Braes, Skye, 8 May 1883 - John Nicolson

JOHN NICOLSON, Crofter and Fisherman, Cuillimore, Sconser—examined.

539. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Have you croft land at Sconser?

540. Have you pasture lands with them?
—We have hill pasture, but we are only allowed to graze a cow upon it, and we are allowed to keep a cat, but we are forbidden to keep dogs. The hill pasture is not a day without from 100 to 200 sheep grazing on it, and we ourselves are not allowed tj graze a head upon it. Two or three years ago the only sheep in our townships was one that was a pet, and this sheep was found at the fanking time by the gamekeepers and marked with crosses on all sides, hoofs, and horns, so as to distinguish her from the rest. The sheep on the farms of Camusunary and Glenbrittle and Drynoch are allowed to winter on our grazing, and we ourselves are not allowed even to have this one sheep. There were five of those sheep on the ridge of my own house last Tuesday. I kept oats which I had for sowing till the first day of summer and could not sow them earlier for the sheep. I have only two acres or thereby of land, and when I rose one' morning last week I counted 54 sheep upon it. There are some of our families down with fever and the lands are untended, and the sheep wander all over. The four nearest townships to us were cleared for the purpose of a deer forest thirty years ago, and the inhabitants of those townships were placed among us.

541. What townships were these that were cleared?
—Moll, Kenchreggan, Tormichaig, and Ballahuist. A great many of those who occupied those townships are located among us to-day.

542. How many lived in Ballahuist?
—Two of them are among our crofters to-day.

543. How many altogether lived in Ballahuist that were removed?
— There are seven cottars; they had no crofts.

544. How many families are there at Sconser to-day ?

545. And Coillmeore?

546. How many were there formerly?
—Thirteen large tenants and fourteen smaller. My grandfather had occupied the land which these occupied between himself and three others. Coillemore is only about one mile in length and about 600 yards broad of arable ground. I was three years that I could not put a seed into the ground with the deer, and I would have to pay the rent.

547. How long since?
—About seventeen years ago. I had to sell my cow to pay the rent, which was £3, and all the while I could not put a seed into the ground. I was not allowed to keep a dog to help me to keep my cattle from the stockyard. I then made my stackyard where it could be seen from my window, and I got a puppy, and then the forester and the gamekeeper and the ground officer came to me and insisted that I should put out the dog that they might kill it. I put the dog into a barrel. The ground officer told me that if I did not put it out I would be put off the land. I was then going to leave the country, and I told them I did not care should they put my family on the Black Rock, if they did not drown them,—that they should not get the dog. I was twenty years away from home, only that I would be about one month at home at spring-time. The places I knew in my young days where the grass could be cut with the scythe are now as bare as possible with deer and big sheep. A wild ass could not get a bite off it. At half valuation we would calculate that during the past forty years the value of £2000 of crops has been destroyed upon us by the deer. The English sportsman would be shooting them in our corn. The women who would be quietly herding would have to fly home for fear of the bullets. I could not tell the history of it. It would give the apostle Paul himself enough to do to tell it; I leave it to some of the others to tell.

548. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What time are you speaking of ?
—During the past forty years,

549. Is it going on now?
—It is not so heavy on us during the past two years.

550. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—If they are forbidden to keep sheep themselves why are these other sheep allowed to trespass upon the ground ?
— The hill was a very good hill—the best grazing in Scotland—and the foresters advised Lord Macdonald to stock it with sheep himself, and Lord Macdonald accordingly had a sheep stock upon it for several years. The last gamekeeper we had—Mackenzie—only brought to our township a cow and a horse, and when he left, he himself said that he took away £3000, which he made on our hill by sheep stock—he himself keeping sheep on our hill.

551. But I want to understand as to those sheep which you say are there now; are they Lord Macdonald's, or are they sheep which are trespassing ?
—Trespassing sheep.

552. Whose business is it to keep those trespassing sheep off?
—It is the gamekeeper's duty; but I do not know.

553. Would the gamekeeper object to your stock being on?
—Yes, he would object.

554. Is there any fence to keep the deer off the arable laud ?
—There is a fence, but it will not keep the deer out, nor the sheep.

555. Is it not high enough ?
—Part of it is high enough and part of it is not. Part is low. They break the fence.

556. When it was new would it keep the sheep and deer out?
—Yes, at times. When Corrie, eighteen years ago, saw how we were being spoiled with the deer, he cut the township into twenty-seven lots, and left us the rest of it for grazing. When Tormore came, he located the crofters on our pasture, and the place that was in my own time rented at £9 is now rented at double.

