Poolewe, 31 July 1883 - Charles Robertson

CHARLES ROBERTSON, Surgeon, Achtercairn (58)—examined.

29148. Sheriff Nicolson.
—You have lived in this district for a long time?
—Since 1847 —the year of the destitution.

29149. Have you been a practitioner all that time?
—Not for the last ten years.

29150. Are you a farmer also ?
—I am.

29151. Have you had a farm all the time?
—Except for the three first years.

29152. You are well acquainted with the condition of the people?
—I was at one time, but I have not been going so much amongst them of late.

29153. Do you think there has been any material change in their condition?
—When I first came to the country it was in a transition state, and the people did not depend so much upon manual labour as they do now. They depended upon their crofts, and fishing; and the country was isolated, there were no roads into it. Loch Maree road, which opened up the country, has been made since. Since the potato famine the people have not depended so entirely on the crofts and fishing, but have betaken themselves more to manual labour.

29154. Do they go in much larger numbers to the south for work?
— Yes, I think there is about fifty for every one who went at that time.

29155. Where do they go chiefly?
—To all parts of the country
—Ross, Moray, Banff, and even Ayrshire, and some to Roxburgh.

29156. Do the young women go as well as the young men?
—They do.

29157. How long do they generally stay away1?
—Some stay a great many years and some return again; and some only stay for six months. The great majority of them only stay six months and return to work their crofts.

29158. At what time of the year do they go ?
—Some go in spring, perhaps about the end of April; but most go in May to the feeing markets.

29159. And so far as you know do they contribute considerably in that way to the support of their families ?
—Very considerably.

29160. Are they generally frugal and well-behaved ?
— I think so.

29161. Have you noticed any improvement in the mode of life of the people during your acquaintance with them ?
—I have; in dress and education and everything there is a great improvement.

29162. Do you think they have less food than before or of a worse kind ?
—I think their food is very much improved. More meal is imported into the country, and I think they live better than they did in former days.

29163. What kind of food do they use most of?
—Oatmeal, especially from Banff and Aberdeenshire.

29164. Meat is not much used amongst them?
—No, not much; fish is principally used amongst them.

29165. Have you observed any improvement in their houses and in the way they keep them ?
—Yes, a great improvement.

29166. You have heard, I suppose, the various complaints which have been made to-day ?
—Yes, I have.

29167. By the men representing the various districts?

29168. Do you know anything of the particular places of which they speak ?
—Yes, I know most of the places.

29169. Do you think the grievances have any substantial ground?
—In some instances there may be cause for them. If you could mention any of the grievances I could speak to them. One of the grievances was seaware. They are very much dependent upon that for their crofts; but these farmers are just as dependent. You may say it is an additional rent what they pay for artificial manures.

29170. Formerly there was nothing got for the sea-ware?
—Previous to my coming a civil engiueer from Banffshire laid out the property into crofts, and I think it was he who put the rent upon the crofts; the seaware was allocated to different townships at that time.

29171. Mr Cameron.
—Have you any general statement to make which you think would be beneficial to us in our inquiry, and which you think should be made known?
—No, I know of nothing.

29172. Not as to the condition of the crofters ?
—Of course it is natural that the crofters should wish their crofts enlarged; but I think it would be much better if a number of them were made labourers and made dependent on their labour, and fishing villages created as they have been on the east coast. I know Sir Kenneth has been endeavouring, as the crofts fell vacant, to enlarge the crofts of those remaining, and there are some in this neighbourhood who have two crofts instead of one, and I think they are much more comfortable than those who have only one croft

29173. Do you think they have a sufficient amount of hill pasture, or would they be the better of more, provided they could not get more arable ground?
—I don’t think their hill pasture is properly managed; they don't keep proper shepherds.

29174. Would you approve of the system of club farms ?
—I think so. I have often advocated club farms such as they have in Skye and Applecross ; I think they are a great improvement upon this system.

29175. Do you think there would be any difficulty in arranging for club farms being substituted for the present system of management ?
—There would be a little, because some of the crofters are poorer than others, and they would not be able to pay for their proportion of the stock

29176. That is to say the small crofters with one cow and a stirk would find it difficult to make an arrangement suitable for the larger crofter who has more cows and more sheep ?

