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On Labourers & Cottiers 1836

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On Labourers & Cottiers 1836

Transcribed by Teena

Parliamentary Papers By Parliament, Great Britain, House of Commons 1836

On Labourers & Cottiers

Persons who attended the Examination. Barony of Omagh

DANIEL AUCHENLECK, Esq. — Mr. BLANEY, farmer. — GEORGE BUCHANNAN, Esq. — Mr. BUCHANNAN, Mr. COHAN, Mr. COLWELL, Mr. CRAWFORD, Mr. DELAP, farmers — Rev. P. GORDON, p. p. — JAMES GRIER, Esq. — Mr. GRUGAN, farmer. — Dr. HARKAN. — Mr. LOVE, farmer. — WILLIAM McHUGH labourer. — Mr. M'MuLLEN, farmer. — Rev. Mr. M'SORLY, R. c. c. — THOMAS M'CARMEL, labourer. — MARTIN, Esq. — Rev. Mr. MONAHAN, R. C.C. — Mr. QUIN, farmer. — HUGH QUIN, labourer. — Mr. ROGERS, farmer. — Mr. SHORT. — Rev. THOMAS STACK. —  Leiutenant WADE, sub-inspector of police. — JAMES WILSON, Esq. — Mr. YOUNG.

THE extent of employment may be judged  from the following statements:
" I am half my time idle, I don't get half as much employment as I used to get. three years ago ; I don't get work in winter at all." — (Hugh QUIN.) " There is no county where the poor are worse off; some labourers have no shoes or stockings." — (Mr. BUCHANNAN.)
Here some persons remarked, " that those who were willing to work, might get work." To that Mr. BUCHANNAN replied, that " he knew men constantly to go seven or eight miles to get a day's LABOURERS. work ;" he also said, that " they show the greatest anxiety to get work, but cannot."

The decrease of employment for labourers was generally attributed to the subdivision of land into small farms, and the inability of the farmers to pay as many labourers as formerly. The Rev. Mr. M'SORLY, R.C.C thought, " that there may be more persons looking for the quantity of employment that now exists ; for the failure of the linen trade has thrown many on agricultural work, as well as caused many idlers up and down the country."
He further remarked, that " he considered for the space of a mile or two around Omagh, a labourer might get half work throughout the year ; but a day-labourer, through the country, could not get so much. The wages differ according to the demand for labour, at particular times of the year."

Hugh Quin says, " A man gets in summer about 8d. a-day, and his diet ; and in winter, when he gets a chance day, 5d. and his diet ; sometimes in harvest a labourer gets 10d and diet, for two or three weeks. A boy under 16 may get about £1 10s. in the half year, as a servant to a farmer."

The rate of wages seems to have diminished, but provisions are cheaper, so that there is no great diminution in the wages of labourers : if the decrease were of any consequence, it arises from the increasing inability of the farmers to pay as well as formerly. — (Mr. ROGERS.)

The system of getting work executed by the piece is not known in this part of the country. An ordinary labourer gets about half work throughout the year, at an average of 6d. a day, and his diet. There are no instances here of labourers having worked merely for their daily good, as in this district food is abundant and cheap. A great many of the cottiers had been tenants who were dispossessed, but they never think that they get as good a subsistence by daily labour as by holding land. There are no rich grazing districts in the barony.

In this district the insufficiency of food is not such as to render the labourer less able to work. An instance was never known here of threatening notices having been sent to prevent the employment of strangers, and no cases of violence have resulted where strangers have been employed ; no combinations have ever existed among the labourers in this district. "My brother employs 40 labourers, and, being regularly employed, they are, in every way, much better off than chance labourers." — (Rev. Mr. STACK.)

