Letterfearn, 3 August 1883 - Murdo Macrae

MURDO MACRAE, Cottar, Morvich (58)—examined.

31183. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Have you been elected by the cottars of Morvich ?
—I was.

31184. How many of them were at the meeting?
—Twenty, but they were not all there. I have a statement which I wish to read.

31185. Is that statement on behalf of the whole of the cottars?
—Yes, from the whole of them included in the forest
—' Parish of Glenshiel, Estate of Kintail. The following delegates have been appointed to lay before the Royal Commission the case of the cottars on what was the farm of Morvich, and is now included in the deer forest of MrWinans, viz., Murdoch Macrae, Alexander Maclennan, and Duncan Macrae. They beg to submit the following statement, and are prepared to answer any questions bearing thereon or on any matters relating to their position, on which information may be desired. On this land there are nineteen houses, in seven of which there is only one inmate in each. In the remaining twelve there are families of from two to eight persons. Among all these there are less than four acres of land available for growing potatoes or other crop. For the use of such portions as they had of this land such as were able gave work to the value of £ 1 per annum to the tenants and latterly to the proprietor. Five have cows, for which £3 per annum each was paid for liberty to graze on the farm. All the lands of Morvich and Inchewe have been let to Mr AVinans, who has endeavoured to compel the proprietor to turn all the cottars out of house and home. The history of the " Kintail Crofters " case is so well known that it need not be further referred to. The proprietor does not seem to have made any stipulation in his agreement with Mr A Winans for their being allowed to remain on the ground, which he might easily have done. While the cottars can scarcely get a bit of land in which to grow a little food, there are many acres of excellent arable land at Morvich, which are admirably adapted for the use of crofters, and which might have been given to them without any damage to the deer forest. Of this land no use whatever is being made at present. Some of it is covered with weeds, and many acres (about 30) are under a most luxuriant crop of clover and grasses, which has been allowed to rot on the ground, and is actually offensive to the senses of people who pass along the road. Since the farm has been turned into a desert no employment of any kind is given to the cottars. Not one of them is even employed to walk over the ground and turn deer, every person employed being brought from a distance. The cottars are in great poverty, and are most anxious to have a reasonable amount of land—and some security against being turned out of the houses they have erected for themselves.'

31186. Was this paper read at any meeting of the cottars at Morvich?

31187. Was the substance of the paper agreed upon at the meeting of the cottars of Morvich ?

31188. Have the other delegates read the paper?
—They have.

31189. And you are competent to speak for the whole ?

31190. How long have you been in the position of cottars holding this small piece of land of four acres ?
—For twenty years.

31191. In what position were you before that time?
—The farmer at that time sub-let £50 worth of land to ten tenants, which enabled them to keep one cow each, but when he saw fit he took this land from them.

31192. Who was this farmer?
—One Alexander Macrae, Torloisich.

31193. Was it owing to a change of tenants in the farm that the people lost these fifty acres of land ?
—No, the same man who gave the land took it away.

31194. For how long had they held it ?
—-I cannot tell that; they had it before I remember.

31195. What was the cause of its being taken away ?
—I cannot give any reason for that either, only that he preferred to have it in his own hands.

31196. Was there ever a time when these cottars were themselves tenants of the farm of Morvich ?
—I should think not, but our fathers were paying direct to the proprietor.

31197. Had your fathers the whole of the farm of Morvich ?
—The whole lot of it.

31198. Was there no big tenant in those days ?
—There was not one.

31199. How have you been making a living these last twenty years?
—We have been making a very poor living. Others were going to the fishing, and some going here and there for work, and doing as best they could.

31200. They were not able to make their living at anything in this country ?
—No, they were not.

31201. At the present moment what you are afraid of is eviction, is it not?
—Yes, it is.

31202. Your desire also is to get more land ?
—Our desire is to get more land.

31203. Mr Cameron.
—Is there any change in your relations with your proprietor or Mr Winans since all those tilings were put in the newspapers?
—I am not aware that any change has come between us.

31204. Has any representation been made to either of these two gentlemen as to the wish of the tenants to get a few acres of land to grow crops upon ?
—We have expressed a wish to that effect to the proprietor, Mr Mackenzie.

31205. Of course I am talking of what has since oxurred, to which you alluded ?
—I think nothing has come between us.
31206. Has any proposal been made to Mr Winans ?
—No, we have not made any proposal.

31207. Is there any idea of making any proposal to him?
—No; no intention of asking him.

31208. Did you get any work from the sheep farmer during the twenty years you were there ?
—Yes, shearing, smearing, and wintering hoggs in the low countiy.

31209. And since that farm has been changed into a forest you get no work at all ?

31210. Do you know why you don't get a share of the employment which is going generally in the forest ?
—I don't know unless he wishes to send us all off, and therefore does not wish to have any dealings with us.

31211. Does Mr Winans employ many people during the season ?
—Not on this estate—a gamekeeper here and there.

31212. Would you be willing to pay rent for any land which might be given you at your own doors to cultivate?
—Yes, at a reasonable rent.

