WILLIAM M'LURE, Crofter, Glen Bernisdale—examined.
See Appendix A. II
640. The Chairman.
—What is your occupation?
—I work at the roads.
641. Have you a croft ?
642. You are a crofter, and work at the roads?
643. Are you also a fisherman ?
644. Are you a native of this place ?
—I was born in the parish of Strath. I live in Glen. Bernisdale.
645. Have you been freely elected by the crofters in this place to be their delegate ?
646. You are perfectly acquainted with their interests and their wishes ?
647. Will you be so good as to state what are the grievances or hardships, if any, of which they complain at this place?
—Any statement I make I would rather make in Gaelic. The first cause of the peoples' poverty that I can mention is the smallness of their holdings and the clearness of them, and that the soil is so poor that it does not yield crop. As a proof that our holdings are too small, our only implement of agriculture is & stick with a crook at the end of it. We call it a cas-chrom, and if the stick has not a natural bend we have to nail a piece to it Anyone capable of thinking must know that a man in two or three weeks cannot work sufficient ground with this implement to support a family of seven or eight. The place in which I reside was a pasturage that was taken from the people of Bernisdale forty-seven years ago. At that time twenty-four families were placed in the pasturage that was taken from the Bernisdale people, and what was habitable of it was made into lots, and we got a share of the hill that was taken from these people along with it. We had not that hill pasture long when the landlord took part of it away from us again.
648. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Who was the landlord?
—Donald Macdonald, late of Tannara. He did not reduce our rents, but he gave us sea-weed as compensation for the hill pasture of which he had deprived us. He did not leave us the right of cutting sea-ware long before he charged us for it. The landlord then came to poverty, and he lost the estate, and was put under trustees, and when the trustees came into possession they made some reduction of our rents, but we continued to pay for the seaweed as we had been paying. When the late Mr Kenneth M'Leod of Grishornish got the property we got back the right to cut sea-ware free, but our present landlord makes us pay at present.
649. Who is your present landlord?
—Mr Lachlan Macdonald, Skeabost, We have, however, some sea-ware connected with our land free, but we pay for the rest. He commenced to make us pay for the seaweed when he was at law about the shore. He was preventing us from gathering shell-fish—oysters.
650. With whom was he at law ?
—He was at law with one of his own tenants ; and he did what was worse to us than that at the time. There was a yair in the loch which was good for catching herring. I have seen in one night more than 300 barrels of herring caught in it. The loss of the yair was worse to us than anything that was done to us since we came to the place. The landlord ordered the yair to be destroyed, and the reason for that was that the people would be catching in the yair white fish,—salmon,—and since the destruction of the yair not one-fifth part of the quantity of fish that used to be caught in the river has been caught. I have not much more to say, but that the people are crowded upon each other here. Skeabost and Bernisdale fifty years ago were in a very prosperous condition. Since then the tenants were taken from Skeabost and located in Bernisdale. When the tenants were put out of Skeabost I had two lots. One of these was taken from me to accommodate another man. When the late Mr Kenneth M'Leod came into this property he laid five days' work upon each crofter. He did not long continue to exact this labour from them; but he laid an equivalent in money upon them—
10s. upon each croft—and the payment of that sum in addition continued till last Martinmas, when the present proprietor gave us down that sum in name of reduction of rent. As there are other witnesses to speak after me, I have nothing further to say, unless I am questioned.
651. Have you any remedies to suggest whereby your condition, and that of your fellow crofters, might be improved ?
—I do not think there can be a more suitable remedy than to get more land at a suitable rent, and security that we will not be evicted so long as we pay the rent, and compensation for improvement.
652. Anything else in the way of remedy?
—Hill pasture as well as arable land.
653. Is there any suitable land upon the estate, suited for this enlargement, for yourself and the other crofters?—There is not sufficient land for that purpose on thi3 property, to make comfortable the whole of the crofters upon it.
654. Are you a fisherman ?
—I am not a fisherman.
655. Are any of the people here now engaged in fishing?
—Yes, down at Bernisdale there are fishermen.
