Sir JOHN W. P. CAMPBELL-ORDE, Bart., Proprietor of North Uist (56)—examined.
45515. The Chairman.
—I believe you have a statement which you desire to read ?
—Yes, my Lord; I thought it would facilitate matters if I embodied what I have to say in writing. '
I beg to submit the following statement on the subject of the condition of the crofters and cottars on my estate of North Uist. In it I have noticed as they occur in the evidence of delegates and others the grievances complained of. I pass over in silence the Sollas evictions which took place before my late father purchased the estate from Lord M'Donald's trustees in the year 1855, for that reason and because anything I know on the subject of them is from hearsay. I may say, however, that statements have been made as to the employment of soldiers on that occasion which cannot be substantiated. There is also an answer to the allegation that those who were removed received no value for the fittings and roofs of their houses. I have reason to believe that the people would have been allowed to remove them to Locheport and elsewhere, where some were settled on the estate; and as regards both these and the families that emigrated being in arrear many years for rent, there really would be a considerable balance against them after allowing for value of roofs, &c. according to the old custom of the country. The crofters who complain of charge for interest and repayment of capital which was expended on draining their lands, appear to forget that the land was supposed to be permanently improved by the drainage. The execution of the work was in Lord M'Donald's time, as proprietor, and I conclude that it was done under Government inspection. If these drains are not now efficient, I attribute it in a great measure to the carelessness of the tenants. But as a matter of fact, the rents to which drainage money had been added had all been revised by me before the Royal Commission was even talked of, and adjusted at what I and my factor considered the value of the holding, if not much below it.
Alleged fixing of Rent by possible Earnings making kelp.
—So far as I am aware, it was only on the Boreray estate (held on a lease of four lives and three nineteen years), that this was ever done. For this neither I nor my father can be held responsible, but I believe, if reference is made to the returns of acreage of crofters' lots, and common grazing attached, and of the stock kept thereon, it will be found that the Boreray lands (I refer to those held under lease above referred to) are not rented above their real value agriculturally, although they may be comparatively dearer than others on the estate. The rent was fixed at a time when £ 2 was an unusually high price for a stirk or one-year-old beast; and other stock was equally lower in value than now when it is very common to hear of £7 or even £8 as the price given for a crofter's stirk.
Cottars a Burden on the Crofters.
—There can be no doubt this is the case, and that both crofters and cottars would be pleased if the latter were removed elsewhere. But, admitting the existence of the evil, it is but fair to inquire how it has arisen before resorting to any remedy, at the expense and risk, as I understand it is proposed by some, of the proprietors, who are certainly only to blame (so far as I think has yet been proved) for a too lax enforcement of estate rules. The cottars on my estate (I speak of those on the crofters' farms) may be said to consist of two classes
—First, such crofters who, being unable to pay rent, have from time to time lost their lands, but continued to occupy houses (in many cases there are more than one house on a croft), or built others on the croft or on the common of the farm, when the new tenant took possession of the lands. I may mention here, that the fact of the crops being the property of the outgoing tenant, may in some cases have been made an excuse for their remaining in the locality.
Second, younger sons and daughters of crofters, who are kept or allowed to come into their parents' houses after marriage. This appears generally to go on so long as they agree well together, or until the death of the crofter, and the succession of perhaps another child who finds the house too small for so large a party. When this state of things arises, a second house is built, an addition of four or six couples made to the old one, or an outhouse ostensibly built for cattle is converted into a dwelling house. Of late years this has been strictly forbidden, and stopped to the utmost of our power. I have a typical case just now in the island of Grimsay (on the M'Lean property). A shepherd in the employment of the tenant of Kallin, who lost his situation owing to a change of tenants; without even taking the trouble to ask my factor or me, he erected a new house on the common land of Grimsay. He was inter- dieted from doing so, suffered seven days' imprisonment for breach of interdict, and on his release returned to, and still inhabits the house in question. Two other cottars may be mentioned as examples of such practice
