Rev. MURDOCH MACASKILL, Minister of the Free Gaelic Church, Greenock (45)—examined.
44987. The Chairman.
—You have been so good as to send in a statement to the Commission?
—Yes. It is as follows :
—'Before the appointment of your Commission it was my privilege to issue, at the suggestion of some friends of our Highlands, schedules to every district in the Highlands, from Dunkeld to John O'Groat's House. These schedules contained the following queries :—
(1) What is the extent of your parish, and what the relative proportion of arable and pastoral land ?
(2) Is there a large crofter population—what about the extent of their holdings, what their circumstances ? Was there once a larger crofter population, if so, what has been the cause of the reduction in number ?
(3) What is the proportion of small farmers, say from £20 to £200 rental ? What generally their circumstances?
(4) Are there many large sheep farms, and what proportion of the land now under sheep was once arable land ? What crofter population or small farmers have been displaced to make room for these ?
(5) How much of the land in your parish, if any, is laid out in deer forests, and how much of it could be utilised for crofters or small farmers ?
(6) What is the present population of your parish ? What has been the decrease or increase since the beginning of this century ? If decrease, state the cause or causes ?
(7) What special restrictions, if any, with regard to game, are placed upon crofters or small farmers—also with regard to the use of sea-weeds for manure ? State any other special hardship to which they are subjected?
(8) Are there any industries peculiar to your locality which could be more fully developed in the interests of the people ? Give your opinion as to the best mode of doing so.
These schedules were issued to gentlemen of the highest standing and intelligence in the several parishes. Returns have been made to the number of seventy, embracing such a wide area as to give a very fair representation of the general condition of the whole High- lands. Some forty of these returns were published in the North British Daily Mail previous to the sitting of your Commission, and the evidence they furnished fully confirmed the evidence afterwards given before your Commission. Very few of the gentlemen who made these returns appeared before your Commission, so that their returns contain a mass of confirmatory evidence of the highest value. They all confirm the miserable condition for the most part of the present crofter population; the unjust exactions and restrictions, through laird and factor, law and tyranny, of which for long they have been the victims. How they have in many places been driven off the fertile part of the soil, they and their forefathers had reclaimed from a state of nature, and huddled together on the bleakest promontories and sea-shore, while their former holdings were given up to sheep and deer. They show how a large proportion of what was one) splendid arable and pasture lands have become wretchedly deteriorated, by lying fallow for so many years under sheep and deer; rashes, bracken, moss, and even heather, covering lands once yielding splendid crops. They show how this state of matters is not only unjust to the people, injurious to the nation, but must very soon prove disastrous to the proprietors themselves, as a continuance of this system is yearly rendering their properties less valuable even for grazing purposes. One of the gentlemen making these returns observes in an accompanying note
—" Was your attention ever directed to a fact in physics not generally known, that the earth-worm is the most extensive delver of soil in Great Britain ; that there is an acid in sheep droppings inimical to the prosperity of this little underground delver, hence the reason why sheep walks deteriorate in grass yielding power ? But wherever the droppings of cattle fall, a colony of these useful creatures is produced, that so thoroughly delve and turn that spot, as to render it productive for thirty years to come. I see in the disappearance from sheep walks of these industrious underground colonists the Nemesis to avenge the removal of the people. I may observe that the fringes of land, in many cases the poorest in the country, have increased twenty times their original value under the hand of the industrious poor, whereas the sheep walks have deteriorated for the last fifty years, at least one-fourth or one-fifth." The fact of natural science to which this gentleman refers is most interesting and deserving of attention, and is, I believe, thoroughly well founded, though it escaped the attention of the late Mr Darwin in his interesting treatise on Vegetable Mould. I do not intend to enter more largely upon the mass of evidence in my possession through these returns, though ready to answer any question as to the evidence they afford on the subject of land laid waste for sheep walks and deer forests, but will confine myself in the rest of my statement to the case of the Lewis. In dealing with that case, I shall first call your attention to some of the grievances under which my countrymen suffer, and then point out the remedies that should be adopted. From the public appearances made by the poor Lewis crofters before your Commission one would be led to think that they had few if any grievances to complain of. That, however, is easily accounted for when, notwithstanding the promise made to your Commission of non-interference on the part of the estate officials with the evidence of the people, it is currently reported that petty officials went among the people threatening them with serious consequences, if they complained or found fault with any of the officials, preventing in this way some of the delegates from at all appearing before your Commission, and rendering the evidence of others so defective as to be almost valueless. Let me specify one instance of a kind that was to be brought before your Commission, but the delegate appointed to represent the case withdrew at the last moment for some reason known to himself, but guessed by others, and so the case failed to be represented.
