ALEXANDER MACKENZIE, Crofter and formerly Fisherman, Midtown, Inverasdale (65)—examined.
28980. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Do you produce any written statement ?
—Yes. Statement respectfully submitted to the Royal Commission (Highlands and Islands), by Alexander Mackenzie, sixty-five, crofter and fisherman, lot 1-4 Midtown of Inverasdale, duly elected delegate by
crofters and cottars of the townships of Midtown and coast of Inverasdale :
—I occupy a croft of about four acres, of which about three acres are under cultivation. I came into the occupancy of the croft about thirty-seven years ago, and almost all the arable portion of the croft has been reclaimed during my occupancy, I have a share of the common hill pasture, and my stock at present consists of two cows, a small beast, and a few sheep. I pay £ 1 , 6s. of rent for the croft, and about £ 1 for hill rent and other expenses incident on my share of the hill pasture. In a favourable year the produce of the croft does not afford subsistence for my family for six months, and it does not yield half enough to " keep " my cattle. The staple manure is sea-ware, and the united testimony of the crofters is that it is the best manure they can get to produce a good crop out of the soil of their crofts, and yet the most of it is held by a neighbouring proprietor and a large farmer, from whom the crofters have to buy it at the rate of an average of 10s. for as much sea-ware as will in land of ordinary fertility manure the sowing of two bushels of oats. The sea-ware held by the crofter tenants in connection with their crofts is so scarce that, in order to give the land full justice, each crofter would have to expend 30s. yearly on sea-ware. The most of them cannot afford this extra outlay. As a rule those who can at all afford it expend from 15s. to £1 annually on sea-ware, while to make up for want of sea-ware and of means to procure it, they are engaged for a considerable time in the course of each spring season dragging tangle-weed out of the sea, and it proves to be a very inferior manure. Were there a sufficient quantity of sea-ware held by the people in connection with the crofts, the latter would be much more productive than they are, and the expenses and labour connected with the holdings would be greatly diminished. In 1841 the township of Midtown was let to crofters, and the rental was then increased by £15, and subsequently, when the crofts were rearranged, there was a further increase of £10. The present rental is £54, 14s for crofts and £20 for hill grazing, making a total £74, 14s. There are twenty-nine tenants, of whom twenty-seven are paying under £4 of yearly rents. The hill grazing is paid for in common. About forty years ago the township of Coast was occupied by fifteen tenants paying a gross rental of £37, 10s. Now it is occupied by eighteen tenants, and the yearly rental is £48, 2s. for crofts, and £19 for hill grazing—total £67, 2s. The crofters' hill grazing is largely trespassed on, and overrun to a great extent by sheep and cattle and sheep stock from an adjoining farm, and consequently the crofters do not receive nearly the full benefit of their outrun. Representations on the subject of a march fence, for which the crofter tenants offered to pay half the
yearly interest on the outlay, have been made to the proprietor and to the estate manager, the latter actually declined to comply with what the crofters considered a reasonable demand in regard to the erection of a march fence. Thirty-six years ago or thereby money was advanced by Government to improve the Midtown crofts. Some improvements were effected on several of the crofts, while others reaped no benefit, yet a sum was added to the rent of each tenant, which sum was said to be a yearly instalment which would repay principal and interest in twenty-one years. This additional annual sum has not yet been deducted from the rent, and has now been paid for fifteen years over the stipulated time, both by those who received no benefit from the money as well as by those who did to a certain extent. The present proprietor, Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, has invariably shown great kindness to the people. He is the friend and benefactor of widows and orphans, to many of whom he gives land rent free. It is much regretted that he does not reside more frequently on his Gairloch property, as should such be the case it is believed the management would give more satisfaction to the crofters than it really does, I believe that much of the poverty existing among the people of the townships I represent can be traced in some measure to hardships endured by the crofters under the oppressive management of the factor on the estate, and his underlings, during Sir Kenneth's minority. At the time of the destitution consequent on the potato famine, the factor seized a large proportion of the crofters' cattle for arrears of rent. Cows were taken away for £1 of arrears, and in some cases for less. In some cases instead of the arrears being wiped off, the tenants had to pay sums ranging from 4s. to 6s. for the grazing of the cattle while they were in the factor's hand previous to being sent to market; I can if necessary give cases in point relating to the oppression and gross mismanagement during these hard times, from the effects of which some of the people have not yet recovered. All the factors and managers of my time have had of the " fat of the land," and left the people in poverty.
