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says Mr. Jones, " is the great facility with which, when circumstances are
favourable to him, he can exchange altogether his condition in society.
The serf has many stages to go through before he can become a capitalist
and independent farmer ; and it is hard for him to advance a step in this

direction But the cottier is already the owner of his own stock ;

he exists in a society in which the power of paying money rents is already
established. If he thrives in his occupation, there is nothing to prevent
him enlarging his holding, increasing his stock, and becoming a capitalist
and farmer in the proper sense of the term." Political Economy, pp.
210, 211.


of this movement I have already attempted to describe.
It consisted in a rapid extension of cereal and potato
cultivation, which henceforth took the place of pasture
as the leading industry of Ireland. In a country like
England indeed, in any of the more civilized countries
of Western Europe such a movement as the exten-
sion of tillage farming would obviously be carried
into effect through an increase of circulating capital.
Funds would be obtained which would be expended
in paying labourers who would perform the necessary
operations, and a class of workmen depending on the
labour market would thus be called into existence.
But Ireland was at this time almost wholly destitute
of circulating capital. The landlords themselves, the
middlemen, and the few large pastoral farmers, with
whom the initiative in effecting the change would
naturally lie, were scarcely better off in this respect
than the peasantry whom they desired to employ.
Under these circumstances, the course with which we
are now so familiar could not be adopted. Silver and
gold, food and clothing, the leaders of Irish industry
had none ; but such as they had, they gave. They
took the peasantry into their employment, and paid
them with land. The practice, far from being un-
known, is precisely that which has invariably been
adopted under similar circumstances, and is in fact the
mode of proceeding which has at one time or another,
in almost all European countries, led to the intro-
duction of serfdom.* What distinguished the Irish

* " In the early and rude state of society, the expedient used by landed
proprietors to get rid of the task of raising food for their labourers is as
follows : They set aside for their use a portion of their estate, and


course of action lay, as I understand the matter, mainly
in these two circumstances, first, the bargain was
not struck once for all, but was liable to subsequent
modification according to the reciprocal necessities of
those who were parties to it that is to say, according
to the state of the market ; and secondly, though in
effect an exchange of land against labour, it \vas not
struck in terms of land and labour, but in terms of
money. The Irish peasant undertook to pay for his
patch of land that sum of money which the com-
petition of his fellows forced him to pay, and this
sum he was allowed to work out in labour, at a rate
of wages also determined by competition. Cottierism
(omitting the condition of personal freedom, and re-
garding it simply in its economic aspect) was thus
in fact serfdom reduced to a money standard, and
modified by competition.* As we have already said,
the system in Ireland did not owe its origin to this
movement. Its roots lay in an earlier period, and
are traceable to a political and social, rather than an

leave them to extract their own subsistence from it at their own risk ;
and they exact as a rent for the land thus abandoned, a certain quantity
of labour to be employed upon the remaining portion of the estate, which
is retained in their own hands." JONES'S Political Economy, p. 198.

* The practice, as it stood in the latter half of the last century, is thus
described by Arthur Young : " If there are cabins on a farm, they
are the residence of the cottars ; if there are none, the farmer marks out
the potato gardens, and the labourers who apply to him on his hiring
the land, raise their own cabins on such spots ; in some places the farmer
builds, in others he only assists with the roof, &c. ; a verbal contract is
then made that the new cottar shall have his potato garden at such a
rent, and one or two cows kept him at the price of the neighbourhood, he
finding the cows. He then works with the farmer at the rate of the place,
usually sixpence halfpenny a day, a tally being kept (half by each party),
and a notch cut for every day's labour : at the end of six months or a
year, they reckon, and the balance is paid. The cottar works for himself
as his potatoes require."


industrial revolution. But it received at the time we
are speaking of, and under the circumstances we have
described, its principal extension, that which has given
to the status its modern importance in Ireland, and
rendered it the type of the industry of a people.
Cottierism in Ireland has thus become associated with
the fortunes of cereal cultivation ; and, as it has grown
with its growth, so, as will presently appear, it seems
destined to sink with its decline.