—First, a man, not a native, but a Lewisman, was introduced or allowed to settle at Heisker Islands, by the tenants there, without my knowledge, many years ago. On hearing of it, I called on them to get rid of him, and they did their best to carry out my directions, by pulling down his house ; but he still remains, and with his family, is no doubt, to a great extent, a burden on the crofters. Second, there is also a cottar on one of the west side crofter farms, from whom I took the house he occupied, as he refused to pay any rent, and was not a desirable tenant; his mother had been a pauper, and had possessed or occupied the house as such. This man was dispossessed, but in a fortnight's time took possession of the house, and is there at the present time. May I ask, in the existence of such a state of things, whether a proprietor can be blamed for the congestion of population? The witness Mal M'Queen [in fact Malcolm Mcinnes, transcriber's note] complains of Langrish farm having been taken from Tighary, but admits that it was many years ago, and doubts whether it was ever attached to Tighary since Tighary was crofted; in fact, ho says he believes it was taken away previous to that, and I am certain it took place long before the sale of the estate. The School Board have placed no restrictions on teaching Gaelic in any of their schools. Individually, I am of opinion that it is not desirable, as the teacher's time is sufficiently occupied with more important subjects. The teacher is a native, and perfectly competent : therefore to teach Gaelic. It is curious that since the visit of the Commissioners to North Uist, H. M. School Inspector has reported on this very school ' that Gaehc is too much used.' The schools fees ranging from one shilling for a quarter, about the ordinary rate per month in schools on the mainland, cannot be considered exorbitant or beyond the means of the parents. I can hardly understand this being necessarily the case among crofters, who, as is shown, keep four cows, besides other stock. It is quite possible that here, as I have known it elsewhere, the great object of the tenant is to rear as many calves as possible; and perhaps the children suffer in consequence. There will naturally be a season in winter when the majority of the cows are dry. As to the statement that the rents in this township are excessive, I find that there are in it sixteen tenants, at rents varying from £4, 15s. to £6, 9s. for single crofts; the double crofts, of which there are four, pay £8, 5s., £10, Is., £10, 6s., and £12, 2s. The aggregate rental of the farm is £108, 19s., and judging from the stock kept, I am of opinion that it is in these days very moderately rented. The first and most important complaint made by the witness, James M'Corquodale, is as to the rent being too high, and I take his own holding as an example, which was reduced once to £8, 3s., and is not £8, 10s., as stated by him; and I believe it was still further reduced. He was in arrears at Whitsunday term over £8. On this croft, according to his own statement, he keeps five cows and a two-year-old beast, two horses, and eight sheep. I think the Commissioners will agree with me, that whenever he chooses to vacate the holding, it will not be necessary to advertise it to get a fresh tenant at that, or even a larger rent. There is no doubt that the Carinish people were better off when they earned money by kelp-making, and possibly the rents are higher in comparison on this than on some of my crofter farms, but I believe I may say that any alteration in rents on it since the property was bought has been by reduction. The rents vary from £2 up to £10, 3s. It is stated that the ground does not give as heavy crops as formerly, and I fully believe it to be the case, and it would, to the minds of most with any knowledge of farming, be a very curious thing if it were otherwise, when the continuous cropping that it is subjected to is known. With regard to cottars being placed on the farm from other places, this has certainly not been done during the last thirty years, so far as I am aware. About fifteen years since, two people from Locheport had vacant crofts given them in Carinish. It is said that the price paid for making kelp is less than formerly. The witness who makes this statement is in error; the present price of drift-weed kelp is 42s. Cut-weed kelp is not now made. I have written evidence, that in 1798 and 1804, when kelp was sold at £20 a ton, 35s. was paid for making it when the weed was of three years' growth, and 42s. when of 'two years' growth. I think this a most frivolous complaint. The allegation, that there has been a deterioration in the character of cattle is entirely erroneous; from my personal observation, corroborated by others more competent, I am prepared to say that they have much improved within the last twenty-eight years. Potatoes are still largely exported when prices are good for them; at other times it pays the people better to feed their cattle with them. This occurred a year or two ago, and it was the cause of a marked improvement in the condition of the crofters' stock next July market. The practice of not asking the price for meal and other things when not paying for it at the time is not peculiar to North Uist; but I am in hopes that latterly the dealing on credit with local merchants has much decreased, and that the requisite sum for a bag of meal is remitted to merchants, and it is sent carriage paid. I am aware that about £200 was advanced last winter and this spring by my factor, for this purpose, in the island. I believe the freight on a bag of meal from is 2s. I remember not many years ago it was 3s. 6d.
—Evidence of John Morrison.
—It is unnecessary to notice this witness's statement as to the houses of those removed from Sollas now, as I have done so previously. The total rent of Locheport tenants is £46, 15s. among thirty-two tenants, of these two have made no payment of rent at all, and the arrears on the very small sums now charged are always large in proportion to those elsewhere on the estate. I am sorry to have to record it as my deliberate opinion that the complaints as to rents in this district, and the failure to pay them, small as they are, are only the natural result of these people having being made the subject of public sympathy, and having lived on public charity for so many years. Their rents vary from £2, 15s. to £ 1 . There is only one at £2, 15s. I do not know without reference what is their average amount of stock, but in most places the higher sum would not be considered a high rent for even one cow's keep, more particularly as the people sat for years absolutely free, and have means of subsistence by fishing much nearer them than in most places on the estate.
—Angus Macaulay's Evidence.
