MALCOLM M'CASKILL, Crofter, Kilmuir (36)—examined.
[Mr Alexander McDonald.
—I have been specially requested by M'Leod of M'Leod to mention, that his tenants have perfect freedom to say whatever they think fit and proper, so far as he is concerned, without fear of consequences.]
3895. The Chairman.
—Have you always been resident in Skye ?
—I was away for some time, but I was back every year. I was away ten years.
3896. When you say away, where did you go, and for what purpose ?
— I was at Glasgow.
3897. For the purpose of labour?
3898. Have you been freely elected a delegate ?
3899. Did you prepare the document which you now present ?
3901. Is it a statement by the people of the district?
—Yes. It is as follows :
—I am thirty-six years of age, and was born in Kilmuir, parish of Duirinish. My father was born at Ramasaig, and is about seventy-five years of age. He was evicted from there to Idrigill, from Idrigill to Forse, and from Forse back to Idrigill, where he was only one year. Then he was removed or evicted to Kilmuir where he was only for a few years, when he was removed to his present croft, which he has occupied for about forty-eight years. He was removed from the first four places for no other reason than to make room for sheep. He was not in arrears of rent. He has seen all the following townships laid waste or depopulated:
—Lowergill, Ramasaig, Ollasdale, Dibidale, Idrigill, Forse, Varkasaig.
He has seen the first two depopulated twice. When he came to Kilmuir first there was only twenty crofters, paying about £100. The reason for removing him to his present croft was that the grieve or manager M'Leod had at Dunvegan at that time thought they had too much land, and would have no time for work for M'Leod at Dunvegan, consequently he divided Kilmuir into forty crofts (or about), and my father was removed to his present croft. Shortly afterwards it was subdivided, and four other parties have a piece of it to-day. His croft is about 3 or 4 acres, but it would not make 1 acre, and give the ground a depth of 12 inches. The summing is two cows for each croft, but not able to keep anything like two cows; no sheep. My father is paying rent for the long period of sixty years, and he never owned a sheep during that time. There is grazing in Kilmuir for seventy-five cows. We do not sell more than twenty stirks every year, which I value at £3, 10s. We sow about 480 bushels; give two returns, which I value at 4s. the bushel. I allow them 400 barrels, or 10 barrels each, which I value at 3s., which give a total of £226 I deduct rent, £100, which leaves only £126 divided among 200 souls, which only gives on an average about 12s. 7d. each. I daresay every one in Kilmuir will say that I have gone too high, but after all it is a poor profit. I have not taken the labour into consideration; any one who knows anything about small crofts knows it is considerable. Also the milk is not a great thing in a place like Kilmuir. Our hill pasture is the worst in Skye. Some turn their crofts yearly; do not even leave out
where you would dry a pocket handkerchief. These must kill their calves. I was exactly £ 4 in feeding meal last year. Could not get corn to buy; my neighbours can say the same, some more and less. It is a miracle how the poor crofter lives. We are actually starving; how can it be otherwise in the face of the foregoing statement. Paupers are far better off in many respects. If not for the money earned in the south and the fishing we would have been paupers in the poor-houses long ago. The population of Duirinish is about 4500, and there has not been a doctor for the last eight years. The nearest to here is 9 miles, and about 21 from Glendale, or from 12 miles to 21 from three-fourths of the population. The paupers can have their doctor and medicine, but no word of the poor crofter, who bears all the burden. I am intimately acquainted with the most of the crofters in the parish, and all are willing to pay any reasonable amount in order to have a doctor at once. It is disgraceful for a civilised country like ours to be without a doctor for eight years. I am not aware of anything being done for to get one. Only Miss M'Leod of M'Leod has done her best with the authorities, but to no effect. The proprietors hate to see the face of man, as their clearances of the land show. They have far more respect for sheep and cattle. We pay for sea-weed at the rate of 30s. per ton of kelp, or Is. 6d. the cwt or scale we call it. There are three fishing boats in Kilmuir, and have their full implement of nets. The loch is sometimes very good for herrings, but we are too far from the fishing grounds. We don't want any piers, as the loch is well sheltered. Our boats are small, and can be drawn up at any time. Trawling is prohibited; shell-fish or mussels are not prohibited. Sometime ago we built a house, and managed to slate it. I am now assessed at £10, which I consider double its value. I believe the assessor never saw it; at any rate he was not inside. I have written him several times, and to no effect. I paid of rates last