Skeabost, Skye, 9 May 1883 - John Nicolson

JOHN NICOLSON, Pensioner and Crofter, Tote—examined.

1082. The Chairman.
—Before we go further, Mr Alexander Macdonald wishes to make a communication to us.

1083. Mr Alexander Macdonald.
—I am sorry to hear that some of Lord Macdonald's tenants were a little afraid about giving evidence. I stated my own belief yesterday that there was no danger to any man for anything whatever that he said. I stated my belief, and since this I have seen Lord Macdonald personally, and told him that some of his tenants were perhaps a little afraid or backward, and his lordship authorises me specially to inform his tenants that they have full liberty to state anything they choose to say, whatever they think proper themselves to say, without any fear of any consequences or any prejudice either from his Lordship or from me, or from any factor. They have full liberty and scope to say whatever they think proper.

1084. Witness.
—We did not expect anything less from you.

1085. The Chairman.
—You are a crofter?

1086. What are you besides a crofter?
—A fisherman.

1087. For what do you receive a pension?
—For the Crimean campaign and Indian mutiny.

1088. You were all through the Crimean campaign?
—Yes, the whole time from beginning to end.

1089. And all through the mutiny?
—It was working when I arrived, and I saw the campaign over before I came home.

1090. And you received a pension, and came back to your native place ?

1091. Have you got a croft of your own?
—Half a croft.

1092. Did you have it while you were in the public service?

1093. You got it after you came home?

1094. You have heard what has been stated by previous witnesses?
— Yes.

1095. You have understood what they have said?

1096. Do you agree in the main with what they said?
—Yes, generally, upon the same complaint that is going with the whole of us.

1097. Have you any suggestion or remarks to make in addition to what they stated ?
—Not much ; we belong to a different estate from those that were here before us.

1098. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Which estate?
—Lord Macdonald's estate.
1099. What is the name of your township?
—Tote. As regards Tote and Benmore, the crofts are poor in soil and rocky, and not fit to give good crops, owing ;to the poorness of the soil. In the best harvests it only gives two returns, and frequently about one and a half. We are given three cows and two stirks on each croft, but pasture ground is so bad, small, and poor, that one cow and one stirk would be plenty for the grazing ground so as to keep them in condition as in other places. Frequently cows are two years without having a calf in this town, and often cows will only have calves every second year. The cattle are hand-fed all the year round, feeding them in summer and harvests with grass and corn to keep them alive. To keep the three cows and two stirks we would require three times as much of grazing ground. It is the smallness of the crofts and grazing grounds that keep us here so poor. If we would get more land with reasonable rent, we know we would be well enough off. Us and our fore¬fathers were sub-tenants for the last thirty-six years; this includes the whole of Unikillin. There are ten crofts in Tote and Benmore, and eight cottars in the place. The reason why so many cottars are here is, in the years of '45 and '46 the potatoes failed, and the late Mr Martin took some of them to the place, and used to give them patches of ground for potatoes, and also to be near the yairs. At that time the Fishery Board gave permission to have the yair put in good repair, and those employed at it got one pound of Indian meal per day, and the yair was a great boon to the poor far and near. A few years' back the yair was broken down by orders of Mr L. Macdonald, Skeabost, and Tormore. Frequently at that time families would have nothing in the house at nights; they would go to the yair, and have plenty for their families in the morning. In this place sea-ware is not to be got from tacksmen without payment. When Mr Martin, tacksman of Tote, come to Unikillin in 1839, of the rents on the crofts in Tote, the cheapest croft was £4, 10s., and the highest rent was £6. At the present time the rent is,—cheapest £7, 8s., the highest £10, 18s. We have a club stock of sheep among thirty-nine cofters, but it does not pay well; there is too many about the stock. Wet grouud, and most of it too exposed; also too small for the number about the stock.

1100. Have you anything more to say in addition to that?
—I may mention that in Tote there are ten crofts, and sixteen families on the ten crofts, and eight cottars besides them on the place now. To give pieces of ground to the cottars comes too heavy on the ten crofts, there are so many of them. The yair was the reason so many crowded to Tote; it supplied them constantly with fish.

1101. Anything else?
—Regarding the hill pasture, the neighbours wish me to state that formerly it was made a tack of by one who was in Lyndale, that in the course of three years he lost his stock, and had to leave it, although he had a place which pays very well; and another thing which we have been in dispute about for the last eight years is, that we have been paying for a piece of the hill pasture, and the tenants in Glenmore have claimed the place, and we never got it yet. So we must take it in hand ourselves, and compel them to leave. The factor promised to do it, but it was always shoved off till now, and we cannot bear it any longer.

1102. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Have they a great piece of grazing there ?
—Thirty-nine crofts, and a number of them in halves and quarters.

1103. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Have you anything more to say?
—1 need not say anything more, because what we would say has been told before—scarcity of ground and pasture.

1104. I see you have got some clasps and medals, what services are they for ?
—Sebastopol, Balaklava, the Alma, Lucknow, and the Turkish medal. I have only one clasp for India, but I should have had five, for was in five engagements.

1105. How old are you ?
— Sixty-six years of age. I was in the 42nd regiment all the time.

1106. Why are there not more Skye men enlisting, as you did ?
—Where are they to be found ?

1107. Look around,—the whole people about you here?
—Not many of them would pass. There are sheep and deer instead of soldiers.

1108. That is a bad account of your neighbours?
—They are old and worn out.

1109. But what really is the reason they don't come forward ? Are they physically incapable ?
—They don't care about going. The place is cleared of men; there are no young men now.

1110. Have you any other reason ?
—I have none, because from the way the people are used here they don't care to go. They have to make a living in other ways.