—The transaction mentioned by this witness, of his father paying £ 4 arrears of rent due by a former tenant, when he got a holding at Middle Quarter, has been misrepresented. The £ 4 was certainly not paid to the factor by his father, and no such practice exists on the estate; but I have some reason to believe that holdings, and more particularly cottars houses, have been sold and bought, although I recognise no such transaction. No doubt the erection of fences would be of great benefit to both crofters and tacksmen marching with them, but the crofters are in my experience invariably unwilling to pay interest on them. They sometimes can be induced to erect a dyke, but wherever sheep are kept this is not an effectual fence without wire.
—Evidence of Donald M'Queen.
—The rent of £3,5s. for this man's holding cannot be said to be high, keeping, as it is stated to do, two cows, one horse, and six sheep. It will be seen by his evidence that a full croft here, which pays £7, keeps two horses, five cows with followers (till a year old), and twelve sheep. Is this high?
—There appear to be twenty-three crofters here at present, as against (as stated) twenty formerly. I am not aware of any additional tenants having gone there since my father's purchase of M'Lean's lease, but the reverse. The drainage of the loch referred to was done at M'Lean's expense many years ago. The outlet has been allowed to get choked up by shingle. Till this year I was never asked to have anything done to it. It has been the want of attention from time to time as required that has rendered it useless. It would now cost a considerable sum to make it efficient. An alteration of the outlet in its lower end, so that it would discharge into the sea at a place more sheltered from the heavy breakers, would be necessary; but I am of opinion that if made at the proprietor's expense, the tenants who would derive benefit from it, if not paying interest on the cost of the work, should at least be bound to keep it in order without payment. The same remarks apply equally to the repair of the sand banks, which is enjoined on all tenants on the property. There is plenty of land in Boreray capable of improvement. The erection of fences would make it better available, and there are plenty of loose stones to be had. I particularly noticed recently many places where a day's work of a dozen men in surface drains would have doubled the value of the grazings. As to the distance that peats have to be brought in boats, and privilege of cutting paid for in labour, at first sight this might appear to be a grievance, but so far from it really being so, these people are much better off than those of many farms in this respect. Originally there were peats on the adjacent island of Lingay, but they were many years ago exhausted, and peats had to be taken from a tacksman's farm on the shores of the Sound of Harris. The payment of day's labour to the tacksman is not a serious burden for the fuel for a family for the whole year. My factor, who is at present tacksman of the farm, has continued the charge made by his predecessors. As to the distance they have to bring their peats, it may possibly be five or six miles by water; but as they all possess boats, and the tide will carry them the whole way and back almost without their putting an oar in the water, and the work has to be done in summer, I have no hesitation in calling this a most frivolous complaint. Boreray is the best locality in North Uist for lobster-fishing, and it ought to be a great help to the tenants. It is also very advantageously situated in respect of kelp, that made there fetching a higher price, owing to its freedom from admixture of sand. There are only three cottar families and two other single. I cannot admit that there is or ought to be any exceptional poverty. The School Board originally made an application for a grant in aid of building a school at Boreray, but on consideration withdrew it, and one or two others in localities where the number of children was small, being of opinion that education could be provided for in such places by the societies in connection with the Established and Free Churches. The experiment has not been satisfactory, and the application for these grants is to be at once renewed. But I may mention that, when I visited the school in Boreray on a beautiful day in July last, the children present were not twenty in number out of some thirty, although none reside over half a mile from the school; and as no fees are charged by the society's teachers, it could not be alleged as a cause for bad attendance, as is so frequently done in the case of the board schools. This does not speak much for the desire for education which is supposed to exist in Boreray.
Rev. John M'Rae's Evidence.
—I have been able to ascertain that the case of conviction for sheep-stealing referred to took place twelve or fourteen years since. There are every year large losses of sheep unaccounted for by deaths on the large farms —on my own farm and those occupied by tacksmen. We have not any proof that there is any wholesale stealing, but it is not satisfactory ; and I know of at least one case recently where a boat was seen on shore, a shot was heard, and the entrails of a sheep were shortly afterwards found on the spot.
—Angus Macaulay's Evidence.
—I observe in this witness's evidence a statement as to something my father said about an embankment the sea broke down, and I think it right to say that my father was an eminently practical man, and that I am quite certain that the witness must have misunderstood him. I am convinced that my father made use of what, with him was a favourite maxim, viz., that water is a good servant, but a bad master. The embankment in question was put up during the currency of M'Lean of Boreray's lease, Grimsay being part of his holding, and I know nothing of the conditions under which it was done. But I may say with reference to works of this nature I have formed a very strong opinion, that having regard to the recent frequency of extraordinary high tides, it is not desirable to renew those broken down, or to erect others of the same sort.
Reduction of Rents in respect of Cottars.
