Letterfearn, 3 August 1883 - Roderick Maclean

RODERICK MACLEAN, Factor to Sir Alexander Matheson, Lochalsh—examined.

31629. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You wish to make some remarks upon the evidence which has been given to-day ?
—I do. ' With reference to Dornie and Bundaloch, in 1852 part of the graziugs was occupied by Duncan and John Macmillan at a rent of £60. In 1862, as no rent could be got from the stance-holders, the grazings some of them held were taken from them and addedto those held by the Macmillans, at an additional rent of £40, making the rent of Bundaloch £100, at which it is at present let on lease to John Macrae. When Sir Alexander came into possession of the estate in 1851, the rent of the whole arable and grazings of Dornie and Bundaloch was £271. It is now £219. In March last a petition was presented to Sir Alexander by twenty-one of the Bundaloch stance-holders for land. This he cannot give without breaking a lease. Inquiry has been made into the circumstances of the petitioners, which brought out that only one (the Bundaloch shepherd) could stock a lot, another partially, seventeen have no means, and two are in receipt of parochial relief. In 1844, previous to the potato disease, the arrears against the Dornie and Bundaloch crofters and stance-holders was £2170, 18s. 5d.'

31630. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—-Over 200 years ?
—-I don't know how long. All of them were in arrears except two. At Whitsunday 1852, the first year of Sir Alexander's possession, only eighteen paid in full, twenty partially, and eighty-six were in arrears amounting to £119, 14s. 5d. The statement was made that the arrears were handed down from one proprietor to another, but Sir Alexander Matheson began with a clean sheet. I met the people last spring and collected them into Dornie school, and endeavoured to give them a little knowledge of agriculture, because, I am sorry to say, they are bad farmers. Nobody taught the poor people, and I thought I would begin by giving them an elementary lesson, showing how the soil is formed by atmospheric action. I also told them that the earth-worm was a far better drainer than the Dornie people, and the man thought I was making an earth-worm of himself. I found it was a mistake to speak to them, for they could not follow me out; but the fault is that they are not taught. I hope there is no person more lenient than I am, and I would wish to see them educated. If they were educated they would be as able and as willing workers as any other people, but until they are taught we cannot expect so much of them as of those who are taught. With regard to the statements which have been
made about deer forests, I referred to them yesterday. The proprietor expended on Inverinet £486, 5s. 11d. on buildings; £73, 18s. on lands; £137, 4s. 10d. enclosures; together £697, 8s. 9d. In 1851 the rent was £99, 8s. 6d.; in 1881 it was reduced by £17, and it is now £104, 5s., leaving only a total sum of £4, 17s. 6d. as the income of the proprietor on the £697 spent by him. I now come to Letterfearn, and the proprietor has given me permission to read part of the private report of this township sent to him. When he gave me charge of the estates in the end of February 1882, he instructed me to go over the whole of the west coast estates along with Mr Watson and visit the crofters, and see the native condition of every one of them. I got these instructions in April 1882, and in May Mr Watson and myself went over the estates, and spent about three weeks in visiting the different crofts and examining into the state of the people. I have here a copy of the report of the condition of the place which I sent to the proprietor, of which I shall read a part to show that I am not the enemy of the poor man any more than the proprietor is, and it was stated yesterday and to-day that there is no better friend of a poor man than he. I began my letter to Sir Alexander by saying:
—' As stated in my note of Saturday last, I beg leave to lay before you a report of my survey accompanied by Watson over your Lochalsh, Kintail, and Glenshiel estates. We desired the people to tell freely any complaints they had to make both relative to their possessions and to any disputes among themselves, that if the former were reasonable everything possible would be made to remove their cause, and in the latter amicable settlements would be endeavoured. Of this freedom of approach invited, I am happy to say not a shade of advantage was taken by them. They treated ourselves and our position most respectively.
—There are thirteen crofters paying from 30s. to £4, eight paying a few shillings for potato land, and eight squatters who have no lands. Their complaint was the small extent of land at their disposal for potato planting, and no outrun for grazing cows. The squatters can get potato land very seldom, only from the tenants of Drudaig and Leackachan, so that they are obliged to go to the neighbouring property for it. They complained also of being charged for sea-ware from Glass Island an amount of £ 4 , 5s. among all the crofters. It was shown to them how impossible it is to give them lands for grazing or more land for planting potatoes, as the whole is either under lease, or on the same footing as under lease, A few of them have a sufficiency of money to take middle-sized crofts, with savings from labour and fishing. Ruarach was offered among four of them, but they had not means enough to stock it, and Nonach and Blackwater among six ; these places are too far from the sea. Six of the squatters are able and active men with families, and it is a pity there is no place for them. They were all very civil, hoped something would bedone for them, and that the sea-ware money would be taken off their rents. No promises were made. The rent of Mr Macdonald, the tenant of Drudaig, was till Whitsunday last £130. Sir Alexander gave me instructions to try and do the best I could, and at the end of April last we were able to make arrangements for Mr Macdonald to give up the best portion of the farm for the crofters by reducing his rent to £70, and the portion set apart for the crofters contiguous to their land formerly occupied by them were valued at £15, at which sum the returns were made to the assessor this year, thus causing a decrease of £ 45 to the proprietor on the whole rent, consequent on the breaking up of this portion for the crofters. With reference to Camusluinie I am sorry to say that the delegates, although they told the truth, did not tell the whole truth. When Sir Alexander Matheson bought the property the rent was £ 143 ; they said £140.