656. Could the fishing be improved and developed if they had quays where they could run up their boats and take shelter?
—No doubt the fishing would be improved to those who are accustomed to fish, if they had quays.
657. Is this bay a good place for fishing?
—At one time it was a good place, but now it is not so good.
658. Can you explain why it has fallen off?
—I cannot answer that question.
659. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Do I understand there were twenty-four families on this pasture ground to which you and the people alongside of you were moved twenty years ago?
—The pasturage was taken from the Bernisdale people, and twenty-four families were located on that pasturage.
660. Where did they come from, these twenty-four families?
—They came from different places.
661. Chiefly from where ?
—That was before the people were removed from Skeabost at all.
662. Then, from what property did these twenty-four people come ?
— From different properties. Most of them came from M'Leod of M'Leod's property.
663. Where did you come from? Did you come yourself or did your father come ?
—I was born in the parish of Strath, and came here when I was about three years of age.
664. Your father came from the parish of Strath ?
665. On Lord Macdonald's property ?
—My mother was a widow woman, and the croft there was too heavy for her to keep, and she came to this quarter.
666. Whose property were you on at Strath?
—Lord Macdonald's property.
667. How many tenants were taken from Skeabost to Bernisdale?
—I cannot exactly say, but I think there were about twenty tenants in Skeabost the last time they were removed.
668. How long is it since their removal took place ?
—I cannot say.
669. But you lost half of your land at that time, and you should know ?
—It will be between seven and eight years, so far as I can mind.
670. And you lost half of your land at that time?
671. And your rent was paid at that time?
672. You had no difficulty in paying rent?
—Not at that time. Twenty families were removed from Skeabost. I do not know whether the whole of them were sent to Bernisdale or not.
673. And that land at Skeabost is now in the proprietor's own occupation ?
—Yes, that land is now in the proprietor's own occupation.
674. He does not let any of it ?
675. You mentioned that the late Mr Macdonald of Grishornish put five days' labour upon you. To what purpose was that labour applied ?
— It was called duty work.
676. What work was it ?
—Any work he would have to do.
677. Such as ?
—Working land, and whatever work he would have to do.
678. But was it for your benefit or for his ?
—For his own benefit.
679. You did not make roads for yourselves or piers or anything of that sort?
680. Were you reaping crop for him?
681. You said that one of the remedies for your poverty would be an increased holding—have the people of Bernisdale sufficient means to stock increased holdings if you got holdings large enough to please you?
—Well, I believe they have not in the meantime, for what stock they have is not their own.
682. Is it not their own now ?
683. Whose stock is it?
—It belongs to the merchants and to the proprietor.
684. In what way to the merchants ?
—For meal. I was speaking to a man outside before I came in, and he told me he had upwards of £400 on the Skeabost estate for meal.
685. They are in debt to the merchants ?
686. And how does it belong to the proprietor ?
—For arrears of rent
687. Were they ever clear of the merchants and the proprietor?
— Well, I cannot say whether they were all clear of rent, but I know they were not so much sunk as they are at present.
688. How long will it be since you think they were clear or nearly clear ?
—About forty-six or forty-seven years ago—before the pasture was taken off.
689. Has no new pasture been given you of late years ?
690. I have understood, not to-day but previously, that there was stock put on here for which the proprietor advanced the money ?
—I did not hear of that.
691. How is your stock managed? Has it any common mark ?
—We have a joint stock and mark ; and our summing of sheep in Bernisdale is sixteen sheep, and in Glen, where I live, it is eight sheep.
692. Are the sales made in common, or do you each sell your own ?
— There are two managers of the whole of the stock—two of the crofters.
693. Are the stock sold in one lump, or does each man sell his own ?
—It is sold in one lump.
694. And the money is divided?
—The money is divided.
695. Managed like a big farm ?
—The very same.
696. How many cows are you entitled to keep?
—Two cows and two stirks.
