ANGUS FORBES, Crofter, Highfield Park (49)—examined.
40708. The Chairman.
—Have you got a statement to make ?
—As one of the delegates appointed to appear before the Royal Commission at Dingwall, on the 10th October 1883,1 desire to put in this statement of how my father and. myself were used. Since entering the croft in the year 1834, when my father settled on the place, it consisted of nothing but heather and stones. He had to build a house, and all the help he got from the proprietor was some old wood that was used before. This showing an example how the system of crofting is carried out on Highfield estate, and in the hope of obtaining some or any relief as it may appear just. In the first place I would desire your attention to the following facts :
—We had a lease for the first twenty-two years at 15s. a year, with two hens as custom stent. In 1857 the rent was raised to £ 4 a year, with three hens ; in 1861, to £ 4 , 10s. In 1872 I rebuilt the house, and no sooner was that done than the rent was raised in 1873 to £ 6 , 10s. with no assistance with the new house excepting the couples, and no reduction to the present day. But since the present proprietor came into possession the three hens have not been collected. The croft contains five acres arable land and one pasture, for which I pay £ 6 , 10s. of rent and 12s. 2d. of rates, and which amount rises to £7, 2s. 2d., which will not keep food to a family. I have to buy meal at the rate of £ 2 a year, and straw or hay for the cow in the spring of the year, at the amount of £ 3 a year. Now, do you wonder how could I pay all these amounts? Now my humble answer is this, that I work north and south at stone-breaking, and when the season's work is over, I come home with my hard earning, and work on the croft as long as it lasted, taking in pieces, but always found when I was one step on, I was as far back as ever, for the landlord raised the rent as already mentioned. So there was no remedy for me, for when I complained to the proprietor he would say he could get another tenant any time by taking the advantage of course of my improvements, and by my very improvements grinding me down, for the want of a lease, since the last twenty-six years. I usually sow eight bushels of oats to the acre, and very seldom reap double that quantity. I sell very few potatoes, as we use them ourselves. Another complaint I have to express is that during a dry summer, the water has to be all brought from Sir Kenneth's estate, about one mile away, which he kindly granted one place for cattle, another for the people, for which I would express my thanks. Now, what we want to remedy our circumstances, that is a lease at a fair rent, with compensation for all improvements effected by the tenant. With less we will not be satisfied. The cost of our improvements, as I estimate, is as follows :
—We built a new dwelling house in 1834, £ 20 ; barn and byre, £ 14 ; I rebuilt a new house in 1872, £35 ; we improved five acres of land at £ 20 an acre, £ 100 ; with drainage £2 per acre, £ 10 ; lime, seven bolls per acre, at 3s. 6d., per boll, £ 6 , 2s. 6d.; we payed for rent alone in twenty-two years, £ l 6 ; in twenty-six years, £ 135 ; total £336, 2s. 6d. In addition, I also paid 1 1 6 fat hens.'
40709. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Did you ever get a lease?
—No, except a lease for the first twenty-two years.
40710. And at the end of that time did your father ask for a lease?
—Yes, and I asked for it myself.
40711. Did you not get it ?
—No; he had one of us, but we had not one of him. He wrote it on stamped paper.
40712. Who did ?
40713. What is the name of your laird?
40714. He wrote out a lease?
—Yes, so that I would have the house and everything in proper repair and the land in good order, and to go out at any time without a summons. I had to leave it with him; so he had a hold on me, but I had not a hold on him.
40715. That is the only lease you got. Why did you not ask for a proper lease ?
—I would not get it.
40716. Have you asked for it since then?
—Not under the present laird.
40717. It is a different laird now ?
40718. Why didn't you ask him?
—It would be of no use. It was too high, and I would be quite careless whether I would get it at the rent whatever.
40719. You don't think it would be an advantage to you to get a lease with the rent at the present rate?
40720. You have five acres of arable and one acre of pasture, and you pay £7, 2s. 2d. What do you think yourself the rent ought to be ?
—Just about the half.
40721. Do your neighbours pay less in proportion to their land?
—Just about half.
