DONALD BAIN, Crofter, Newton of Kinkell (57)—examined.
40768. The Chairman.
—Are you a delegate?
40769. How were you elected ?
—By a meeting of the crofters.
40770. Was it a large meeting?
—Yes, it was about one hundred crofters.
40771. All from the same estate?
—No, but from the surrounding district.
40772. From different estates all round ?
—Yes—Culloden, Allangrange, and Highfield.
40773. Then read your statement?
—' I, Donald Bain, fifty-seven, crofter on the estate of Conon, paying £ 7 of rent, besides poor rates and other taxes, along with six days' free labour as estate work. My croft consists of about fifteen acres according to survey, one-third of which is unfit for improving ; it is more suitable for a game preserve for wild fowl, being in winter covered with one sheet of water. The other third part could be improved with great expense and labour, the which I am not able to manage. However, I tried and improved it, but it turned to no benefit but loss, owing to the situation of the place being so boggy and wet. The other third part is the only part that I can depend on for crop, a place thus situated on the outskirts of the property, on the heights of the Mulbuie, exposed to the elements. I think it unfair that the acreage of it should be compared in value to the acres of that of the low-lying districts ; but such is the case, and not only but more so, for I am paying at the rate of 28s. the acre, with the exception of the pasture. I do not impute this grievance to my present proprietor, for it is a long-established grievance, I may say hereditary. My father and grandfather had to contend with it ; I had it down from them. I am ready to give credit to my proprietor, the credit of being under the impression that we are not thus oppressed, as it is not his doings, but that of employers—factors and valuators. I have now the experience of upwards of forty years of being a rack-rented crofter, and I assure you, gentlemen, it is a mode of life not to be coveted. The first nineteen years of that period I was tenant at will, threatened to be removed every year. That was during the present proprietor's minority; when he eutered his majority, he granted leases, and appointed a factor, who acted as valuator. When he came round to value my lot, he told me that I was paying such and such of rent—I admit too much. I thought I should get it reduced, but instead he made an advance of 20 per cent, on the former rent, to force me to make improvement. Had that the desired effect on me? As I had to work before at day's wages to make up the old rent, I had now to work more to make up this addition of rent. However, during the lease I improved between four or five acres; but instead of being to me a benefit, it turned out to be my loss, owing to the water destroying all the produce of it ; I had to allow to lie waste under pasture. The landlord had of his goodness granted a new lease, and appointed valuators—neighbouring farmers themselves. When they came to value my lot, they found that I was paying enough already. They said they could not reduce it on any account, but made no advance, so they thought that I may rest satisfied under this grievance, so that my prospect for the future is not one of the brightest, —from my age and infirmity, ready to be cast as a burden on my fellow-sufferers, for that is the fate of us crofters under the present land system. Although thus burdened, I have yet one consolation left me, to be under the proprietorship of one of a race who proved themselves worthy of being remembered for good ; for their names were never connected with anything despicable or mean, such as wholesale evictions on the lots—and I am proud to acknowledge that our present proprietor and his excellent partner in life are both noble examples in the north for whatever is good, ready to relieve the sick and the dying, so that Conon House is always open for relief to the poor and the needy, so that the reputation of the worthy baronet did not yet fall to the ground, but is kept up more than ever.' I have also a paper here from another of the tenants.
40774. On whose property is this ?
—On the same property. One tenant (W. Forbes) says
—' My father before me had my croft, and paid a rent of £ 2 till the time of his death. I then got a nineteen years' lease of the croft, about ten acres nominally arable, and about twenty on very rough pasture, at a rent of £7 and six days' free labour. During the currency of the lease I spent over £ 300 in improvements to houses and land, the proprietor giving me sawn home-grown timber for the houses. I then got a new lease, when my rent was raised to £ 12 and the usual free labour, though it is fair to add that the proprietor restricts it to £ 8 during my lifetime. I was then seventy-four years of age. My land is much spoiled with water, and I have not got over two returns of corn on the average out of the land that I improved, although I did it all manner of justice in draining and manuring. Taking the rest of the land at the old rent, the part improved was valued at 10s. per acre. Of course, incompetent valuators were to blame for this, and no complaint was lodged, because it was currently reported at the time that Sir Kenneth gave the land cheaper than the valuation.
Another (Donald Stewart) says
—' My father was removed from the holding of the three generations in 1854. There was no claim against him. He improved it to a great extent, and the last improvement done there it was only one green crop he got out of it when he was turned out, and two years to run of his lease. He consuited with a man of business, but when the factor came to hear of it, he wrote him a thundering letter that he would not get another place on the Conon estate, and if crofters were to go to law with proprietors it was no wonder should they curse the whole race of crofters. He then gave up his holding, and was promised as good a place as could be got on the Conon estate, but a few days before the term he was shown to a miserable croft, with no houses fit for man or beast. He then lost the most of his means, and had to build house, barn, byre, etc., and made a lot of improvements in reclaiming black heather and bogs, with 1500 yards of drains, at great cost. He was also compelled to give six days' free labour every year for roads and ditches, which caused his deafness and his death trouble.
