Isle Ornsay, Skye, 17 May 1883 - Donald Macdonald

DONALD MACDONALD, Farmer, Tormore (46)

5626. The Chairman.
—You desire to make a statement to the Commission
—Yes. It has come out in evidence that I was for several years factor for Lord Macdonald, and I simply wish to touch upon one or two points that have come out to-day. In the first place, on the farm of Caligary, it was said they were not allowed to keep sheep. I refused to allow them to keep sheep, because they were not included in the summing. It was against the rules of the property to allow them to have sheep. Most of them, however, have a few sheep, and these graze for the greater part of the year upon my own ground. If they keep sheep they certainly must reduce their present summing,—that stands to reason,—unless they got additional ground. It would certainly be a very great benefit to them if they could keep sheep; and I should be very much pleased, so far as I am concerned, if they kept sheep even to my own personal loss. I pass from that to the evidence of Donald Beaton, Carradale. He was a cottar, and the son of a cottar, who never held land. A lot became vacant at Carradale, and remained vacant for some years. I did not want to let that lot, as I knew the place would ultimately come to be cleared. He pestered me till he got the lot at Carradale, on the understanding that it was a temporary holding. His paying £16 of arrears against a former tenant requires explanation. Without having my books to refer to, I cannot exactly give a satisfactory explanation, though I will be very glad to do so on a subsequent occasion. But I should like to ask the witness- what privileges he got on entering, and whether he is not mixing up the sum he had to pay to the proprietor for arrears against the former tenant with an account which he owed to me personally? I know he did not pay to Lord Macdonald one single fraction of rent for the arrears of that tenant. It may be necessary for me to state that I had dealings with the tenant, but it was a thing I could not possibly avoid at the time. He was certainly under a misapprehension when he stated that he had to pay £16, for I know perfectly well that he had not to pay £16. I said his going there was a temporary arrangement. He knew perfectly well that he should be removed very soon after. He was removed from there to a better place, —I hold, a most decidedly better place, and a better bargain in every way. Carradale was 4 miles from the nearest point to any public road. The cause of the tenants being removed from there was on account of the Education Act of 1872 coming into operation about that time, and the parish could not afford to build a house or keep a teacher for the few tenants that were there. Two of the tenants had previously left that farm to better themselves, and I may say, speaking truly, there were only four tenants instead of six. It has been inferred, I am afraid, by the Commissioners, from questions that have been put to different witnesses, that I wanted to remove these tenants to make room for myself. Well. I may state that I sublet a farm of very considerable extent in the immediate neighbourhood of the farm of Carradale, the rent of which was charged something like £15, and the tenants paid £12, and I offered it to the Carradale tenants who had been previously deprived of it by a predecessor of mine. I sublet a large portion of my farm, which is in the immediate neighbourhood. The rent of this farm is £15, and the rent of the other is £120 , and I consider that in value they are something like proportionally rented. In my time as factor I changed no tenants except the Carradale tenants, and I wish that any one here present should come forward and state without any fear of suffering from my hands—and it has been explained to them that they will not suffer from the proprietor or the present factor—whether I have changed any tenants except the Carradale tenants, and these were changed to benefit themselves and the parish in general. A good deal has been said to-day about a notice as to shops. There were several witnesses examined as to a notice that was put up or said to be put up about those shops. The Rev. Mr Graham gave very strong evidence. I do not for one moment doubt that Mr Graham saw the notice to which he referred, or he would not have spoken to it; but I will say that if that notice was put up it must have been a most decided forgery, because I never ordered a notice to be put up, and it is a queer coincidence that the innkeeper and his son are here to-day, and several merchants and others, who still testify to what I say. No such notice was ever put up. The only way in which I can account for the statement is this, that I did put up a notice in the very words or to the same effect that is borne out by Mr Graham, —not on this property, but on the property of Glendale. Well, I did that with the full instructions, after very careful investigation on the part of the proprietor, who was not a man at all to do a thing hurriedly; and I may explain to the Commissioners that ray reason for doing so was that in the small district of Glendale, which though small is a very populous district, the small shops were becoming a nuisance. In every township there were four, five, or six shops. There was a good deal of shebeening going on. The people bartered a good deal, giving their eggs and other produce to go south, and getting whisky in return. This was considered by the proprietor and myself to be very injurious to the district, and I put up a notice,
—which, I may say generally, was put up more to keep people in order than as necessarily to be acted upon,
