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Remarks respecting Consolidation of Farms and Ejectment of Tenantry.
Extracted from Report of Commissioners on Occupation of Land in Ireland.-Par, Rep. 1845,
col. xix. page 18 to 20.
The Select Committee of 1830 describe the advancement of agriculture during the war, the consequent demand for labour and augmentation of the population; the increased value of land, and so the temptation to subletting.
After alluding to the wretched condition to which the sub-division of land, and an over population had reduced the people, their Report proceeds :-—"Such was the state of things so soon as a fall in prices occurred after the peace. A change then began to take place in the system of managing lands. The great decline of agricultural produce prevented many of the middlemen, as well as the occupiers, from paying their rents; an anxiety began to be felt by the proprietors, to improve the value of their estates, and a general impression was produced in the minds of all persons, that a pauper population spread over the country would go on increasing, and the value of the land at the same time diminishing, till the produce would become insufficient to maintain the resident population.
" That evil became so obvious,' continues Dr. Doyle, that the proprietors thought some remedy ought to be applied, and they did accordingly apply remedies, of the principle of which I highly approved ; but I thought, and still think, that those laws ought to have been accompanied by some provision for the poor.'
“The new system of managing lands was that of consolidating farms, and bringing the landlord and tenant more immediately in contact. It is stated to lead to better husbandry, to a greater certainty of the potato crop, to farm buildings and more comfortable habitations, to the gradual improvement of the quality of the soil and the quantity of produce. Lower rents are assumed, but on an average of years larger rents are paid ; and a race of yeomanry is likely to spring up and to be encouraged. These benefits are so strongly felt, that all the witnesses concur that they are universally recognised by landlords and agents, and are carried into practice as far as circumstances will admit. The risk to be apprehended is not, that the proprietors of land should be insensible to these considerations, but that they should in some cases proceed with too much rapidity.
“So far from its being for the interest of the landlord to sublet, and so far from there existing any inveterate habit of sub-dividing farms for the sake of acquiring higher rents, experience has shown that personal interest imperatively prescribes a contrary mode of proceeding. It is a mistake to imagine that these clearances of estates have originated with the subletting act, or with the statute that raised the franchise ; on the contrary, they existed more than ten years before those measures had been adopted; but it is undoubtedly true that both statutes have given motives or afforded facilities for pursuing a course previously adopted on the ground of private interest. If the condition of the landlord and of those tenants who remain in possession of the soil are alone considered, the change is undoubtedly one of unmixed good. But the situation of another class remains to be considered, that of the ejected tenantry, or of those who are obliged to give up their small holdings in order to promote the consolidation of farms. Their condition is necessarily most deplorable. It would be impossible for language to convey an idea of the state of distress to which the ejected tenantry have been reduced, or of the disease, misery, and even vice, which they have propagated in the towns wherein they have settled ; so that not only they who have been ejected have been rendered miserable, but they have carried with them and propagated that misery. They have increased the stock of labour, they have rendered the habitations of those who received them more crowded, they have given occasion to the dissemination of disease, they have been obliged to resort to theft and all manner of vice and iniquity to procure subsistence; but, what is perhaps the most painful of all, a vast number of them have perished of want.'
“ Your committee cannot help hoping and believing that the foregoing powerful statement is one which describes an extreme case; still, there can be no doubt, that in making a change, in itself important and salutary, a most fearful extent of suffering is produced.”
The cause which most frequently, at the present day, leads to the eviction of a number of tenants on a particular estate, is the wish of the proprietor to increase the size of the holdings, with a view to the better cultivation of the land ; and when it is seen in the Evidence, and in the Returns upon the size of farms, how minute those holdings are frequently found to be, previous to the change, it cannot be denied that
such a step is, in many cases, absolutely necessary, and called for by a due regard to the interest of both landlord and tenant.
Some witnesses, who put forward most strongly, as matter of complaint, the consolidation of small holdings, into what they call large farms, in answer to the further question, “ To what size were the farms brought?” describe them as enlarged to the extent of twenty-five, twenty, or even ten acres. We give this, of course, only as the general result of our inquiries. There have been, undoubtedly, cases in which large numbers of tenants have been removed, with a view to create much larger farms, or with a view to the occupation of land in some manner more agreeable to the landlord; but these are the exceptions, and not the general practice. In either case, the feeling that is engendered amongst the parties removed, and the surrounding population, as well as the opinion which impartial persons will form, must depend, in a great degree, upon the mode in which the removal is conducted.
It now frequently happens, that upon the expiration of a long lease, a landlord finds his property occupied by a multitude of paupers, who had obtained an occupation of a few roods or acres, either through the want of a clause against subletting in the former demise, or the failure of the landlord through some legal defect, or his own neglect to enforce that covenant if existing. Many of these poor people are found living in a most miserable way, and quite incapable of managing their land properly, or so as to derive from their small holdings a sufficient supply even of food for their subsistence.
It becomes absolutely necessary, with a view even to the condition of the people themselves, as well as towards any general improvement in the country, to make some change.
Remarks respecting the Management of Estates by the Court of
E.xtracted from Report of Commissioners on Occupation of Land in Ireland.-Par. Rep. 1845,
vol. xix. page 26.
At an early period of our inquiry, we directed our attention to the situation of estates placed under receivers in the Court of Chancery, or Court of Exchequer, and we obtained some returns, showing the extent of property so circumstanced.
According to the usual practice, when a farm under a receiver came out of lease, a sort of auction was held in the master's office, and the land was let to the highest bidder ; and as great difficulties were experienced in obtaining the sanction of the Court in making any outlay, or taking any necessary step in the management, these circumstances necessarily caused all property under the courts to be left in a very unimproved state, and placed the tenants in an impoverished condition. Many complaints on this subject will be found throughout the Evidence. The present Lord Chancellor and the Chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer, have recently issued orders, which will tend to remove some of the evils consequent upon the former practice, on the properties of lunatics and minors ; and as the attention of both these learned judges is fully alive to the subject, we have no doubt that such further improvements will be made, as may be necessary to make the new system work properly for the advantage of the property and the tenants. Some difficulties occur in the case of properties brought into court, to be administered for the benefit of creditors; but it has been strongly recommended, and is, in our opinion, highly desirable, that a similar system should be made applicable to these cases, if the powers of the court be sufficient; but if this should not be the case, we trust that the learned judges will not hesitate to cause application to be made to the legislature, for such alteration in the law as may appear to them necessary, in order to enable them to administer an estate for the benefit of all persons having an interest in it.
But as an encumbered estate must at all times be managed at great expense and at much disadvantage under the courts, we recommend that every facility consistent with safety should be given for bringing such estates to an early sale, rather than allowing them to remain for years the subject of expensive litigation.