Braes, Skye, 8 May 1883 - Donald Macneill

DONALD MACNEILL, Crofter, Glenmore—examined.

459. The Chairman.
—How long have you been in possession of a croft?
—Since sixty years back.

460. What is the size and rental of the croft?
—It is a half croft. There are only seven crofters at present, and two of these perhaps have only a quarter of a croft.

461. What is the rental?
—£15 and some odds for each croft; and a half croft is £7, 10s.

462. During the period of sixty years during which you have had 3 croft has the rent been increased?

463. How often, and how much?
—Once lately by Mr Macdonald, Tormore; and he laid upon the Glenmore tenants heavier than in any other part of the parish, and, I believe, of the estate of Lord Macdonald.

464. How much ?
—£2, 3s. on each croft.

465. What was your half croft before?
—£6, 10s.

466. And it has been increased to £7, 10s. ?
—Yes, rather a little over it.

467. Besides the money rent, are there any services or obligations in labour or payment in kind ?
—Nothing of the kind.

468. In former times was there any obligations of that kind ?

469. Why was the rent increased from £6, 10s. to £7, 10s. ?
—It was just the will of the factor or Lord Macdonald. I am not sure what was the origin of it

470. Have you any lease ?
—No, no lease.

471. Are there any leases used at all among the crofters?
—No ; I do not know of any.

472. Would you like to have a lease if it were offered to you ?
—Well, I would prefer certainty and fixity of tenure, if a fair rent.

473. What stock do you keep ?
—We are allowed to keep five cows

474. How many sheep?
—About twenty-six or so in all.

475. How many acres of arable land?
—I cannot ascertain that, because the measurement was never properly made. But all that is arable of it might be from four to five acres.

476. Then do you think that £7, 10s. is an exorbitant rent for land carrying six cows and twenty-six sheep, and four or five acres of arable land ?
—The only grievance on that is that we have not enough of arable land.
477. But that is no answer to my question. Do you consider a rent of £7, 10s. for five cows, twenty-six sheep, and four or five acres of arable land too great ?
—I think it was dear enough at the old rent.

478. Is there any other particular hardship or grievance of which the people at the Glens complain?
—Of the crowding, which is a general grievance throughout Skye, and subdividing.

479. Mr Cameron.
—You said there were seven tenants ?
—There were four families formerly, but now there are fifteen families. There are seven crofts for fifteen families.

480. And the crofts are divided into half crofts?
—Yes, and some into quarter crofts.

481. But taking the rest of Skye into consideration, is not five or six acres of arable land rather a considerable croft?
—It is too small, because it is continually turned, and unless it is continually turned we cannot feed our cattle in the winter; and it is a very mountainous place, not yielding crop; and another thing is, that we have no artificial manure unless we cart it from a long distance over very bad roads.

482. I suppose you could do very well with double the size of croft ?
—I might say this, that if there were a wise legislation on the land question, certainly we would require more to be more comfortable.

483. You seem to be well calculated to give us some assistance in this matter. Perhaps you would indicate what legislation should be adopted in order to secure this desirable result?
—Just to make a minimum and maximum in the rental book.

484. But how would that give you more land ?
—Certainly, there is plenty of land in Skye.

485. But is there plenty of land in Glenmore ?
—No, there is not plenty in Glenmore, if we are overcrowded already with fifteen families instead of four.

486. You would like to have double the land, in fact ?
—Yes, or treble the land.

487. At the same rate of rent ?
—I said before, without the last advance made upon the rent.

488. But I suppose you will admit your case is by no means the worst case in Skye—there are far smaller holdings ?
—I am quite aware of that.

489. And if this wise legislation takes place, it would affect other holdings than yours—yours will not come first ?
—Well, most likely. What I say in regard to wise legislation—if there were such a thing taking place over Skye—is, that you would very soon get a very prosperous and populous tenantry in Skye, and they would swell the British army as in times past, and destitution and the cry of destitution would be for ever swept from our island; and besides, pauperism would be diminished, and the poor¬house of Portree might be converted into some manufacturing establishment,—there would be no more need for it,—and Mr M'Tavish of Inverness would never be called upon to serve edictal summonses in Skye.

490. Do many people in Skye enlist into the army ?
—Very few indeed.

491. Why don't they enlist now ?
—Because they are impoverished and sunk down, without any spirit of enterprise whatever.

492. But, there is a large population in Skye?
—Well, they have very much diminished, certainly.

493. But does it not appear to you that, if they are poor and do not find any other occupation, and are disposed for a military career, there is a military career open to them now ?
—There is this idea amongst them—why should we fight for our kingdom when we see so much poverty, and neglect by our sovereign and legislators ? That is the idea which has sunk in the minds of Skyemen so very much.

494. Do you seriously think that if instead of having five acres and paying £6, 10s. you had treble the amount of land—that is, say, fifteen acres—and cows and sheep in proportion, that would induce men to go into the army ?
—They would get populous in Skye, and there would be a rising generation, and why not at present as formerly ? I would think they would be just induced by the same spirit as in former times to help the country to swell the British army, as I said, to defend their country and their land.

495. Have not the crofters in Skye got very much subdivided of late years ?
—I am not sure. They are subdivided now and again throughout Skye, but we are not, certainly, the worst.

496. But would there not be a much greater temptation to subdivide if the crofts were larger than they are now, and therefore would bear subdivision much better?
—Yes, certainly.

497. Would there not be rather a tendency to go on to subdivision again and restore the same state of things which there is now?
—But I think there is plenty of land for this generation and the generations to come, supposing they were multiplying ever so much.

498. And you don't care for the generation after that ?
—Oh ! yes, it is the making provision for that generation that I am speaking just now, and not for my own.