—that any one opening a shop would be charged an increase of £2. I can only account for the notice that is spoken of as appearing in the pariah of Strath and in the parish of Sleat on the ground that it has been mixed up with this notice that I put up at Glendale. I most emphatically deny that I put a notice at Strath or Sleat, but I did put it up at Glendale, and I have given the reason. Whatever connection I may have had with the Isle Ornsay shop,—it is quite unnecessary to go into detail on that matter,—I certainly did not keep down shops in Sleat, and I think there, are several small shopkeepers here who will testify that neither by myself nor by any one connected with me did I object to shops. In fact, I encouraged shops, and after the letting of Isle Ornsay I lent a man in the little village of Ardvaser £150 to prosecute his business as a shopkeeper. I am sorry to say he came to grief, and I lost my £150 . If had been so much connected wish the Isle Ornsay shop as people wish to make out, it would be queer that I should set up an opposition shop, and lose my interest there. It has been alleged that I bought cattle, and that I have taken advantage of the people in buying cattle from them at a cheaper rate than they would otherwise have got. I challenge any man or woman, or anybody having cattle to sell, to come up and say to me that I ever said to them—' Sell me your beast cheaper than I could get it at the market rate;' and I say conscientiously, without wishing to give myself any credit for it, that I never bought a beast at home that I was not giving full value and sometimes giving more than the market value for. I was said to be a drover. I am not a drover. I was a very extensive grazier, and I could afford to give more than an ordinary drover, because I gave the cattle grass, and they grew upon my grass. Another thing was not only hinted at, but was most decidedly brought forward here, —and I am sorry to say it was brought forward by a minister, Mr Graham, — that undue influence was used by me at a school board election. I was factor at the time, and my clerk was returning officer; and I wish to explain the circumstances. I speak from a very bad memory, but, so far as I remember, Mr Graham was coming with me from some place in the north of Skye, and I gave him a seat in my cart up to Ostaig. I told him that, with the view of avoiding the expense of a poll, I had asked Mr Campbell, tenant of Knock, my brother-in-law, who was one of the candidates, to retire in favour of Mr Graham, who I thought ought to have a seat. It seems, however, —and I do not blame Mr Graham for it at all, because I think he is above doing it,—that Dr Campbell (who is now dead) told me not long afterwards — I agreed to resign my seat at the school board in favour of Mr Graham, but Mr Graham has gone about not believing your statement that he would be appointed in my stead, canvassing for votes, au I as he has chosen to do that, I shall certainly go on,—we shall have a poll, and I shall stand, I don't care a bit; if Mr Graham carries the day, well and good,—he is as deserving as I am. There was a poll, and was the returning officer. I was there. I do not deny that I had a great deal of influence with the people. Certainly it was not more than was natural, as factor; but I will say most emphatically that not one single bit of influence was used against Mr Graham or any other man, and that the election was carried on as straightforwardly as any election ever was in hand. In my capacity as factor, I perhaps have the interest of the proprietor more at heart than that of the tenants ; still I never neglected the tenants when I could do otherwise. As to the rise of rent that came upon this property, and, unfortunately for me, happened in my day, times were prosperous and rents were going up. Rents in other parts of Skve, without naming anybody in particular, were going up 50, 70, even 100 percent. There was no rise upon Lord Macdonald's property, and Lord Macdonald naturally turned to me, and said—' Here, I have had a valuator round to value the sheep farms.' He asked me what was the increase on the sheep farmers' rents. I said it was about £2000. I did not want to hurt the tenants by any means. Lord Macdonald is one of the best men in the world. He did not want to hurt the tenants. He did it from the most kindly motives ; but still every man should have his rights. Well, a valuator came from the east coast to value the large sheep farms. Every one was put up. I said I would not like to raise the crofts according to the value put upon them by an east coast man, but I asked him if he would allow me to have them valued. ' Certainly,' he said, ' I have implicit confidence in you. Put £1000, or £500, or 5s. upon them just as you please.' Well, the matter was left in my hand, and if there was any blame I take the whole responsibility of it. Well, I got two competent men, and sent them over every inch of the property. They gave me their report I told the tenants the nature of the investigation, and asked them if they would have an east coast man put upon their land to value it, and they said no,—they would agree to anything I did. I asked them
—' Will you all agree to my estimate?' Yes, most decidedly.' I spoke to each tenant as he came up to pay his rent, and asked if he was pleased, and I never heard a murmur ? One man said—' We have paid enough ; we don't wan to pay more.' These facts can be borne out, because the valuation roll will show what the rent was before my time and what it was afterwards; and I don't think I am speaking erroneously when I say that on the aggregate 5 per cent, will be about the rise. Well, another thing that I want to point out particularly is this. There has been a great deal said about drainage and about the improvements the tenants have made. I distinctly told the people whom I sent out to give this report not to go by the case of a man who had improved his lands, but most decidedly to go by the old value of the croft,—that is, what had been put upon the croft at the first settling,—and the tenants were not charged for their improvements, but simply charged an increase of land according to the first value, so far as a report was given to me and so far as I could judge. I will not say there may not have been a case in which one man was charged more than another, according to the first value, but I say that was the basis on which the valuation went on. Something has been said about the sea-ware. That is a very small matter, and not one I daresay in which I had very much to do ; but I will say, in the interest of Lord Macdonald, that the sea-ware is not charged by the proprietor separately. The sea-ware is given to the tenants along with their lauds, and they are not charged separately. In some townships, I admit, they have not in every case a sufficient amount of sea-weed, because sea-weed, like everything else that is over¬cropped, has deteriorated in bulk and in value, and in some cases the tenants may have to go to another township and buy from there, but that does not put one shilling into the pockets of Lord Macdonald ; it
goes into the pocket of the tenant holding the land from which the sea-ware is drawn. Lord Macdonald does not pocket a single shilling. As for me, I may say I have about three miles of coast on which there is a considerable lot of sea-weed, and I am afraid I may appear egotistical, but after all that has been said I may be privileged to say that ah that sea ware is cut now by the tenants in my neighbourhood, and one single shilling I never received.