697. Is that for the whole croft or the half?
—It is for the whole croft in the Glen. We have the same summing of cows as in Bernisdale, but they have double the summing of sheep.
698. And how many horses ?
—One or two, but the ground officer has two horses.
699. How much arable land have you ?
—Well, I cannot tell the exact acreage, and in case it might be said afterwards that I gave false evidence, I would rather not say anything about that.
700. Do you know how many barrels of potatoes you plant each year?
—Sometimes four and sometimes four and a half, up and down, as I can manage to get manure.
701. And how much corn do you sow?
—About two bolls.
702. What is a boll here?
703. Is that oats or barley ?
704. Do you sow any barley ?
—No barley; barley would not grow.
705. Nor bere ?
—No, the soil being so poor.
706. What rent do you pay ?
—Till last Martinmas I was paying £5, but when the 10s. for duty work was taken off me I only pay £4, 10s. now.
707. For the whole croft ?
—For the whole croft
708. You have then eight sheep, two cows, and two stirks, and land that will plant four or four and a half barrels of potatoes, and two bolls of six bushels—that is one and a half quarters—of oats; and the rent is £4, 10s. now?
709. Have you a full stock?
—Yes, but I buy from £2, 10s. to £3 worth of provender for winter, for the croft will not produce so much as will winter the two cows and two stirks.
710. Do you give the corn to the stirks along with the straw?
—I thresh some of the corn. Owing to the scarcity of it, I must give some to the cattle without threshing. It would be cheaper for me to buy seed oats.
711. How deep do you dig your crofts?
—In some places we cultivate the croft to the depth of 2 inches, and in some places to a depth of 1½ inch, and in some places perhaps 6 inches.
712. But you can get below 6 inches ?
—No, it is seldom we can get that.
713. Would a spade go down deeper?
—A spade would not go through the rock.
714. But the rock is not in every place ?
—Where there is no rock there is gravel.
715. A good deal of it might be drained, might it not?
—I believe it could be made better by improving it.
716. By trenching?
717. And by draining ?
718. Does anybody in your place drain or trench at all?
—Well, have seen when trenching and draining were going on, but the result would he that they would be fined by the proprietor.
719. A rise of rent?
—A rise of rent; and if they refuse to give the rise of rent they would be deprived of their holding, and it would be given to some one else who would give the rise.
720. Do you remember how long it is since a case of that kind occurred ?
—Well, it was not during this proprietor's reign, nor that of the proprietor before him.
721. Would the proprietor give you a lease? Did anybody ever ask for a lease ?
—I believe they did, and he gave a lease to a few.
722. For what length of time ?
—I think it was ten years.
723. Not more?
—Not more, but we could not improve the land, for the production of the land would not keep us during the time we would be improving it. We had to be at other work, to support our families.
724. But you are at home most of the winter?
—No, I cannot be at home any day I can work, owing to the kind of work I have.
725. What is the work ?
—Keeping a piece of the road in repair.
726. You have constant employment
727. Mr Cameron.
—You say that no improvement has taken place on the land held by the crofters?
—Not of late.
728. How long ago is it since the last improvement was made? You say it was not in the time of the present landlord or the landlord before him ?
—No, I do not think it was.
729. Can you fix any date?
—No, I cannot fix any date.
730. How many years is it since the last land was improved do you think ?
—I believe it will be as far back as twenty years ago—at least no improvement I know of. There might be a little, but nothing worth speaking of.
731. And the people do not improve the land for fear the rent would be raised upon them ?
—I know it was the case in former times.
732. But, if it is not the same proprietor that used to raise the rent upon them when they made improvements before, what is the cause of the fear of the people that the rent will now be raised ?
—It is not the fear of making the improvements, but they cannot stay at home to make the improvements.
733. If you never tried the present proprietor to see if he would raise the rent upon you, why is it that the people are afraid to make improvements, for fear of the rent being raised ?
—I have no doubt but this proprietor would allow compensation for improvements if the people could stay.
