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closed its career, as the result of 4,000 petitions received, very nearly
3,000 distinct estates had been sold, in the sale of which the number
of conveyances executed approached 8,000. Had each of these con-
veyances represented a distinct purchaser, the figures would no doubt
indicate a considerable increase in the number of Irish landowners ; but
it is quite certain that nothing like this is the fact. On the contrary, I
believe there are few men who have purchased an estate in the Encumbered
or in the Landed Estates Court, who have not purchased more than one ;
while there are many who have purchased several ; besides which the
purchasers have in some instances been landlords under the old regime.
On the whole, it would perhaps be a fair assumption to take two to one as
the average proportion of conveyances to distinct purchasers ; in which
case the proprietors created by the Encumbered Estates Court would
be about 4,000 as against 3,000 whom the Court had displaced. There
would thus have been an augmentation (down to 1858) in that part of the
country which was subject to the operations of the Court, to the extent of
about one-third no doubt a substantial increase, but then it must be
observed that this period embraced the sale of almost all the greater
estates of such estates as those of Thomond, Kingston, Langford,
Miltown, and others of the same order ; whereas the great proportion of
the properties recently sold have been far below the average standard
of the country. According to a statement of Judge Longfield'f , " Of the


Such have been the general results accomplished by
the Encumbered and Landed Estates Courts in the
state of landed property in Ireland. They may be
briefly summed up as follows : i. A large, if not
complete, elimination from the Irish proprietary of its
most pernicious element the class of needy, petty
squires ; 2. The exclusion of insolvency generally from
the landlord body ; 3. The introduction into the system
of a large number of self-made men, mostly belonging
to the mercantile classes, who have become purchasers
of land as a pecuniary investment, and are prepared
to manage their properties on mercantile principles,
with a view to profit ; 4. A greater equalization of
estates, and by consequence of wealth, amongst the
landed proprietors than formerly obtained. On the
other hand, the new Courts do not appear to have
added materially to the number of Irish proprietors.

Turning now to the changes accomplished in the
occupancy of land, and affecting the other extreme
of the Irish territorial system, we find a process going
forward in many respects analogous to that which we
have just traced. As it was amongst the smaller
gentry that the greatest havoc was made by the
operations of the Encumbered Estates Court, so it was
amongst the small tenant farmers that the causes
affecting the condition of occupancy in the country

petitions for sale presented to the Court (in 1864), less than 10 per cent,
were for the sale of estates belonging to the classes who are called land-
lords ; the remaining 90 per cent, did not represent an average annual
value of ,50." Keeping these facts in view, I should be disposed to
conclude that the later operations of the new system have on the whole
tended to consolidation, and that the Landed Estates Court had, up to
1866, not improbably reduced the number of Irish landowners as much
as its predecessor had enlarged them.

N 2

i So



produced the largest gaps. The general character
of the movement down to 1864 will be seen from
the following table :

Size of Holdings.

In 1841.


In 1851.

In 1861.

In 1864.

Not exceeding i acre ....
Exceeding i, but not exceeding 5
5 ^5

,, is 30



1 4Q.OQO




Total of all sizes . . .





Several observations suggest themselves on consi-
dering this table. In the first place, it appears that a
large proportion of the whole effect was produced by
the year 1851 ; in the next place, the character of the
movement exhibits a change after that year a change
which becomes more pronounced in the interval be-
tween 1 86 1 and 1864, the latest for which we have
returns. Down to 1851 the noticeable fact is the
immense decrease of holdings under fifteen acres
in extent, coupled with an increase in those between
fifteen and thirty, and over thirty acres. Thus, down
to 1851 the decline in the former amounted to 379,884 :
the increase in the latter to 162,434. These new
farms of fifteen acres and upwards have in the main
been formed by consolidation of the smaller holdings ;
and the reasonable supposition is that their present
occupants are men who had formerly been the tenants
of the smaller farms.* We must, therefore, in order to

* Some Scotch and English farmers were introduced in a few districts ;
and it is possible that some members of the trading and commercial
classes who have purchased land in the Encumbered Estates Tour


arrive at the number of families actually dispossessed,
deduct from the aggregate of small holdings abolished,
the aggregate of larger farms created. This gives a
net reduction of holdings in Ireland in the five years
ending with 1851 (for the process did not commence
till 1846) of 217,450. A large proportion of these,
however, probably one-third, would seem to have
been mere potato gardens, held doubtless by labourers
in part payment of wages ; while the bulk of the
remainder would probably comprise farms varying from
four and five to ten and twelve acres in extent ; and
their occupants would be the cottiers of whom I have
spoken. The character of the change effected in
occupancy, therefore, down to 1851, is very plain.
The small garden farms held by the labouring classes
were extensively done away with ; and a sweeping
reduction, which must in many parts of the country
have amounted to a wholesale clearance, was made of
the cottier tenantry. On the other hand, there was
a large addition to the farms between fifteen and
thirty acres in extent, and also to those above the
latter limit.