5627. What is your farm?
—Tormore and Ostaig, I previously farmed Gillen, which I held for a small number of years, and I had been in the habit of selling sea-weed to the neighbouring farms. That went on, and I did get a small sum occasionally for it, but it was more for the principle than for the object of getting money. That farm is sublet to a Macdonald man now, who no doubt has his pound of flesh. John M'Innes, Drumfearn, said that his rent went up a few years ago. I should like to ask John M'Innes what was his rent ten years ago, and what is his rent to-day,—what amount of land he held ten years ago, and what amount of land he holds to-day. Some of the Drumfenrn people said there was a Carradale man settled there. The Carradale men were simply drafted into places that became vacant. No man was disposed to make room for a Carradale man, and there was one man from Carradale who got into possession of a lot that was vacant at the time, and for which there was no tenant A good deal has been said about drainage money. I was fortunate enough, during the time I was factor, not to borrow any money for drainage, because I saw that the people were not pleased with it, and in fact did not understand it; but I am now in the unfortunate position of having to pay £20 , £30 , and £40 of drainage money for drain made by the previous tenant; and though I say it is a misfortune to pay it, still I say the land is worth the additional rent. I do not know what is done on every property, but I do know what is done generally on the west coast, and that is, that when Government money is borrowed, the outlay is considered, when it is done judiciously, to be a permanent improvement, and though the interest and capital is got back in twenty-five or twenty-one years, still the rent goes on, because it is considered to be a permanent improvement. I do not think—and I speak for myself as well as for others—that the tenants have any reason to complain of the rent here. I shall now be very glad to answer any questions that any of the Commissioners may put.

