Dunvegan, Skye, 15 May 1883 - Alexander Duncan Fraser


3811. The Chairman.
—How long have you been settled in Skye?
— Six years.

3812. Are you a native of Skye?

3813. Are you a native of the Western Highlands ?
—I am a native of Argyleshire.

3814. During the six years you have been resident here you have had good opportunities of noticing the physical condition of the people ?
—I have.

3815. Would you kindly state to the Commission what you think of the physical condition of the people, especially with reference to the alleged deterioration during the past few years. Do you think the people, when you first came into the country, were in a better physical condition—better fed, and better dressed, than they are now, or not ?
—I know that a number of them were better fed and better dressed than they are now.

3816. What is the cause of this deterioration which you have noticed ?
—-I think that the bad seasons have had to do with it.

3817. Have you had any reason to believe that the soil is itself exhausted, or less capable of yielding grain crops than it formerly was ?
—I am quite sure, from the system of cropping adopted, that the soil is less capable of giving crops to-day than it was some years ago.

3818. Is it within your knowledge that tracts of common grazing, sheep grazing, have been withdrawn from the crofters of late years ?
—It is not

3819. You have no knowledge of it?
—I have no knowledge of it

3820. Have you heard of it in the country generally?
—I cannot say I have.

3821. Have you reason to think that the deterioration in the clothing of the people has any connection with the alleged fact that they have less wool of their own for domestic manufacture than they had ?
—I have heard that .stated. I believe they are not able to buy the wool they were once able to buy, for want of ready money. They are too fond of dealing in bills.

3822. Do you think that the quality of the lodging of the people, or of their food, is prejudicial to their health ?
—If they did not live so much in the open air I am sure that many of the houses would certainly be prejudicial to the health of the people, and the quality of the food too.

3823. Are you aware of any cases of disease in the country which can be distinctly traced to the character of the habitations or the food ?
—I believe I am. I have seen a good deal of scrofulous disease, and also a good deal of lung disease, and a large proportion of eye disease, all due to
the houses and food and want of clothing.

3824. Has it come within your notice that the children are frequently in want of milk, or have they a sufficient command of milk ?
—They have nothing like a command of milk. Even at the present hour they have not sufficient milk. There is no grass at present for the cows to make milk with, and they cannot feed them with either meal or potatoes or anything else ; and the cows that have calved this year are giving little or no milk at the present time. The calves require all the milk, and, in addition, meal and other foods. I know that in general cases myself, and it is a difficulty with me in treating people when I recommend them to have milk that they say they cannot get it.

3825. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Did you, from your personal experience this season find some cases of extreme poverty in Edinbane ?
—I did.

3826. Poverty reaching to what may correctly be called destitution ?
— I did.

3827. Did you find some cases of families being actually in want of food ?
—I did.

3828. To what do you attribute their condition ?
—Well, to the failure of the potatoes last year, and the destruction of the corn with the gales.

3829. Did you find many instances of that ?
—Well, I found three instances in one day.

3830. Of families that were actually in want of food?
—Without a bite of food in the house, and actually borrowing from neighbours not much better off than themselves, and who had lent their last handful of meal, and must have starved but for the assistance they got.

3831. That was the reason why you made a public appeal for assistance ?
—I made no public appeal, properly speaking, for assistance. I wrote to my own friends for assistance, and got it; but, before getting it, I had to send a telegram for food for the people.

3832. The accuracy of your statements on the subject has been questioned by some writers in one newspaper, at least, and the charitable efforts you have made were even sneered at in one letter I read myself. Was there any ground for the assertions made in that letter ?
—I know of no grounds.

3833. You made a reply to that letter in the Inverness Courier ?
—I did. I sent a reply to the Scotsman, but they refused to put it in, on the ground of length, which was perhaps the only ground.

3834. Are you willing to give in that letter as a statement of some of the facts connected with the destitution in Edinbane ?
—Certainly. (see Appendix A. XVII)

3835. You are surgeon to the Gesto Hospital?

3836. I suppose that institution is of great value to the country ?
— It is.

3837. It was founded by the late Kenneth M'Leod ?
—It was.

3838. What is the average attendance there?
—The average daily attendance there for the last year was ten. There are only twelve beds, so it only left two vacancies.

