STATEMENT by ANDREW SMITH, Esq., Law Agent, Dingwall.
DINGWALL, 13th October 1883.
I observe from the newspaper reports of the evidence given before the Royal Commission at Dingwall, on Wednesday last, that two of the delegates from the Heights of Strathpeffer made some remarks which concern me as law agent for Her Grace the Duchess of Sutherland and Countess of Cromarty. Donald Macdonald, Heights of Strathpeffer, stated that "five or six of the crofters that could sign their names received their leases at once, and all others were told to go to the estate law agent, Mr Smith, Dingwall, where they got the leases signed, each tenant paying Mr Smith ten shillings, but none of them ever received their leases, although they had made repeated application for them." John Rose, Heights of Inchvanie, repeats this statement.
The matter is a small one, but as the statement is inaccurate, and is calculated at the first glance to give rise to an entirely erroneous impression that an injustice was done to the crofters, I think it right that the true state of the case should be laid before your Lordship and the other members of the Royal Commission.
In the first place, the leases referred to were signed in 1860, when it was requisite that two notaries should subscribe a deed on behalf of a person who could not write. The ten shillings alluded to by the delegates were not paid by these crofters to me, but to the notaries who were employed by them to sign their leases for them ; I am not a notary, and I received no part of this money, nor did I make any charge whatever against the tenants for my services in the matter. I have reason to believe that the deligates who made this misleading statement were quite aware how the case really stood. With regard to the statement that the leases so signed were not received by the tenants, I beg to explain that these leases consisted of printed forms, and were all in the same terms. The tenants' names and the description of their holding were filed into them in the office of the late Mr Scott, then factor on the Cromarty estates, and, in the case of those crofters who could not write, he sent the printed forms to me that I might superintend their notarial execution. This was all I had to do in the matter, and on the leases being signed they were all returned by me to Mr Scott to be completed. I have no doubt that he duly handed duplicates or copies of them to the tenants, and the fact that the principal copies of the leases—whether signed by the crofters themselves or notarially—are still in the Cromarty Estates Office, while the duplicates are not, shows that this must have been done. The admission of the delegates that the crofters who could write got their leases (duplicates), also supports this, as Mr Scott could have no reason for making a distinction between the tenants who could write and those who could not.
But in any case this pretended " grievance " is a purely fanciful one, for, as ia well known, the leases, on being executed, constituted at once a good and binding title in favour o^ the crofters, who, in point of fact, possessed under and derived the benefit of them, during their whole currency, as much as if they had held them in their own hands. The principal lease is, in Scotland, always retained by the proprietor ; the delivery of a copy to the tenant is not required to make it binding, and where the lease is printed, and its terms well known, there is no object to be served, even of convenience, in the tenant getting such a copy.
As to Macdonald's statement that he applied to me five times for his lease, and was referred by me to Mr Scott, and by Mr Scott to me, I have no recollection of this, and I am quite certain the statement is erroneous.