—As elsewhere pointed out, I think it is clear that the majority of cottars consist of brokendown crofters or dependants of crofters who have simply squatted from time to time. So far as I am aware, there has never been a case since we got the property of North Uist of any complaint made by crofters on this subject. If such had been made to me, I should have been disposed to enforce the estate regulations on this subject so far as could be done by a reasonable expenditure in law charges, but, I should not have been disposed to carve out of the tackmen's farms, or the common grazing, fresh crofts for people with no capital and who consequently could not be depended on to pay any rent.
Desired Removal of Cottars.
—I do not see that in practice any difference exists between cottars and cases where more than one family are on a croft, and only one recognised by me as tenant; both are an incumbrance or burden. I may mention a typical case in this same island. On the death of a crofter some years ago, but since our purchase of M'Lean's lease, I found on his holding, which was a double croft, four separate families of his sons, and a fifth had squatted on the common of the farm. On another croft in this island there are three separate houses, and three families on a croft rented at £2, 10s. The crofter is said to be the author of the statement given in by Angus Macaulay.
Baleshare and Illeray
—Evidence of John McDonald.
—The statement as to the damage done on this farm by the high tide in 1882 is correct in the main, though I am inclined to think it somewhat high coloured; but the witness also omitted to state that the increase of green pasture on this island during the last twenty years has been very considerable. In my opinion, it more than compensates for what was taken away by the high tide and gale last year. The statements made as to rents are exaggerated ; they vary from £1 to £6, 19s., at which figure there is only one ; sixteen are below £4. The area of Baleshare Island, which includes part of Illeray, is by Ordnance Survey, exclusive of foreshore or fresh water, 2249 acres. None of this is hill ground or peat moss. Counting half crofts together as one and double crofts as two, there are thirty crofts held by thirty tenants; the total rent of these, £127, 10s. for Baleshare and £60, 13s. for Illeray, a total of £178, 3s., or, as I make it, just about Is. 7d. an acre, besides which hill pasture on main island is attached to each croft for fifteen sheep. It is worth while to compare this with the island of Kirkibost, let to one tenant who pays £75 for it, and a croft of say £4 or £ 5 ; call it £70, and this gives, I think, a rent of more than 2s. 6d. an acre, the extent being 548 acres of ground of much the same character as Baleshare.
—Deprivation of Grazing attached.
—So far as I can ascertain, it is at least seventy years since Aird was attached to the farm of Houghary. It would be a serious injury to the farm of Balranald to take it away from it.
Overcrowding of Lands.
—As elsewhere stated, this, I think, can be proved to be due to the people themselves principally. I visited this farm since the visit of the Commissioners to Locheport. I found in one house the tenant, a widow, her married son and his young family, her daughter and her husband, the son-in-law, also with a family, and another daughter recently returned from with an illegitimate child. May I ask how such a state of things is to be prevented, or how it is wonderful that so many mouths cannot be filled by the produce of a single croft
—John Laings Evidence.[No John Laing gave evidence, transcriber's note].
The question of interest on drainage I have already dealt with elsewhere, and I will pass on to a straightening of marches mentioned by this witness, in which he complains that the land of the crofters was diminished. This appears to have been done some fifty years ago, and I can say nothing about it. The crofters complain of a fence, towards the expense of which they contributed, having become useless. This I believe is partly correct, but the fence in question was erected in my father's time and under the advice and direction of the late Mr M'Kinnon of Corry, who was factor at the time. I think the tenants are to blame for some of the damage done to it by their stock; it was not sufficiently strong originally. A stronger fence would have cost probably a third more, and as the tenants grumbled at being obliged to pay for this, they would have objected still more to a more expensive one. I am, however, quite happy to repair it if they will pay interest on half of the cost of so doing.
—Subdivision of Crofts without Reduction of Bent.
—My factor distinctly denies this, and his statement is fully borne out by the fact that some of the old crofts remain undivided to the present clay, at rents of £8 odd; the divided or half crofts vary, but are all below £4, 12s. The complaint as to a hill grazing called Maival can be easily answered. The marches between the hill grazing of the west side farm with the north side of Vallay, a tenant's farm, were readjusted some fifty years since by Mr Neil M'Lean, land-surveyor, and in doing this Vallay lost land of an estimated value of £16. This was taken off its rent and added to the west side farms, viz., Balmore, Knockline, Knockintorran, Houghary, Tighary, Hosta, and Balmartin ; a sum not exceeding in any case Is. 8d. was added to the rent of each croft on these farms. What was known as Maival grazing is now available to the whole of these farms, and I am at a loss to perceive any cause of complaint. Complaint has been made of Irish people being introduced. There is one cottar, a tinsmith, who may be a native of Ireland ; his wife has two sons by a former husband; both have families, and one is a pauper. They occupy an outhouse built by their stepfather, who pays rent of £ 1 . This is the only case of strangers resident with my permission or sufferance on the property that I can recall; but I may here state that I see no reason for my doing otherwise than as I think proper in letting my land or houses. The statement that the difficulties of the crofters on Balmore commenced when their holdings were subdivided is contrary to facts, which can be shown. They have never been heavily in arrear. Their land is notoriously the best arable crofter farm on the estate, and their rent under £9 is for a souming of five or six cows.
