The 1883 Napier Commission
and the 1886 'Crofters' War' in Tiree

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Condition of Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands, commonly known as the Napier Commission, was appointed in 1883 by the Gladstone Government in response to the unrest and increasing civil disobedience among crofters because of excessive rents, loss of access to grazing land, and lack of security of land tenure. The Commission was chaired by Lord Francis Napier, a distinguished civil service administrator and amateur historian. The other members were: Sir Donald Cameron of Lochiel, Highland landlord and Conservative MP; Sir Kenneth Mackenzie of Gairloch, Highland landlord; Alexander Nicolson, Sheriff of Kirkcudbright; Charles Fraser-Mackintosh, MP, sympathetic to the crofters' cause; and Professor Donald MacKinnon, Edinburgh University. The Commission traveled throughout the Highlands and Islands for 8 months in 1883, beginning hearings in Skye on 8th May, taking evidence in Tiree on 7th August, and completing the last of its hearings on 26th December. Its report and recommendations for reform were released on 28th April 1884. In July 1886, impatient for action by the Government to redress the grievances they had raised before the Commission, a number of Tiree crofters took matters into their own hands and seized Greenhill Farm on which to graze their cattle, turning out the new 'incomer' tenant and driving off his cattle in the process. This set in train an 'invasion' by police and marines to put down the insurrection, which became known as the 'Crofters' War' that was won, inevitably, by the forces of the law. Eight Tiree men were arrested, tried, and imprisoned as a result.

The background to the Napier Commission, the evidence relating to Tiree presented to it, day-by-day accounts of the 'Crofters' War', and two relevant articles, are listed in the table below. To download an article, click on its number.


No. Document Author/Compiler Pages
1 Overview: The Napier Commission and the 'Crofters' War' in Tiree (includes extracts of witness statements by Tiree crofters and cottars to the Napier Commission) Billy Clelland 16
2 Tiree Witnesses Before the Napier Commission, 1883 Billy Clelland 1
3 Evidence to the Napier Commission by Edward Charles Stanford, Manufacturing Chemist (includes a description of the collecting and processing of kelp in Tiree) Billy Clelland 15
4 Submission by the Duke of Argyll to the Napier Commission, published by David Douglas, Edinburgh (1883): Crofts and Farms in the Hebrides: Being an Account of the Management of an Island Estate for 130 Years (includes a copy of an 1851 "Petition from Poor Persons in Tyree for Aid to Emigrate") Duke of Argyll 82
5 Summary of the report of the Napier Commission published in The Times newspaper, May 1884 Keith Dash 4
6 House of lords debate on the Crofters (Scotland) Bill, May 1886, introduced by the Government in response to the Napier Commission Report (includes contributions by the Duke of Argyll) Iain Campbell 17
7 The Tiree 'Crofters' War' of July/August 1886 as reported in The Scotsman (Edinburgh) newspaper (a day-by-day account by an 'on-the-spot' reporter) Iain Campbell 39
8 The Tiree 'Crofters' War' of July/August 1886 as reported in The Times (London) newspaper Nanette Mitchell
& Keith Dash
12
9 Depopulation of Rural Scotland in the 1800s and its Impact on Tiree: an acrimonious debate between the Hon. D.H. Macfarlane M.P. and the Duke of Argyll in the Letters to the Editor pages of The Times (London) newspaper, 1882-1886 Nanette Mitchell
& Keith Dash
26
10. Extract from the London weekly journal The Democrat celebrating the election in Argyllshire of D.H. Macfarlane, Crofters' Party candidate and long-time adversary of the Duke of Argyll, at the 1885 British election. Darryl Stout
& Keith Dash
2


The complete record of evidence presented to the Napier Commission (3,379 pages in 4 volumes) and the report of the Commission presented in 1884 (679 pages including appendices), digitised and put into PDF format by Lochaber College, Mallaig, can be downloaded at www.highland-elibrary.com . Evidence presented to the Commission in Tiree is on Pages 433-487 of Volume 3 of the record of evidence, and can be downloaded here .