5628. I should like to ask a few questions about the alleged practice on Lord Macdonald's estate as to incoming tenants paying the arrears of outgoing tenants. In the particular case alluded to, the crofter said he had paid arrears amounting to £16. We understand from you that, though he may have made the statement honestly, you are under the impression he has mixed up two questions?
—He has mixed up two or three questions.

5629. A payment to Lord Macdonald with the payment of a debt due to yourself?
—Yes, and a debt which I do not expect ever to recover.

5630. I should like to ask you whether this system of payment of arrears by the incoming for the outgoing tenant is one which is generally followed or enforced on Lord Macdonald's estate?
—It was a practice that was pretty general, and it was enforced; but I think that most people are under a misapprehension in respect to it, and I think perhaps the tenant themselves are, because, in dealing with a question of this kind, the outgoing tenant would make certain arrangements with the factor. He might, for instance, give up the crop at Martinmas, and give up the tillage, or give over his house, and then he might in fact be entitled to some little bonus for improvements. I would not say there might not be a question of arrears, because singular matters have come before me in which the arrears of the former tenant have been paid to myself by the incoming tenant, but it was a simple matter of arrangement in which when the incoming tenant came forward and said, ' I am quite willing to take this place; the outgoing tenant requires so much; he maybe going to America or Australia, or to exchange to some other part of the property, but he will not go unless he gets so much, and it will be a benefit to me and a benefit to him if this exchange takes place. I am quite willing to pay the money down, and let the contract go on.' Well, the factor steps in and carries out this arrangement. The man who comes in may not have the money to go in for it at once, but it is carried out. Sometimes, certainly, the arrears of the former tenant in such cases have been paid, but it is not commonly in practice.

5631. In regard to the question of your alleged participation in the profits of trade, you have heard it said there was one principal shop kept in this place, and it is also stated that you had an interest in the shop, and were a partner in it. I would like to know whether that was so during the period you were factor for Lord Macdonald ?
—I did not expect to be examined on that question.

5632. If you prefer to make a statement at your subsequent public examination at Portree, you are quite at liberty to do so, but I thought it would be more agreeable to you to do so on the present occasion1?
—Well, I am not afraid to make a statement. I supplied meal, I am very sorry to say,
to a lot of tenants in this parish. The shop at Isle Ornsay became out of lease, as the former tenant would not give the rent that was put upon it by a valuator. He was offered it, and would not take it. I induced the man Kennedy, who holds it, to come forward and give a rent certainly very little different from the rent which the former tenant had offered, but a rent at which he had been pressed by me and Lord Macdonald's Edinburgh agents to take the place. I induced Kennedy to come forward, but Kennedy was not at the time prepared financially to come forward and take it. I became personally responsible to the bank and otherwise for him. That arrangement, I may say, has still continued. I did not at all intend to participate in the profits or to be a partner in the concern, nor am I ; but I will say this to corroborate my statement, that since the time Kennedy took the place, eight, nine, or ten years ago, I never examined a ledger, I never examined a cash book, and I do not know in the very slightest degree how Mr Kennedy stands financially. I may have asked him in an offhand way whether the shop was doing well, but beyond that I know nothing; but whether I owe money to Kennedy, or he owes money to me, is a question I think the Commissioners need hardly inquire into.

