NORMAN STEWART, Crofter and Salmon Fisher, Valtos (50)—examined.
2376. The Chairman.
—What is the size of your croft ?
—About 7 or 8 acres.
2377. Hill pasture ?
—Yes, there is a kind of pasture
2378. What is the summing of your croft—the stock it is calculated to keep?
—Six cows, one horse, and about twenty sheep. That is the summing for the whole croft. I have a half croft.
2379. You gave us 7 or 8 acres; is that the whole croft, or what you have ?
—The whole croft.
2380. Then tell us what you really have yourself ?
—Half a croft.
2381. How many cows?
2382. Do you keep a horse ?
2383. How many sheep ?
—About seven or eight.
2384. And no young cattle?
—None over a year, and the sheep have gone entirely this year.
2385. What is your rent?
—£7, 10s. for my half croft.
2386. Is that your regular rent, or is it with the reduction which was made two years ago ?
—That is the highest rent.
2387. Subtracting the reduction made two years ago, how much do you now pay ? How much did you pay last year?
—There was a permanent abatement of £1 , 2s. 6d. two years ago, and 5s. in the pound beyond that.
2388. Does the £7, 10s. include the permanent reduction, or is the permanent reduction to be taken off that?
—-It is to be taken off that.
2389. That reduces it to £6, 7s. 6d.%
2390. Then have we to take 5s. in the pound off that again?
—Yes, we got 5 s. in the pound. We pay rates upon the old rent.
2391. How much was the rent you paid for 1882, including rates?
— £5, and -Is. or 5s.
2392. £5, 5s. for two cows, one horse, and seven or eight sheep. Has any hill pasture been taken off the crofters in your memory ? Has the hill pasture been reduced ?
—It has. A piece of the pasture was taken from the one end, and that overcrowds the rest of the township.
2393. Was it more than the half of the whole that was taken away?
— No ; the best of it went.
2394. When the hill pasture was taken away, was the rent reduced ?
— No, I never heard of the rent being reduced, but always being raised.
2395. But still you said that £1 2s. 6d. was taken off two years ago?
—That was taken off nowhere; the authorities had gone wrong in the summing.
2396. How much was the rent in your earliest recollection?
—£3, 13s. for the half croft in which I am now.
2397. What year was that?
—Before Captain Fraser became proprietor of the estate.
2398. What do the people whom you represent complain of? What is their complaint ?
—They have enough to complain of in the high rents that are exacted and the increase of rents. They had quite enough to do as the rents were before that increase.
2399. What do they desire to have ?
—-More land, upon which they can make a living without having to go away from the crofts to other places. They cannot remain at home more than a month in spring and a month in harvest, with poverty.
2400. No other complaints ?
—About the marches. We do not get justice about the marches. When the sheep are poinded, perhaps they will be two days in a pinfold before we get notice, and still paying
money for them. A great many of them die with poverty and "pook" in the winter, as happened this year.
2401. Were you freely chosen as a delegate by the people without any influence ?
2402. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You said they could not remain at home on account of poverty. You yourself are a salmon fisher ?
—Yes, more than twenty years.
2403. You get employment at home ?
—For a while of the year.
2404. For how long in the year do you get employment at home ?
— About four months.
2405. Which months may those be?
—In the summer, up to the middle of September.
2406. At what time of year do you leave home?
—In the beginning of winter.
2407. Where do you go for employment then ?
—To every place where I can best find employment.
2408. Where did you go last year ?
—I was not from home last year.
2409. Where were you the year before last ?
2410. How long would you be away from home when you were in Badenoch?
—Until it was time for the spring work.
2411. What money would you bring home with you?
—I would not take much money home from any place during the short winter day; but I make a good wage off the fishing.
2412. Have you a family?
2413. You go from home to support yourself?
—I must go from home, as the land won't support us. I did not make a boll of meal for the last eight years on my land.
2414. It is the money you make on the salmon fishing that keeps the family when you are away?
—Yes; and were it not for that, It would have been long since I were in my grave with starvation.
2415. Last year was a worse year than usual, was in not?
—Yes; worse than any that has come yet.
2416. Why did not you go from home last year?
—Because I had a sick family. I lost in one year almost everything I had in the world.
2417. You refer to your stock?
2418. What extent of land and what amount of stock would you think sufficient to keep you for a year here?
—From 15 to 20 acres of arable land.
2419. And what hill stock ?
—Ten cows, two horses, and fifty sheep.
2420. Is there land in the country that would give as much as that to every man ?
2421. What rent do you think would be a reasonable rent for that extent of land?
—From £10 to £12.
2422. You complain of your marches. Is the march line not a natural division between the croft lands and the big farms ? What sort of a march is it ?
