Isle Ornsay, Skye, 17 May 1883 - Rev Alexander Cameron

Rev. ALEXANDER CAMERON, Minister of the Established Church, Sleat—examined.

5744. The Chairman.
—How long have you been settled in Sleat ?
— Only one year and a half.

5745. Professor Mackinnon.
—You have heard the story of the people about their distress and their bad crofts, and especially this bad year?
— Yes.

5746. You quite agree in the main that the story is true?

5747. The people are very poor?
—Very poor, in the main. There are some well off, but in the main they are very poor.

5748. And without reckoning this exceptionally bad year, there are still a good many of them very poor even of late years ?

5749. You know the condition of the people in this part of the country perfectly well ?
—Yes, and comparing those whom I know in other parts of the country, they are decidedly poorer here, as a whole.

5750. And you have known the same class of people ever since you were a boy ?

5751. What parts of the country do you refer to?
—Loch Broom, Invergarry, and Wester Ross.

5752. And you consider the people here are poorer?
—So far as I have seen them, I think they are,
—of the same class.

5753. How do you account for that state of matters ?
—I cannot account for it. I know the fact exists. That is all I can speak to.

5754. Do you attribute it very much to the subdivision of the crofts
—I do very much indeed.

5755. And that subdivision is going on from year to year ?
—So the people tell me.

5756. I suppose, from the reluctance of the people to leave in families : young men and women do go, but families don't
—Yes, the people themselves are very much against the subdivision. They see the folly of it, and have several times expressed their approbation of a rule to be enforced against it.

5757. But there is no rule against it on the estate, or at all events if there is it is broken?
—I have heard it is, though I cannot give any authority for that.

5758. Have you turned over in your mind in any way any reasonable scheme of putting things upon a better footing?
—On that I have not sufficient knowledge of this part of the country to enter. I may have thought of various things, but I have not matured anything.

5759. Have you thought of emigration ?
—Yes, I have. There are some who might and ought to take the advantage of it. I would not say there are very many.

5760. Have you thought of the increasing of the holdings in so far as that was practicable?

5761. From your knowledge of the parish you know that in the large farms, if it could be had, there is a considerable amount of land quite suitable for crofters?
—It used to be suitable ; but I don't wish it to be understood that I want to take anybody's land from them. There is undoubtedly land suitable for crofting.

5762. We had a statement yesterday or the day before yesterday, that crofting should be distinct from fishing, made by some of the crofters themselves. Do you think the fishing in the district might be developed in such a way as that some of the people could become fishermen and so, by that means, increase also the crofts of those that remain ?
—And give up their crofts altogether ?

5763. Yes, unless they might have a potato patch and a cow?-
—Yes, but so far as possible I do not see why they should not be fishermen on a small scale and have a croft too. By a small scale, I mean going across to Loch Hourn. I do not think they can possibly fish in the way the east coast fishermen do and carry on both occupations.

5764. If they were to engage in that pursuit they would require to give up, practically, all their croft except their potato garden ?
—Well, to judge from what successful fishermen are in other places, I should say so.

5765. If they had boats and appliances there is no reason why they should not compete with other fishermen on equal terms ?
—I see no reason.

5766. They are good boatmen and strong men ?
—They are all that.

5767. In regard to education, we have heard that the compulsory clause is not much enforced ?
—I am sorry to say it is not what it should be.

5768. You are a member of the board yourself ?

5769. Can that be remedied in any way ?
—I think it might be.

5770. How?
—By various means—by trying persuasion so far as that can go, and that has been tried to a very great extent.

5771. Education has improved ?
—It has improved slightly, though it is not what I would wish it to be. It is improving slightly, but I quite see some steps must be taken unless it gets better than it is now.

5772. You have no doubt that in Loch Broom and Invergarry, and here as well, the general education of the country is very much improved
— Yes; no doubt about that.

5773. The common education of the people ?

5774. Every year you find an improvement ?

5775. The Chairman.
—You heard what was stated by Mr Macdonald of Ord

5776. You heard Mr Macdonald stating that considerable sums of money were now brought back to this country by those who went south to work ; and that there is a far greater circulation of money now than there was in former times. Do you see, within your own knowledge, any evidence of a considerable amount of money being brought into the country ?
—I cannot say my knowledge of the country is so great that I can say very much about it. There is undoubtedly money coming into the country from the south. I have known several instances of money being sent from the south to friends here, and undoubtedly money does come, though I cannot give you any instances of it.

5777. As to those who goto distant parts of the country, either for the purpose of fishing or for the purpose of general labour or service, are they married or unmarried ?
—Chiefly unmarried. Some married men do go, but they are chiefly unmarried who go, both males and females.

5778. Have you ever observed that this practice of the married men going away, separating from their families for a length of time, has a bad effect upon the morals and happiness of the people, in relaxing their domestic relations in any way ?
—I have no doubt that is the case. I don't know I can give instances, but I think it is possible it may, and I have no doubt it does, have a bad effect.

5779. But did you ever hear of any case of desertion of a family by the father or a husband ?
—I cannot charge my memory with any particular case.

5780. In general, you think they act faithfully by their families ?
—I think, in the main, they do.

5781. And that they bring home their wages ?
—In the main they do. There may be some cases in which they don't, but I think, in the main, they do.

5782. Do you know many cases of sons and daughters sending relief to their parents ?
—There are some cases, but they are not so numerous as they might be.

5783. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You heard the observations of Mr Graham in regard to parochial matters, but particularly about the inconvenience of having the inspector at Portree. Do you concur in that ?
— Yes. I intended to speak of the very great inconvenience to which the parish is subjected. It seems to me there is a difficulty connected with it, namely, that in the parish at present I do not know that there is anybody disengaged who is very suitable to undertake the office of inspector. There are people perfectly able to do it, but they are engaged otherwise, and there is that difficulty, —a difficulty -which is not insurmountable but at present a very serious inconvenience does exist.

5784. So far as you have observed, are the people in Sleat peaceful and well-behaved ?
—So far as I believe, they are.

5785. You have a considerable attendance at your church ?

5786. A regular attendance ?

5787. Are you aware that the children, up to a certain age, don't go in consequence of their clothing?
—I know that that is the case, and some people even who are not children.

5788. You are able to say that ?

5789. Is it not a fact that while the head of the house, the father, is well-dressed, yet in his family there is great poverty of apparel?
— Yes.

5790. This would not exist if the father was in possession of a supply of proper clothing ?
—Well, I should say not. If he were in a better position he would endeavour to clothe them.

5791. I mean, judging from their character and attendance?
—I quite think so. I just wish to say, with regard to the soil here, that the remarks some people made might seem to imply that it was naturally bad. I don't think the soil is naturally bad. I think it is naturally fertile, but from the constant cropping it has undergone it has lost its fertility; but naturally it is a very fertile soil indeed. As regards my connection with the appointment of delegates, I fear there may be some misconception. I
thought it my duty to take steps to enlighten and guide them, and the statements which were read to-day were their own statements put down at their own request.

5792. The Chairman.
—What was the nature of the misconception you allude to ?
—I thought there was an observation in the evidence of one delegate that the people had not a full opportunity of expressing their wishes. If so they had themselves to blame, because they got full notice of the meeting and of the nature of the meeting too.

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