Bracadale, Skye, 18 May 1883 - Alexander Mccaskill (Soay)

ALEXANDER M'CASKILL, Cottar and Boatman, Soay (53)—examined.

6269. The Chairman.
—Have you been freely elected by the people of Soay ?
—Yes, among the rest. There are four or five of us.

6270. Have you got a statement to make on the part of the people of Soay ?
— Yes : my grandfather went to the army—at least he was forced to go—and his bones are bleaching on a West Indian island. My father served in the militia as long as there was service. My brothers served about fifteen years in H.M. Navy, and now the grandson is evicted to a rock or island that is not inhabited.

6271. That is the case of your particular family, but I want you to speak first on behalf of those who elected you. What is the complaint that the people who live in this island generally make ?
—They are paying £3 for the croft and the grazing of a cow. At first the agreement was that we were to have four milk goats and followers.

6272. What was the original summing of the croft ?
—Four milk goats and one cow. "We had ten sheep and a horse, but no horse can stand upon it.

6273. What is the rent you pay for that ?

6274. What happened after that ?
—The next farmer that came began to reduce us. He took the sheep altogether.

6275. Who was he?
—Hugh. M'Askill

6276. What reduction did he make ?
—He was taking them in by degrees. He had a battle about taking them, because we were not willing to let them go.

6277. Did he reduce the rent?
—Not a farthing. He raised the rent upon us another pound, and summoned my father for being disobedient, because he would not sign this agreement.

6278. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—He took him into court ?
—He took him before the sheriff.

6279. The Chairman.
—What next ?
—Well, we were that way till he died. Then the present master came- He reduced that £1 of rent.

6280. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What is the name of your present master ?
—Mr Cameron of Glenbrittle. Then, next year, going on at that rate, I went over to see Mr Cameron about the accounting, if there was anything due, and instead of the £5,? was charged £6 again. I am paying
also £2 for the grazing of a cow.

6281. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—An extra charge ?
—Yes; I said I would not do it as long as the sun shines upon me. My order was ' you will be evicted.' So when the proper time came I went over to appear before the sheriff, and I met Mr Cameron. Well, Mr Cameron told me to return, and that he would reduce the rents —that it was his manager's fault that did it ; but I said —-why, in the name of Heaven, was my brother, that was incurable for twenty-five years, evicted, and my sister was attending upon him, unless it was that he was asking some relief from the parochial board. Glenbrittle told me it was the factor in Talisker's establishment that did that, as he would not go to that royal establishment for the poor.

6282. The Chairman.
—Were your brother and sister living with you ?
—Yes. He was incurable for twenty-five years.

6283. Living in your house?
—Yes, and I kept him all since that time.

6284. What happened next? Did you arrange matters?
—I arranged to stop it then. It went no further, and we are that way still.

6285. How many families are there living on the island ?
—There are twenty-three families on the island. In the time of the former proprietor,—Rhu,—there were two crofts. I forgot to say that Mr Cameron made his cottar build his house on my croft for five years, and all the crop that grew on it during that time was 5s. worth. He had two cows and a sheep, and a lot of poultry, and it would take a good man to keep them out.

6286. Is that changed now ?
—Yes, he has his father's croft now.

6287. You say there are twenty-three families. "What kind of crofts have they generally got ?
—Some of them are bogs and rocks, heather and fern; that is all. There are portions of it where, if I would throw a pail of sea-ware off my back you would suppose you were standing at the foot of Mount Etna—it would shake as long as there was bog to shake.

6288. Has there been no drainage done ?
—Baron Rothschild's money could not drain it.

6289. If the crofts are so bad, what ought to be done ?
—To remove the inhabitants out of the island altogether.

6290. What use would you make of the island after that ?
—I would take 100 acres of a farm at the same rent as the present factor is paying for it, stock it, and build a house.

6291. You would make a farm of the island ?
—No, it is quite impossible. I mean I would take a farm on. the mainland.

6292. But what would you do with the twenty three families?
—Do the same with those who were able to take it, and let the rest die. There is no relief for them unless they go to the poorhouse.

