Poolewe, 31 July 1883 - John Mackenzie

JOHN MACKENZIE, Crofter, Laid (74)—examined.

29294. Sheriff Nicolson.
—You have a written statement?
—Yes. 'To the Royal Crofter's Commission, Laid, 31st July 1883.
My Lord and Gentlemen
—I beg most respectfully to submit to your consideration that the people of Laid, whom I represent, are in poor circumstances — deeply in debt to the proprietor and the local merchants. They are all, with very few exceptions, crofters and fishermen, and their lots are small, and for some time back unproductive —now in a good season, the crops shall scarcely support the people for six months. They humbly ask increase of land, both arable and pasture, fixity of tenure, compensation for improvements on land, offices, and dwelling houses, and the construction of a harbour at Laid, which is a most suitable place for a fishing station—there is not another more so on the west coast. A great fishing industry might be created here—shoals of fish pass and repass our coast, but we cannot get to them for want of shelter and proper accommodation to boats on our shore. Our fishermen, wherever they fish, go as far to sea as others, and those who go from this locality to Wick and the east coast for hire are in the greatest demand, and get the highest wages in these great centres of fishing industry. These facts are notorious, and prove that they have energy, skill, and aptitude for marine pursuits inferior to none; but as soon as they return home they are under the necessity of hauling their boats ashore for the want of proper quays. And the few who venture to fish here, in the winter season, lose too often their boats and fishing materials. The bay of Gruinard is magnificent, both broad and deep and protected by a breakwater of beautiful islands, but the landing port at Laid is dangerous in stormy weather, and always destructive to boats, but could be made an excellent harbour. Very recently a boat from Ullapool, while entering our port, having on board two clergymen and twelve other passengers, in day light and comparatively calm weather, struck on a rock and instantly sank in the deep water, the two ministers were good swimmers, and by their prompt and active assistance, with the willing help of others who happened to be near —all the lives were saved, but some never recovered from the shock. The proprietor, Mr Bankes, and Mrs Bankes are benevolent and truly kind to all on their estates, and live among us, which we consider a great blessing—but they cannot make us all comfortable farmers —therefore our attention is principally directed to the abundant and inexhaustible treasures of the sea for a livehhood. We hope with great confidence that this auspicious event —the visit of the Royal Commission —is the harbinger of the boon we ask, viz., the construction of a safe and commodious harbour at Laid by state aid, local effort is out of the question for such an undertaking. Emigration here is unpopular —the people are attached to their native place, and shall not leave it if they can.
—JOHN MACKENZIE, delegate from Laid.

29295. Did you write this paper?

29296. Who wrote it ?
—The schoolmaster of the place.

29297. Were all the people met when you were elected their delegate to come here ?

29298. I suppose all the young men are away at the fishing ?
—Yes, the greater number are away.

29299. Where are most of them just uow ?
—Some are at Wick, some at Fraserburgh, and some at Peterhead.

29300. I suppose none of the old men go to the east coast fishing ?
—Yes, the old go too.

29301. Do you think a good harbour might be made at Laid?
—There is no better site than in the bay of Laid.

29302. What side of the bay is it on ?
—This side of the bay.

29303. What wind is it most exposed to?
—It opens to the north and north-east

29304. Is it sheltered from the west and south-west?

29305. Have you any large boats there, or are they the small boats of the west coast?
—Yes, we have large boats; but they are away at the fishing just now. There are three or four large boats belonging to the place.

29306 Do these belong to the men themselves ?

29307. What did they cost them?
—£120 or thereabout.

29308. Are they of the same kind as the Wick boats?
—Much the same as the Wick and Peterhead boats.

29309. How many men are in each ?

29310. Are they all partners in a boat?
—There are five that have shares in the boat, and they hire the sixth man.

29311. What do they do with the boats when they come back from the fishing ?
—If there is any winter fishing in the lochs they go to fish there. They have the boats up high and dry in the winter.

29312. Could a pier be made at a moderate expense about the bay of Laid?
—All quays cost money; but there would be an admirable basin within it if a quay were built where I have mentioned.

29313. Would a rough stone quay, made with lime or mortar, be of any use ?
—Yes, there are very good stones ; it might do very well.

29314. Have you anything of the kind at all ?
—No. If there were such a quay the loss of life would not be so great. We remember a boat full of herring being brought in, and she could not make a landing here, and they attempted to round the point and were never heard of more.

29315. Was any attempt to build a quay ever made at this place?

29316. Did they never ask the proprietor to assist them in getting up a quay to protect themselves ?
—Well, he put a bit of a quay up in the place where the steamer calls —a small place where a vessel can scarcely come in at all times of the tide.

29317. I suppose the kind of quay mentioned in this paper would be a pier with a breakwater, behind which the boats could lie in any wind; is that the idea ?
—Yes, a quay that would afford safety for the big boats.

29318. How many boats are there?
—There are about ten boats belonging to the district, but they cannot approach the shore when the wind blows from the north.

29319. How many families are there in Laid?

29320. Would that harbour be of use to any townships round about as well as to your own ?
—Yes, it would suit the district about as well.

29321. The Chairman.
—What kind of boats did they use when you were a young man ?
—Boats of thirty or forty feet keel.

29322. And how large are those they use now?
—Twenty-five or thirty feet when I was young, and now they are thirty-five to forty. They were open when I was young, now they are decked.

29323. Do you approve of the decking?
—I consider the decked boat the best; the most powerful.

29324. What other kind of boats do the fishers here use besides those. Do you fish for lobsters ?
—Fourteen to eighteen feet keel boats.

29325. What fishing are they for?
—Lobster and long line fishing; and all sorts of fish about the shore,

29326. Do you use the smaller boats still?
—No, none smaller than fourteen feet.

29327. You have just the two classes of boats ?

29328. What wood are the large boats made of?
—Larch fir; we get them from Wick and Peterhead.

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