year £2, 6s. 1 Id., excluding my croft, which I consider too high. There are several others in the same position as myself, and at the same rate. Now, what inducement has a poor crofter to make a good house, when he is taxed higher than his rent. It keeps agood many back from building houses ; they rather stop in the wretched houses that they have than better them. Even felt houses are taxed in other parts of the islands of Inverness. There are a few of them now in this parish, and expecting the taxman daily. The assessor told me he would give the rent value for my house. I may say he is quite welcome, if I had money to build a house that I could thatch with straw. It is a great hardship on the overburdened crofter. Over forty years ago there were only twenty crofters in Kilmuir; there are over sixty-four families to-day. Overcrowding is a great grievance with us; they do a great damage on our hill pasture, cutting peats. I can give no reason for overcrowding, but the following:
—When any one is looking out for a place, some crofter gives him permission to build on his croft, or gets about of an acre of land ; immediately the proprietor rents him 30s., or the crofter only gets 5s. of a reduction, so that the proprietor is the gainer by 25s, and the poor crofters never gets anything for the damage done by the parties cutting peats. Another cause for overcrowding is when a crofter leaves the place or dies, his next neighbour will not get the croft, but it is given to a stranger. When a crofter dies or leaves the country, and if he happens to be in arrears, the incoming crofter must pay them. It is not right that the incoming crofter should pay anybody's debt; proprietors should run the risk of losses like other merchants. It is a trifle that the proprietors have out in arrears, in comparison to the merchants. I fully believe, and am not far wrong when I say, that all the stock and the effects of all the crofters in Duirinish would not pay their debts at the present time. All the crofters that I know in this parish paying rent from £1 0 to £15 are pretty well off, and shows that we should get more land at a reasonable rent What I consider a fair croft is 15 acres arable, four cows, one horse, and hill pasture for about fifty sheep; a fair rent for the above £10. There is plenty land to be had about here, and on the MacLeod estate, and very suitable for crofts of any size, and plenty to take them, that is if stocked for them. There were seven crofters removed about fourteen years ago to a part of Kilmuir called the Moss, in order to add their grounds to those of the new hotel. They got no compensation whatever when they were removed, had to build new houses where they went to, and their crofts very inferior to those they left. The school board consists of seven members, —one F. C. minister, one merchant, one ground officer, one factor, one doctor, and two proprietors. I am actually ashamed to tell what I have to say. There was a general election thirteen months ago. The returning officer was sitting in the first room, his clerk in another room immediately off it. The first on the ground was one of the proprietors with his men; he sat in the room along with the returning officer, saw his men go into the room one by one, left the door open, and saw how they voted. He was that honest he did not go into the room. Next comes the factor with his men; he went into the room along with them, saw how and who they voted for. Next comes the ground officer, who is next the factor, and is ten times worse; he takes them by the shoulder and walks in with them ; they all plumped for him, consequently he is returned at the top of the poll. I have seen latterly as many as four or five candidates in the room at one time. One man would not vote till they were actually turned out of the room. I believe all the rest of the work is carried on in the same way. During the last eleven years, I never heard of a meeting being called so as to give an account of their work. The meetings are held in the hotels, where they pay from 7s. 6d. to 15s. for every meeting held, suppose a church is within a few yards and a nice comfortable schoolhouse within a quarter of a mile to the said hotel. They have their lunch at the rate-payers' expense. If they won't do the work free, let them all resign. The amount paid for school board and parochial work is considerable. I will give you a few instances of how business is conducted at said board. There has been thirteen teachers in three schools, or sixteen in four within the last four years, and I believe all the teachers under the board at present are looking out for another place. The attendance is as bad. We have four compulsory officers, and things are worse than they were when there was only one officer. I am told one of the officers has not visited his school since August Our rates are increasing yearly; 9d. last year, and no explanation given. Unless a thorough reform is made in our schools, the ratepayers are determined not to pay any more rates. Give the teachers a salary so as to keep