Isle Ornsay, Skye, 17 May 1883 - Alexander Macdonald (Ord)

ALEXANDER MACDONALD, Tacksman of Ord (51)—examined.

5644. The Chairman.
—How long have you been in the occupation of your farm of Ord?
—I came to it fifty years ago. My father took the first lease of it, and I succeeded him as tenant in the farm.

5645. You have been brought up and have been constantly resident therel

5646. What is the extent and rental of the farm1?
—The rental, with some additions, is £329.

5647. And the acreage ?
—I cannot say, but I should guess there are from 5000 to 6000 acres,—hill, wood, and roads.

5648. What is the extent of the arable land ?
—When my father came there was none, but now there are seventeen acres.

5649. And 5000 or 6000 of pasture ?

5650. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—We have heard a good deal to-day about the increasing poverty of the people. You have crofters near you?
—Yes, all crofters around me except on one side, where I am bounded by the sea; on the other sides, unfortunately, by the crofters.

5651. And you have seen a good deal of their circumstances and condition?
—Yes, and know all about them.

5652. Is it your opinion that they are deteriorating very much in their circumstances?
—No, it is not my opinion, and the reason is that I cannot see why they should deteriorate in their circumstances. I am giving three times the amount of wages to-day that I gave twenty-five years ago,— three times, to men and women, and to some of them four times,—and goodness knows how much more than my father was giving forty-five years ago.

5653. Do you observe a great many cases of individual poverty amongst them ?
—No, I do not, except among the paupers. When their families leave and scatter in all directions, they come to great poverty, but then they have got the poor-rates before them. They are not in any way poorer than in my earliest recollection.

5654. Do you observe that their land does not give so much produce as it used to give?
—Yes, I see that, and I think one great reason of it is this: Twenty-five years ago, I could easily buy a stark for 15s. or 18s, and 21s. was a tremendous price. Now, for that very same class of cattle I have to pay to-day £7 or £8, and perhaps guineas.

5655. I am talking of the produce of the ground ?
—They do not thrash it now. What I mean is, that the price of cattle is so great now that they give the grain unthrashed to their cattle; but at the time when there were low prices, and when meal was not so conveniently got in the neighbourhood, they were obliged to thrash it, and their cattle were not so extravagant. I have so small an amount of arable ground that I have to cultivate it continually, and it has been continually in cultivation for forty-five years. I raise grain, and give it to the horses. We used in my father's time to thrash it, and grind it into meal. That could be done yet, there is not the slightest doubt, but it would take a little management.

5656. Do you think you get the same returns from oats from your land as in your father's time ?
—Yes, in a fair year. Last year was an extraordinary one.

5657. Do you know what your oats weigh?
—Yes, and have seen them weight 42 pounds, and as much as 43 pounds per bushel.

5658. Is your land cropped every year?
—Until within the last ten years* it was cropped every year,—one year corn, another year potatoes. I then began to lay down some of it in clover.

5659. But before you began to lay it down in clover, it still continued to bear well ?
—Yes, but I manured it well. I kept a lot of Highland cattle and that enabled me to manure and cultivate it well; but it was always under crop from year to year.

5660. Has there been a great increase in the population in your time about you? Are the crofts smaller than they used to be?
—No, they are not smaller than they used to be, but there are more living on them.

5661. Are there not more people using the hill grazings ?
—Far more. I believe the population has far more than doubled since 1821 in the neighbourhood of Sleat. I do not know anything about any other parish.

5662. And if the population is doubled, the land that is to be divided among them becomes smaller to each one ?
—Yes, they have subdivided it greatly. When a son marries he gets half a lot. Then a man may marry a daughter, and she gets the other half.

5663. Sheriff Nicolson.
—I find from the census returns that the population of Sleat in 1811 was 1936; in 1821, 2608; and in 1881, 2052. That has been all the increase since 1811 ?
—I have been told by one who was a registrar in Skye for a number of years, that he believed it had doubled in twenty years.

5664. It was in 1801, 1903 ; 1811, 1936 ; 1821, 2608 ; 1831, 2957 ; 1841, 2706 ; 1851, 2531 ; 1861, 2330; 1871, 2233; 1881, 2052.

5665. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Are there fishermen about you?
—In my neighbourhood there are a good many who go to the east coast and to the Irish fishing.

5666. Have any of them boats of their own ?
—No, most of them that have boats in this parish have smacks, and they go to Barra and Stornoway, and even to Ireland.

