Balmacara, 2 August 1883 - Duncan Sinclair

DUNCAN SINCLAIR, Schoolmaster and Registrar for the Parish of Lochalsh, Auchtertyre (44)—examined.

30050. The Chairman.
—How long have you held your present offices ?
—Eighteen years.

30051. Do you appear here as a delegate ?

30052. From what township ?
—From the townships of Avernish, Kinnamoine (that is, the end of the peat moss), and Alt-na-stu.

30053. How many years have you been in Lochalsh ?

30054. Of what county are you a native?

30055. Have you any written statement?
—Yes, for the various townships.

30056. Will you have the goodness to read it?
—I will:
—'Statement of the Tenants of Avernish. We, the tenants of the above township, wish to express our gratitude to the Royal Commissioners for giving us this opportunity of stating our grievances in regard to the land question. There are nine of us, including the mill croft, which croft pays a rent of £20, the mill included. Three of us pay £ 3 , 6s. each and five £2, 7s. 7d., making in all a total of £41, 15s. 11d . The grazings which are in the possession of a sheep farmer, pay a rent of £60, and carry a stock of 200 sheep. The first three crofters have between them about twenty acres in all, including rocks, bogs, and similar fertile soil. They each keep two cows, and sow about one quarter oats, which on an average yields about double that quantity; and they have to sow very thick, owing to the poverty of the soil. Each plants about five barrels of potatoes, and the return averages twenty-four barrels. The mill croft extends to about four and a half acres (arable), with " outrun " for two cows and followers. The remaining five crofters have fifteen acres between them of the same character and fifteen acres pasture, or keep for five cows. The sowing and planting is of the same description as the former. This was at one time an important township, and used to contain a large, prosperous, happy, and contented population; but thirty-four years ago the bulk of the people were expatriated, as usual, through the agency of the factor, who wished to form a sheep farm for his son. Those who were allowed by the proprietor to remain after the factor had expressed his determination to have them evicted, in these words, " Go you must, even though you should go to the bottom of the sea," were allowed a mere fringe of the township, bordering on the rocky sea-shore. These patches have been considerably improved since by the crofters at their own expense; and, to make bad worse, some of them had to pay 14s. a year in addition to their rents for the use of seaware for their soil. When the people were deprived of their township in 1849, the land was left as a sheep-farm, and some years afterwards about one-fourth of it was turned into a plantation. The people one and all earnestly desire that the land of their forefathers should become their own again. They were led to understand that this desideratum might be granted last Martinmas; but since then the intention, if it ever did exist, seems to have been abandoned, and, as far as the local authorities are concerned, leaves us more hopeless than ever. We therefore appeal to you, the Royal Commissioners, for redress of our grievances and restitution of our rights.
I may remark that I tried to put the paper as far as possible in the people's own language. It was translated from their native Gaelic.