40722. What is the reason of that? Are they greater favourites with the laird?
—Not my neighbours on the same estate, but Sir Kenneth's and Allangrange's
40723. And so far as you know, what rent would you be paying on these estates for the same amount of land?
—Just about 8s. or 9s. an acre. Some of them have eighteen acres upon Sir Kenneth's estate for £6. Upon Allangrange they have thirty-six acres for £12, and there is nothing but the road between them and me.
40724. What cattle are you able to keep ?
40725. No sheep ?
40726. No horses ?
40727. Do you raise potatoes enough to feed you?
—Well, sometimes. Sometimes I have to buy them.
40728. Are you a married man with a family?
40729. How long does your meal last that you raise on your own ground ?
—It will not last me long, because I had a very poor crop this year—about four months or five.
40730. Your ordinary occupation is breaking stones?
40731. You have to go away from home to do that, have you?
40732. Then what you want is not a lease but a reduction of your rent ?
40733. You don't want compensation for your improvements in any other shape?
—Certainly, if I would get a short lease.
40734. You would like to have that ?
40735. In what shape ? Would it be sufficient compensation to have the rent reduced, or would you like compensation in money for this £336 you have expended on the croft ?
—I was always paying it, and had to put it out
40736. But you expect at any rate that you will never be put out of the place on which you have spent so much ?
—I don't know.
40737. You have ceased to pay the hens?
40738. They have been compounded for in the shape of money ?
—Yes, I have to pay 2s. for each.
40739. I suppose that custom of paying hens has ceased all round ?
40740. The Chairman.
—Is your case the same as the cases of other small tenants upon the same estate ?
40741. .Are the small tenants on the same estate rented at about the same amount?
—Yes, the same amount.
40742. And treated in the same manner?
40743. Is there generally a refusal to grant leases on the property ?
40744. None of the small tenants get leases?
40745. Do the larger tenants get leases?
—There is no large tenant at all on that part of the property.
40746. Is it the custom to give leases to the small tenants on all the others properties around ?
40747. When your father took the place and got the first lease, was there any provision in the lease for compensation for improvements ?
40748. No provision at all ?
40749. Had it been the custom anywhere on any property, to your knowledge, to make a provision for compensation to the tenants at the end of the first lease?
—Yes : I am told Sir Kenneth was giving them £5 per acre.
40750. You have been told that upon the Conon estate there was in the original leases a provision for the repayment of £ 5 per acre for improvements?
40751. Was that generally known in the country ?
—I don't know.
40752. Would that be considered a fair amount, taking the case of a nineteen years' lease, and the land improved by the tenant and his going away at the end of the nineteen years' lease ? Would it be considered in the country generally a fair amount of compensation to pay him £5 for each acre improved ?
—No, because we have more work to do in some places than in others.
40753. In some places the £ 5 would be considered enough, and in some it would not ?
40754. But it would be better than nothing in all cases ?
—It would be better than paying for it instead of getting it.
40755. Why do you think the landlord granted the first lease and then would not grant the second? It was not the same proprietor?
—It would not tempt any other to go into heather and stone ; but now since we have improved it, it would be different for another tenant to come in, because there was a house built on the land, and he had nothing to do but come into the house and sit in it.
40756. In fact, the proprietor at first wanted to get the place made ; is that what you mean ?
40757. And after it was made he could turn it to the best advantage ?
40758. Supposing they gave you a lease at a reasonable rent, what improvements would you make?
—I would have encouragement to make improvements.
40759. What sort of improvement can you still make ?
—I have an acre of pasture out yet, and I would do my best to take it in, but now I am quite careless whether I get it at any rent. Perhaps if I got it in he would put another £ 1 or £2 upon it.
40760. Did you say your family had built two houses ?
—Yes, I built the second.
40761. Was the second an improvement on the first, or was it a new house ?
—On the same place.
40762. With the same stones ?
40763. Is it built with stone and lime ?
—I harled it on the outside with lime.
40764. Does the proprietor help you with wood?
—No, except the couples ; I had to get the rest of the wood.
40765. But you got the couples ?
40766. Does he charge you any price for them ?
40767. Is it sawn timber, or a tree out of the wood ?
—I had to pay for the sawing and carting them out of the wood to the saw-mill.