Rev. DONALD MACKINNON, Minister of the Parish of Strath (67)— examined.
4682. The Chairman.
—How long have you been a resident in this parish
—I was born in the parish. Then I was away for fifteen years, and all the rest of my life has been spent here.
4683. And you belong to an ancient family long settled in this country
4684. So that both by tradition and personal experience you are well acquainted with the circumstances of the people?
4685. Looking back to what you have heard, and all that you yourself remember in your youth, will you state to us what you think of the condition of the people now compared with what it was
—I cannot say I agree with the evidence I have heard given here to-day, that the people were more comfortable fifty years ago than now. My experience is that, though there is undoubtedly in the country a great deal of poverty, I certainly think the people are in very much better circumstances than in my early recollection. There was a great deal of starvation in my early days, and I remember very well that plenty of families lived chiefly upon shell-fish from the shore. Happily, nothing of that sort is seen now. In my early recollection, we saw plenty of men as we have heard now, going bare-headed and bare-footed, and out at the elbows and out at the knees. Nothing of that sort is to be seen now. They had very hard times indeed. Their only food then was potatoes, and I remember about the first time meal was imported into the country, they had no meal except what they made from their old crofts, and the people are now better fed. In all the shops around us we see all sorts of things for sale, and selling quickly and well. We see butter and cheese and ham, and all these sorts of comforts that are in common use among the people, with tea and other etceteras, which were unknown in my early days. Still I do not mean to say there is not a great deal of poverty j and I think the cause of that poverty is the subdivision of the crofts, and that the holdings of the people are far too small. That, unfortunately, is very much their own doing, and I think it was a very foolish step on their own part, the subdivision of their crofts, so that crofts which were originally supposed to be no more than sufficient for one family, are now, in some cases, called upon to be the mainstay of four families. I think a great deal of that might be removed if the young people would see their way to emigrate. I am not advising them to do anything but what I do myself, and I advise them to emigrate. I have seven sons, and they are now going abroad into the world to all quarters to earn a living for themselves. If I do that, I do not see why the people should consider it unkind to advise them to do the same. There are many reasons which make it advisable for them by going away they could not only help themselves, but they could help those they leave behind; and we know in point of fact that when a man has emigrated and succeeded, as many of our countrymen do succeed, they are very, very mindful of those who are at home, as indeed those who are at home are also. There is, I may say, a state of things existing in this end of the island particularly, and more or less through the whole island, viz., that all the earnings of the strong and able-bodied young men who go away to the south, are sent back for the support of the young and old at home. That is a state of things which, I think, hardly exists anywhere else. I think in many localities out of the Highlands when people find they can earn money for themselves, they set up for themselves, and leave parents and younger members of the family to shift for themselves as they best can. That is a thing I would like to see encouraged, but I would not like to see the crofting system extended with the miserable bits of land they have now. If I saw every man with a good croft, there is no reason why, with the earnings the people get from other sources, they might not be fairly comfortable; but It 's impossible, with the subdivision of the land such as they have now, that they should look for anything but recurring periods of starvation.
4686. Have you a glebe yourself ?
4687. Have you been in the habit of farming it?
4688. So you are acquainted with rural affairs?
4689. You have heard a great deal said of the eviction of people in former times
—about their land being taken from them, especially their hill pasture, and given to tacksmen, and they themselves frequently crowded in and settled upon other, and perhaps, as is alleged, inferior lands. Do you think that the system of creating large farms—adding to them—and crowding the people on small holdings, was in past times carried too far for the welfare of the people ?
—Most undoubtedly, because I think these immense sheep farms have done a great evil to the country. I have no hesitation in saying so, while I think that a moderate sprinkling of comfortable tacksmen among the crofters is very much for the advantage of both.
4690. Do you think that the creation of these great sheep farms has been for the permanent benefit of the proprietors ?
4691. Do you not think there maybe some danger that the proprietors will now not be able to re-let them, or will be compelled to re-let them at reduced prices ?
