Glasgow, 20 October 1883 - Donald Stewart / Harris

DONALD STEWART, Proprietor of Kirkmickael, Perthshire (67) —examined.

44863. The Chairman.
—You desire to read a statement to us ?
As the last sitting of the Royal Commission in the Long Island took place at Tarbert on the 13th June, I have not had an opportunity of contradieting sooner the false statements made by J. M'Leod, the Ardhasing delegate, regarding my father, the late Mr Donald Stewart, who was one of an ancient and well-known family, viz., the Stewarts of Garth, Perthshire. He came to Lewis early in the century, and with some friends, viz., the Rev. Dr Downie of Lochalsh, Mr Lachlan Mackinnon of Corry, and Captain Reid, R.N., took the Park, each subscribing an equal share of the capital invested. After giving it up, he went to Luskintyre, Harris, where a life-long friendship was established between him and Mr MacLeod of Harris, who requested him to take the management of the estate. And so unfailing was the friendship that ever existed between them, that Mr MacLeod made Luskintyre his home when he visited Harris; and before leaving for the West Indies—where he was appointed to a magistracy—both he and his son were my father's guests for a considerable time. By looking over the books of the estate, it will be seen that instead of my father having ruined the proprietor and crofters, as alleged by J. Macleod, there were little or no arrears of rent at the time he gave up the management (see Ranking and Sale of Harris, page 61), and so satisfied were the trustees and creditors with all he had done that he was appointed judicial factor in 1830, and continued so until the estate was sold in 1834 (see Estate Book, page 48). As a proof of the farms being let at their full value, after putting them up to auction at Tarbert in 1833 (see Estate Book of that date, page 167), there was not a bid for any of them, with the exception of the forest of Harris, held by Mr Macrae, for which a little more was offered by a man who was all but penniless. I may also mention that in 1836, that is two years after the estate was purchased by the Earl of Dunmore, the late Mr Neil Maclean, land surveyor, Inverness, accompanied by Mr Charles Shaw, late sheriff of the Long Island, was sent to value the farms, and I know there was very little difference, if any, between my father's valuation and Mr Maclean's (see Mr Shaw's letter). Afterwards, when the farms were out of lease they were advertised with the same results (see Mr Shaw's letter). It can also be seen in book of ranking and sale, and Mr W. Mackenzie W.S., Edinburgh, the late Mr Duncan Shaw (who was factor on the estate for four years before my father took the management), Mr Robert Brown, commissioner for the Duke of Hamilton, and Mr John Bowie, W.S., factor for Lord Macdonald, depone the estate is let at its full value (pages 59 and 60 Ranking and Sale of Estate). In regard to the evictions spoken of by J. Macleod, they did not take place during my father's management of the estate. Mr Macleod's pecuniary difficulties arose from having to pay heavy annuities to relatives, having to borrow large sums of money on the estate to meet family expenditure, &c, &c. Also, from the great fall in the price of kelp, all of which show how irretrievably overwhelmed the estate was in debt, as shown by " Ranking and Sale of Harris," see pages 51 and 61. My father took great pleasure in improving the estate, in having roads made, marches drained and brought under pasture. He also introduced the planting of bent, by which large tracts of drift sand were reclaimed and brought under useful pasture, for which the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland awarded him a gold medal in 1822, which I have now in my possession. I may add, to show how scrupulous my father was, that although urged to purchase the estate of Harris, by the trustees and other friends who offered to lend him any amount of money he might require, he declined to do so.

44861. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie,
—The charge you refer to is, I think, in the evidence of John Macleod, who says that your father began to clear the land—that he began at Suishnish, and cleared seven townships at one stroke. You deny that ?
—I deny that, and I can show it is false.

44865. At what date was Suishnish taken?
—About 1814. I think it was about 1816 when my father took the management of the estate. It was in 1814 that Mr Macrae took the forest, and it was in 1816 my father took the management of the estate.

44866. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Who was the factor before your father in the time of Macrae?
—I don't know who the factor was, but I know Mr Shaw and Mr Brown were the factors before my father.

44867. Are you connected with the late General Stewart of Garth's family?
—I am connected but not nearly.

44868. You have read his book ?

44869. Do you know he makes remarks in his book about the depopulation of the Highlands ?
—Yes, and the Sutherland clearances.

44870. May I ask what is your opinion ?
—I concur in his opinion. I have always been a friend of the people.

44871. The Chairman.
—How many years was your father factor?
—He became judicial factor in 1830, and had been factor for eighteen years before, and was so for years afterwards.

44872. Was he a large farmer?
—Yes, he had several farms in hand.

44873. During the period in which he was factor and farmer at the same time, was he instrumental in making any clearances—I don't refer to those supposed seven clearances; was he instrumental in making any clearances of small tenants on the property ?
—The only clearances I remember in Harris were those on the west coast, and he was not factor at that time.

44871. You feel yourself justified in saying that while factor and farmer upon the estate he was not the instrument of clearing off any of the small tenants ?
—As far as I know, he was not.

44875. And that he took all the farms which he had in the open market, as it were ?
—I cannot say exactly how he took them. I was very young at that time. I may say there was a letter that appeared in the Scotsman some time ago from Mr Macleod's niece corroborating my brother's letter. It is regarding the crofters' evidence in Harris. She says:
—' I endorse every word of Mr Stewart's letter which appeared in your issue of the 9th. My uncle was not ruined by the factor. I read the evidence of the crofters' delegates with great indignation, and was delighted to see Mr Stewart's letter.' We did not know anything about her, till that letter appeared in the papers.

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