1111. Has the small pay anything to do with it?
—No, but the way the people are used here.

1112. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How does that make the army disagreeable to them ?
—When they see how their people are used there.

1113. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Explain what you mean ?
—Formerly the places would support their families behind them ; now if a young man goes he has to keep his old parents alive, he must remain at home and keep his father alive. From the way crofts are divided, the ground is run out by tilling it every year, and it does not give crops, supposing the seasons were good. And then they go to some other better country, and those at home take their places.

1114. At the time you entered the 42nd were there many from Skye along with you ?
—Yes, a good number. Several from my own place, here, died in the Crimea. I think there were a dozen in the same company with me from this part of the island.

1115. Sheriff Nicolson.
—And at this moment, so far as you know, how many Skye men are in the army ?
—I have no idea; but none from the island came through the Indian campaign and mutiny, except one man over at Dunvegan.

1116. Do you know how many pensioners are in Skye ?

1117. The Chairman.
—What rank did you attain? Were you a sergeant ?
—Yes, but I was discharged.

1118. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—There are delegates here from three localities ?
—Yes, and perhaps four.

1119. Are any in those four places in the army at this moment?
—Yes, there is one from Tote, I know.

1120. Any more?
—I am not aware of any more

1121. Then out of the four townships represented here to-day, there is only one in the service of the army?
—That is all that I know.

1122. You had no reason to complain of the service when you were in the army ?
—I had plenty of reason to complain.

1123. But when you were in it?
—Well, for one time I had two years and four months without ever stripping or going to bed. From the time I left Portsmouth till I returned, I never stripped. I was in clothes all the time, and it was hard enough work for all I got.

1124. Well, do you say that if the people got larger crofts and easier rents, the old military spirit would revive?
—There is no doubt about that. It would show there was some care for the people, and not to keep them about the corners as they are now. I am here in a croft, and have nothing but rock and brae, and if all the good soil were gathered together, I do not suppose it would make more than an acre and a half of good natural soil.

1125. One of the witnesses said that the laird of Skeabost, if he wanted it, had really no bounds on his estate to accommodate all the people on it properly. Where could they be accommodated ?
—Well, there is no way to do but breaking up the tacks.

1126. Upon some other property?
—Upon Lord Macdonald's property at Skerrinish.

1127. The Chairman.
—Could you suggest anything Government could do which would make the service more popular aud encourage people to enter it ?
—They are well off now in the service compared with the time when I was in it; but still it is a large family, and there are always discontents in it—I mean the service. There are in the army every class, gentlemen and blackguards together—they do not care.

1128. But do you think the Government could do anything which in your opinion would encourage people to enlist to a greater extent in this country ?
—This is the only thing I know of, because young men, as soon as they come to w-ork, must work to get money to support those at home, and formerly little farmers were independent. They could live without the assistance of their children, and the young men could go to list if they liked. Now, since they can do nothing, they must stay.

1129. Mr Cameron.
—If the farms were made larger, that would give more work for the young men ?
—Yes, but they would make more money and get more stock.

1130. Will your people enlist more when they are comfortable than when they are not comfortable ?
—Certainly, when there is nothing behind to care for.

1131. But do you think they would be induced to enlist in that way?
—I do not know. Generally, when a man enlists he does not look for anything.

1132. When the recruits came into your regiment were they from a class well-to-do and prosperous, or from a class of young men who probably could not find anything to occupy them ?
—Both ways.

1133. Which most?
—I cannot say. They were very much mixed; all classes, farmers' sons, and so on.

1134. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—The 42d is a crack regiment?
—Yes, but I think they are destroyed now.

1135. They used to be?
—Yes, in former times.

1136. Mr Cameron.
—How have they destroyed it?
—By this mixing work. It is a great thing in the service to have a regiment from one district, and it would be good for them in different ways, because if I saw there a comrade from the same place as myself, I would be afraid to commit myself in any way, in case they would write home and tell my friends of what I was doing and how I was .'going on. That was the strongest motive ever I saw, and it would make young men take care not to commit them¬selves. But when they are mixed up this way— Irish, Scotch, and Lowlanders mixed —they don't care so much. There is no person to tell.

1137. Do they like the short service or the long service best?
—Well, some think the short service spoils them, because when they are properly learned their time is up, and there is nothing more dangerous in a campaign than too many young soldiers. They are of no use.

1138. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Did they not do good work in Egypt?
—But if they had to meet Prussians or French it might have been different. I have seen young soldiers in the trenches at Sebastopol who were more a hindrance than an assistance. They were afraid, and the work was so wild that it fairly frightened them, and if the whole trenches had been composed of them they would not have stood one night. I have seen labourers go out there to assist in the trenches. Well, sixty went in one night, and we had only three in the morning. They went away through the night. We found them at Balaklava next morning.

1139. The Chairman.
—Were you freely elected to be a delegate?
—Yes, I was elected here the other day.

1140. In the second or first election?
—The second.

1141. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—What arable land have you got?
— I suppose about four acres, between three and four.

1142. In the half croft ?

1143. What is your rent ?
—£7, 12s.

1144. Is that the rent of the full croft?
—£7, 12s. for the whole croft.

1145. And you pay half of that?
—Yes, £3, 16s.

1146. What stock do you keep?
—I keep two cows, but if they have two calves I have too many.

1147. Two cows and one stirk?
—If I have two cows and a calf I have a calf too many for the land. The whole croft for three milk cows and two stirks.

1148. Professor Mackinnon.
—Thirty for the whole croft.

1149. I mean the summing?
—Well, it is a common stock we have— what we can keep on the ground.

1150. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You divide the sheep. How many are there who have shares in the common stock ?

1151. And you have about 1200 sheep?
—Yes, about 1200 at Martinmas. I do not know how many there are to-day.

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