The case is the following:
—Twenty-five years ago, when the boundaries of the township of Knock, in the quoad sacra parish of Knock, were rearranged, a poor crofter present made the remark that the boundary line did not look so straight as the old one. The ground officer took offence at this, and though the crofter at once retracted the statement, he was summoned, and had to pay a fine of £ 2 , 10s. for a remark which implied offence to no one. An additional fine of 10s. was imposed to be paid annually along with his rent of £ 3 . That fine has been paid up till now, so that already £15 have been paid for a remark which implied offence to no one, and which tyrants only could convert into a fineable offence.[See Appendix A, xciii] The man is now in ill health and poverty, and had to sell his only cow last year to pay his rent and this iniquitous fine. I do not suppose the late Sir James Matheson was in the least cognisant of such unrighteous deeds being done by his officials, nor do I suppose Lady Matheson is aware in the least of her rent roll being disgraced by such an item wrung from a poor broken-down old crofter on her estate. But every penny of the unjust impost should be at once paid back to the poor man, with full interest for the time he has been deprived of the use of his money. Such an instance of estate official tyranny is only a glaring instance of many such in varied forms from which the poor people of the Highlands suffered in the past, and by which every principle of right and justice was thrown to the winds, and the people so cowed and crushed that they preferred to endure the inevitable rather than show any opposition, knowing that any attempt to secure redress would only subject them to greater hardships. Much has been made of the large sums spent by the late Sir James Matheson in improvements on the Lewis estate. Large sums were indeed spent by Sir James, but much of it in mere experiments that resulted in no permanent good; had a tithe of it been spent in improving the crofts and habitations of the people, the results to the welfare of the people, and the material interests of the estate would be very different from what they now are. After all the money spent, the fact still remains painfully evident and beyond contradiction that the condition of the people is now as bad, if not worse, both as to habitations and general circumstances, than when Sir James bought the estate. The whole facts of the case show a lamentable want of plan and aim to benefit and elevate the mass of the people. The whole tenor of the management has all along been, not towards encouraging, but discouraging, the poor crofter, and disgusting him with the whole situation, so as to get rid of him ; the realisation of which purpose was rendered impossible only by the fishing industry of the island, for were it not for that industry the crofter population could never subsist upon their miserable allotments of the soil, and that generally the poorest and the worst part of the soil. The close upon 23,000 of a crofter population pay only about £8200 of the £20,000 of the rental of the Lewis, while the other £12,000 are paid by some twenty-five or thirty large farmers and sportsmen. The soil in possession of these large farmers is by far the best of the Lewis, and yields, considering the quality of the soil, a far lower rent than the portion in the hands of the crofters.* It was all very well for the factor of the Lewis to give the rental per acre of the land in possession of both classes, in order to show the higher percentage yielded by the land in possession of the large farmers, while he carefully refrained from giving any idea of their relative quality. There is, however, no manner of doubt that the crofters pay much higher rent than the large farmers when the quality of the land in possession of both is taken into account. It may of course be said that the quality of the land in possession of the large farmers is owing to their superior agricultural skill. But it is not so as a general rule. It is mostly owing to the fact, that the best of the land was taken for the purpose of forming these large farms, while the crofters are huddled together on the inferior parts of the soil. The most of that land was brought under cultivation by the crofter population, from which they were driven without any compensation or consideration for their own and their forefathers' labours. All the land now in possession of large farmers in the Lewis, with the exception of what was reclaimed by the late Sir James Matheson, was originally brought under cultivation by the crofter population, without any cost that I ever heard of to the former proprietors. That being so, is it just or fair that a few strangers should possess more than half the land, and that the best part of it, for rearing sheep and cattle, while the descendants of the original possessors of the soil, a race of hardy and industrious men and women, should be huddled together on the most inferior parts of it ? That is the present condition of the Lewis. And it is impossible to keep the rising generation, with their growing intelligence and information as to what is right and wrong in this matter, and the sympathy their case evokes, from considering this state of things a grievous injustice, and cherishing on account of it a sense of wrong, which may be found far more troublesome in the future than it has been in the past, yea may break forth into social revolution unless wise remedies are speedily applied. True conservatism consists in wisely remedying the wrong, and so more firmly establishing the right in every condition and circumstance of life. Mere repression will not do any longer in the Highlands any more than in the Lowlands. Factor law and ground officer tyranny will not command the same submission in the future as in the past in the Highlands. And justly so, for the oppression and tyranny have been so intolerable, that only the influence of true religion could have kept our long-suffering Highlanders from having risen en masse long ago, against the whole odious system. Among the grievances of the Lewis' crofters there are:
—(1) The people having been driven in many instances from the best part of the soil, and huddled together on the most inferior parts of it, while their former holdings have been given up to sheep and deer. This is notably the case in the parish of Uig; also in the parish of Lochs. A return in my possession shows that to form the farm of Park, in the parish of Lochs, it is calculated that 300 families were removed, which at the rate of five for every family would represent a population of 1500 removed to make room for sheep. This, of course, was done before the late Sir James Matheson bought the Lewis.
