JOHN MACKENZIE, Crofter, Annat (72), assisted by RODERICK M'BEATH, Crofter, Annat (60)—examined.
29862. The Chairman,
—Have you been elected a delegate?
29863. Have you got a paper ?
—That is our paper, but it was not given to me.
" In the multitude of people is the king's honour, but in the want of people is the destruction of the prince." (Prov. xiv, 28). Again, woe is pronounced against those who join house to house and field to field, till they dwell alone in the midst of the land, and no place left for the poor to dwell in (Isaiah v. 8).
The Honourable the Royal Commission, now making Inquiry into the Condition of the Crofters in the Islands and Highlands, Gentlemen.
—May it please your honours, we the crofters of Annat of Torridon do hereby unanimously crave your attention to the following remarks respecting our condition as crofters. Our holdings at present consist of one acre and a half of arable land, of very poor and unproductive quality, a great deal of it being mossy and boggy, and in some places below the level of the high water mark, so that portions of it are flooded by the high spring tides. Such portions of it as are high and dry are composed of rough gravelly soil mixed with sand —this quality of land is valued at £ 1 , 10s. per acre, thus amounting to £2, 5s. per 1½ acre, also the grazing of one cow valued at £ 1 , 15s., all of which amounts to £ 1 . Likewise, last year the poor rates were Is. 11d . per £ , School Board 8½ d. per £ , and one £d. per £ for registration and public health, in all 10s. 10d. No doubt there is a difference in the quality of the soil on this estate, as well as there is on other estates. But who thus valued the land we do not know, we do not suppose that the proprietor himself did it. But whoever was the valuator, he had not, it appears, the welfare of the poor crofters at heart, but the reverse ; the device being not live and let live, but we will give them this hungry morsel with plenty of salt on it, if they can swallow it let them do it. If not let them go where they can get better, we will disgust and starve them out; this has been the order of it in other places in the Highlands as well as here. Our stock, as before mentioned, consists of one cow and a calf which is generally sold at the age of fourteen or fifteen months, this year realising an average of £5, according to quality, and sometimes there may not be a stirk every year. This is all that goes to the market from our croft, not a boll of meal comes from the mill as the produce of the croft, but many are bought throughout the year. The estate of Torridon, which was bought by Mr Darroch from Colonel M'Barnet some ten years ago, may be divided into five districts or hamlets, Wester Aligin and Easter Aligin, Fasag, Annat, and Badanmhuyie, and as it is expected that delegates from these will appear before the Commission, we will refrain from making any reference regarding them, but only that they are on the same level with ourselves. In the year 1838 Mr M'Barnet, who was a West Indian or South American planter, bought this estate from Seaforth M'Keuzie. Before this time, the crofters on the estate had the benefit of the hill pasture all round, having a fair summing of sheep on the hills, and goats also—two or three milch cows—or as many as they could conveniently winter, with plenty of arable land to cultivate and plenty of wool for making blankets and other cloth for men and women, a commodity of which we are now deprived, the rent at that time was ranging from £ 3 to £ 4 and £ 5 , the people, having horses and ploughs among them. At the time when Mr M'Barnet bought the estate, in the year '38, there were about eight families in Annat, having all the arable land then available, and the hill pasture, and as many cattle as they were able to keep, and some horses and ploughs at a rent of £6. On the north side of the river, which was then called Derrynapuaran, or in English the Grove of Springs, there were about twenty-six or twenty-seven families, the majority of which paid Seaforth Mckenzie for their crofts and hill pasture from £ 4 to £ 5 , according to size of croft. They had an offer again of the hill pasture from the new proprietor at a rise of rent, which they did not accept, and the consequence was, that they were ordered to clear their sheep ofT the hill, and dispose of them the best way they could, cattle and all being served with writs of ejectment from crofts and houses. The proprietor stocked the hill for himself; some of the families emigrated to America, and others removed whither they could get an open gate. As there was no force used to eject them from their houses, some stuck to their houses, and are alive there yet. Then it was surmised that the Annat crofters, on the south side of the river, had their tenancy or holding too cheap, so that seven families on the north side had an offer of crossing the river which was accepted, and the arable land subdivided in equal lots, having their share of hill pasture and all set down at £ 5 rent. Now the rent nearly doubled, fifteen families paying £ 5 each. In this form we had the privilege of the hill pasture and grazing for cattle, until the year 1868. The lease being out, a new factor came on the field, Adam Currer, acting under Colonel M'Barnets trustees, he gave us notice that our tenure of hill pasture and croft were ended, and that he would buy the most of them, that is the stock of sheep; we obeyed the order, gathered them to the sheep fold, where they were sorted and valued by the factor and his assistants to their own satisfaction, and stocked the hill again for the trustees. In February 1868 a letter was sent from the trustees in 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 before 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 durst not take possession of the ground until the arrival of the factor, who was to give us the full permission. 