—Well, I think that it is a certainty now. My idea is that the value of the land in this country is coming to be fixed by the value of the land of America, because this country and America are like two sides of a large river; the means of communication are so rapid, and I think the farms are bound to go down.
4692. If you think there has been a mistake to a certain extent in the policy of past times, do you think it would be possible now to go back upon it, and to withdraw from the large farms a proportion of arable and common pasture land, and to let it to the crofters?
—I see no difficulty in doing so, except the difficulty-of money. If any wise and judicious measure be devised by which they could get the loan of money at a moderate rate of interest, and give them time, I can see no difficulty in falling back
from the bad system.
4693. Do you think that might be done in some degree, and yet leave the tacksmen farms of sufficient proportions, —large enough,—or do you think that would spoil them ?
—In this immediate locality there are no excessive farms; they are medium farms about here. But in Skye there are a good many farms excessively large,—far too large for the good of the country.
4694. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Are some of the farmers non-resident
—Non-resident, and I should like to see the time when a tax was imposed upon every non-resident farmer and every non-resident proprietor. It is one of the greatest disadvantages of our country that we have so few resident landlords among us.
4695. Have you seen, generally, on the part of the proprietors, or on the part of the factors, any intelligent or much intelligent solicitude for the welfare of the class of crofters, or do you think that the crofters have been inconsiderately and perhaps selfishly used for the purpose of increasing rents?
—There is no doubt, in some places, they have. There can be no doubt about that; but I must say for the part of the country I know best,—that is Lord Macdonald's property,—I think, as a rule, the management has been very kind and gentle. There may have been mistakes, as there always are in everything human; but I think as a rule the Macdonald family, so far as we know their history, have been very kind and generous proprietors to the people. There are, at this moment, men in this room whose families have been upwards of one hundred years on the same place, and they may think their rents high; but I cannot say the rents are excessively high, because I think these men, though paying a few pounds for a good many cattle and sheep, might be paying for a cellar in the town more than they would pay for all the comforts they enjoy in the country.
4696. You don't think the rents are at all exorbitant?
—I don't think it is the question of the rents so much that affects the people, because if a man is paying £5 or £6 —if you hand over the £6 bodily to him, he will not be very materially benefited and it will not go very far to support his family. I think the subdivision of the land is a far more serious affair than the rent, because they are obliged to keep it constantly in cultivation, so that the land has become latterly sterile.
4697. Do you affirm the statement we have heard, that the land has really become much less productive than it was?
—There is no doubt about it. Everything is taken out of it. I was talking to a man the other day who complained of the sterility of his land, and I said
—' Now, tell me the truth, are you not growing oats on the very same land where your greatgrandfather grew oats, without any change?' and he confessed it was so. Everything is taken out of the land, and nothing put into it.
4698. Do you think the arable land might be rendered more productive again by deep trenching and turning up the subsoil ?
—No doubt in many places it could be trenched.
4699. Have you ever seen any attempt of that kind
—Yes, I have seen it, and had a little of it myself, but it does not pay very well. I attempted that in my own glebe, and also in some little bit of a farm that I had, but I found it did not pay, and after paying for the expense of draining it, it is laid in pasture again.
4700. Do you think a greater proportion of the adult middle population go away to seek their living elsewhere than they did when you recollect at a remote period 1
—Yes, I remember when there would not be a dozen men leaving the parish all the year round.
4701. Do you think that increasing habit of the people leaving their families and going away produces hardship and discontent, and has it not a bad effect upon the morality of the people and their domestic relations ?
— I do not think so. Of course, it is a very painful thing for a man to be obliged to separate himself from his family, but in the circumstances it is necessary at times to do so, and I cannot see the necessity of its having any bad effect. It seems to me to develop their feelings of kindness more and more, because the earnings of all the young and able-bodied men who go away are sent home to support their parents, brothers, and sisters.
4702. But still, do they not feel it a hardship ?
—No doubt they must feel it a hardship to separate from their families.
4703. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Do you think that the perpetual use of sea-ware has an effect in reducing the value of the land?