734. I am not speaking of the question of compensation for improvements, but you said the people would not improve the land for fear of the rent being raised, and you told us that that had not been done either during the present proprietor's time or his predecessor's, but that it was twenty years ago. Now why do not the people improve their land for fear of the rent being raised when they have had no experience of the rent being raised in the present proprietor's time?
—I know the present proprietor would not raise the rent.
735. Then you modify your answer, that the fear of having their rent raised influences them ?
—It did in former times, but not now.
736. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You said that you had constant employment, and therefore had not spare time to improve your croft. But your neighbours go away for work in the summer time, and are at
home in winter, and if they are not afraid of having their rent raised, why is it they idle away their time and don't do something to improve the land?
—I did not say they idled away their time in the winter time.
737. But they are not generally away from home in the winter?
738. What are they doing?
—In the township where I live, some of them are in the service of the proprietor and some away working at other places They will be thinking that far better than improving the land.
739. Then, from the new year till they begin to crop the land, what are they doing?
—It is very seldom they can do any outside work in this quarter on account of the weather.
740. Mr Cameron.
—Now, coming to the question of compensation for improvements, you say you would like to have compensation promised for improvements?
741. You have told us that for the last twenty years no improvements have been attempted ?
—Not that I am aware of.
742. Do you think that improvements would have been attempted if there had been a reasonable prospect of compensation?
—Yes, and the holdings enlarged.
743. But if there had been reasonable prospect of compensation ?
744. Now, how would you propose that should be given ? In what form ?
—Compensation when the present tenant would leave.
745. But would any of the present tenants ever be likely to leave ?
— Well, I do not know; if they could find better places I believe they would.
746. I mean, of their own free will?
—Yes, if they could find better places, I am quite certain they would leave.
747. But in the actual condition of affairs in Skye, such as we find existing, would any of the crofters be likely, of their own free will, to leave, and therefore ask for compensation for having improved their land?
—That is a question I cannot answer.
748. Would they be likely to emigrate to America ?
—They would get nothing in America but vacant land, and they have plenty of that in their own country.
749. But they would not like to go to America ?
—No, they would not like to go to America. I know that.
750. Then how would occasion arise to get compensation if the people do not leave ? You were asked just now the remedies you would suggest for the existing state of things now complained of, and you suggest that one of the remedies would be compensation for improvements. You first told us that no improvements have been made here for the last twenty years, and that when I asked you when compensation should be given, you did not seem to know exactly ?
—Yes, fixity of tenure and compensation for any improvements.
751. But we want to know what you, as representing the crofters, actually wish? We do not want the mere catch words "fixity of tenure" and " compensation for improvements;" but we want, being on the spot here, to find out exactly what it is you want now, with regard to this compensation, if you went away it would be reasonable to expect you should get compensation ; but suppose the crofters do not leave the country of their own free will, in what way would you wish the proprietor to give you compensation, or how would you bring it about ?
—By giving me a reduction of rents according to the work I did.
752. That is to say, for every acre of land you improved, he should give you a reduction on the old rent ?
753. Of course, I was talking of your going away of your own free will. I suppose you are not afraid here of being arbitrarily evicted?
754 Would you like to have fixity of tenure, or leases?
—It is all the same,—fixity of tenure or perpetual.
755. Long leases ?
756. What do you call a sufficiently long lease?
—Thirty or forty years.
757. Are you and your neighbours in fear of being arbitrarily evicted by the present proprietor ?
758. But you think, viewing the possibility of another proprietor or somebody in whom you would not have the same confidence, you would like to have long leases ?
759. Would you like more land ?
760. Now, how do you propose to stock that land ?
—Well, we could not stock the land in our present position, but through time we would be able to stock the land if we got it.
761. But how would you do in the meantime?
—We were thinking Government would be allowing some money to improve the land, and that we would try some other means of stocking it.
762. What other means could you try? Would the merchants allow you any more money ?
—The bank might allow us money, and get the stock for security.
763. The bank might advance the money ?
764. Sheriff Nicolson.
—But does not the stock already belong to the laird and the merchants ?
