Poolewe, 31 July 1883 - Donald Mackenzie (Gairloch Estate manager)

DONALD MACKENZIE, Manager of the Gairloch Estate (43)—examined.

29038. The Chairman.
—You have been present during the proceedings this forenoon and have heard all that has been stated
—I have.

29039. Do you wish to make any remarks upon what you have heard ?
—I shall be very glad.

29040. Then make your statement now.
—I have prepared a statement. I am manager of the Gairloch estate, the property of Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, Bart. The total acreage of the estate is 162,319, and the rental is £8297, 6s. 3d. sterling. The number of acres at present under cultivation is 2149, of this area there are in the possession of crofters 1482 acres arable and 41,866 of grazings, making a total of 43,348 acres. The total rent paid by crofters is £1688, 2s. 5d., being £1207, 16s. 5d. for arable and £480, 6s. for hill grazings. The average rent for every acre of their arable land amounts to 16s. 3d. and for their hill grazings they pay an average of 2 ⅞ d. per acre. Combining their arable and hill grazing the average rent per acre is 9¼d. The whole number of rent paying crofters is 448, and the average rent paid by each is £ 3 , 15s. 4¼d., being for arable land £2, 13s. l 1 d . , and for hill grazings £1, Is. 5¼d. per crofter. The highest rent paid by any crofter is £30, and the lowest is 8s. 2d. The crofter population including cottars, habitually resident on the estate, amounts to 2227, making an average rental per soul of 15s. 1¾ d. The total population of the estate is about 3495, and as a large number of crofters' dependents are frequently from home at service or fishing, and therefore not reckoned in the number habitually resident, it may fairly be estimated that the real crofter population is about 3000, leaving only about 495 persons not of the crofter or cottar class. In 1853 the arable land in crofters' holdings was much the same as now, but their hill grazings were 41,331 acres, a gain of 535 acres during the last thirty years. The addition arose by the conversion of part of a farm into two crofts and by the grant of hill grazings at Kenlochewe, making altogether a gain of 12 acres arable and 975 acres pasture. On the other hand about 20 acres were deducted from the Strath-hill, and the drove grazing at Loch Maree valued at £3, and extending to about 440 acres with about 12 acres arable are now included in the Loch Maree hotel farm. In 1853 the total rental of the crofters amounted to £1846, 9s. 10d. Combining their arable and hill grazings they paid an average of 9¾ d. per acre. The number of crofters then was 486 giving au average rental to each of £3, 15s. 11 ¾ d . Comparing the present with 1853, the gains are all in favour of the crofters. They have now 535 acres more than then ; they pay £158, 7s. 6d. less rent than then. Combining arable and pasture they have the land at an average of ½d. per acre less than then and each crofter now pays an average of 7½ d. less than then. The total stock possessed by the crofters at present is 78 horses, 1122 cows, 502 stirks, and 4593 sheep. The amount paid in the summing for grazing varies from 15s. to 7s. 7d. for a horse (for one hill only that highest charge applies, the Kenlochewe grazings—the next highest being per cow 5s.) 10s. to 2s. 6d. for a cow, 5s. to Is. 3¼ d. for a stirk, and Is. 8d. to 5 ¼ d. for a sheep, and the average is 12s. 1 8/10d, 4s. 0 8/10d 2s 0 3/10d and 8 1/10 d respectively. Of late years a great improvement has been noted in the breeds possessed by the crofters, and the higher prices obtained in consequence. Formerly complaints were rarely made of the size of their holdings. I notice that delegates in other places frequently complain also of the exhaustion of the soil. I admit our crofters give the ground manure enough, but there are two serious defects in their system of tillage, the want of draining and subsoiling. The ground is too frequently only scratched, and this to a great extent accounts for the alleged exhaustion. With proper tillage and subsoiling the land would show no sign of exhaustion, and with their heavy manuring the crofters should raise good crops. The want of drainage causes late sowing, resulting in late reaping, and thus the crops are sometimes destroyed by the gales and rains late in autumn. Another cry has also recently been raised. It is said the crofters are getting poorer, but the real fact is that they now live much more comfortably than before. It is not uncommon to see the head of the family at home for six months of the year, indifferent about being employed ; and it is too commonly the case that the sons and daughters who go out to service in summer return home at Martinmas, remaining in comparative idleness till Whitsunday. In such circumstances it is surprising to me to know how they get along so well, when I consider how constantly the working classes —ploughmen and artisans for instance—have to stick to their employment all the year round on the east coast. I speak from personal knowledge on this subject as I know the east and the west equally well. In order to compare the rental of the crofters with that of the sheep farmers, I select a sheep farm surrounded with crofters and crofters' grazings. The average rental per acre on it is 6 ⅓ d., while the crofters have their grazings at 2 ⅞ d. per acre. At present there are forty-four crofts held rent free, the old rents of which amounted to £86, 8s. Of these holdings thirty-seven are held by widows and poor aged persons, while seven are gifted to others. Within the last twenty six years arrears amounting to £3219, 8s. 11d. have been struck off in favour of crofters. The arrears now outstanding amount to £1584, 14s. of which £1506, Is. 6d. is due by 205 crofters, .while the arrears due on large farms is £58. Any crofter may have a nineteen year's lease, and practically our crofters are never removed so long as they pay their rents and conduct themselves properly. A copy of our conditions of set is printed in the crofters' rent pass-book which I have here. There are fourteen sheep farms on the estate, and their total acreage is 77,648. Of this area 506 acres are arable, and 77,142 acres are under grazings. The total rental from sheep farms is £2267, 11s . 2d. Taking the arable land at 16s. 3½ d. per acre, the same rental as the crofters pay, the average rent per acre of grazings is 5⅞d. for sheep farms, being fully double the rate paid by crofters. The area under sheep farms in 1853 was 87,973 acres, showing a decrease of 10,145 acres during the last thirty years. The rental of sheep farms at the same date was £1776, 6s. 4d. showing an increase of rent in sheep farms of £491, 4s. 10d. within the same period. On the estate there are three deer forests, and their total acreage is 38,020. The rental obtained from these is £650, being at the rate of 4 1/10d. per acre, the grazings of the Kenlochewe forest being very inferior. There are also four grouse shootings, and the rent obtained from them and fishings amounts to £2205, giving a total of £2855 from shootings and fishings. It may be noted that the valuation roll shows a rental of £20, 17s. less than the actual rent. This arises thus, the roll is overstated by £27, but we receive £ 47 , 17s. for feus which do not appear in the roll, leaving a balance of £20, 17s. to be added to the roll.

