Stenscholl, Skye, 11 May 1883 - Murdo Nicolson

MURDO NICOLSON, Farmer, Loanfearn—examined.

2842. The Chairman.
—How long have you had your present farm ?
— About eighteen years since I got it. My fathers were there for the last 500 years, in the same farm, and the same house.

2843. Under Lord Macdonald's family ?

2844. Has your farm been enlarged during your time?
—Yes, three crofts have been added to it.

2845. Were those crofts added to your farm by your own desire, or by your landlord's desire ?
—Well, two of them by my own desire, and the other was vacant when I came home. I was abroad.

2846. Professor Mackinnon.
—You know the whole district perfectly well ?

2847. How many schools are there ?
—Two, one here and one at Valtos.

2848. New schools?

2849. Built under the new Act?

2850. Are there separate school boards for Kilmuir and Stenscholl?
— Yes.

2851. Is there a compulsory officer in this district ?
—No, he lives in Kilmuir.

2852. Does he visit here?
—Now and then.

2853. And there are two schoolmasters settled here ever since the schools were built ?
—Yes; one here and one at Valtos.

2854. Are all the children within easy reach of one or other of the two schools?
—Yes; in summer time, but not in winter.

2855. Do you know the population of the place ?
—I do not know the population of this place; but the population of the upper part, which contains the upper school, is about 450 people.

2856. And how many children attend the school at the present time ?
—I dare say there will be between twenty and thirty.

2857. Do you consider that a good attendance ?
—No, far from it.

2858. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Is that here or at Valtos ?
—At Valtos.

2859. Professor Mackinnon.
—Is it much the same here?
—I think it is the same so far as I can make out.

2860. How do you account for the children not attending the Valtos school better than that ?
—I do not know what is the cause of it. About this time of the year poor people are so busy, and if there is any child that can herd and help the parents, they will keep them at home when they are sowing, and planting potatoes. After this the children herd the cattle, and the men who are able to work will go south to earn their living and support their families.

2861. And the children herd the cattle ?
—Yes, there is nobody to look after them except the old people
—old men and women.

2862. And these cannot herd cattle?

2863. And then, when the winter comes, the school is too far away ?
—Yes, and there are bad roads, and burns and the like of that.

2864. But, allowing for all that, do you think the children attend school properly ?

2865. And how do you account for that ?
—That is a thing I cannot make out. If the children were pressed to go to school, they would go.

2866. But they are not ?
—No. As long as they wiU do anything about the place, the parents will not send them to school.

2867. Unless they are compelled ?

2868. Does the school board meet here occasionally?
—Not very often.

2869. Do you think the board are perfectly weU aware of this irregular attendance ?
—I think so.

2870. The officer is quite aware of it?
—Yes, and every one of the members of the board is aware of it.

2871. Do you know if the Board ever press the children to go in any way ?
—They spoke to the parents, but there was no use in that.

2872. You know the law gives them power now to punish the parent if he does not send his child to school. They never tried that mode ?
— No.

2873. Do you think they ought ?
—That is a thing I cannot say ; I do not think the parents will ever send the children to school till they try that.

2874. Then I suppose you think they ought to try it as soon as possible ?
—In some cases.

2875. The chillren are clever enough if they were sent to school?
— They are as clever as children in any part of the world, if they got a good education.

2876. Even as things are, are they getting a better education than they did ten or twenty years ago ?
—I do not think it.

2877. There are better schoolmasters?
—Better schoolmasters, but I do not think there are better scholars.

2878. There are school rates ?
—We are paying school rates, and we werenot paying them in the old time.

2879. And good schoolmasters ?

2880. More of them ?
—Yes, more of them certainly.

2881. And you think there are not better scholars?
—No, I do not think it.

2882. How is that?
—Well, I cannot make out. I have seen many people from Skye going to the army, and some got to high offices in the army; but you will not see any youngsters now going into the army, and that shows the people are falling back in Skye.

2883. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Do you mean in spirit ?
—No, not in spirit.

2884. Professor M'Kinnon.
—In circumstances ?
—In circumstances.

2885. Do you think, if the people were better educated, that would be one inducement at least for some of the people leaving the country, and so relieve the pressure of population?
—I daresay some of the young men would be better to leave the country.