—This is new stock.
765. Mr Cameron.
—Do you think the bank would advance you money to stock a farm when they knew that the stock you already had was mortgaged to the merchants ?
—Well, it is not the case with the whole, though it is the case with some.
766. It is not the case with the whole?
767. And in the case of those whose stock is not pledged to the merchants, have these people any little amount of ready money at their hand to deal with ?
—Well, that is a question I cannot answer. It is the banker who knows that. I know some who would stock the most of their crofts if they got larger holdings, and that would give more room to the rest, and maybe would improve their condition.
768. So you think some of the crofters,—those who are tolerably well off,—might get other farms, and leave their places to be added to the crofts of those who remain, and so increase the holdings all round ?
769. As a proof of the poverty of the people here, you state that they use the cas-chrom ?
770. But, as I understand, the arable land which each crofter has, measured by the quantity of oats and potatoes that are sown, amounts to 3 or 4 acres?
—I believe between 3½ and 4—some larger and some less.
771. But is that not rather a large amount of land to work in the old-fashioned way with the crooked spade ?
—It is too large, and in some cases we must take a horse's work out of a woman; we get them to harrow,— and while slavery is done away with in other countries, it is likely to continue here.
772. But what I want to ask you is why you use the crooked spade and the woman's labour. Why don't you work your crofts in the usual way with horses and plough ?
—We have no horses.
773. And that is why you so use the crooked spade ?
—Yes, and in some cases we have to wait. We are prevented by climate and weather from getting our seed in. We have to get a day and two days of a plough from other estates, and we pay at the rate of £1 a day for a pair of horses, and you might call it additional rent, though we do not pay it to the landlord.
774. But could not two neighbouring crofters join together as they do in other parts of the country, and then each would have what they call the "side of a horse," and work the land in that way?
—But we have no keeping for the horses.
775. In fact, you are too poor to have horses?
—All too poor to have horses. If I cannot winter two cows and two stirks, how would I keep a horse?
776. Professor Mackinnon.
—What about your own croft before it was halved ? Was it big enough ?
—It was not enough at all. It was never subdivided.
777. I thought you said you had only half a croft?
—I had two crofts, and one of them was taken from me.
778. Were those two crofts not big enough ?
—No, they were not big enough.
779. Had you a horse at the time?
—No, for there was not a horse allowed on the estate. There was no grazing for horses.
780. Suppose you got an opportunity of stocking a good enough croft, would you be able to do so ?
—No, I could not. Perhaps, through time I might try it.
781. I think you said also there was not sufficient room on this estate for the tenants upon it to make them comfortable?
—No, I know there is not.
782. What do you propose to do with the rest ?
—Give them crofts in neighbouring places. There is plenty of land there.
783. But suppose the neighbouring places require all they have for themselves ?
—No, they do not.
784. At what places would you say there is land where there are no people?
—There is plenty of land at Skerrinish and Scorrybreck, and Kingsburgh.
785 Sheriff Nicolson.—But does not that belong to Lord Macdonald?
—I know that. On every side there is plenty of land fit for cultivation, for most of it was cultivated before.
786. Professor Mackinnon.
—And the fixity of tenure you mean is just a long lease?
787. And if removed at the end of the lease, then compensation for improvements ?
788. Do you consider the rents at present too high ?
—I do, in some cases.
789. But I believe some of them are not so in Bernisdale ?
—I know some are too dear in Bernisdale.
790. That is the place you know best?
791. Sheriff Nicolson.
—What do you consider a proper rent for your own present half croft ?
—My present croft is £4, 10s., and I know it would be dear enough at £3.
792. Does it support your two cows ?
—It is not wintering for them, and I buy between £2, 10s. and £ 3 worth of provender yearly for them.
793. Have you asked for a lease ?
794. Why not ?
—Because I do not see a place worth asking a lease of.
795. And your land was not improved?
—I could not improve it; I was working.
796. Is the work you are accustomed to engage in, upon the roads, more profitable—better for your family ?
—Yes, for my family would starve if I should stay to improve the croft.
