Braes, Skye, 8 May 1883 - Angus Stewart (continued)

ANGUS STEWART—examination resumed.

22. The Chairman
—You have absolute security, on the word of Mr Angus Macdonald, that nothing will be done to your prejudice or that of your Stewart family in consequence of what you state to-day?
—I want to say a few words in English. It seems that Mr Macdonald objects to my evidence because I am only a crofter’s son. My great grandfather was in Beinchoran. I do not say he was born there; but my grandfather was born in Beinn-a-chorrain, and lived in Beinn-a-chorrain eighty-six years. He died there. My mother was born there, and is living there yet, at the age of eighty-four. I am forty years of age, and am living in Beinn-achorrain. I am married, and have a family. I have been paying rent in Beinn-a-chorrain to Lord Macdonald for fifteen or sixteen years, and I think I have the right to bear evidence to-day.

23. You have been elected a delegate by the people of the place, and that is quite sufficient for us. Therefore, will you state now what are the grievances and hardships of which the people complain ?
—The principal thing that we have to complain of is our poverty and what has caused our poverty. The smallness of our holdings and the inferior quality of the land is what has caused our poverty ; and the way in which the poor crofters are huddled together, and the best part of the land devoted to deer forests and big farms. If we had plenty of land there would be no poverty in our country. We are willing and able to work it

24. I wish you first to finish the list of your grievances and hardships. You are now suggesting remedies, but I am asking you to state your grievances and hardships?
—The principal hardship I see is that the people cannot take a crop out of the ground. The ground does not yield crops to them.

25. Having stated the hardships and grievances of which you complain, I wish you now to state what, in your opinion, and in the opinion of those whom you represent, are the proper remedies ?
—What would remedy the people's grievances throughout the island of Skye is to give them plenty of land, as there is plenty of it, and they are willing to work it. I have complained of the rent that is charged us. The rent is heavy.

26. That belongs to the grievances. Among the grievances you say the rent is too heavy?
—Thirty-two years ago drainage money was laid upon us and though in sixteen years both principal and interest was supposed to have been paid up, we are still paying the drainage money, and it is our being deprived of the hill pasture of Benlee which has thrown us back so much the past number of years. Though the hill of Benlee was taken from us, not only was there no abatement made in our rents, but the rent was increased to some extent; and in evidence that the hill was part of our original holdings, up to sixteen or seventeen years ago we were receiving £ 3 of money rent from the landlord as consideration for accommodation which we were making on the hill to Lord Macdonald's gamekeepers. I remember the factor clearing a township and devoting the township's land to the purposes of the deer forest,—clearing them out of their houses and settling them down among the Braes,—from Tormichaig, Sconser. He settled a widow and her family down on my father's lot with the intention that my father would share with her the peats and the half of the croft, and that without my father having been duly warned, and without his being in arrears of rent. When he went to the factor to complain of this proceeding the factor told him that if he would not give her room he would not have a sod on Lord Macdonald's property by the term.

27. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Who was the factor ?
—Mr Ballingall.

28. Mr Cameron.
—What year was that?
—It is thirty-one years since this township was cleared for the purposes of the deer forest.

29. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Was Lord Macdonald under trust at that time ?
—I cannot say, but I believe he was. When he could not force this widow and her family upon my father there was a poor weakly man in our township who was put out of his holding for her with his family. He was put out of his holding for this woman, and the woman was installed in his place. The poor man, with his weak family, was evicted, and he got the stance of a house outside the enclosure of the township.

30. The Chairman.—We want, at this stage, rather a statement in general terms of the nature of your hardships and grievances, and we would come to particular cases by asking questions afterwards. I am anxious that you should state, in general terms, any grievance, and then any remedies you recommend
— It is a great hardship that all our earnings at the fishing we have to put into meal for the support of our families, and that altogether because we have not land which will yield a crop, but land which has been cropped continuously for the past thirty years, within my own memory—continually cropping the same land —and as to the seed that we put into the ground, we cannot get back out of the ground two-thirds of what we put into it.

31. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You do not get the seed back ?
—We do not get the seed back. We don't get more than two-thirds of the seed we put into the ground. I do not mean that that is so every year. Some years will be better than that. Last year we had not one-third of what we put into the ground, and the year before we only had one and a half bushel over and above what we actually put into the ground.

32. The Chairman.
—But we rather want a statement at present in general terms. You have stated in general terms that your great grievances are confined to old land which has been exhausted, and which no longer produces a crop. Can you suggest, in general terms, any measure which the landlord or other parties could take in order to improve your situation?
—It is easy to answer that. Give us land out of the plenty of land that is about for cultivation.

33. Can you suggest no other remedy?
—That is the principal remedy that I see. Give us land at a suitable rent—at a rent within our power and to pay.

34. Mr Cameron.
—Where does the land lie of which you say there is plenty suitable for cultivation?
—There are thirty tacks in the Isle of Skye, and there are many of these capable of supporting hundreds of families in comfort.

35. But what land is there that would be suitable for the crofters in this neighbourhood?
—The suitable land surrounds us on every hand— Scorrybreck, Glenvarigil, Sconser, Corrie, Broadford, and all the way down to the point of Sleat. The whole of that land is suitable land for cultivation.

36. Then, in point of fact, you wish that the people, who are too many here for the land in the immediate vicinity, should be migrated to other lands at some distance which are occupied by large farmers who hold large quantities of land?
—Yes; unless we can get that, poverty will not be got out of the Isle of Skye for ever; we will always need a Joseph in the south country to send us seed unless we get an extension of our holdings in that way.

37. How far would the people be willing to migrate from the point where they now live?
—I have not the mind of the people sufficiently to say how far the people would wish to migrate for that purpose.

38. Would they mind how far it was so long as they got good land to cultivate?
—I, at any rate, would go any distance to get good land, and I think my neighbours would be of like mind.

39. How do you propose that houses should be built for all these people who would migrate?
—If the landlord would not build houses for us the Government might assist the people. If we got the land for ourselves we would build the houses.

40. Do you think the land would fetch as much rent if the crofters were removed from where they are so thickly congregated together to one of these large sheep farms? If they left the land and went to some of those large sheep farms would they give as much rent as the landlord now derives from the sheep farmer?
—I am very sure that if the people get the land just now in large farms given back to them at the old rent which they were paying when it was taken from them, they would pay it.

41. Do you know what the difference is between the old rent which they were paying and the rent now, taking the average?
—I make out that there is a great difference within my recollection, because I see every time a new tenant comes to these big farms he always gives a rise of rent.

42. What other means would be necessary in order to carry out your scheme, besides that of building the houses?
—I think it would be advisable they should get the assistance of Government to stock the land, if they could get it.

43. What do you calculate would be required by each crofter to stock his share of the land?
—I think the crofter would be very well off who would have enough cultivated land to support his family in comfort, and that he should get as much money as would enable him to put between fifty and a hundred sheep on the ground.

44. And how many cows?
—Four or five cows would do much good.

45. Would not a good deal of fencing be required to divide among a number of crofters what is now held by one man?
—The erection of march dykes would not be very expensive as we now use them,—having a common outrun outside the cultivated ground.

46. But the cultivated ground would require to be fenced?
— Yes.

47. Would not draining or trenching be required ?
—That would be required for the ground we would get

48. And you think that all that—that is to say, the building of the houses and any fencing and draining, and the providing of stock—should be done by Government?
—I think that the same tenants would be much better in every way immediately under Government.

49. But that does not meet my point. I want to know if you propose that the capital required to start those small tenants should be provided by Government. In the first place, how many crofters whom you are acquainted with would have sufficient capital of themselves to do these improvements and start themselves?
—I do not believe there are any who would be able to do that.

50. Then you propose that should be done by Government ?

51. To go to another branch of the question. You said that the people were very much huddled together; do you allude to this particular district or to the whole of Skye when you say that ?
—It is the townships of Skye generally that I allude to.

52. In your own particular district arc they rather less huddled together or more huddled together ?
—I think that in other parts in Skye they are as closely huddled together as in the Braes.

