Napier Commission

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Condition of Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands

The commission was set up as a response to crofter and cottar demonstrations against excessively high rents, lack of security of tenure on land that had been in families for generations and the forced evictions of crofters.

The demonstrations started in Wester Ross and Lewis in the 1870's, and by the early 1880's had moved to Skye. Local police forces were called upon by the landlords to enforce what they believed to be their rights. However, with limited resources, the police found it difficult to cope with the increasing demands put upon them. Therefore, it became an issue needing the attention of Prime Minister Gladstone’s government and he ordered the appointment of the commission.

Under the orders of William Gladstone, and backed by Royal approval, the commission was appointed in 1883, by the Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt. Francis Napier, 10th Lord Napier, was selected as chairman, with five other members - Sir Donald Cameron of Locheil; Sir Kenneth MacKenzie of Gairloch; Charles Fraser – MacIntosh MP; Sheriff Alexander Nicolson of Kicudbright and Professor Donald MacKinnon of Edinburgh university – making up the panel.

The commission began its work in Braes on the Island of Skye and travelled the length and breadth of the Highlands and Islands (including Orkney and Shetland) gathering evidence from crofters, landlords and others who were familiar with the plight of the indigenous population.

The final report was hastily published in 1884 and led obliquely to the 1886 Crofters’ Holding Act.

The Napier’s Report is a valuable piece of documentary evidence from the Highlands and Islands (including Orkney and Shetland) in 1883, presenting facts and information on the population, as well as the political, historical and social climate of the time

Napier Commision Documents

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19th Century Napier Commission reports into the life and times of Highland crofters and cottars, one of Scotland's most important historical records.

•   Volume I -
•   Volume II -
•   Volume III -
•  Volume IV -

•  Volume V (Report with Appendices) -


Please note this research was carried out in 2007 by Lochaber College before it merged in 2010 and became West Highland College UHI, for futher information please contact the following:


Crofters Commission - Offering advice and information to the crofting community

Jane Henderson, West Highland College UHI - Mallaig


t:  01397 874600 or 01687 460345