28981. Who wrote this paper?
—A man belonging to the place, but it was we ourselves who gathered together and gave him the statements.
28982. Had you more meetings than one to appoint delegates'?
28983. Were they well attended ?
—Not very many at the last one, the people were away. There were a good number present at the first
28984. And this paper, I suppose, represents the feeling of all the people in the township?
28985. Of those who were present and those absent?
—If not I should not have been here. It would not have been worth my while at my time of life.
28986. What is the name of the farm, or the name of the tenant to whom you are obliged to pay money for your sea-ware ?
—Many farms round about the loch here; wherever the sea-ware is.
28987. But you say ' most of it is held by a neighbouring proprietor and a large farmer—what are the names of the proprietor and the farmer?
—When we went down where we are there was only one man there, and the sea-ware that that one man used was divided amongst thirty, and the share of each was but small. One of them is Mr Mackenzie, the brother of Sir Kenneth.
28988. What is the name of the former ?
—Mr Reid of Island Ewe.
28989. Is it a fact that, every year you are paying money for the seaware, more or less ?
—Yes, it is the case every year.
28990. That is, in fact, an additional rent ?
—We pay additional rent as well as that, but that may also be considered as additional rent. I have two cows and a few beasts, and I house them at the end of October, and they don't come out until the following May, and my croft is not able to feed them more than half that time, and many of my neighbours are in the same position. I have to provide provender for them during the other half.
28991. The mischief seems to have occurred in 1841; who had charge of the sheep at that time—who was the factor on the estate ?
—I could not very well tell, but the estate was under trustees, and there was a large number of people who had something or other to do with the management of it, and I could not say who was over them all.
28992. Who was the individual that took some of the crofters cattle for arrears and only gave £1 for each?
—A Skye man of the name of M'Leod whom we had as factor here at that time; and we had another of the name of Anderson who was not a whit better.
28993. The land was allotted and subdivided, and additional men put in and additional rent put on. Is it from that time that we are to date your poverty?
—The hardship began at that time when the lots were made out, and the potatoes failed too.
28994. You state in the paper that that got you a shake from which you were a long time in recovering
—the potato failure and the taking away of your cattle ?
—There are many among us who have never recovered from it and never shall.
28995. You say you are trespassed upon by some farm, what farm is it that troubles you?
—John Mackenzie, Loch Draing, whose stock mixes with those of neighbouring places.
28996. You wish to put up a march fence between your place and his ?
—Yes, we have wished that for a long time.
28997. The paper also tells that the proposal was'declined by the estate manager. Is that correct ?
—Yes, it has been declined, I am afraid.
28998. Why don't you apply to Sir Kenneth himself ?
—We spoke to the proprietor, but he said we would require to get them put right —that he would look after it
28999. Then I presume you may fully expect that that will be done since it has been brought under the proprietor's notice ?
—The sea-ware is a great grievance. We are in danger of being drowned many a time when we are getting it,
29000. Have you spoken to Sir Kenneth about it ?
—No, we did not speak to him; we are under the impression that he knows about it, the manager knows about it anyhow.
29001. You say yourselves you would wish Sir Kenneth to stay more among you ; I want to know why you don't go to Sir Kenneth himself ?
—We thought he knew all about i t ; but we know there are some things being done of which he does not know all the same, and that is the reason why we wish he would always live upon the estate. We don't complain of the rent nor of the proprietor, but of surrounding circumstances.
29002. You say ' it is much to be regretted that he does not reside more frequently on his Gairloch property, and should such be the case it is believed the management would give more satisfaction to the crofters than it really does' ?
—He would have the people better, and he would know about everything better.
29003. Is it or is it not a fact, without entering into particulars which might be invidious, that the crofters do complain of the present management and would wish the proprietor to come and reside more frequently upon the estate, to look into matters more closely himself ?
—There is nothing that I can more truly say than that their desire would be that he should live more on the estate, and know more of it.
29004. And of the people ?
—I know that many of his people would shed their blood for him.
29005. Mr Cameron.
—You state that your croft contains four acres, of which three are under cultivation, that you came into the occupancy of it thirty-seven years ago; that your stock consists of two cows and small beasts—and how many sheep ?
—About eight or nine at last Martinmas.
29006. That your stock consists of that, and you pay £2, 6s. —is that so ?
29007. Do you consider that rent too high for that land and that number of cattle and sheep ?
—No, there is no complaint about the rental.
29008. You say it does not yield half enough to keep your cattle ?
—No, it does not; it can only feed one properly. If it could feed more I could keep three.
