Shieldaig, 1 August 1883 - John Mackenzie

JOHN MACKENZIE, Ground Officer, Camustroil, Torridon (77)—examined.

29970. The Chairman.
—How long have you been ground officer of Torridon?
—Since 1827.

29971. Did you hear the statements made by the people coming from the
—I did partly. I did not understand the whole, I was such a distance off.

29972. Have you any statement you wish to make?
—Yes. 'I , John M'Kenzie, son of the late ground officer, Torridon, was appointed ground officer shortly after my father's death, 1826. Everything went on, well until the estate was sold by Seaforth in 1838 to the late Mr M. Barnet. Immediately after the sale Seaforth requested me to call on him at Brahan Castle. On my arrival there he brought under my notice the large sums of arrears against the Torridon tenants, and enquired of me what course I would recommend him to take for the recovery of this large sum. I then brought under his notice that if he would take legal steps the whole parties were to be ruined, and that he could not expect to pocket much; but if he would be pleased to allow me to call on them and advise them to come forward willingly with some of their cattle that he would have the whole value of these cattle when sold by his instructions. He agreed at ones, and gave me full charge to follow up my plan. Every one on the estate came forward willingly with some of their cattle, and both parties seemed well pleased. The very first thing our new proprietor did was to summon nearly all from the estate. Many families emigrated to North America then, but the whole of those got some help in money from Mr M' Barnet. The four townships of Durry were then removed from their houses, and those who were not able then to leave the place had to build new houses at Fasag near the shore. The place then was let as one sheep farm—Durries, Wester Corry, and Inver Alligin. Then the whole of these poor people were entirely at the mercy of this sheep farmer and his manager. As there was not a factor or proprietor living on the estate, the whole of these poor cottars endured very great hardships, not getting more than one third of potato ground that they would require, and shifting them now and again as it suited their purposes; and continued so until the present proprietor got the estate, which turned out a very great blessing and boon to the whole of the Torridon people. Annat and Wester Alligin were allowed to manage as they thought best, as these two townships had sheep and cattle. At last the Wèiter Alligin people were made to believe by the sheep manager that if they cleared their sheep from the farm he would give them so much money for the wintering of the place, and as a number of them had no sheep, they pressed the others to accept of this plan, and all agreed ; but whenever the sheep were cleared off the manager never took their wintering. But it was quite contrary with me and the Annat men, for it was thoroughly against our will that we parted with the sheep stock, as I had since 1833 the fourth of the hill grazing and stock. About this time the tenant of the sheep farms failed, and then the proprietor had to take his stock unto his hands, and then Annat and Wester Alligin had to part with their whole stock but one cow each, and the new rules were that all the calves were to be either killed or sold before Martinmas, being then only five or six months. During these years of the greatest hardships we had to buy so much of the sea-ware from these sheep farmers. The Annat people were threatened to be removed from the estate unless they complied with these rules. In 1872, when Mr Darroch purchased the estate, there were heavy arrears, but by much trouble and perseverance I bought up these arrears at a low rate, and paid a certain sum ; the people got all the benefit of this transaction of mine. Then came the blessed change, for the first thing Mr Darroch made was to give an enclosed park on the Mains Farm for all the Fasag people (twenty families, with the sea-ware attached to it for 15s. each). Some of those with small families raise as much corn crop and hay as will pay their rent. At that time there was only one cow at Inver Alligin, and now, twenty families there have a milk cow and some yeld cattle at Fasag. No cows then, but now eight families have cows at Annat, each has three or four head of cattle, and so have they at Wester Alligin. At Wester Alligin Mr Darroch advanced them money to buy sheep stock for the hill there. The great majority of them were delighted with this, but some of them were not. However, Mr Darroch sent his manager with one of them to the Muir of Ord market, and bought hoggs there for them. After several years of experience they began to grumble, and frequently complained that it was not a paying concern, until at last it was nearly unanimously decided to sell the stock and to pay Mr Darroch his money, the balance remaining was then equally divided among them. At last Martinmas term Mr Darroch gave them and the Inver people the whole of the hill pasture of Wester Alligin for any overstock of cattle they would choose to rear and keep, for each cow was only to be charged for the year ten days work for him at the most convenient time for them to be absent from their own work. Mr Darroch has been uncommonly kind to each and all of us, old and young, in clothing and food; he has given the whole sea-ware, allows to cut peats, to pull heather and brakens wherever most convenient to us, gives timber for building and repairing all the houses gratuitously; at last Martinmas collection gave a deduction of £25 per cent., and last spring supplied the whole with oat seed and potatoes; takes the greatest interest in the education of the children, and often supplies them with books; on several occasions gave money for purchasing herring nets and cattle, and lastly, not the least boon has been the means of supplying us with a resident missionary, all the time officiating on this his property. I, John M'Kenzie, residing at Camustrole, Torridon, and a ground officer here since 1827, had the charge of the parish of Shieldaig during the Highland destitution, was elected a member of the Parochial Board of Applecross from the passing of the Act, and also a member of the School Board until last year, when I resigned voluntarily, so that I ought to know as much as many about the condition of the Torridon people, and I never saw them as well off as now. The Wester and Inver Alligin people have all the arable lands there, and on account of the good pasture for all the cattle on the estate I do consider that two cows are now as useful for dairy purposes and markets as three formerly. I omitted to state that Mr Darroch bought for us superior bulls and made a present of them to us. Some young cows this year got as high as £13 here, and stott stirks from £6, 6s. to £7, 10s. To all the people who did not go to the fishing he gives employment generally for their own comfort—roads, &c. And although some think the arable lands are too high rented, still, taking everything into consideration, I do not consider it to be so. Remembering past years when we would hardly be allowed to turn off their sheep from our crops, it was a happy day for us when these sheep of theirs were removed, and our cattle to be allowed to graze in these forests.