557. The Chairman.
—Whose factor was Tormore ?
—Lord Macdonald's.

558. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—There were twenty-seven people before Tormore put these others on ?
—Yes, but there were three or four on other lots who had no land.

559. Of those twenty-seven how many were originally there, and how many were brought in from other places?
—I can point out seventeen myself of the forty-four.

560. But of the twenty-seven how many came in ?
—I cannot tell, only that there are very few in our township of those who should be there. They are mostly strangers.

561. What arable land have you?
—The arable land which I have is about one and a half acres. It is rocky. I was deprived of the good land, and it was given to strangers who came. Part of my land is now in the possession of four people. There was not a penny of arrears on my grandfather or my father or myself, and we have been paying rent for 100 years in the township in which I am. Seventeen years ago, in spring, half of the land I had was taken from me. I was not allowed to take up the potatoes that were left to me in the potato ground. I was compelled, at the following Martinmas, to pay the rent of this half of my lot which was taken from me. I told the factor I would not pay it. ' If you do not pay it I will take your name out of the book; you must do as I tell you.'

562. Who was your factor?
—Corrie was the factor then. I then did a little work on the land that was left to me, and at the end of three years my reward was that my rent was raised 5s. in the £. I ceased; I did no more to it.

563. What is the rent now?
—£2 is my present rent. My first rent was £1, 12s. and it is now £2. It was only rocks and rocky ground, and I was digging it myself. The land I had at first was worth £8.

564. The Chairman.
—What animals do you keep?
—It will not do more than feed one cow. I am allowed to keep two cows and a stirk. Each succeeding factor changes our holding, but the last factor has made no change.

565. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—How long is it since you lost the right to keep sheep ?
—Forty-seven years ago; but the hill ever since then was not without sheep.

566. Whose sheep ?
—Everybody's sheep that chose to trespass. No sheep was forbidden but ours.

567. When was it the factor advised Lord Macdonald to keep sheep for himself?
—About thirty-five or thirty-seven years ago.

568. And did he keep a stock of his own then ?
—He kept a stock of his own upon it for a long time.

569. How long?
—I cannot be sura Mackenzie, the gamekeeper, then had the stock upon it.

570. Professor Mackinnon.
—Was there any abatement of rent on account of the hill ?
—When my grandfather lived the township was about £50, it is now more than £100.

571. Was the hill with it in your grandfather's time?
—Yes, and more than the hilL

572. And now the same ground, less the hill, is over £100?
—Our marches are in the hill, and we are paying for it.

573. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—As they were?
—As they ever were; and we are not allowed to keep stock upon it.

574. Are you allowed to keep cattle ?
—It is so bare with sheep and deer that it will not feed cattle.

575. Does not the township keep a herd ?
—Yes; to keep the cows out of the deer forest.

576. Cannot the same herd keep the sheep from trespassing?
—The herd is not allowed to keep a dog. The sportsmen tip him to compensate him for not keeping a dog. They give him 5s. as a present, for fear of disturbing sheep and deer.

577. Your sheep ?
—No, sheep that come that way.

578. What objection had the shooting tenant to disturbing the sheep ?
—That if the dog would go after the sheep the deer would be disturbed.

579. The Chairman.
—Who occupies the deer forest ?
—Mr Kettlewell.

580. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Who built the house you are living in?
— I bought it with my own money from a man who went to America, and I left my father's house to my sister.

581. Do you know of any difference between the Sconser houses and those in any other parts of Skye?
—Our houses would not stand a night in winter. They would be blown to the elements in a night of storm.

582. Are you aware that they are among the most miserable houses in Skye ?
—They are worse than any houses in Skye.

583. What is the cause of that ?
—The deer are eating our crops.

584. How does that spoil the houses ?
—Poverty. We have no sheep, no horses. We are carrying mud on our backs 8 miles—4 miles going for it and 4 miles returning, and doing the work of a horse—spring, summer, and autumn.

585. Did any factor or ground officer ever say anything to you about improving your houses ?
—No; the factor never said anything to us about improving our houses. I am sure they would rather see us out on the sea, in my opinion. I would like to find out if I could get my own hill clear of other people's stock.

586. Are you a fisherman?
—Yes; a sort of fisherman.

587. What sort of fishing is it?

588. Where do you fish?
—At Ireland, the east coast, and everywhere.

589. Is the fishing in the neighbourhood profitable ?
—No, it is not profitable.

590. Are your boats and nets good?
—Very middling

591. What is the reason of that?
—That there is no fishing, and no occasion for keeping boats, and from poverty.

592. Have you no boat?
—What need would I have of a boat and me twenty years away from the country ?

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