5667. Do you know if it is the case that some of those who have smacks leave them drawn up on the beach, and go away as hired hands themselves ?
—Yes, because they have no money to get a new supply of nets, and they cannot afford to pay hands, aud they have been unsuccessful for the last four or five years.

5668. And consequently the smacks are now idle ?

5669. There has been a certain amount of discontent in Skye, and complaints have come before us. In what way do you account for the origin of this discontent ?
—I account for it in this way. It began, so far as my knowledge goes, in the north end of the island by two gentlemen— the one an Irishman named M'Hugh, and the other named Murdoch— who came among the people to tell them of their rights ; and I suppose, the seasons having been bad, and many other causes of that kind, made them think it was a good time to make their demonstrations. That is my opinion.

5670. Of course, in the management of a large property like Lord Macdonald's, it is not unnatural that mistakes may be made, and occasional complaints may have arisen. Have any such occasions of complaint come- under your notice, —any good cause of complaint ?
—None in this parish that I know or have heard of, except in so far as I have no doubt they would say here
—' Well, if the people of Glendale got land for nothing, ' why should not we get land here for nothing ?' I do not myself see why they should not; it was a very sensible thing of them to think so.

5671. Mr Cameron.
—What wages do you give to those whom you employ as crofters ?
—I give my ploughman £30, besides a cow's keep, and six and half bolls of meal, and potato land. I give another ploughman £20 and perquisites. When I have women working in the fields I give them a shilling a day, and men who are working in the fields, who live on the farm and get potato land,—who are cottars,—2s.a day: and I charge them nothing for the land or the sea-weed.

5672. Do you employ them all the year round?-
—Mostly; they generally earn—there are two of them—about £15 each in money, and those . two have a cow each, and I charge them no grass for the cow at all.

5673. When you employ extra labour for some temporary purpose, what wages do you pay for that ?
—I never get that unless at the time of smearing the sheep.

5674. In harvest, for instance, do you employ extra labour?
—It would be impossible to get them. They are all engaged with their own work.

5675. What other employment do the people in this parish get locally ?
—They get no employment locally, except those who are just hired from one end of the year to the other, like those I have mentioned.

5676. Is there any work going on at Armadale ?
—During every summer perhaps ten ora dozen about the gardens, and so on.

5677. Do the people at Armadale employ chiefly crofters on the estate ?
—They may be tenants down about Ardvaser and Caligary.

5678. In what way do the smaller crofters, who have not land enough to occupy themselves all the year round, find employment ?
—They go away to the south, and work in all sorts of places. They go to the Irish coast fishing—the younger ones; and a number of the girls go to be house servants in the towns; and those who don't do that go to work with farmers in the Lothians and on the east coast of Scotland.

5679. Do the people show as much disposition to go south as they did formerly ?
—They show ten times the disposition, because they knew nothing about it formerly. It is of late years that this migration business commenced.

5680. In fact, in that respect also you consider they are better off now? ban they were formerly ?
—Well, if money means being better off, there is, I should say, four or five times the amount of money coming into the country than was coming into it twenty-five years ago.

5681. Through the wages earned by the people who go to the south ?
—Yes, and in fishing and all sorts of things. Why, there was no money coming in thirty years ago, just a few miserable pounds, except what was got for cattle at the market. Now, hundreds and hundreds of pounds come in.

5682. What size of croft do you consider best for a crofter ?
—In my own neighbourhood I have known crofters in very comfortable circumstances for their class with about nine acres of arable land and six or seven cows, because they count three stirks equal to one cow. You may have four cows and three stirks, or seven cows, and thirty sheep, and they ought to be able to live upon that; and a horse, which is indispensable for them.

5683. You say that would form a sufficient croft to make them comfortable ?
—As they used to be comfortable, but I don't know if it would be what they think comfort now.

5684. But you say that would be a sufficiently large croft to make a man comfortable ; and as it is impossible that all the inhabitants of Sleat can have such large crofts as that, what remedy do you propose to mitigate the poverty under which they suffer ?
—The first remedy I should suggest would be this: I would wire fence all the grazings presently in their hands; I would have them all wire fenced—the grazings of each township—so as not to have their sheep worried and chased by the iron shepherd,' as the man remarked of the tacksmen, and they could keep one-third more sheep if thev had their own share fenced. They would not be such a trouble to the tacksmen, and their stock would be in better condition. They employ boys to keep their sheep and horses off the tacksman's land, while the tacksman employs shepherds to keep them off, so that the two are chasing round the unfortunate animals. I do not see how much can be got out 'of them. That would be the first thing to benefit the tenant, and the cost would be small. £30 a mile would do it.