53. Do you know if some of them are worse ?
—I cannot say, but they are worse in some parts than in the Braes.

54. Sheriff Nicolson.
—What is the acreage of your croft?
—I cannot tell the exact acreage of my father's croft, but I can say there is not one acre of it worth cultivating or worth putting seed into.

55. What kind of land is it ?
—Rocky, mossy land, where I might catch a deer, it is so boggy ; and other parts of it are as hard as adamant.

56. What rent do you pay for it ?
—£5, 9s.

57. How long has that been the rent?
—It has been the rent since the drainage money was laid on, but it was not so dear before that. I am not speaking about the rent of Benlee. I am not including the rent of Benlee in that.

58. What is your father's share of the rent of Benlee ?
—I think it is about £2.

59. Before that hill was given to the Braes people, what was the stock your father was able to keep?
—Some years more, some years less.

60. How many cows generally?
—Four cows oftenest.

61. How many sheep ?
—Nine or ten sheep on the hill.

62. How many stirks would there be?
—Some years there would be a stirk, and other years there would be none, and some years we might have two stirks.

63. How did you do for feeding them in winter?
—We were giving them fodder that was grown on the land, for there was no seed on it. We had to keep the seed to sow the ground. I have not tasted Highland-made meal for the past four years.

64. Do you know what was the number of tenants in the Braes in those three townships in your grandfather's time?
—In my grandfather’s time there were no tenants in Beinn-a-chorrain.

65. How many are there now ?
—Twenty-six or twenty-seven.

66. Were they brought there from other places ?
—Part of them were cleared off the present deer forest, and then there was an increase of the township.

67. When the land was subdivided among these new crofters, who built the houses?
—The poor crofters themselves.

68. Did they get any assistance in building them ?
—May the Lord look upon you! I have seen myself compelled to go to the deer forest to steal thatch—to steal the wherewith to thatch our houses. If we had not done so we should have had none; and I went in the daytime for this purpose, and was caught by the gamekeeper, and I had to give him part of what I had—part for the purpose of thatching his own house.

69. Where was this?
—In Sconser. I had to go across the ferry to Sconser for the thatch

70. When a new house is built on a new lot given to anybody like these people that came among you, does the landlord give any assistance in building the house. Does he give wood or lime or anything?
—No, no assistance. He would refuse us timber even should we go for it I have seen us refused. It is from Raasay that we get our timber and the wherewith to make the creels for us to carry the manure for cultivation to our ground, and the crooked spade for tilling the land. We have to get it all from Raasay.

71. But the question is about new comers?
—Sometimes they might get timber to buy from the landlord.

72. When have they been getting that wood from Raasay which you mention?
—To the present day, during my recollection.

73. Were they paying for it ?
—Paying for some of it, and for some of it not. It is very little they were paying of it.

74. Do you know anything of your own knowledge of the possession of the hill of Benlee by the people before it was taken from them ?

75. Was it not common to every person—to all those who put cattle upon it?
—No, there was a bit of it at the back of the hill that was common to other townships than our township.

76. Was that near the Sligachan river?
—No; on the Glenvarigil river. It was suitable for the purposes of the Sligachan market which was held then.

77. Did people that came to the market from a distance put their cattle upon it?
—Yes, every one that came from the Long Island.

78. Were they charged for putting their cattle upon it ?
—No, all using the hill of Benlee for the purposes of the market got the use of it free.

79. Was there any tax sometimes taken from strangers who were putting there cattle there?
—Not to my recollection.

80. What part of the hill was given to Lord Macdonald's gamekeeper?
—It was at the head of Loch Sligachan, about a quarter of a mile on the side of the hotel.

81. Are most of your people engaged in fishing?
—Most of them.

82. Is there any fishing here off the coast ?
—A little.

83. What kind ?
—All sorts of fish; but some sorts we are not allowed

84. That is salmon ?

85. Are there cod and ling?
—There are cod and ling to be got.

86. Do any of them fish it regularly?
—Not regularly. We principally fish for herring regularly.

87. Has every crofter a boat?
—Most of them have a boat each. There are a good number of them without boats. They are so poor that they can’t get boats.