797. Then, if you got more land, would you give up working at the roads ?
—I do not know. If I found the land sufficient to support my family I would give up any work except the land itself.
798. The Chairman.
—You spoke of two occasions on which people were brought in from other places and located at Bernisdale—twenty-four families from various parts of the country, and about twenty families from Skeabost ?
—Yes; but 1 did not say that they all came to Bernisdale when Skeabost was evicted the last time.
799. But you think the first time there were twenty-four families; and about how many do you think came to Bernisdale from Skeabost ?
—I cannot exactly say.
800. Do you think there were ten ?
—I think there were more.
801. Suppose there were ten, that would be thirty-four families here, brought into Bernisdale from other places?
802. Were the whole of these thirty-four families located upon the common pasture ground formerly belonging to Bernisdale ?
803. All located upon the common pasture ground ?
804. Then, when these new families were placed upon the common pasture ground of Bernisdale, what pasture ground remained to the people of Bernisdale ?
—Just a small portion of what they had formerly.
805. How were the new families provided with houses ?
—They built huts for themselves. They were not houses.
806. You say each built his own house?
807. Did they receive any assistance from the proprietor in the form of timber or windows or doors, or anything of that sort ?
—Well, I do not think they did; I do not know of any case where they did.
808. On these particular occasions you are not aware that the proprietor gave them any assistance towards the building of the houses ?
809. Or any assistance given them towards making the fences round the arable ground?
—No. They make their fences themselves. These were turf dykes.
810. When they were removed from their former dwellings, especially when they were removed from Skeabost, did they get any compensation for the houses -which they left and which were pulled down ?
—The roofs of the houses were valued, and they were paid the prices.
811. How much is the roof of an old house valued at?
—It depends upon what kind of roof is on the house. Some are valued at £ 3 and some at £2, and some are not worth 30s.
812. Do you think that any of the Skeabost people bought the timber of the old houses to make the roofs of their new houses here with ?
—That is according to how the proprietor and themselves would agree about the roof of the house.
813. Then the proprietor would give them 30s., £2, or £3 of compensation for the roof of a house ?
—Yes, according to valuation.
814. And the crofters would buy wood with that money for the roof of their new houses?
815. No other form of compensation?
—Not that I am aware of.
816. When these people came and were settled upon the pasture land of Bernisdale, did the crofters, of Bernisdale, who formerly enjoyed the common pasture, have their rent reduced in consequence of the pasture being taken away, or did they continue to pay the same rent for the reduced ground which they had paid for the whole ground ?
—I think they continued to pay the same rent, but you will hear witnesses from the place.
817. When the new people were brought in and located upon the common pasture, and while they were preparing their arable ground and making the necessary improvements for their subsistence, were they allowed to sit rent free, or was the rent exacted from the moment of their arrival?
—From the moment they entered.
818. Was the amount which they paid in the beginning on the same scale as the usual rents for land already improved ?
—The very same.
819. Were any of the new people located upon the arable ground belonging to the old people of Bernisdale ? Was the arable land of the old crofts subdivided at all ?
—No, I do not think it, but the pasture was taken off the Bernisdale people, and what was fit for arable land was cut into crofts and given to the new people.
820. But the old arable land was not subdivided and reduced?
—I do not think it was.
821 . Now, supposing that more land were given to the crofters for arable, and supposing they got the leases which you spoke of, what description of improvements would they be likely to make ?
—By getting the land stocked, they would come to improve the land through time, for I see other people who are keeping large families and thriving on these farms.
822. Would they, for instance, buy lime for the improvement of the soil ?
—If they would be able to buy it they would, or if the proprietors would buy lime for them, they would pay interest on the capital, and instalments.
823. If additional land were given them would they be likely to make tile drains and stone drains?
—If they could afford to buy tiles, and I believe they would make stone drains.
824. Would they, if the landlord would advance money for such improvements for drains, pay interest upon them?
(see Appendix A. II)
825. Is all rent payable in labour—all obligation to labour—now abolished?
—Well, it is abolished here.
