Braes, Skye, 8 May 1883 - Donald Buchanan

DONALD BUCHANAN, Crofter, Lower Olach—examined.

286. The Chairman.
—Are you a fisherman as well as a crofter?

287. How long have you been in possession of your croft?
—I have been all my life on the croft which I now have, and I am fifty-four years of age. I have seen the reigns of three Lords Macdonald in succession, and seven factors.

288. What is the rent of the croft ?
—I have half a croft, and I pay £2, 13s. of rent.

289. Has your rent been increased during that period ?
—The rent has been increased to me. I am the seventh of my name in possession of the lot in regular succession.

290. How much has your rent been increased since your father's time ?
—Nearly one-third of the present amount

291. For the same ground ?
—For the same ground which I now occupy.

292. You have heard the testimony given by the previous delegates ?

293. Have you anything to add to their statements?
—I have to bear testimony to the poverty of the township in which I am. I was for a number of years thinking it would be better for me to give it up than to be cultivating it at alL The land was rocky, and was yielding no crop without manure in the way of sea-weed, which we could not get.

294. Is there any charge made for gathering sea-weed ?
—We were at one time paying for sea weed, but we cannot get it now for payment.

295. When you paid money for sea-weed, to whom did you pay the money?
—To the late Mr Rainy of Raasay, and on the island of Scalpa. Then for a number of years past we could not get it either at Raasay or Scalpa for love or money.

296. What did the crofters pay for the right of gathering sea-weed to the laird of Raasay or the laird of Scalpa?
—From Is. 6d. to 2s. a small boat-load, which would be equal to two cart-loads or hereabouts.

297. Since you have been acquainted with the place has the landlord ever made any expenditure whatever upon work for the benefit of the place, or any building, or for any other purpose ?
—He did not spend any money on improvements on the place. We got, at one time, half a year's rent remitted to us in consideration of drains we were making, and we were paying 1s. 0d. in the £ for the amount so remitted to us. Then there was 12s. added to our rents for a bad bit of hill ground that was added to our grazings when Benlee was taken from the other three townships.

298. What township do you belong to ?
—Lower Olach.

299. Will the restoration of Benlee to the crofters be a benefit to them ?

300. You heard the statements made by the previous delegates; did you understand them ?

301. Do you agree with them?
—I do; but there is one thing I wish to say I do not think there is much use of the herring fishing we get about here to support the people, for it has been backward and doing not much good to the inhabitants about for the past twenty years.

302. Can you suggest anything which the proprietor or Government could do to improve the condition of the place?
—If we could get more land, so as to let our present land rest and get heart.

303. Is there land immediately contiguous to the crofts here which could be given by the proprietor and which could be used by the tenants for that purpose ?
—I do not know; there is no such land other than what I have named already—such as Scorrybreck and these places.

304. Have you anything further to say before you retire?
—I have to say that I have not for the past number of years taken three months' good out of the land which I occupy; and I have never taken out of it as much as would pay rent to the landlord,—I may say, not even half rent.

305. How do you support your family?
—By fishing on the Irish coast, and here and there on the east coast.

306. Are you a fishermen ?
—I am not a fisherman at home. I fish away from home. There was no fishing at home for me to engage in.

307. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Is there no sea-ware belonging to Olach which you could get ?
—No, there is no ware on the shore of Olach. This shore is a perpendicular cliff.

308. With regard to the work of the landlord, who maintains the road that leads to this place ?
—We pay road money.

309. Is it kept up by the county or the district ?
—It is a district road.

310. In keeping your cattle during the winter do you give them corn and straw in the sheaf?
—No, we give the cattle the fodder, not the corn in the sheaf. I have only one cow, and I cannot feed the cow off what grows on my lot. I have to buy feeding for her.

311. The Chairman.
—How many sheep?
—I think there are three or four sheep.

312. Professor Mackinnon.
—What is the summing?
—The summing of my lot is four cows and thirteen or fourteen sheep, but the lot is not capable of supporting so much stock.

313. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Do you refer to the wintering or the summering of them ?
—The summering itself would not be very good, but they could not do at all to be wintered.