The competition amongst labourers for work, does not seem to have had the effect of materially lowering wages at any periods ; labour for hire being his only means of subsistence, — " the labourer is often obliged to accept very low wages." — (Rev. Mr. M'SORLY, R. C.C." I should be glad to get 4s. every week, if the work were convenient." — (Hugh QUIN.) " Great numbers have gone to America at different times, but that never kept those who remained at home employed at steady wages of 5s. per week." — (Mr. ROGERS.) Labourers usually marry at a very early age ; and very few think of making any provision against marriage. " A saving labourer is a little more cautious." — (Rev. Mr. M'SORLEY, R. C.C.) " A labourer can easily recover wages when withheld. Labourers are not allowed for loss of time ; they do not look for it .Cases of litigation arise between the farmers and the farm servants, but the day-labourer cannot afford to be for any time out of his wages." — (Mr. ROGERS.) Labourers seldom keep an account with their employer, but when they do, the labourer keeps a tally, and the employer an account ; any difference is usually settled by arbitration. 

H. JACKSON explained the meaning he attached to the word "cottier" thus : " Any man who has a house and garden is a cottier; cottiers have no land but a bit of a garden." In reply to the inquiry whether they ever kept cows or goats ? CONNOLLY replied, " A cottier cannot afford  to keep a cow or a goat. Cottiers are always scrambling into debt, and out of debt. Cottiers always pay their rent in work ; the usual thing is to give a day in every week. The same witness, being asked , whether a farmer would not forgive a cottier these days, in case of sickness for some weeks, replied, " By no means, he should make them up."
The labourers of this barony, (Omagh) and, as far as the Assistant Commissioners could understand, of the entire county, may be divided into three classes : First, the farm servants, who are unmarried men, and live in the same house with the farmers : these receive, besides their living, from £5 to £7 a year, according to their skill as labourers. Secondly, the day-labourers; these generally reside in and about the towns, and appear to be the worst off, not having any thing like regular employment. And, thirdly, the cottier labourers : these are by far the most numerous class, and go on under a system which precludes the possibility of any one of them, by any exertions of his own, being able to better his condition. " A cottier," here, is understood to be a labourer who gives the first four days' labour out of every week throughout the year to a farmer, for which he receives from the farmer the following payment. He gets a cabin, and from 15 to 20 square perches of manured land for his potatoes ; he also gets as much land as will be sufficient for sowing two pecks of flax, and likewise permission to cut as much turf as two men can cut with spades in a day, which turf is brought home for him by the farmer. In some cases' he gets a little ground, perhaps half a rood, for oats. All these, the cottier's privileges, are valued at £4 4s., which sum will be accepted by the farmer, if the cottier prefer paying in money, — a thing very seldom done. The cottier is dieted by the farmer on the days he works with him; in this way his wages amount to 4Jd. a-day and his diet, for four days in the week : the remaining two days are considered necessary for the cultivation of his own little crop. This, then, is the condition of the Tyrone cottier. He labours two-thirds of his life to pay £4 4 viz the rent of a cabin, a little turf, and a spot of ground in no case exceeding two-thirds of an acre, and the remaining portion of his time is devoted to the cultivation of this spot, out of which he is to clothe himself and his family, to feed that family all the year round, and himself three days out of every seven. This difficult task he is enabled to perform chiefly by the industry of his family in the dressing and sale of his flax, and by rearing a pig. Out of this lowly condition it is evident no exertion can raise him. The Assistant Commissioners asked the farmers if they knew any instance of a cottier rising in the world ; and their answer was, that they never knew one whom his own exertions raised, but that a few have risen who had grown-up families of industrious habits, and whose sons at service with farmers had saved some money, and thus enabled their father to take a little farm. It was also stated that when a cottier grows old, and unable to work as the farmer wishes, he must go out and beg, unless his family are able to pay the rent for him ; and begging in their old age was said to be the lot of many cottiers. Such is his case in health, but if he gets sick he becomes, of course, able to work, and his little crop is seized, and perhaps sold ; and, even if the farmer is kind enough to leave him his crop, his labour is due for a still longer period, and he is obliged to make up the deficiant time. Such is the condition of one, and the most general kind of cottiers, in the county of Tyrone. There is another description of cottiers, who hold what is termed a " wet-take," which differs from the "dry-take" just mentioned in this respect, that the man who holds a " wet take" keeps a cow on the farmer's land, for which privilege he pays, in addition, about £4 4. a-year : the rent of a wet-take" is generally paid in money.