826. All obligation to labour is now abolished here?
827. And the compensation money which was exacted, instead of the labour, is that also abolished ?
—It is abolished.
828. Is it suspended or abolished ?
—I think it is done away with altogether.
829. You complain that there are no horses to perform the work of the crofts ?
830. Does the landlord forbid people to keep horses, or is it merely their poverty which prevents them keeping them ?
—They have no grazing for the horses. They cannot keep them.
831. But does the landlord forbid it?
—It was forbidden here, for I knew people in Bernisdale fined for keeping horses.
832. What is the reason there is a greater objection to keeping horses than to keeping cows ?
—Because they do not get any work out of the horses except in the spring time for a few days, and they get use of the cows all the year round.
833. That is the objection of the people, but what objection has the landlord to your keeping horses?
—The landlord knows well enough there is no keeping for the horses. One horse will require as much grass as two cows.
834. Suppose that the landlord was not able to increase the area of arable ground for the crofters, would it still be of advantage to the crofters that the area of the common pasture should be increased ?
—It would be of advantage.
835. What stock would they put upon it if they had an increase of common pasture ?
836. They could not keep horses merely on the common pasture ?
—They could not keep horses, and they could not keep any more cattle, for they would have no wintering for the cattle.
837. But they could keep sheep?
838. I want to ask you about the fishing. You stated that there was a yair which in former times existed, and by means of which a great quantity of herring was caught. Where was this yair placed, and what was the nature of it?
—It was placed on Lord Macdonald's estate,on the other side of the loch, just opposite this church.
839. What was it like?
—It was a stone dyke, but one end of it was on dry land, and going out with a semi-circle into the sea, and at ebb tide, if the herring went in there, they were caught by the dyke.
840. Was it destroyed by the proprietor of Skeabost or by Lord Macdonald ?
—By the authority of Skeabost and Lord Macdonald's factor together.
841. Why did they destroy it?
—For fear the people would be catching salmon.
842. Did they ever catch salmon in the place ?
—Yes, very often.
843. Then, did they bring the salmon to the proprietor, or did they keep the salmon to themselves?
—They kept the salmon for themselves, for they had more need for them.
844. If such a yair were re-established here, do you think they would still catch herring in it?
—I do; for the herring would stand the same chance of being there as in former times.
845. And do you think, if they were allowed to rebuild it, that they would bring the salmon honestly to the proprietor or not?
—That I cannot answer, but it is my opinion they would not.
846. I waut to ask you something about the method of cultivation. In former times we are told there used to be a run-rig system—the land was divided every three years, in new portions between the crofters ?
—I believe that was the case, but I do not mind of that.
847. There are no remains of that system of cultivation now?
848. Did you ever hear the people say they regretted that that system was abolished ?
849. You have heard them say they regretted its abolition?
850. What do you think about it ?
—Well, I don't know, for I did not see that method in my time, and therefore I cannot make any distinction.
851. Did you ever see it in any other part of the country?
852. Do you think that any of the people would like to see that system brought back again ?
—I am not sure.
853. Professor MacKinnon.
—Do you work under another, or are you a contractor ?
—I am a contractor.
854. Mr Cameron.
—What wages do you pay ?
—From 2s. to 2s. 6d. a day.
855. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Are you aware that yairs are prohibited now by Act of Parliament as a means of catching salmon ?
—I was not aware of that. They knocked down some pieces of that dyke, so as to let out the salmon fish, and they would be allowed to rebuild it again when the salmon fishing was over, and then it was knocked down entirely.
856. Have the houses of the tenants about here been very much improved ?
857. Does the landlord lend any assistance in doing that?
—The landlord pays the whole expense of the house, and charges 5 per cent, of interest upon the houses he builds; and in the case of any one who builds a house at his own expense, the proprietor will give him compensation according to valuation, in the event of his leaving or being removed.
858. Does he give any assistance for improving the outside of the houses ?
—He gives them lime.
