FINLAY M'BEATH, Crofter, Deruner (64)—examined.
29710. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—What statement have you to make ?
—At a meeting held by us on the 23rd day of July 1883, we, the crofters of Deruner, on the estate of Mr Murray of Lochcarron, proposed to place the following grievances before the Royal Commission :
—First, that twenty years ago our hill pasture was turned into a deer forest. Since that time we were not allowed to keep one single sheep, and in about one third of our arable ground we can sow nothing whatever as it is completely overrun with deer; but notwithstanding all this we pay exactly the same rent now as we did when we had sheep, and our crops were not destroyed by deer.
Secondly, that the deer every year destroy our crops, and if we preserve anything from them it is by watching the whole night, by the doing of which we are prevented from earning a livelihood elsewhere. We scarcely sent a grain to the mill during the last twenty years, and often we are compelled to buy oat seed. Thirdly, that we repeatedly asked our former proprietor, Mr Stewart, to fence our land under such conditions as he himself might choose, but were as often refused. Subsequently we offered to fence it ourselves on condition that we should get compensation for the outlay in case of our leaving or being removed from the place. No such promise, however, would be given us. Since all the townships around us have been fenced our condition is doubly worse. We cannot understand why our township alone is left without a fence. Fourthly, we are not even allowed to take ewes for wintering on our arable ground as other crofters on the estate are. We may add that our forefathers lived on this estate from time immemorial, and so far as we ever heard or knew, behaved themselves always in strict accordance with law and order. Our demands are very reasonable, viz.,
(1) permission to have a few sheep ;
(2) a fence to protect our crops from the deer.'
29711. How many crofters are there in Deruner?
29712. What is the name of the neighbouring township that is fenced ?
29713. Is it on the same property?
29714. Are there other villages on the same property that are fenced ?
—Kinloch upon the other side is one that is fenced; the gamekeeper lives there.
29715. But are there townships occupied by crofters that are fenced in your neighbourhood ?
—No, except Shieldaig here.
29716. Is Shieldaig fenced ?
29717. Are they allowed to keep sheep at Camusfail ?
—They have a few.
29713. How many families are there at Camusfail?
—Only one family.
29719. What rent do they pay there?
—I cannot tell.
29720. What is the rent of the township of Deruner?
—£3, 2s. each.
29721. Do you not know the reason why you were not allowed to fence your own land ?
29722. Is there any one here who can explain the reason ?
—I cannot tell.
29723. Is the late proprietor's ground officer here?
29724. Would he know the reason?
—-I cannot tell; he is here himself.
29725. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How large is the forest that you told was created twenty years ago ?
—I cannot tell; I never heard of its being measured.
29726. Is it so very large that it was never measured?
—It is not so very large.
29727. Were there any people removed to make that forest?
29728. How was it occupied?
—It was hill pasture for crofters. They had it the same way as they had the low ground.
29729. How many crofters had the right to put their animals on it ?
—There was one man that had a great deal of stock upon that hill; then there were two other townships in addition to ours which had right to send stock upon it.
29730. What was the name of these two townships ?
—The Glen of Shieldaig. The sheep had the run of the hill.
29731. You say you got no allowance of rent when this pasture was taken away ?
—Yes, there was £1 taken off the land at the time we were deprived of the pasture; but shortly afterwards that £ 1 was added to the regular rent.
29732. Do you know if a similar practice was adopted towards the other townships which had right to the grazing ?
—I cannot tell; but I know the rents were raised all round at that time.
29733. Do you also know that the subject let to you was all reduced at the time the forest was made ?
—The nearest town to us got it anyhow; I cannot tell for the others.
29734. How long has Lochcarron been the property of the Stewarts ?
—About twenty-one years.
29735. Was there any forest upon that estate before the Stewarts came ?
—There was no forest, but there were deer.
29736. Although you do not know the extent of the forest, is it a large portion of the estate?
—Yes, it is pretty wide, but it does not by any means make the great portion of the surface of the estate.
29737. To whom did Lochcarron formerly belong before the Stewarts?
—Mackenzie of Applecross.
29738. Do you recollect when the Applecross estate was belonging to one proprietor ?
29739. Was there any forest, strictly so-called, upon the part of Applecross now belonging to Lord Middleton ?
—No, not at first. There was no forest, strictly 60 called, but there was a place among the higher grounds where the proprietor used to shoot, but no stock was kept there.
29710. Do you know a place called Auchuashellach ?
—Yes, I know it, but I am not acquainted with it.
29741. Do you know that it is under deer?
—I hear that some of it is under deer at least.
29742. Was it so in the time of Mackenzie of Applecross ?
29743. Is the place called Coolin part of Applecross forest?
—It is far away from our place, but I hear it is.
29744. Do you know any other part belonging to Mackenzie of Applecross, besides the ones I have asked you about, which are now forest ?
—I don't know about other places in that state.
29745. Do you know a place called Craig?
—Yes, I have gone that way.
29746. Is that a forest?
—I understand it is now.
29747. And all the places you have mentioned were at one time the sole property of the Mackenzies of Applecross?
—Yes; they were part of the Applecross estate.
29748. Do you know a man called Duncan M'Lean, Slumbae ?
—I may know him, but I am not aware that I do.
29749. Where about does he stay?
—Right opposite from where ws are,
29750. How many miles?
—It is just right opposite the steamer; it is not a mile by sea; it is three miles by land.