Complaint of a Cottar being allowed to enclose a Garden.
—This complaint is positively the most frivolous of many of that description that have been put forward ; the origin of it I take to be that the man is not a native. The crofters have themselves to blame for his presence on the farm. He was a joiner by trade, who worked at the building of Paible Free Church. The crofters petitioned for his being allowed to build a house. The land enclosed is less than an acre in extent, and its value, as taken from the hundreds of acres of ground, is absolutely infinitesimal. Such complaints are the best proof that the crofters have little or no well-founded grievance to put forward. It is stated that Locheport formerly belonged to this farm as a grazing. It certainly did not do so within the last sixty years, or when crofters were placed on this farm; and as regards the rent being too high, it appears that there has during that time been no increase, notwithstanding the enhanced value of produce and consequent increased rents elsewhere beyond what were then current. It is requisite to state that Claddach Carinish was part of the lands held by the M'Leans of Boreray on a long lease. There is no doubt that all of these lands until we got possession of them were managed without judgment or the enforcement of proper rules. Everywhere on them the crofters appear to have subdivided their holdings among their children at their pleasure, —to have built, or suffered to be built, additional houses both on the crofts and on the commons of the farm, without even asking leave of the proprietor. There is no insuperable difficulty in children attending the Grimsay School if their parents were at all anxious about it, although at high tide they would have to pus them across in a boat over the ford.
—We are asked to believe that the circumstances of the people of my estate are worse than they were forty years since, but so far from the evidence bearing out this, I hold the contrary has been proved. One argument is that the importation of meal and flour from the south has largely increased. The explanation to my knowledge is that it is found that it pays better to give their unthrashed barley, bere, and oats to their cattle and to buy meal, their cattle now fetching fully four times the price they did even thirty years ago. It is no doubt the case that the land docs not return as heavy crops as formerly, but I believe the extent of this to be exaggerated; and is it to be wondered at, when one learns that grain crops have been taken off the same land alternately with potatoes for 80 or 100 years, and the principal manure used is so exhaustive a one as sea-weed. I need not say that the maintenance of two or three families on a croft that is well capable of supporting one cannot reasonably be expected. But it is necessary to draw attention to the fact, that the acreage available for cultivation is not limited to the croft, and therefore must not be judged of the extent as returned. There is on all the farms held by crofters, except Locheport farm, a certain extent of " machir " or " gearidh " land contiguous to the regular croft, and sufficient to allow each crofter as much additional land for cropping as will bring his extent of such up to fifteen acres in all. It must not be understood that this ground is all broken up at once, but that the quantity usually broken up by a crofter comes to fifteen acres including the croft. The extent of land of this description would give more to each crofter where it is " machair," but it is not possible for an average crofter to cultivate more, nor is it desirable on that description of land.
45516. Mr Cameron.
—What is the nature of that ground?
—It is divided into two classes, —'macher' land, which is sandy land, and which if care is used can be broken up without risk, but which if broken up in exposed places leads to positive loss. It is improved by breaking up, and if they would fence it and sow grass seed, it would be a great benefit to themselves and to the estate.
45517. What is the nature of the land which is arable and not cultivated?
—It is common land both ' machir' and ' gearidh,' and they break it up in shares.
45518. Do they break it up ?
—Yes, every year, some, but not the same pieces of common, they hardly ever allow any part of their crofts to lie fallow.
45519. They actually break it up ?
—Yes, they sow crops, not only on the whole of their crofts, but on that land besides.
45520. Is it fenced ?
—-No, that is the evil; if they fenced it, it would be a permanent improvement; but the difficulty of dealing with so many people is almost insuperable. The land between the hill and the crofts they cultivate more for potatoes.
45521. Professor Mackinnon.
—But this fifteen acres of ' machir' land is yearly broken up ?
