JOHN MACLEAN, Crofter and Shoemaker, Altandu, Coigach (41)—examined.
27899. Mr Cameron.
—Have you any statement to make?
Petition of the Crofters residing in Altandu, in the Parish of Lochbroom
—Unto the Royal (Crofters') Commissioners, humbly sheweth,
That there are at present eighteen crofters and four cottars residing within the bounds of Altandu paying a rent of about £ 50 : that in our grandfathers' days the township only paid £ 7 , and was tenanted by five crofters, with much more pasture-land than we at present possess, part of which pasture-land is now under sheep and deer. That our arable land at present averages about three acres for each croft: that it has been tilled yearly for a great number of years, except what has been lately improved by ourselves, and that this improved land has been rented : and that some short time ago our rents were raised considerably. That as we are compelled to till our land yearly we can scarcely make half a boll of meal for every pound of rent we pay. That should we build a house at our own expense, if we leave or are put away we receive no compensation whatever : that we generally receive some lime and sticks for a house and then the whole house is claimed for their value. That at present some of us are so deeply in debt that it would take nearly all our stock to pay up the debts of merchants who have advanced meal and other necessaries of life to us. That some of us are compelled to go below tide-mark and gather whelks, &c., to eke out a scanty livelihood. That our chief manure is sea-weed, which we have great difficulty in getting ashore, owing to the want of any suitable landing-place, so much so that often our lives and boats are in danger, and that we have to carry this manure in creels on our backs from the shore to our crofts. That for every horse we keep we must pay £ 1 in addition to our rent: that we merely report we need the horse we must pay from that time although we may not have it for some time after saying we require it. That it is chiefly by means of the caschrom that our patches of arable land are cultivated from anions the rocks and bogs. That what we wish is more arable and pasture land, sufficient to keep ourselves and our families, say from ten to twelve acres in each croft, and for which we are quite willing to pay a reasonable rent; compensation for improvements to our land ; abolition of the £ 1 charged for keeping each horse; small local harbours erected round the coast so that we may land fish, and the sea-weed required for manure; and that Government would advance boats and fishing material to those who have no land, and to the young men who are experienced fishermen.'
Statement from Coigach.
—The average size of our crofts is about three acres. The original size was much more than this but was reduced by subdivision. When Badentarbet and Achnahaird were turned into sheep farms, the hill pasture of Polbain, Altandu, and the township of Achnahaird was considerably diminished. We have to build our own houses, and only of late years do we get a little wood for roofing, but receive no compensation on removal nor for improvements we make on the lands. When any improvement is made on the lands our rents are immediately raised in proportion, and we therefore receive no benefit from them. We have also to pay for the seaware which we gather on the shores of Isle Ristol and Old Dornie. This island, as well as all the summer Isles, was once in the possession of the people, and taken from them about the same time as Badentarbet and Aucbinaird. We also feel that pauperism is greatly on the increase owing to the failure of the fishing, the unproductiveness of the soil, and the high rents—e.g., the rental of the district of Reef is about thirteen times what it was 100 years ago. If any crofter keeps a horse, he must pay £1 to the factor, even when the horse grazes on the crofter's own hill pasture. There is a patch of ground about twelve acres, in the very middle of the island of Tanera belonging to another proprietor. It is the best part of the soil, and should be given to the people. Being without a fence, the present tenant must be constantly driving away the people's sheep and cattle, so that they cannot get the good of the pasture for acres around this park. We should like, therefore, to have larger holdings, security against evictions, and raising the rents on improvements, assistance to build better houses, and to get better boats and nets, and that safe and proper landings be erected on our shores to enable us to prosecute the fishing.'
27900. I understand this is a particular statement from your parish!
27901. Who wrote the statement from Coigach ?
—Our minister, Mr Finlayson.
27902. Did he compose it as well as write it ?
27903. Who composed it ?
27904. Did they appoint a committee to draw it up ?
27905. And the committee met at the minister's house ?
—No, at the church.
27906. How many members were there on it ?
—I am not sure, a good many members.
27907. A dozen or twenty?
—Over a dozen I suppose.
27908. Were you one of the members of committee1?
27909. Did the committee suggest these statements to the minister, or did the minister first write the paper and suggest them to the committee ?