One cannot help remarking here on the intimate
connection of the policy of Protection with the industrial
fortunes of Ireland. As has been previously shown,
it was mainly to Protection that the excessive multi-
plication of the Irish population was due ; and it now
appears that the same principle is not less responsible
for the peculiar mode of existence to which the great
mass of this vast population was consigned. The
factitious demand for labour occurring at this time was
due to Protection ; and, in the absence alike of pea-
sant properties and circulating capital, this demand
could only be met as in fact it was met by calling
into existence the Irish cottier.


" Irish landlordism," as it has existed in the last and
the earlier half of the present century, may be roughly
resolved into three categories : firstly, the great land-
lords, with a few exceptions, Englishmen or of English
descent, and Protestants, of whom the great majority


had derived their estates from the confiscations of the
seventeenth century ; secondly, the owners of smaller
estates, by extraction also in great part English, or at
all events British, and indebted for their properties
mainly to the same political revolutions ; and thirdly,
the class of middlemen or profit-renters, who, though
themselves paying rent to landlords, were by religion,
political sympathies, and habits, intimately connected,
and, in their conduct and general views, practically
identified with the proprietary class. Of these the
first class to a great extent became absentees, manag-
ing their estates either through agents, or, as was
the more common case, through middlemen those
who form the third category in the above enumeration
to whom they let the land in large portions at low
rents, and who sub-divided it and sub-let it to the
occupying tenantry. The second and third classes,
whose revenues were not sufficient to allow of
residence in England or abroad, for the most part
lived on the estates which they owned or super-

" The principal source of all our misfortunes, and
the chief cause of all our distress," said Prior,* writing
in 1729, "appears plainly from the list of absentees,
and the estimate of the quantity of specie they may
be reasonably supposed to draw yearly out of the
kingdom." Such has been the complaint of writer
after writer from that period to the present time.
Nevertheless there are now, I should imagine, few
competent thinkers who will not be of opinion that the
utmost damage inflicted by absenteeism on Ireland

* Author of "A List of the Absentees of Ireland," published 1729.


and I am, for my part, far from thinking that this was
not very considerable even in an economic point of
view,* and still more in a social and political was
absolutely inappreciable in comparison with the mis-
fortunes entailed upon the country through the
proprietary who remained at home. The absentee
landlords neglected their duties, and drew their rents :
the resident proprietary drew much more exorbitant
rents, and were at the same time the active agents of
a tyranny as demoralizing and ruinous as any which
the history of modern times has exhibited. " Surely
the gentlemen of this country," said Arthur Young,
with excellent sense, " when they complain of restricted
commerce and the remittance of the rentals of the
absentees to England, cannot be thought serious in
lamenting the situation of their country, while they
continue wedded to that internal ruin which is the
work of their own hands, and the favourite child of
their most active exertions. Complain not of restric-
tions when you yourselves impose the most enormous

* From this point of view chiefly through the enormous difficulty of
remitting rents, owing to the harassing restrictions placed upon every
branch of the Irish export trade even the trade in corn and cattle
having for some time lain under prohibition. The following dialogue
between Dr. Johnson and "the famous George Faulkner" sets this diffi-
culty in rather a striking light. Faulkner maintained that " England
had drained Ireland of fifty thousand pounds in specie, annually, for
fifty years. ' How so/ said Dr. Johnson ; ' you must have very great
trade ? ' ' No trade.' ' Very rich mines ? ' ' No mines.' ' From whence,
then, does all this money come ? ' ' Come ! why, out of the blood and
bowels of the poor people of Ireland.'" (Boswell's "Johnson," vol. iv.
p. 36.) As a reJnetio ad absurdum of the mercantile theory of wealth,
the argument is perhaps sufficiently complete ; but it does not very
greatly exaggerate the truly Egyptian tyranny under which in their com-
mercial, no less than in their political and religious interests, the Irish
then groaned.


restriction ; and what are the body of absentees when
compared with the absence of industry and wealth
from the immense mass of two millions of subjects?
I should be well founded in asserting that these evils,
great and acknowledged as they are, are trifles when
compared with the poverty and debility which result
from the oppression of the Roman Catholics."

