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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

V. Improvement

29. Obstacles to Improvement, 1793

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1In 1775 William Fullarton (1754-1808) was appointed principal secretary to the embassy of Lord Stormont at the court of France. In 1780 he raised the 98th-regiment of infantry, of which he was appointed colonel. He was sent to the Cape of Good Hope and then to India. On his return to Europe, he published a work entitled A View of the English Interests in India; and an Account of the Military Operations in the Southern Parts of the Peninsula, during the Campaigns of 1782, 1783, and 1784 (London, 1787) In 1793 he wrote An Account of the Agriculture of the County of Ayr, with Observations on the Means of its Improvement. In 1801 he also wrote an essay on the best method of turning grass lands into tillage (A Letter, addressed to the Rt. Hon. Lord Carrington, President of the Board of Agriculture). The same year he was appointed governor of the island of Trinidad, but returned home in 1803. He died at London, on 13 February 1808.

2Col. Fullarton of Fullarton, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Ayr: With Observations on the Means of Its Improvement, Edinburgh: J. Nichols, 1793, p. 117-118.

The obstacles to improvement are many. Some of them may with care be removed, others with more difficulty. Some arise from the situation of the country, others from the indolence of the tenantry, and not a few may be ascribed to the proprietors themselves.

  1. Townships. A number of farms in one village, or several tenants about one plough, having their land mixed with one another, is a great bar to the improvement of any country. However necessary these townships were, for the mutual aid of the inhabitants, in rude ages and unsettled times, when the safety of a man’s person, the protection of his family, and the security of his property, depended more on the affection and prompt assistance of his neighbours, than on the arm of the civil magistrates yet in the happy times in which we live, such clusters of houses are no longer necessary. Many instances might be pointed out, where all the tenants on several ploughs, and a number of cottagers, are huddled together in one hamlet.
  2. Runrig. It is equally absurd, to see two or three, or perhaps four men, yoking their horses together in one plough, and having their ridges alternately in the same field, with a bank of unploughed land between them, by way of march. Under this management, four people must concur in opinion with regard to the time and manner of ploughing every field, the kind of crop-to be sown, and the season and weather for sowing; and whether they and their horses are to be employed or idle. By the policy of the feudal times these diminutive possessions were carried to such a length, that in some places of Scotland, the phrase a horse’s soot [the sixteenth part of a plough gate (author’s note)] of land is not entirely laid aside. Considering the various avocations which they must have, and the little jarring animosities which will necessarily arise in a close neighbourhood, where opposite interests are constantly interfering, it is impossible to expect that any species of improvement can go on. Whereas, if every farmer had his land set off by itself, and his ground inclosed, he may improve, if he is inclined to be industrious, without being fettered by his neighbour’s temper, or ignorance, or laziness, and if he is not inclined to work, his farm stands out a spectacle to the whole country, and a memorial of his indolence, insomuch, that if the admonitions of his landlord, the example of his neighbours, his own interest, and the care of his family, have no effect in rousing him to be industrious, he marks himself, as it were with his own hand, as a fit person to be set adriftat the end of his lease.
  3. Marches not freighted. In some instances, the marches betwixt different proprietors are not freighted, of which neglect examples might be pointed out; without which, the land can neither be inclosed nor improved. In all these cases, it is evident, that both landlord and tenant must suffer.
  4. Servitudes. Any thing demanded under the name of rent, except money, or perhaps part of the produce of the farm, is an obstacle to improvement. If the proprietor be distant from fuel, and the carriages of his own horses unable to supply his family in that necessary domestic article, it is not to be expected, that the carriage of fuel by tenants, is altogether to be laid aside. But the ploughing or harrowing of land, the mowing of hay, the shearing of corn, or any other services, which divert the strength of a farm from its own labour, are of the worst consequence to agriculture. The spirits of the people are sunk, and their vigour enervated by these bondages. Whenever the country is improved, very few services are exacted; and in many cases, nothing except a money rent. The payment, even of grain, occasions endless disputes, which have the worst effect, betwixt parties, where uninterrupted harmony is equally the interest of both.

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