859. For painting the walls?
860. Is that given free of charge?
—I do not know whether they bought it themselves or whether he gave it them; but I know that is the charge he makes for the money expended on the houses.
861. Are there any regulations on the estate with regard to the houses ?
—There are no regulations, except that they have to pay the interest for the houses along with the rent.
862. The Chairman.
—I have been reminded, since I spoke to you about the yair that a yair is now prohibited by law for the purpose of catching salmon. Now, I want to know if the yair was put up for the purpose of catching herring, and if salmon got into it, would the crofters or the fishermen allow the salmon to go free, and be contented to take the herrings and other fish ?
—During the summer season there were very seldom any herring got in the yair, and the people would allow the wall to be broken down in some places so as to let the salmon out, and then, when the salmon season was over, to rebuild it, and it would catch the herring then.
863. Then do you think it might be so arranged that the yair should be re-established without iujuring the salmon fishing?
—I think it could.
864. But would the people honestly accept that, or would they use it for the purpose, occasionally, of catching and keeping salmon ?
—The people would not be against breaking the yair in some places so as to let out the salmon, and so that they could not catch the salmon. I do not know whether they would have the honesty of going to the proprietor with the salmon or not.
865. But it is against the law to take salmon in that way. Would they let the salmon go free into the sea?
—Yes, the salmon would go free in spite of them, where they got a place to escape.
866. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—As matter of fact, were the salmon you caught a very small proportion of the quantity of herrings caught in former times ?
867. The Chairman.
—How many years have you been here?
—I have been settled where I live at present for forty-four years in the same croft.
868. Speaking generally, since you can recollect, do you think that your neighbours—the people round here—are poorer, worse dressed, worse fed, and worse in their circumstances now than they used to be, or do you think they are better off, and live better than they did ?
—I know that they are far poorer than they were in former times when I came here.
869. What about the food ?
—As to the food, I do not know what food they eat; I see very few of them takiug their food, but I know they are poorer in circumstances, for they are sunk in debt.
870. Do you remember the state of the people before the great potato loss in 1846 ?
—Well, it is very little I mind of that.
871. But do you believe the condition of the people was much deteriorated by the disease in the potatoes?
—I believe it was.
872. Now, speaking of the cottars, labourers, what was the daily wage of the labourer thirty years ago?
—Working to the proprietors round about here they would get Is. a day; and in some times of the year, during the cutting of the hay and harvest, a man would get 2s. and a woman 6d. or 9d. At this moment a man gets 2s. from Skeabost, and a woman 1s.
873. Now, are the labourers and cottars worse off than when they got 1s. a day, or is it only the crofters that are worse off?
—They are worse off than when they got 1s.
874. What as to the cottars?
—As to the cottars, I cannot say much about them, but the only thing I can say is that the cottars are a burden on the crofters.
875. Have you any other observation you wish to make before you retire ?
—I do not know of any observation I have to make. I have made the only suggestions I know of for improving our condition—that is, plenty of land and reasonable rent.
876. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You talk about reasonable rents. You mentioned just now that you saw the large farmers all make money. Do you think the large farmers all pay reasonable rents ?
—The large farmers have a better chance of making money than the small farmers, where they have great tracts of land well stocked.
877. But that is not the question. I am asking about the rent. What do you think a reasonable rent ?
—I would think a reasonable rent for a croft capable of keeping five cows and a horse and between forty and fifty sheep should be about £7.
878. And if you put two of them together, what would you think a reasonable rent for the two of them? —Double that rent.
879. And you say the same thing if you put four together. You think four times the amount a easonable rent?
880. But now the large farmer pays a much bigger rent than that. How far would you go on at that rate of rent?
—Well, I do not know how far I would go on, but I would think that reasonable.
881. It is very much lower than the large farmer pays ?
—I know that people coming from better places buy land in the Highlands free for about twenty-five rents, and we are here after paying twenty-five rents for our land and we have to pay the same yet.
882. You don't pay the twenty-five rents in one year?
—Not in one year.