44987*. How long ago?
—Between 1810 and 1820. '
(2) The overcrowding of the people in the crofter townships, resulting in the subdivision of crofts, formerly too small; the consequent increase of poverty, and of poors rates. This is notably the case in the quoad sacra parish of Knock, when a crofter population of 3432 are vastly beyond the capabilities of the crofter townships to support.
(3) The want of any fixity of tenure, discouraging the people from any attempts to improve their habitations and holdings.
(4) The taxing of their former summer grazings, and other exactions from which till recent years they were exempt.
(5) The want of suitable harbours for the proper prosecution and development of the fishing industry. Are there any remedies then for this state of things—remedies which, while largely ameliorating the condition of the people, will only enhance instead of injuring the interests of the proprietor. To some of these which occur to me, I humbly solicit your attention. First and foremost then, the people must have more land, if their present condition is not to deteriorate even into worse. In saying this, I am far from wishing that the system of middle-sized farms should be done away with, except where the absolute necessities of the population demand the change. These have always existed in the Highlands alongside the crofter population, and the influence of the one class of tenants on the other had always been beneficial. From such middle class holdings went forth, in former days, many who occupied places of highest distinction in the British army and in other professions. Any one thoroughly acquainted with the history of the Highlands knows what an important factor in Highland life and prosperity these homesteads were at no remote date. In them were reared generations of industrious sons and daughters, who were initiated not only into all the details of farm life, but in many instances trained in refinements and accomplishments that fitted them for excelling in other spheres of life. They were a hardy, intelligent, and happy race, intensely patriotic, and producing men and women who distinguished themselves in every walk of life. In place of these we have now in many districts of the Highlands large sheep squatters—of whom you have had some notable instances before your Commission —men who are as destitute of the refinement and good manners of the old class as they are of their intense patriotism. These are for the most part non-resident in the countrysides they lease, for the most part utterly unconcerned in the welfare of the locality, and are therefore of immensely less value to these localities and to the nation at large than the race they have displaced. These ought certainly to be extinguished wherever there is a population needing to be accommodated with land, while out of these large tracts middle-sized farms could also be apportioned along with a crofter population. There is plenty land in the Lewis, with which I am now more immediately concerned, to accomplish both these objects. Let me begin with the
(1.) quoad sacra parish of Knock, which I know best. In that parish there 'are twelve crofter townships, occupied by 399 crofters and 175 cottars. On many of these crofts there are two, on a number even three families. Few of the crofters pay more than £ 1 , and the largest number are under £ 1, while the cottars have no land at all. Is there any way then in which this can be remedied? In the parish itself there is not certainly sufficient land to afford each of these cottars a good-sized croft. But many of the people now in the parish are the descendants of people who were removed from other parishes in times past, especially from the parish of Uig, and that should be taken into account in dealing with the immense population now located in the parish. In the parish itself, however, there is first the farm of Aignish, now under sheep, and by far the best arable land in the parish. On that farm rushes and ferns now grow in parks once yielding splendid crops of every kind common to the district. That farm could accommodate some thirty or forty crofter families, and being contiguous to the sea is admirably adapted for the class of fishermen crofters inhabiting the parish of Knock. And to make comfortable homes for some thirty or forty families of the hardy industrious fishermen of the parish of Knock is surely of more import- ance to the nation than the grazing at a few hundred blackfaced sheep. The present rental of Aignish is about £110 (valuation roll of 1871). But some thirty or forty crofter families could give even a larger rental, while combining with it the active prosecution of the fishing industry. Contiguous to the parish of Knock are the two farms of Holm and Melbost or Gonniglet, paying an aggregate rental of £291, which along with the above-named farm of Aignish, would more than accommodate all the cottars in the parish of Knock. After doing so, there would still remain around the town of Stornoway on every side nine farms of various sizes, of an aggregate rental of £ 905, 6s. 2d., with twenty-two larger or smaller parks and farms in the hands of single individuals, of an aggregate rental of £214, 3s. 10d. There is therefore plenty land in and around the quoad sacra parish of Knock to give land to all the people; and were the land given on proper conditions, the people would be made immensely more comfortable, the rent roll increased instead of diminished, and proprietor and people put in far better relation to one another. (II.) The same remarks are applicable to the parish of Lochs. This parish, with its large crofter population, has enough land to give the whole crofter population sufficient holdings, while leaving ample ground for several small farms. Within the parish there are ten farms in the hands of ten individuals, of the aggregate rental of £1349, which is within £ 340 of half the rental derivable from land in the whole parish. The whole rental of the parish, according to valuation roll of 1871, is £4320, 17s. 10d. Of that sum £947 odds are derived from shootings, salmon fishings, and feu-duties, leaving £3373, 17s. 10d. as the rental from land, of which the above ten farmers pay £1349, 2s., leaving to the thousands of a crofter population land only to the value of £2024. This surely is a most inequitable division of the land. The crofter families of the parish are about 500, but I have no means of knowing the number of cottars. I am, however, thoroughly convinced that the farm of Park alone could provide ample accommodation for them all, and that were it allotted to them they could pay the present rent, while the grouse and deer shootings would be as valuable as at present. I believe that