Industrial society in Ireland had thus, by the middle
of the last century or a little later, received its defini-
tive form that form in which it has existed clown to
quite a recent date. We have already seen how one
constituent of the system the cottier element grew
in dimensions towards its close, contemporaneously
with the great extension of tillage farming which was
the industrial feature of the time ; and I have now to
observe that the same cause was not less powerful in
developing the territorial economy in other directions.
As tillage was extended, rents rapidly rose. I believe
I should be within the mark in stating that in this
period, between r 760 and the close of the French wars
in the beginning of the present century, the land
revenues of Ireland were augmented in the proportion
of 4 to i.* Each step in this progress would of course

* The lists of the rent-rolls of absentees drawn up by Prior and Young,
at the dates respectively of 1729 and 1777, will give a rough idea of the
advance down to the latter date. I subjoin a few examples which are
not more than fair specimens of the general tenor of the lists. It will be
borne in mind that the pace was accelerated from the commencement of
the French wars.

Abercorne . .
Bellew . . .
Clanricharde .
Courtnay . .

1729. 1777.
,2,000 ^8,000
600 4,000
3,000 5,000
8,000 30,000

Donegal . .
Fitzwilliam .
Kingston . .

1729. 1777.
,4,000 ,31,000
5,000 8,000
2,000 7,000
1,500 10,000

And see Young's "Tour in Ireland," Part I., pp. 171, 306, 315.


furnish increased scope for the multiplication of new
interests in the soil, and these took the form deter-
mined by the prevailing influences. Landlords who
formerly resided on their estates could now afford to
spend a greater or less portion of the year in some of
the fashionable centres of the Empire. Middlemen,
lessees under leases granted when prices were low and
pasture the prevailing pursuit, found their incomes
growing ; and, their ideas rising with their fortunes,
in many instances yielded, like their betters, to the
attractions of city life. Absenteeism thus increased,
and, with absenteeism, agencies and profit-renting. A
second and a third race of middlemen thus intruded
themselves between the head landlord and the occupy-
ing tenantry. The grades of the territorial hierarchy
became constantly more numerous ; the higher no less
than the lower being identified with the system of
agriculture which had now established itself in the
country. The Corn-laws soon came to aid the more
fundamental tendencies, and the commercial effects of
the French wars added a new and powerful stimulus
to the now complex influences which were impelling
Ireland on her disastrous career. In that career she
was arrested by the fearful summons of the famine
of 1846. The shock, rude as it was, extensively de-
ranging as it could not fail to be to the entire
territorial system, might possibly not have been fatal,
had not the famine been the occasion of free trade ;
but, as I have already shown, free trade effectually
and for ever sealed its doom.


The fundamental causes which involved the cata-
strophe of 1846 have been already considered. The
immediate effect of those causes was the impoverish-
ment of the country, and the sudden arrest of its
industrial career : their secondary effect has been the
development of tendencies of a new order, under the
influence of which the proprietorship and occupancy of
land in the country, arid with these the conditions of
production and the mode of distribution, have under-
gone, and are undergoing, extensive changes. The
Encumbered and Landed Estates Courts have been the
principal instruments in effecting changes in proprie-
torship ; while changes in occupancy are taking place
under the ordinary law set in motion by the parties
concerned. The extent and character of the changes
thus accomplished will next claim our attention.