The first delegate—Macgregor—spoke of the estate labour. His father got leave to build a store on the Strath on condition that he would put no fireplace in it, but instead of doing that he made fireplaces, and then his son got a lease of the same place. He signed this lease, binding himself to work sixty hours labour in the year, but he never wrought a day, and I do not see how he can complain. So far as regards the sixty hours, we have never got it. They never come out early in the morning, and a great many of them don't do the work. I may say that his father also had a mill at the Strath, and he got his arrears abated by the proprietor. The next delegate, Alexander Mackenzie, complained of the seaware. I believe there is some truth in that at Strath, but the farmers of Auchtercairn and Flowerdale have the sea-ware on the shores of their farms. The delegate made one slight mistake. He stated that they had no sea-ware except what bounded their properties, whereas they have some on Shieldaig on the opposite side of the loch. We never put into practice this 2d. an hour for non-performance of labour; it is for the benefit of the crofters solely in making roads through their townships. There are carriage roads now all over the estate except on the Loch Torridon side. The proprietor provides super¬intendence, finds tools, and builds bridges, and the people had a little labour when convenient in the dead of winter. I don't think, therefore, they can complain on that score. They find it a great benefit to them. As regards compensation, we have not yet been able to test it, where a man who has built a house has gone away at the end of twenty years. Then again, with reference to the twenty acres of land taken off Auchtercairn, I may say that the acreage of that hill grazing is 3740 acres, and the rent of the whole place is £35, 15s., or a little less than 2½ d. per acre, and twenty acres at that amounts to 4s. 2d. The proprietor built a dyke on the march, but there have been complaints of trespassing back and forward, both by the sheep farmer and the crofters. The dyke is a low one with two wires on the top, and in the building of it the crofters laid down the stones for half the distance and the proprietor did the other half and built the dyke, and put on the wires at his own expense. As regards the clause about drunkenness I have had no experience of it, it is a dead letter.