this farm in the hands of two hundred crofter fishermen families would, after the lapse of a few years, be of immensely more value than it is at present, and yield a far higher rental. (III.) The same observations are true of the parish of Uig. The rental of that parish, according to valuation roll of 1871, is £3771, 10s. 6d., which after deducting £926, 8s. 6d. for shootings, salmon fishings, &c, leave £2845, 2s. as rental derivable from land. Of that sum fifteen individuals, including the proprietor, pay £1577, 12s. 6d., leaving only £1267, 9s. 6d. as the proportion of the thousands of a crofter population. In presence of such an unfair allotment of the land, is there any wonder though that population should often be on the verge of starvation. (IV.) The same is true, though to a limited extent, of the parish of Barvas. (1) The rental of the parish is £2718—one-sixth of which is paid by nine individuals. It is plain, then, from a review of the whole case, that there is plenty land in the Lewis to accommodate the whole of the present crofter population, leaving besides a large margin for a number of moderately sized farms. I believe also that, under such an arrangement carried out on wise principles, the present rental of the Lewis could be fully sustained, and the comfort of the people immensely enhanced. (2) That land should be given to the people on conditions fair alike to people and proprietor. Nor is there any insuperable difficulty in the way, if both approach the question in a spirit of mutual confidence and interest in the rights of one another. Let us suppose that one of these farms is taken and apportioned among so many families of the crofter fishermen of the Lewis; the first question that arises is what should be the size of the croft, so as to insure its proper working, while not interfering with the fishing industry. The extent in arable, or land that could be made arable, should be between four and five acres, with hill pasture to carry three good Highland cows and their followers and twelve sheep, for £ 4 rental. Leases should be granted for twenty-five years, with compensation for improvements. Models of a house, barn, and byre suitable to the holding should be provided, and insisted upon. All subdivision of crofts strictly prohibited. Any of the sons that chooses to succeed the father, all the rest made to understand that when about to settle in life they must make a home for themselves elsewhere. This would largely correct the evil of early marriages, direct the attention of the young either to learning trades or to emigrate, or to give their services to the army, navy, or merchant shipping service. For all these purposes no better class of men could be found than our hardy Highlanders. No finer set of men could be found anywhere than the hundreds now yearly trained in the Lewis in connection with our naval reserve. Under the present system there is no proper directing of the energies of our young men, and the result is they marry early, and settle down amidst their present miserable surroundings. Such an arrangement as the above would soon tell for the better upon the condition of the people. It would give them to feel that they had an interest in the soil, it would attach them more firmly than ever to their superiors, and would secure for us a large, contented, and industrious population on our sea borders, plying more energetically than ever their fishing industry, and pour into our towns and cities still larger supplies of so necessary an article of food. It would supply a basis of the best possible element for our army and navy, our merchant shipping service, and the shipbuilding and other industries of our towns and cities. We need such a basis to supply fresh vigour to the humanity deteriorating in the atmosphere of our large cities. Make the rural districts a waste, and you take the first step towards making the whole land so, (3) Another improvement absolutely requisite in the interest of the Lewis crofters is the making of suitable harbours for the proper development and safer prosecution of the fishing industry. The lack of these, there and elsewhere over the Western Highlands and Islands, has greatly retarded the fuller development of a most valuable industry. Along with the present harbour formed at the Port of Ness, other three should be formed without delay, viz., at Port-na-guiran, Bayble, and Greiss. These are the places most contiguous to the herring fishing ground, and also most suitable for the more active prosecution of the cod, ling, and haddock fishing. With the west coast I am not so familiar, but there are several places there standing in great need of such harbours. To the President of the Board of Trade, on his recent visit to Stornoway some eight localities were pointed out as most suitable for such harbours in the interests of the fishing industry of the island. Were these things attended to, the whole of the present population of the Lewis could be made comparatively comfortable, and such recurring periods of want as they have recently experienced utterly unknown. And physically and morally they are a class of people that deserve the utmost interest in their welfare. From some of the rash statements as to rental and population made before your Commission by some of the delegates in the Lewis, I wholly dissent, such as, specially, the reducing of the rental to one-half, which is such an unreasonable statement that no sane person would give the least attention to it, and the capabilities of the island for supporting something like double or triple its present population. I also deprecate some of the references to the late Sir James Matheson, who was personally a most estimable gentleman, and took very special interest in the education of the young.' I remember his coming to my native place when I was a little boy and asking the crofters questions as to what they would have done. I remember an old soldier saying, 'We should like very much to have a good school in the place.' 'Oh , ' he said, 'you are the most sensible man I have met in the place,' and the school was given. I should also refer to the Ladies' Association of Edinburgh, which has done more for the Highlands than all the sheep farmers and all the sportsmen put together. Whatever some parties may say with regard to the Free Church, all I can say is, notwithstanding what she did o otherwise, that one association of ladies in Edinburgh did more for the Highlands in educating its dark and out-of-the-way corners within the last forty years than all the sheep farmers and all the sportsmen put together, and to that association Sir James Matheson paid annually a matter of £100 sterling for the purpose of assisting education in the Lewis.