—Fifteen acres of ' machir,' ' gearidh,' or croft is available to break up. The delegate for Knockline is a striking example of division of lands. His father had the smallest croft on the township, and always had difficulty in making ends meet; on his death his two sons divided the croft without asking or obtaining leave, and are still there. Probably people will be found who would call it a hardship if I selected one of the brothers as my tenant, and compulsorily removed the other, but I have no hesitation in saying that this would be the proper course in such a case. It is a curious fact that the marriages on my estate during the present year, of which only nine months have elasped, already number 20, as against in the whole of 1880, 2 1 ; in 1881, 12 ; and in 1882, 25, and this in a year when it was alleged that the small tenants were in such reduced circumstances that many were on the verge of starvation, and appeals to the general public for charity were necessary. Is this not the natural result of the hopes of free trade in land, or rather confiscation of property, that cannot but take hold on the minds of a comparatively uneducated class ? I am not to be understood as maintaining that poverty does not exist in these parts. It does, and always Anil among such, but I am confident that it has been much exaggerated. Did the Commissioners see or hear of any cases of starvation, or even abject poverty unrelieved in the course of their circuit? Do the records of the applications to Parochial Boards for the past year show any sensible increase ? Can there be any great amount of destitution when out of a population of over 4000 I have not had one single application for assistance to emigrate ? In relation to the value of holdings, I may say that the grass of a cow is usually put by the tenants on crofter farms at from 8s. to 12s. This I am justified to say is entirely out of proportion to profits which can be derived at present prices, and should never be less than 20s. On the tacksmen's farms the keep of a cow is charged in the few instances at £4 to £5. This includes fodder. The least that should be charged for summer grazing of a cow is £ 1 , and at that they could make it pay well.
45522. Mr Cameron.
—You include in that £ 1 sufficient wintering to keep the cow in winter-?
45523. You mean the £1 represents the grazing?
—Yes. You must remember that it is the grazing not only on the hill ground in summer when they are herded off the crofts, but the grazing in common through all the crofts, on all the gheairy land and the macher land.
45524. Professor Mackinnon.
—The £4 or £5 includes the wintering ?
—Yes, but that is only given to farm servants as part of their wages. We will take the class who appear from all accounts not only to be the greatest burden on their neighbours, but who one might suppose, would have most difficulty in earning bread—viz., the cottars—I find that in 1883, 1210 families (only 206 souls, including single women) were owners of an aggregate of stock amounting 290 sheep, 86 cows, and 58 horses. These are the people who are supposed to be utterly unable to pay rent.
45525. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Are these cottars?
—These are cottars. One of the applicants who came to the Sheriff at Lochmaddy for relief, rode up to the door on his own horse.
45526. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—May there not be beggars on horseback?
—Many of them : I have often seen them. Of course, it is patent to all, that estate regulations as to subdivision or sub-letting of land are regarded as a dead letter, when there is this number of stock belonging to persons who rent no lands, and there are 140 families who plant potatoes and grow corn more or less, and these are the people who are supposed to be in poverty, of such an aggravated description as to call for the interference of Government on their behalf. I fully admit that such interference is desirable at this crisis, when agitators have gone through the land holding out to the people that the remedy for their complaint is robbery of their landlords under the guise of legislation, and instead of giving credit to proprietors for having at heart the welfare of the people, holding them up to execration as tyrants. Practically, it is urged that it is necessary that the rents of land should bear no relation to their value (best estimated in my opinion by the quantity of stock it will carry), but be regulated by the size of the family who may be on it at the time. Even were there no other means of making a livelihood, I cannot admit this principle, and we do not find it admitted or acted upon in the relations of employer and workmen. But on my property, I can show that for several years past, there have been considerable extraneous sources of income to the tenants. Although, owing to my limited income, I am not able to spend as much in the employment of labour as I could wish, the estate books show that, during the last four years, the money credited to crofters and cottars for labour on roads, kelp making, and tangle collecting, amounted to £1088 in 1879, £989 in 1880, £695 in 1881, and £777 in 1882,—-the rental of the class among whom this money was distributed being about £1900 a year. Besides this, the whole of the cut weed, estimated in a good year at 26,000 tons, has been to be had since the manufacture of this sort of kelp ceased, without charge, whereas formerly only a limited quantity was given to each crofter.
—Except in the case of cottars on tacksman's farm, I believe I may say no such thing exists on my property. But as I have not seen it explained elsewhere, I think it well to suggest a possible explanation, that this mode of payment is infinitely easier to the labourer than a money payment. Lobster-fishing is an industry which I understand to be fairly remunerative, and needs little capital; it has now reached considerable dimensions. Many of the young men are in the Militia and Naval Reserve. Encouragement to improved Agriculture.
—Since my father's death in 1879, I have had this under my consideration, although it involved considerable outlay on my part, but I see the greatest difficulty in getting so many of the crofters on a farm to agree to anything. I am met with prejudice in favour of old customs, and against any change in what has been there were sure to be objections, as also to pay interest on any improvement, however desirable. There is apparently a general idea that without actually refusing to obey it, it is possible to evade any new regulation that is unpalatable. These difficulties I need hardly say have been increased enormously by the recent agitation, and the result is that all such measures must at present be held in abeyance. The people have been told by those above themselves in the social scale, as well as others, that the measure of their rent is what they can afford to pay, and not the value of what the land will produce in stock and crop; that the measure of the land they should have is what they require, and that so long as they can pay rent, thus estimated, they should be entitled to remain, not only during their own lifetime, but from generation to generation. I may confidently point to the facts and figures I have given, and the evidence before the Commissioners as corroborating the views I have taken the liberty to express. I have submitted them both, not so much in answer to the complaints made, as feeling it a duty to speak plainly in the interests of a people whose natural instincts are good, and as such, cannot but be capable of much improvement in their condition, although necessarily this must be a time of work and only practicable under the ordinary conditions of free contract between man and man, and the maintenance of the rights of property.