88. Did any of their boats get destroyed in the storm the year before ?
—Very few in the Braes were destroyed by that storm.

89. Have you full permission to cut the sea-ware on the shores?
—We have ware on our shores,—the shores of our own particular townships but Balmeanach and Gedentailler have to go to Raasay for sea-ware; they have not got enough themselves.

90. And do they pay for it at Raasay ?
—I do not believe they pay for it in Raasay; the landlord is so good to them.

91. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—There was a dispute about the hill of Benlee, between the people and the landlord, was there not?
—There was; but it was a small dispute, as it is now settled, in a sense.

92. Then, are they satisfied or are they not satisfied?
—They are not satisfied.

93. Would you be kind enough to tell us in what the dissatisfaction consists, and what is your remedy?
—They complain that for the hill which was part of their holdings in time past, they have now to pay £74, 15s. The hill they had seventeen or eighteen years ago is part of their holdings they are now made to pay £74, 15s. for, and they complain of that.

94. Do they complain of the amount, or do they think they should have it altogether?
—They complain that the sum is too large.

95. Then their only complaint now is about Benlee ?
—That is their complaint concerning Benlee, that they are charged too much rent for it; and I will now tell you two reasons why they offered rent at all for the hill. In the first place there was blood shed about it, and they were sorely threatened by the law of the kind, and they offered a rent for the hill for peace's sake which they were not able, to pay and there was a gentleman who put a thousand pounds aside in order to make peace between Lord Macdonald and the crofters, and the most of the people were of opinion that this thousand pounds would be assigned for the purpose of stocking the hill when they got it, but that expectation failed.

96. With reference to a question which was put by Lochiel in regard to the moving of the people to other places, you said that so far as you were concerned you were willing to go to any part provided you got good land at a moderate rent, and that you believed most other men would do the same ?

97. Do you limit that to the island of Skye ?
—It is other parts of the island of Skye that I mean, but it is better that we should even emigrate abroad than be starving as we are, but we would rather be in our native place.

98. You say that you expect the Government to help the crofters to build houses and help them with stock, and that you want Government, in effect, to be the landlord. I want to know whether they intend to pay the same as is in the habit of being paid for drainage, for whatever money the Government would advance?
—Yes ; it is not money for nothing that we are wanting at all.

99. By this process of getting the land here, you expect your position would be very much benefited as compared with what it is now, and that you would be very much better able to pay the rent ?
—I am sure of it.

100. In regard to the fishing, I understand that you and the people are more crofters than fishers?
—We think the crofting better than the fishing.

101. Is there any part of the east coast of Skye with which you are connected which would be benefited by a pier or quay where boats could run in and out in stormy weather ?
—Yes ; our small townships are mostly in need of such.

102. Have you any landing place at all ?
—No, no made place.

103. Would it be expensive to make quays for the purpose of sheltering your boats where you could get in in ordinary and even in severe weather ?
—No, not at our place at any rate.

104. Would you be disposed, if you had good accommodation, to pay say a small toll or a small rent for the use of it,—a few shillings a year, or whatever it might be ?
—We did not think about that, and I cannot say much about it, but 1 believe the crofters would be wilting to pay a small sum.

105. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—I wish to ask you this with regard to choosing witnesses. Did the crofters of the three townships gather together and elect you ?
—Yes; and, besides that, I declined to go, not because I would not tell the truth, but I was afraid that in consequence of the evidence I would give here the landlord might revenge himself upon me.

106. And you were one of the four people who were chosen by the first gathering ?
—I believe I am one of the four who were first chosen, but I was not present.

107. Who told you you were chosen ?
—My father told me. He was present; and my neighbours told me.

108. I suppose the people of the Braes have talked over this question of the want of land among themselves?
—Yes. Every day, in my recollection, they have been talking about it,

109. You said you thought it would be better that they should be under Government. What do you mean, or what do the people of the Braes understand, by ' being under Government'?
—That the people, if they were under Government, would not be shuffled here and there, as they are now, and that they would not be huddled on the top of each other.

110. Do you mean that the present landlords ought to be replaced by the Government ?
—What I mean is that the land laws should be altered.

