KENNETH MACKENZIE, Crofter, South Eradale (44)—examined.
28851. Mr Cameron.
—What are your grievances?
—We are paying rent for the hill pasture and for the lots, and that is difficult for us to do. We think we should have the hill pasture along with the lots; when the lots were taken first the hill pasture went along with them. The town in which I am, and the adjacent one, were in the hands of eighteen tenants before they were lotted out. They paid £8 each; and they had a horse, nine milk cows, and twenty sheep each. Now, the whole of this is divided into forty lots and about thirty families. What we wish is that the hill pasture should go along with the croft as before, or else to get more land in order that we may have more room. The hill pasture is very bad; it would have been better if the one half of it had been a sheet of water instead of being dry ground. If it were so it would not destroy our stock as it does. It is a very unhealthy place for stock, and it is also full of peat haggs, where they are drowned. Stock can only graze upon it four months in the year; it is very unhealthy. I defy anyone present to say he ever saw hill pasture so bad. I have travelled over many a one but I never saw one so bad.
28852. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Do you wish to be removed out of it?
—Where shall I go ?
28853. Wouldn't you like to go to a better place ?
—If I could only get it.
28854. Is there any place near you that you would like ?
—There is a forest which marches with our hill pasture
28855. Is that a deer forest ?
28856. How long has it been a deer forest ?
—At least for the last twenty years back, perhaps more.
28857. Is that good desirable ground ?
—It is very good sheep ground.
28858. Better than yours ?
—-There is no comparison between the two.
28859. When was your place divided into lots?
—About thirty-six years ago.
28860. Who was the factor at that time ?
—I cannot tell whether it was a Mr Anderson or Mr Macrae. The estate was under trustees, and perhaps the management was not so very good.
28861. What stock do you keep?
—Two cows, and five sheep, and two or three young cattle, but the land cannot support them. I have no horse.
28862. What rent do you pay ?
—£4 to £ 5 for arable ground and hill pasture combined.
28863. When was the separation of the arable ground from the hill pasture made in the rent ?
—Just the year when the place was allotted.
28864. Is there anybody who has a croft without hill pasture?
—Everybody that has a croft has the right to put a beast upon this pasture, and we pay so much for every head we put on. I think there will be about fifty families that have a share upon the hill.
28865. What is the rate which you have to pay per annum ?
—The rub is this:—there are 6s. for every cow, 3s. for a stirk, and Is. 3d. for a sheep—a calf or a lamb goes free.
28866. Do you consider that too high ?
—Yes, when it is upon the lots that we pasture them, except for a short time when they are out upon the hill.
28867. Do you consider the rent of the lots too high ?
—Yes, I think it is ; some of them are twice as high as they should be.
28868. Have they been raised since they were first fixed?
—I don't think so. Sir Kenueth has not raised the rents except when there has been a change of tenancy; one or two of them may have got a slight increase of rent. But there was interest to be paid upon money expended upon them, and that increased the rent.
28869. In what shape was the money expended ?
—Trenching and draining.
28870. Who did the work ?
—Some of it was done by the people to whom the lots belonged ; the other was done by outsiders.
28871. And did the people to whom the lots belonged get payment for it ?
28872. From the proprietor ?
—Yes. They paid the rent for it which is still exacted.
28873. How many of them are still in that condition?
—A good number; I cannot exactly tell.
28874. What did it come to generally?
—It varies very much. Some of them pay about 30s., or about Is. for every £ 1 expended; but I don't pay any myself, and cannot give the exact figures.
28875. When were these improvements made ?
—Thirty-six years ago, and they continued for five or six years. We were promised at the time that this charge should cease at the end of twenty years.
28876. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What is the size of the deer forest ?
—On the portion of it which belongs to this estate of Sir Kenneth Mackenzie it is about four miles long by three broad.
28877. Has the shooting tenant any land which he works?
—Yes, he has a farm in Shieldaig.
28878. You are a native of Gairloch, and well acquainted with the whole district ?
28879. Before the land was made into a forest how was it occupied—was it occupied partly by crofters and partly by large sheep farmers ?
—The crofters had at one time—but beyond my time—a portion of the forest; afterwards that portion of ground was made into a sheep farm, and then it was made into a forest.
28880. Divide your rent into the portion you pay for arable, and that you pay for pasture?
—Wè pay £2, 9s. including taxes, for the croft, and last year I paid close upon £ 2 for the hill.
28881. Is there any restriction upon the number of beasts that may be sent to the hill if you pay these sums of 6s., 3s., and Is. 3d.?
—There is no restriction so far as that is concerned ; I may send as many as I please. I would only have three of them next year if I left them there.
28882. Supposing the crofters took it into their heads to send a very large number of stock to the hill, would'nt the effect of that be to make the value of the pasture much less to the crofters themselves, while, at the same time, it would be much more valuable to the proprietor because of the increased rent he would get for it ?
—They cannot keep much stock upon it ; the ground is very unhealthy. Every man tries to keep upon it as much stock as he can, but instead of the stock increasing it decreases. The greater the stock upon the hill the greater the rent to the proprietor; but I am not prepared to say that the greater the amount of stock the worse for the crofters, because we have them there only for four years altogether. There is a fixed rent for the pasture over the hill of about £49, but the average rent it yields every year is about £60 ; every person, meanwhile, being entitled to put as many beasts as he pleases on it ; and I don't think the people ever restrict the number of beasts which they are to put on; as a matter of fact people put as much on as it will hold, but it is a bad place.
28883. As there is no restriction upon the number of animals on the hill, is it not clearly an advantage to the proprietor the more beasts there are sent to the hill ?
—It appears that the proprietor does not get more than the stated rent, for when the number of the animals increases the rate per animal decreases; for it is only a stated rent that goes to the proprietor at the beginning. For instance, the ordinary average rate is 6s. per cow, but, in the event of their being a large number on the hill, it might be down to 5s. 6d.