Bracadale, Skye, 18 May 1883 - John Mccaskill

JOHN M'CASKILL, Shoemaker and Cotter, Ferrinlea (43)—examined.

5928. The Chairman.
—Have you been freely elected a delegate ?

5929. How was the election conducted. Did the people meet freely together without any influence, or was it managed by the clergy or anybody else ?
—By their own free will entirely.

5930. Have you any statement to make on the part of the people of Ferrinlea ?
—I can speak concerning the commencement of the clearances. I have learned from older people than myself that they commenced seventy years ago at first—then by Dr M'Lean, as a former delegate said, from Talisker side. M'Askill had only Rhu Dunan in his possession at that time. Glenbrittle was occupied by crofters in comfortable circumstances, and it is likely he asked for Glenbrittle; but, at all events, he got it, and cleared it, and made a sheep run of it. We don't know how many families there were, but at that time there was a church in Glenbrittle, and there is nobody there now to use it. The church is now in ruins, and the manse is converted into a shepherd's house. M'Askill was clearing on the Glenbrittle side, and the doctor was clearing on the Talisker side, from one to the other, and, as Murdo Mackay said, Dr M'Lean was not long in possession of Talisker when he had to leave it, and I understand that his circumstances to-day are such that he is on the poor's roll or the next thing to it.
[Sheriff Nicolson.
—Are you not aware that be died some years ago?
—I am not.]
There were in Duisdale about a dozen families of crofters in comfortable circumstances. Some of these went abroad, and as Murdo Mackay mentioned, some went to the parish of Durinish, some to the parish of Snizort, and others to the cities. These clearances were going on under Dr M'Lean on the one side, and M'Askill of Rhu Dunan on the other will take the tack of Rhu Dunan at first. The M'Askills cleared Rhu and a township called Saatran, Glenbrittle, Mercadale, Trean, Crackinish, Brunal, Brac-einart. The people of these townships were scattered through the country, and some of them went abroad.

5931. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many families might there be in those townships ?
—I heard there were sixteen families at one time, in Crackinish, and there is nobody there now but the shepherd. There were ten or twelve in Glenbrittle. There were twenty or more families in Rhu. In Saatran there were four or five families; and there would be about six families between Trean and Mercadale. There would be six to ten families in Borlin, and in Grid, so far as I have been able to ascertain, there were not more than four or five families, and four or five in Brac-einart. I think that includes the whole of the tack of Rhu. When Hugh M'Askill succeeded the doctor, he got Talisker and the places that were cleared by Dr M'Lean, and he was barely settled when he commenced the same operations himself. Ferrinlea was a big township occupied by thirty families when he got it.

5932. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—When where these families removed ?
—About fifty years ago. I belong to Minginish, and in regard to it there was Borlin
—a big township in which there were twelve families. The township was called Loch Learish.

5933. What became of the twelve families?
—They were scattered through the world by the same person. A family was in Borlin called M'Leod. The M'Leod family commenced the clearances, and M'Askill finished them. There were two Fiskavegs and two Ardhoils. The families occupying these have been given already. There was another township called Carbostbeg, near Ferrinlea. There were four families there, very well off; and the daughter of a widow who was living there told me that her father gave Hugh M'Askill when he came to Talisker £180 to help him, and M'Askdl put the widow out of the place after that. He cleared Carbostbeg for himself for the purpose of erecting a distillery in Carbost. The same widow's daughter told me she saw her father's corn shovelled out into the river when seeking a place for the distillery.

5934. The Chairman.
—Is that the whole list of clearances you have to mention ?
—No; as I said, what the Assyrians left undone the Babylonians finished.

5935. You refer to the present tacksmen as Babylonians?

5936. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What about them?
—Those whom I named before are dead, and I want now to speak about the living. I will begin with Mr Cameron, Talisker, as he succeeded M'Askill.

