FURTHER STATEMENT by WILLIAM MACKAY, Esq, Chamberlain of Lewis.
CHAMBERLAIN'S OFFICE, STORNOWAY, Chamberlain
16th February 1884.
I duly received the Secretary's letter of the 4th inst., enclosing a portion a statement made before the Commissioners by the Rev. Murdo Macaskill, of Greenock.
With regard to the case of the crofter in the quoad sacra parish of Knock, to which Mr Macaskill refers, Mr D. Munro, who was factor at the time, says he knows nothing about this crofter's case, and does not recollect anything about it.
The ground officer referred to is now dead; but I venture to say, in regard to him, that he was a man not ready to take offence, and never would have taken offence for a crofter saying to him 'that his boundary line did not look so straight as the old one,' nor for language used towards him a thousand times more offensive. He was a quiet, honest, and inoffensive man, that would injure no one, and incapable of doing a harsh or cruel act towards a crofter. I am confident that every crofter in the parish of Stornoway that knew him would bear testimony to this effect regarding him, if it were necessary to do so.
Now, as to the Knock crofter.
During the year 1857, there arose a dispute between the crofters of Knock and the adjoining crofters of Swordale as to the march between the two townships. The ground officer was sent to settle or adjust the point in dispute, and, while doing so, one of the Knock crofters—Murdo Macaulay—objected to the line of march as laid down by the ground officer; and as the ground officer placed marks or pegs to indicate the march, Macaulay removed these marks. He was remonstrated with for so doing, and told by the ground officer that unless he desisted from removing the marks he would have to report him to the factor. Still Macaulay persisted in removing these marks. Thereafter, the ground officer reported to the factor how he had adjusted the march, but that Macaulay objected to his line of march and removed his marks as he laid them down. Some time thereafter Mr Munro, the factor, sent Macaulay a summons of removal. Next year Macaulay and his father-in-law waited on the factor, when Macaulay got back his croft at an increased rent of 10s., and payment of the expenses of the summons of removal.
These are the facts of the case, whatever way it might have been represented to Mr Macaskill.
Mr Macaskill goes on to say that—' 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.'
Mr Macaskill must have known very little, if anything, of the habitations and general circumstances of the people when Sir James bought the estate, when he would affirm that they are worse now than they were then.
I maintain that, though there is still much room for improvement, the habitations and general circumstances of the people are vastly improved to what they were in 1844.
In the district or parish of Knock, which Mr Macaskill seems to know best, there are many new houses with gables and chimneys, roofed with tiles, and some with slates. All, I may say, have improved household furniture and other cookery and domestic utensils for domestic use, which was not the case in 1844. I have been told that when the minister of the parish of Lochs went to preach in the district of Carloway, shortly before the Disruption, there was only one stoneware bowl in the district from which he could take a drink. Now every house has its supply of crockery and crystal necessary for their requirements.
Anyone who saw the people assembled in church in any district of the Lews in 1844, and see them to-day, would see a vast improvement in their appearance and dress. In the most remote corner of the island the majority of the men and women are on the Sabbath day well clad, and many dressed in the latest fashions of the day.
Mr Macaskill says—' The soil in possession of these large farmers is by far the best of the Lews, and yields, considering the quality of the soi!, a far lower rent than the portion in the hands of the crofters. It was all very well for the factor of the Lews 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 firm giving any idea of their relative quality.'
I still maintain that the quality of the land in the possession of the crofters, if not superior, is equal to any in the possession of the large farmers, though the arable land in the possession of the large farmers is in a better state of cultivation; and further, that the crofters are not paying so high a rent as the large fanners. The large farmers pay their rents in full, whereas a large proportion of the crofters' rents are never paid. From 10 to 20 per cent, is annually lost of the crofters' rents in this way as irrecoverable arrears. The crofters do not complain of being too highly rented, nor do they desire a valuation of their crofts ; and I am safe in saying that there is not a crofter township in the island, if open to let to one farmer, that from one-fourth to one-half more rent than the crofters pay would be got from any of these townships. With regard to the quality of the land in the possession of crofters and large farmers, I enclose a statement by Mr G. Foulie, who, from his practical experience of farming and frequent opportunities of travelling over and examining every farm and crofter township in the island, is better qualified to give an opinion on this point than Mr Macaskill, who may have only seen but a small portion of the Lews.
I am a native of Aberdeenshire, and have been all my life connected with the Working of arable and glazing farms in the counties of Aberdeen, Banff, Moray, Sutherland, and Ross ; and for the last twenty-two years I have managed the Manor, or Home Farm, Stomoway, in the island of Lews. During these years, I have frequently examined and gone over every farm and crofter township in the island. I therefore know every inch of the Lews, and the nature and quality of the soil for grazing and agricultural purposes. I have no hesitation in stating that the best arable land in the island is in the possession of crofters, and, speaking generally, the arable land under crofters is superior to the arable land on the grazing farms. As to the pasture lands held by crofters,—
In the parish of Lochs, the crofters' pasture land is superior to that held by tacksmen.
In the parish of Uig, the pasture lands are equal to that held by the tacksmen.
In the parish of Barvas, a large proportion of the pasture lands is inferior, and is all held by crofters, with the exception of one farm, the moor pasture of which is not superior to that held by crofters.
In the parish of Stomoway, the pasture lands held by crofters are equal in quality to that held by tacksmen.
With regard to the crofters' lands, it is wholly overstocked, and therefore always bare and looks poor ; and another thing that adds to the scarcity and poverty of their pasture is the system they have of removing the surface of the lands adjoining their houses, and frequently the best pasture lands, for bedding their cattle. The area of ground from which the surface in this way is annually removed, along with the area from which the surface has been removed for peatcutting, will be about 250 acres every year.
Stornoway, 16th February 1884.