2886. But there are plenty of young men ?
—Well, there are a great many of them leaving the country; but we have plenty of land in Skye if it was given to us. We have thousands upon thousands of acres in Skye under sheep. I have sheep myself.

2887. You heard the whole evidence that was given here to-day ?
— Yes.

2888. That the people are getting worse off?

2889. You quite believe that ?
—I am quite sure of it.

2890. You know the district thoroughly well ?
—From one end to the other.

2891. And the reason they give themselves is, that the crofts were reduced—especially the pasture ground
—and subdivided, and the rents raised ?

2892. Do you also consider that the chief cause?
—Yes. Another is that when the people here got poor, Captain Fraser had a rule—and it was a good rule—that every tenant should pay his rent at the term. Well, poor people could not pay, and they had to go to the bank to raise the money, and perhaps they would have to pay interest to the bank, and to the man who helped them to get the money out of the bank. Perhaps 2s. 6d. or 3s. in the pound would have to be paid to that man. This was ruining the poor people. Perhaps one would borrow £1 0 this year and the next year for twenty years borrowing it that way.

2893. That, of course, was the consequence of the previous inability to Nicolson, pay?
—Yes, lest the people would be moved off the estate. But Captain Fraser did not know anything about that. He was getting his rent from the tenants, but he did not know they were getting it out of the banks or anything of that kind.

2894. And that went on very much?
—Yes, very much till lately. Now they cannot get money out of the banks at all.

2895. What would be your remedy for the whole matter?
—Well more lands and lower rental.

2896. Plenty of land?
—Plenty of land. There are some patches of land on these crofts which have been turned for the last fifty or sixty years every year.

2897. I suppose neither you nor I are old enough to remember forty years ago. At that time was there a rotation of crop ?
—Well, I recollect forty or fifty years ago very well.

2898. Was there rotation of crop among the crofters at that time ?
— Yes, there were plenty of potatoes and plenty of corn.

2899. But were they not cropping the land every year then ?

2900. Were they letting it out now and then ?
—Yes. Most of them had full crofts then, and now there are three families in most cases on each croft.

2901. And were they letting the laud out fallow a year now and again, then ?

2902. You remember that yourself ?

2903. Now, supposing they did get the land, how could they stock it
—Well, I do not know,—if they would get money from Government. The poor people cannot stock it now, but they wiU never get on if they do not get more land.

2904. Do you think that would be a reasonable or probable thing to ask Government for money to stock the land ?
—Well, I think so.

2905. Has that ever been done anywhere?
—Not here; they were not in want of it till now. I recollect when I was a little boy every farmer would kill a cow at Martinmas, and also kill a sheep now and again, and use their own eggs and everything, but now they are selling everything to pay the rent.

2906. I suppose, when you were a boy, you remember perfectly well the homes of the people here ?

2907. Their food and clothing?

2908. Bed clothes ?
—Bed clothes, and everything they wore.

2909. And their food was very much better >
—Well, it was strong Highland food that was used, and it is far better to raise strong-built healthy people, and a nice thing to have.

2910. That is to say they had meal, potatoes, and milk?
—Yes, and fish and beef and mutton, and plenty of butter and cheese.

2911. And to-day ?
—Very little of these. If a man has a wedder or two he will have to sell them.

2912. And what do they have in its place?
—Nothing at all.

2913. The Chairman.
—No, what would they do with tea? There is no beef, no milk, nor anything else; and people going to the south and getting into the habit of drinking tea, when they come to Skye
may drink tea in Skye.

2914. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What is your rental ?

2915. Are you upon Kilmuir estate or Lord Macdonald's?
—Upon Major Fraser's estate, marching with Lord Macdonald.

2916. Has your rent been raised since Major Fraser's time ?

2917. Very much?
—Yes, quite enough.

2918. Would you have any objection to state what it was when you got the property?
—I left home in 1840, and went to Australia. My father then was paying £25 a year clear rental. There was no road money about that time. Now I am paying £80 a year, but there are three crofts added to Loanfearn.

2919. But since the three crofts were added, has your rent been raised?

2920. Professor Mackinnon.
—What was the rent of the three crofts when your father paid £25 ?
—When I got the two crofts they were £5 , 5s. each, and the one croft was £5 ; that is £15, 5s.