5937. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Is that the present tacksman?
—The present tacksman. He got the tack thirty-three years ago, and when he came on he made up his mind that there should be nobody in the place at all, for M'Askill had left remaining some of the people for his own convenience, When Mr Cameron came to Talisker he was not to do with any of the people, and as I have understood, he began to litigate with the landlord, holding out that the people being allowed on the tack was not mentioned in the lease. For five years he would have nothing to do with this. He would give us nothing, and he would keep nothing from us. The matter then came that he would have to take the tack as he got it, or leave it, and he stuck to it He then deprived the cottars of the grazing which they had, and grazing for cows could no longer be got, not for twenty years or so. He took from us our peat mosses, and gave us a bog which neither man nor beast made use of up to that time.

5938. Was that for peat ?
—For peat moss, and that was measured out to us by the yard a lot for each family. In Fiskaveg, where cottars had been left by M'Askill also, they were deprived of their peat mosses. There was bad land near their houses which could not be called earth or moss, and the poor people had to cut their soil as it was to make fuel of. Then he removed ten cottar families which had been left by M'Askill in Cortenanshiarich, and before them there were ten to twelve families in Ferrinlea, and he made places for the Cortenanshiarich families on the land which these ten or twelve families had in Ferrinlea before them. He deprived the township of Ferrinlea also of a piece of land for the accommodation of his shepherd. Then he took ten or eleven families from Fiskaveg and another township and put them into Ferrinlea also, and again divided the existing holdings to make room for them. We were under the necessity of attending to the tacksman of Talisker on any day he would require us to work ; and when paying us, a strong man, should he be as strong as Samson, would only get Is. a day, and our women 6d. a day, and do the work according to where the work was,—nine or ten miles,—besides doing the work, whatever we would be at,—I have an instance myself, in my own case,—whatever we were at, for we had to support ourselves. I myself am a shoemaker, having learned the trade, and my brother also, and we would have to leave our work and attend to the tacksman's work. "We, who are engaged in trade, sometimes get credit to the extent of £40 for our trade purposes, and we would be losing our business for the sake of doing Talisker's work at Is. a day. He commenced to complain of us as a family, when I would not work and my brother would not, and that was the same thing. He commenced to complain of the manner in which we were working. We were attending to our work. My mother was the head of our family. She is a widow, and we were working for her and supporting her. I am the eldest of the boys; and the very day he was complaining of the inefficiency of the work my brother was working for him. He commenced to complain, and I understood it would not be easy to satisfy him in any way. I said to him I could not stop my work for him entirely, and that I would pay him the equivalent of our work according to the rate of wages in the country; and because I had the boldness to say that to him—to shorten my story my mother and myself were served with a summons of removal. There was nothing now for it but that I should either apologise to the tacksman and sign the paper that I would be obedient to him at any time, or I would leave the country with the whole of our family.

5939. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What was your mother's age ?
—About seventy-five. When my brother saw what was likely to be, he went to Talisker to make the peace, and he said he would go in for the land, and to let the matter pass by. We have been allowed to remain on that footing.

5940. Mr Cameron.
—In regard to the present condition of the people, you say you are a shoemaker. Do you follow any other occupation?
— No, but I sell a little groceries.

5941. You are a sort of merchant?

5942. How long have you been engaged in that occupation?
—About twenty years now.

5913. When you commenced that business did you start with any capital, or did you start from small beginnings?
—I began shoemaker twenty years ago. About nine or ten years ago I commenced to sell

5944. So you began gradually without any stock at all ?
—Yes, and by the good opinion which the merchants from whom I was getting my goods had of me.

5945. What sort of house do you live in now ?
—Middling good. It is built with stone and lime now.

5916. Did you build it yourself ?

5917. You must have beeu in pretty good circumstances to have done that?
—As a family we are diligent. We can employ ourselves on sea as well as land. There are three brothers of us, and every one is helping the family yet.

5918. So you throve pretty well, in spite of this little difficulty with Talisker?
—Yes, in the course of providence; but little thanks to Talisker, or anything we were getting from him.

5919. Judging from your statement, I should suppose that the people in this district have some money to spend upon groceries and such like— shoes and such things as you have to sell ?
—Yes, it is with money and that that they are paying for the shoes, but money earned in many ways—earned by fishing and work outside the country—sailors, over the whole world.

