Poolewe, 31 July 1883 - Alexander Mackenzie

ALEXANDER MACKENZIE, Crofter and Carpenter, Strath of Gairloch (56)—examined.

28740. The Chairman.
—We understand that the whole croft in Strath is about four acres, and the summing two cows and followers and sixteen or twenty sheep. What is the general rent?
—The average area of arable is from 3½ to 4 acres; the summing is two cows and a young beast, and about sixteen sheep.

28741. And what is the rent ?
—£3, 10s. to £5 would be the average, but it ranges from £1 to £6.

28742. What is the reason of the great diversity ?
—It is in consequence of old and poor people being on some of the crofts, or owing to the difference in the soil ?
—It is the worst crofts that are cheapest. They were all valued by a surveyor at the time the rents were fixed.

28743. How long is it since the rents were fixed ?
—The rents were fixed in 1842 or 1843. When the present manager came about twenty years ago, the rents were slightly reduced ; some slightly raised and some slightly reduced.

28744. The rents are substantially the same as they were forty-two or forty-three years ago ?
—Yes, the rent of the place is about what it was forty years ago.

28745. During these forty years has there been any reduction of the hill pasture?

28746. Has there been any subdivision of the crofts?
—There are a few in the Strath that have been subdivided since that time; I cannot tell about the rest of the estate.

28747. How do people get money to pay the rent; is it from wages at the fishing or off the croft?
—By what they make off the outcome of the stock, by labour, and the proceeds of the fishing—especially the fishing.

28748. Have wages of labour increased during the last forty years?
—Yes, very much.

28749. And the price of stock has increased?

28750. His the gain from the fishing increased ?
—I cannot say that the proceeds of the fishing have increased. They don't make more out of the
herring fishing anyhow, but there is the cod and ling fishing. The prices of those fish are better, and probably they will make more out of that than they did.

28751. The area of the holding has remained the same, the rent has remained the same, and the prices of the stock and fish have increased ?
—That is quite the case.

28752. Then I hope I may also say that the condition of the people generally has improved ?
—The crop of the croft is practically worthless, it has changed very much—it has changed almost entirely within that period. I have a croft myself of 3½ acres, and I have not sent a grain of oats to the mill for the last three years, only I sold three barrels of oats last year of the proceeds of the previous year, and I have only one head of cattle, and I only kept one cow before. If I had kept more stock I would have required to buy about twenty stooks of corn for each head of stock.

28753. Is this owing to the bad seasons or to the permanent depreciation of the soil?
—The weather may have had something to do with it, but the land is poor, and stony, and rocky.

28754. I see there is a complaint about the difficulty of getting seaweed—explain that?
—The portion of the sea-sh»re which is set apart for the crofters is nearly worthless for sea-ware, it does not grow upon the rocks there, and the rest of the sea-ware round about the coast belongs to the farmers.

28755. Is the right to gather that sea-ware exclusively reserved for their tacks; do they possess an exclusive right under their leases ?
—Yes; I think when a farmer gets a lease he gets the right to the sea-ware upon his own shore in the lease —to the whole of his own shore.

28756. Is there upon the shores of the farms plenty for the use of the farmer and for the use of the crofters ?

28757. What do the farmers charge you for the sea-ware?
—The price was 5s. for the load of a boat of 16 feet keel, or Id. for every creelfull.

28758. If you had nothing to pay for sea-ware would you use a great deal more for your crofts?
—Yes, and it would improve our crofts very much, for nothing makes better crofts than manuring the land with seaware. We have spoilt our crofts by manuring with guano from the want of sea-ware.

28759. Have you represented that to the farmers and to the proprietor?
—There was always a complaint about it which they might have heard.

28760. Did you ever ask the farmer to give you the sea-ware which he did not require, for nothing ?
—No, there was no need; he would not give it to us; it is not likely he would.

28761. Are all the farmers the same, or are some of them more generous than others?
—I only went to a few of them. There were some who refused and some who gave the sea-ware.