5633. My question has no reference whatever to your relations with this trade except as regards the period when you were Lord Macdonald's factor; and I take the liberty of asking whether your connection with this establishment, whatever it was, took place with the knowledge and approval of Lord Macdonald, or whether it was entirely a matter of your own ?
—It was a matter of my own, to induce this man to come forward and give Lord Macdonald a bigger rent than he would otherwise get; and I said to Kennedy that if he could not manage the concern, which is a very large concern, if my influence or my name was of use to him, it was at his service.

5634 I can perfectly understand that the proprietor might justify and sanction a factor taking part in commerce of this kind, and I can imagine a factor undertaking the part with a benevolent purpose. I n a poor country of this sort, it might be very desirable to open a store in order that the people might be supplied with a purer quality of goods and at a lower price. I wish to kno w whether this shop was supported by you in reference to the benefit of the public, or to please this man, or for your own profit?
—Well, I did it for the whole combined,—certainly not for my own profit. I gave the people a good deal of meal at the time, and I admit I wanted to get out of that. I went into it at hap-hazard and without due consideration, but the one had nothing to do with the other. Kennedy did not take over a penny of my accounts. They are due by the people, and very likely still will be due. I certainly had no wish to benefit myself; and as for saying I wished to benefit the people, that is a question which I must be permitted not to answer.

5635. With reference to the purchase of cattle upon the estate, were you in your capacity of an independent farmer, in the habit of buying cattle from Lord Macdonald's tenants while you were his factor?
—I did, on several occasions, because, as I said, I am more of a farmer and grazier than a factor. I took the office of factor simply because I was driven into it. I should not have been a factor, and I am sorry I was. I bought the cattle with a very pure conscience, and I never got an animal from
the people at a shilling less than they would have got from another; and generally, I think, I was paying a great deal more.

5636. I personally, and I am sure the Commissioners, are willing to believe that in your transactions with the people, while you were factor, and now, you had no intention of taking any unjust advantage of
of them, and that you only did what you believed to be your duty; but at the same time did it never occur to you, while you were factor, that in trafficking with the people in this way in your capacity of farmer you might expose yourself to imputations, and that it might be misinterpreted by others ?
—No and I did not do it very largely. I bought extensively at the markets, where a man can exercise his freedom in any way he likes, I must say,—and I think any tenant here will back me out, unless it is somebody very much interested against me,—that on any occasion on which I bought cattle from them, I was pressed into doing it, and it was difficult for me to avoid it. During the time I was factor, I always had an eye to being out of it. I t was a thing I got into, and I always wished to get out of it, and I always continued more or less my capacity as grazier and farmer.

5637. Then I am to understand in general that it was your practice to buy as much as possible in the open market from tenants?

5638. And not go about from individual to individual for the purpose of purchasing1?
—I never went, so far as I know, to a man's house to ask him to favour me by selling me beasts.

5639. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—About these valuations, a man named Duncan Finlayson said yesterday that none of the people had seen the valuators, aud that nobody had ever heard of the valuators. Do you remember who they were1?
—Perfectly. —Ronald M'Donald and Duncan M'Innes. I may further mention that, in a locality like this, if I was asked to value a croft in the parish of Sleat, —in any portion of it, and it is a wide district, —I could do it as well sitting at my desk as if I went to it.

5640. How ?
—From my knowledge of the land, from my knowledge of the soil, and from my general knowledge of the place altogether. I know what every man in the parish of Sleat does pay, and what he should pay,
—and in the parish of Strath too.

5641. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—Have you got maps and accurate surveys ?
—There are old maps of the Macdonald estates in the factor's hands.

5642. Mr Cameron.
—Can you tell me if the six-inch Ordnance Survey gives the measurement of the arable ground of the smaller crofts ?
—I rather think it does, but I cannot speak from memory. I think I have taken it myself from that, but I really would not like to say definitely.

5643. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—I understand, Mr Macdonald, you are to be asked to attend at Portree. Were you aware of that?
—I was aware that power would be given me to attend at Portree. I don't know that I shall attend ; but if there is a lot of dirt thrown at me, as has been done of late, I don't mind going up and trying to throw it off.

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