Dingwall, 10 October 1883 - Donald Mackenzie

DONALD MACKENZIE, Crofter and Carpenter, Newton of Ferintosh, Culloden Estate (53)—examined.

40578. The Chairman.
—Will you read your statement to us ?
—' I, Donald Mackenzie, crofter and carpenter, Newton of Ferintosh, aged fifty- three years, attended a crofters' meeting at Culbokie, on the 20th September. I was unanimously elected as delegate to give evidence before the Crofters' Royal Commission, for the district of Newton of Ferintosh, forming part of the estate of Duncan Forbes, Esq. of Culloden. This district consists of twenty holdings, whose rents are from £3, 10s. up to £50. The acreage under cultivation, pasture, and water cannot with accuracy be stated, as in some cases tenants don't know the extent, therefore on that point I shall not enter. Myself being one of the number, I humbly beg leave to be permitted to state part of my grievances, and by doing so my case will apply to the majority of cases in the district for which I am appointed. My forefathers so far back at least as that I am one of the fifth generation, first occupied small holdings in the low part of the estate, cultivating patches of land, from which in course of time they were removed step by step further up. When at last, my grandfather was near the top, where himself and others took possessions in a piece of land, they thought no proprietor could interfere with them, the place being a common open for all. The first man that took possession, whose children are still alive, can prove that their father has been for upwards of twenty years at least unmolested and rent free, no laird or factor to trouble them, until the year 1827, when in that year the whole commonty was taken possession of by the lairds. To prove that, I find, in the Transactions of The Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, 4th series, vol. ix. page 118, year 1877, that the commonty consisting of 7044 acres has been divided in the following manner by Lord Ordinary Mackenzie, in the Court of Session, on 10th July 1827, Fortrose 687 Scots acres, Cromarty 577, Kilcoy 550, Flowerburn 523, Scatwell 446, Newhall 411, Ferintosh 370, Redcastle 358, Allangrange 245, Conanside 196, Drynie 158, Avoch 127 ; —the rest to small proprietors. The proprietors got these lands without any payment, and amongst the number (to their shame), the Established ministers had a share in the spoil; and I bear testimony that one of them at least has treated the occupant of that portion he got in a most cruel manner. Soon after this division, the occupants of this district were subjected to pay the nominal rent of a hen to Culloden. My holding at that time was occupied by a woman, her rent a hen. In 1829, she gave up the place to my father, upon condition of paying her £ 5 for the small hut she had, which he did. All the land under cultivation on his entry would only require one half bushel of oats to sow it. His rent was fixed at 2s. 6d. and a hen, but no lease; in that position he continued till 1855, when in that year Mr Morrison, land surveyor, Inverness, formed the lots as they now stand, reducing some, adding to others. Part of another lot was added to my father's, whose possessor had died, all the land under cultivation in both lots, being about four or five acres; whole extent of lot so formed was 19 acres 3 roods 25 poles, arable and pasture put together. In that year he entered into a lease of nineteen years, at the yearly rent of £3, 10s. By a clause in the leases, all the crofters were bound to improve at least one-tenth of their pasture yearly during the currency of their leases. My father, as well as all the other crofters in the district, began improvement in right earnest. In 1874 that lease was ended, and Mr Paterson, land surveyor, Inverness, measured and valued our crofts, with the view of our entering into new leases. In that year my father's lot was found to contain 16 acres 3 roods 38 poles under cultivation, 2 acres 3 roods 27 poles under pasture, including sites of houses, roads, and marches, where stones taken out of ground were placed. Every acre improved cost £20 per acre at least, before a crop could be got out of it ; taking 16½ acres at that rate, the whole cost £330—building of houses, the length of which is 114 feet, cost £140; both put together amounts to £470; and to add to his loss (as well as to the loss of all the crofters in the district) they did not get the benefit of two crops, and in many instances of one crop of the improvement done towards the latter end of lease. And further, during the time he was improving the land, he had to purchase the most of the provisions necessary for himself and family, which consisted of five sons and a daughter, all of them helping him on with the improvements, with all their might and main, expecting that by their doing so, their parents would be made comfortable in their old age, and reap the benefit of the fruits of their labour and expenditure. But, lo ! they experienced the contrary. As soon as Mr Paterson had finished his survey of valuing our crofts, his value for my father's croft was £7, as can be seen from the valuation roll for the county of Ross for that year, and all the other crofters' places in proportion to that. Our superiors it seems were not satisfied with his valuation, as three of their number made a lying survey over our crofts, viz., Duncan Forbes of Culloden, and his relative Captain now Major Warrand, Ryefield, and Mr Fraser, factor, now provost of Inverness. Their survey finished, we were called to Inverness to the factor's office, with the view of entering into new leases. Endurance of lease was to be fifteen years; the copy of