44988. I think it right to state with reference to the particular case of oppression and distress which you mentioned, that that case will be referred to the island for a report, and I accept it with reserve. I have no doubt for one moment you have made careful inquiry, and that you believe you possess the facts of the case correctly, but everybody is liable to error in those matters, and it may be that some feature may transpire with which you are not acquainted. Well, with reference to the improvement of the dwellings, I need hardly say my own experience showed us in the Lewis that there were a very miserable class of dwellings. So far as I am concerned, I saw the worst dwellings in the Lewis that I saw in the Highlands ; but in justice to the administration of the estate it should, I think, be mentioned, what you have omitted to mention, that the people have not been entirely left to themselves. Are you aware there is a regulation in force in the estate now for co-operation between the proprietor and the people for the improvement of the dwellings?
—I am aware of that. During the time Mr Hugh Matheson had the administration of the Lewis as commissioner I knew that that was done, and that encouragement has been given to the people ; but it has not been taken advantage of very largely, for what reason I don't know. I have seen some of the houses
built under the suggestion, but I don't think it has been very largely taken advantage of.
44989. You have made a very interesting statement, and one of a practical character, with reference to the size and division of crofts and so on, and you have stated that you would like to see portions of land of a certain size, crofts appropriated to the class of crofter fishermen. Now, you contemplate a croft of £4, carrying a stock, I think, of about three cows, two young beasts, and a dozen sheep. I am to understand, then, from you, that you don't agree at all with the opinion of those who think that the two professions or industries of fishing and agriculture should be rather strictly divided—that fishermen should be fishermen, with some very small patch of ground, and that crofters should live by their crofts alone ?
—No, I totally disagree with the statement that has been made about that, for the simple reason that in the west of Scotland, in the islands, the fishing is not continuous. It is only the herring fishing during a certain part of the season, and then the ling and cod during another certain part, and then they go to other places for the fishing, but still the fishing is not continuous as, on the east coast. Besides they have no market for the fish. They have simply to fish for curers, and they get a wretched price according to the prices given in the south. These men can never live upon their fishing alone; but if they have a bit of land on the produce of which they can partially live, and the stock of which could pay the rent of the croft, they have a home and have that land to work upon when they are not at their ordinary industry. I don't think the other system would suit in any part of the Highlands that I know of, and I know the Highlands from Cape Wrath to the Mull of Cantire pretty well. I don't know a corner where that system could be adopted.
44990. Putting it hypothetically, suppose the creation of the harbours to which you allude, and suppose a finer description of fishing boats to be supplied, and suppose the Western Islands brought into more immediate connection by steamers with the markets, can you contemplate a period when there might be fishing villages such as exist on the east coast,forming communities living solely by fishing, or do you think it is in the nature of the country and people that the two pursuits should be allied ?
—Where the fishing is carried on I don't think the two could be successfully dissociated. I believe the habits of the people and the requirements of the case would always demand that they should have land, less or more, and I think the smallest portion they should have is just what I have stated.
44991. The crofter fishing population, we may presume, are to live in a ring round the coast, and chiefly in connection with the places where there are harbours. But are there any places—though the Lewis is not
a very wide country —in the interior, where there might be crofts of a larger class than £4, and yet not so large as a small farm ? May there not be gradations ?
—Yes, I quite agree with that, but the centre of the Lewis is for the most part a sort of morass, only fit for summer grazing, which could not be utilised for arable land. But still there are corners where they could not have access to the sea, and where the crofts ought to be larger than I have mentioned. I have only referred to the class of fishermen crofters living near the sea.
44992. With reference to this transformation of the social and industrial condition of the island, that must surely be a work of time. There are leases existing, and there is such a thing as the will of the proprietor. Do you contemplate that the law is to interfere to break leases, or to force the proprietor to do such and such things ?
—No, I never dreamt of such things, because the people in their petition specified it was only when the lease was out. They don't contemplate any violent breach of the law. They only want the land when out of lease, and the farm of Park happened to be out of lease, and an arrangement could have been made in that case.
