ALEXANDER FRASER, Provost of Inverness, Factor for Culloden and Ferintosh (61)—examined.
40629. The Chairman.
—Have you a statement to make ?
40630. Will you be so good as to read it?
—' In making a statement as to the Barony of Ferintosh, it would be right to keep in view the circumstances under which the ancestors of the present proprietor inherited these lands. The population was much increased beyond what the produce of the soil would naturally maintain, on account of the advantages connected with the privilege granted to the family by Parliament, whereby Ferintosh became celebrated for distilling whisky, —this privilege being in compensation for money paid by the Culloden family, on behalf of the Government, and for the ravages committed on their estates during the revolution of 1689-90. The privilege having ceased, by being bought up by the Government at a small sum, the large population employed in carrying on the distilling work had to be maintained and provided for, while their occupation was gone. Ferintosh had thus on it for a long series of years a people greater in number than any other property of the same extent in the north, and the burdens larger. The settlers were not, however, removed, but were allowed to remain in their possessions, —evictions never being a part of the policy of the family of Culloden, and there are at present ninety crofter families on the barony. The lands consist of 6460 acres. Of this there are in
Large farms: 2331.807 acres
Pasture attached to them: 500.385 acres
Giving: 2832-192 acres
And in crofts or farms under £ 30 rent: 984.885 acres
Pasture attached to them: 718.655 acres
Woods, moorland, and water: 1925 acres
Say 6460 acres
Proportions of Rental to Acreage.
—Large farms, containing say 2332 acres arable and 500 acres pasture attached to them, are rented at £3404, giving an average per acre of £14. Crofts containing 985 acres arable and 718 acres pasture attached to them, rented at £841, giving an average of £910. Total arable (large and small farms) of estate, 3317 acres rented at £4245, gives an average per acre for arable land of 157; grass extent of
large farms and crofts 4435 acres, rented at £4245, gives an average per acre of 18s. 8d. Extent, &c, of Crofts.—
(1) Average extent of arable in each of 90 crofts (exclusive of four village lots) nearly 11 acres.
(2) Average of gross, arable and pasture, for 90 crofts (four village lots excluded) 19 acres.
(3) Number of crofts exceeding 25 acres in extent on the estate, 17.
(4) Four village, house, and garden lots, average rather more than half an acre (2 roods 18 poles) in extent, and each croft has a dwelling and office houses attached.
(5) Average rent of 90 crofts, £9, 5s. 7d. (6) Average fent of four village houses and lots £ 1 , 9s. The
poor rates in the parish of Urquhart (Rose) for the year 1882-83 were on landlord Is. 3 ½d. per pound, on tenant Is. 3£d. per pound. The schoolrates in the parish for the same year were on landlord 6£d. per pound, on tenant 6£d. per pound. There has been no intimation made to the proprietor or factor of any intention on the part of the tenants or crofters to complain or to make any statement to the Royal Commission as to the Ferintosh estate; but at a meeting to elect delegates, held in the neighbourhood of Ferintosh, according to the newspapers, Kenneth MacRae, lot 11, appeared. His possession contains 57 acres 1 rood 24 poles, of which 27 acres 3 roods 33 poles are arable, the rest being improvable pasture, and of these he only improved 8 acres 1 rood 30 poles between 1855 and 1874, and none since. His rent was £ 16 for nineteen years up to 1874, he having undertaken to improve most of the pasture —three acres per year—getting the croft at this rent ; and in 1874, when valued, the rent was increased to £ 25 . Last year he was £ 35 in arrear, which was struck off on a promise that he would pay regularly in future, but now he is in arrear again. He has eight of a family reared on the croft, and now grown up and self supporting. John MacDonald, lot 106, is another speaker at the said meeting. He only entered in 1876. His possession adjoins the county road and about two miles from the railway station. He has 11 acres 3 roods, of which 6 acres 2 roods 22 poles are arable, and his rent is £ 5 , 5s. He is in arrears one year's rent. He says the land is wet. Some years ago he was offered to have the croft drained for him, whereupon he said, " Give me the money contracted for the work, and I will make the drains myself." This was at once agreed to, but the drains are not touched yet. It is not necessary to enlarge on this subject, but it may be remarked that Ferintosh is situated on the south side of the Cromarty Firth, is remarkably well suited for growing root and other crops, and from the nature of its subsoil heavy crops of potatoes are obtained. Railway communication is convenient, and the lands are intersected with good roads. The pasture also is easily brought into cultivation, but as pasture; it is much run on for sheep wintering on account of the healthy nature of the ground, and its freedom from snow. There is not a croft on the estate that would not bring a larger rent if offered to competition, but, as stated already, it has not been the policy of the Culloden family to set their lands in this way, —their desire being to retain all old tenants, even at a sacrifice. The outlays and improvements are considerable; and since 1873 there have been laid out on roads, fencing, drainage, and building, £3728, 5s. 9d., besides ordinary repairs. In addition, wood is given from the woods on the estate, and otherwise, for assisting in building, of which no note is taken; and there is work almost always being carried on on the estate, for which full, wages are paid, tenants having a preference.'