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 the 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 that 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 he, the groundofficer, said that 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; he said, when there, he would deliver it up, but this threat of ours was never carried into execution. We were now in a dilemma what to do, we had nothing to show as our authority to take possession of the arable land, whether the factor knew anything about this letter or document we do not know, nor by whom the resolution of giving us the land was reversed we do not know, but to all appearance the factor knew something about it. Now we entreated and importuned the factor to give us, if not more, some potato ground. At last he, the factor, consented to give us a slice of the arable land, now the whole acreage of arable land in Annat is reckoned to be about forty-five acres; nearly two-thirds of this was marked out and appropriated by the factor as a common or grazing park. The remainder was given to us, with the. grazing of one cow, at a rent of £3. At this time there were about twenty families on the north side of the river, who were getting plots of ground for planting potatoes, before Mr Currer the new factor appeared on the ground they would not now get a bit of the ground to plant anything. But to tighten the reins of oppression, which make a wise man mad, upon our necks, they were ordered to cross the river and get a share of what was allotted to us, for planting potatoes only—and the rest given to us to make the best of it, so this state of things remained unaltered, until Mr Darroch appeared on the field and took possession of the estate in the year '73 as proprietor, and set about ameliorating and reforming this anomalous state of things. First he relieved us of those who were sent among us to plant from the north side of the river, and supplied them with more or less land to plant corn and potatoes on the north side near their own houses. There were eighteen families in Annat, having their share of what Mr Currer allotted to us, and an order was issued by the factor that the calf, as soon as possible, be despatched or disposed of some way, almost as soon as it was dropped by its mother. Fearing that this order would not be carried out to the letter, we were ordered to send the calf to their dairy, to be fed for themselves of course, valued at 10s. per head, and as we had no bull of our own at this time, we were charged 5s. each calf for the use of their bull. As some were feeding their calf to kill it themselves, the factor, suspecting that some might be kept concealed in our houses, on a November evening entered our houses, with a candle in his hand to light him into corners where he imagined a calf or a stirk might be concealed. These things have reduced us to the lowest term. What can be expected to arise from such treatment but penury and destitution. As before stated, Mr Darroch dealt out to eighteen families some twenty-seven acres, divided among ourselves in equal shares of one and a half acre for each family, with grazing of one cow; he also supplied us with a bull free of charge. At his entry into the estate the people got plenty of work, at his new buildings, road forming, and wood planting ; and even just now, those who got seed from Mr Darroch last spring are getting work to pay it. He claims no work to be done to him in addition to rent, and pays for all work executed for him. We have ample run for the cattle, there is no restrictions upon us to take sea-ware, and cut peat and turf in proper places; in all these things we declare that the proprietor made us something better than he found us, so that, excepting, the land question, we give Mr Darroch credit as a kind, affable, and munificent gentleman, ready to succour the necessitous who apply to him, if it is in his power to relieve them. Now with regard to the tillage of our land, there is not a horse, nor a cart, nor a plough in possession of the crofters here, the boat is the sea cart, carrying the sea-ware to the shore, the creel is the next eart, carrying from the shore to the field; the old cas-cfiroiun to delve, and the hand rake to smoothen the surface; all these comprise the farming implements of the crofters here. Yet we struggle with it for the sake of a home, and indeed most of the homes, or houses here, are of a very homely description —old reekies, consisting of two or three apartments, the third occupied by the cow and the hens, entering by the same door with the human inmates. The landlord affords timber free to those who may be disposed to build a new cottage, and promises compensation in case of removal, but as long as the old ones stand, they will be occupied. The people are disheartened from building new houses on accouut of the smallness of their holding, unless compelled through sheer necessity to do it, and very few among the crofters can afford the expense. The whole of the hill pasture of Torridou is a deer forest, not a sheep farm on the whole estate; the proprietor found it cleared of sheep, and so it remains. What we want in the meantime is that the land which we cultivate be valued by an experienced agriculturist, according to its quality, and if so done we are willing to take some more of it, at least, as much as will keep another cow with proportionate out-run, otherwise we cannot take more of it. And also if we could get pasture for a few sheep, say, a dozen for each family, or even half a dozen, would be so much help. Since we lost the hill pasture fifteen years ago we are running out of night and day cloth, both of which in former years, when we had the wool, were manufactured at our own firesides. There are eighteen houses in Annat where fire is kindled, the population of which is about sixty-six, old and young. Of the former eighteen families who paid full rent and rates fourteen planted last spring. The young of both sexes, as soon as they attain puberty, make off to where they cau best live, some of the young men go to trades, others emigrating to the colonies, whence cometh complaints, especially from New Zealand, that the insatiable and avaricious spirit which pervades the hearts of too many at home has gone abroad, even to that colony, where the land in a great measure is engrossed and monopolized by land speculators, buying up large blocks of the land from Government on easy terms and reselling it by auction in small divisions, at exorbitant prices, to the detriment of the people. Gentlemen, these enormities cry loudly for redress and reform at home and abroad. As the foregoing pages may not be paragraphed to the taste of practical writers, it is hoped that defects and defaults in the composition, construction, and arrangement of this somewhat uupleasant narration will be excused. Now, wishing the efforts of the Royal Commission every success, we remain, Honoured Sirs, your obedient servants, the crofters of Annat.