In the following decade the process of abolishing
the very small tenancies continued, but at a greatly
reduced rate : the total number got rid of during the
period being but 2,614 as against 222,353 in the
previous five years.* It is in the farms between five

may have taken to farming, but the number of new farms which might
be disposed of by these methods would be quite inappreciable in the

* The number of garden farms holdings under one acre increased
during this time, and the increase is continued down to 1864. The ex-
planation, I imagine, is, that in the panic following the famine, numbers


and fifteen acres that the largest reductions are now
found ; while the compensating additions occur exclu-
sively in the farms over thirty acres ; those between
fifteen and thirty acres, which had largely increased
in number previous to 1851, having, so far as
appears from the table,* remained stationary. On
the whole, during this time 10,537 small holdings
have been abolished ; while an addition has been
made of 8,743 to the farms over thirty acres in

Passing to the period 1861 to 1864, the tendency
developed in the preceding decade becomes more
marked. The reduction in the two classes of hold-
ings above the very smallest proceeds at a somewhat
accelerated and nearly uniform pace ; but now for
the first time there is seen a considerable decline
in the farms between fifteen and thirty acres in
extent. The reduction in these farms during this
period of four years amounted to 4,673. But a still
more significant feature is the form in which the com-
pensating increase has taken place. As in the former
decade, it occurs exclusively in the farms over thirty
acres in extent ; but there is evidence in the returns
to show that the new farms, added to the list since
1 86 1, have been on a greatly larger scale than those
which formed the additions to the earlier returns. In

of labourers, in their eagerness to emigrate or reach the towns, threw up
their small holdings, but that afterwards, as a more normal state of
things ensued, it has been found convenient, so far as labourers are
concerned, to return to the old practice.

* This result, no doubt, is attained by an increase in the earlier years
of the decade, compensated by a diminution in the later. Down to 1851
this class of holding was in process of rapid augmentation -.from 1861
it has rapidly declined.


the decade 1851 to 1861 the average size of what
we may describe as the new consolidated farms was
about eighty-five acres : in the period 1861 to 1864
the average size of farms in this category would be
about 411 acres.* Such a result is significant, and
justifies the assertion that in recent years the move-
ment of which we have been tracing the course has
in a great degree changed its character. In its early
stage the results were visible in an extensive abolition
of the cottier holdings, under which there lay a con-
siderable proportion of the whole cultivable surface
of Ireland holdings, which, as they disappeared, were
replaced by farms of moderate size. Of late years,
on the contrary, but little comparatively has been
done in reducing the number of the very small
tenancies. The smallest of all, indeed, have quite
recently rather remarkably increased ; while a large
proportion of the farms now disappearing are farms
much above the smallest class, ranging from fifteen
to thirty acres, and such as in any European country
but England would be regarded as medium-sized
tenancies. This class of farms was rapidly increasing
in number a little more than ten years ago, but is
now undergoing a rather rapid decrease, f Such is the

* This result, though not expressed in the returns, may be deduced
from them by an easy calculation.

t Yet the contrary is constantly asserted. W. R. G., for example,
writing in the Pall Mall Gazette, tells us : " These "that is to say, farms
between fifteen and thirty acres" are precisely the holdings which are
already greatly on the increase, which are multiplying steadily and even
rapidly, and the multiplication of which is notoriously and provably con-
temporaneous with, and probably a main cause of, that marked improve-
ment in Irish agriculture, both in kind and quality, to which all observers
bear testimony. The holdings of from fifteen acres to thirty increased
between 1841 and 1864 from 79,342 to 136,578, or nearly twofold." The


destructive portion of the process ; while the con-
structive part consists in forming out of the
dubris a very small number of very large farms
15,668 farms being abolished, most of them of mode-
rate dimensions, in order to create 302. And there
is another feature in the recent changes which also
deserves attention. In the period 1851 to 1861 no
less than 88 per cent, of all the land used in the
formation of the larger holdings, or for increasing
the size of the smaller, was obtained from reclama-
tions effected during the time : in the period since
1 86 1 the material out of which the new farms have
been made has been obtained exclusively through the
suppression of the smaller holdings : some land indeed
has during this time even passed out of cultivation
altogether. These are indications which those familiar
with the working of the grande and petite cultures will
recognize as probably not unconnected with the fact
I have just been insisting on that a large farm system
has begun to take the place of one of moderate size
in the agricultural economy of Ireland.

