Ullapool, 30 July 1883 - Murdo Stewart

MURDO STEWART, Crofter, Achiltubuie (60)—examined.

28072. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Have you any statement?
The grievances of the crofters of Achiltubuie and Badinscallie are much the same as those complained of everywhere else —inferior quality of lands, excessive rents, no compensation given for tenants' improvements, and want of fixity of tenure. About fifty years ago, when the lands were laid out in lots there were seventy-two families on as many lots; now on the same lots there are 104 families. A number of the crofters of the township of Badinscallie have no roads to their houses, and their children run very great risks in going to and coming from school from want of a road. It is not merely that roads are wanting in some very critical places ; but from some curious ideas which have pervaded in the minds of those who manage the affairs of the estate. Roads have been made, as for example that from Druimraonaidh to the east of Badinscallie, a distance of about twenty-two miles. Now between Druimraonaidh and Achiltubuie there is only one solitary house for a shepherd. By the abovementioned road there are thirty-one miles between the east end of Badinscallie and Ullapool, the chief town of the district of Coigach. And yet while that road has been made for the accommodation of sheep-farmers and deer stalkers, one of the wildest paths, that by which the Coigach people go to Ullapool, has never had a road made in it. This year a road was made to the east end of Badinscallie, but i t now terminates near the brink of a dangerous river over which the children pass to school, and the seven miles from that abrupt termination, along the face of the Big Rock, remain a succession of dangers to those who venture to pass. In speaking of the roads, we think it is necessary to state that
these two townships are in an exceedingly awkward position in relation to the national centres, and even to t h e local ones. They are situated along the south-west margin of the rough and mountainous stretch of country which forms the northern side of the entrance from the Atlantic to the two Loch Brooms, and have for their commercial capital the town of Ullapool. The east end of Badinscallie is cut off from Ullapool by the Big Rock, to a degree which cannot well be understood without seeing the said Rock. We respectfully take the liberty of suggesting that in passing out of Lochbroom the Royal Commissioners would keep a northwest course for some miles, and have a full view of the giddy line of scrambling which has to be followed by the carrier of Her Majesty's mails, along the face of rocks high and steep and slippery enough to try t he equilibrium of a goat as well as of a man. About thirty-two years ago the township of Badinscallie was let to a man named Alexander M'Kenzie who was postmaster and shopkeeper in Ullapool. He laid on impost under which each tenant was obliged to supply him with thirty creels of peats, per annum, delivered to him and deposited in his cellar, or pay a penalty of 7s. 6d. which penalty is still exacted by the factor of the Duchess of Sutherland. As another example of the details in the factorial system of management, mention may be made of the fact that two lots in Badinscallie, happening at one time to have a cornmill each for the accommodation of the district, had £ 1 each laid on the rent. All the profit from the mills have been entirely taken away about nine years ago, by the building of another mill. The crofters still continue to pay the £ 2 , although the mills are now in ruins. While we are taught that so many of us should devote themselves entirely to fishing, no fishing stations or landing places have been constructed. It is seldom now that a family can do without buying from five to seven bolls of meal in the year, and the more general rule is that they buy from twelve to fifteen bolls. The calculation with many is that in good years they will raise of food what, in meal and potatoes will keep them for three or four months in the year. So that in reality the rent and the greater part of the support of the people come out of the sea, and other industrial sources. Not to enlarge any longer in this direction, we respectfully submit the following suggestions for the bettering of our condition. That a substantial reduction, be made on existing rents ; that compensation be given for tenants' improvements j that fixity of tenure be granted; that the attention of the Government be called to the unsatisfactory mail service; and the providing of piers on our shores so as to admit of the young and strong among us devoting some of their energies to enriching themselves by drawing upon the wealth of the sea.

A glaring instance of refusal to give any compensation for improvements.
—Alexander" Grant, crofter in the east end of Badinscallie, spent about £40, besides labour performed by himself. His rent was only raised, and Mr Gunn, factor, refused to give any compensation.for work done on the farm. Owing to the excessive rent, he gave up the farm this year. The said Alexander Grant will be present, and can be examined himself.

28073. I suppose this paper was written before you were aware that the Commissioners passed by the Big Rock on Saturday?

28074. Would it be possible at any moderate expense to make a road through the Big Rock ?

28075. A road for a horse and cart?

28076. Would it not be a very costly road ?
—Yes, it would cost a good deal of money; roads over rough places always cost money.

28077. Would you expect the proprietor to be at such an outlay as to make a road through that place ?
—Yes, I think so, when it is upon his own land.

28078. Would the rent of Coigach pay for it ?
—I am unable to answer that.

28079. How long is it since your rents were raised last ?
—Three years ago.

28080. How long was it before that, that your rents were raised ?
—Over thirty years at least.

28081. Your rent is now entered in the valuation roll at £4, 5s., is that correct ?

28082. What was it before the rise took place ?
—£3, 3s,

28083. Did that include the keep of the horse ?
—No, there was no horse either then or now. Two or three people in the place asked for horses, but most of them did not.

28084. Does the rise of 22s. entitle you to keep a horse?
—If we kept a horse we would not have a cow or any animal but itself ; we will not have enough to maintain it.

28085. Are you entitled to pasture a horse for the £4, 5s. ?

28086. Would you have to pay another £1?

28087. Do the young people fish much at present?
—The greater number of them fish; I have fished myself since I was eight years of age.

28088. Is it at the curing station of Tanera that you deliver your fish ?
—Yes, at this very time.

28089. Is there not good harbour accommodation there ?
—Very good ; that is the anchorage.

28090. Is it not a good landing place ?
—There is no quay.

28091. Where would you think best to have a harbour and quay?
—I would not like to say anything that would be objectionable to other people, I would only speak for myself.

28092. Is Tanera not a very convenient place for the village of Achiltubuie?
—Yes, if one fished without having anything to do with land at the same time ; but then we live and have our dwelling and crofts ashore on the other side.

28093. Would it be any advantage to you to have a pier and harbour if you could not get a curer ?
—I believe it would be of great service. We would get a curer to come there for the herring and also for white fish.

28094. Would Achiltubuie be more suitable for the country in general ?
—Yes ; it is on the mainland while Tanera is only an island.

28095. Is there a suitable place for making a harbour on the mainland ?
Yes there is such a place, but it would cost labour and expense.

28096. Would it be reasonable—moderate labour and expense ?
—I cannot very well give any idea whether tbe expense would be reasonable ; I know that the convenience of it would be very great.

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