29009. How do you feed the other ones?
—I buy provender for them. I was three times in Harris for provender.
29010. Where do you get the money to buy the provender?
—I make themselves buy it sometimes—sell them; but I have always been about the fishing, and have made more money in that way. I have also made wages whenever I could.
29011. Do you find it easy to make wages where you live?
—I don't make wages there ; but there are some of the people who have some work from the estate manager.
29012. What are the ordinary wages paid to these people in the summertime
—About 2s.—perhaps Is. 8d. and perhaps 2s. 6d. a day for men.
29013. Is there plenty of work to be got at that price?
—No, I never saw as much work going on as would keep the people, if they all went to work, for a month.
29014. But take only those who require it ?
—Well, we had meetings about things of that kind, about the getting of work and that, this year already, and there were some people who said they had been refused work, others who refused to work, aud there were some who got work.
29015. You stated just now that there were no complaints on the score of rent. In this statement you mentioned that the rent was so much, and has been increased by £15, and then further by £10. Is it not a fact that in this paper there is a complaint of the dearness of the crofts ?
—I never heard a complaint, properly speaking, of the rent being too high. For my own part my complaint is not about the rent, but that we are not able to make a livelihood out of the place.
29016. Do you want more land ?
—I don't see any ground to get, unless the people who were put in upon us were sent back to where they came from.
29017. Where was that?
—Inverewe, Tournaig, Island Ewe—I am one of them myself There were twanty-six thrown in upon this place.
29018. Your remedy is to remove the people from where they are and to put them on the places you have mentioned ?
—I don't know that they would get them.
29019. But is that what you propose?
29020. Are these places all sheep farms or crofts ?
—Well, yes, everything that is of worth is under sheep.
29021. But are these places sheep farms or crofting holdings ?
—They are under sheep. Some of the previous delegates spoke about Longa and Horrisdale ; that would suit us to settle a fishing community there. For the last forty-five years I have been fishing all over the western coast, and during my first recollection there was not an island of them that was not occupied by crofters. Beginning with the island of Handa up to this side of Cape Wrath, all right along the coast there was not an island but was occupied by tenants; and, in my time, we fishermen had through stress of weather to lie up for days, sometimes for a week, and we found these tenants exceedingly kind to us. Now supposing we had to lie up for stress of weather, and supposing we were without food, there is nobody to give us a meal.
29022. Has that anything to do with the management of this estate?
29023. Are the people in your township much in arrears of rent?
—I don't think there is much arrears just now.
29024. Is there less than there was five years ago ?
—I cannot tell. I know there was a large amount of arrears when Sir Kenneth came into the estate, and that he was very good to people, wiping off a pound now and again till it was reduced.
29025. You say that all the factors and managers have lived upon the fat of the land and have left the people in poverty; does that refer to former factors ?
—Yes; it refers to a past time —to a long time ago, when we were oppressed ; and there are people who have not yet recovered.
29026. All the factors in my time have had of the fat of the land and ' have left the people in poverty'; what factors does that refer to ?
—I speak first of Anderson.
29027. How long ago is that ?
29028. Does this sentence include the present man ?
29029. What was the name of the man before him ?
—Macrae; he was one of the best we ever had.
29030. Who was the one before him ?
29031. Does this statement apply to M'Leod?
29032. And was the one before him another included in this statement?
—Anderson certainly was one. I refer to these two.
29033. Then the last sentence is so far incorrect that it does not refer to the present factor or his immediate predecessor—Mr Macrae ?
—Yes, it is incorrect in that respect.
29034. Is it not a fact that Sir Kenneth Mackenzie is practically his own factor, and that the person who represents him is more a ground officer than a factor ?
—I cannot tell what the powers of the manager may be, but he is virtually our manager or proprietor.
29035. Do you think many of the Highland proprietors know their people better or live more among them than Sir Kenneth Mackenzie ?
—I cannot say. There may be many who know their people well, although I do not know. We know Sir Kenneth very well, and we see him once a year, and although we should see him twenty times we should like it all the more; and we would like it still better if we were seeing him always.
29036. He speaks the language of the people does he not ?
—Yes, but perhaps not so well as he would wish.
29037. Do you not think that Sir Kenneth Mackenzie knows more about his crofters and mixes more with them than most Highland proprietors, partly owing to his knowing the language ?
—I don't know any, taking him all in all, unless, perhaps, a proprietor who lives somewhere in the district of Appin in Argyleshire, who knows more about his people and their affairs than Sir Kenneth.