29177. But could not the difficulty be got over by a system of shares—if the smaller crofter had one share and another two or three and so on ?
—The small crofter would then lose his proper proportion of the profits.

29178. The club farm would only embrace the hill stock, and would not interfere with the arable ground ?
—I refer to hill stock.

29179. If the small farmer put in a fewer number of beasts he must only expect a smaller share of the profits ?
—That would be so; but he pays the same rent for the arable land, and I think it is an advantage to have a proportionate share of the hill.

29180. But the arable ground would not come into use in this system of the club farm; it would be independent ?
—But each arable croft should carry a full share of the hill farm. Now say there is a good profit on
sheep —two sheep won't yield the same as five.

29181. You assume that the arable ground is all equal to start with?
—Yes, and I say the share of the hill ground is twenty sheep, and the crofter having only five would be at a disadvantage with the other man who had twenty, even although the rent was less, of course he would not have the profit that the sheep yield.

29182. But where the summing is two cows and twenty sheep for one crofter, and four cows and forty sheep for another, could it not be arranged that the smaller crofter should have half the profits which the larger one had ?
—Yes, but I think the smaller crofter would be at a disadvantage. I think it would be better if the croft-ers could have an equal number of cows and sheep; sheep at any rate.

29183. Practically the difficulty would only be where the crofter had not his full summing ?

29184. Where he had his full summing there would be no difficulty?
—No difficulty.

29185. Even although that summing should be much less than that of the larger crofter ?

29186. Because it would be arranged by the mode of shares?

29187. To follow that up, as far as your experience goes, are many of the crofters in such a position that they are not able to keep the stock up to their full summing, or only a few?
—I think there would be a great many of them not able to put stock on.

29188. And therein would be the difficulty of changing the present system into that of a club farm ?

29189. And you don't see any way of getting out of that difficulty?

29190. Do the crofters here show much inclination to fish ?
—They do.

29191. Do you think that some of them might be established near fishing grounds, with small crofts, to their advantage ?

29192. And to their inclination ?
—Yea I am aware there were two or three such villages some time ago, but like others they got very anxious to possess land, and I don't think they have prospered or done bettor than they did when they had only a small bit of arable land.

29193. Have you had any opportunity of comparing the condition of the crofters here with those on other estates in the West Highlands?

29194. What is the result?
—In Applecross they compare pretty well—I think they are doing much better in Applecross. I may mention a fact in regard to Applecross which occurred some time ago. Lord Middleton purchased my wether lambs, and some of his club tenants were competitors with him and offered within 6d. of his price. They sent a shepherd and a headman from the club farm across for the purpose of purchasing the lambs.

29195. That speaks highly in favour of club farms?
—It does indeed.

29196. Have you compared the condition of the crofters here with that of those in Skye ?
—I am not so well acquainted with Skye, but I know of many club farmers in Skye selling wool to great advantage in Inverness.

29197. The Chairman.
—You were a witness of the great scarcity and distress preceding Sir John M'Neill's inquiry in 1851 ?
—I was.

29198. You were examined, I believe, before Sir John?
—I was.

29199. You have also been a witness of the distress here last year?
—I was.

29200. Was the distress subsequent to 1848-49 more severe than that caused by the failure of the crops last year ?
—It was more severe, because labour was not plentiful in the country at the time. The people could not get work, and they were not accustomed to work. Although the potatoes failed them that year the cereals did not; they did not lose them us they did last year. In October last there was a gale of wind which destroyed almost all the cereals in the country.

29201. Am I to understand you that the failure of produce of various kinds was greater last year than in 1847-48?
—I am not sure that the failure was so great, but it was nearly so; the failure in cereals was greater last year.

29202. The grain failure was quite as great last year as previously, but the people were better able to withstand the failure than they were before ?

29203. What is that due to ?
—On account of their being able to get employment. The spring fishing turned out very well; and labour was more plentiful throughout the country; and not only so here, but a great many went elsewhere.

29204. Why was it more plentiful here —what description of additional labour has been created ?
—In some of the farms they were making roads; and the proprietor was offering them labour —he offered to give them employment.