29041. Is that owing to the absence of drunkenness ?
—I am glad to say that there is not much drunkenness going. There may be one or two cases in a large population; I dare say there was not much necessity for putting that into the regulations, at the same time I do not suppose it will do any harm. The next delegate—Kenneth Mackenzie, Eradale, spoke about the quality of the hill grazings in his township. I admit it is the worst grazing on the property, and in the winter time or early spring the tenants of that township made an application to Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, or rather a request, to reduce the rent by one-half or give them the hill at a valuation. Sir Kenneth immediately replied that he would do so, and when he came up to Gairloch —which he did specially for the purpose—he offered them what they wanted, and they preferred not to go on with the valuation, and there the matter rests.

29042. They preferred not to have a valuation?

29043. How was the valuation to be made?
—It was to have been made by each selecting a valuator, and the valuators would choose an oversman —just as sheep and other valuations are made. The same delegate stated that the rates for grazing cows and sheep were 6s. for a cow, and Is. 3d. for a sheep. I may explain that this arises from the fact that the assessments—school rates, and poor rates, and shepherd's wages —are collected along with the rent. The real rent is 5s. for a cow, 2s. 6d. for a stirk, and 10d. for a sheep. The rent of that hill is 3 ¾ d. per acre, and we have other hills better than it much cheaper. Then, Malcolm Mackenzie, from North Eradale, need not complain about paying his rent, for he does not do it ; he is nine years in arrears at the present time.

29044. Do you mean that he has been in arrears every year for nine years, or that he has not paid any rent for nine years
—He paid part of rent during that time. He pays rent perhaps every three or four years.

29045. His gross arrears amount to nine years' rent?

29046. And for how many years has this been accumulating ?
—It has been going on for more than nineteen years; during the last seven years 1 think he has paid two rents. The next man was Alexander Mackenzie from Midtown, Inverasdale, who spoke about the march fences. The application no doubt was made, but, remembering the great expense of fencing the crofters' hill grazings, it was a serious matter to undertake, considering also the small rents paid by the crofters on the estate from whom demands would come to be made.

29047. Would they co-operate in putting the fence up so as to save the proprietor a portion of the expense ?
—The co-operation would be that they would promise to pay interest, and that might be done for a few years, but they would soon get tired of it, and the fences would have to be kept in repair.

29048. They would not work ?
—I don't know, but there is so much of it that they would prefer to get it done by the proprietor, and promise to pay interest on it. Mackenzie's rent is stated at £2, 6s., but in that he must have included the rates, because his real rent £ 1 , 6s. for the croft and 14s. for the hill. I was a little surprised at his remarks about overcrowding. He spoke about so many people coming there; and having heard that he intended to speak on that subject I prepared a few remarks to be submitted in reply.

The complaint made by this delegate is very surprising; he applied to us to allow one of his sons to get a new lot in his own township, and about two years ago, much against my will, this was done. Two years ago he succeeded in getting this place for his eldest son. Any overcrowding or subdivision that takes place is against our will, and the crofters are themselves entirely to blame for it. Sir Kenneth does not want overcrowding, and I am supposed to do all I can to prevent it, but I am sorry I cannot manage it. It is not, however, getting worse, and the population is not increasing. It is inconsistent of any person to complain to your Lordship of what he himself persistently and actually permitted. This township is overcrowded he has said, and that overcrowding has been caused, in some measure, by the settlement of one of his sons there; and if the crofts are too small why does he keep one of his sons to succeed himself ?

29049. There is a feature in the management of the estate which seemed to us rather exceptional, and that is that the hill pasture belonging to the townships appears to be rented separately upon some system which I have not fully understood. They pay a rent for the arable holding and a separate rent for the hill pasture. Would you explain how that system is regulated ?
—When I came here nineteen years ago I came from the east coast, and I did not know much about Highland matters. But the thing has been going on, and there has been one township that has made a request to get their lots apportioned to their crofts, We did this at Aultbea, but they did not seem to get on any better than those who had their hills separately rented.