40631. Will you state to me, without reference to the details in the paper, what is the average rental per acre of arable in the hands of the larger class of farmers not crofters?
—I did not put it into this statement, but it will be about 18s.
40632. What is it on the crofters' lands?
—It will be about 14s. 10d., I calculated.
40633. Now the area of arable ground in the hands of small tenants is 985 acres, I think you said?
40634. Is that land generally at a higher elevation and in a poorer position than the arable land attached to large farms ?
—I think it is at a higher elevation.
40635. And in that respect poorer and of less profitable quality ?
—I would say it is not of the same value.
40536. Do you think that with reference to the value the two classes of tenants are equally charged ?
—I would say so ; that is my impression.
40637. That the difference between 14s. lOd. and 18s. 8d. fairly represents the difference in the quality of the soil and the position ?
—I would say so.
40638. How was this area of 985 acres arable formed ?
—It was formed, no doubt, by the settlers on the estate.
40639. By the labour of the crofters?
—By the labour of the crofters.
40640. When they set to work to form this new area of arable ground, did they do so under leases ?
—Yes, and under agreements.
40641. Did these leases contain any distinct provision having reference to raising the rent at the end of the lease ?
—They did not, as far as I know; but the leases that have come under my knowledge and my supervision bear that the bargain was that they should improve the ground at the rate of three acres a year, or one-tenth part of the whole possession, every year.
40642. For how long were those leases given ?
—They were nineteen years' leases.
40643. And how many terms have expired on the estate?
—The first lease that I know of was granted in 1855. There may have been agreements before that, but I am not able to state as to that.
40644. In any leases which were made or any agreements drawn up was there any specific arrangement made dealing with the rental of the croft at the expiry of the first lease ?
—I am not aware there was any agreement as to the rental, but there was a distinct agreement as to the
land being improved.
40645. What do you' suppose the understanding of the landlord and the tenant to have been ? When a certain amount of land was to be improved in the course of nineteen years, what did they contemplate?
—I have no doubt the understanding was that they would pay for the croft as it was valued at the end of the nineteen years.
40646. You think the understanding was that it should be revalued at the end of nineteen years, and we may presume an increased rental would be put upon it ?
—That is my understanding.
40647. Revalued by what agency ?
—-By a separate agency. Therein no reason to suppose there was a fixed idea as to the agency; but on the Culloden management it was a separate agency—a qualified expert, and the gentleman who was employed in the valuations last was one of the best judges that could be had in the north, Mr William Paterson, whose father was a farmer, and who was accustomed all his life to understand farming and the differences connected with various soils.
40648. And has the valuation been made, as it were, upon the improved land as it stood simply, has the valuation been made without any reference to the improvement being the work of the tenant?
—I could not answer that question, because Mr Paterson very likely took it as he found it. There were no instructions to him, as far as I know, in regard to that.
40649. Did you ever hear of any form of improving lease in the county which contemplated, in case of the removal of the tenant, that he should receive a certain reimbursement per acre for labour expended during the nineteen years lease ?