—• Statement by the Kinnamoine Tenants. There are five of us, and we each pay £ 4 rent, or £ 20 in all, with rates and taxes. Each croft consists of about five acres arable land —mostly peatmoss and shingle, and there is about five acres of good pasture in common. Our stock consists of one cow each; but this is too much for our pasture, and we have occasionally to tether them on our lots. We sow about one quarter oats each, and get a return of one and a half boll oatmeal on an average. We also plant about four and a half barrels potatoes, which yield a return of about five bolls, taking one year with another. Some of us generally rear a young beast, but we have to send them to graze somewhere else during the summer half-year. Our township is not an ancient one. It used to be not very long ago a peat-moss and quagmire; but at the commencement of the sheep-farming mania, when the people were regarded as a nuisance to be got rid of by driving them out of the country like noxious vermin, or by crowding them into barren promontories or boggy hollows which were useless for sheep, our township was then formed by locating families there who had been deprived of good land in other parts of the estate. There were ten crofters in it at one time; but in one way or another the number was reduced to five, and then the small piece of pasture we have was given to us. Previously the people had only the bare lots. Some slight improvements were effected by the proprietor, but the bulk of the
trenching, draining, and fencing has been done by ourselves or fathers. We never got payment for any work done; and if we were to remove under the present law, we could not claim any compensation, which we think very unjust. The houses of some of us are very wretched, and we all suffer great loss most years through the want of barns. We have often spoken to the proper authorities about this drawback, and offered to pay interest on the outlay for suitable buildings, but have always been refused. It is only the big farmers who get those favours. We were offered, however, wood and lime if we would build ourselves; but then the buildings would be the property of the laird. If we were assured of compensation, we would put them up at our own expense. Our own peat-banks having become exhausted many years ago, we got others free on the township of Ardelve; but these also having run out some years ago, we have had since to get them on some of the big farms, where we have been charged 7s. 6d. and occasionally 10s. a year for them. We consider this a very great grievance indeed, as it is the custom, we believe, generally in the Highlands, for all who pay rent to have the right to fuel on the estate free of charge. It was never the rule, in this parish at least, till some of the present big farmers, through greed and the sanction or connivance of friendly factors, commenced to charge a good many years ago, Some of them do not charge at all, and others only 2s. 6d. a year. We don't think the proprietor ever knew of this iniquitous charge. Another complaint we have is that sufficient seaware is not allotted us for our requirements. We have to buy some every year, for which we pay at the rate of 3s. a boat-load. If we had more pasture and could keep several beasts, the increased supply of byre manure would enable us to do with less sea-ware. For a long time we have suffered great loss from the Conchra and Auchtertyre sheep eating up our corn and grass; but now, within the last few days, wire fences have been run up between us and these farms, so that we are secure from their depredations for the future. We believe that the coming of the Royal Commission here has been the means of conferring this benefit upon us. Having now stated our grievances, we may inform you of what we require in order to make us comfortable and contented. We want more land, especially pasture, at a fair rent, fixity of tenure, and compensation for improvements. There is plenty of good pasture land on the farm of Conchra, adjacent to our crofts, which would suit us remarkably well ; and as Conchra farm is at present too large, this end corner of it might and should be added to our township. We consider that, in order to make us fairly comfortable, we should have holdings to carry four cows, one horse, and forty sheep each, and the whole to form a club-farm. "We have one cottar living among us; and in the event of our township being enlarged, we would all be willing to let him have a share, more or less. We have for a long period borne poverty and hardship patiently, whilst we have seen strangers growing fat on our native land; but our patience is nearly exhausted, and we therefore pray this Royal Commission to endeavour to ameliorate our condition before matters come to a more critical state, and whilst it can be done with the minimum of loss to all concerned.—DUNCAN SINCLAIR, FARQUHAR M'BETH, delegates.

30057. These are the memorials of two townships, have you a third ?

30058. Read it ?
—Statement by the Alt-na-stu Crofters. As, a township we have suffered many grievances which we wish to state to this Royal Commission, and hope that its visit will be the means of bettering our condition. Whilst Lochalsh was in the possession of Lord Seaforth, our forefathers were the tenants of the neighbouring extensive township of Sallachy. When he sold the estate to Sir Hugh Innes, our fathers were deprived of the land which was let to two large tacksmen, who allowed them to remain in the houses for some years. Afterwards the land was given to our fathers again, but at such a high rent (£400)—double what it pays at the present day—that they all soon came to poverty, and their stock was taken from them by the proprietor, so that they were thrown out penniless. Some of them went abroad, and the remainder were given the steep, and at the time useless, nook called Alt-na-stu, where they, and after them, we have been since. It was as sub-tenants of Sallachy they were placed there at first, and continued so, paying exorbitant rents till the estate passed into the hands of the late Mr Lillingstone, who took them from under the Sallachy tenants, and having added a little more arable land and some pasture, made Alt-na-stu into an independent township. At present there are twelve crofters, of whom three pay £5, 7s. each, and the other nine £24, Is. 6d., being £40, 2s. 6d. for the whole. Till two years ago the rent was £45. Our arable land, which is so steep that it has to be worked in terraces, extends to about nineteen acres ; and our pasture, which has been set out for fifteen cows, won't keep half that number. We keep fifteen cows, but we have all to buy winter keep for them, and to summer them for some time on the neighbouring farm of Conchra, where we pay Is. 6d. per week for each. Were it not for this they would die of starvation on our own land. We have been mostly taking our living out of the sea, but that is very uncertain where we are situated; and as may be supposed, by anybody who knows the exceptionally small and poor holdings we have, the most of us have a hard struggle to live at all. We feel it very hard and unjust that we should be made to work like slaves, by having to carry manure and seaware on our backs up a steep hill, which has all to be cultivated by hand, as no horse could work on it, whilst there is plenty of good level fertile land quite near us, which if given us, we would pay for at a better rate than the fat Cheviot sheep, who presently enjoy it to the exclusion of the proper natives of the country. We would be satisfied with some additional land being added to our holding, or by giving us a portion of one of the big farms, for a new township where we could have three or four cattle, a few sheep, and a horse, at a fair rent. All the tenants agree in presenting this statement.

30059. I understood you to say that the English phraseology of those memorials has been translated by you ?

30060. It is therefore the correct English expression of what was stated to you verbally by the meeting?
—It is the substance; of course, I may have varied from their expressions in the Gaelic.