5950. Do you give much credit to your customers ?
—Yes, six months; I myself am getting that.

5951. Are they much indebted to you ?
—Yes, many of them are sunk in debt to an extent that they can never pay.

5952. Are there any other merchants in the place besides yourself ?
— Not in my township.

5953. In the district ?-

5951. Will you name them?
—Alexander Mathieson and Catherine M'Caskill, post-mistress—she began this year to keep a few groceries. That is all I know. There is another girl named Cameron—she keeps little groceries; but these are all

5955. Have those people succeeded in their business as well as you have done ?
—I cannot say about their circumstances.

5956. Apparently, judging from their houses and their general appearance1!
—Alexander Mathieson's circumstances appear to be as good as mine.

5957. What do you charge for some of the various articles yon sell. For instance, what do you charge for tea?
—Three shillings.

5958. Never any more ?

5959. Nor any less ?
—No, that is the common price.

5960. What do you charge for meal per stone '.
—Three shillings.

5961. What would that be a boll ?
—21s. a boll—17| lb. per stone.

5962. What do you charge for a pair of men's shoes ?
—12s. in general, and 9s. for women's shoes.

5963. And a pair of men's boots ?
—17s., and 12s. for women's boots.

5961. Are these the prices usually charged ?
—I cannot say. I am more afraid when the time for my own payment comes, that I will have to borrow the money.

5965. How did you know about the litigation of which you spoke between Talisker and the landlord ?
—As I was hearing from the people of the place.

5966. Did Talisker tell you of it ?

5967. Did the landlord tell you of it ?

5968. Or the lawyer

5969. Did you read it in the newspapers ?
—No, but Mr Cameron of Talisker told me that the landlord had blamed him for his usage of the people.

5970. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—I understand the landlord did not wish the people to be removed?
—I can say, with regard to the first clearances, that were it not for M'Leod's interference there would not be a representative alive of the families of the original inhabitants of the district to bear testimony to-day.

5971. I understand that the present Cameron of Talisker had a dispute about the clearances between him and the landlord ?
—Yes, that was what caused the dispute.

5972. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Does Talisker exact his labour at Is a day from every one of the cottars on his farm ?

5973. Can he select one in preference to another, or does he take them evenly all over ? Does he call on one oftener than on another ?
—His plan is that he divides the townships into districts, and he requires the people, so many from the one district to-day, and so many from the other the next day.

5974. What is the kind of -work on which he employs them?
—Field work.

5975. Does it occur at all times of the year ?
—Yes, at all times, when the work is there to be performed.

5976. On an average, how many days in the year are you or your family called upon to work for Talisker at Is. a day ?
—He ceased to make up accounts with us the last few years, and I do not remember the number of days the work would amount to.

5977. Would you tell us something about the number of days—once a week or twice a week ?
—Three days a week, by dividing the people into two companies and calling upon the one upon each alternate day.

5978. Are you actually employed at Talisker each alternate day through the year ?
—In spring and summer and harvest—while field work is being done.

5979. How many such tenants has Talisker on his farm ?
—Twentythree or twenty-four families, and three families in Glen Einart.

5980. Fifty years ago there were thirty families. How many of these families were evicted ?
—Twenty families.

5981. And there were ten left ?

5982. What lands were left to those ten ?
—A park which was in the township.

5983. Was it the same land they held before ?
—It was part of the land they held before.

5984. Had those ten the same rights with regard to sheep and cattle which they had before?
—Before twenty families were cleared the township had sheep and cattle and hill pasture, but afterwards they were reduced to one cow, but some had two.

5985. Did they take away the right to the grazing of these cows ?

5986. Do I understand you to say they got it back again I
—We got the grazing of one cow back a few years ago.

5987. And there are twenty-eight families now with one cow's grass each ?
—No, they have only, between them, seven cows.

5988. Is that because they are not entitled to keep them, or because they are too poor?
—There were some of those who had not cows, who were refused to be allowed to keep them.

5989. I understand you to say that some who might have had them were too poor to keep them ?
—Yes, and some were refused.

5990. Do you pay anything for this cow's grass beyond the service you render ?
—We pay a fixed sum for the cow's grass of £4.