6293. Perhaps they would rather stay on the island?
—They will die on the island.

6294. Is there any fishing ?
—We live by fishing. Every cent, we get is by fishing, and by the sea.

6295. Is there a harbour?
—There is a creek, but the entrance is dry at low water.

6296. Is it a good station for fishing ? Is it well situated for fishing ?
—It is not good for ling, but for herring.

6297. Would there be any use in building a harbour and improving it for the sake of the fishing ?
—There is a bay on the south side, if there was a pier there, but this wee harbour that is in it might be cleared and made a fine harbour for boats.

6298. Do the people generally complain of the amount of their rents?
—There is not a word but that.

6299. Mr Cameron.
—I think you were going to tell us what you would like to do yourself, if you got away from the island ?
—I would have 100 acres of a farm at the present rent that is paid. I suppose it is not paying above Is. per acre. I would have 100 or 150 acres.

6300. On which farm ?
—Any of the farms—I don't care which; but let me get arable land where I will get to that croft from the sea with my boat.

6301. Which farm would suit you best ?
—They tell me that our former minister said he saw oat crop growing in Glen Bracadale, and that he never saw better growing in the Lothians.

6302. How is that land occupied now, and what is the rent of it ?
— Just outside where you are standing and down the farm here. That is what I was told.

6303. Then with regard to these twenty-two other families, you don't really mean they are to remain and die on the island, but what do you suggest should be done with them ?
—Every one who can take that measure let them take it, because there are a lot willing to do it.

6304. How many of the twenty-two would be willing to do it ?
—I don't know ; I never asked them.

6305. But you know their circumstances?
—I know their circumstances. I know they were for a fortnight this year living on shell-fish, and I know there were three families whose only subsistence for a week was the carcass of a stirk that died.

6306. That is very distressing to hear, but would it not make it still more heavy for those people to take farms of 100 acres and 150 acres?
— Surely, but if they would get 60 acres and pay £3 for it, it would do them well, and let them get fixity and tenure, so that no landlord or factor could put them out—only Her Majesty.

6307. But according to you, they have too much fixity and tenure on this island. The island is so bad they don't require much fixity?
— No, but where they are going.

6308. What stock would they require—taking even a smaller holding than 60 acres?
—I don't know.

6309. Assuming that the farm of Glenbrittle is out of lease next year, can you suggest any mode by which the land of Glenbrittle might be utilised without any great loss accruing to the landlord, and by which not only those twenty-three families, but many other families in this parish might be benefited, and get a share of it ?
—I don't suppose the landlord would be a whit the worse of the poor crofters having 60 or 100 acres than he has by giving it to big sheep farmers.

6310. That is your opinion?
—That is my opinion, and a good opinion too.

6311. Can you suggest how it could be done?
—Just give it to one that is able to take it.

6312. What is to be done with the sheep on the farm? Who is to buy them ?
—The proprietor. He is bound to take the stock.

6313. What would he do with them ?
—Sell them.

6314. How is the stock to be put on the ground to replace that stock ?
— We will do the best ourselves.

6315. How would you pay the rent if you had no stock?
—That is my own secret. With regard to my croft, I cannot take the wintering of a cow upon it. There is not a blade of grass growing there, and it is so soft I must put sea-manure upon it. There is not a blade that a scythe could reach without that. When I sow a bushel of oats, it would not be difficult to count how many blades would come out of it.

6316. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Has the big tenant stock on the island?
—The man that was there before laid them on my crop, and in spite of my neck he just plundered my crop with sheep.

6317. How many sheep has he on just now?
—There are about 400 or 500 hoggs wintering off my lot.

6318. Suppose the big farmer were removed altogether, and that you had the island—the twenty-three families of you paying rent to the landlord—would that benefit your circumstances ?
—It would not in the least, because there is no possibility of keeping cattle when you cannot grow corn. It would pay a sheep farmer very well to have the grazing of it.