—When Sir Alexander bought the property the rent of Camusluinie was £ 113 , payable by fifteen crofters. In 1852, so as to get the boundaries of the grazings adjusted, he took from them the sheiling of Frauchcorry, for which he made a reduction of £ 28 , making the rent £125, selecting eight of the sitting crofters as occupants, and providing for the rest elsewhere on the property. Between 1852 and
1859 he expended £ 960 in improvements upon the lands, and in 1860 he increased the rent to £160, equal to £ 3 , 13s. per cent, upon the outlay. This rent they paid without a grudge while the old managers lived, and till two years ago, when the present agitation commenced. With a view of satisfying them Sir Alexander, in December last, reduced their rent to £ 132 ; thus having only £7 of income for the £ 960 of outlay on their improvements. A few years ago he offered timber, lime, slates, and £ 20 to each of them who would build new houses. Of this offer only two took advantage, which cost the proprietor £100 each.

31631. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You said, with reference to Bundaloch that there has been a reduction of rent from £271 to £219 at the present time ; who got the benefit of that arrangement ?
—The whole of them.

31632. How many small people and how many farms?
—I cannot say; it is only a year and a half since I came in ; and I do not know the names of the people.

31633. With regard to the Letterfearn tenants, you say Nonach, Blackwater, and Ruarach were offered them?
—Yes, and the cottars of Letterfearn.

31634. What size of farms are these?
—Ruarach is now let in one farm.

31635. And you offered it to how many cottars?

31636. That would be £ 27 , 10s. a piece?
—Yes, there were only buildings for two, and there would have been large expenses for putting up two erections, which would have cost about £300 each.

31637. And how large are Nonach and Blackwater?
—They are now given to the people of Sallachy. The people of Letterfearn refused to take them, because they were so far away from the sea.

31638. There was a complaint by the Letterfearn people, I believe, that you had given them some extra grazing land at £15, which they say was only worth £7. You say yon have given a reduction of £50 to Mr Macdonald to get possession of that land?

31639. For that land?
—That included the reduction to himself.

31640. His rent was £130 ?

31641. What reduction have you given him—20 or 30 per cent.?
—Twenty pounds of reduction over the whole.

31642. That would still leave this land worth £30 or £40?

31643. And it is not worth more than £7, the people say?
—They think they should get it for nothing.

31644. With regard to Camusluinie, they think the rent is too high, can you state that you could let it for a greater rent ?
—I know I could.