The Encumbered Estates Court was established
by Act of Parliament in 1848,* and commenced its
sittings in 1849. Its 'object, as I believe is pretty
well known, was to compel the sale of encumbered
estates that is to say, estates encumbered to
one half of their value on petition of either the
owner or of any of his creditors, and to effect the
distribution of the proceeds amongst the claimants.
The Court continued to perform these functions down
to 1858, when it was superseded by the present
Landed Estates Court, which is in effect the same
tribunal, constituted on a permanent footing, and with
enlarged powers. f It must be admitted that the

* 12th and I3th Viet. c. 77.

t The main difference is .that the Landed Estates Court can deal with
encumbered as well as with encumbered estates.


system thus established was of a character which
could only be justified by the exigency of the case.
It proceeded according to rules unknown to our
existing system of jurisprudence ; it set aside solemn
contracts ; it disregarded the cherished traditions of
real property law. Mr. Butt does not overstate the
case when he says, that the Act establishing the
Encumbered Estates Court " compelled creditors to
submit to a sale who had an express contract that
no one should ever disturb them in their claim on
the land except by paying off that claim. It forced
properties to a general auction, to be sold for what-
ever they could bring, at a time when legislation had
imposed new and unheard-of burdens upon landed
property. At a time of unprecedented depreciation
of the value of land, it called a general auction of
Irish estates. I have always believed," continues
Mr. Butt, " I still believe, that English history
records no more violent legal interference with vested
interests than the provisions by which this statute
forced the sale of a large proportion of the landed
property of Ireland, at a time when no prudent
man would have set up an acre to be sold by
public competition." ' It would not be easy, I think,
to disturb these statements of Mr. Butt, or to prove
that the measure, tried by the received maxims of
English jurisprudence, was not a measure of con-
fiscation ; yet it is not less certain that of all measures
passed in recent times it is that one, of which the
beneficial effects have been most widely and cor-

* " Land Tenure in Ireland," by Isaac Butt, formerly Professor of
Political Economy in the University of Dublin, p. 88.


dially recognized. This is a fact which may perhaps
be usefully borne in mind just now, when it is thought
a sufficient condemnation of moderate proposals to
describe them as " revolutionary." With our expe-
rience of the working of the Encumbered Estates
Court, we may be permitted to think that to be
" revolutionary " is, after all, not so very violent a pre-
sumption against a measure of Irish land reform.

The Encumbered Estates Court, as I have said,
commenced its sittings in 1849. By 1859, when it
closed its proceedings, about one-seventh of the whole
landed property of Ireland had passed through its
hands. The amount realized by the sales effected
under its direction was upwards of ^"25,000,000
sterling, which, however, inadequately represents the
real value of the land disposed of; a large proportion
of the whole having been sold while the market
was in a greatly depressed condition. Since that
time the work has been taken up by its successor
the Landed Estates Court which, in the interval
between 1859 and 1865, effected sales to the. amount
of ^12,000,000 sterling more. As the result of the
combined operations of the two Courts, about one-
eighth of Ireland in value, greatly more than one-
eighth in area probably one-sixth has passed from
the hands of the old proprietary into those of new
men. It may be well to dwell for a moment on
some of the consequences involved in this momentous

And, first, one immediate result has been an ex-
tensive weeding out from the proprietary of Ireland
of that numerous class of needy, rapacious, deeply


mortgaged " squireens," or petty gentry, the owners
of estates varying from ^"50 to some ^"200 or ^300
of annual value whose presence had long weighed
as a nightmare on all efforts at Irish renovation.
It would be a mistake to regard these men albeit
their final overthrow happened to be accomplished
by the famine and the measures which that event
rendered necessary as the victims of this particular
crisis in Irish history. Like the ruin of the Jamaica
planters, which, though consummated by the Emanci-
pation Act and free trade, had through half a century-
been steadily maturing under the pre-existing state
of things a state of things not very dissimilar from
that which had prevailed in Ireland the fate of this
class of Irish squires had been sealed long before
the famine, free trade, or the Encumbered Estates
Court had been heard of. In the case of a large
majority, their indebtedness dated from an early
period of the century, and was, in fact, the direct
result of their own reckless and extravagant habits
habits, no doubt, quite naturally engendered by
their situation. So far, indeed, as their ruin could
be attributed to any cause distinct from the general
circumstances of the country, it might, with more
justice, be charged upon their favourite system of Pro-
tection, than which it would not be easy to imagine an
order of things better calculated to seduce a proprie-
tary of easy virtue into extravagant courses.* Seasons