28762. What are the regulations about estate labour ?
—Sixty hours in the year.

28763. When you give that labour do you receive any wages?

28764. Do you receive any food ?

28765. Did it always exist as an obligation in old times?
—It has certainly existed since 1851, since I took a croft.

28766. If it is inconveuient for anyone to give labour himself is he allowed to find a substitute ?
—Yes, he can provide a substitute; of course at his own expense.

28767. What have you to pay for a day's labour if you provide a substitute ?
—Perhaps 2s. 6d. or 3s.

28768. Is this labour given to the proprietor or to the farmer?
—There was some of it done upon the proprietor's ground, but it is chiefly upon the roads; there is scarcely anything done now to the property, it is all upon the roads.

28769. Is it the branch roads which lead to your crofts?
—Yes, the branch roads.

28770. Then it is for your own good ?
—Yes, there is also some of it used in repairing the march fences between ourselves and the big farmers.

28771. Does the farmer work too?
—Yes, he just makes a share; the big farmer only builds a crofter's share of the dyke—an equal share with one crofter.

28772. There is a complaint about the regulations on the estate with reference to compensation for improvements —explain that if you please ?
—When one builds a house he gets the wood for the roof, and according to the estate regulations which are printed, if a crofter is in possession of a croft for twenty years there is no compensation given for the house even supposing he had expended £20 or £100 upon it.

28773. When you want a new house do you apply for it, and do you always get the assistance of the proprietor?
—No. I don't require to ask the permission of the proprietor to build a house, the houses were built when the crofts were let. If it were in disrepair I should begin to do it, and I should go to the proprietor and ask for the wood for the roof.

28774. And he would give it?

28775. Who gives the slates ?
—-There are no slated houses; we just get the wood for the roof.

28776. In building a new house, how much of the expense would a crofter be at ?
—I am repairing my own house just now. Supposing I were to fell it to the ground it would cost about £30 to build it again in addition to what assistance I might get from the proprietor.

28777. What would the assistance of the proprietor be worth?
—About £3, 10s. or £4.

28778. Who supplies the lime ?
—- The tenant.

28779. Have there been any removals or evictions in the place, within the memory of the present generation, except for non-payment of rent ?
—I cannot very well tell, because I only entered into possession myself in 1851, but ever since Sir Kenneth Mackenzie became proprietor of the estate there have been scarcely any sent away. He is a very kind landlord.

28780. Do you suffer at all from the depredations of the deer or game ?
—No, nothing.

28781. In your memorial you say: ' The hill pasture has undergone a process of curtailing to gratify the farmers on both sides' what does that mean ?
—Yes, there has been such a process ; the last instance of it was ten years ago.

28782. Describe what it was?
—Just a bit that was taken from the better side of the hill and added to the adjacent farm.

28783. Did you get another bit instead of it?

28784. Was this in the way of straightening the marches, or was it a large bit which was taken away and given to the farmer ?
—It made the march rather more correct than before, but the reason was that the farmer wished to get it ; he did not get exactly all he asked, all the same.

28785. Was any reduction of rent made in consequence?

28786. Perhaps it was not large enough to make a reduction of rent ?
—Well it was large enough to become an object of desire to that farmer anyhow j if it had not been worth money he would not have set his eye upon it. It is a good large bit, and it is one of the best portions of the pasture, although I cannot tell the acreage of it.

28787. Is your stock troubled or vexed by the farmers or shepherds, or do you live on good terms with these people ?
—Yes, we have good neighbours; we have no complaints to make on that score.

28788. Have you any complaint to make about the gamekeepers?
—None whatever.

28789. Is your hill pasture fenced in ?
—Yes, indeed it is.

28790. Who paid for the fence ?
—We did our share of it ; we don't know whether it was the proprietor or the tenant who did the other share.

28791. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What was the name of the farm to which this bit of pasture was added ?

28792. What is the name of the tenant?
—Dr Robertson.

28793. Has he a large possession in Gairloch ?
—No, it is not very large; there are no large farms.

28794. Would you be able to pay your rent out of your croft if you did not labour otherwise ?
—No. Except that I like to have a cow and a house I would have nothing to do with a croft, if it were not for these and the potato ground it would be of no service to me. I have made the calculation several times, and I have the idea that I could buy in the market as much as my croft produces cheaper than by the labour expended in producing it on the croft.

