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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 ? 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...? 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 least. Such were some of the wise provisions of that plantation or colonizing with Scotch or English, which, whatever may have been its humanity or justice towards the original owners, has certainly resulted in producing in Ulster an industrious and enterprising population, which will bear a fair comparison with the best parts of England. There is a spirit of industry and independence among the peasantry, and an energy in the manufacturing and commercial classes, superior to any other part of Ireland. The farmers, small and large, are more thrifty and more desirous to improve their farms, than elsewhere. Education is more widely diffused, and the amount of social comfort is greater than in most other parts of Ireland. The provision against absenteeism may not fully have attained the intended object, but it has certainly secured a considerable number of resident proprietors. There is one most striking peculiarity, which prevails in many of the counties of Ulster—the custom of tenant-right-respecting which the following extract is quoted from the report of the commissioners for inquiry into the occupation of land:— “Under the influence of this custom, the tenant “claims, and generally exercises, a right to dispose “of his holding for a valuable consideration, al“ though he may himself be a tenant-at-will, and E
* See Appendix Y.
“although he may have expended nothing in per“manent improvements. We found that in various “ parts of that province, sums equal to ten, twelve, “ or fifteen years' purchase upon the rent, are “commonly given for the tenant-right; and this “not only when the rent is considered low, but “when it is fully equal to the value. “Anomalous as this custom is, if considered with “reference to all ordinary notions of property, it “must be admitted, that the district in which it “prevails has thriven and improved, in comparison “with other parts of the country.” This custom has probably resulted from that article of the terms of settlement, by which the undertakers were restrained from demising their lands to tenants-at-will, joined to the independent character of a tenantry, who knew and were determined to maintain their rights. The first tenants, it is natural to suppose, were promised leases in accordance with the terms of the plantation. They must have incurred the whole or great part of the expense of the buildings and other necessary improvements, and they naturally claimed the right to hold undisturbed possession so long as they paid their rent duly ; and to bequeath it to their heirs, or dispose of it by sale to others. The landlord appears to have prudently consented to this claim, requiring all arrears of rent to be paid, and that the new tenant should be approved of by him. This custom appears somewhat analogous to the copyhold tenure in England, of which Blackstone says, that it “was in its original and foun“ dation nothing better than a mere estate at will.” “Yet that will is qualified, restrained, and limited, “to be exerted according to the custom of the “manor. This custom being suffered to grow up by “ the lord, is looked upon as the evidence and inter“preter of his will : his will is no longer arbitrary “ and precarious, but fixed and ascertained by the “custom to be the same, and no other, that has “ time out of mind been exercised and declared by “his ancestors.” “A copyhold tenant is therefore “now full as properly a tenant by the custom, as “a tenant-at-will, the custom having arisen from a “series of uniform wills.” Whether a court of law would adjudge to the tenant where this custom of tenant-right prevails, the same legal estate enjoyed by a copyholder in England, is questionable. Probably the case may never be disputed at law. Large sums of money have been invested in permanent buildings and other valuable improvements, without any other security. The landlords, if from no higher principle, are compelled to recognize it by the fear
* Par. Rep. 1845, vol. xix. page 14.