45527. Mr Cameron.
—The complaints which we had in Benbecula and North Uist—?
—Benbecula, I have nothing to do with.
45528. I mean North Uist. The complaints we had as to removals related to a period long antecedent to the purchase of the property by your father; therefore I need not trouble you with questions upon that subject?
—I merely stated there was some exaggeration.
45529. That place of Tighary which was given to the people was before your time ?
—It was not given to the people in place of Langash; they say Langash used to be attached to it as grazing.
45530. Was that before your time ?
—Yes, and it was sixty or seventy years before Tighary was under crofters at all.
45531. Your factor stated that in your time there had been no removals, except for non-payment of rent; can you corroborate that ?
—The only evictions were, I think, of persons who were not tenants of mine at all, and these I have nothing to do with; they were cottars not paying rent.
45532. With regard to the rents, before the Commission went there, and before the agitation commenced, did you ever receive any communication from the crofters as to their rents being too high ?
—No, except with regard to the district of Carinish. I heard the rents were considered to be high there; but I believe that was only in respect that the people used to make a great deal of money by kelp, and the crofts were possibly worse in comparison with others in the island. But the statement of stock, I submit, fully corroborates the fact that the rents can only be said to be high as compared to others on the estate.
45533. You went into the question?
45534. And came to the conclusion that they were not too highly rented ?
45535. And therefore you made no change ?
—I made a change in some.
45536. In lowering?
—All in the direction of lowering, except in cases where a man's rent was, say £2, 3s. 7½ d, I sometimes made it 5s. and that sort of thing; and that would generally be when there was a change of tenancy.
45537. Is there any kelp manufacture?
—Yes, the kelp manufacture goes on still, but it seems that the chemical trade has been rather indifferent lately, and the company who have the shores—the same company as has the shores in Tiree —have not taken a lease, but hold from year to year.
45538. But still it gives some employment?
—The drift kelp making goes on; but this year, there was literally none, owing to the absence of weed from the shores. It is a very bad thing for the people, because it is so fluctuating; but there are always some tangles.
45539. There is no drying of tangle on the grass land such as at Tiree ?
—Yes, and on the tacksmen's land too; they dry it wherever they can get it. It is the crofters themselves who make it.
45540. Did you ever hear any complaint of that ?
—Never; it rather improves the land. The crofters used to go on the tacksmen's land, and take thirty or forty horses, for which no payment was made at all, and graze them there when making kelp.
45541. It seems there is a charge made on the people for cutting peats; is that an old practice?
—Only on the cottars, not the crofters —only on people not paying rent; it has been paid in perhaps a dozen instances out of 200.
45542. Do these cottars pay rent ?
—Some of them do.
45543. And are those who pay rent charged for cutting peats the same as the others?
—I am wrong in saying there is a charge for cutting peats; the 10s. includes cutting peats and liberty to live there.
45544. You alluded to some persons who cut peats upon the farm ?
—These are the Boreray Island people, who complain that they had so far to go for their peats; and they are better off than half the crofter farmers in the country.
45545. Why is there an exception made about these Boreray people ?
—I was not aware of this until the other day when they made this complaint, and I find that they went on the tacksman's farm, and that the former tacksman had charged them, which I certainly think was quite fair, for destroying the grazing in taking away the peats.
45546. Does that go on still ?
—Yes, the practice is carried on ; but it did not come to my knowledge until the other day. But I don't see any objection to it.
45547. Why is there an exception made in the case of the Boreray people ?
—Because in the majority of the other cases the people cut the peat on their own farms.
45548. When they cut peat elsewhere than on their own farms, they make a payment to the farm they go on to ?
—That is the only case know of.
45549. Do any crofters cut peats on land occupied by adjacent crofters and not by large farmers ?
—Not that I am aware of; I should say not. I think it would be very much for the benefit of the country generally, if a small charge were made for cutting peats, because the deterioration of the surface is very great indeed, and it requires a great deal of supervision; they don't run the water off the peat haggs, and it destroys the grazing.
45550. But could not they be made to do that by having proper regulations?
—You would require to have somebody to enforce the regulations.
45551. But could not somebody do it?
—He would have to be paid; the constables on the farms could do it, but they would have to be paid.