3839. Are there ever more applications than you can supply ?
—Yes, often.

3840. What class of diseases are most common?
—This year, eye diseases from want of food—I mean, the usual cause is want of food,— ulceration of the cornea, and so on; scrofulous complaints, and abscesses connected with diseased bone.

3841. You spoke of consumption. You, as a recent comer to Skye, don't know much about the past history of Skye, but have you heard or made any inquiries as to the health of the people in former times in that respect, and whether consumption was more common in former times than it is now ?
—I have heard it was not common in former times.

3842. I think the late Sir Robert Christison wrote something to that effect ?
—I cannot say.

3843. What are the chief causes of consumption now ?
—Most of those cases I have seen, in grown-up people especially, have been cases of people who have gone to the south.

3844. People catching colds, and neglecting them ?
—I suppose that is the cause of it.

3845. Has the badness of clothing anything to do with the catching of cold?
—There is no doubt of that; badness of clothes and want of food.

3846. We have heard, in one other place at least, the suggestion that the excessive labour to which they are subjected weakens the constitution of the people. Do you think there is anything in that ?
—I don't think there is anything in that. If they had the food to take they could stand the labour, and a great deal more.

3847. Are the children generally not very well clothed ?
—They are very badly clothed.

3848. They generally go barefooted ?
—Barefooted, a number of them, summer and winter and bareheaded too.

3849. But I suppose you don't consider it very bad for them 1
—I consider it bad for them, in winter, to be barefooted and bareheaded.

3850. When they go to school, whether do you think it is better for them to go barefooted, or to go and sit in the school with wet shoes on ?
—Bare feet are certainly better.

3851. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Are you sure of the bareheadedness being against them ? Do you know that the Blue Coat School boys are not allowed to wear anything on their heads ?
—I am aware.

3852. Don't you think it gives them a better head of hair ?
—If the insides of the children here were as well lined as the Blue Coat boys they might stand to have their heads bare; otherwise I do not see how they could.

3853. Have you anything more to suggest to the Commission ?
—I have nothing.

3854. Mr Cameron.
—Have you, in your experience, often found two families residing in one house amongst the crofters ?
—Not often.

3855. But occasionally ?

3856. I suppose you consider that very prejudicial to the health of the families ?
—I certainly do.

3857. And it has other disadvantages besides ?

3858. Have you ever taken advantage of your position as a medical man, and remonstrated with them for it -
—I cannot say I have. I did not know what remedies to suggest. There was no use pulling down till one was prepared to build up.

3859. Do the people eat much fish here ?
—They do, when the fishing is at all good. This year they have not done much, fishing.

3860. Do they get as a rule an abundant supply of fish in good years I
—They generally get sufficient herring to salt for winter use.

3861. I suppose you consider fish a very nutritious and a very valuable article of food
—I do.

3862. Do you find that eating too much of one kind of food has the effect of producing dyspepsia and kindred diseases
—It does. There is scarcely a patient who comes to me who has not dyspepsia. It is the commonest disease of any.

3863. Do you attribute that to anything except eating large quantities of oatmeal ?
—Quantities of oatmeal and no other food.

3864. That is the principal cause ?
—The principal cause.

3865. Can you suggest any improvement in their food that is within the reach of the people
—If they would not sell their eggs for tea.

3866. They exchange their eggs for tea Ì
—I always tell them to use their eggs.

3867. Is there a good market for eggs here ?
—They sell them to the local merchants.

3868. What price do they get for them 1
—They were getting as high as 8d. this winter. They look upon that as a very good price.

3869. Do they sell them to the steamers in summer ?
—Not in my district ; there are no steamers coming in.

3870. The Chairman.
—You stated that in some cases you have seen two families occupying the same house. In those cases were the families nearly related to each other, such as the family of the father and the family of the son, or were there sometimes two families strangers to each other living in the same house 1
—The cases I have seen were those of father and son, I believe.

3871. Will you state whether, in the course of your practice among the poor, destitute, and sick, you have received any spontaneous assistance from the proprietors and factors or their families,—I mean in supplying diet or in distributing alms, or in assisting the poor in sickness?
—I have received assistance from the proprietor's family in Grishornish, and also from the shooting tenants in the lodge at Edinbane, who were always willing to do anything for the sick people when I mention the fact that
they wanted anything.

