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When James I. undertook the plantation of Ulster, the evils of Elizabeth's large grants had become evident. His grants were therefore generally limited to 1,000 or 2,000 acres of good land, with a fair proportion of mountain and bog, and some provision was made to secure the residence of the grantee. The grants made by Cromwell were still smaller, being in many cases about 100 acres; and the grantees being generally resident, constituted a small proprietary, whose influence has been most beneficial in the districts where they settled.
Property naturally accumulates. The personal estate being generally divided on the death of the owner, counteracts this tendency; but when a landed proprietor buys up a small neighbouring estate, he frequently entails it, and both descend to his heir as one property. Even when estates are brought into the market for sale, they are rarely sold in parts. Thus the number of landed proprietors constantly lessens. The commissioners for enquiry into the occupation of land in Ireland allude to the landed proprietary thus : —“The number of proprie“tors of land in Ireland is small, when com“ pared with its extent, and the amount of its “agricultural population. This circumstance, while “ probably it is one of the causes, which have led “to the want of that personal attention to the “condition of the tenantry, which is at once the “duty and interest of landlords, renders also the “impediments in the way of improvement, arising “from the nature of the proprietor's tenure, a mat“ter of more urgent public importance in Ireland “ than elsewhere. “It frequently happens that large estates in that “country are held in strict limitation ; and the “pecuniary circumstances of the landed proprie“tors generally, arising in some cases out of “family charges, and resulting in others from “improvidence or carelessness, possibly of former “proprietors, disable many, even of the best dis“posed landlords, from improving their property, “ or encouraging improvement among their tenan“try, in the manner which would conduce at once “to their own interest and the public advantage. “Many of the evils incident to the occupation of “land in Ireland may be attributed to this cause.” In this portion of their report, the commissioners have mentioned two of the grand difficulties in the way of improvement : that the proprietors are bound up by strict settlement, and that they are embarrassed by mortgages and family charges. Another and a very important one has been already alluded to, namely, the leases and sub-leases in perpetuity, or for a very long period, which absentee owners of land deemed it their interest to grant, for the purpose of devolving the cares and duties of landlord on some one who might be better able to perform them, and thus securing to themselves a more certain though it may be a smaller rental. Public opinion attributes a great part of the evils of Ireland to these middlemen, probably without sufficient consideration. No doubt many of them are hard and griping landlords; but there are others, whose property is extremely well managed, and it should be recollected that in many districts they form almost the only resident gentry, and almost the only semblance of a middle class.
assistance: “It contains about six hundred acres ; is owned in “fee by an English nobleman, but leased in perpetuity to a gen“tleman living in another part of Ireland, for the sum of £30. “He has again leased it in perpetuity at a profit rent of £200 per “annum. The third landlord has divided it, the applicant holding from “him nearly one third, for which he pays a rent of £150 per annum.” The applicant, retaining a portion in his own hands, appears to have subdivided the remainder of his holding among sixteen families, who are the actual tenants in possession, and cultivate the soil. He states that the two first mentioned landlords “care nothing about the tenants;" considering no doubt that they have no interest in the good or bad management of the property, as they have ample security for their rent, and can never hope for any increase; and that the whole care and expense devolve on himself. This is not an uncommon case. The same condition of things, variously modified, is to be met with in all parts of the country.
* Report of Commissioners for Enquiry into the Occupation of Land in Ireland.—Par. Rep. 1845, vol. xix. page 12.
A far greater amount of injury is sustained under circumstances which are by no means uncommon, when the chief qualification of an agent is either the power to advance money to his employer, or the firmness to enforce payment of rent from a pauperised or unwilling tenantry. When an agent of this description is nonresident, the absentee landlord is deprived of the means of knowing the character of his tenants, whilst the tenants have not the advantage of that social supervision, and advice in agricultural matters, which might be some compensation for the absence of a conscientious landlord; and are too often left to the extortion and tyranny of under-agents, bailiffs, &c. Many of our most intelligent proprietors have seen this evil, and have endeavoured to correct it by the appointment of agents who have a proper sense of the important duties required in the management of an estate.
The management by a receiver under the Court of Chancery, has been even worse than that to which allusion has just been made; but some improvement appears to have recently taken place in this respect.”
Thus bound up by settlements, mortgaged, encumbered with heavy annuities and family charges, burdened with leases in perpetuity, and frequently held by a questionable title, many estates managed by unsuitable agents, or receivers under the courts, is it extraordinary that the land of Ireland has remained almost unimproved 2 The owners in fee, in many cases, have no interest in its improvement. It would not increase their rental. They merely derive from the land an annuity, as if they were mortgagees. Or if the estate be entailed, the life possessor has little anxiety to improve it, at the expense of his younger children, for the benefit of his heir. Uncertainty of title is yet more discouraging, for who will spend money in improving a property of which the ownership is in doubt 2 One of the “articles” issued by James I. for the plantation of Ulster, was as follows: “The “ said undertakers shall not demise any part of “ their lands at will only, but shall make certain “estates for years, for life, in tail, or in fee simple.” Another article bound “every undertaker, within “two years after the date of his letters patent, to “plant or place a competent number of English “ or Scottish tenants upon his portion.” The undertakers were also bound to build a castle or other fortified residence, and other houses for their tenants, and to reside on their estate in person or by authorised deputy, for the first five years at
* See Appendix Y.