—The committee first suggested them to the minister, and he wrote out what they suggested.
27910. Were there any strangers present besides the minister?
—I am not aware of any.
27911. It is stated in this paper that when any improvement is made on the lands your rent is immediately raised in proportion, and thus you therefore receive no benefit from the improvement : when was the last increase on the rent made ?
—Three years ago.
27912. Do you remember when the previous increase was made ?
—No, but there are those here who remember it.
27913. About how many years ago was it?
—About forty years.
27914. So that it has stood for forty years without the rent being raised ?
—Not as far as I know, but there is another delegate here older than me.
27915. What is your own rent at the present moment?
27916. How much over ?
27917. Without taxes ?
27918. What was it three years ago?
—£3, 16s., only I was paying an extra pound, for keeping a horse.
27919. So that you were raised 12s. ?
27920. In fact, after holding the croft forty years it was raised 12s.
—As far as I know.
27921. Will you explain about this horse—it is stated here that when a crofter wishes to keep a horse he pays a pound whether he keeps the horse or not?
—After I myself had improved the land I could not work the improved land without a horse. I trenched more than half the whole lot; 740 yards of stone drains I made myself. I made 365 yards of open drains in order to drain away the surface water. After I made this improvement, I could not work the place without a horse. I went to the factor and asked permission to keep a horse, and he was quite willing to give me the permission, only I would have to pay an additional pound for it. I had not the means to buy the horse at that time until after two years were due, and I had to pay the pound for the horse upon these two rents—that is, I paid for two years before I got the horse. And although we should provide summer pasture for the horse in a different parish, or even in a different county, still we would have to pay this pound additional for the horse. I myself in one of these years grazed a horse in a different place and I paid the pound.
27922. Did you ever represent this grievance to the factor?
—Yes, I made a complaint to the factor about it. When I paid my first rent after I got permission to keep the horse I told the factor then that I had not actually a horse at all. It was to Mr M'lver, the local factor, that I told this.
27923. What did he say?
—I put down the total rent—that is, the old rent that was paid, and the additional rent that was added on three years ago, on the table, and he shoved it to the other side of the table and said he could not accept it unless I paid the pound for the horse as well.
27924. When you complained to the factor about putting on the pound for the horse, what did he say in answer to your complaint, or did he say anything?
—He said that it was not he who prevented me from keeping a horse, and I replied that I was not able to purchase a horse although I got permission to keep it, and he said that was none of his business.
27925. Is that all he said ?
—That is all, in addition to what I have stated already, that he would not accept the rent from me without the additional pound as well
27926. What is the amount of the stock which you keep on the croft ?
—A horse and three, four, or five head of cattle as the case may be,—sometimes the one and sometimes the other.
27927. Is the pound paid for the horse included in the rent you gave me just now ?
—There is £ 1 , 8s. for the rent and a pouud for a horse whether I have it or not.
27928. Then what is your stock not including the horse ?
—Three, four, or five head of cattle as may be, and a dozen sheep, more or less. I want to make a statement about the cattle. Although I and my neighbours keep a certain number of cattle, and although the factor allows us to keep them, the crofts will not support them.
27929. What do you do with the cattle in winter. Do you buy extra food for them?
—We buy food for them iu winter and spriug, if we can get it.
27930. Used you formerly to keep that number of cattle, or did you keep fewer ?
—I never kept a larger stock than that, but my forefathers kept a larger stock when they had more pasture ground —ground which is now occupied by sheep and deer.
27931. Is it want of wintering that prevents you from keeping that number of cattle, or want of grazing ?
27932. Is there any hill grazing or arable ground adjacent to your croft, and which could be added to your croft with advantage ?
—Plenty of it.
27933. Lying on the bounds of your croft—contiguous to it?
—Yes, land under sheep adjacent to our pasture land.
27934. If portions of that were added to your croft would it give you arable ground as well as hill pasture, or only hill pasture ?
—-Certainly it would give us more arable ground and hill pasture as well.
27935. Has that land adjacent to your croft ever been under the plough?
—Yes, it has been under the cas-chrom.
27936. Is it of the same quality as that which is described as being so inferior that it can only be worked by the caschrom ?
—Part of it is six times more value; because I have it from my father.
