Rev. DONALD DINGWALL, Free Church, Poolewe (48)—examined.
29237. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How long have you been clergyman here
— Six years.
29238. Are you a native?
—I am a native of Ross-shire—the other side of the county.
29239. You have had occasion, during the time you have been minister here, to come very much into contact with the people ?
—Yes, every day.
29240. How many people have you charge of ?
—The congregation as a whole will be close on 2000.
29241. There are two churches in the parish ?
—There are two charges in Gairloch, and two churches in connection with our charge —one at Aultbea and the other at Poolewe.
29242. You have been present to-day and heard what has been stated ?
29243. Have you taken any part in assisting any delegates from your neighbourhood in framing any petitions or statements ?
—No, I took no part in framing any of the statements.
29244. At the request of the delegates ?
—No, I refused to do that; but I met with the people, and said they should appoint their delegates, and I told them what points they would be specially examined on.
29245. Then you left matters entirely to themselves ?
29246. And so far as you are aware have the matters which have come before us to-day been spontaneous emanations from the people themselves ?
—I believe they are entirely.
29247. Do you wish to make any statement ?
—No doubt there were some questions brought up to-day which I knew would be brought up. One was with respect to rent. I never heard any complaint from any of Sir Kenneth's tenantry about rack rents until the questions about the matters before the Commissioners were observed by the people, and then I heard of only one individual who complained of his rent being too high.
29248. I suppose I may take it for granted that as a rule the crofts are small ?
—Too small, and the townships too much crowded. It is impossible for the people ever to rise out of their poverty in the present condition of the crofts.
29249. In point of fact, the rent is really earned elsewhere in the country, or from the sea ?
—Almost wholly. I only know two or three of the crofters who can sell to any extent, and the majority of them are not able to keep stock on the hill—few of them are able to do so.
29250. Do you think that, upon the whole, contrasting what they have been for the last eight years with their condition at the beginning of that period, is their condition better or worse?
—I would not say there has been much change in my day; but old people say that the population of the townships in all parts of the parish has been more than trebled, within their recollection. And the hill pasture which their forefathers had was taken from them without any reduction of rent being made; that is the universal cry. Then, as to why they are not bettering this land, Mr Mackenzie, the manager, brought forward the question of their title to good cultivation, namely, that there should be trenching, and that the cas-chrom or spade should be laid aside for the mattock and spade. But, then, the people have a universal feeling that that is not improving for themselves, and that they have no guarantee that they shall reap much benefit from it. Some with whom I have been speaking say that they won't do it ; that they can point to croft after croft which has been improved by men who had to pay an extra rent for it perhaps immediately after, but not on Sir Kenneth's estate. I never heard of rent being raised or any obstacle thrown in the way of improving by the present proprietor. The people all speak kindly of the present proprietor, and there is reason to do it. But there were farms where there were clusters of crofters together, and the small patches of land that each had were near to each other so that good farms could be made out of them. We have several farms down at Aultbea which were turned into large farms, and all the people turned off the land. The farm of Airds, Drumchork, was one of these. The people were turned out of their holdings, and on to the hillsides to dig and delve, and they did not know but when that was turned into good land they might be again turned away elsewhere.
39251. And that has a discouraging effect upon the people ?
29252. Is that a comparatively recent affair within the last thirty years ?
—It is since the estate left the hands of the Davidsons.
29253. Can you suggest any remedy for the present state of matters—the crofts being small and the people crowded ?
—Not so long as any new proprietor may come in and take the land away from the people and turn them off, and make their hill pasture into large sheep farms.
29254. What I ask is do you see any remedy ?
—Not unless more land can be given to the people, and they have a guarantee of compensation, or a hold of the land for themselves and their descendants.
39255. We find that the acreage of the Gairloch estate in this parish is 168,000 acres, and that the population is under 4000 ; do you think these could be re-distributed a little better than they are ?
—Pretty extensive tracts of country have been put under deer in our parish There are the farms of Fisherfield and Gruinard and Letterewe, but that is not the doing of the present proprietor, because it was in contemplation before he had possession. Then about Letterewe, the stock was sold off two years ago I think.
29256. Can you give us a rough estimate of the extent of Fisherfield ?
—I cannot give the extent.
29257. Or of Letterewe ?
—1 cannot give the extent.
29258. Are they separate forests or one combined forest?
—I think they are in one forest; that is my impression.
29259. Do you know whether any crofters have been removed there ?
—No, but I know that some of the land now under deer there was in the hands of the people thirty years ago for summer shielings, such as Benhaschen.
29260. What is Benhaschen just now?
29261. What is the name of the forest ?
—I don't know; it is called Gruinard estate.
29262. Then it comes to this, that in the parish of Gairloch forests are extending ?
29263. Do you know how the people look upon it ? Do they look at the deer forests with the same disfavour as they regard the sheep farms ?
—Very much like that. Because the large sheep farms are very much in the hands of absentee farmers, and they take out of the place all they can get and leave very little to benefit the people.
29264. Is there a considerable population upon the estates of Gruinard and Letterewe still ?
—Yes, a considerable population.
29265. Upon the whole you cannot say that the state of the crofters is satisfactory at this moment ?
—I think it is very unsatisfactory, when there is no way of their doing better or of improving their condition —that is of improving their condition at home. They go from home and get their earnings there.
29266. We were told in Sutherland that the only remedy was to send half of the people away. Do you approve of that remedy ?