29973. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Did you hear what John Mackenzie from Annat said ?
—I did not fully understand.

29974. He said ' In February 1868 a letter was sent from the trustees on our behalf to the ground officer with instructions, giving us an offer of the arable land, with one cow for stock, at a rent of £ 3 , or in case of refusing this offer, the terms of which were read to us in both languages, we would have to flit and remove from our houses and all. We accepted the offer, but at the same time we were told that we must not take possession of the ground until the arrival of a factor who was to give us the full peemission. He delayed his journey so long that we were getting impatient, and as we had some sea-ware ready on the shore and beginning to decompose, some of us were for starting and planting ; but others were opposed to this through fear of trespassing. Ultimately the factor made his appearance on the ground, but to our horror and mortification we were told we were not to get a yard of it, and he would hardly speak to us at all. So we applied to the ground officer for the letter or document which was sent to us and read in our hearing, but he refused to give it up. This document ought to be kept by us. But the ground officer said he would keep it as safe himself, and it is in his safe custody to this day. We threatened to cite him before the sheriff at Dingwall, but this threat of ours was never carried into execution.' What do you know about that letter ?
—Nothing whatsoever do I know about that letter.

29975. But you were the ground officer at that time ?
—I was.

29976. And you recollect nothing about it ?
—I recollect nothing about it.

29977. Do you remember what changes took place in 1868 ?
—I do; and I suffered more because I had one fourth of the whole of that stock myself. I was as much displeased as any of them, and had more reason to be so.

29978. And you don't remember that they got the offer of the place at £3 rent, with one cow; I do, and they were for years living under that offer paying £ 3 of rent.

29979. But there was some potato ground they were to get which they did not get?
—I don't remember those particulars.

29980. What arable land had they for the £ 3 ; had they ever more than they have now ?
—No, nor so much, because those people at Annat, the twenty families at Fasag, were thrown in upon them that same year.

