Skeabost, Skye, 9 May 1883 - Neil Shaw

NEIL SHAW, Crofter, Eyre (60)—examined.

1409. The Chairman.
—We understand you have a particular statement to make to us of some personal grievance. Will you have the goodness tomake it?
—I am situated at Eyre six years Whitsunday coming. We are complaining of narrow bounds. We have a small stock of sheep in common.

1410. Are you speaking for yourself, or also on behalf of others?
—On behalf of others—for the whole township.

1411. Have you been elected as a delegate by the people of the township?
—Yes. Neil M'Leod is not at home, and I have been put in his place. W e are complaining of the narrow bounds of hill pasture we have. Our pasture is only half a mile broad, from the bounds of the tack on the one side to the boundary of the township on the other side of us. This entails upon us a great deal of herding at these boundaries. "We cannot let a beast pass beyond the boundaries. We are in danger of having them poinded. We are in danger of losing our place. Kingsburgh is on the one side of us ; Scorrybreck on the other. We are complaining again of the arable land—it is so bad. It is shallow land. We are keeping a few cows and a horse, and a few sheep, and we are losing the lambs for want of a wintering place ; and the food that we ought to be using ourselves we are obliged to expend on our stock in winter to keep them alive. These are our particular hardships. The soil does not yield crop to us, and we have no ground that we can leave out in rotation. Our ground has been cropped for the past hundred years, and we have no ground to afford rotation.

1412. Would you state whether the amount of hill pasture has been altered during the memory of man?
—No, the hill is as it was, but part of our arable laud was taken from us, and given to others.

1413. Was it given to the tacksmen or given to the other crofters?
—To other crofters. Part of our ground was taken from us, and two families were settled upon it by the late factor, Tormore,—three families, in fact,—and no corresponding decrease was made on our rents; on the contrary, our rents were raised.

1414. Where were the other crofters brought from?
—Two women came from Sleat, and another woman belonged to the township, and a smith who had been for some time in the township also.

1415. Why were they removed from their previous homes?
—They were shifted out of the way because there was something about one of these women who came from Sleat that made it convenient to remove her.

1416. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How many crofters are there in Eyre?
—There are nine.

1417. What rent do they pay?
—I pay £13, 10s.

1418. What stock do you keep?
—Three cows, two stirks, two two-year olds, and about twenty sheep, and one horse. The summing is four cows and no stirks.

1419. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—How long have you been in your present place?
—Six years.

1420. Where were you before that?
—I was previously in Bracadale, but then the factor sent us to the lower part of Duirinish. My father and grandfather were in Ebost, as cottars, paying £11 of rent.

1421. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—To whom were they paying rent?
— Kenneth M'Leod. Mr Gibbons, the tenant, when he came, took a tack, and removed the tenants.

1422. Professor Mackinnon.
—Where did you go then?—To Lowergill, a part of M'Leod of M'Leod's estate, now part of the lands of M'Pherson's trustees. I was five years in Lowergill. Then the new factor came— Hugh M'Askill of Tallisker. We were only five years under him as factor. Bad times and bad prices came on us, and the plan he took with us was that he made a market for us himself, and he and his officer would come and gather our cattle together, promising he would get much better prices for them than the tenants could get. He carried this on for two years. Before the two years were out the ten tenants of us were paying ten guineas each, and in two years the tenants had got so much into debt that they were unable to keep their holdings, and the factor took the lands himself, and five of the crofters went to Australia. Five remained, and I am one of those five. We then got a bit of the township that was laid out to us at £40 of rent. We were there until another factor came.

1423. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How long?
 —Five years. We were thirty-three years between the two places. It was £40 for this bit of ground; seven of us were located upon it. Some were getting into debt, running out of their means, and as they ran out we were taking their land. At last there were only five of us; we were paying the rent. There was not a penny of arrears on us. Then Tormore became factor. The factor got some vacant township lands that were adjoining ours on the estate of Orbost, and when Tormore came he never rested, and nothing would do until he became possessed of our lands. He removed the five families of us, and I believe that they did not owe a sixpence of arrears among them.

1424. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Were you not wishing to go?
—We were not wanting to go. I offered him, when he was saying the rent was too heavy for us and the place too big for us, that I would be one of two to take it, and my saying so was the cause of my being removed to Eyre. There was a vacant lot at Eyre, and he himself was then factor for both estates —for Lord Macdonald's estate as well—and I was promised I would get everything I would need if I would only take his advice. I need not tell how affairs turned out, but I left Lowergill and went to Eyre, where I am now.

1425. Where were the rest of the people sent to?
—One of these Lowergill tenants is in Pabbay, one at Broadford, two are in Glendale; and the one that is in Pabbay, when removed from Lowergill, was sent to Ramasaig, which is a township alongside Lowergill, and from Ramasaig he was shifted to Pabbay. Tormore cleared the crofters off the two townships of Ramasaig and Lowergill. There were twenty-one crofters in Ramasaig aud five of us in Lowergill.

1426. Were you there when they were removed from Ramasaig ?
—I was in Eyre at the time the Ramasaig people were removed. They were removed two years after we were.

1427. The Chairman.
—Are you personally worse off than you were in your last place ?
—I am a good deal worse off than I was in Lowergill. I am considerably more in debt no w; in fact, I was free of debt when I left Lowergill. That is the difference, and it is a great difference. The year I came to Eyre turned out to be a bad year. I got largely into debt before I managed to pull myself aud family through.

1428. Have you anything else to state before you retire ?
—I have one thing to say if it could be done for us—if we will get land near its value. I believe I am paying double rent for the land which I have, and I would ask, if we got that good land which we might improve, that neither landlord nor factor would have the power to remove us.

1429. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Would you take a lease?
—No. They would put us away at the end of it. I built new houses wherever I went, and I had to leave them all without getting compensation, and I know too much of factors' work now. If it could be done—and we are hearing it is being done in other places—we wish that we could buy the bit of land we occupy, and that Government would help us to buy it. If the latter cannot be done, and in the event of our getting land at a fair rent, we would need to be assured against eviction when we improved it.

1430. The Chairman.
—Do you believe, supposing the Government were helping the crofters to buy land, there would be many crofters willing to purchase the land, and to pay the Government back by gradual instalments?
—Yes, I believe more than half of them would. How many times over does the amouut that my father aud my grandfather and I have paid of rent amount to it.

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