—It has decidedly. It destroys entirely, by continual use, the tenacity of the land, till it becomes a sort of impalpable powder, that is washed away with every shower of rain.
4704. Has not this use of sea-ware as manure come into fashion since it ceased to be profitable to make kelp
—No, it was always used. There was always a certain, proportion reserved to manure the land, even in the time of kelp.
4705. But much less than at present ?
—Yes, of course it would be less, but it would not have required as much when the kelp trade began, because potatoes were at that time very scarce, and had been only at a comparatively recent date introduced into the country.
4706. But the Highlands have been cultivated for hundreds of years, and it seems only within the last thirty or forty years, I think, that they have ceased to be cultivated to profit
—Well, they had a very good system applicable to the country when there were fewer people in it,—namely, what the delegates mentioned to-day, that they used to break up their pasture. They used to turn their cows at night into these folds to enrich the land, and after having the land well manured by their cows being put in at night they got splendid crops of oats. They would take perhaps a couple of crops or three crops of oats out of that land, and then they let it he, and went to a fresh place.
4707. What prevents them doing so now ?
—Well, one thing prevents them doing so now, that the people are more numerous, and that they have more cattle, and cannot spare it from their grazing. They do it to a certain extent in some places, and where it is done it is often a cause of complaint and misunderstanding among themselves. In the case of a farm, for instance, where there are a great many subdivisions,—subdivided lots,—and where the number of subdivided lots exceeds the number of entire lots, then the men with the subdivided lots will break up the pasture. Those who have the whole lots complain that they are outvoted, in fact, and complain that these poor men keep them down by injuring their stock.
4708. Do you think, if a system of emigration for families were devised, many families in this parish would be likely to go to Australia and America ?
—I have not the least doubt that a good many people might be got to go, if they see there is no chance of getting any thing to do at home, and I think it woidd be a very wise thing for them to do. One of my sons is in Canada, and he gives me a most flourishing account of it; and I had a letter from a countryman the other day, sending a small subscription for the destitution in Skye, and asking ' Why cannot the starving people come out here They can earn eight shillings a day, and live for one shilling and sixpence.' Why, a man going out to labour in that way would soon be in a position to take a holding for himself.
4709. Do you think they would be more ready to go in families or as young men simply?
—There is no doubt they would be more inclined to go, if there was any scheme at all; but I am not prepared to say much about what the feeling of the people would be, because I never spoke to them much about it. except to one here and there—so few that I cannot say what the general state of feeling is.
4710. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You are against the present subdivision of crofts, and wish to see them enlarged ?
4711. You have also stated that the constant use of sea-ware is rather running out the ground. Now, would it not be the effect, if the crofts were increased, that something would happen like what the crofters state, that the manure produced by the cattle on the enlarged croft would operate very materially to manure properly the land in a proper rotation of cropping, and thereby increase the productive power?
—Distinctly, because they would have food enough to use for the cattle in the winter, and make manure for the land.
4712. In fact, it is the smallness of the croft that is the reason, really and truly, why they have so little manure of their own production, and therefore they must go to the sea-weed ?
—Well, I think, considering the circumstances of the people, that if each man who had a croft would do it for himself they might be tolerably well off; and if all those who are in subdivisions were moved to some equally good spot elsewhere, it would be a great advantage. There is another point, namely, the development of the fisheries. I think it is a very important element in improving the condition of the people, The people are too poor to have either the boats or the quantities of nets required to go into the deep sea; and the east coast men, who have large boats and plenty of fishing gear, come and take the wealth away from us. If our own people were put in the way of getting boats and nets and lines, with some harbour accommodation here and there, that would tend very materially indeed to improve their condition. In the neighbourhood where the Commissioners are now sitting there is a very large population, to a great extent relying upon the fishing, at Broadford. There are from 500 to 800 people round this bay, who would derive more or less benefit annually from the fishings here, if they could prosecute them properly.