5685. But do you approve of another class of crofters besides those large crofters who could live by their crofts, and would not require to go to the south? Do you approve of another class who would have much smaller crofts, and would have to earn their subsistence by earning wages at fishing ?
—Yes, I approve very much of that. There might be a class who would pay £2 or so for their houses, with peats, and oue or two cows. I would approve very much of that.

5686. Otherwise, it would be impossible to find land for all the present holders of crofts if the crofts were large ?
—Well, for the present population of Skye I have no doubt it could be had in Skye, but all the tacksmen would require to walk away.

5687. Would you like them to take some of the land of Ord ?
—No. If it were very hard pressed I would give them all Ord, but I would not like to give them some.

5688. Would your farm be suitable to be divided into holdings for crofters'?
—No, they could not grow a pound of anything. They might have cattle and sheep, but they could not grow corn.

5689. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many acres of arable land have you ?
—About seventeen under crop.

5690. Was there any more under cultivation at one time?
—No, I do not think there was any more, but it was more scattered. In the olden times, before my father went there, there would be a small field cultivated here and there round about a 2-acre field here, and another about 500 or 600 yards away from that. Well, when this was reduced, and had gone out of heart,—three crops being the general ratio,— it was allowed to rest for three or four years, and they would take another small patch on the farm, and work it in the same way.

5691. But you had 17 acres, could much be taken in to advantage beyond these 17 acres'? How much more could be taken in?
—If there could have been one, I would have had it in long ago.

5692. You say your lands are not going out, though there is a good deal of cropping successively. Does not that arise because you are able to put on a good deal of manure from the number of cattle you keep'
—Yes, that was the reason.

5693. You stated that the crofters ought to be a great deal better off, because wages are a great deal higher, and you were afterwards asked about the work in which they were engaged. What work is going on ?
— There is no work going on, consequently there is no money earned at home ; but now there is money from the south and all quarters—there are scores who go every fortnight to New York, and Australia, and Canada, and other countries.

5694. Do you think there is much money in the Skye banks from the parish of Sleat ?
—I do not know, but I don't believe they would leave it there long.

5695. You seem to have been under some misapprehension as to the increase of the population. I n place of the population being doubled within the last forty years, it has very much decreased?
—Yes, I see that.

5696. Then how is it that under those circumstances—the population being much decreased—it is necessary for the people to go away to the south to earn wages ?
—I think that is owing to this, that they live much better than in the times of which I speak. Thev are far more extravagant in dress. I have seen men with shoes mile almost entirely of the raw hide of the cows, and fastened with a thong cut out of a sheep's skin. You will not see that to-day ; and I see that the ladies have high-heeled French lid boots.

5697. Do you assign the improved habits of dress of the people as one of the reasons why it is necessary for them to go out of Skye, and earn wages in the south ?
—That is exactly what I mean.

5698. You have probably read in the newspapers accounts of some of the examinations that have gone on, and you are no doubt aware that in almost every locality the people have come forward stating their grievances, and have very much concurred in what those grievances are. You are surely not going to say that those grievances of which they complain don't exist ?
—As to small holdings, and all that sort of thing, I think the one township has taken it up from the other, expecting a great deal to be done for them. I don't believe they have the grievances they have stated all round.

5699. You don't believe them?
—No, I don't believe it at all.

5700. You are aware that some of the very large farms in Skye are of comparatively modern creations?

5701. Do you approve of the system that once took place of clearing the small people off the laud and putting them down on the sea-shore?
— No, I think it was a very great mistake; but now that the mischief has been done, unless you can give them the land back again, I do not see what is to be done.

5702. From your knowledge of Skye altogether, don't you suppose it quite possible to replace all the crofters upon good and fertile land, and yet leave all the present tacksmen with very good possessions?
—Well, I don't know if I can answer that. You might leave them, but I don't know but the present tacksmen would think what you consider a fair tack to be a very indifferent one, and probably you would take the very best land? have.

5703. Take your own farm of 5000 or 6000 acres, and a rental of £329. You think that is a moderate sensible farm?
—Yes, a moderate sensible farm.