—It was not the rule on the Culloden estate.
40650. Did you ever see or hear of such a lease given on any other property?
—I have heard that said, but it is not within my own personal knowledge.
40651. You have heard it said that there were such leases?
40652. Can you name any property upon which they were supposed to be given ?
40653. Did you ever hear there were such leases given?
40654. Was that at a very remote period?
40655. Can you tell me what the sort of provision is ?
—The provision is that on a short lease, if there would be certain improvements made, they would be allowed for.
40656. Improvements in buildings or improvements in the labour of the ground ?
—In the cultivation of the ground—in improving the ground
40657. And when you speak of short leases, what would have been the duration of the lease ?
—Something less than nineteen years. Nineteen years is the regular course of a lease here.
40658. You don't think there have ever been any leases in Ross-shire in which there was a reimbursement contemplated per acre at the end of 19 years?
—I am not aware of any.
40659. You never heard of it?
—I never heard of any, and I have had large experience myself in farming.
40660. In the most recent leases granted upon the Culloden property is there any distinct provision for dealing with the question of tenant's improvements at the end of a nineteen year's lease?
40661. What do you think of that yourself as a person versed in estate management and agriculture ?
—I think if a tenant would improve land it is a reasonable thing, unless lie got his full complement of years. Land improvements are generally made on a thirty-two years' lease, but I would say that as a general rule he ought to be allowed something for his improvements.
40662. At the end of a nineteen years' lease ?
—Not on a nineteen years', but on a shorter lease.
40663. But I thought you said you thought thirty-two years was the proper duration ?
—There is one farm on the Culloden estate in Invernessshire where a thirty-two years' lease was given, but it was almost all moorland, and it was supposed the farmer ought to have that long period in order to be remunerated.
40664. What kind of land was it that this poor class of tenants took in and improved on Ferintosh ?
—It was moorland.
40665. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—I would like to ask you a question or two. Has there not been a deal of money laid out by the estate of Culloden on the reclamation of larger farms in by-gone years ?
—A very large sum.
40666. Both in houses and lands?
—Yes, a very large sum.
40667. Now, don't you think it might have been perhaps wiser if the proprietor had saved that money, and allowed the crofers to take in those lands, because you say yourself that the rent the crofter pays and the rent the big farmer pays is much about the same ?
—In proportion to the value of the land.
40668. Would it not have been better to have allowed the crofters to take in the land themselves, and thereby saved the proprietor all that expense?
—Well, that is just a matter of opinion very much, because the lands of course are improvable, and they were sooner taken in by that means. These outlays were very much done when the money was lent by the Government, and advantage was taken of the money that could be obtained in that way to improve the lands without any delay.
40669. Do you think now that the class of crofters, the descendants of those that took them in, and who were paying upon an average the same rent as the new men who came in and who found the land ready to their band, and nice houses built for them—do you think these two classes now are on the same footing ?
—The most of these lands were improved by the sitting tenants of the big farms now.
40670. By themselves?
—By themselves, and they got the money from the Government through the landlord.
40671. How many big farms are there?
—I cannot exactly say; I did not take a note of that.
40672. Are there half a dozen?
—There are more than that.
40673. But you don't say that those large farms have generally been reclaimed by the tenants themselves ?
—Almost invariably, with the assistance of money from the Government under the Loan Commissioners.
40674. Then the proprietor himself did not directly make any reclamations, and, after they were reclaimed, set them to tenants?
—I don't think it. Under the late management of the present proprietor, when the present proprietor was managing the estate of Ferintosh, there was a very large sum laid out for improvements.
40675. What were those improvements exactly ?
—Draining and buildings.
—Not so much planting.
40677. You seem to have a large quantity of wood; when was that wood made ?
—I cannot say as to that.
40678. You stated in your paper that the crofts are, you think, moderately rented, and if they were in the market for open competition larger sums would be got ?
—I believe so.
40679. The family of Culloden have been a very considerable time in possession of Ferintosh?
—Yes, for a very long period—since 1600 odd.