them, and not have such changes. I would earnestly request this Commission to ask Government to give the islands a larger Government grant, as the children cannot very well attend school in winter, as they cannot be clothed or fed a3 they ought, as you find out as you go along. Our very high rates must be reduced, or the sooner the Education Act is repealed-the better, in the islands at any rate. The scholars are not so good as they were twenty years ago ; the most of them leaving school are scarcely able to write a letter. The roads are not one bit better. I will only mention a case or two. A few years ago, when the people were removed from Lowergill to Ramasaig, the factor got a new road 4 or 5 miles long, made to his smearing house at once, so wherever you go there is always more respect for sheep than man. The road to Glendale leading from the public road at Kilmuir, and used for the benefit of 2700, not one penny was spent upon it for a great number of years. If it was to a gentleman's house or tacksman, it would be made at once. The party who comes after me will give you more information regarding the schools and roads. I was informed by the miller at Glendale that he used to grind upwards of 1400 bolls, but now down to 300, and no other reason but the land not yielding its former crops, owing to its being turned yearly, and the eviction from Lowergill and Ramasaig. We are now burdened by policemen, which is the cause of a great deal of ill
feeling among the people. We are taxed Is. 2d. in the pound; I expect it to be 10d. or 1s. next year. We have three policemen stationed at Kilmuir, and not more than 300 souls. One policemen is as good as 500. I strongly recommend your Commission to urge upon Government to have them removed at once. I do not know of a single case they had for the last twelve months. Great dissatisfaction has been caused in the parish, owing to the parties who got the management of the relief fund, such as factors, ground officers, merchants, and parties who did not know anything about the destitution of the people and the parties in actual need.
3902. I observe that this statement is all couched in your own name. It runs always in the first person
—' I think so,' or ' I recommend.' Is it all your own composition ?
3903. Has it all been read to the persons whom you represent?
—Not all, but to some of them.
3904. It has not been read to all ?
3905. Then the whole of this statement does not express the views and opinions of the people whom you represent ?
—It does, every word.
3906. How do you know?
—I have been speaking to them.
3907. But why was the paper not read in public meeting, and signed by all the people, or many of them, as well as yourself?
—I was appointed to come here to-day and state my views, and that is my statement.
3908. You believe, in fact, that that statement substantially represents the sentiments of the people who have sent you here?
3909. There is a statement in this paper to the effect that when a crofter is removed from his croft, or relinquishes his croft in arrear of rent to the landlord, and is succeeded by another crofter, the incoming crofter pays the arrears of rent to the landlord ?
3910. Is that done in the township which you represent ?
—They are very seldom in arrears, but if they are they pay them.
3911. Have you yourself personal knowledge of individual cases in which arrears have been paid?
3912. Can you state how many years such arrears have accumulated ?
— I cannot say.
3913. Can you state any amount that you know to have been paid by the incoming tenant?
—£10; and I heard of a tenant paying £20.
3914. In the case of £20 having been paid, was the croft a large one or a small one ?
—A small one.
3915. How many years' rental do you think the £20 probably represented?
—I believe four years' rent.
3916. Are you aware of any one being present here at this meeting, or any one coming here, who has paid arrears of rent for entry in that way ?
— Yes, there are four here.
3917. Have these payments taken place in the case of a son or relative succeeding a father, or have they taken place when the crofter has been removed, and been succeeded by some one quite unconnected with him?
—Quite unconnected. It did not matter who it was.
3918. And when such payments are made to the proprietor, are they
made at once, or is the payment spread over a succession of years in the
form of an increase of rent ?
—It is paid at once, before they enter possession.
3919. Is it usual to find persons so anxious to obtain a croft even at the high rents you mention, that they will come in and pay all the arrears of their predecessor ?
—Quite common. It is quite easy to get them.
3920. Then there is a great demand for crofts?
3921. Notwithstanding the high rent and small return?
—They never look to the rent if they get a croft in some cases
—a good many of them. If I were leaving my croft to-day, I could get forty that would take it.
3922. Would they take it at an increase of rent?
—I believe they would, if it were asked for.
3923. But a great increase?
—At a great increase.
