Broadford, Skye, 16 May 1883 - Donald Mckinnon

DONALD M'KINNON, Crofter and Fisherman, Elgoll (45)—examined.

4223. The Chairman.
—Have you been freely chosen a delegate by the people of Elgoll ?

4224. How long have you been upon your croft?
—About twenty-five years.

4225. Have you any statement to make, written or verbal, on the part of those who have selected you?
—I have a verbal statement to make. We had hill pasture, and it was taken from us about thirty-eight years ago. Then part of our arrears were taken off our account, and three years afterwards were added to our account. We have forty-five families in Elgoll in a township about a mile square, and besides these there are seventeen cottar families in our midst. There are forty-five paying rent. We are only in a poor condition for want of a place that will support us, and we are much in need of land if we could get it; and between the crofters and the cottars on our place, we would occupy very much more land than we have if we could get it. There are eight townships about us which had been cleared, and we were placed on that point. There is beside us a township, Keppoch, from which forty-four families were removed, and sixteen of them were sent away to Australia. Five of these families were placed among us in ElgolL This was in 1852. From some of the crofters of Elgoll land was taken to accommodate those families who were placed among us, and these are cottars to-day, their forefathers having been crofters paying rent. We are three miles from the highway, and we can only bring supplies for our families either on our backs by land or by boat when we have the opportunity. We bring our supplies from Broadford, which is sixteen miles away from us.(see Appendix A. XIII)

4226. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How far does the highroad go ?
—There are about eleven miles only of roadway from Broadford towards us. Three miles of the distance between us and the roadway is through rocky land, without even a footway. Our shore is exposed; it is very rough,—the only place where we can haul up our boats. The schoolhouse was erected on the place where we would be hauling up our boats and drying our nets, and there is now no place where we can perform either of these operations. We are in a very stormy place, our houses being now and again unroofed with the wind. We cannot get thatch. No thatch grows on our own place. We only get thatch by stealing it from the neighbouring tacksman—Mr Bower. We are confined on a square mile of land—close upon 400 souls—and the tacksman with whom we are marching has six miles of extent of country for himself. The whole estate is in the hands of two tacksmen, except the square mile which we have.

4227. The Chairman.
—What do you mean by the whole estate ?
— Strath-Aird, belonging to Mr Alexander Macallister. The only thing we require is extended holdings out of which we can make our living. We cannot make a living off the land at all. It has become exhausted. It has been constantly cultivated since the time of our forefathers, close upon the last 100 years. I myself sowed three bolls of oats, and the return which I got would not exceed one boll. I have not seen a pound of meal of my own manufacture during the last twenty-five years during which I was in possession of my holding; and for the sort of stock which I have, I have to bring feeding from Glasgow and Greenock. Besides that my own family are out £30 in food. If I could now get the land it would be better for me to have to pay £20 of rent for what I could make a living out of.

4228. Mr Cameron.
—What rent do you pay for your croft?
— £2, 14s.

4229. What stock have you on the croft?
—Two cows and a two-year old is the summing, but the land would not support these at all

4230. How many acres have you of arable land to winter these animals ?
—About three acres, but we don't turn that. We don't cultivate all that. It has become exhausted.

4231. How much of that do you cultivate?
—About two acres, and some of that is not more than an inch of soil, overlying rocks, and during rains the sea for a quarter of a mile from our shore is turned red with the soil washed off our land.

4232. What hill grazing have you in common?
—A corner of the hill which is very rocky.

4233. Do you mean that you have not enough arable ground to winter the two cows, or that you have not enough summering ground to graze them ?
—We have not enough ground either to summer or winter them.

4234. Do you consider the rent you pay too high ?
—Yes, I think so, for all the good we are taking out of the ground.

4235. What do you consider would be a fair rent for that land ?
—I cannot say much, because we are not taking our living out of it. We depend upon fishing and work.

4236. May what you have stated in regard to yourself be applied to the other crofters, your neighbours ?
—Yes, and some of them are worse off. In some instances there are three in one lot.

4237. Are they in very poor circumstances?
—They are as poor as people can be.

4238. How long has this poverty existed ?
—About thirty years; since the potatoes faded first.

4239. Were they as bad twenty, or say thirty years ago, as they are now ?
—When the land is going back we are going back also.

4240. Would you compare the condition of the people ten years ago with what it is at present?
—They are very much worse off to-day.

4241. In fact, you mean they have been gradually growing worse year by year ?

4242. How do you account for that circumstance?
—The want of land; and there is plenty of land beside us if we could only get it.