44993. But keeping in view that proprietors have a will and some independence of action, and that farmers do possess leases, and that, therefore, the transformation of a country, however small, is a work of
time, do you entirely repudiate the idea that the two processes of relief by expansion at home and emigration abroad could be going on together?
—I oppose emigration, and I oppose emigration for the next century in the Highlands. I oppose it on principle. I know for a fact that there is plenty of land in the Highlands, if it could be utilised, for the present population; and secondly, I object to emigration because the strong are sent away and the weak are retained. I oppose it again, because these people are deprived of their religious privileges. According to the statement I heard here yesterday from the Canadian agent, I find they are so scattered and wide spread that access to means of grace and access to education cannot be had by the people as it is just now, and they prize those privileges more than anything else. I oppose it also, because these people, if forced to go away, will not retain the patriotic feeling towards our land that they should have in the colonies.
44994. So you repudiate any idea of emigration for the relief of the Lewis altogether ?
44995. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—In the scheme for dividing the Lewis you propose to give some land to the cotters who have none ?
44996. But you propose to leave the crofters in possession of the same crofts they now hold ?
—I have specified crofts of five or six acres.
44997. You are not going to take any other farms to provide for the crofters, but a certain number of farms to provide for the cottars?
—Yes, and for the crofters where they are too close, and the crofts are not of the size I have specified. I have specified the size I would apply to the whole island, and I would make that apply to the crofters as well as the cottars.
44998. Do you think it is a profitable thing to cultivate land by hand labour?
—I believe in some places land can be far better cultivated by hand than by the plough. I myself have wrought the spade to some extent, and I believe the land can be cultivated far more thoroughly and better in some places by the spade than the plough, and I know in some parts of the Lewis it is so.
44999. You mean there are some places so rocky that a plough will not work ?
45000. But where it can be cultivated by the plough, it cannot be so profitably cultivated by the hand ?
—Of course it takes time, but in many cases here time is not such a consideration.
45001. In years of scarcity is there not always a danger of scarcity occurring in the Lewis ?
—I hold that if the people had the land in that way there would be no famine at all. I believe it arises from the present miserable arrangements.
45002. I have not the statistics by me, but when we were at Stornoway we had the figures before us, not of rental but of acreage, and we made out that there was not acreage sufficient for the people in the Lewis?
—The acreage of the Lewis is 417,460 acres. The population is 25,000 over all, including Stornoway, and that would leave a pretty large acreage to each individual
45003. It would give about 80 acres apiece to each of 5000 families ?
45004. But 80 acres would not keep the stock you propose to give them—three cows and twelve sheep?
—Well, say six acres of arable.
45005. It is calculated that it takes five acres for a sheep in better districts?
—Let us take 22,000 of a crofter population, leaving out the people of Stornoway altogether.
45006. There is another question to which you referred. You said the rent should be payable out of the produce. Now, when an occupier of land holds only what gives him occupation for a portion of the year,
can he expect to pay the rent out of the produce ?
—Although some members of a family don't work the land the whole year, there are some members who are always about it in some way or other. The head of the family might not be engaged, but some members of the family are always engaged about the croft.
45007. If the occupier has sufficient land to keep him in full occupation I can understand the rent should be payable out of the land, but otherwise he cannot expect to get both rent and living out of it?
—I think Mr Mackay, the chamberlain, gave a case in which he let a farm last year to crofters, and in which the cattle were specified at one for every £1 of rental. I gave less, so far as I remember.
45008. Do you think it reasonable that a man who has not enough land to keep him in occupation should get both rent and living out of it?
—He would not get both rent and living. The produce would not support him,but I hold it ought to pay the rent.
45009. A certain portion should be set apart for rent ?
45010. Professor Mackinnon.
—You have expressed the opinion that under an improved system the present population in the Lewis could be maintained in comfort ?
45011. Doctor Macrae, in Stornoway, expressed the same opinion, and you are probably both better qualified than most people to give a judgment on the matter. We were told that more than half the surface was under crofters just now, and I presume the figures are fairly accurate. Now, all those we examined wanted more than twice the land they already have. I was unable myself at the time to see how they could be satisfied?
—To say that more than half the land is under crofters is certainly not a correct statement, because I know the farm of Park is fully a third of the whole surface of the Lewis, and there is not a single crofter in it. I know again that in Knock, the most populous parish, there are Dignish, and Gormiclete, and another, and I know these three farms are pretty nearly as large as what the crofters have. They are at least two-thirds of what the crofters have.
45012. If I remember well, from the present survey of the estate, it was given to us as a matter of actual figures that more than one half of the surface was under crofters. Your opinion is quite different ?
—My opinion is different certainly.
