« PreviousContinue »
listen to the champion of liberty, had not chosen the better part of a day's fishing, applauded; nor did the grave and reverend Commissioners rebuke the outburst. Let us pass from this to the point at which the statements of Mr. Ellis were examined and contradicted at Llangefni by Mr. Beaver Roberts who, having been solicitor to the landowners in the parishes affected who caused the Enclosure Act to be passed, had an advantage over Mr. Ellis in that he knew what he was talking about. He showed (Q. 23,016 et seq.), that the late Lord Penrhyn, then Colonel Douglas Pennant, had not been one of these landowners, had no connection with the application for enclosure, had not been Chairman of Quarter Sessions, had not brought the matter before Quarter Sessions, and so forth. He then used towards the assertions of Mr. Ellis the same word “infamous," which Mr. Ellis had applied to the conduct of Lord Penrhyn as described by him in terms absolutely incorrect. And straightway Lord Carrington, who was in the chair, requested Mr. Beaver Roberts to withdraw the word "infamous," which Mr. Ellis had used unrebuked amid the applause of the gallery, on the ground that the Commission was very anxious that violent language should bo omitted.
The history of this particular charge, of the wholesale fashion in which it was disproved, of the manner in which the Commission, acting instinctively, so to speak, and on the spur of the moment, treated two identical expressions of opinion is instructive. It shows the recklessness with which the leaders of the party of agitation hurl at landowners statements capable of complete disproof in detail; and it tends farther to show in advance—the point belongs more particularly to a later period of this volume—the difficulties with which witnesses favourable to the existing laws and system of land tenure had to contend in giving before the Commission that testimony which they offered as of grace and without any compulsion.
A very flagrant case, also, in which an attempt was made, primarily by outside agitators and for purely or impurely political purposes, to make a grievance out of an ordinary transaction, was that of one David Evans of Cae Einion, who gave evidence before the Commission (Q. 8589 et seq.). The flimsy character of the allegations made originally against the landlord, Mr. Ellis Nanney, and his agent, Mr. W. B. C. Jones, has however been so completely exposed in the public press, the accusations have been so severely condemned by the Cambrian News, a journal certainly not favourable to landowners, and the whole of the miserable charge has been so thoroughly dissipated by Mr. Walter Jones in an able and outspoken pamphlet entitled the “Cae Einion Farce,” that the matter would not be worth referring to but for two facts.
Firstly, the main allegation, after the witness had gone through the stock story of grievances, was that the witness had received notice to quit either because he was a member of the Welsh Land League, or for political reasons. This main allegation was dragged out of the witness by some questions (8641 to 8643) of Mr. Commissioner Griffiths and hy a series of eminently leading questions addressed to him by Mr. Commissioner Brynmor Jones. A very few words from the agent, who was severely harried by the chairman for expressing the opinion that friendship with a landlord and membership of the Welsh Land League were things incompatible with one another, disposed of the whole story: and the man must have known it would be disposed of. Mr. Walter Jones produced a copy (Q. 8716) of a letter addressed by him to sixty tenants, of whom Mr. Evans was one, who received notice to quit at the same time. That notice to quit, as the letter explained, was given all round and certainly with no political object (for several of the recipients were Conservatives). It was given simply in order to pave the
way for a new agreement under which the landlord was to pay the tithe instead of the tenant. Other circumstances
THE LAND QUESTION IN NORTH WALES. appear in the evidence, but they are immaterial to the present issue and to the present purpose, which is to show that the letter received by the tenant, in common with fifty-nine others, not only made no mention of politics but also made it as clear as daylight that the notice to quit was merely formal and was merely the preliminary to a new agreement.
Finally be it said that the purpose of this chapter will have been accomplished if it has succeeded in conveying even a vague impression of some of the incidents which have accompanied the rising of the Welsh Land Question, of the various forces that have been at work, of the character of the agitation, of the class of charge which is made against Welsh landowners, individually and generally, and of the quality of the evidence upon which such charges are founded. It will be necessary, in the course of this task, to pay detailed attention to some of the charges made before the Commission itself. For the present nothing more is desired than to show the influences which were brought to bear upon the public mind long before there was so much as a thought in the minds of the party of agitation that a Commission was likely to be appointed.
Formation of North Wales Property Defence Association—its object
not hostile to Farmers-it asks for a Commission in April 1892— Mr. T. E. Ellis's Speech of May 1892–His Indictment-Mr. Gladstone's Observations upon it-Mr. Chaplin's Criticism~Mr. Gladstone's Snowdon Speech-His Statisticsthe Inaccuracy of Inferences drawn from them—the Irrelevance of any Inference from them.
"THERE comes a time when human power of enduring in silence, or something approaching to it, venomous insult and continuous calumny, is strained to the breaking point. That time came, in the case of the landowners of North Wales, or at any rate of the more considerable members of that body, in April 1892. Among the landowners of South Wales there was, at that time, no organisation; but the landowners of North Wales, who, by reason of the greater acuteness of the tithe question and the greater influence of the vernacular press in their districts, had been forced by circumstances to stand in the forefront of the battle, were already formed into a defensive association, and had been so formed since 1886. The object of the Association was defined with admirable precision in a circular issued after the original meeting in December of that year (Lord Penrhyn's evidence at Llangefni, 22,781), of which the material words are appended :
“The meeting expressed the utmost sympathy and good feeling towards the tenant farmer, and it was agreed that landowners should meet their tenants fairly and liberally in
the existing depression of their business, and an opinion prevailed that, if allowed to arrange their own affairs, no difficulties would arise. At the same time it was felt by all that the incessant interference of outside agitators, often totally unconnected with any interest in land, and the open encouragement given by a large portion of the Welsh press to schemes practically of confiscation, made imperative the establishment of an organisation for mutual self-protection.
“It was therefore resolved (with only two dissentients) to establish this Association, which it must be clearly understood is formed in no hostile spirit, nor as a combination against the tenant farmers in any shape or form.”
It may be observed that one of the questions in the official syllabus distinctly suggests the existence of a combination of the character repudiated by the italicised words: and that there is absolutely no evidence of the existence of such a body in Wales. Whence then came the idea underlying the Question ?
It is enough to say that the Association received annually increasing support from the landowners of North Wales independently of politics; that it kept a close watch, as it was entitled to, upon the progress of agitation; that it promoted the feeling that the interests of landlord and tenant were identical so far as opposition went to the movements of agitators who had their own axes to grind.
It was in April 1892, that the Association, stung by the scurrilous abuse to which its members were subject in the vernacular press and in Parliament, resolved to approach Lord Salisbury's Administration of that date with a request for the appointment of a Royal Commission. The terms of the resolution in which the determination to court investigation was expressed were the following:
“ That this Association considers that the time has arrived for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into