It will be instructive to compare these changes
in the occupation of land with the course during the
same time of the emigration. The emigration on its

writer might have added that the farms in question increased in even a
greater degree between 1841 and 1851, namely from 79,342 to 141,311.
The fact is, so far as the returns inform us, the total increase occurred
before 1851, since which time there has been a constant decline. The
decline was apparently slow down to i86i,but since that time it has been
rapid; the total number falling in three years from 141,251 to 136,578.
So much for the assertion that farms between fifteen and thirty acres
are in Ireland "multiplying steadily, and even rapidly."

* The average emigration of the previous five years had been 61,000 :
it rose in 1846 to 106,000.


modern scale of magnitude commenced in 1846:*
it reached its full flood in 1849 : for three years in
succession it carried away rather more than a quarter
of a million of human beings; but from 1851 the
energy of the movement abated. By 1856 it had
fallen to the greatly reduced total of 92,000 persons :
from that point, after some fluctuation, it declined still
further, and, during the five years ending with 1862,
remained at an average level of 74,000. Since 1862,
however, the movement has received a new impulse.
The stream, notwithstanding the lowering of the head-
water, has suddenly swollen to something like its old
proportions. In 1863 the numbers emigrating were
117,000; in 1864, 114,000; in 1865, 101,000; and in
the present year it is computed the numbers will be in
excess of those of 1865. Taking the last three years
for which we have returns, the average emigration from
a diminished population is no less than 50 per cent
greater than the average of the preceding five.

The general results to which these various indica-
tions lead may be thus provisionally summed up.
Two processes, one affecting the occupation of land,
the other the population, are seen proceeding in
parallel lines. Up to a certain point they advance
together ; then they decline ; and then, after an
interval, they are found once more in full action. The
double movement in the first period of its manifesta-
tion flows directly from the two capital evils of the
time the extreme subdivision of cultivation, and its
concomftant, excessive population. But by the middle
of the last decade, the mass of the very small hold-
ings having been then got rid of, and the population


greatly reduced, the impulse derived from these
causes seems to have nearly spent its force. From
that point the growth of a more stable and healthy
condition of society might have been looked for. In
fact, however, but a few years pass when the industrial
agitation is revived ; the changes in the occupancy of
land become more frequent the movement this time
being directed against farms, not of very small, but
of moderate dimensions, and issuing in the creation
of others of colossal size ; and contemporaneously the
emigration recommences on the grand scale. Such
are the general results ; and they justify me, I think,
in regarding the later stage of the movement as due
to causes distinct from those which gave it its original
impulse. What those causes are I shall hereafter
inquire. But meantime the result at which we have
arrived suggests the expediency of considering the
Irish industrial movement from 1846 to the present,
not, in the way it is usually considered, as a connected
series of consecutive events flowing from an original
impulse, but as resolvable into two perfectly distinct
periods ; the first commencing with 1 846 and reaching
we may say without pretending to strict accuracy
to 1856; the second commencing a few years after
that date, and continuing to the present time.

Adopting, then, this division of our subject, we find
the first period distinguished, as has been already said,
by a vast destruction, amounting, as it must have
done, in many places to a wholesale clearance of small
holdings. The number of these destroyed down to
1851, uncompensated by the creation of larger farms,
was 2 1 7,450 : and the work continued, though at a


greatly diminished rate from that point. By 1856,
this number must have been considerably enlarged ;
and, as each holding abolished represented a family
dispossessed, it is probable that not less than a million
and a quarter of human beings had by this year
abandoned their hold upon the land of the country.
Of these some few have found employment on large
farms in their neighbourhood ; a larger number pro-
bably in the towns of the empire. A portion of the
whole have thus passed permanently into the ranks of
daily labourers ; but the vast majority no doubt have
either emigrated or died. Let us now glance briefly at
the actual agencies and immediate influences by which
these remarkable results have been brought about.


In the days which succeeded the first shock of the
famine, while the strain of the calamity was at its
height, the removal of tenants from their holdings,
and the emigration which followed, proceeded at the
bidding of the most imperative of all laws that of
physical necessity. To give up their holdings was
then for a very large number of the cottier tenants not
a matter of choice. There were not on their farms the
means of support, even if they held them, as for some
time many did, rent-free. Thousands, therefore, with-
out any other compulsion than that imposed by the
calamity itself, abandoned their lands, glad to escape
to the towns or less suffering districts where a chance
of obtaining employment might be supposed to exist,
As for landlords, they were, for the most part, in these
transactions little more than passive, stunned for a
while like others by the suddenness and overpowering
nature of the disaster.