—A river in part and a dyke or something.
2423. Is it a march over which sheep would naturally trespass ?
—Yes, if they were allowed.
2424. Would it be easy to find a march over which sheep would not be inclined to trespass?
—Yes, if the river were followed.
2425. Would it be increasing your grounds very much to follow the river
2426. Very much?
—It would give us a good bit more.
2427. Has any attempt been made to fence the marches here 1
—We could not get a fence with poverty. The proprietors never made any endeavour to put up a fence, and we considered that, as it is the estate march, the proprietors should have a fence there.
2428. Who are the two proprietors there
—On this side Major Fraser, and Lord Macdonald on the other.
2429. Who is the tacksman on the other side?
—Mr Stewart, Scorrybreck.
2430. Was it he who was poinding the sheep ?
—He was doing part of that, and his predecessor was doing the same. We paid in one day about £1 0 to Mr Stewart's predecessor in the farm.
2431. Who was that?
—-Mr William M'Leod.
2432. Did Mr M'Leod complain to them frequently before this of the trespass of the sheep ?
—We heard no complaints, but we had a herd, and he had a herd by the marches.
2433. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You said that a piece of your hill was taken away. To whom was it given
—It was added to Duntulm. It was Mr Stewart who had the farm then.
2434. You also stated that the best of the hill was taken away, and what was left was not worth much ?
—Yes, and if it was good it would have been taken away.
2435. How many crofters are there in Valtos ?
2436. Is that the same number that has been in your recollection, or have they been increased ?
—They are not the same.
2437. How many were there in your recollection first?
— Six families.
2438. Where did the other five come from ?
—Some of them from other townships.
2439. Mention what townships ?
—One from Loanfearn, another came from Garos, another from Balmeanach. Others belong to the place.
2440. What became of the crofts when the strangers came there ?
— The one from Loanfearn was added to the farm of Loanfearn. The one from Garos had no lands there.
2441. What I want to bring out is this, as regards any of the people who came into Valtos from other places, were their crofts added to any of the two large farms ?
—The Loanfearn one was added.
2442. What is Loanfearn? is it a part of the big farm, or is it a separate farm ?
—A separate farm.
2443. What rent does it pay?
2444. Who had the farm of Loanfearn at the time the crofter's were removed
—The present tenant, Murdo Nicolson.
2445. Are the people in Valtos, speaking generally, very poor?
—They are poorer than I can tell. It is hardly credible. When they go for a boll of meal from the dealer, the animal the dealer has to get for it must be marked before they can get the meal.
2446. Is it consistent with your knowledge that the people are becoming poorer year by year, and their circumstances becoming worse?
—Yes. It is a poor place that does not give a return.
2447. Do you attribute their poverty to any extent to their being deprived of the hill pasture which has been referred to as being added to?
—They were not the better of it. It did contribute.
2448. Has the increase of rent you referred to also contributed to their poverty ?
—It is the rents that brought us first to poverty. We were in good circumstances until then.
2449. The seasons of late have not been favourable. Is that also an element in their poverty ?
—Yes, very heavily. There was one year we lost everything. Everything was blown over into the sea Their crops were delaying the progress of the vessels in the sea.
2450. You are a fisherman. Do you think anything could be done in the locality with which you are immediately connected by putting up quays, where boats could run out in almost all weathers?
—Yes, it would.
2451. Has Valtos a considerable frontage to the sea? Is there any place where such a quay could be erected?
—I do not think there is any place on our shore ; but there is a place down here where it could be done.
2452. Is that at Staffin?
2453. Would that be a central place for a considerable number of the crofters who are also fishermen ? Would that be a convenient place fur them to have a quay at?
—It would not be very handy to them, but it would be better than wanting anything of the kind. It would do a great deal of good to us, if steamers were calling. There is nothing of that kind with us. We have not even a road, and we pay road money.
2454. What is the nearest place the public road is to your township of Valtos?
—The road just reaches the march of Valtos. There was a road a number of years back, but it was allowed to go into disuse.
2455. Do you represent, as a delegate here to-day, any other township than Valtos?--No.
2456. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How often have the rents of Valtos been raised since you have been there?
2457. When was the first rise?
—About twenty-six years ago.
2458. Soon after Captain Fraser came?
2459. Before that was done, were you all made to sign the rules of the estate ?
—Yes, but we did not think that that was to come on us.
2460. When you signed the rules you did not expect your rents would be immediately raised ?
—No, if we had done so, we would not have signed them.
2461. When was the next rise ?
—About ten years ago.
2462. How much was your own rent raised the first time?
—More than £1.
2463. How much was the rise the second time ?
—Five shillings for the doctor.