30061. But there is nothing substantial introduced by you on your own part?
—Nothing; and I insisted that they should appoint a delegate to come up to tell you that the statements in these papers are not my views alone.

30062. There is nothing in the terms of these memorials that I have to complain of, unless some expressions of rather unnecessary bitterness in the second one. I should like to know whether these expressions justly represent the feelings and expressions used by the people themselves?
—Is it in regard to going to the bottom of the sea ?

30063. That is one. Another is, ' at the commencement of the sheep-farming mania, when the people were regarded as a nuisance to be got rid off, by driving them out of the country like noxious vermin, or by crowding them into barren promontories or boggy holes which were useless for sheep ; ' is that a translation of the language told by the people to you ?
—That is the expression of the people. They know they have been regarded as a nuisance, and have been wanted to be sent abroad, and they know very well they were sent into these rocky promontories and boggy holes. That is the experience of the people, although it is not so bad as in some parishes.

30064. But what I want to know is whether the expression ' noxious vermin,' for instance, is a correct translation of the language used at the meeting or by the people in your presence ?
—Well, ' wild animals' perhaps would be the proper term ; that passage refers to the deer forest. They say our Parliament and Legislature have been legislating for animals with the greatest care by means of the Game Laws, but have never passed any legislation for the people. It is to these matters that that
passage refers.

30065. I was only speaking about the terms themselves; I was anxious to know whether they were proper translations of words and things said in your presence, or whether you had infused any additional strength into it yourself ; and I rather think from what you say that you did somewhat intensify the language ?
—Well, I modify it to the extent of saying ' wild animals.'

30060. You told me the meaning of Kinnamoine, the end of the peat moss ; what is the meaning of Alt-na-stu?
—The raspberry burn.

30067. Since the township of Avernish was formed, have there been any additional tenants brought in from other places ?
—I am not aware that there have.

30068. There are just as many holdings as there were at the time that the township was formed as it now is ?
—When the grazing was taken from them thirty-one years ago, so far as I know.

30069. Have there been any evictions from it during that period ?
—I don't know that they should be called evictions j the people were a sort of induced to go by the proprietor or his factor, who wanted to form the grazings into a sheep farm for his own son.

30070. Have there been any evictions since then?
—No, none.

30071. The poorness of the crop is mentioned in connection with this township; is there any ground for believing that the productive quality of the soil is gradually diminishing ?
—It is a well known fact that it is so, by constant cropping.

30072. Is the same ground constantly cultivated with the same crops, or is a portion of the ground ever left out in grass?
—I am not sure whether they have any out in grass, but the only crops are potatoes and oats, and they are put down time about. One of the people themselves would be better able to speak to that.

30073. But you know the place ?
—Yes, it is quite near.

30074. Have you been in all the houses?
—Not in all.

30075. But you know them by sight?

30076. In your memory, has anything been done to improve these houses, or are they much in the state they wero in thirty-four years ago ?
—Some have been adding to them, and some roofing them with felt instead of rushes.

30077. What is the character of the houses, are they houses in which the cattle and people enter by the same door, or by different doors ?
—Different doors, so far as I know.

30078. Are they chimney houses, or houses in which the fires are on the floor ?
—They have mostly chimneys, but I don't know whether they all have. I know the proprietor gave one family last year money to improve their house, and it is a very good house now.

30079. Do you know whether there is any regulation on the estate under which houses can be improved by the tenant with assistance from the landlord ?
—I have been given to understand that the proprietor is willing to give them wood and lime to improve their houses generally ; I think that is understood throughout the estate. But as these houses were mostly built by the crofters themselves, they have a disinclination to accept wood, because then they could not claim compensation, and they think when the houses have been altogether built by themselves they can claim compensation.

30080. Their common pasture was taken away in order to make a sheep farm thirty-four years ago ?

30081. Who was proprietor thirty-four yeara ago?
—Mr Livingstone.

30052. Who was factor then?
—A John M'Lennan.

30053. They have both long since disappeared ?
—John M'Lennan died this spring at the age of 98, quite a poor man, after having been a great man.

30084. When did the Mathesons come into this part of the country ?
—In 1851 or 1852, I am not sure which.

30085. At the time when the Matheson family came in here, do you know whether any representation or petition was made on behalf of the people for restoration of their old grounds ?
—I am not aware; I was not in the parish, and I have not asked as to that.

30086. Have you ever heard here, or anywhere about here, of grazing land being taken from farms or land in the occupancy of the proprietor and spontaneously restored to the crofters ?
—Yes, there has been a case of that in Loehalsh since last Whitsunday on the extensive sheep farm of Knockgorm, part of which was given to tenants in Attadale in Lochcarron, and part to tenants in Sallachy.