45552. Who would pay them ?
45553. Could they not include that amongst the other services they do for you ?
—They might. However, as a matter of fact, this is the only part where anybody who cuts peat off their own ground, pays for the privilege of doing so, and it would have been very simple to have added that to their rent. [I did not remember when answering this question that the crofters on Heisker Islands cut their peats on moorland attached to Knockline crofter farms. They make no payment but assist to repair the peat road. I also was not aware that the Balmartin crofters cut peats on Grinimish Farm, and give some days labour to the tacksman in return for the privilege. Some of the tacksmen and cottars on their farms cut peats on other tacksmen's farms, but without any charge, as also do the two Established Church ministers.—Subsequent note by Sir John Orde.]
45554. Is there any work to be obtained on the island ?
—I have just shown you, that between work on the roads and kelp making there was an average of between £700 and £1000 spent in the last four years.
45555. Entirely by yourself ?
—By road labour.
45556. But your own expenditure ?
—No, part of it public expenditure on the roads. I may expend £200 or £300 some years, but owing to getting little but unskilled labour, there is not so much money spent. If I want masons, or slaters, or tradesmen, I am almost obliged to send out of the place, and I cannot get lads to come to Argyllshire to learn a trade. I have repeatedly asked them, and have only got a few.
45557. One of your principal grievances is, that you cannot get rid of cottars ?
—Well, I say it is a grievance. I shall be happy to let them live there so long as they are orderly and can maintain their families ; but it is a grievance when I see that every year they are increasing in number,
because they think nothing of taking in the families of their sons and daughters the same as the crofters. They have a great disposition to take in their daughters and their daughters' husbands when they are married, and so the evil is increasing. If I could see any end to it—if it could be kept at its present level I should be satisfied.
45558. Do you find that any people come and actually settle on your property and you cannot prevent it?
—We had one Islay man, I think, some years ago, and we evicted him at once.
45559. So that your difficulty really exists in the multiplication of families in houses which already exist Ì
—Yes, such as that shepherd who was out of a situation who just simply went back to the farm where he
was born, and built a house for himself and family.
45560. Do you think anything could be done, if the law does not already provide for it, by way of altering the law to this extent, that it should be thrown as a responsibility upon the sanitary or local authority to see that not more than a certain number of people inhabit one house ?
—I don't think you would get the local authority to do that; we are badly off for anybody to carry out anything. There are a few of us who would do i t ; but I am certain if we had an elected body like the School Board, they would not carry out any such regulation.
45561. In fact, you seem to have a difficulty in carrying out any regulations?
—I have been without a ground officer for several years ; I cannot get a suitable man. I want a stranger. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to have sanitary regulations enforced ; it is a thing I had in my mind for years, to make regulations about overcrowding houses. I do not allow any new house to be built now with the cattle under the same roof as the people, and that is becoming quite the exception. The people are very much inclined to build new houses, but if they are not sharply looked after they don't pull down the old one.
45562. But cannot you prevent any new comer from settling in them ?
—I don't think it would be easy to do it ; they like to have a separate house for cattle, and it is generally converted into such, and I quite approve of it, but if occasion arose and supervision were relaxed it would be in ninety-nine cases out of one hundred converted into a dwelling-house.
45563. I think you mentioned that some of the evils, which no doubt exist are owing to the laxity of the landlords ?
—Generally throughout the Highlands that is the case, and the laxity of the landlord is owing to the want of power to carry out the regulations when made. A law made and then broken is worse than no law at all.
45564. In the case of one squatter you were successful in evicting him once and he went back again There was nothing to prevent you doing so again—evicting him a second time ?
—It only occurred the other day and I have not had time to consider the matter; and it cost me £12 or £15 to evict him; nothing would keep him out of the house short of taking off the roof, and if I were to burn the turf there would be a great outcry in the papers.
45565. Do you think one example of that kind would not have a beneficial effect upon the people ?
—Yes; I wished to make an example of this man, and that was the result.
45566. It was you who gave way ?
—Not a bit of it.
45567. You left him there?
—The man is there, but he is not living in any house of mine,
45568. Whose land is he on ?
—On the common of the farm of Grimsay, in a house he built.
45569. You told me he was not living in a house of yours ?
—No; he built the house.
45570. But practically it is your house ?
—They are my stones, my turf, and my heather.
45571. Then I want to repeat the question, why did you not insist on his removing?
—Because I have hardly had time to think of it. I want to see what the Commission is going to do.
45572. You quoted the case ?
—I think it is, most decidedly, a case that should be made public, that such a thing can be done at the present day. I have a paper with me, showing the expense I have gone to, about that man already, just with the view of making him an example, because he did no harm to me—he lives on the people; but if you allow one of these cases you must allow a hundred.