5704. I don't suppose the crofter is jealous or envious of your land, but if you find a man with nearly three times the extent of that hill land and a great deal of old arable land, and numerous crofters with confined holdings in his neighbourhood, do you think the tacksman there a man deserving of very much consideration, or the landlord who lets it to him?
—I am not going to answer that question. I think the landlord is deserving of some consideration, whatever the tacksman deserves. I put this question to you because you are very fair, as I expect a native of Skye to be. Suppose there was a proper division of lands in the form I have mentioned, and that the crofter in these enlarged crofts would give as much and fully as much rent as the present tacksmen, would it not be wise that those people should get the chance of being replaced or restored ? I will tell you what I would do in these circumstances. The first lease that would be out of one of these big farms, I would not give a renewal, and then I would put so many crofters on some parts of it, —300 of them,—but I would not put in a lot of crofters upon every tack.

5706. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Do you think the crofters would be able to take that farm ?
—Never, unless there were some generous people, like myself, who would give them money to take it.

5707. Then you say you would do it at the end of the first tack ?
—To please Mr Fraser-Mackintosh. That would be the most sensible way
— not to go and patch at the thing, but take it all round.

5708. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Some of these people here stated they are not able to pay the rent of the croft, because of their crofts not being able to produce a proper quantity of crop. In fact, they say it would be easier for them to pay double or three times the rent for a proportionately larger croft. Is that true ?
—No, unless Mr Fraser-Mackintosh gave them £1000; but if I had not a shilling to stock it, how could I promise to pay the rent, and how could I do it without money'! The case would be exactly the same. You cannot pay the rent unless you have the money to stock the ground.

5709. But some of them say they have it?
—No, not one of them. 5710. Then Skye must be very poor?
—If a man who has two cows now got a bigger holding, if he got a favourable year, he might be able to arrive at a holding with four or five; and in twenty years he might come to have six, but he could not take it in at once; and, looking at the tacks of the big farms, why, some one would require to give compensation, and buy the sheep and cattle of the tacksman, for the land you are taking from him.

5711. Let me put it this way. He has a small stock—the man whose croft we propose to enlarge. He is paying a large sum for meal —perhaps £14 or £15. What stock does that man require to put on? He does not require to put on a full stock at first ?
—Yes, because he cannot pay the rent unless he gets the stock.

5712. But he is paying it already in respect of the meal?
—He would be paying it then. He would not eat a stonn of meal less with a bigger croft. He would require to be eating meal all the time till he was able to increase the stock on the croft.

5713. Mr Cameron.
—Is it not the fact that every one of those large farmers is held bound to deliver over his stock to the incoming tenant at a valuation ?

5714. So the incoming tenants, whether one man or five hundred, are bound, at avaluation, to take over the stock ?
—Yes, but what I understand from hearsay is, that they would like to get these farms without being able to stock them at all.

5715. But it is the fact that in every lease the stock is to be handed over at a valuation, and therefore the small crofters or tacksmen succeeding the big tacksmen would have to pay for the stock in ready money ?
— Yes, either the incoming tenant or the proprietor; so, if the incoming tenant would not do it, we would expect the proprietor to do it.

5716. Professor Mackinnon
—There is no doubt that there is too much overcrowding of the crofts ?
—No doubt about that.

5717. I think you stated that you would like to see the crofts made larger ?

5718. And also that others of them should be perhaps smaller?
— Yes.

5719. And people earning wages in the south ?

5720. Would you prefer that they should be encouraged in the fishing at home ?
—Well, you would require to have people to teach them to fish at home, and give them boats and smacks. It takes time; and if you like to hear an instance of what I heard the other dav, there is a smack from the east coast in the loch which is just opposite me. They have been fishing there all this spring. That one smack went out. She has a skiff attending her, and the skiff goes out to fish. They have from 2000 to 3000 hooks and long lines. They got one haul this spring, and they said a 20 feet keel boat could not take the haul. Our people were there with their small skiffs—sixteen or seventeen feet long, and they had not a twenty feet keel in the neighbourhood of the smack.

5721. Have you considered the question whether some of the people should not remove permanently away from the place altogether!
—Yes, I think it would be best for themselves and for those who would remain.

5722. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—But they are decreasing every year ?
—Yes, it depends very much on the time the census is taken. Perhaps a great many might have been away.

5723. Professor Mackinnon.
—But the decrease has gone on for fifty years ?
—But a great many go away now. All the men who were on my farm when I was young are married now in Glasgow. They were only cottars on my own farm.

5724. Then you say there has been a decrease going on for fifty years ?
—Not very great

5725. So great that it is 900 in that short time, and a still greater crowding together on the crofts. Does not that mean that the land is being continually cleared? But where ?
—There are none cleared.