45013. Then you are not of opinion that the land which they have just now is, upon the whole, much too highly rented ?
—No. I hold this with regard to it. Mr Mackay, the chamberlain, made a computation of the rent per acre, and the land in possession of the large farmers and the land in possession of the crofters, and he maintained that the land in the hands of the large farmers yielded a larger rental per acre than that in the hands of the crofters; but he refrained studiously from giving you any conception of the quality of the land. I hold that the land of the crofters is in the meantime doubly rented compared with the land held by the large farmers, for this reason, that to form these large farms the best of the land was taken, as in all other places in the Highlands.
45014. The exact figures given to us were an area of 404,000 odds: forests 34,000 odds; large farms, arable and grazing, 124,000; glebes, 25,000; home farm and round about town, 1500; thus leaving about 240,000 acres in the possession of crofters. That is more than half?
—But there is a question in connection with it. In connection with the large farms there is a far larger extent of arable ground, and I should like to know if the chamberlain included the bogs and moors which go under the name of grazing for the crofters ?
45015. No doubt he did.
—That settles the question. My answer would simply be this, ' Yes, I will look at the question if you will give me the kind of land, but I will hand you back 2000 acres of the land in the hands of the crofters for 1000 acres of the land in the hands of the large farmers.
45016. My difficulty when we were in Stornoway was that every person who came before us declared that he required twice what he had, and some declared they would require three times as much, and when the surface acreage was looked at I had a difficulty as regards the result. It is partly removed by you when you specify the size of the croft ?
—Of course the demands of human nature are very unreasonable sometimes, but it is not what they would demand, but what they could properly use.
45017. A great deal of the difficulty is removed, but I cannot say it is removed altogether by the croft you have spoken of. A £ 4 croft, with three cows and two young beasts, may suffice in Lewis, but it is nothing like what would be required in the Southern Highlands?
—Yes, I know it is very different from what would be required in the Knapdales and other places.
45018. Well, you would have the great bulk of the population upon
crofts of this kind, and then others on small farms ?
45019. Would you contemplate no gradation between the two?
—Yes; my idea is not the present farm of £100 rental, but in some cases away from the sea I would have crofts of £10, and that ought to include land and stock to keep a man engaged, and to support him also. I know in the past history of Lewis that crofts of that kind supported them in comfort and enabled them to educate their families well.
45020. There are crofts in Lewis of the smaller size you contemplate ?
—Yes, a large number.
45021. Are there any considerable number of the crofters that are fairly comfortable, leaving out a bad year?
—There is of course this in connection with it, as to their grazings which they used to have in summer. They used to go to the sheilings in summer for two months, and let the pasture at home rest. There has been a tax put upon them for that of 2s. for every cow and 3d. for every sheep, and they have to appoint a shepherd. I don't know whether the factor pays the shepherd, and taxes them at the rate of 3d. or not, but that is done, and this in their state of poverty, with those cottars about them. There is a son married, and he gets a bit of the croft; a daughter is married, and she and her husband get a bit of the croft; and of course the croft is spoiled on the family, because of the wretched arrangement that has been going on for years.
45022. You would increase the rental considerably if you would maintain its present population and give each family a £ 4 croft, and leave a good margin for large crofts and small farms ?
—tt would increase it considerably.
45023. You think that if the land which is at present under farms were given in a measure to crofters they could well afford to pay the figure they pay for their small places ?
—Yes. They could make it a far better thing. They could manure it better and work it better. By being at the fishing they might afford to pay £4 for a house and the comforts of a bit of land, while the larger farmer could not pay at the same rate when he has to take his living out of the farm.
45024. If harbours were in those various places you spoke of, do you think that all round the coast on both sides of the island there would be a reasonable prospect of the fishing industry being pursued with success ?
—I have no doubt of it. In Knock there are no less than 115 widows in a population of 3000, largely the result of drownings in consequence of there being no harbours.
45025. The people themselves stated to us at Lochs that the fishing had practically deserted that place of late years ?
— Well, with the present boats they have, they cannot go to a distant fishing ground. They have been fishing near the coast all the time I remember; but there are banks in the Minch where they could go in the spring and come back with boatloads of fish, but they cannot go with the small boats they have. These small boats they have to haul up when they come home, and of course six men could not haul the large boats up the beach.
45026. I am speaking of the people in the Lochs district and not the people in the Ness district?
—I am referring to them alsoo. They stay too near the shore. If they went twenty miles out into the Minch they would get capital fishing, but they cannot on account of the kind of boats they have.
45027. You think there is equally good fishing within reach of the Lochs people ?
—I think so.
45028. And you are decidedly of opinion that the fishermen should have a small croft ?
—Certainly, and harbours to enable them to prosecute the fishing.
45029. Of course, there is very good fishing ground round about the Lewis, but the type of croft you contemplate for the fishermen is about the type that prevails on the north of Sutherland ?
—But then the fishing there is not as good as in the Lewis, and they have no harbours there also. A Lewis man could live on that croft far better than a Sutherland man, if he had the advantages of good harbours.
