division of commonty; and his share in the scathold would be very much larger than any others. The portions of land formerly pastured on by the small proprietors would therefore be taken away and put into the hands of the large proprietor.
22251. But if the large proprietor left that scathold appropriated to him in possession of his own arable tenants, he would not be taking the scathold away; he would only be separating it and appropriating it to particular persons?
—I fancy the answer to that very much depends upon the meaning of the words ' taken away.' It is difficult to understand what crofters have meant by the words ' taken away.'
22252. I understood they generally meant that the scathold had not only been partitioned, but taken possession of and occupied by the proprietor as a farm, or had been leased as a sheep farm?
—That of course is a case of taking away undoubtedly.
22253. You don't know whether there are cases in which the proprietor lets his own share of the scathold and leaves it in the occupancy of his own tenants?
—I don't know. I cannot answer that question.
22254. You say you have not known any case of oppression with reference to the small tenants. As you have volunteered a statement, I would like to ask you your opinion about a case which has been brought before us to-day. We have been told that on the island of Whalsay, which is inhabited by about a thousand people, the proprietor does not allow any competitive shop to be established—that there is only one shop of his own allowed in the island. If that be the case do you consider that that amounts to a kind of oppression?
—I am afraid that is a question I ought not to answer. I may have a very strong private opinion upon the matter.
22255. I would not have alluded to it if you had not mentioned oppression ?
—I only referred to cases brought before my Court.
22256. You said that when there is no settlement between the fishermen and the fish-curer, the debt is carried on to another year; when the debt has lasted more than a year, is it customary for the fish-curer to charge interest?
—Yes, I think so.
22257. What is the rate of interest generally charged?
—My recollection is that it is five per cent, but I am not quite sure. I have known cases where interest has been changed.
22258. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—If you found 10 percent, was charged, would you think it right?
—I don't know that I would give interest at all; it is a doubtful legal point whether interest is due. As a matter of fact, I have deducted interest in some cases.
22259. But it has not come under your notice that exorbitant interest has been charged?
—I don't know of any rate of interest above 5 per cent, that has come under my notice.