314. The Chairman.
—Your family have been seven generations on the lot; have you heard it stated, from old times, that the land was much more fertile and productive than it is now ?
—I have both heard it stated that the land was more productive in past times, and I know it to have been so in my early recollection. In my early recollection there were no merchants in Skye bringing meal to the country, and the men who needed meal would simply have to go to the north end of the island, to what is now
Captain Fraser's property, and get meal there.

315. Sheriff Nicolson.
—It used to be called the granary of Skye?
—Yes ; and another evidence of the state of the tenantry of Lord Macdonald is, that there are no mills going on Lord Macdonald's property at the present time.

316. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many mills were there ?
—I cannot tell very well. There was one at Stenscholl, and one at Camusmore, one at Uig, one at Romisdale, one at Snizort, one at Portree, one at Broadford, and I am not sure whether or not there was one at Knock, in Sleat.

317. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—How many of these are now going?
—The Portree mill is doing a little, and possibly the Romisdale one, but I know of none of the others. I do not know what they are doing on Captain Fraser's property now-a-days.

318. Do you mean there is no business doing, or that they pay no rental for them ?
—What I mean is that there is no seed to grind.

319. The mills are there?
—The mills are there, so far as they have not fallen into decay and ruin.

320. The Chairman.
—The meal was formerly made in the country, but now it is imported from Scotland ?
—That is the case.

321. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Are they paying rent still for these mills ? Are they being worked by the proprietors ?
—I do not know whether or not the mills are being paid for to the landlord at present, but the Portree mill is principally used as a wool-carding mill.

322. Mr Fraser-Macintosh.
—Do you know whether there are millers at those places, separate from crofters, or are the two businesses carried on conjointly ?
—I believe some of the millers do, so far as I know.

323. Professor Mackinnon.
—How do you account for this change? Is it because the land has gone out of cultivation, or because it is bad, or the times are bad, or what ?
 —In my opinion, the cause is that the land is run out—exhausted; and a stranger passing by cannot tell the quality of the soil by merely looking at it, it is only those who work it.

324. The Chairman.
—Do the people still grind the byre or oats in hand mills or hollow stones?
—These are not used now-a-days at all. One of these querns ought to be in the Braes.

325. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Would you put it as one of the grounds for the stoppage of these mills, to some extent, that arable land which is now included in large sheep farms has gone out of cultivation ?
— No doubt of that. The land we have has lost its substance, and does not give crop.

326. Professor MacKinnon.
—You mean there is less under cultivation, and the little there is is not good ?

327. You say that your own people have been seven generations on the same croft. Has it been made any larger?

328. Was it larger in the old times ?
—Yes, six times

329. How was it made less?
—The lots were subdivided by order of the factor as the family of the crofter increased.

330. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You mean, with the consent of the factor ?
—It was done by the will of the factor. It could not be done, in these days, without the consent of the factor or will of the factor.

331. Professor Mackinnon.
—Is that going on yet?
—I am not aware if any place that is not so subdivided already that it is not capable of further subdivision.

332. The Chairman.
—Would it be a good thing to prevent the subdivision of crofts below a certain value? Would it be a good thing to fix a certain value below which crofts should never be subdivided ?
—If the crofts were not subdivided, the one half of the people would have no land at all.

333. Then, would they not, perhaps, go away and make a better subsistence elsewhere?
—That is not possible to them.

334. Do you remember to have heard that about the year 1841 there were 500 or 600 people who emigrated from the parish of Portree to America?
—I well remember a ship going with the people to America.

335. Did you afterwards hear how those people got on in America ?
— From some not good accounts at all were coming, but others got on well.

336. Have any of them come back to see their friends and relations in Skye?
—I am not aware that more than two returned. They came to Sconser.

337. Did they givea good account of the country in America ?
—They were giving a good account of America, but for the closeness of the winter.

338. Who paid the expenses of the emigration about forty years ago ?
— I believe the emigrants themselves.

339. If the Government or proprietor offered encouragement or assistance, would some of the people be inclined to emigrate?
—I cannot speak as to that. I do not know the minds of the people as to that.

340. Professor Mackinnon.
—I suppose when the people were discussing the question that was no tone of the points which they discussed?
—We were not speaking among ourselves of emigration as one of the remedies.

341. The Chairman.
—Do you desire to say anything more before you retire ?
—I have nothing further to say.

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