40775. You are representing crofters upon what estates?
40776. But the meeting that elected you—what estates were they from ?
—The estates all round.
40777. Do you represent them as well?
—No, there were delegates appointed from them too.
40778. But the statements you have read are the statements of your own case, and that of another man; what are the general complaints on the property ?
40779. Too much rent?
—Too much rent.
40780. How many acres have you got ?
40781. How many are under cultivation?
40782. And what are the other nine?
—-Just pasture, and four or five of them quite useless for pasture.
40783. Have these nine acres of pasture ever been cultivated?
40784. Has none of the nine acres ever been cultivated ?
—Yes, I ploughed four or five acres of that.
40785. Have you let it go back?
—I had to give it up.
40786. What is your rent?
—£7, without taxes.
40787. What stock do you keep?
—A cow and a horse. I can hardly keep that same. If I keep an extra beast, it must be at an extra expense.
40788. How do you earn your living ?
—Just by labouring wherever I can get labour at day's wages.
40789. What do you think is the general average rent per acre for arable about the property?
—I am not sure : it is about the half of that. We are the old established tenants on old land. The newly incoming tenants have a better chance than we have, and we are left under the old footing.
40790. What is the average rental of the arable ground in the hands of the crofters ?
—About 10s. or 12s., I think; I am sure it is not much more.
40791. Is there any provision for compensation for improvements?
—Nothing of the kind.
40792. But in the original leases which the tenants had at first when they took in the ground, was there any provision for compensation for improvements?
—I believe there was.
40793. What was the nature of the provision? If the tenants went away, what were they to get ?
—They were granted £5 an acre.
40794. Did any of those original tenants go away, and did any of them get the compensation ?
—They all got the compensation.
40795. Was that compensation for the improvement of the ground, or was it for the buildings too?
—-Just for the improvement of the ground.
40796. Do you think that was a proper amount for the improvement of the ground ?
—-It was considered a proper amount at the time.
40797. Do you know whether there is any similar provision to that in any other leases on any other property ?
—1 don't know of any, as far as I know at present.
40798. Who was it that invented that provision?
—Sir Francis, the present proprietor's father, because he had a large lot of the ground under plantation, and it was cut down, and he had to get a lot of new tenants to reclaim the ground, and that was granted as a remuneration for reclaiming it.
40799. Mr Cameron.
—I don't quite understand whom you represent. At this meeting were there tenants from all the townships on the Conon estate? How many townships are there on the Conon estate?
—Just one township.
40800. Just one township on the Conon estate ?
—No; the rest are well-to-do and well off, but this is separate from them.
40801. Then at this meeting there were only tenants from one township on the Conon estate ?
40802. What proportion do the tenants on that one township bear to the tenants on the rest of the Conon estate ?
—Well, there are not many—six or seven, I think, in the township I represent.
40803. How many tenants are on the whole of the Conon estate ?
—There are forty whatever.
40804. And only six or seven were at this meeting ?
40805. Were you here in the room when the last witness gave his evidence?
40806. Because he was asked about the rents on the estate where he is a tenant—the estate of Highfield, and he represented the tenants on the Conon estate to be objects of considerable envy, and wished to be rented as they were ?
—That is just what we want —to be on the same footing with them,
40807. Are you not on the Conon estate ?
40808. You mean you are on a part of the Conon estate which is not rented in the same way ?
—Yes, and we want to be compared with the rest of it.
40809. Can you give any comparison of the relative rents of the part of the estate on which you are, and of the rest ?
—Well, I am paying 25s. an acre for the arable, and I think the rest of the estate is not paying above 12s. whatever, as far as I know.
40810. So you are paying double ?
—Just about double what the rest are paying.
40811. And this other tenant to whom you refer is in the same position as yourself?
—In the same position.
40812. And the other six or seven who belong to the same portion of the estate, are they in the same position?
—In the same position, most of them, but I daresay they are not altogether so badly off.
40813. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Did you represent your case to Sir Kenneth ?
—It was of very long standing, and it could not be so easily got altered. Some other parties did it, but got no encouragement. I did not do it personally myself.
40815. Are you very high up?
—At the very top, on the heights of the Mulbuie.
40816. And you are paying the highest per acre?
40817. Don't you think it would be wise to go to Sir Kenneth now?
—Well, I don't know that. I know he is a lenient landlord, but in the case of reducing rents I cannot say much. He grants us every allowance for building houses, and gives us encouragement in every other respect.
40818. Supposing you were a landlord yourself, you would not like to reduce your rents?
—Well, I don't know. I would like to have them reasonable. I would like fair play.
40819. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Sir Kenneth does not employ a factor?
—No. There was a factor during his minority. It is all the doing of his factor that we are here now.
40820. Then I think you should go to him now ?
—We should go to him, as a body, but not individually.