111. Do you mean that the proprietors should be replaced by the Government?
—Yes, that is what I mean. The queen should be the landlord.

112. Do you wish the queen to take possession of the whole country, or only the part of the land where the crofters are ?
—What I mean is that good landlords should be pat on the land, and that the people should have the land given to them.

113. With regard to Benlee, if you had sufficient stock could you pay the same rent as anybody else was able to pay for it ?
—I do not know, but I think we could if the whole were stocked and a likely rent laid on it,

114. At the rent at which it pays one man to take it, would you be able to make profit out of it, if you had stock?
—I do not know; I cannot say.

115. You speak of a continuous cropping for thirty years; is it from the scarcity of land that they crop the same land over and over again?
—Yes ; the reason is that we have not land sufficient. We cannot leave any part of our cultivated land out, we have too little of it.

116. Don't you think, if you left part of it out, and introduced a better system of cultivation, .you would get more crop from the half of the acreage than you do now from the whole ?
—What would we cultivate if we were to leave half of it out; it would not be worth our while to cultivate it. What would feed the cattle for us if we were to leave half of it out of cultivation.

117. You say that part of your land is bog land ; have you tried to drain it?
—I have tried to drain it till my heart is nearly broken with it.

118. Do the crofters give corn and fodder to the cattle, or only fodder? Do you thresh it ?
—Yes, we thresh the corn.

119. The whole of it?
—Yes, we thresh the whole of it. We may give an occasional sheaf to a beast unthreshed. I forgot something about the Benlee stock. I have to say that Mr Mackay, the former tenant, stated in my own presence and that of my neighbours, that Benlee never put a coat on his back, and how could we expect to make profit out of it.

120. With regard to building houses, you say that if you got the land for yourselves you would build houses on it. What do you mean by getting land for ourselves ? Do you mean at a rent, or free ?
—I mean if we get the land free,—if we could get the land in property, and the Government to assist us to buy it.

121. The Chairman,
—You alluded to drainage money which had been expended many years ago. Was that drainage beneficial to the land at that time?
—It was beneficial.

122. Is the land which was then drained still better than it was before it was drained?
—We now cultivate under the level of these old drains, for the land has wasted away, and the drains have come to the surface.

123 Then the land is now no better, in consequence of being drained ?
—No, the land that was then drained is even worse now than it was then.

124. How long is it since the pasture of Benlee was restored to the Braes people ?
—Last winter.

125. How much have they agreed to pay for Benlee?
—£74, 15s.

126. How much did the farmer formerly agree to pay?
—I think it was £128.

127. How much stock has been placed upon Benlee by the crofters?
— Not a head, I think, but a few head which the people have been allowed to graze on it.

128. The people have not been able to stock it at all ?
—Some of them may have put more or lessstock on the hill, but the most of them have not been able to stock it.

129. Have they any prospect of being able to stock it ?
—Unless they get help, outside, in some other way I do not know how they can do it.

130. Sir Kenneth MacKenzie
—I want to know if any people from Tormichaig, or their descendants, are now living in the Braes?
—I think some of them are present here to-day.

131. Are any of them to be examined before us?
—I am not sure.

132. Since the Tormichaig people were put there, have any other people been brought into the Braes at a later date?
—Yes, there was a sma!l township opposite Portree, the inhabitants of which were taken to the Braes.

133 Have not the townships got the land there still ?

134. Who has that land?
—It is added to Benehler. The Braes people have not got it, but the Benehler people have it. The crofters of the township which was cleared—that is, Scor—were put in among the crofters of the Braes.

135. What was the name of the townships of the Braes that you were speaking of ?
—Balmeanach and Achnahannait.

136. The Chairman.
—Within your recollection, about how many families do you think have been brought from other places to crowd in upon the ground of the Braes?
—I know two families who were taken from Scor and were placed in Balmcanach, and a croft was taken from the tenants, and given to one of these families.

137. But I want to know first of all how many families from all quarters have been brought in and put there?
—I cannot tell that.

138. Do you desire to make any other statement to the Commissioners before you retire?
—I think I will let the other delegates speak now.

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