Dunvegan, Skye, 15 May 1883 - John Mcphee

JOHN M'PHEE, Crofter, Harlosh (74)—examined.

4184. The Chairman.
—How long have you been a crofter?
—Forty years in the one house; and my father was an old soldier. He was at the battle of Waterloo. He was ninety-eight, and he was in the house before me ; I succeeded him.

4185. Were you ever in the army yourself?

4186. Have you been freely elected a delegate by the people of Harlosh

4187. Have you any statement to make on behalf of those who elected you ?
—The first factor we had in Harlosh was Mr Gibbons. He was an Englishman, and he was not a good one. That was M'Leod's property. When he came to Harlosh the people were working at kelp, and kelp was at a good price at that time. The land was dear when there was such a good price for the kelp, and when the kelp work ceased, the people fell into arrears and could not pay the rent. M'Leod then got Harlosh valued by a gentleman at what it was worth, and it was valued by Captain M'Leod of Orbost's father, and Mr M'Leod of Gesto. They valued Harlosh at £60, and the townships of Crochinish and Balmore were included in that. When Mr Gibbons came he saw it was a bargain, and he coveted it in his heart.

4188. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—When was this valuation made?
—I believe in 1840, to the best of my recollection.

4189. How long were you under that valuation before this visit of Gibbons ?
—Mr Gibbons arrived at the time this valuation was made. He went to M'Leod and asked him for the township of Feorlick, and the factor gave him a tack of it, and the people along with it. He got the people from M'Leod with the tack, and he himself was to have paid the rent. When he (Gibbons) got Harlosh to himself he saw that it was a good bargain, and that there was room in it, and he removed the people that were in the middle of Feorlick and placed them in Harlosh. I have the names of those who have been so removed, and they are in M'Leod's books.

4190. What was the number?
—Four in Breckinish, six in Crochinish, and eight were also removed from Talisker farm.

4191. How many altogether were removed by Mr Gibbons?
—Seventeen. He placed these families as close together as the sea would allow him; and we have but very little land, and it will not support us ; and some of those he took from Minginish were placed upon peat soil, which had never previously been cultivated. When he packed the people in that way Ebost tack was then free, and he thought that was a better bargain, and gave up Feorlick. Then Major M'Kinnon succeeded him. He was not very severe on the people. They were paying rent in work, but he removed some of the people,
—Malcolm Stewart and Murdo Macdonald ; these had not a place on earth on which they could put a foot. I myself saw them living under a sail spread on three poles under high-water mark. He warned off Donald Campbell for giving shelter to a poor man who had not a place to live in. I saw the officer coming to his house and breaking into it; and he went in with a pad of water and extinguished the fire, and a great steam arose in the house; and what with the noise of the fire extinguishing and the denseness of the steam, his wife went out of her senses. We were then advised that if we would tow her after a boat in the sea, she would get better; and we took her out, and she would not sink deeper than up to her breast. I myself was two years in an asylum in Glasgow. I was a keeper there, and I never saw one that was so mad as her. Now Major M'Kinnon went to Edinburgh, and it was said he was brained there. He was succeeded by Mr John Scobie, who came to Harlosh, where I live. He told us freely that M'Leod of Dunvegan had overgiven to him, that he might do what he liked with us, and he said it was God who sent him there. He came and took a view of Harlosh, as the spies did who went to spy out the land of Canaan. There is a place there called Ardmore Point—a peninsula in Harlosh He thought that would make a splendid park for tups, and he thought that whatever became of the people, he would have such a park there, and he removed four of them, and said he would make them as comfortable up at Balmore as they were before. He said that he had told M'Leod about it, and that he had promised M'Leod he would make them as comfortable as they were before. The four people went up to see where they were to be located. There was a piece of mossy ground there, which had never been cultivated, and was in its primeval state, and when the people saw the place they would not go into it. John Campbell was one of them, John Macdonald was another, and they said they would trust to the providence of God; and if God should support them, they would go to Australia.

4192. The Chairman.
—What we desire is that you should make, if possible, your account a little shorter, without any sacrifice of truth, because there are other persons to be examined ?
—If I do that I cannot tell the truth.

4193. Then you must tell the chief things?
—The Commissioners must need hear my story, for I have a great deal to say, or another day must be taken to it.

4194. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Then you must go on, and do your best.
— They said they would go to Australia, and they preferred to do so, and they asked Mr Scobie if he would take over their crop and their houses. He would not buy the houses, but the manager and himself said they would buy the crop. His manager and himself laid their heads together, and the manager said ' the corn is braird, and we cannot value it.' The man's crop was worth a great deal, but he only got a trifle for it. Two of them went to Australia, and they died on the passage, and were thrown overboard. The third man who remained chose, as he had no other place to go to, this piece of peat ground ; and when he went to it, there was no place in which he could build a house, and it is on my lot that his house is built. What land he got was too small. Scobie then on a certain morning came over to my lot on the sly, and viewed it. My lot was marching with a bit of peat moss which the other man had, and he took an acre of my ground and added it to the other man's ground, and he valued what he took from me at 4s., and he threw me in upon other people who were living upon three acres of ground or grass, and I have only now the sixth part of two acres to keep my cow alive. After that Mr Scobie removed Donald Campbell and also Ronald M'Caskill. These left the country. One of them went to North Berwick, and the other to Inverness. When Campbell was put out of the house, not a tenant in Harlosh was allowed to give him shelter. His wife had nine children, and they were naked. They were on the hill sides during a wet night, and to all appearance she was a good woman, and she was heard praying on the hillside, for help to God. I have another cause of complaint. Scobie again took our hill pasture, which we had had for fifty or sixty years before, and he settled crofters upon it. Neither the proprietor nor himself took a lawful way of depriving us of it; but there are people still paying for that hill pasture, and we are paying for it, for it was ours—that is Roshkill. I have another grievance. For the past sixty years we have been paying road money— 4s. of road money, or four days' work as an equivalent. There is no road to send our children to school, and it is peat moss; and in winter, if it should happen that one in our township should die, there is no way for us to dispose of his remains unless we bury them in the sea, or in the peat moss near home. There was another way which we could use, but Mr Scobie closed it up, and we could not enter upon it unless we broke the gate which he had placed upon it, and locked with a padlock.

4195. What do you now desire to have to make you happier and better off ?
—-We would desire to have the land at its value, and plenty of it; that we should get fixity of tenure; and that we should get the land here from Government, and compensation for working it, and that we should remain to work it. I must needs stay at home. I am for the past twenty-five years going to the south country, and earning rent, for which I have nothing.

4196. Where do you work in the south country?
—In England, at Barnsley, Yorkshire.

4197. What sort of work do you do?
—Working sometimes above ground, and sometimes under it. I forgot a little. We were not allowed to get a tuft of heather to make rope for thatching our houses.

4198. You stated you had once been employed in a lunatic asylum?
— Two years.

4199. Why did you leave that situation?
—When my father died I came home to occupy his holding.

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