29981. But had they not the offer of that ground before the Fasag people were thrown in upon them; was there a letter sent by the factor to you offering that ground?
—I cannot recollect anything about that letter.

29982. The Chairman.
—In general, in all those years were the people very much persecuted and very unhappy ?
—They were, both on Fasag and Annat.

29983. And the ground officer was the same as the people?

29084. It was not with your consent at all that was done?
—It was thoroughly against my will altogether.

29985. Are you still ground officer?
—I am.

29986. Then you must be pleased now to see the change ?
—And so I make a full confession of that.

29987. Does it make you happy ?
—It does in every sense of the word.

29988. Do you think that the people might still get a little more pasture with the consent of the proprietor ?
—The people are allowed by the proprietor to keep overstock on the condition that they are to give ten days of their work for the keep of that cow.

29989. Is their pasture within a fence or open behind ?
—It is open behind, and so much the better for us, it is better for our cattle.

29990. The overstock can go wherever they like?
—We have the benefit of the forest.

29991 When they go far out do they meet deer —there is no sheep there ?
—Not one. It was a lucky day for us when we got clear of the sheep.

29992. You pay £ 10 a year of rent ?

29993. How many acres of arable ground is there in your holding 1
—I cannot answer that.

29994. Supposing you were not the ground officer, but merely a rofter, and had this large croft of £10, do you think you would be able to make a living with your family?
—And so I would certainly.

29995. I suppose you get some salary for being ground officer?
—I do.

29996. Supposing you had no salary, but were a crofter and had to live off that croft alone, would you be able to make a subsistence off the croft and keep and support your family in comfort ?
—I would.

29997. Supposing you had a son who could help you ?
—Supposing I had a son, the more the better.

29998. But could you do it all yourself or would you have to be assisted?
—Of course, assisted.

29999. How many cattle can you keep—what is your summing?
—Just as much as the rest—three cows, and one or two followers for each cow.

30000. Any sheep ?
—No, not one upon the estate.

30001. A horse?
—I have a horse.

30002. And how many acres of arable ground?
—I did improve that croft of my own greatly—fenced and drained and greatly improved it.
30003. Had you any lease?
—I had a nineteen years lease at my entry in the year 1833. At the expiry of that lease I got a new lease for fourteen years.

30004. Was the rent raised ?
—It was.

30005. How much ?
—I had to pay £ 2 more.

30006. And at the end of the fourteen years; what happened then ?
—Then we were deprived of our sheep stock. As long as that lease was in existence they could not do that. As the estate was then in the market we would get no renewal of leases. The property was intended to be sold; neither I nor they would get any new lease.

30007. Have you got a new lease then ?

30008. But you are not afraid of being disturbed ?
—Not in the least.

30009. Do you think that any industrious man would be able to live and support his family who had a croft or farm about the size of yours ?
—I do ; but it is impossible to expect that a £4 croft will support a man.

30010. Would the tenant have sometimes to work for other people with his cart and horse and earn wages, or would he really get on without working for wages at all ?
—Well, with such a croft as I have at present, a person would have work enough on it for himself.

30011. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—All the year round ?
—All the year round.

30012. The Chairman.
—What is the reason that people are not allowed to keep sheep on this property ?
—That is our new proprietor's rules.

30013. What is the reason for doing it?
—He prefers to have it as a dear forest; that is all the explanation I can give.

30014. Mr Cameron.
—Did the people ever have any sheep in Mr Darroch's time ?
—No ; the whole estate was clear of sheep before his entry.

30015. Did the people have any difficulty in managing their sheep stock when they had them ?
—The Wester Aligin people were the only people who had sheep during Mr Darroch's time.

30016. Did the people ever ask Mr Darroch to have sheep?
—I have not heard, with the exception of the Wester Aligin people.

30017. But you don't know whether the people as a body ever asked Mr Darroch whether they might put sheep in the forest or not ?
—Not to my knowledge.

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