—I would first fill the land at home which is under sheep and deer; and then let the question arise when those parts of the country are filled up.
29267. Suppose the crofts were enlarged to the extent the people themselves wish, whereby a family could be supported from the produce, would you be in favour of any strict rule against the subdivision of the croft?
—I think subdivision is increasing the poverty more and more. It is the ruin of the crofters.
29268. Do you think if such a thing were done the people who suffer so much from subdivision would be inclined to strictly adhere to this rule and keep the croft entire ?
—Family feelings influence them greatly, and a father having, perhaps, his son beside him would be very anxious to get leave to divide his croft and give a share of it to his son. I believe law would be required to control feelings of that kind.
29269. You think it would not do to trust to the feelings of the people ?
—It would not do at all.
29270. Mr Cameron.
—You mentioned that you told the people what points they would be examined upon. I suppose you mean you told them what points they would probably be examined upon ?
—I took my cue from the newspapers with regard to that; from the manner in which the delegates were examined in other districts.
29271. Did you recommend what they were to say?
—No, I did not tell them what to say; they asked me to put what they had to say on the paper, but I declined.
29272. You did not tell them what to say ?
—No, we have had conversations, and I have given my opinion, but I did not dictate to any person.
29273. You mentioned that the hill pasture was taken away forty years ago ?
—I don't know what year.
29274. There has been no hill pasture taken away within forty years ?
—There is one of the delegates who was here to-day who can speak to that.
29275. But the principal portion of the hill pasture to which you have been referring was taken away forty years ago ?
—The shielings were taken away.
29276. A large quantity ?
—Yes, but there was hill pasture taken away more recently.
29277. Do you think the crofter of the present day, as a matter of fact, suffers from the hill pasture having been taken away from his father more than forty years ago ?
—Of course, just as any son will suffer from the loss of any privilege which his father had, and which he might expect to inherit.
29278. Would jrou go no further back than forty years, or would you say hill pasture taken away eighty years ago was a detriment also?
—When it makes it impossible for a man now to live as comfortably as his father did when he had the hill pasture. When the portion left to him as his share dwindles down from one-twelfth to one-twentieth, he cannot live upon it and bring up a family.
29279. I agree with you. But while that could apply to a man who had his hill pasture taken away from him last year, would it apply to a man whose pasture was taken away 40 or 100 years ago ? Would you not fix some limit within which a man has by experience, or his father's experience, managed to get on without it ?
—No doubt some have managed to get on. On the hill here he may get on by adding the fishing to what he had at that time; but now the townships have been so crowded that there is no way of getting on.
29280. But the townships were more crowded long ago?
—No. When these shielings were taken from them, and when the crofters were put out of the other townships, that the latter might be turned into larger farms, the existing townships were overcrowded.
29281. But you don't feel inclined to draw any limit as to the remoteness of the period from which you may date the deterioration of the people —you think the people suffer from what was done 100 years ago?
—Not so far back. We have men here to-day who were themselves deprived of these hill pastures, and who have been dwindling down ever since.
29282. Within the life of a generation people have deteriorated, but you are not prepared to go beyond that?
—I have not thought of it.
29283. You don't think it is a better test to take the actual condition of the men, and the area of arable ground and stock he keeps, and the rent he pays. Don't you think that is a better test than to look at what happened so many years ago 1 Would you not rather take these, and see whether the hill pasture is proportionate to the arable ground and the rent proportionate to all of them, and take that as the basis upon which you would estimate whether a man is comfortable or not ?
—But I find the rents remain the same while the land is being taken from them.
29281. But if the rent represents a fair value for what the man is in the enjoyment of, would not that satisfy you ?
—Yes, if there were sufficient land that men could live on it. But when the land is such that a man cannot live upon it or bring up a family on it, he cannot attend fully to his land nor to any other business.
29285. Your idea is that the man should be a farmer entirely and have a croft large enough to support himself and his family without fishing or extra labour ?
—It would only be then that I could say the crofter population were comfortable.
29286. Then in order to bring about that happy state of things what would you suggest ?
—I hope I am not understood as referring to hill pasture or land being taken from Sir Kenneth's tenantry; I don't understand that, with respect to the population generally the townships must be broken up to a certain extent, and as crofts became vacant—the people may give them up —the other crofts should be made larger and the people in the town fewer, or the poverty will continue.
29287. You recommend that it should be done by a gradual process?
—It would be difficult to begin otherwise without dealing harshly with people.
29288. Would not that take a long time ?
—Not long in some townships.
29289. But if you take the crofts only as they fall vacant you will, of course, have to wait a good many years ?
—It changes very often. It would be a very difficult matter to remove some of those who are already in possession.
29290. Might you not take advantage of a large sheep farm occupied by a sheep fanner, or a deer forest, and then, when a suitable opportunity occurs, might you not place some of the crofters there?
—The difficulty would be for them to stock it.
29291. You see no way out of the difficulty except waiting for occasional vacancies amongst the crofters?
—I think so.
29292. The Chairman.
—Don't you think it might occasionally be possible, without transferring the people to new places and imposing upon them the necessity of new buildings and stocks, to increase the area of the existing holdings by adding land taken from the large farms adjacent to the existing holdings?
—In some townships that could not be done. And then the matter of cultivation of the land would be a difficult matter for the people. They could not, except for a short time in winter, trench or take in any new land.
29293. You don't think they could add by their own industry to the area of the existing holdings if the land were offered ?
—No, I don't think many of them could.