3924. Then, in that case, the crofts are not rack-rented or at the highest rate
3925. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Do you pay taxes for the police along with your rent?
—On my house rent.
3926. Do you hold your house on a long lease or a feu?
—No feu or lease—just the house I have on my father's croft.
3927. You hold your croft from year to year?
—Not a day. I can be removed at any time. I just built the house to save thatch. I put slates on it, and I was taxed.
3928. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Do you pay these taxes to the Government officer or along with your rent?
—It is the inspector of poor who collects it.
3929. Not the police tax?
—The police tax goes to Inverness.
3930. Mr Cameron.
—Do you pay as tenant or as owner?
—My father is entered as proprietor, and I am his tenant.
3931. Can your father be removed at any moment?
—At any moment.
3932. And without compensation?
—Without compensation. The he use was only built on the croft.
3933. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Do the crofters pay taxes?
—No, but Malcolm my house is superior to others.
3934. Then this complaint in your petition about the tax for the police applies only to you who have built a better house ?
—There are seven or eight in the district who have done so, and are taxed the same as my house.
3935. Are you perfectly satisfied you will never be turned out of that
—I can be turned out to-morrow.
3936. But you do not expect that, or you would not have built it?
— No, I cannot say. I just built it on chance, because I thought it would be cheaper in the end to slate than to thatch it—than to be thatching it every year. It is entered in the valuation roll at £10.
3937. You are prohibited from trawling. Is that because the people of the country generally object to trawling?
—It is the proprietor, I believe.
3938. Would it hurt the proprietor that you should trawl ?
—Not unless we would catch trout
3939. Would your neighbours like you to trawl?
—They would have no objection, unless there were some nasty contentious people that would not like to see their neighbours getting on and catching fish.
3940. Is it not the case that there was trawling in Loch Grishornish, and that the people objected to it?
—I never heard of it, The fishermen themselves would not object to it.
3941. Doesn't it interfere with the small lines?
—No; where we trawl we do not interfere with the herring nets.
3942. Perhaps not with herring nets, but with long lines?
—We never fish with hand lines where we trawl
—nor long lines either.
3943. Who is the returning officer of the school board here?
—Mr Mackenzie, of the post office.
3944. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Give me the names of the four people now in the army ?
—I only know one of them—Alexander M'lnnes.
3945. The Chairman.
—You stated that the school board was all composed of persons elected in the interest of the proprietor, and under the influence of the proprietor, factor, and ground officer ?
—I mention them all in my paper.
3946. Are you convinced that if the people had really perfect freedom in the election of this school board they would choose a board of a very different character from that which they have chosen?
—I believe they would.
3947. Do they earnestly desire to have a representative on the board of their own class, to represent their own views ?
3948. And they have not been able to obtain that ?
3949. And you think that is owing to fear of the factor, and the ground officer?
—I have stated in my paper the reasons.
3950. You have stated in the paper that when the school board meet they meet at the inn, that they pay rent for the room, that they have a meal there, and that they pay for the meal out of the rates. What ground have you for making that statement ? Has it fallen within your personal knowledge that the charge for the room and for the food is at the expense of the rates ?
—I know it from the board when there are two meetings— parochial board and school board—there is 15s. paid for the room, and when there is one meeting there is 7s. 6d. paid.
3951. How do you know that the payment is made?
—-From the clerk.
3952. And you know from the same source that the payment is made from the rates ?
—Certainly, it comes out the expenditure of the board.
3953. And with reference to the food, are you well aware the food is paid out of the rates ?
—Certainly, they get food at the inn by the payment of the 15s.
3954. Is that generally the case in Skye?
—Well, I cannot say about any other places.
3955. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Will you mention the four people who paid arrears of rent?
—I only know M'Innes.
3956. How much was due on the croft ?
3957. Who was the proprietor you refer to in the paper as having come forward in the voting for the school board?
—Mr Robertson and Dr Martin.
3958. Who was the factor you refer to ?
—Mr MacDonald, Portree.
3959. Who was the ground officer?
—John Shaw, Waternish.
3960. Mr Cameron.
—It is mentioned in this statement that one place was twice depopulated?
—It was depopulated, and again depopulated a second time.