27937. But judging from your own eyes do you consider that the land would plough ?
—Yes, I have heard my father say that out of this land which I have spoken of he would take a creel of potatoes for every creel of seaware used in manuring it, and now I can only dig a creel of potatoes
for every six creels of sea-ware out of the croft I have.
27938. In this paper it is stated that the crofters wish security against evictions; are we to understand by that, that there have been in recent times arbitrary evictions ?
—I cannot say in quite recent times that there have been arbitrary evictions. Another delegate will tell exactly when the evictions took place; there were some.
27939. Within your own experience have there been arbitrary evictions ?
—None in my neighbourhood within my recollection.
27940. Will you explain about the patch of ground in the small island of Tanera ?
—Mr Bankes of Gruinard and Letterewe got a piece of ground called the Parks, which once belonged to the late Mr Macdonald of Tanera, and is now occupied by people from the other side of Loch Broom —from the Poolewe neighbourhood and district. They had no right to go beyond the dyke fences upon this cultivated portion to the pasture surrounding the place, but they are there for the last sixteen years, and, so far as I can hear from others, for a considerable number of years back. The fences are not well kept up so as to keep cattle in or out. Now these tenants of the late Mr Bankes chased their neighbour's stock with dogs. The cattle stray in and out, and those that are within, chase their neighbour's stock with dogs. People tell me they have complained to. The factors upon this property, and that they have got no benefit from that.
27941. You state here that you wish that the people could get better boats and nets, and that a safe and proper landing place should be put up upon the shores to enable them to prosecute the fishing ; and in the first paper you say you wish the Government to supply these nets ?
—I would prefer that you would confine my examination to the first paper.
27942. Do the people fish much ?
27943. Are they fond of fishing ?
27944. They take naturally to it?
—Some of them; there are some without any land at all, and these go to the fishing.
27945. Are there many cottars ?
27946. How many ?
—Four in Altandu.
27947. Are they fishermen?
—Some of them.
27948. Are the people too poor to buy nets and boats for themselves?
—Much too poor. Could you expect anything else from those who make their livelihood from the whelks gathered on the sea shore?
27949. I suppose I may take it for granted that what the people about you really want are larger holdings, both arable and pasture, and assistance to enable them to prosecute the fishing ?
—Yes, but they have no landing
place, even supposing they had boats and nets.
27950. They also want piers ?
—Yes; boats and nets and a pier for fishing. I have an additional matter to bring up if you give me the
27951. The Chairman.
—The tenants of Achnahaird march with us on one side. Some of their pasture land is upon our march and some of their arable land is upon our march. These people had about a third part of their arable and pasture land taken from them and added to a neighbouring farm. Now this has thrown their burden upon us who march with them and is an extremely hard matter for us. It confines us very much. The one tenant cannot very well quarrel with the neighbouring tenant on the matter when the factor will not settle matters between us. In my father's time there were three tenants from our township transplanted into a part of our own hill pasture and settled there. They pay £ 10 of rent, and these three get a considerable portion of pasture land which property belongs to Altandu.
27952. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You said that the person who put the pound on you was not the present factor?
—I didn't say that.
27953. Is that custom about the pound going on to this day?
27954. Had the people in your township horses of old?
—Yes, they had as many as they pleased, and they used to winter and summer in a place called Strath Polly, now under sheep and deer.
27955. Was it at the time that hill pasture was taken from them that the privilege of keeping horses was taken away ?
—I believe it was, but I cannot be very well certain; an older delegate might speak better to that.
27956. Can you give any explanation why you are prohibited from keeping horses ?
27957. Have you turned it over in your mind, over and over again to think what the reason could be ?
—Yes, I have turned it over often enough in my head, but I could not make it out. Is it not quite manifest to any one when he has a pound to pay whether he has a horse or not, that all the estate managers want is money ?
27958. Who is the tenant of Badentarbet just now?
—A Mr Cameron.
27959. Were there any crofters removed from that farm originally ?
—Plenty of them.
27960. You stated that the farm of Baden Tarbet which was taken away was, according to the story of your father, six times as good ?
—There wer three places —Old Dornie and Risdale and Baden Tarbet which were occupied by tenants long ago, and which were then worth six times the value of the places, I now work, according to my father's story.