* It may be useful to recall some of the incidents of this period, which
has now almost passed out of mind. The ordinary opinion connects the
high range of prices in the early part of the century with the French wars.
The wars, no doubt, contributed something towards the result, so far,


of extraordinary dearness, followed by seasons of
no less extraordinary abundance, glimpses of pros-
perity succeeded by the gloom of falling markets
by such alternations, the direct result of the sliding
scale, hopes were kept alive only to be disappointed ;
nominal revenues maintained at a pitch which was
never realized in fact ; and a fox-hunting and reckless
squirearchy in a manner lured to their doom. The
famine and the measures which it necessitated can
therefore only be regarded as precipitating an in-
evitable catastrophe ; and the Encumbered Estates
Court merely gave the sanction of law to what were
already accomplished facts. By such means the

that is to say, as they obstructed supplies ; but, as Mr. Tooke has shown,
the paramount influences in the case were the seasons in connection with
the sliding scale. Thus, before the war had terminated; agricultural prices
had fallen to a comparatively low level. In July 1814 the Gazette
averages were, for

s. d.

Wheat 66 5 per quarter.

Barley 33 o

Oats 23 3

But by July 1817, .they had reached the extraordinary rates of, for

s. d.

. Wheat in 6 per quarter.

Barley 55 4

Oats 39 3

From these points prices fell, at the close of 1817, to, for

s. d.

Wheat 85 4 per quarter.

Barley 45 1 1

Oats 27 10

After further violent oscillations extending over the three or four following
years, the point finally reached in December 1822 was the extremely low
level of 38^. per quarter for wheat, with corresponding rates for the other
cereals less than one-third of those prevailing five years before. (See
Tooke's " History of Prices," vol. ii. pp. 19 23 and 7786.)


weakest and worst of the Irish squirearchy have
been effectually rooted out. In their place has arisen
a proprietary of a different order men for the most
part self-made, who have purchased land as a pecu-
niary investment, and whose mercantile instincts
will effectually save them from the suicidal rapacity
of their predecessors. The influence of these par-
venus on the territorial system of Ireland is not to
be measured by the extent of their possessions.
Already there is manifest among the older pro-
prietors a tendency to adopt the ideas of the new
men. " If our lands are not to become valueless
to ourselves and our children," writes one of the
former class,* " we must get them into the hands of
men who can and will cultivate them properly, and
will earn rent for us and profit for themselves in
the open market of the world" language which
betokens a vast breach with the past. Already
solvent tenants, even though independent, begin to
be preferred to political retainers with promises of
impossible rents.

Insolvency in Ireland had not of course been con-
fined to the minor gentry : a good many of the
superior squires have accordingly made their exit
through the same door; as have also some of the
greater landlords. If the question be asked what,
on the whole, has been the effect up to the present
time (1866) on the distribution of landed property in
Ireland, I think the answer must be, that while
effecting a greater equality in the size of estates, and,
by consequence, a more equal distribution of wealth

* " An Irish Landlord" writing in the Times.
P. fi. N


amongst landowners, the new Courts have not yet
added sensibly to the number of the Irish proprietary.
Several very large estates have been broken up and
parcelled out amongst numerous owners ; but, on the
other hand, estates of the smaller class those which
I have spoken of as varying from ^50 to ^"200 or
^"300 a year in value have, to a large extent, been
consolidated ; several of them having commonly
passed into the hands of a single purchaser. Two
opposite processes one of division, the other of
consolidation have thus been going forward contem-
poraneously, resulting in a greater equality in the
distribution of landed property, but leaving the total
number of landed estates pretty much as before.*

* That at all events no considerable addition has been made to the
number of Irish proprietors since 1849 is, I think, proved by the follow-
ing circumstances. Down to 1858, when the Encumbered Estates Court

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Online LibraryJohn Elliott CairnesPolitical essays → online text (page 13 of 27)