4243. But they had the same quantity of land ten or twenty years ago, and how do you account for their being worse off now than they were at that time ?
—The ground is getting weak. We are turning it every year. Some turn it twice a year—much of it; and there is no land but what is lying on the top of rocks.

4244. I can quite understand your croft is getting worse, but is it possible for any man to depend upon croft land of so small a size as that which you describe?
—I don't think it possible.

4245. Even If it were good land ?
—Even if it were good land; there is not enough of it.

4246. Then, that being so, and it being impossible for a man to live by a small croft, even on good land, how is it that the people are so much worse off than they were ten or twenty years ago ? Is it that they take less work ?
—That the land is not yielding its crop, it is being turned so often,
—the bits that we have. We cannot leave out a bit of it.

4247. But you say that if the croft were good land, still you would not be able to earn a living from it, it is so small?
—Yes, I could not take a living out of American land of the same size.

4248. But you had the same quantity ten or twenty years ago, and were much better off: how do you account for that circumstance ?
—That the land was yielding more crop. I was not under the necessity of buying so much food either for myself or my family.

4249. What work do you get?

4250. No other work ?
—We get no work from our landlord. We have to work in other countries
—the east coast and Ireland. It is from there we make our living.

4251. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You have described your place as a very bad place. You cannot draw your boats on the shore ; you cannot spread your nets on land; it is so stormy that the roofs are blown off the houses; the land is so poor that the sod has only 2 inches of depth. Would it be desirable to continue in that place even if the land were extended ?
— The rest of the estate is better than that if we could get it. If we could only be allowed to encroach upon the tacks for three miles, we would take a living out of it where our forefathers were.

4252. Would you prefer to shift your houses to a place where you could draw the boats and shift the nets ?
—Yes, if we could get the land along with it.

4253. You would prefer that to staying where you are without increase of rent?
—Yes, to be near a roadway for the place is so difficult of access.

4254. Thirty-eight years ago, when your hill pasture was taken away, you said there were arrears of rent upon you. Were your arrears very heavy at that time?
—No, there was not much.

4255. Do you know what amount of arrears were taken off and put on again?
—A neighbour of mine informed me that 37s. was taken off each croft, and that that was laid upon him again at the end of two years.

4256. Do you mean that every crofter was in arrears at that time ?
—I don't think that every crofter was in arrears.

4257. Was it a reduction of rent you mean, or a taking off of arrears ?
—It was a reduction of rent.

4258. Not an abatement of arrears?

4259. Are you heavily in arrears to the proprietor?
—No, not one shilling.

4260. Does your answer apply to the whole community as well as yourself ?
—I believe that all of us are in the same condition.

4261. Are the people much in debt for meal ?
—I am sure they are; we paid for our meal last winter, and we now get on credit what we require up to the next time of payment

4262. Were you clear after last winter?
—Some are not clear.

4263. And those that are not clear, are they getting meal from the merchants still ?
—Some of them are, and some are not.

4264. How are those living who don't get credit?
—The neighbour who is in good credit assists the one who has not.

4265. Are there many who require such assistance at the present time ?
—About six or seven families in our township.

4266. Do you remember a time when there were no people who ever required that sort of assistance through the winter and spring ?
—Yes, I remember that

4267. In your early years was it a very unusual thing that there should be any people who required help from their neighbours ?

4268. A very unusual thing?
—Yes, very uncommon.

4269. Then you think the condition of the people is now very much worse than it was when you were young?
—Yes, I know that it is.

4270. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Who is your proprietor ?
—Mr Alexander Macallister.

4271. Does he stay upon the property?

4272. How long is it since any proprietor has stayed upon it? Do you recollect any resident proprietor?
—Not in my recollection.

4273. Have you ever seen your proprietor?

4274. When ?
—About forty years ago.

4275. You have stated that, besides Elgoll, there are two farms upon the estate. Will you name these two farms, and the names of the tenants ?
—Kirkibost and Kilmorie. They form one tack under Mr Bower, and Camusunary is the other tack in the possession of Mr Laidlaw.

4276. And these two tacks, and your own place of Elgoll, occupied by the crofters, constitute the estate ?

4277. Is Strathaird a big estate?
—It will be about six miles in length. [About 14,000 Scotch acres.]

4278. How much of these 14,000 Scots acres do the people of Elgoll occupy either as hill or as arable land ?
—About a square mile.