31213. How many acres would you like to have1?
—Six acres arable each.

31214. With right of grazing cows on the hill ?
—Yes, with the right to outrun for cattle.

31215. Don't you think it might possibly have a great effect, and could at any rate do no harm, if you were to write to Mr Winans stating that you are now in a position you never were in before, and were anxious to get a little pasture for a cow—make a written application to Mr Winans to give you these advantages ?
—It would be of no use; he does not allow his own gamekeepers to keep a cow ; I don't believe he would give grazing for a hogg to any one.

31216. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many people are there in this township ?
—I believe about one hundred.

31217. Going back a little to the history of this matter, when the people heard that the farm was to be given up, did they make a formal application to their proprietor to get some privilege in the way of land ?
—We did, but it seems we were too late, the land was let before we made the application.

31218. Did you get an answer from the proprietor?

31219. Was it a long letter?

31220. Did it give a great deal of advice as to what would be a wise course for you to follow ?
—Yes, and he did not put us off, but he might help us still.

31221. Was there an expression in it that he would consult his eldest son, and come to the country in the month of August and see what he could do for you ?
—That was in it too.

31222. Did he come to the country in consequence?
—He did.

31223. What did he do for you?
—We did not know but we might still get the land we desired; he gave us some nets and a little money and a boat.

31224. Was the next stage of the proceedings that you learned the place had been let for a forest ?
—Quite so.

31225. Did you know at the time the first application for that land was made whether it was let for a forest or not ?
—We did not know until we heard it was to be let as a forest.

31226. Are you aware, or have you heard, that the proprietor entered into a lease with Mr Winans ?
—We did not know it at the time, but we have ascertained since.

31227. Was the lease signed after the people made application to the proprietor ?
—It seems it was settled before we thought; the lease was signed before we thought.

31228. Was there any reservation of the rights of the people in that lease ?
—I don't know as to that.

31229. Are you aware that Mr Winans has claimed the right to turn the people all out ?
—I know that.

31230. What right can Mr Winans have to turn you out unless he derives that right from the proprietor?
—I don't think he can expel us unless he gets the proprietor's authority.

31231. Would it be any damage or loss to the proprietor or to the sporting tenant to let these people have what they originally ask?
—I don't think it would harm either of them to the value of half a penny.

31232. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Do the deer come down and feed on the pasture and arable land where you used to have your cattle and cultivate your ground ?
—Not one; I have never seen one there.

31233. How far down do they come?
—Down to the middle of the glen.

31234. Then, in point of fact, they are making no use of the grass, which is going to nought ?
—It is rotting on the ground there.

31235. Is there any fence between the farm and any part of the deer forest ?
—Only a piece at the end of Loch Duich.

31236. Was there ever a fence separating the farm from what is now a forest ?

31237. If you were getting the land, there would need to be a fence between you and the deer forest?
—Of course we would require to have a fence.

31238. What would the extent of it need to be?
—About half a mile.

31239. Do you mean for the arable ground or the pasture ?
—The arable ground.

31240. And for the pasture how much fencing would be required, supposing you got as much as would keep a cow or two each ?
—They would require a mile in extent.

31241. Professor Mackinnon.
—How long is it since the people themselves had this place from the proprietor ?
—I believe about seventy years.

31242. It was about that time it was let to a large tenant?
—-Quite so.

31243. What extent of ground had the people at that time—pasture land ?
—I cannot tell how many acres; it is miles in extent.

31244. At that time was there deer upon the upper ground?
—Yes, there was deer.

31245. And then it was let to a large tenant, and you were allowed to remain as sub-tenants of his ?

31246. It is good ground?
—Very good indeed.

31247. The arable ground or the pasture ground ?
—As good as in any part of Kintail or the county.

31248. Were your own ancestors there when the people had the land?
—They were ; they have ever been there.

31249. And did you hear your own people tell about their condition at that time ?
— Yes, I did.

31250. What was their condition?
—They had a good living.

31251. Suppose they had these lands back, would they be well off again?
—I suppose they would be; if not it would be their own fault.

31252. But still the deer could be upon the upper ground as before?
—They might without any harm.

31253. I suppose the people in the country would not in the least object to that?
—They would not, I believe.

31254. I suppose even although you got these lands you could not put the necessary stock upon them?
—I believe it would be very difficult for some of us.

31255. There are some about who could put the necessary stock upon the lands yet ?
—I believe some of them could.

31256. And supposing you get all the ground you want to get, there would be sufficient room for the deer forest ?
—Yes, it would not in the least spoil the deer forest.

31257. You would be glad to take the place at a reasonable rent either from the proprietor or tenant ?
—Exceedingly glad.

31258. Is there any fish coming into this loch now?
—Very few. A few hundreds are caught occasionally.

31259. You don't make much money that way?
—Very little.

31260. Do you go to the east coast fishing?
—Very few out of this country go.

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