499. The Chairman.
—How old are you ?
—I am over sixty years. There is another grievance which we have to complain of—want of road— and I am glad Sheriff Nicolson is here. He went once to the Glens with the Rev. Mr Reid, Portree, and I met him on the top of the hill, and he asked why we had not good roads here, and I answered that we were rather behind the age for claiming what was our right.

500. Is there in the Glens any example of common pasture being taken away from the crofters ?
—None. We are quite free from that.

501. Do you remember any case of evictions by the landlord—anybody violently removed from the occupancy ?
—None, we give that credit to the factor and to the landlord, that they have never removed except one family which had run very deep into arrear, and that family was removed.

502. Then you do not complain distinctly of any particular grievance, except one rise of a rental in sixty years?
—One rise of rental and the road —and it is most astonishing how bad the road is. Indeed, there is not a road, but we have a footpath which we call a road. Animals are endangered every time and many times, and recently three parties lost their way on the hill and passed the houses, and unless they had heard the crow of a cock, I do not know but some of their lives might have been lost.

503. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—Do you pay road money ?
—Yes, we do ; and this is what we claim—if we pay road money, why not get the same privileges as our neighbours in Skye. I think we are entitled to it, and in all places, except a very small fraction, they have access by sea and land, but we have neither.

504. Did you make any claim to the trustees ?
—We made a claim two or three times to the local committee and twice to the county committee, and lately our petition was returned back to the home committee—the local committee. We are at their mercy whatever they will do with us; but I wish to cry loudly just now for the want of a road, that it may come to the ears of the legislators.

505. Do you pay the same rate as others pay?
—Yes, the same rate as the highest tenant in Skye.

506. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How many miles are you off the high road?
— About four miles.

507. The Chairman.
—If the landlord was prepared to give additional arable ground, and additional common pasture, would the existing crofters be able to cultivate it and stock it?—That depends greatly if the legislators would give us the same kindness as they showed to the Irish. We want may be a few pounds of money and we would pay that in instalments with interest to the Government. That would accommodate us greatly.

508. You mean the Government should advance the money ?
—Yes; we would pay that money in instalments, with interest.

509. For which purpose? In order to provide stock ?
—Yes, in order to stock a larger proportion of ground.

510. Sheriff Nicolson.
—You have a school there ?
511. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What may be the population altogether wanting this road ?
—Close up to 200—may be something less than 200.

512. They want these four miles of road?
—Yes. There is another thing. It is generally boasted that the poor man can get the same justice with the rich in Scotland, but there is an exception in Glenmore.

513. The Chairman.
—With regard to the road ?
—Yes, for if there was a gentleman there like Tormore, or any of these, they would get a road there immediately.

514. But what measures have you taken to agitate for a road?
— Applying to the local committee and to the county committee.

515. But, do you go on applying every year?
—Yes, every year.

516. How many years have you been trying to get it ?
—I believe we began four years ago.

517. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—And who opposes it ?
—There is a certain party in the local committee against it. I do not charge it to the factor. He is not against it, but I say in honour to the Rev. Donald Mackinnon, Strath, that he is the best friend we have at court, and our factor, I believe, is likewise inclined to accommodate us.

518. Sheriff Nicolson.
—The nearest church to you is at Portree?
— Yes.

519. And the nearest doctor?
—Yes; and even supposing we need the doctor, the roads are so bad that it is through much fatigue the doctor gets there; and he is not inclined to go there unless he is very well paid for it.

520. The Chairman.
—Have you anything else you particularly wish to say about the state of the Glens?
—I have said all I have to say with regard to that.

521. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How far are the Glens from Portree ?
—About six miles.

522. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—The increase of the population in the Glens is merely due to the place itself. There are no people coming in from the outside?
—They have not increased in the meantime, but there is an increase since the time I mention when there were only four families.

523. And they are all relations?
—I believe so.

524. They have not any from outside?

525. Born in the place ?
—Born in the place.

526. Have any people emigrated from the Glens?
—They have.

527. Have they been successful?
—Well, I suppose some of them were successful, and good accounts came from them.

528. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Where from?
—America and Australia.

529. The Chairman.
—Do you remember a time when there was an emigration to America about 1840?
—I remember that, but I cannot give a date for it.

530. Has there been an emigration of late years?
—There are always advertisements in the papers about emigration.

531. And do people sometimes avail themselves of it?
—Yes; we hear that some of them from Uist and Barra are intending to emigrate to some of those colonies.

532. But not from Portree?
—Some left Portree last year for Queensland.

533. If the Government offered facilities for emigration, would they find any persons disposed to avail themselves of these?
—I would like very well if those who are wallowing in wealth would go away, and go where no crofters would obstruct their wishes in land, but, for the poor people of Skye, at present they are blasted with permanent poverty, and that takes away from their courage to go away any length,—pulled down under debt and poverty in many ways which those who are at ease cannotunderstand, and that weakens their hand and weakens their courage so that they cannot think of emigrating anywhere.

534. Do any of them enlist in the royal navy?
—Very few that I know of. I don't know of any from Portree in the navy. There are one or two individuals in the army, but I don't know of any in the navy.

535. Have any families in Skye sent their children on board the Government training ships to be brought up for the navy ?
—Yes, some of them go there voluntarily.

536. If the government had a training ship in the vicinity of Skye, among the islands, do you think many of the young people would go on board to be prepared for service in the navy ?
—I may say there are some at present training in these ships.

537. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You are thinking of the naval reserve ?

538. The Chairman.
—I mean boys who are sent on board Government training ships, where they receive a gratuitous education, and are brought up to the navy ?
—I cannot say. I cannot speak for that.

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