6319. Then I distinctly understand from you that you want to be removed to the mainland ?-
—We want to be removed.

6320. Have you been there for a very long time?
—I have been there, in and out, since I was born.

6321. Have all the twenty-three families been there a long time, and their predecessors?
—It is ourselves that went first into it, before there was a wholesale eviction by M'Caskill of Rhu. He took three or four of my grandfathers and granduncles and smuggled them away. Whoever would not pay £1 0 to him, he would leave them helpless.

6322. Sixty years ago, before the evictions began, how many families would be upon Soay ?
—There was only a herd, so far as I know.

6323. Then was it in consequence of the clearing out of the people from the mainland that they were glad to come to this place to get a home?
—Exactly. It was not good enough for sheep.

6324. And now you want to revert to what it was before
—that there should be only one herd upon it ?
—I want to have nothing to do with the island.

6325. Not even a herd for the sheep?
—What would he herd? It could not afford sustenance for all the families.

6326. But you would not like that it should be left so that nobody lived on it but a herd for the sheep?
—I would not care although they should remove it into the sea.

6327. Have you applied to M'Leod with reference to the circumstances of the people of the island ?
—If I would open my mouth I would be sure to have my teeth drawn. After I did a year's work for the other man he would pay me with a boll of meal and a pound ; and he told the proprietor to give us meal, and when I went I had to pay £5, Os. for a brother of mine who had got a boll of meal, and was dead on his croft.

6328. Things are getting worse with you ?
—Worse every day.

6329. Have you and your co-tenants within the last two or three years not considered it worth your while to make a representation to the laird to benefit your circumstances, by giving you a place on the mainland ?
— No, we knew well enough it was of no avail, and unless Her Majesty will do it he will not do it.

6330. That is your firm opinion ?
—I am certain sure of it, as sure as I have to meet my death.

6331. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Have you a church at Soay ?
—Yes. There was an old church over at the island which was destroyed. We took a piece of the old pulpit and one or two pews. The proprietor belonged to the Established Church, and he sent us to Portree. I went there, lost two days, and was sent to Edinburgh, and the authorities there were so kind to us that we were not out of lodgings till we came home.

6332. You mean the Galton Jail ?

6333. Have you a minister living at Soay ?
—Not one. We did not see a minister these five months back.

6334. Where is the nearest church ?

6335. That is your parish church ?

6336. Then you would need balloons to go to church ?
—Yes, or give us the ' Lively,' and we will go.

6337. You have a schoolhouse ?

6338. Are the children attending pretty well ?

6339. Where is the nearest doctor to you ?
—Carabost, and the nearest post-office is at Carabost.

6340. It is a day's journey from Soay to Carabost ?

6341. Have you any paupers on the island ?

6342. Where does the inspector of poor live ?
—At Carabost. He was two or three times this year at us: but I daresay it was two or three years before he was there before.

6343. There is a story about a number of people having been kidnapped, or induced to remove from Soay and other places in Minginish long ago ?
—I know it well.

6344. How long ago was it ?
—It is seventy years ago since my grandfather went, and it was before that.

6345. There were a lot induced to emigrate to Canada ?
—They took them away in spite of themselves.

6346. And they were not taken to Canada ?
—No, it was to Charlestown, where they were sold for slaves. He left them poor enough and robbed the clothes off their backs, before they came back to the same farm again.

6347. Who did that ?
—Old Kenneth M'Askill.

6348. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Of the farm of Rhu Dunan ?
—Yes. I've heard news from people who went to America. Many of them say they would rather be home in their native place yet, if they were the way they were before.

6349. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many people are in the island ?
— About one hundred.

6350. The Chairman.
—What is the acreage of the island ?
—I cannot say.

6351. How long is it?
—It will be twelve miles in circumference with creeks and all, and it is nearly cut in sunder, and there is not 200 yards of breadth altogether in the centre.

6352. With your various means of support, do you yourself make a tolerably comfortable living ?
—I just keep soul and body together with my own labour at fishing. I was for twenty years roaming about at sea, and I have had to stay at home to keep my aged parents out of the poorhouse. That is what kept me on that barren island.

6353. Then, considering the employment you find, are you satisfied you would be better if you took up a croft on the mainland ?
—That I am. But to get it to that extent and at that rate, and fixity of tenure—no eviction.

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