40680. Are evictions of very rare occurrence upon the estate ?
—Very rare. There is no such thing at all, and there are none of the farms advertised.
40681. But I suppose there have been some people moved ?
—-There was one person moved from the centre of the wood.
40682. Is that the only case you are aware of in recent years?
—I don't recollect of any others.
40683. How many years have you had the charge ?
—About ten or twelve years.
40684. You state in your paper that no complaints reached you or the proprietor of dissatisfaction on the part of the tenants; is that so ?
—Of any intention of meeting the Commissioners.
40685. But have you heard any complaints about the amount of the rents ?
—Yes, there are some people complaining.
40686. We are all complaining, I suppose—everybody has some complaint?
40687. Have you found it necessary to make any abatement either to the large or small tenants ?
—We have made no abatement to any of the large tenants, and indeed I don't think it was asked; but to some of the small tenants Culloden sometimes makes an abatement.
40688. I am referring to what occurred two or three years ago when there was a general abatement ?
—Oh, yes; we gave an abatement certainly—10 per cent, on the first half year, and 5 per cent, on the next half year, equal to 7½ per cent, on the whole year, and that was given over the whole estate—to crofters and every one.
40689. They were equally treated in that respect?
40690. I suppose you cannot personally give any explanation of the large increase that was put upon the croft of the man Mackenzie who was here to-day ?
—No, I don't understand it. I don't understand the statement at all; but there is no doubt the rent is as he says. The increase, I assume, is as he says, but the land was thought by Mr Paterson to be fully worth it, and even when he persisted in saying it was not worth it, or the rent was a little over what he ought to pay, he got a reduction. We accepted his own terms virtually.
40691. I suppose when Mr Paterson was employed to make this survey as a neutral man, he got no instructions, but it was left to his own discretion?
40692. Mr Cameron.
—Is there any common hill pasture attached to these crofts in Ferintosh?
—Each crofter is entirely self-contained, and each croft has a considerable amount of pasture attached to it.
40693. But to each individual croft, and not in common ?
—Not in common.
40694. When was the last rise of rent?
40695. In regard to that custom of taking sheep for wintering to which—you refer, when did that privilege become a valuable one ?
—It must have been many years ago. I have been connected with that system for more than thirty years now, and paid large sums for wintering, and it is fully more than that since wintering became valuable, and pasture in consequence.
40696. So that this rise was not in consequence of any increased demand for wintering sheep on the crofts and pasture ground of the Culloden estates and Ferintosh ?
—I don't think so.
40697. Do the crofters bene6t from that system of taking in sheep to winter, or does it only affect the large farmers ?
—It benefits the crofters.
40698. The crofters get their share of it?
—No doubt of it at all, because they let their lands all over, and there are certain sums given to each of them by the sheep farmer who takes the wintering.
40699. Do they let turnips too ?
—If they have them.
40700. Some of them have turnips?
—Yes, and my experience of crofts of that kind is this—I have done it largely, though not so much in the Black Isle as elsewhere—I take their turnips, and come to a bargain with them ; but when the sheep come, they must remove the turnips, because it would affect the sheep wintering very much if the sheep were to be hampered by having to be turned off those turnips constantly.
40701. Has the value of that sheep wintering been on the increase of late years, or has it remained much the same ?
—It is much the same.
40702. Is it the same as it was ten or fifteen years ago?
—I should say so.
40703. They don't get mere than they used to get?
—I don't think it.
40704. About how much does an ordinary crofter —say a man who pays £ 10 a year of rent—expect to get for sheep wintering, leaving out turnips altogether, merely for the outrun of his hill pasture?
—It will depend on the nature of his pasture. On a good pasture he will be entitled to more money.
40705. Can you tell me what value?
—Well, in valuing pasture it runs from 2s. to 3s. 6d. an acre, and where there is a large outrun there is no doubt the tenant should make a considerable profit upon that.
40706. Do you mean 2s. to 3s. 6d. an acre on the permanent hill pasture, or do you include the young grass ?
—I include the run of the farm.
40707. Including young sown grass ?