4713. Why don't they do so, because they appear to have a fairly good harbour 1
—The reason is that those who go out here in a gale of north wind cannot come in for want of a pier. If they come with a take of herrings, the steamer cannot get near the pier, and so on, and they have no facilities for turning their fishing to account, such as there would be if there was a pier here. There are at least 150 or 160 boats, with about four men each, and their families, all fishing more or less here, but they
would fish a great deal more if they had a pier.
4714. You consider Broadford Bay a proper position for a good harbour 1
—Distinctly; it is very well situated. I am going to open a correspondence with the Board of Fisheries. I was asked to communicate with them some weeks ago, and I intend to do so in a day or two; for I think that a good pier here would be a very material improvement to the condition of the people.
4715. Of some 400 fishermen?
—A great many more than 400. If there was a pier here, where a steamer could come, there are 600 or 700 fishermen who would come here and put their fish into the steamer, instead of getting half value for them at the curing stations.
4716. Have you any idea what the cost of such a pier would be in Broadford Bay
—I think a gentleman who had a pretty fair idea of it estimated it would cost about £3000 to make a good pier at Broadford.
4717. And I presume it would be well worth while for those fishermen to pay a good rent for the use of that pier,—that there would be enough of money for a return?
—I don't know as to the rent.
4718. They said they were willing to pay a fair rent?
—I have no doubt if the fishings were improved, they would be in a position to pay rent. It would not come to very much in all. I think the fishing would be so much improved that they would all very cheerfully pay a trifle for the use of the pier.
4719. Professor Mackinnon.
—Would you consider what you call the present croft, without being subdivided, sufficiently big as it is ?
—If the thing could be managed, I would like to see the crofts a great deal bigger. The best of them are, to my mind, too small to make a comfortable living. I would like to see the biggest even much larger.
4720. I suppose there was nothing like the same subdivision long ago—forty years ago ?
—The subdivision has been going on for a very long time; and I remember very well, when the father of the late Lord Macdonald saw the evil of it, he gave orders to the factor of the day to take means to stop it, and it created such an amount of discontent among the people, because they could not do what they would with their own, that he gave it up after trying for some years, and let them take their own way.
4721. I suppose there is no doubt the people are more expensively dressed and fed now than they were forty years ago ; but was a substantial crofter of that day not in his own way more comfortably fed than he is to-day?
—No, I do not think so. They had more food grown by themselves than they have now, but I think that the crofters now live better than they did then. I don't mean to say they are not in many places on the verge of starvation.
4722. They told us they killed their own sheep in those days?
—I can look back perfectly well sixty years, and all the sheep I know of being killed was that there was always a sheep on Christmas day.
4723. But even with the enlarged crofts, and supposing they were spread over some of the tacks of the country to the utmost reasonable extent, emigration would still have to form part of the solution of the problem for the improvement of the people ?
—I think, if an opening could be found for them in the different places of the country, the question of emigration might be deferred to a future generation.
4724. It would come?
—-Well, we would not see the necessity for it if they could get those holdings at home.
4725. Of course, if they got money for boats and nets, that would be a matter of importance ?
—That would be an immense matter.
4726. They would have to pay back interest upon it, of course, and they would be quite ready to insure those boats ?
—Yes, of course.
4727. And to pay back interest?
4728. The Chairman.
—Referring for a moment to the question of emigration, we are aware, from the records of the past, that there have been various emigrations, at different periods, from Skye, and we have no reason to doubt that the people who have emigrated have, in many cases, done well. We also know that people have been prompted to emigrate from other parts of Scotland, and that they have succeeded in the colonies, and sent home encouraging reports to their relations here. Now, we have been struck by the great reluctance of those whom we have examined to avow any inclination to leave the country. They always speak of emigration with repugnance, and always speak with favour of enlarged holdings at home. Do you think that the sentiment is quite spontaneous and natural to the people, or do you think it has been inspired by the suggestions of others elsewhere—from Ireland and other quarters ?
—Well, it is a phase of public opinion that is new to me. It is of recent origin, and it is not easy for me to say.
4729. But is it a feeling of recent origin?
—Yes, so far as I am aware, it is; and I should say, with reference to emigration and men doing well that there are three or four men who left this country within my own recollection, and who died lately leaving half a million of money among them.