29864. Did they draw up any paper?
—My information is that thirteen of them signed the paper.
29865. Why did they not give the paper to their own delegate?
—They chose another man before me as a delegate.
29866. Where is the other man?
—Sitting over there
—[Roderick M'Beath]. The paper remained in the possession of the writer of it.
29867. Do you know as matter of fact that that is the paper [showing] ?
—I could not read, but I believe it is the paper.
29868. Can you write your name ?
29859. Is this your name - John Mackenzie?
—Yes, that is my signature. The paper was not read to me, and I made a mistake in that respect.
29870. [To Roderick M'Beath] Look at that paper ?
— [Roderick M'Beath] That is my signature ; I wrote it myself.
29871. Do you know what is in it ?
—I heard some of it read.
29872. Why did you sign a paper which you had not heard read over ?
—We were all gathered together about the time of its composition and telling what was to be put down.
29873. Who wrote it ?
29874. What is John Macdonald ?
—He is a brother of a crofter in the place.
29875. What is his own occupation ?
—He just helps his brother.
29876. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Do you remember the year 1838?-
29877. How many tenants were there in Annat at that time?
29878. What rent were they paying ?
29879. Do you know if there were any arrears of rent due by any of them ?
—I cannot tell; I was not paying much attention at that time; my father was alive. The M'Barnets increased that rent of £ 6 to £ 10 each, and increased the number of families from eight to sixteen.
29880. So that the sixteen families each paid £5 ?
—Yes. There was some peat ground reclaimed with borrowed money by the factor upon the estate at the time—Colonel Macpherson —and for this ground we paid 10s. each, but I cannot give dates.
29881. How long did you continue to pay £ 5 ?
—About nine years.
29882. At the end of the nine years were the rents well paid or were there arrears upon the place ?
—I was not in arrears myself, but probably some of my neighbours were.
29883. Was it because you were in arrears that Mr M'Barnet let the place as a sheep farm ?
—I don't know that that was exactly the case.
2988-i. What do you think was the reason ?
—The manager that lived upon the other side of the burn thought that our place should pay better
than it was paying at that time. Although some were succeeding others were not. We thought that was the reason.
29885. Then as a whole the Annat crofters were not succeeding at that time ?
—Some of them succeeded better than others.
29886. Who was the manager on the other side of the burn ?
—James Mackintosh. He was manager for a sheep farmer upon the other side of the river before M'Barnet got the property.
29887. The other side of the river was not a sheep farm before M'Barnet got the property 1
—Not exactly before he got the property —but before he got possession.
29888. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Were the whole contents of this paper talked of by the people themselves before it was put in writing?
29889. Does it represent their sentiments?
—Certainly. There is one thing in the paper that I do not agree with ; that is, asking Mr Darroch for sheep. He is an excellent proprietor, not to be beat in his dealings with the poor men anywhere. But the land is dear, a croft only having one cow and one calf. Then the tide burst in upon us, and the lower portion of our town is under level of high-water mark, so that the sea covers a greater portion of the inside and middle of our township now, and because of this encroachment of salt water, supposing the crops were coming to the ear they won't ripen.