MALCOLM M'LENNAN, Crofter, Melon Charles (64), assisted by KENNETH M'LEAN, Crofter, Melon Charles (60) —examined.
29404. The Chairman.
—Have you a statement which you wish to read?
—We have :
—The chief cause of our straitened circumstances is that we have too little land. Owing to this we cannot work the land so as to do it justice. We have all the land we have continually under crop. The land cannot keep a stock of cattle sufficient to supply it with manure. We cannot have any part of it under grass. The soil is thin in many places, and rocky, and some of the lots are under two acres. Before the last division, twenty-five crofters held what is now occupied by fifty families ; there are besides nine cottars who have no land. The twenty-five crofters had the whole land for £110 ; we do not know the exact rent paid now, but we know it is much increased. Between £50 and £60 are now paid for the hill pasture, which the twenty-five crofters had free. The best part of the hill pasture is now given out as lots, and no reduction made in the rents. We had Government money for reclaiming the land. We got the value of the work we did in meal, the interest of this money is still a burden on us, though we were told at the time it would be paid up in twenty years. It is right to add that all these changes were made before the present proprietor came to the estate—the greater part when Sir Kenneth was a minor —by the trustees and factors. There have been no changes in Sir Kenneth's time. We most willingly give him credit as being a kind, considerate, and benevolent landlord.
—MALCOLM M'LENNAN, delegate, from North Melon.'
29405. Mr Cameron.
—You say that the rents have not been increased of late years, when was the last increase ?
—Forty years ago; it was before Sir Kenneth's time.
29406. When was the division of the lands ?
—At the same time.
29407. The rents were increased when the division took place ?
29408. Have you any idea as to what the crofters would like to get ?
—The young people wish for more land, and the old people wish for cheap land, as cheap as it was when their fathers possessed it.
29409. You mean that the young people would like to get more land and to pay a fair rent for it ?
—Yes, they would expect that; but they don't see the land suitable for them within reach.
29410. What happens in your district when a vacancy occurs from death and a man has no son?
—The regulation is that if the next door crofter should be a suitable man, and could take up the croft, it would be added to his. But it almost always happens that it is given to another man. The wish of Sir Kenneth would be to increase the crofts.
29411. Does the other man come in from another place?
—It is a new man perhaps from the same township.
29412. Is the new man a cottar or where does he come from?
—Anyone will get it who is on Sir Kenneth's own estate. He will choose the one who is most suitable for it.
29413. And what becomes of the croft when the man leaves?
—Another gets it.
29414. Another crofter is brought on to Sir Kenneth's property from another estate ?
—Not now; it was so once.
29415. So that as the joining together of the crofts goes on, each crofter will have more land ?
—No, I cannot see how that would be possible unless something would come in the way to diminish the people.
29416. Are there many cottars in your place?
—There are a few, but there were more formerly than there are now.
29417. How do they earn their living?
—Fishing of all kinds, and anything else that may turn up.
2941S. Do you consider your rent fair?
—We do not know very much about it, but a good while ago there was money advanced to trench the land, and at that time we were promised —it was during Sir Kenneth's minority —that the interest charged would cease in twenty years ; but the interest is continued.
29419. I suppose the value of the improved land is the same as it was ten years ago ?
—So far as I can judge of that —I am not a very good farmer—the land is not so good as it was some ten years ago. It has been successively cropped since I was a boy at least. The amount of the arable land is so small that we cannot give any portion of it rest. There are a few who are beginning, now and again, to leave portions of it out to rest, in the belief that the remaining portion will yield better crops than the whole would have done by continuous cropping.
29420. The Chairman.
—We were told by the previous witness that Mr Donald Mackenzie, manager on the Gairloch estate, was in the habit of trading in cattle. Can you tell us anything about that. Did you ever hear of it ?
—I have heard of it before.
29421. Has Mr Donald Mackenzie got a croft or small farm in his own occupancy ?
—I believe he has some land about his house, but not a large extent of it.
29422. When Mr Donald Mackenzie purchases cattle, does he purchase them in the open market from everybody, or does he go round and ask the crofters to sell him their cattle?
—I can tell very little about it; but I remember his buying two cows in my own place, and I know the people who sold them were not in arrears or in debt, and that they rather pressed him to buy them than otherwise. I cannot tell anything more about it.
29423. Is there any dissatisfaction felt in connection with his practice in this respect ?
—He didn't buy much in the district where I am, and I never heard a word of complaint about it.
29424. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Would it be safe or prudent for them to complain ?
—If he oppressed them in any way it would be quite prudent of them to complain of it.