4730. I have been asked by Sir Kenneth Mackenzie to call your attention to the question of the deer forests. We have heard from two townships complaints of the depredations of the deer ?
—I am sorry, nobody in the parish suffers so much as I do from the deer.
4731. Do you think the people do suffer to some sensible extent
—Most decidedly they have suffered severely—heavily.
4732. They have long complained of it?
—As long as I can remember. There is one farm particularly—Torrin—where the deer have been giving them a great deal of annoyance.
4733. Have the factors and proprietors shown any promptitude to redress that grievance?
—Well, I think there has been a great deal of quiet suffering among the people, because they did not trouble their landlord or factor much about it; but since they have begun to speak about it, as Lord Macdonald has always been disposed to help them, I think, on the matter being properly pushed, he would do so. To show that Lord Macdonald was ready to do so, I myself am next to the Torrin people, and I had a small farm from Lord Macdonald for which I paid £100. I told him the deer had destroyed my corn very much, and he at once gave me a year's rent—£100—to enclose my corn.
4734. Has he ever done so to the crofters ?
—-No, he has never given anything to the crofters; but I believe, as you heard stated here to-day, they are at various times paid for watching the corn, but I think that every proprietor of a deer forest ought to be obliged to fence it at his own cost.
4735. You don't think the crofters ought to be called upon to take a share in that?
—Certainly not. I think if a man receives a rent, and receives two rents for the same land, he is morally bound to protect the tenant who suffers.
4736. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Do you know anything about rabbits ?
—I know too much about them.
4737. They are really becoming troublesome ?
—They are, in one or two places. I think the only place where they are really troublesome at all upon the crofting farms is a farm at Harrapool, and I know that though the shooting tenants may be a little slack in the matter, they are taken bound by their leases to keep rabbits down.
4738. Do you know whether the rabbits are excluded in the lease of the shooting tenant ?
—No; I think that the rabbits were not mentioned either by the landlord or by the tenant, so far as I know. I took a lease myself once of a little holding from Lord Macdonald's agent in Edinburgh, and he wanted to reserve the rabbits, but I said I would not submit— that I would not take the place at all—if I was not allowed to deal with the rabbits; and that is the only lease, so far as I know, in which there is any mention made of them at all.
4739. Then, do you protect yourself from rabbits ?
4740. Do you comfirm what one or two delegates stated to-day, that as they have been tenants from year to year, they did not protect themselves, and are afraid to do so ?
—I believe it is true. . But I really don't think, though they are afraid, and though they hold it to be in terror over them, that any steps would be taken against any man who protected himself. I think it is more from the gamekeepers than from the tenant or the proprietor.
4741. Professor Mackinnon.
—But still the feeling of fear is a genuine feeling in the mind of the people all the same ?
—I think it is.
4742. Sheriff Nicolson.
—With regard to education, Neil Nicolson expressed an opinion about its being as good in the olden time as it is now. What do you think of that ?
—I quite agree with him. The possibility of education then was far superior to what it is now. I don't mean to say there are not plenty of teachers now as able as there were then, but the education code is such that it actually puts a prohibition upon the teacher from carrying on anything beyond the three r's. And I think that the Education Act was a great evil to us in this country where we have so many poor rate-payers, because we had schools before in every place where we have schools now. These schools were supported by people able and willing to bear the burden, and bear it cheerfully, and there were no rates or fees for poor people, and they could get quite as good an education as we can get now. Indeed, I am prepared to say that the Education Act was, for this country, a mistake. In this same country we have had to spend £8000 upon schoolhouses, where £800 might have answered the purpose of the country quite as well
4743. The Chairman.
—But though there may not be a better education given, may not more people be receiving education ?
—I do not think it because the compulsory clause is practicaUy of no benefit here. We have tried it, and found it so unmanageable and so expensive that we have virtually ceased to put it in force. There was a sort of method proposed by referring the matter to justice, but what are you to do in places where there is no justice at all; so if we have a case we must go to Portree, and have the expense of taking witnesses there, and being three or four days away.