3872. Professor Mackinnon.
—This last year was exceptional, but I understood you to say that the condition of the people is so poor as to be to some extent prejudicial to their health ?
—Yes; I think the diet is much too limited even in a good year,—potatoes, fish, and meal.

3873. Have you turned your mind in any way to a remedy of a more or less permanent kind to bring about a different state of matters ?
—I do not see a remedy. There are too many people on the land, but I do not see how you are to get rid of them, unless by the natural causes operating over a number of years. As crofts become vacant, let them be vacant, or join them to the neighbouring ones.

3874. You are quite of the opinion which the crofters express, that the crofts are too small
—I am quite satisfied of that. They will trust to their small crofts, and the least disease in the potatoes or destruction of their crops immediately brings them to the verge of want.

3875. In their statement, the people themselves say that fishing should be distinct from crofting, but when the witness was examined upon it, I understood him to mean that that was a general statement, and that it had no particular reference to the district of Edinbane, where they all evidently wish to be crofters. I suppose, as a general statement, you would agree with the expression 1
—I would, as a general statement.

3876. You find that consumption is chiefly among the young who have been south 1
—That has been my experience up to last year.

3877. That is also my experience. Can you, as a medical man, give me any explanation of it?
—I have always believed that those people, when they go south, being used to living here on their small means, take lodgings in a poor part of the town, and, having to pay for everything they eat and drink, they starve themselves, and go about with too few clothes on, and they want the fresh air and everything they have here. In that way I believe they get consumption; I don't know any other reason for it.

3878. The hard work and the bad air is not sufficiently counteracted by the amount of good healthy food they take ?
—No, and they have not the rests from labour which they have here ; for even if they have little food, if they are not being worked, they still keep free from all disease except dyspepsia.

3879. That is to say at home?
—Yes. In the south they must work, and live on very little.

3880. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Do you think the want of food is the cause of the people remaining comparatively idle during the winter months. The people of this country do not display great energy in cultivating their crofts during the winter months ?
—No, they don't work much during -winter.

3881. Do you think the want of food is very much the cause of that habit ?
—I am sure they feel very much less inclined to work when they are not well fed, judging by what I feel myself.

3882. But you think, if, their food was better, they would display more energy ?
—I am sure they would; there are no better workers as navvies than Skyemen, but then they are having their beef three times a day.

3883. One witness in another place told us the weather was so bad in the winter months, from new year to the sowing time, that it was impossible to work outside. Was that your experience 1
—During the last two or three winters I could not get my own work done for the length of bad weather. It sometimes rains for weeks and weeks.

3884. And that is prejudicial to the pursuit of agriculture in this district ?
—It is. I do not think corn crops pay in this country at all. It is much better to lay the land down in grass.

3885. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You ride about continually?
—I do.

3886. Have you been over the most of Skye?
—I have, except the south part.

3887. In the course of your observations, don't you constantly see here and there the ruins and remains of scores, I may say hundreds of houses, that had been once occupied by people %
—On every hill side.

3888. Does not the appearance presented by the grass about those places denote that there must be considerable depth of good soil about those places? Don't they look exceedingly pretty and green ?
—Yes, most of them look exceedingly pretty and green.

3889. Professor MacKinnon.
—Yesterday we had a schoolmaster, a stranger in the country—only one year in the country—suggesting that the children in this district were scarcely so clever as the children of the south. Would you consider the people of the district equal upon the average, in mental as well as physical capacity, to the people of the rest of the country ?
—Yes, I do. I believe that is so.

3890. Mentally as well as physically?
—Mentally as well as physically.

3891. And physically fully equal to the average, if they were well fed
—Certainly. One thing I have noticed. I have noticed that children who seemed starved and meagre up to a certain age,—twelve to fifteen,—all of a sudden shoot up to be great stout men. They go away to the south, and come back great strong men in one year. It struck me over and over again.

3892. How do you account for that?
—I cannot account for that

3893. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Will it not be accounted for in this way : that they were in regular service and got regular food, which they did not buy themselves ?
—That might partly account for it.

3894. Professor Mackinnon.
—But even the people that do not go south manage to get big and strong?
—Yes, some of them; many of them do.

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