4279. Have some of the people now in Elgoll who have now no crofts— who are cottars—have they at some former period had crofts, or are they the descendants of people who had crofts in other places?
—Some of them are the descendants of those who were paying rent.

4280. And the others
—The others never had any land at all. 4281. I understand that on Elgoll there are four hundred people altogether ?

4282. Have you any idea what the population is upon the other parts of the estate occupied by the two farms?
—About seven families.

4283. On the whole of the rest of the estate?

4284. Is a good deal of the land, or some of the land, at any rate, upon those two tacks good land, suitable for cultivation ?
—Yes. Was not that land which our forefathers had, cultivating it?

4285. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Is it fine land ?
—Yes, fine good land, which our forefathers had.

4286. Beautiful green braes ?
—It was once beautiful and green, but it is now getting under moss.

4287. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You were born in Skye ?
—Yes ; I am a Skyeman to my backbone.

4288. Was Strathaird part of the old heritage of the Mackinnons ?
— Yes.

42S9. Are you aware that the Mackinnons were a distinct clan, and could raise a number of men in old times who could take the field ?
— Yes, and I am of that myself. I am a Mackinnon myself; and if my services should be needed, I am ready to stand for my country at any time.

4290. You stated that you are not in arrears of rent. Was that rent got out of the croft, or was it really got from labour abroad or from fishing ?
—The rent was not taken out of the croft. It was earned at fishing.

4291. You mentioned something about a school being placed in a locality where they used to draw their nets. By whose authority was that school placed there ?
—The school board.

4292. Is there no place in the neighbourhood that would be suitable for a school ?
—Yes, plenty of it.

[Rev. Donald Mackinnon, minister of Strath.
—I should like to make an explanation, if I am not out of order. It happened that I was the party who laid out the site of this school. All the tenants in the place were naturally anxious. There was no place outside the boundaries of the farm that seemed more suitable for a school in this particular locality unless we interfered with the crofts. That we were very anxious to avoid; and to make things as pleasant and smooth as possible, I called a meeting of the people,—and the people of the village were there, I think the most of them,—and they all agreed to this place, which had been the site of a school fifty years ago, and was the garden of the schoolmaster who was then supported there by the Gaelic School Society. It was simply, at the time we took possession of it, a tithing-fold for cattle. The people then had docks for their boats, beyond which they never drew them inland—places made for the boats in the bank, where they secured the boats for the winter. We took the ground so as not to interfere with that. We left that untouched, and went considerably above it, so that we did not in any way interfere with that ground. In consequence, unfortunately, of the great tide we had two years ago, the tide encroached upon their docks and upon the school grounds, but there is no reason to say that we in any way took possession of the ground they were accustomed to use for their boats. I don't suppose there was ever such a thing known as the necessity for bringing a boat in upon the ground we occupied, and at the very time, or shortly before that, the remains of the old schoolhouse were standing upon that very ground.](see Appendix A. XIII)

4293 Mr Fraser Mackintosh.
—Is Elgoll a good place for fishing?
Witness. Yes.

4294. Could anything be done at a moderate expense in the way of a quay for running out and in in time of stormy weather, and for hauling up their boats alongside?
—It is not a very suitable place for a quay or place of that sort, but it could be made very much better than it is.

4295. You complain of the roads—do you pay road assessment
—Yes. We are paying road money to the county of Inverness, and we have not a road at all ourselves.

4296. The Chairman.
—You stated there was a great deal of good land upon the tacksmen's farms—fine green knowes or hillocks which formerly were arable. Do you consider that, having been so long out of cultivation, it has deteriorated, or do you consider it has improved by the rest it has had ?
—It is getting worse the longer it is left out of cultivation, and it would be improved if it were brought under cultivation for pasture,

4297. But is it getting better for cultivation if it were now broken up

4298. Upon the crofts, in your place, has there been any attempt made to improve the arable ground by deep trenching with the pick ?
—No, the ground was so hard. It is dry enough, but we would be afraid to improve, in case we would be turned out by the landlord or factor.

4299. Have you ever seen the pick used at all ?
—No, not on our land.

4300. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Is there any man from Elgoll in the army just now

4301. More than one ?
—Only one at present

4302. Are there any pensioners?
—-There are no pensioners.

4303. How do the cottars live there ?
—One of them is here present

4304. Where do they get work?
—They don't get work at all. They live by fishing and by cultivating bits of ground they get from the crofters. They are a burden upon the crofters.

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