That period, however, of panic and general prostra-
tion was not of long duration. After a little, the
owners of the soil, recovering their self-possession,
began to deduce the lesson of the crisis. That lesson
was very obvious. The evils of sub-division, sub-
letting, and over-population had been brought home to
Irish landlords in a manner they were not likely to
forget ; and thenceforward, to prevent the growth of
sub-interests in the soil, to remove the hopeless portion
of the smaller tenantry, and to consolidate the vacated
farms, came to be regarded as cardinal maxims in the
management of Irish estates. At the same time, the
period of mortal struggle once over, the dread of posi-
tive starvation once removed, the peasant's passion for
the land quickly revived. Thereupon ensued an in-
evitable conflict between interest and obvious policy
on the one side, and, on the other, the natural instinct
of a race to cling to the soil of its birth. From this
point few tenant-farmers in Ireland gave up their
holdings without a struggle. A certain amount of
landlord pressure became necessary to induce the
tenant to relax his hold on the land. But in what
form was this pressure applied ? And what is the
moral judgment which the conduct of Irish landlords
in applying it calls for from their countrymen ? To
these questions, which have of late been much can-
vassed, the course of the investigation now requires
that I should attempt an answer.

Before considering what landlords have in fact done,
let us endeavour to determine what, in the actual
circumstances of Ireland at the time we speak of the
reader will remember that I am now concerned with


the period 1846 to 1856 it was their duty to do.
The conditions under which they were called to act
were these. Their estates were extensively broken
up into a great number of small cottier holdings, the
majority not exceeding a very few acres in size; and
these were burdened with a population greatly in
excess of what the available means of subsistence in
the country could maintain. The props which had
sustained the cottier system hitherto had, in con-
sequence of the events of 1846, completely given way.
Corn, extracted from an exhausted soil, and sold at
free-trade prices, could not be depended on to pay
rents ; and, after the experience of 1846, it was obvious
that the people must look elsewhere for their staple
food than to the potato. A change in the system of
agriculture, involving an extensive substitution of grass
and roots for grain, and a more scientific rotation of
crops, was demanded by the plainest requirements of
the case ; and such a change could not be carried into
effect by the existing race of cottiers, or on farms of
the dimensions which they cultivated. It followed
that an extensive abolition of the smallest class of
holdings, and simultaneously a large reduction in the
population, were indispensable conditions for the ex-
trication of the country from its perilous position.
Amongst those who accept this view of the position of
affairs, there will not, I should think, be much differ-
ence of opinion as to the duty which it imposed on
those who were called to act. Plainly, the course
which the case prescribed and not for landlords alone,
but for all Irishmen in proportion to their means and
opportunities was to assist in promoting those ends


which the best interests . of the entire community
manifestly required, not forgetting, however, in doing
so, the paramount obligation to alleviate, as far as
possible, the inevitable evils of the transition. I
cannot therefore agree with those persons who appear
to hold that the mere act of dispossessing tenants of
their land, and furthering the emigration of Irishmen,
involves of necessity something disgraceful and un-
patriotic something of which an Irishman would have
need to be ashamed. On the contrary, my view of
the situation would lead me to hold that, where due
consideration was had for the circumstances and feel-
ings of those concerned, where the legal powers with
which the owner of the soil is invested were exercised
under the restraints of humanity and justice, the effort
of a landlord to induce hopelessly struggling tenants
to give up their land and emigrate, was a wholesome
exercise of authority, and one, whatever may have
been the private motives of the actor, in itself, and
having regard to its consequences alike to the country
and the emigrant, emphatically commendable. On the
other hand, I am equally indisposed to admit what
seems to be assumed in the reasoning of another class
of disputants, that the mere inevitableness of the event,
regarding the question from the point of view of
economic principle, or its desirableness, taking a wide
view of the interests of the country, constitutes a
sufficient justification for all that may have been done
in contributing towards its realization. The danger of
a ship's foundering in a storm would not serve the
sailors as an excuse for anticipating the catastrophe by
throwing the passengers overboard ; and as little are


acts of positive inhumanity, in driving men and women
from their homes, to be palliated by the plea that these
cruelties were committed in the cause of industrial
reform. The upshot, then, of these various considera-
tions is this, that the ri^ht or wroncr of a landlord's


conduct, in the circumstances in which Ireland was
placed at the time we are considering, would depend,
not exclusively on the direction and object of his
efforts, but on these, taken in connection with the
mode in which his authority was exercised. To pro-
mote a movement which, while it benefited himself,
was manifestly for the good of the community at large,
was plainly a duty : in doing so, to keep his conduct
within the limits prescribed by a due consideration
for the interest and feelings of those who were most
seriously affected by his reforms, was also a duty, and
one, I venture to think, still more imperative, as
involving obligations with which no circumstances
could dispense. Such appear to me to be the moral
principles applicable to the case. Let us now turn to
the question of fact.

I do not suppose it will be denied by any candid
Irishman that the conduct of many Irish landlords, in
the trying ordeal through which they have passed, has
been such as would stand the test of the maxims I
have just laid down. That there have been landlords
in Ireland who, placed in circumstances of unparalleled
difficulty, have admirably done their duty, is not, I
think, a matter of controversy. The point which has

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Online LibraryJohn Elliott CairnesPolitical essays → online text (page 14 of 27)