2921. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—That would make £40?

2922. And it is £80 now?

2923. The Chairman.
—Have you had the same reduction that other people had 1
—-Yes; Major Fraser gave me £20 down for the last two years. In the receipts it is only from year to year.

2924. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Have you a lease of Loanfearn ?
—No, I never had a lease.

2925. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Nor your forefathers before you?

2926. Professor Mackinnon.
—Did you ever ask a lease?

2927. Do you wish to have it ?

2928. Why not ?
—I do not know. If I were as young as I am old, I would not stay long in Skye.

2929. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Are you still improving the lands ?
— Yes.

2930. Are you afraid of your rent being still more raised ?
—I do not think they can raise it higher than it is.

2931. You have heard some of the previous witnesses state, as a reason for not improving their crofts, their fear of the rents being raised, and of eviction; but you have no such fear ?
—Not the least afraid.

2932. Because your rent is so high, that nobody else will give it ?
—It will not pay me, or anybody else.

2933. Might it not be added to Duntulm 1
—It is too far from Duntulm.

2934. Or Monkstadt ?
—It is too far from Monkstadt.

2935. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Did you ever hear of a Government advancing money to stock farms ?
—Not to small tenants.

2936. Or to large tenants?
—Yes, I believe Mr Martin, Snizort, got money in that way to fence.

2937. Fencing is a different thing, because the land remains; but what about stock ?•
—The land here wants fencing, draining, and stocking. I never heard of the Government giving money for stocking in Great Britain.

2938. Anywhere else?
—Yes, in Australia.

2938a. What proof would there be that the stock would remain
— The Government could not mark the beast as a merchant does, and be there always beside it to see that it does not leave the place ?
—I know that most of the people here to-day, if they do not get help from the Government, will never be able to do any good.

2939. Did you hear about the advances for meal and the marking of the beasts in security ?

2940. Do you know all about that ?

2941. What do you think of it?
—if the merchant would allow the man to sell the beast again, he would sell the beast, and give the money to the merchant, and he has a right to do so.

2942. And is a fair price paid for the meal ?

2943. But the price of the meal is not told to the man 1~No, but when the merchant buys the beast from the tenaut, perhaps the meal is in Glasgow, and perhaps the merchant does not know the price of the meal.

2944. Sheriff Nicolson.
—It was said recently in defence of a man tried before the High Court of Justiciary that it was a common practice for people here to sign the names of other people without asking their leave ; is that so ?
—No, I don't think it is. I never heard of that being practised in Skye. If it was, it was forgery.

2945. It is not correct to say that it is common ?
—It is not.

2946. The want of that road is a very great inconvenience and loss to the people of the district 1
—The want of a road and a postman is a great inconvenience.

2947. Has there been any expenditure upon it for some time ?
—No. Major Fraser finished it to Loch Mealt, and did not go further than that.

2948. As far as you are concerned, is the road useless
—Useless, today.

2949. How many of the members of the school board of Kilmuir live in the parish ?
—Two members.

2950. How many members of the Stenscholl board live in the parish of Stenscholl ?
—There are very few.

2951. Are there any ?
—Yes, there is myself.

2952. Where does the clerk of the school board live 1
—At Portree.

2953. And where does the compulsory officer live?
—About nine miles from this.

2954. How far is he from Lealt ?
—About thirteen miles.

2955. Don't you think that, on the whole, the compulsory clause of the Act, and the services of the officer in making children attend school, are a dead letter in this district ?
—I think there should be one over at this side.

2956. The Chairmnan.
—You spoke of the Government advancing money for the purpose of purchasing stock. It seems to me very doubtful whether Government could do that, but it does seem possible Government might advance money for the erection of buildings and march fences. Do you think people would be able to take up new land if they were helped with the buildings and with the fences ?
—Well, some of them, and others not.

2957. Would it be a great advantage to the present race of crofters if their hill pasture were fenced off from the tacksmen ?
—If would be the making of the poor tenants. Their sheep and cattle are dying. Herds are herding them all day, and they will die with the rot disease. Dogs are after them all day, and if there was any fence the sheep would get a rest.

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