27961. Was it your opinion from what you heard from your father, that it was because they were so good that they were taken away and put into a sheep farm ?
—I could not say that.
27962. Why did they take that particular part?
—It is very likely that may be the reason, although I cannot say.
27963. And is it likely they left the bad parts because they were not worth taking ?
—Yes, they were hardly worth taking.
27964. With regard to your improvements, you have told us you drained so much, both open and closed drains, and improved your croft altogether; what assistance did you get from the proprietor?
—Nothing. I got nothing, but it was the factor's people that measured the place four years ago, and I complained to him then that I had made a great deal of improvement upon the place, but he said nothing, I am in that respect in much the same condition as my neighbours who sent me here.
27965. Is it an encouragement to you and others to make improvements in these circumstances ?
—How can it be an encouragement to make an improvement, when not only you get no compensation for making them, but the rent is increased ?
27966. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Has any sub-division of crofts taken place in your life-time!
—Not in my time, but there are two families living within the bounds of one croft as they were originally allotted.
27967. How did these other families get there?
—When a father died sometimes he left two sons and they would remain upon the land.
27968. You mentioned that pauperism is on the increase, to what do you attribute that specially?
—The reason is, the smallness of the lots occupied by the people. The population is increasing and the amount of land occupied by them is getting less, getting worse, and getting dearer.
27969. Is it to the dearness of the land or to the smallness of the lots that you attribute this tendency to pauperism?
—Both combined, but especially to the smallness of the lots.
27970. When you asked the factor for leave to get a horse, and obtained leave, did the factor give you any additional ground, or any other advantage ?
—Not a foot although I paid him a pound for the keeping of this horse. His idea is that I must have a horse myself.
27971. When you obtained permission to keep a horse did the factor explain to you that from that moment you would have to pay the pouud whether you bought the horse or not ?
—I put that very question to the factor, I asked him whether I would have to pay this additional pound
whether I had a horse or not, and he said he was not certain, but they objected to change the stock in the rent roll —having it down whether a man was entitled to keep a horse or not —and when I appeared to pay my rent I had to pay the pound.
27972. Why did you ask leave to keep a horse so long before you had the money to buy it ?
—I can tell that. There were some in the township that kept a horse. Those of them that were facile and pliable paid the pound, and those that were rather obstinate in a way paid nothing for it. Now about that time I was told by the ground officer of the place that he had a schedule, down in which the name of every person had to be entered who wished to get a horse, and he stated —we don't know whether he had authority for it or not —that whoever would not put down his name as wishing to keep a horse, upon that occasion would not get another chance.
27973. Is the rule about the horse an old rule upon the estate, or has it been introduced recently ?
—I never heard my father say that his father paid a penny for a horse, and he would have very often three or four of them out on the hills.
27974. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Was your father in good circumstances?
—In far better circumstances than I am.
27975. Had he more horses and cows?
—Yes, he had more cattle and sheep, but I never saw him with more than one horse unless, indeed, it might happen to be a mare and foal.
27976. Was anything additional paid for horses in those days?
—I never heard of it.
27977. How long ago was it?
—My father kept a horse all his lifetime, and he only died three years ago.
27978. Do you remember your grandfather's time?
27979. He was before your father?
27980. In the same place ?
—Yes, in the same land.
27981. What was his condition—was he in good circumstances?
—Yes, twice over better than my father was.
27982. He had more land ?
—He had more pasture land.
27983. There were fewer tenants then'
27984. How long ago was that ?
—Sixty to eighty years ago.
27985. The paper states that there were only five tenants in Altander in your grandfather's time, who paid only £ 7 for the whole township. Is that so ?
27986. And are there now eighteen crofters and four cottars in that township ?
279S7. And they pay £ 50 ?
—Yes, Formerly the land could just keep the tenants, and they didn't require to go to the shore to seek for shell-fish, and go cast and west to the danger of their lives, for work.
27988. Was there ever any money laid out by the proprietor for improvements in that place ?
—Not that I know of, except for roads.
27989. Are the roads good ?
27990. When were they made ?
—A couple of years ago, down our length.
27991. Do you all pay road money?
—I cannot tell.
27992. Don't you know whether you pay it yourself?
—There is poor rate and school rate mentioned in the receipt, but not road money.