45030. Of course, you look to the sea round about Lewis as the great source of livelihood for the population?
45031. And by keeping the great bulk of the people on this type of croft you think the whole population at present, if not a larger population, might be maintained in comfort ?
—Yes ; besides, they would be the best source of supply for the navy and merchant shipping, for our shipbuilding yards, and many other industries. Those stalwart fishermen, accustomed to the sea from their boyhood —you could not have a better class for the purpose.
45032. Probably in that way they would be less suited for emigration abroad?
—They would not do. You might send them to Canada or Manitoba, and they would be just like sea-fowl out of the sea ; they could not live there. They would break their hearts with home sickness before they would be half a year there. I know some of them who went and had to come back.
45033. Have you known the circumstances of a good number of the Lewis men who went abroad some years ago ?
—No, I cannot speak definitely of that, but I know the stories of those who came back are not so rosy
hued as some we have listened to. I know some who came back, and their stories are very different.
45034. I presume that could be said about most of the emigrants from the west—that the report is more or less coloured by the party from whom it proceeds?
45035. The proprietors certainly allowed subdivision in Lewis, but I suppose it must be admitted that the people made it somewhat difficult for the proprietors to put a stop to it ?
—Yes, I quite allow that the proprietor had a very difficult task.
45036. But you would make a most stringent law on the subject ?
—A most stringent law that it should never be allowed again.
45037. Well, there is no doubt there would require to be a considerable outflow in the future ?
—No doubt of that, and they would find it in the navy and merchant shipping. They would go to the colonies when they are better educated, and they would go to shipbuilding trades as many of them have gone, and they would go to the learned professions. Sir James, by his schools, has sent away a large number of educated young men, and they would find an outlet here and there, I have no doubt.
45038. There are not many of them going to the navy just now ?
—There are some of them in the navy.
45039. Are there many, do you think?
—I cannot tell you the number; I know some who are now retired on a pension in Stornoway. One is a cousin of my own, who was in the Crimean war and in the Baltic, and who is now at home after having served his twenty-two or twenty-four years.
45040. Is the naval reserve a body of recent creation ?
—No, it has been going on for the last twenty years. They used to go to Greenock for drill, but they are now drilled in Stornoway. There is a large proportion of the male population in the Lewis that have been trained in the naval reserve.
45041. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You told us you were a native of the parish of Knock ?
45042. And I presume you have taken a great interest in your countrymen for a considerable period ?
45013. The estate of the Lewis has been before the public rather prominently of late, has it not?
45044. Is it the fact that the authorities of the island went forth to the large centres of commerce wanting charity ?
—Yes, that is quite true.
45045. I suppose I may take it that you as a Lewis man cannot look upon that without considerable regret?
—That is so. I took part in it, but it was with very considerable regret.
45046. And I suppose you would not like that such a state of matters should continue ?
45047. You gave your opinion that the present population of the island was not too great for its capabilities. When you are asked to divide that into acres, I presume that is the only one way of putting the question ?
45048. You did not state, when you were asked the size of croft, anything about the number of acres of pasture ?
45049. I presume that was because one acre of pasture is very different from another acre of pasture ?
45050. And you think, upon reconsideration, that even leaving some of the large farms, which you say formed homes from which many good people went forth into the world, that there is quite enough land in the Lewis to support the present population ?
—Yes, that is my opinion.
45051. And you base that upon this fact, that so much of the good land of the island is occupied by so few people ?
45052. The Chairman.
—Before you leave I should like to ask whether you have worked it out as an arithmetical problem—have you ascertained what area would be necessary for the constitution of such a class of crofts all over the Lewis as you have alluded to ?
—No, I have not made it out for the whole of the Lewis. I have been guided mostly by my experience in my youth at home and the part I knew best.
45053. I hardly wish to discourage the idea of such a scheme as you have sketched, if it could be realized with justice to all parties, but so far as my limited arithmetical powers go I cannot make out that it would be possible, on the area of the island. You speak of twelve sheep. We have always understood that we must take an average of five acres for a sheep, and we have sometimes heard of eight acres, and sometimes of three, but it has been represented to us that five is a very fair average ?
—Yes, but I am referring to the kind of small sheep we have in the Lewis, and we must remember they are very different from the large class of Highland cattle and the best stock of blackfaced sheep ; otherwise I might have modified my calculation.
45054. But even with reference to small cattle, a cow is reckoned as equal to five sheep. We could hardly take the area for a cow as less than twenty to twenty-five acres, and twelve sheep would be sixty acres. I don't wish to trouble you with an estimate at the present moment, but you will find that if you have 4000 families to be provided for in this way, striking off 1000 families for those who have less land and those who have more, if you have 4000 families each with a croft such as you have delineated, you occupy far more than the whole area of the Lewis. So it seems to me that you might reconsider the matter ?
—I only expressed it as my opinion. I have not entered into niceties of calculation.