28795. Anything you sell will be such as a young beast?
—Yes, I sell nothing else.

28796. Was it therefore a kind thing to deprive you of the best part, or a very good part of your pasture without giving any compensation ?
—It was a loss, not a kindness.

28797. Are you allowed by the regulations to keep a dog?

28798. Or a gun ?

28799. Is there any attempt in the regulations to compel the people to be sober ?
—The people are left very much to their own free will in that respect, but they are a sober people, not only in the place, but all over the country.

28800. That being the case—and I for one am delighted to hear it, and believe it thoroughly—what cause was there to insert in the estate regulations a clause to this effect: 'should the tenant wilfully infringe any of the preceding rules and conditions, or fail to maintain good neighbourhood, or neglect to provide in terms of law for his children, or be habitually drunken,' &c,—what is the meaning of that?
—The rule was laid down, not because the people were not a sober people, but in order to put them upon their guard that in the event of anyone being found so, he would have to leave the district.

28801. You don't consider it a reflection upon the character of the people that they are obliged to accept such a clause?

28802. Are you obliged to pay the rents the year before the crop is reaped ?
—I am not paying anyhow, and perhaps there are a few who do not pay it, but the general rule upon the estate is to pay the rent beforehand.

28803. Are you aware that you must pay at Martinmas 1883, say for the crop of 1884—that that is the estate regulation?
—No, that is not the way it is put in the books, but as the crofts were allotted out first, before they yielded crops the rent was paid, and the thing was continued.

28804. Look at the first article of Estate Regulations ?
—There is that regulation, but it is reversed in my case. I pay in Martinmas next for the crop of the year 1883.

28805. Would you consider it a hardship to pay your rent a full year beforehand ?
—I never heard it complained of.

28806. What estate labour has a crofter keeping a horse to give ?
—I cannot tell exactly; but if he brings his horse he gets off for three days instead of six.

28807. Do the crofters pay road money ?
—I think not excepting statute labour—that is six days. We pay poor rates, but we pay no road rates.

28808. The proprietor pays the road rate for you ?
—I suppose so; his own share of it.

28809. What grievance, then, have you got ?
—That our land is small, and that, in proportion to its value it is dear.

28810. Could it be extended if the proprietor so willed it?
—The proprietor has not much to divide amongst us, but there is a little, and so the holdings might be a little enlarged. There are other modes in which the condition of the people might be improved. A community of fishermen might be planted in various places where nobody dwells; in, for example, the two islands of Longa and Horrisdale.

28811. What would you do with these two islands?
—I would send three or four crews to one place, and they could have a cow and an acre or two acres of land for each family.

28812. Would that keep them in comfort with the produce of their own labours on the sea?
—Yes, if the fishing would continue as at present they would be better off in that way ; and these islands —I speak especially of Longa—are accessible and convenient for the fishing industry.

28813. Who possesses the island just now?
—The tenant is Mr Macdonald, and the proprietor is Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.

28814. Does the tenant make any use of it except for grazing?
—No, nothing.

28815. When you sell a beast what market do you go to?
—There are markets in the place

28816. In Gairloch?-
—Yes; and at Tollie, halfway between this and Gairloch.

28817. Are there any shops in Gairloch ?

28818. Can you get anything to buy there?
—I cannot get everything I want, but I get the common necessaries, meal and groceries and clothes
and boots.

28819. Who keeps these shops?
—Both people are of the name of Macpherson.

28820. Have they been long there ?
—A long time.

28821. Is there anybody connected with the estate who deals in meal and supplies the people ?
—I know nobody who keeps meal but the manager.

28822. What is his name ?
—Mr Mackenzie.

28823. Does he carry on an extensive business ?
—Yes, he sells oats and guano.

28824. Does he buy things from the people ?
—Nothing, unless maybe a head of cattle now and again.

28825. Would he be displeased if the people did not give him the offer of the best of the beasts ?
—No ; he is just exactly like any drover so far as I know ; he does not care.