3961. Were the same people sent back again, or a fresh lot?
—They might be the same people, in some cases, but probably not.
3962. When was it the first depopulation took place ?
—About sixty years ago, and the second five or six years ago,
—Lowergill and Ramasaig.
3963. How was it filled after the first depopulation ?
—I cannot say.
3964. Where did they come from?
—From different townships.
3965. How was the place refined? Was it done at once, or after an interval of years ?
—Not all at once.
3966. You don't know much about it, in fact?
—I know it was done twice.
3967. But you cannot give information where they came from ?
—No, I cannot.
3968. You seem to think the giving of vacant crofts a good system ?
3969. But you state in this paper that it is desirable to do so?
—It is done; it is given to strangers.
3970. But it is approved of in your statement?
—No, I do not mean that. I mean that when my neighbour leaves I do not get his croft, supposing I asked for it; it is a stranger that gets it
3971. You consider that a good system?
3972. I thought you said you would like to get it?
—I don't want overcrowding ; I want to get it myself.
3973. You think that, when there is a vacant croft, it should not be given to a stranger, but to the next neighbour ?
—To the next neighbour.
3974. Who drew up this statement?
—I wrote it myself in my own handwriting, but I got the headings, and put it down in pencil in my passbook.
3975. How many people did you consult about it?
—Most of the people in the place.
3976. They all saw it?
—Not that paper; but they saw my heads, and knew what I was to write. It was this morning I wrote the paper.
3977. But they all saw it before
—all the heads of families?
3978. And they approved of it?
3979. And you wrote it out yourself?
3980. And that paper contains all your headings ?
3981. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You say there are forty heads of families?
—There are thirty-three whole lots, and 9 half lots —that is forty-two.
3982, Have they all been consulted about it?
—Not the forty-two.
3983. Are there any who have held back?
—I never consulted the forty-two.
3984. How many of the forty-two do you think have been consulted ?
— About the half of them.
3985. And the other half have not been consulted ?
—No; I never called on them.
3986. Mr Cameron.
—Have you ever heard that trawling is very much objected to by fishermen in other places than this?
—In some cases it is objected to,—not in all cases.
3987. You have seen it stated in the papers?
3988. Would you be surprised to hear that the fishermen in this country formerly sent a petition to their member of Parliament against trawling ?
—Not here. It must have been long ago.
3989. Professor Mackinnon.
—In case the returning officer at this election may not be examined, I wish to ask whether you attribute any blame to him in allowing people to be present ?
—I never heard him object to any coming in.
3990. Do you blame him for allowing them to come in?
—I think it was his duty to tell them it was wrong.
3991. Do you know it to be the case that he must actually allow them to come in ?
—It may be lawful, but I know it is wrong.
3992. Not only so, but he cannot put them out?
—No, he cannot while the voting is going on. But the electors objected to it.
3993. Every candidate is entitled to be present at the voting?
—I am aware of that, but it is wrong, and it should be done away with here at elections. I don't blame the returning officer.
3994. The paper looks as though the returning officer was blamed ?
— No, I do not attribute blame to him. I blame the candidates.
3995. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Do you think the candidates knew how the votes were going ?
—Certainly, because they were standing and looking over the voting, and they walked in with the electors to the place where the clerk was sitting, and saw how they voted.
3996. And saw them mark the paper? Are you satisfied in your own mind that that actually happened ?
—Certainly, there were hundreds who saw it.
3997. The Chairman.
—Were you present yourself ?
3998. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Did you vote?
3999. Did any one see your mark ?
—No, I put them out of the room ; and there was one man present in the room who would not give his vote till they were turned out of the room, clerk and all. I was in the room at the time, and I was turned out, and two or three of the candidates as well.
4000. Professor Mackinnon.
—Was there no person in the room at the time ?
—None but himself when he voted.
4001. The Chairman.
—Do you think, if the crofters freely elected the persons whom they pleased, that they would find among the crofting community persons fully capable of performing the duties of the school board ?
—I should think so.
4002. Would they probably elect a fair proportion representing the proprietors and their interests ?
Malcolm Mccaskill returned to the Commission a little later in the day - see the minutes of that examination.