29050. Is it an old practice of this estate to rent the hill pasture separately from the arable ground ?
—For a long time it has been so, it has been going on for at least thirty years.

29051. Do you know the reason for this innovation or change being introduced?
—I don't know. It happened, I think, when Sir Kenneth was a minor.

29052. How is the rent of this common pasture regulated? Does every crofter pay so much per head for the stock that he is allowed to keep upon it ?
—They have the management in their own hands. Some of the hills are managed in this way, they have it divided into shares—they have equal shares, and make a calculation of what stock it will keep, and pay in that manner ; while with some of the other portions they pay for whatever stock is on, so much per head. If there is a big stock it makes a light rate, but if there is a light stock it makes a high rate. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie always gets the same rent.

29053. Whatever number of animals is kept ?
—It does not matter what number of animals is kept Sir Kenneth charges the same rent, whether he gets it or not.

29054. And they manage it among themselves ?

29055. And when one man is able to put on a large number of stock and a poor man has none, or only a few, does the man who has the large number pay the rent to his poorer neighbour who cannot afford to keep stock?

29056. But they manage that among themselves ?
—Yes ; if there is any injustice done they complain at once to me or the proprietor, and we try
to rectify it.

29057. How is the annual rent paid; is it all brought by one person"?
—They collect the money at home and send one man whom they call the headman.

29058. Do they elect that headman or do you appoint him?
—They manage that themselves; they choose their own headman.

29059. Or do you indicate him and do they accept him ?
—We never indicate him. We ask them to name him.

29060. Does he do anything else for the township? Is he a sort of representative of the township in any other way ?
—Not particularly. We look upon him as the biggest man there at the time.

29061. If anything went wrong in the township would you speak to him or to the crofters all together Ì
—I might speak to him first; but I would speak to anybody.

29062. Do you think this system of independent management of hill pasture is generally acceptable to the crofters ? Would they rather have that than have a common system of each man paying the rent for the hill pasture in connection with the arable rent ?
—Some of those who are well off and who have more stock, would prefer to have the hill attached to their crofts, but the poor people would prefer to pay for the numbers they had.

29063. Have the tacksmen or farmers the absolute right in their leases to appropriate the whole of the sea-ware on their shores ?
—I believe they have. I don't know about all their shores, because there is one farm at Shieldaig where the Strath people get ware.

29064. Is there really a surplus amount of sea-ware on the tacksmen's shores which they don't require?
—No. In some cases it would be a good thing to get the sea-ware re-arranged, but that cannot be done until the leases expire.

29065. With reference to the question of exhaustion of the soil, which might be prevented by labouring the ground better, has any encouragement been given to deep trenching with the pick ? Do they ever trench themselves?
—As a rule I may say they do not.

29066. Has the experiment ever been made of getting them to trench, and paying them wages?
—What I mean by sub-soiling is that they don't plough the land. They work with the cas-chrom and don't dig deep enough.

29067. Mr Cameron.
—Would you kindly explain further how the hill pasture is managed. Is it managed by a system of club farms ?
—No, it is not.

29068. Each crofter has his own stock ?

29069. Are any of the crofting farms managed on the club farm system ?
—Not any.

29070. Are you aware that that has ever been tried ?
—I am not aware; not in my day.

29071. Have you known or heard of its having been tried elsewhere?
—I have.

29072. Do you think that system would be suitable for the crofters here ?
—They are too numerous, I am afraid, to agree among themselves about it, nor would they have the stock. Sir Kenneth would very likely try it

29073. But he found it was not practicable ?
—They don't approach him on the subject; I don't think they want it.

29074. Would it be possible to change the system from the present one to that of a club farm ; or would it be surrounded with difficulty ?
—I am afraid it would be very difficult to do here where there are so many people.

29075. Do I understand you to say that the ordinary rent paid for hill grazing was at a rate of 5s. per cow, 2s. 6d. per stirk, and 10d. per sheep per year; or did that only refer to one particular spot?
—That is the highest except at one place; but I find they add taxes and shepherds.