30087. Were these restorations of hill pasture formerly belonging to the respective tenants?
—I don't think it ever belonged to the Sallachy tenants, but the hill grazings of Knockgorm belonged to all the townships in Lochalsh; they used to send their cattle and horses there in summer, and the lower pasture was allowed to go.

30088. The pasture the people desire to recover is pasture contiguous to their arable land—pasture on their own borders ?
—Yes ; quite. They have a rocky fringe round about, and the pasture extends across the hill, and the sheep slope is planted.

30089. How large is the farm from which they wish to take it ?
—It carries a stock of 200 sheep.

30090. What they want is to obtain the whole of that ?
—The whole of that.

30091. It would not be worth dividing?
—No; it is not extensive at all.

30092. You think the people would be able to stock it?
—Some would not, but others would. But they would do it unitedly, they say. Those who are not able would be helped by those who are, and they would give a share to those who have not any —thrifty neighbours who have a little money.

30093. Do you think they would pay the same rent as the present farmer, or nearly so ?
—I think so. Their lots are considered to be much dearer than the sheep farms.

30094. Is this sheep farm held under lease ?
—Yes, I believe there is a lease.

30095. How long has the lease to run still —you say it might have been granted last Martinmas ?
—The tenant showed a disposition to give it up if arrangements could be made. He says he would not be a barrier to the people getting it, as he has other large sheep farms.

30096. Does he live on it?
—No; in Kilellan, in a neighbouring parish. He keeps a shepherd here.

30097. One shepherd for so small a farm ?
—Yes, and it must be rather a heavy burden, I should think.

30098. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have been taking an interest in the locality and the people, I presume, from your official position during the last eighteen years ?

30099. You wrote these three petitions from the townships at the request of the people themselves ?
—I have not done the actual writing of some of them, but I composed them.

30100. You have also stated that there are delegates appointed from each of these townships to come here to-day?
—Yes, otherwise I would not have appeared in case it should be said I was representing my own views.

30101. So far as your own personal knowledge goes of the circumstances, and your experience of eighteen years, are you disposed to concur in the views expressed in these papers by the people ?
—Quite —certainly.

30102. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Have you a large school here?
—Not very. The average attendance for the last year was 4970. I had the inspection yesterday.

30103. Is your average decreasing or increasing?
—Decreasing, and so is the population.

30104. Is your average decreasing simply in proportion to the population ?
—About that.

30105. Do you think the attendance is really as good as it used to be?
—It is not so numerous, but most of the young people are going away, and very few of the people are marrying, and the population is decreasing considerably. So that in proportion to the population they attend as well as they formerly used to do.

30106. You had your inspection yesterday?

30107. What was the number present?

30108. How many were presented?
—Thirty-nine, but a good many more left at the end of spring, who would have been qualified if the inspection had taken place then. There were forty-five qualified, but some of these were absent at the inspection, and only thirty-nine were presented,

30109. Do you know what numbers wore on the roll throughout the year?
—Ninety-eight were enrolled during the year.

30110. And only thirty-nine presented ?

30111. Have you to complain of the irregularity of the attendance of those on the roll?
—I have certainly. It is the most unfavourably situated school in the parish. It was very suitable under the old parochial system, when the children did not come forward until they were pretty old, but now when they have to come in from Balmacara and Ardelve, three miles, they cannot come so regularly. So many come from Raivaig and Balmacara, and Avernish and Kinnamoine.

30112. Do parents make excuses for the irregular attendance of the children ?
—Very often at the time when the crops are being laid down, or the peats are being stacked, or when they are making hay and cutting corn.

30113. How many scholars have you in the fifth and sixth standards out of the ninety on the roll ?
—There were only three in the sixth standard, about six or eight in the fifth, and two in the fourth. But almost all those who left in spring were the bigger ones, and those who came in were younger.

30114. Do you find they leave school earlier than they used to do ?

30115. Why do they do so?
—Because they think that when they require to send them in at the age of five they ought to be free to take them away when they come to thirteen. They come earlier and go away earlier, but I believe it would be far better otherwise. It would be better, I believe, if the age was raised from five to six, and that the children should remain at school till they were fourteen; it would be better for the Highlands.

30116. Do children go away to secondary schools more than they used to do?
—Not many from my school, but a few occasionally. Most of them have taken to the sea, and I have some in good positions abroad. They take to that more readily than to college. I have just now one who is a missionary at Kyleakin, but as a rule they prefer mercantile pursuits now-a-days.

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