A COTTIER lives on the land of the farmer, by whom he is constantly employed, and generally has some land with his cabin. It is now considered desirable to become a cottier tenant, as it ensures constant employment, which is so difficult to obtain ; but when the times were better, - it was not much sought after. Cottiers pay the rent of their holdings in labour to the farmer-er. They are charged from £ I to £2 for a cabin alone, if no land is let with it ; but this is rare ; the cabin is generally built by the landlord, though sometimes in part or whole by the tenant. If with an acre of land, they are charged from £3 to £4 for the cabin and the land, and have the worst ground on the farm. They have to give their labour for 6d. a day, with diet, and for 8d. without.  In making his agricultural tour of the two baronies, the English Assistant Commissioner found that a number of resident proprietors and gentlemen farmers let from one to six acres to each of their cottiers, at the same rent, or nearly so, as would have been charged to a farmer : for instance, — a resident proprietor has built good stone and slated cabins, of three rooms, which he lets to his cottiers, with from three to six acres of land, and charges them only £1 per acre, including the cabins; but he only gives them 8d. in summer, and 6d. in winter, without diet, for wages. Another proprietor charges his cottiers about the farmer's price for land, including cabins, and gives them 8d. all the year round, without diet, except skim-milk. The cottiers of a third proprietor have from one to three acres of land, for which they pay £1. 4s. per acre, and receive 8d. per day throughout the year, without diet. A fourth, of Killeen, has most comfortable cabins, containing three good rooms, and well built and thatched, for his cottiers. They have each from an acre and a half to two acres of. land, for which they pay, including the cabin, at the rate of £1. 10s. per acre. Their wages are 8d. per day, without diet. Cottiers can seldom afford a cow, but are generally allowed to keep one, if they can. The price of grass varies, but is more usually about £2, and the hay they have to buy costs them from £1. 5s. to £1. 10s.

Labour is the only way in which the farmer can be paid by his  cottiers, as they possess no other means of paying him their rent or anything else for which they may be indebted to him. A "COTTIER" in this barony is a man who contracts to work constantly for the farmer, and gets from him a cabin, and from one rood to two or three acres of land, for which he pays about £2 per acre, (the cabin being frequently built and almost always repaired by the labourer) ; acre potato ground at the rate of about £8 per acre, and grass for a cow, if the labourer has one, for about £2, and hay and straw for £1. 5s. to £1. 10s. more: these are all deducted from his wages. There are but few cottiers remaining in this barony, and their number is fast diminishing ; but a great many of the labourers have from half an acre to two or three acres of land, which both fills up the time when they are not employed by the farmers, and adds from £1 to £4 or £5 to their income. Notwithstanding the low rate of the cottier's wages, yet from the great want of employment and the scarcity of cabins, his situation is considered a very desirable one.

Cottiers are almost always in debt to their employers ; the former seldom has recourse to legal proceedings to enforce payment. If the debt be too considerable to be repaid by work he will take the cottier's pig, his heap of manure, or any other property he can find on the premises.

A COTTIER tenant differs from a small landholder in this, that "he has only a house and a small garden, and some have a rood of land, which they call the cot-take, and the rent he will pay is from £1 10*. to £3." — (Martini) "Those are only lodgers," said Davenport. " The cottier has a house, garden, and flax ground ; some have a cow, and ground for it, and pay for grazing £3 10s. from May to December." The cottier occupies his holding from year to year, generally at a rent of from £2 to £3. If the house has but one small room the rent is from £1 10s. to £2. A cottier is seldom out of debt; those who give him credit must wait till they get work; some landlords will give them credit, some not." — (Davism.) "
If they don't pay the rent they seize their goods, but not many ; they mostly work out the rent." — (B. M' Mullen.) " When an agreement is made that the rent should be paid in work of a certain number of days the landlord sometimes will not allow more than Is. a-day, though the current price of wages at the time may be Is. &d. The work is mostly demanded in throng time, when the labourer could get more elsewhere ; some will allow the labourer to get work wherever he can get a higher price." Hugh HILLEN said, " Last year in harvest I could have got 9s. a-week, but my landlord made me work for 6." To avoid this, in some cases, the cottiers agree to give a day in each week throughout the year.

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