29076. But that is the basis of the calculation ?

29077. Is the estate labour considered in the estate regulations as a portion of the rent—of the value paid by the tenant to the proprietor—or is it an extra ?
—Every tenant has got it ; it is a condition. I don't know whether I may call it part of the rent, but it is part of their obligations.

29078. And under the obligation may the proprietor accept that labour for any purpose which he thinks a benefit to the estate; or is it supposed to be devoted entirely to the purposes of the crofters ?
—Entirely for the crofters' benefit —for the roads in their own townships.

29079. Roads and fences ?
—Roads particularly.

29080. There was one of the delegates—Macgregor—who did not agree with the other in regard to this point. I think he mentioned that he had noticed on one occasion that this labour was exacted for purposes which were not specially connected with the crofters ?
—He spoke about a fence ; but that was a march fence in their own township.

29081. Have the crofters ever applied to the proprietor for a commutation of that labour into money to be added to the rent ?.
—I am not aware. We don't find them very willing to do the work. Although it is called sixty hours' labour, in practice they don't work thirty hours, and a great many don't work at all. We never exact it from the old and feeble, and if a man is away from home we are never very severe.

29082. In your opinion, if it were commuted for a money payment they would be worse off than they are ?
—Much worse; I don't think they would like that at all.

29083. What class of cattle do the crofters keep ?
—Highland cattle.

29084. Are they a tolerably good class of cattle ?
—They are improving. they are fairly good stock.

29085. Have you noticed, since you have been here, that the soil under cultivation has deteriorated in quality during the past nineteen years ?
—I cannot notice anything of the sort, I don't see any difference.

29086. Do you think the crofters apply more sea-ware to the soil than is beneficial ?
—I think they do ; but if they would stir the land better it would help it ; they don't cultivate deep enough, nor drain it enough.

29087. Do many of the crofters improve the land in their immediate vicinity by drainage and by turning up fresh land ?
—There is very little of that done.

29088. I see they are allowed compensation for doing such work ?

29089. But you find they don't talk much of that ?
—No they don't; on the contrary, Sir Kenneth is always ready to trench land for any of them at 5 per cent.

29090. Have many people applied for that ?
—-Only one or two, and their applications were granted.

29091. Is there much land in the immediate neighbourhood of each croft which they might improve ?
—Not much; but some of the crofts might be improved.

29092. There would not be much use of trenching land in these localities unless it had been previously drained?
—No, it would be waste of money.

29093. It would require draining too ?

29094. The draining I suppose is an expensive process here ?
—It is.

29095. And there is no tile factory near here ?

29096. Is there any draining done at all ?
—There is a little draining done here and there—with stones.

29097. Do the crofters apply much farm-yard manure to their land ?
—I suppose they apply all they have got ; but they seem to have more belief in sea-ware.

29098. What bedding do they use so as to make the manure?
—I am afraid they don't use much bedding, they have their own straw and bracken.

29099. Do the cattle not consume their own straw?
—Yes, they do.

29100. They won't have much left?
—The cattle would not leave much.

29101. There would not be much left for bedding if the cattle ate all the straw ?
—Not much.

29102. Are there many ferns for bedding?
—In some places.

29103. Not in others?
—Not in others.

29104. I suppose if they could see their way to make more farm-yard manure it would probably be the best thing they could use for their crofts ?
— I believe so.

29105. Better than artificial manure or sea-ware?
—If they would mix the sea-ware with the bedding and scrapings it would make a good manure, in my opinion; but I don't know. I should think, however, it would be better than the bare sea-ware.

29106. Have the crofters much difficulty in keeping up a sufficient supply of peat for fuel ?
—It is very plentiful in most places. It would be difficult in some places. At Aultbea it is rather far away.

29107. Are they sufficiently well supplied with roads for carrying the peats ?
—They carry the peats on their backs as a rule ; they have no cart roads to their peats.

29108. Do the men or the women carry them?
—Both, I think.

29109. We have heard the complaint that there is an island which supplies a quantity of sea-ware beyond what the tenant requires to use himself, and that the tenant charges for the sea-ware so taken by the crofters; was that part of the bargain when the tenant took the farm?
—It was part of the bargain, I have no doubt, or he would never think of selling it. I know it was part of the bargain.