4744. Are there any parish libraries?
—We had a library at one time in the village. We have in fact a library now, in the village of Kyleakin.
4745. Sheriff Nicolson.
—I suppose they read newspapers a great deal now compared with what they did twenty or thirty years ago?
—Yes, they do.
4746. Have you any idea of the proportion of them that can and do read newspapers compared with what there was thirty years ago ?
—I don't suppose, in my recollection, there were then four newspapers coming to the parish. There are a score in the parish now.
4747 What kind of newspapers do they most read—do you know ?
— Weil, I think the sort of newspapers many of them prefer realing are not the newspapers that are calculated to lead them right, and give them wise counsel; and I am afraid a good many of the newspapers they read are calculated to make a breach between them and their best friends.
4748. What newspapers do you refer to ?
—I would rather not say. The man whom the cap fits can wear it.
4749. Is the Scotsman popular here ?
—I don't think so. I think, if the Scotsman was a little more read, it might teach more rational views. I don't approve of the Scotsman's politics in all cases; but I think it has been giving very sound advice to our friends here, if they would only take it.
4750. Mr Cameron.
—Will you tell me whether emigration has been adopted at all here lately ?
—Well, there are two or three families who went to New Zealand. An agent came here to bid for emigrants, and he got three or four families.
4751. Did he take the families bodily?
—He did, and they have been very prosperous indeed.
4752. I suppose they have written back to their friends?
—Yes, in regular communication.
4753. Has it not had the effect of encouraging others
4754. Is there any mode by which these large tacks might be cut up into smaller farms suitable for the better class of crofters?
—There can beno difference in that respect, if the landlords consent to do it.
4755. And if they had the money ?
—Of course, that is essential, but I saw a method that was suggested by Mr M'Andrew at Inverness a few months ago, which appeared to be a very feasible scheme, and I think if that idea could be followed up, a great deal of help might be given to the crofters; that is the idea of forming a society to lend the money to stock their crofts. I think it was a capital idea. Sir Alexander Mathieson tried to snuff it out, but I think Mr M'Andrew went upon the right lines.
4756. Would these large farms be suitable for crofters, supposing they took them up to the hill tops, that is not only the low ground but the high ground too ?
—There is no place here where you can move crofters more properly off the sea-shore. The hill pasture I consider of much greater importance to the crofters than arable land, because it pays them better. The crops from arable land in such a climate as this is always uncertain, and with a good amount of grazing land they can have cattle and sheep.
4757. I gather from what you state that if a crofter paid £ 5 of rent, and had the £5 returned to him, it would make very little difference to him. I suppose you consider one of these small crofts more in the light of a home for the man who earns his livelihood elsewhere?
—Certainly, in the case of small crofts. I think there might be very judiciously two classes of crofts; one for such as would prefer fishing, and who could not as proper fishers afford the time to attend to a large croft. If such a man had a small croft where he could be comfortable, and grow potatoes for his family, I think a great many crofts of that kind could be judiciously located in various localities, and many would be glad to get them.
4758. But I am afraid from what we have heard, that there is a disinclination among these smaller crofters to look upon these crofts as homes; that they always want an increase of the size of their crofts, and are less inclined to work abroad?
—Yes; that is because they have not the means of engaging in fishing or anything else in which they could expect to make up a good supplement.
4759. Is there any way you can suggest now of inducing the people to look at these small crofts in the light of homes, and not to try to extend them ?
—Well, I should like to devise some means of restoring the broken crofts to their original size; that is what I should like to see.
4760. Would you like to see large crofts sufficient to enable a family to live comfortably upon them, and another class simply as homes, the occupants of which should devote themselves to fishing and other work ]
—Quite so; that is absolutely necessary, while some men would be able to take large crofts and keep them. Well, there are other men who, if you gave them a large croft, would not succeed in it; but I would give large crofts to all who would be able to take them, and other smaller crofts to men of minor wealth, and give them facilities for fishing.