29751. Have you asked your present proprietor, or made any complaint to him that you are without this fence?
—We never asked himself personally, but we asked his servants. He himself has only lately come into the place, and we have not had much opportunity to speak to him.
29752. Is it not always better to go to headquarters when you have the opportunity?
—We have not had the opportunity; it is only twice we have seen him since he got the place.
29753. You are seeing him now ?
29754. Don't you think it would be a wise thing to take the opportunity of speaking to your landlord ?
29755. Do you complaiu of anything except this matter of the fence ?
—No, and we do not know what he may do about the fence itself; we have nothing to object to as far as he is concerned.
29756. Have you complained more than once to the officials of the estate ?
—Oh, yes, more than once; I did once, and there was another man made a complaint on another occasion.
29757. What was the nature of the answer you got ?
—It was the other man that was the spokesman; I was not at home at the time; but he says they refused to put up the fence.
29758. The Chairman.
—How many families were there on the three townships whose common grazing was taken away ?
—There would have been about thirty at that time; there are not so many people in this place there were twenty and four and five.
29759. Do the other townships suffer from the deer as well as your own ?
—No, the march of the other townships is fenced.
29760. Does the injury from the deer still continue?
—Yes; we sit up every night to watch them.
29761. How long does the injury last during the year —all round, or in a particular period ?
—In harvest. When the potatoes appear above the ground they begin to eat them, and continue eating them until the shaws get very big, then they stop. Then they begin again when the corn is ripe; and when the potatoes are ripe they eat the potatoes and continue right on until the crops are closed up.
29762. Has the former or present proprietor ever given you any compensation for actual damage done?
29763. Did the former proprietors ever employ a paid watcher to keep the deer off your ground ?
—Not since I was born.
29764. If the present proprietor was inclined to put up a deer fence, would you help him in the transport of materials, or by labour, or in any way ?
—Yes, we would be very glad to assist him in every way.
29765. Was the forest all made up of this hill grazing of the crofters, or was the hill grazing only added to another larger area?
—The tenants had right to graze over the whole of the land which is now forest; and now a great portion of the low ground, because of the deer, is quite useless to us.
29766. Has this forest ever been let to a tenant ?
—I am not aware that it was ever let; it was Sir John Stewart's own sons that used to shoot over it.
29767. Have you any idea what the value of the ground occupied as the forest would be if it was let as a sheep farm or a deer forest ?
—I am not able to judge; I have no idea; I am not a very good judge of the value of land.
29768. About how many sheep would it graze ?
—We ourselves had one hundred and twenty sheep upon it —the six of us.
29769. When the hill grazing was taken away from the other two townships as well as yours was the rent of the other two townships permanently reduced, or was the rent of them raised too?
—Tho rent was reduced the same as ours, but it was afterwards increased the same as ours. The whole of the estate was increased, as far as I am aware at that time.
29770. Then whatever the grazing or forest value of the old common pasture is now, it is a clear gain to the proprietor ?
29771. But he has never done anything to benefit the crofters of your township ?
29772. Who paid for the fence round the other two townships?
—I cannot tell.
29773. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—When did the present proprietor get possession of the estate ?
—A year last Whitsunday.
29774. Mr Cameron.
—How many crofters are there at Deruner?
29775. What rent do they pay?
—£3, 2s. each.
29776. Were you elected as a delegate by the crofters at Deruner, or by the other crofters in the neighbourhood ?
—My own township.
29777. You represent the five crofters and not the rest?
29778. How long would the fence require to be to protect the arable ground of yourself and the other crofters against the deer?
—A mile would cover it —scarcely a mile.
29779. Was it the impression of the people when they sent you to represent this grievance, that the Royal Commission had power to order the fence to be put up ?
—I cannot say.
29780. Is it your own impression?
—Well, yes, we thought that perhaps you had the power, that we were to get justice like other people.
29781. Would it be a very difficult fence to erect, this mile.?
—No, not very difficult.
29782. Have you any reason to think that the present proprietor would be unwilling to listen to any reasonable request about it?
—I do not say that he would refuse to put up any reasonable fence.
29783. Did the one hundred and twenty sheep you refer to as having been grazed on this belong to your own township or to the other township besides ?
—My own township.
29784. How many sheep, besides the one hundred and twenty grazed, belonging to the other crofters ?
—I cannot tell.
29785. Was it more or less?
—In the glen upon the other side of us they had more sheep each than we had.
29786. Can you mention what the number of sheep used to be that belonged to the crofters in former times on the grazings here?
—I can not.
29787. What would be the value of the grazing of one hundred and twenty sheep at the current rates?
—As things go to-day, 3s. a sheep perhaps.
29788. Do you think sheep farms let for 3s. a sheep?
—I cannot undertake to say.
29789. Don't you think that many proprietors would be glad at present if they could get 2s. ?
—Yes, where there are very large places perhaps.
29790. But according to your own view of the value of sheep grazing, that of one hundred and twenty sheep would be £18?
—We were not looking at it that way; we had the right to the hill as part of our crofts.
29791. If you now got liberty to stock it with sheep, would you be able to buy the sheep to put on the ground?
—Some, perhaps not all.
29792. How many of the five tenants ?
—Two at least
29793. So that two would be able to buy sheep?
—Two at least, and perhaps four.
29794. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—All of them could buy some sheep ?
—Yes, perhaps some of them could buy more or less, but probably the whole five could not buy the whole number.