31645. Were you offered a higher rent?
—I was offered £150 by one man.

31646. A good man?
—Yes, but the proprietor would not give it to one man ; it is divided already amongst eight.

31647. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You told us that in 1844 there were upon Bundaloch and Dornie these enormous arrears of £2170 ; bring the thing down to a few years later, and tell me what these were after Sir Alexander Matheson bought the property?
—It must have been all cancelled under the late Mr Lillingstone, for Sir Alexander got a clean sheet, and we have not got the old rent roll.

31648. No arrears were brought down?
—Not, so far as we were concerned.

31649. Would you be surprised if I told you that the arrears upon that place in 1851, when Sir Alexander Matheson got the property, were only £153 ?
—I know that too.

31650. Why didn’t you say it?
—The explanation of that is, that this was cancelled as the new arrears began.

31651. Professor Mackinnon.
—I have no doubt that if an account of these arrears is properly made out you would be able to tell how far back these arrears go ?
—This is the only document I could get.

31652. So that if the evidence is true that these £2000 of arrears were handed down from one proprietor to another, the arrears may not be so big as they look ?
—They cannot be that, because at the beginning of this century Dornie was laid out as a village.

31653. It was leased before that?
—Yes, I have here the rental of Dornie in 1830.

31654. Did you hear the statement of the man that the receipts were taken back from the people and a pass book given ; have you any evidence about that ?
—No, I never heard that before.

31655. But there is no evidence to show that it may not be true?
—I cannot say.

31656. I find in some accounts there are £70 of arrears on a rent of £3 ?
—That has been a case of the people paying no rent at all; that is quite a common thing.

31657. Is it a common thing?
—Not now, it is cancelled when it goes beyond a certain sum.

31658. So that the arrear might have been going back any length of time ?
—It could not have been going back very far, because it was in the beginning of this century that the place was made a village. In 1801 it came into the possession of Sir Hugh Innes, and in 1802 the village was made. I think a good many of the statements of the people were imaginary.

31659. But you have no evidence to the contrary?

31660. Are you quite prepared yourself to put a valuation of £40 upon the piece of ground which was given for £ 15 to the Letterfearn people ?
—It is not that I value the land itself at so much, as what it is worth to the whole farm; it is low ground, and on a Highland farm.

31661. As a valuator, what grazing valuation do you put upon that bit of ground ?
—The value to them is the value put on, and not the value to the farm.

31662. What is the value of the grazing in your opinion ?
—£15. There is some arable land which they may get divided into lots afterwards, and it is worth £ 1 an acre. The valuation of the others will be taken off the whole of the grazing, and some of the grazing may not be £10.

31663. We thought they were getting what you consider £ 50 worth of land for £15?
—Well, it can be explained. Mr Macdonald's farm was reduced from £ 130 to £70.

31664. But all the same the bit taken from him and given to these people is only worth £ 15 ?
—It is worth £ 15 to them as grazing and arable altogether.

31665. Would it be worth more to Mr Macdonald?
—Certainly, because a Highland farm is quite different from a low country farm.

31666. Would it be worth £ 10 to him ?
—1 cannot say.

31667. Can you not give the value to him as well as to them?
—No, I cannot; I would not like.

31668. If you consider that the value of this piece of ground to the crofters is £ 15 , surely acting for the proprietor does not interfere with your answering what would be the value to Mr Macdonald ?
—It would be worth £ 30 at least.

31669. As a matter of fact, although that would be worth only £ 30 to him, you have reduced his rent £ 60 ?

31670. Turning back to the general question of what you told us yesterday about the parish, and the management of the estate, I understood you were working gradually up to having a class of crofters of £ 10 and upwards all over ?

31671. And you wish to work gradually up to that, and you expect to be able to do it in course of time, in two ways —first by not taking any people from the outside into the property, and second by making new crofts ?

31672. And the other class of people you would have paying rents under £ 4 ?
—Yes, tradesmen, labourers, and fishermen.

31673. In which class would you put the Bundaloch people; in the £ 1 class ?

31674. Is there any opportunity for them to live as labourers or fishermen where they are ?
—Yes, as fishermen.

31675. Is Bundaloch a suitable place for fishermen?
—Quite suitable.

31676. Their own complaint is that it is far from the fishing ground, and the Rev. Mr Cameron corroborated that?
—Well, you pass by the castle which is at the lower end of the village, and the whole length of
the place is about three quarters of a mile.

