Edinburgh, 22 October 1883 - James M Anderson / Skye

JAMES M. ANDERSON, Esq., S.S.C., Edinburgh (43)—examined.

45076. The Chairman.
—You have a statement you wish to make ?
—Yes. I appear for Mr Donald M'Raild, factor for the late Sir John Anderson Macpherson M'Leod of St Kilda, who requested me to attend and make a statement to your Lordship and the Royal Commissioners in vindication of his character as regards certain false statements made against him in a communication made to the Royal Commissioners at their meeting in Glendale in May last.

45077. Will you be good enough to make your statement?
—I have just, through the favour of the Secretary, got the print of the minutes of evidence taken in Glendale, and the objectionable matter is printed at p.404, and it occurs in the evidence of John Mackay of Colbost, who was appointed a delegate —and according to this evidence against his will also—to represent that township of Colbost, and who handed to your Lordship a statement signed by seventeen of the crofters in that township. It is in that statement which was quoted that the objectionable matter is contained. I may read it to.your Lordship, p. 404. The statement goes on to say that - on account of the poverty, &c.' Now, that statement, if true, represented Mr M'Raild as having wandered away from his duty to commit a gross cruelty and oppression upon those people, and I am instructed to say that that averment —these statements—are utterly devoid of truth. I have been instructed by Mr M'Raild to say so; and in point of fact, I have to explain that Mr M'Raild was not at that time—in the famine year 1846—in the island of Skye at all, but in St Kilda, engaged in distributing meal to the inhabitants of that island, as directed by Sir John M'Leod. I was requested by Mr M'Raild, who I may inform your Lordship is an old man, and has been unable to attend any of the meetings, to write to this man Mackay to withdraw the statement he made, and Mackay has written me a letter disowning whatever was contained in the paper he gave in, and with your Lordship's permission I will read the letter:
—- Colbost, Skye, July 25, 1883.
—Sir, your letter of the 14th duly received, and as there are so many charges against me on account of my being a delegate for the tenants of Colbost on the 21st May last, for which you wish me to apologise, and retracting all what was stated in the papers handed by me to the Royal Commissioners on account of the tenants, I may hereby state that all the tenants and delegates were left at free liberty by factors and proprietors to make their statements of whatever nature on the occasion referred to in your letter; and as to your charges against me, I can freely state that I was not questioned about either potatoes nor seed of any kind by the Royal Commissioners, and if such were mentioned in the papers which were handed in by me, there was an ample opportunity granted by the said Commissioners to contradict such statements at their last meeting in Skye, where all delegates, factors, and proprietors were invited to meet to have matters being balanced. For my part, I deny of making those statements. If in writing by the tenants, I am not responsible. I am not a scholar, but an old ignorant man of 69 years, and whatever I have stated during my career I have no wish retracting.
— JOHN x M'KAY.' I have made inquiry as to the party who wrote this letter for Mackay, and I am informed it was Peter M'Kinnon, postmaster, near Colbost.

45078. According to your statement, Mr Norman M'Raild was not factor at all ?
—No. I was instructed also to tell you that at the time in question (1846) Mr M'Raild was not factor of Colbost.

45079. The statement given in by Mackay allows that; it says he became factor in 1848. Was Mr M'Raild at that time employed in any capacity by the M'Leod family ?
—I am informed he had the charge of the island of St Kilda; but I have not any accurate information in regard to that. But I shall make inquiry if your Lordship wish.

45080. You are here simply to contradict a particular statement?

45081. But not to give information in any other respect as to the employment, engagements, or deeds of Mr M'Raild at all?
—His friends thought his character had been seriously attacked, and as he was an old man, unable to appear and give explanations, I was requested to appear to do so.

45082. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Are you aware that Mr Norman M'Raild has a son living with him?
—I have, since I got this print, found Mr M'Raild has a son.

45083. Are you aware that he was present when the statements complained of were made ?
—I cannot say ; I am not sure.

45084. Supposing he were, and that he is a man perfectly able to travel from one place to another, don't you think it would have been better, instead of asking an agent in Edinburgh, who cannot personally know about the circumstances, for the son to have come forward and contradicted the statement, and given the Commissioners an opportunity to cross-examine him ?
—I think it ought to have been contradicted at the time; but I may also explain that this matter was put into my hands in the beginning of July, the intention being to make Mackay retract and apologise; but he having disowned the statement, I ceased to have anything to do with the matter until the Commission came here, and I should have an opportunity of relating the circumstances.

45085. The Chairman.
—Was the delegate here mentioned called upon to retract under threat of prosecution ?
—Yes, and he disowned the statement altogether, and his letter explains his reasons, and I thought it would be injudicious—as we wished merely to have the statement rectified—to have a Court of Session action upon the subject.

45086. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Will you hand in your letter of 14th July to Mackay?
—I will. [The following is the letter referred to, by witness to Mackay:
—'9 York Place, Edinburgh, 14th July 1883.
—We have have been consulted by Mr Norman M'Raild, late factor for the estate of St Kilda, which belonged to Sir John M'Leod, concerning certain statements you made to the Royal Commissioners at their meeting held at Glendale on 21st May last. You said that " During the famine of 1846, the proprietor sent a quantity of potatoes and seed to be distributed among the poor people, and instead of getting the same gratis as was intended, they were charged by Norman M'Raild, who had charge of the distribution, the enormous prices of £ 1 , 16s. and £ 2 per boll. This they were unable to pay, and their cattle were seized and taken from them at half their value, so that they were left penniless, and a good number reduced to pauperism." We are instructed to inform you that so far as Mr M'Raild is concerned, your said statements were false and calumnious, and that you have thereby slandered his character and injured his feelings and reputation. We therefore now call upon you, to instantly retract said statements, and apologise for having made them —the retractation and apology to be at your expense drawn up in a satisfactory manner to our client, and published also at your expense in such of the newspapers where the slanderous statements appeared as our client shall think proper. We have also to inform you that if you will not retract and apologise immediately we shall be obliged, for the vindication of Mr M'Raild's character and reputation, to serve you with a Court of Session action of damages for £500. We hope, however, to hear from you in such terms as will render that action unnecessary.
—Your obedient servants, WATT AND ANDERSON. Mr John M'Kay, crofter, Colbost, by Dunvegan.']

45087. Professor Mackinnon.
—Do you understand this letter of Mackay as disowning the statement ?
—That was my construction of it; he denies having made such a statement. I attack him for making the statement, and he denies it.

45088. Our minutes bear it was a statement handed in by the people ?
—So I understand it. When this matter came into my hands at first, we were trusting to the reports in the newspapers.

45089. I do not see that this letter denies in the least anything in our minutes ?
—No. He says, ' I am an ignorant man, and am unaware of what was in the statement. I was merely the hand to give in the paper to the Royal Commissioners, and I am not responsible for what may be the contents of it.'

45090. Sheriff Nicolson.
—The gist of it seems to be to blame the Commissioners for not contradicting it ?
—It seems to say that he is not responsible for it.

45091. The Chairman.
—At any rate, you are here to contradict emphatically the specific statement that Mr M'Raild did so and so ?
—Yes, and to say that in point of fact he was not in the island of Skye at all during the famine year (1846), but at St Kilda distributing meal sent there by Sir John M'Leod.

45092. And that he became factor two years after that ?
—Two years after.

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