28826. Have you ever sold a beast to him?
—Yes, I sold him a cow last year.

28827. Did you get a good price?
—I got almost all I asked for it.

28828. Is it or is it not a grievance iu the place that an official of the estate is also a dealer?
—I never heard the tenants complain of it among themselves, but I believe it is a matter of complaint with the other dealers whose custom is spoiled.

28829. Are you aware whether Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, the proprietor, knows of such dealings going on ?
—I cannot tell.

28830. Is it necessary for the requirements of the district that an official of the estate should be a dealer in this way, or should the business not properly be thrown open to the world ?
—It would be quite easy for other people to do it, and the more that other traders get of the traffic the
more they would like it.

28831. But would it not be better for the people?
—I don't think it would.

28832. How long has this been going on ? Did the previous ground officer carry on such a business?

28833. Was it ever heard of on the estate until this man came ?
—Not that I have heard of.

28834. Did the people wish him to start this business?
—I cannot tell.

28835. Does he carry on the business for his own behalf or from a philanthropic desire to benefit the district?
—I think every trader trades for his own benefit; but he may benefit the community as well.

28836. Are the people of the township in arrears for their rents, or are their rents pretty well paid up ?
—I believe they are not quite clear of, arrears, but I don't know that their arrears were ever less than they are now.

28837. Was there some destitution in Gairloch last spring?
—Yes, but that arose from the loss of the crops last autumn ; and the potatoes were quite a failure.

28838. Are you aware that the clergymen of the locality found it necessary to make application for assistance from other quarters ?
—Yes, and they got assistance, and it was of service when it came into the country.

28839. Can you say from your own knowledge of the whole circumstances that it was necessary for the committee and others to have made that application ?
—Yes, I think it was necessary; I don't know what the condition of some of the people who got assistance would have been without it.

28840. The Chairman.
—[To Macgregor]. You have heard and understood everything he has said ?

28841. Do you agree with all that he has said?
—Not with the whole of it.

28842. In what respect do you disagree with it ?
—He said he had no fault to find with the neighbouring tenants in their treatment of the crofters' stock. I remember the crofters' stock being poinded by the neighbouring tenant on one occasion.

28843. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Anything else ?
—When I was a small boy I used to herd my father's stock upon the portion of the hill pasture which has been taken from the crofters and given to the farm of Auchtercairn, and if the cattle strayed over the march at that time they would be poinded. Since that time I have seen cattle coming from the grazing upon the other side —that is the place called Little Sanda —and these were poinded also; and many of the people to whom they belonged were from home at the time.

28844. Do you differ from your colleague in any other respect ?

28845. The Chairman.
—Did you not prevent the cattle from going over the march ?
—Yes, when I was there. I remember upon the occasion of the inspection of the local volunteers at Dingwall that some of the crofters' cattle were thrown down and carried away to the pound.

28846. How long ago was that ?
—Perhaps nine or ten years. With respect to the statute labour, not only is it done upon roads and upon fences, as the other delegate stated, but I am of opinion that I may have seen it being done upon the fence between the arable ground and the hill pasture of the farmer—that was a fence not upon the march of the crofter at all. [Intimation that sixty hours' labour would be required of the witness produced, dated 23rd February, 1881].

28847. Were you a crofter then ?
—No; I was a householder. I have a fifty years' lease of the house.

28848. Is it a condition of the lease that you have to do this labour ?
—No, not of the lease of the house ; but in the event of my doing it, it is stated that I would get other privileges, right to peat ground and sea-ware.

28849. Therefore you have to perform the labour ?
—I have not done it. I only pay 5s. of ground rent, and I think 10s. in addition for statute labour is an excessive sum.

28850. Have you anything else to say ?
—Upon the farm of Sandabeg there was a regulation made within the last few years that anyone who in future should cut peats there, must pay 5s. a year for every bank that he might cut; now the people used to cut peats there, in former times, free of charge.

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