2464. When was the third rise ?
—About six years ago.
2465. How much was then put on?
—From £4, 14s. to £7, 10s. altogether.
2466. Were the rents of all the people of Valtos raised in that way?
— All in the same way.
2467. After the last rise, did the people complain to the landlord or the factor about this ?
—They went to Uig, and refused to sign for this increase.
2468. What did the factor say?
—The factor asked us to try it for a year.
2469. Then at the end of that year what was done ?
—We were paying it for two or three years after that until we found the burden too heavy for us.
2470. Then you refused to pay ?
2471. What passed between you and the factor on the subject?
—He threatened to remove us altogether if we did not pay the increase.
2472. What was the end of the matter?
—We got a slight reduction.
2473. How much?-
—£1, 2s. 6d.
2474. Was that reduction given to all the tenants at Valtos?
2475. Are the assessments for roads and other rates taken off you along with the rent ?
2476. Are the assessments laid upon the old rent, or upon the reduced rent ?
—On the big rent.
2477. Who gets these assessments ?
—I do not know; but we give them to the factor.
2478. What has been done in the way of road-making here since Captain Fraser came to the property ?
—He did not make any roads for us. We have to carry everything on our backs. He carried the road so far as it suited him, but no further.
2479. When was the road made which extends from the high road to the boundary of Valtos ?
—About twelve years ago.
2480. Was the foundation of the road made for 3 miles or so at the time of the destitution ?
—Yes, and we had it up through our place, though it was not valued.
2481. Was the whole road, as far as Valtos, made at the time of the destitution ?
—Yes, and further. It reached Loanfearn.
2482. Has it ever been completed to Loanfearn ?
—It was made to Loanfearn by the destitution committee, but to the march of Valtos it was finished by Captain Fraser.
2483. How many miles was the road that Captain Fraser made fitted for conveyances to go upon?
—I cannot tell
2484. How many miles is it from Stenscholl inn to Loanfearn ?
—About 4 miles.
2485. How many miles is it from that to the boundary of Captain Fraser's property along the shore?
—Hardly 1 mile.
2486. And it never has been finished -
—He left more than 3 miles of it unfinished.
2487. Is that the extent of Captain Fraser's improvements on this part of his property, so far as road-making is concerned?
2488. And the people pay assessments for the use of that road?
2489. Is there any other road in the district of which they get the benefit ?
—There is no other road whatever.
2490. What other improvements has Captain Fraser made on this part of his property ?
—I do not know of any.
2491. Has he not built some good houses ?
—I do not know of any except the inn.
2492. What inn
—The inn down here.
2493. Is that not a shooting lodge ?
2494. Has he built no other houses?
—He did not make any houses for his tenants.
2495. Has the old inn been improved in any way ?
—No, I do not know of any improvement.
2496. Where do you all get your meal ground?
2497. Are you obliged to send all your corn to that mill?
2498. Is it in good condition ?
2499. Does that do the people injury in any way?
—Many a loss.
2500. Is that mill the property of Major Fraser ?
—It is in name of him
2501. Have you any complaint as to the miller's charges in that mill ? Do you consider them too high ?
—I heard complaints about that.
2502. Can you give any instance ?
—I do not know of any except that I hear from people who go there. I do not go there.
2503. How often do you get corn ground there yourself ?
—I did not grind any for the last eight years. I had none.
2504. Then, do you buy all the meal you use in your own family
— Every grain.
2505. Where do you generally buy it ?
—From a dealer beside myself at times, and from the south at other times.
2506. How much meal do you buy in the year?
—I am eleven bolls out since last Martinmas.
2507. How many are in your family ?
2508. How much more will you want between this and Martinmas
— About as much again.
2509. What has been the price of meal per boll ?
—22s. and 23s.
2510. The Chairman.
—You spoke of the great poverty of the people. Will you tell us whether the women and children are in want of clothes.
—They are poorer than I can tell. They are in want of clothes and in want of food.
2511. Are any of them actually in want of warm and good clothing?
2512. Are the people in want of bed clothes for the night?
—Plenty of them are in want; others have them.
2513. Are there any families who have no blankets at all?
2514. What do they use for their bed clothes when they have no proper blankets?
—Perhaps they have bags over them at night.
2515. Are there many of the children that have no shoes and stocking ?
— Yes, and cannot go to school for the want of them.
2516. Is the house here used as an inn at present or as a shooting lodge ?
—I cannot say.
2517. Is it an inn to which travellers go?
2518. Are there many strangers who come about here —travellers?
— They will not come our way for the want of a road.
2519. Do the strangers spend any money, or do any good to the people ?
—No, they make no good to us.
2520. Do you wish to say anything more before you retire ?
—I have nothing more to say.