lease shown us contained so many clauses and conditions for us to fulfil as would even baffle Solomon himself—the whole sum and substance tying the poor crofter hand and feet, in the fetters of slavery and bondage, and opening every door of escape to the landlord. My father was told by the factor that Mr Paterson valued his croft at £17, but the factor did not show him the valuation book, only his own word. Against such an enormous rent my father strongly protested; he found it was nothing short of insanity to accept of a lease at such a rent laid entirely on his own improvements. All the crofters in the districts have been similarly dealt with. As we could do nothing with the factor, my father and myself went purposely to see Culloden. When near the house, Mr Duncan Forbes now Culloden, met us. He told us that Culloden was at home, and that we would see him; he also said he knew Culloden would give us all manner of justice. Upon our arrival, word was sent us from Culloden that we could not see him to-day; ordered us a dram to go home —that he would soon see us all right (a promise still unperformed). We thought this a strange treatment from our proprietor, after travelling twelve miles to see him. Next step we were ordered to meet our factor at the Muir of Ord market, which we did. On meeting, my father asked him, was he in earnest in saying that £17 was meant as rent for his croft He said he was, to which my father said, "God forbid !" to which he angrily said, "Poof man, keep God out," to which I said, " Well, Mr Fraser, it is my opinion that by keeping God out, the works of men shall not prosper." That finished the business that day. After that my uncle, who is my next neighbour, and myself went to see Major Warrand, to see if we would get any advice or satisfaction from him. He said he had nothing to do with the management of the estate ; but on coming to close quarters with him he took some papers out of his pocket, and asked what my rent was. I said £17. He said that was the factor's mistake ; that it was only £16. He also told me the acreage of my croft, and advised us to plough our lots, and if we were turned out, we would get payment for our work. On speaking to him for my uncle, who had no English, whose rent was raised from 5s. by degrees to £6, he said " Tell your uncle that myself will give £6, 10s. for his croft;" and when my uncle went next to Inverness to see the factor his rent was £6, 10s. In my opinion, this case clearly shows who had the most blame in raising the rents, and we all believe it. Pleadings and arguments were used between factor and tenants, which lasted for upwards of a year and a half, but in vain. Then my father got notice from the factor, that it was Culloden's good pleasure to reduce his rent £2 —that his rent would be £14; and if he did not come to terms within ten days he might look out for himself. All the district were put into the same position. Placed in such circumstances, we found we were at the mercy of our landlord, and as some of our number experienced the cruel and unmerciful sufferings of a former eviction we dreaded a second. About the year 1845 there had been sixteen families evicted wholesale in this district, and their places given to three persons ; two of these became bankrupts, and their effects taken possession of by the landlord, and the third had been summoned for his rent not long ago, and who is now struggling. I myself witnessed that eviction, and can name all the families. Some of them had scattered throughout the country, but the most of them died receiving the paltry pittance allowed by the Parochial Board. Only three of their number'were favoured with places on the estate. I also remember other two places on the estate, evicted wholesale with about as many families in each as the one I alluded to. In such a position placed, we were forced to submit. My father signed the lease and I along with him. Our rent £14, assessments £1, 3s. 4d., we have to pay annually £15, 3s. 4d., for our own improvements in reclaiming waste barren moors, in building all the necessary houses without ever receiving any help or aid in any manner whatever from our proprietor. Sowing large and reaping little, land light and poor at its best. Some of our number their holdings are flooded with water, and when they complain a deaf ear is given. With many of us our houses must necessarily be rebuilt; and the question with many to solve is, how many of us are sunk in debt, incurred in the vast improvements done, which instead of being relieved from by earning the fruits of our life-long labours, we have been more sadly burdened by our being rack-rented to the backbone. Past experience teaches us that many of us have been bound slaves to our proprietors from the cradle to the grave, and all owing to our country's bad laws. The following remedies are wanted :—
1. A fair rent fixed by impartial judges;
2. Fixity of tenure as long as the rents so fixed be paid;
3. Compensation for past and future improvements ;
4. That large farms be broken down;
5. That deer forests be entirely abolished.

40579. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Did you write this paper?
—Every word of it, without any help whatever.

40580. Was it submitted to all the other crofters, and do they concur in it ?
—Yes, quite so.

40581. The Chairman.
—The complaints here are of the same nature as the complaints made to us by previous witnesses on other estates. We understand the nature of the complaints and for that reason we do not ask you any questions.
—There is nothing there but what I witnessed myself, and it is just the plain truth.

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