5726. We have heard from these old men of its being done ?
—Oh, it is not within fifty years. There has been very little clearing these fifty years. There has been no clearing at all since 1812 in Sleat, except an occasional one here and there.

5727. And how do you account both for the overcrowding and the decrease of the population ?
—I think there must have been always that for the last twenty-five years.

5728. But you say they are much overcrowded ?
—I cannot account for that. You had better account for it. You say they are fewer, and it is a fact that the land was subdivided. I cannot answer such a mathematical question as that.

5729. The Chairman.
—You stated that, in case of one of the large farms falling vacant, you Avould advise an experiment to be made, that it should be offered to the crofters, and then you added that the crofters were incapable of stocking it. Without suggesting that the whole farm should be offered to the crofters, do you not think that in some cases, in which the hill pasture has been withdrawn from the crofting community, a portion of the farm might be restored to the crofters so as to enlarge their hill pasture, or to afford them hill pasture ?
—Added to their grazings.

5730. That a piece should be taken out of a large tack, and should be given to the crofters so as to restore a sufficient amount of bill grazing to them, always supposing they are able to pay the rent properly ?
—I think it would be a very good plan.

5731. But do you think such a partial restoration to the crofters might be made without seriously impairing the value of a large sheep farm
—I think it would completely destroy it, if the crofters were all round it, but if they would only be on the one side or one end of it, a piece might be taken off a large farm in some cases easily, and would still leave a very good farm.

5732. You mentioned that you attached great importance to the fencing of all the sheep : natures. Do you think it would be also desirable that the arable portion of the crofter's ground should be fenced as well as the hill pasture ?
—-I think the arable land would do without that, because those crofts are so small that it would take a great deal of money to fence all round four acres here and four acres there, as it would be continuous. They have already a fence round their arable.

5733. I don't mean that the arable of the crofts should be separated from one another, but a ring fence should be put all round the arable ?
— There is a ring fence round every township I know of, to keep their own cattle or horses from eating their own corn.

5734. Is not that fence frequently very imperfect ? Is it not frequently ruinous and dilapidated ?
—Yes, they have a certain time of the year for repairing it, and there is no damage caused by that that I have heard. One horse may be active and jump over it, but that they settle among themselves.

5735. There is no complaint, then, of a want of a fence round the Alexander arable ?
—No complaint.

5736. We have heard on several occasions complaints of the deer. Have you any knowledge of the alleged ravages caused by the deer upon crofts ?
—Yes, the deer came to my farm twelve or thirteen years ago— one or two came. Now, I think there are about twenty-five or thirty in the parish of Sleat, back and forward. They do no harm to anybody in Sleat except to me; but I keep them effectually away by firing shots at them in autumn. They can be easily scared; but in another township in Sleat there is one crofter who suffers very much—John Macdonald—and also one shepherd of mine. The lessee of the shootings—Mr Kettlewell— paid my shepherd for the damage, but this crofter John Macdonald never made any claim.

5737. And what you advise is to discharge shots to alarm the deer?
— Yes.

5738. Do you think if the crofters discharged shot to alarm the deer, the gamekeeper, or landlord, or shooting tenant would approve of that?
—No, I don't think they would, but if they knew as much as I do they would not care. I know it is a very difficult thing to shoot a deer at night, and I don't think there is a crofter who could do it.

5739. But instead of firing shots to alarm the deer, might it not be better to put up a fence?
—Yes, it might be better to put a 7 feet fence round the arable of the township, but they are not so destructive as to make it worth while to put up such a fence round the whole township, because they only injure one or two people in this parish of Sleat.

5710. Then you don't think it would be advantageous to impose on the landlord the duty of putting up a deer fence
—No ; I am next door neighbour myself to the deer, because I have high rocks and trees, and I they come down at night; but I never would think of asking Lord Macdonald to bo at the expense of putting up a 7 feet fence round my small arable.

5741. Do they get into your arable ?
—Yes, and it is then that I frighten them by firing at them night after night.

5742. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Then you have a grievance?
—No, I don't consider it a grievance at all.

5743. Sheriff Nicolson.
—If there were a wisely-devised emigration scheme set on foot by Government, do you think the population of this parish would take advantage of it to any extent, supposing tbey were to be conveyed away to desirable colonies in families ?
—I am afraid they would not, because the young men go already. I know some who have been in America and Australia, and will not stay there. I know two from my own farm.

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