29205. And they were more accustomed and able to seek for labour outside the place ?

29206. Do you think their being better able to support the scarcity this time was at all due to the accumulation of savings ?
—No, I don't think so. I think it was more owing to the people's being better able to do something for themselves.

29207. You don't think that in the course of these thirty years the people have accumulated any more wealth?
—In some parts of the parish they may have done so, but in others they have not

29208. Comparing the people of that period with those now, are they more wealthy ?
—I don't think they have, as a whole, accumulated more wealth.

29209. Comparing the people physically with those of thirty years ago, do you think the people at that time were better able to bear hardships. Was their physical condition superior ?
—No, I think they are better accustomed to labour now than they were then.

29210. Do you think they are stronger now ?
—I think so.

29211. One of the changes that has taken place in the diet of the people is that they eat white bread and drink tea, I believe ?
—Yes, they are using tea.

29212. They take far more tea and loaf bread than they formerly did ?

29213. And that has been progressing ?
—It has.

29214. Do you think this is accompanied by bad effects at all? Do you think the substitution of tea and coffee for broth and so on has been an unfortunate and prejudicial chauge?
—No, because I do not think tea is used to such an extent as to be prejudicial.

29215. Do you find the people take as much broth as they used to do ?
—It is fish they use principally—they don't use much meat.

29216. Have they the same supply of fish as before?

29217. You don't think the prevalence of luxuries and foreign commodities has had any bad effect on their health ?

29218. Is there any form of disease prevalent now; or is there any difference in the form of disease compared with what it was ?
—I think a low type of disease is prevalent in all parts of Scotland at present. It has been prevailing more than it did in former years.

29219. You remember the state of the country and the condition of he people before the great deterioration in the potato crop ?
—I do; but not in this county. I am a native of Aberdeenshire.

29220. Do you remember that there was plenty of good potatoes'?
—I do.

29221. Do you think the great failure in the potato crop all over the country has been a great misfortune to people; and have they felt it very greatly ?
—Well, I don't think it has been a very great misfortune. I think the people —especially of the west coast —used potatoes and fish, and now they use more bread; I mean they depended more on the potato crop than now, and when the potato failure came they felt it the more.

29222. We have heard a good deal to-day of the great clearances effected by a Mr Bankes; do you remember these clearances ?
—I do.

29223. Were they before you came into the country?
—The great part of them was after I came into the country.

29224. Had these clearances a very serious and calamitous effect upon the population—were they very deeply felt by the people ?
—The clearances were very harsh at the time ; but I think those left behind are in a better position than they would have been, their crofts are larger, and I think they are more comfortable than they would have been had the clearances not taken place.

29225. Then the clearances were not all effected for the purpose of forming large farms and deer forests 1 Did they take place in any degree in order to improve the crofts of those who remained behind ?
—In some degree they did.

29220. On the whole, in your long experience, you seem to say there has rather been an improvement than a deterioration physically, and morally perhaps, in the condition of the people ?
—I think so.

29227. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Can you give the names of any townships upon Gruinard in which the crofts of the people have been enlarged by removals?

29228. The crofts were increased there 1
—They were.

29229. To the old people ?

29230. Do you know how many cases of that kind there were—have you ever been there ?

29231. Can you state how many crofts were improved?
—I could not state how many there were previously, but I know there are not so many there now. There have been a great many houses pulled down; and the crofters now have what arable land belonged to these houses previously. In almost all the townships there a number of crofters were removed, and those remaining possess the land.

29232. Some of the delegates say part of the hill pasture had been taken from them ?
—A portion of the hill pasture, I have no doubt, was taken from them, and Drumchork was added to the sheep farm.

29233. In the case of Sand, where you say additions were made to the arable land, can you say whether or not any of the hill pasture was taken from them ?
—I am not aware whether or not there was any hill pasture taken from them there ; I rather think not.

29234. You said that the physical and material state of the people had improved since your time, and you attributed that, to some extent, to the fact that they laboured more and were more accustomed to labour ?

29235. Must not that progress, therefore, be entirely due, or almost entirely, to external resources and not to their native parish ?
—It is in a great measure due to external resources.

29236. No great thanks then to the land of their native parish for this improvement ?
—No, I think it is in great part owing to the crofters and their families —to what they earn in other parts of the world.

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