31677. And the fishing ground would be this loch?
—It is as easy for them to come down the narrow stream to Bundaloch as from other parts; it is not so far.

31678. But you don't think they are such good fishermen as the people of Letterfearn ?
—I am not well acquainted with them. The Letterfearn people are clever fellows at fishing, and energetic, and they make a living at the fishing, and the Bundaloch people don't.

31679. Do you think they would be better farmers and crofters?
—They would be worse.

31680. They would require to be educated?
—They would.

31681. Certainly all the people about here look able strong-bodied men?
—They are; and they are very orderly too. We have none poor but squatters, and we have 123 people who pay no rent.

31682. You reduced the rent of the people of Kirkton from £30 to Roderick £24. Do you consider the rent they pay just now is quite moderate Maclean, enough ?

31683. It was rather excessive when it was £30?
—I don't hear them complain about the general reduction.

31684. Do you know their means well enough to be able to say they are quite comfortable ?
—I believe they are. There was one man who said he could not come forward, because he could scarcely get a shirt upon his back until he got a farm from Sir Alexander Matheson. He would not come forward with the other five.

31685. You stated that the amount of interest got from improvements was very low ?
—One and a half per cent.

31686. Might not these improvements have been rather extravagantly done ?
—I don't say that, but I say that they were very expensively done.

31687. Do you think the same result might have been brought about by a very much less expenditure of money ?
—Yes, by a thousand pounds less.

31688. And these other crofters you have all over the estate at £15 and upwards to £25, are in a fairly comfortable condition in an average year ?
—I believe so.

31689. And that is why you would like to work up all the crofts?

31690. There are four or five of the Camusluinie people who are not giving satisfaction ?
—They are old bachelors, and the reason of their going back is that they have no person to take an interest in them, and their tacks are going to the wall.

31691. Would you expect in future, when your plans will be more or less realised, that the great bulk of the population will consist of such people as these, rather than the people at £ 4 and under ?
—Certainly; because, in a short time there would not be much labour for the poorer classes.

31692. And also rather than people having large farms?
—Yes, Sir Alexander's wish is not to have large farms—not higher than £300 or £400 of rent.

31693. And these few in number?

31694. You wish to put the bulk of the people in crofts of from £15 upwards?
—From £15 to £50 for the bulk of the people. "

31695. And you are working up to that as fast as you can without removing any person from the estate?
—Yes, and Sir Alexander would not remove any of them.

31696. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You mentioned that the Bundaloch people were removed because they would not pay rent ?

31697. You don't know what amount of arrears there was of rent?

31698. I daresay you heard of the petition which was presented to Sir Alexander by the people ?

31699. And your reply to it?-

31700. Your reply mentioned that you would consider whether you would send the petition on, and no further intimation seems to have been given whether you sent it on or not ?
—I told Mr M'Coll and some of the people that I would send it on; and Sir Alexander got the petition, and then it was that Sir Alexander sent me to inquire into the condition of the people, and the result of that inquiry I have mentioned, that one shepherd was leader in the matter. He wanted to disorganise the state of the property, and to break up the farm of his employer, and to get a part of it himself. He got other nineteen to follow him in his movement, one of whom I had great difficulty about, and at last I found that another person had adhibited his name. I have got the original of the petition here.

31701. I was merely asking whether you intimated to the people that the petition was presented to Sir Alexander Matheson.
—I told Mr M'Coll and some others.

31702. You have heard Mr Cameron, the priest of Dornie, state, in confirmation of Mr Morison, that the people were in abject poverty ?
—Yes; they are.

31703. Have you considered what can be done for them, if they are not in a position to take more land?
—I don't know.

31704. Did the people of Letterfearn ask you to provide them with a pier or harbour?

31705. Have they never spoken to you about that?
—I don't remember of them speaking about it.

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