5991. Each cow?
—Yes, and that for the cow's outfeeding. We have to winter the cow besides.

5992. The cow has the right to go on the hill through all the year, I suppose ?

5993. Do the cottars pay anything more for their house rent or for their croft ?
—The croft is two acres and a chain, and we are charged £2 for that, and we were paying that £2 with our work if our work amounted to as much, and if not we had to make up the balance in money. A few years ago he ceased making accounts with us for the land, but we have to attendto his work any time he wants us.

5994. But now you pay £4 in money and give the labour required of you free ?
—We give work in the name of rent for our croft.

5995. And in the days when there was an account kept, you did not practically work forty days in the year ?
—We have to take into account that very often the women would be working.

5996. But had you oftener to pay a balance to Talisker or to get it ?
— When we were making up accounts it often happened that we would have to pay money to him, but when settling for the cow's grazing we have often got 30s., the balance of the price of our stirks, as he himself bought our stirks.

5997. To what age are you allowed to keep your stirks on the grass ?
— A year.

5998. What price are you getting for stirks ?
—Sometimes £5, 10s.; we got that last year.

5999. Are you obliged to sell stirks to Talisker ?
—We never refused them, as he was in the way of buying them.

6000. Would he give as good a price as any other man for them ?
—We cannot be sure. Buyers were not coming our way.

6001. Have you any ground of complaint on that score ?
—I don't think we have.

6002. The Chairman.
—Does Talisker allow you to find a substitute for your labour for him ? May a man hire another man to do his work for him ?

6003. Have you been in the habit of finding a substitute for yourself ?
—When we had a servant we would be sending her.

6004. You mean a woman servant ?
—Do you ever hire a man as a substitute ?
—No j when there was man's work to be done, one of ourselves had to go.

6005. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—-Are you aware that the population of this parish has been falling off rapidly for many years ?

6006. Is there not plenty room for all the crofters and others now remaining in Bracadale to get good sized crofts without much interfering with the two tacks ?

6007. Is there or is there not a lot of fine land that was once under cultivation upon these tacks, and that is now out of cultivation ?
—Yes ; every township is. I may say the whole parish of Bracadale is one sheep tack altogether, and at one time it was supporting a population of 4000, before the clearances commenced.

6008. Sheriff Nicolson.
—I have no doubt you believe that to be true, but the largest population of Bracadale was in 1821, when it was 2103, from which it has fallen to 922.

6009. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—The previous witness stated he wanted a small piece of land near his own house, and he did not know whether he would get it or not. Now do you want any land, if you could get it ?
— Yes, I want land also.

6010. Are you quite able to stock a nice croft ?
—If the land had been left which our forefathers had, there would have been no occasion to ask that of us to-day. The stock would have descended to us.

6011. But are you able to stock a large croft?
—I will tell you this, and it is the mind of the people that I speak ; if we would get the land at a reasonable rent, and what we call fixity of tenure, we would get plenty who have money to assist us in stocking that land.

6012. You would not require the assistance of Government, as some oeople in other localities have told us. You would require private assistance?
—In whatever way we would get it, I do not know what would be the best way, but we would get it.

6013. Is not the lease of Talisker about to expire ?
—It has seven or eight years to run yet.

6014. Mr Cameron.
—Do you know the value of the stock upon Talisker ?
—That is not easy for me to tell

6015. Do you know whether the incoming tenant is not bound to take it all ?
—That is the practice that is going.

6016. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Is the tack of Ulinish, upon which we are now sitting, in the landlord's own bands ?
—Yes, since the death of the last tacksman, and the lease being expired also.

6017. Why don't you and the others go to M'Leod and ask to eject proper crofts out of Ulinish? Have you not done so, and if not why have you not done so ?
—We in our place are so much distressed with
removings that it is hardly easy for people to make flittings who are sunk in poverty. And perhaps, even after they had flitted to Ullinish, they might, in a short time, be evicted to make room for sheep again.

6018. Do you give that as the only reason for not making application to M'Leod ?
—Yes; there is land enough about us, near us, and we are not as a people able to leave and to build new houses. We are tired of that work, and we don't know what time we may be turned out. That is a sufficient reason.

6019. Has M'Leod himself been here, and is it a long time ago ?
— He comes generally every autumn.

6020. Does he converse with the people ?
—Yes, he will be speaking to those who are near himself; but we don't go near him at any time.

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