29110. You know it was included and taken into consideration in fixing the rent which the tenant paid for the farm ?

29111. Therefore a consideration would have to be given if this privilege were taken away from the tenant ?

29112. Has the tenant ever expressed any desire to get rid of this obligation, and to give to the crofters the free use of the sea-ware ?
—-No, I don't think so.

29113. Would he be inclined to do it if the proprietor were to come to some arrangement with him to reduce his rent by so much, and perhaps charge the crofters so much additional for the privilege ?
—I daresay he would be willing to do that if he got some money.

29114. How long has his lease to run ?
—About nine years I think.

29115. In making a new arrangement would you recommend the proprietor to come to some fresh arrangement, seeing that the present arrangement is ground of complaint to the crofters ?
—I am instructed to look out for that at every vacancy.

29116. And to take advantage of every expiry of lease in order to come to any arrangement which may be more satisfactory to the crofters ?
—Yes, and regulate the sea-ware to everybody.

29117. So as to do away with the grievances which exist at present?

29118. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—I think you stated that the population of the whole of Gairloch was about 3495 —on the estate ?

29119. And the proportion of those who may be said to belong to the crofter class is about 3000 ?
—I think so.

29120. And the crofting class hold about 43,000 acres?

29121. Fourteen large sheep farms have 77,000 acres'?
—I believe that is right.

29122. How many people may be living upon these fourteen large sheep farms ?
—I did not consider that.

29123. But taking the crofters off you have about 495 to come and go upon, how many of these are upon the sheep farms ?
—I would not like to say, without considering.

29124. Why did you draw up the exact population of the crofter class and not the exact proportion upon the other places ?
—I drew up the proportion for the crofters and the large sheep farmers by themselves.

29125. But the population you did not?
—I took out population according to the returns required by the Commissioners.

29126. Would there be upon these farms a couple of hundred people ?
—No, I don't think so.

29127. There are three forests with an acreage of 38,000 acres ?

29128. How many people will be upon these 38,000 acres?
—Only game keepers.

29129. Will there be fifty on the three forests?
—There won't be more.

29130. How long is it since these forests were made?

29131. Were the whole of them made then?
—With two small exceptions they were.

29132. Do you know, from asking people who were there before you came, what land they consisted of before they were turned into forests ?
—Were any crofters removed, or were the large farms done away with to make the forests ?
—The highest parts of the large farms, parts which were almost useless for sheep, were taken—the worst land on the estate.

29133. And the best for the deer?
—I believe the deer would like good land too.

29134. But can you tell me whether or not there were any people removed to other parts of the estate in 1842 ?
—I can. There were four people transferred from one small part of the Kenlochewe forest —two
crofters and two cottars —on all the estate.

29135. How many sheep farms were broken up ?
—There were no entire farms broken up. There are three deer forests, and part of three farms were taken.

29136. What are their names ?
—One was Kenlochewe or Talladale.

29137. I want to know the names of the farms?
—The heights of Kenlochewe was one farm, and part of Talladale and part of Tagan.

29138. You state that, so far as your observation went, the people seemed to be better off than they were before, and lived well or dressed well; and you stated that some of them did not leave home for six months. Is it a fact that they seem better off than when you came ?
—I think they are.

29139. You also said it was necessary to strike off £3000 of arrears; does not that look as if the people in arrear were ill off ?
—I don't know. Sir Kenneth is very good at striking off the arrears.

29140. Do you think he struck off arrears from those who were not entitled ?
—I believe he did.

29141. You don't consider that a symptom that people were pretty poor or unable to pay ?
—This went on for twenty-six years —these arraars.

29142. The £3000 is spread over twenty-six years?

29143. How much would that be in a year? £115 a year would it not ?
—It does not quite come to two rents.

29144. Do you think that the people who have come forward to-day have any good grounds for the complaints they have made ?
—They must know best themselves, but I am surprised that they never spoke to Sir Kenneth or myself about these matters.

29145. Did you hear some things to-day that you did not know before?
—The complaints were very trifling, I think ; they are very small matters.

29146. Do you think that all the people here came from curiosity?
—A good many of them, I think.

29147. Not because they had any serious grievances?
—I should not like to say that altogether. I cannot judge other people's minds.

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