Uig, 10 May 1883 - Peter Mcdonald

PETER M'DONALD, Crofter, Glen Hinisdale (51)—examined.

1556. The Chairman.
—You have a written statement to read to the Commission?
—Yes. At a meeting of crofters in Glen Hinisdale on 26 May 1883,—Malcolm M'Leod, crofter, in the chair,—a resolution was passed and carried. The principal cause of our grievance is the repeated rising of our rent. When Major Fraser got the estate, our rents were from £5, 3s. to £5,10s., and he raised it to £11 and £13,10s., with the exception of two crofts, whose rents were when he became proprietor £11, and he raised them to £24, 10s. and £25, also an assessment of 2s. 5d. per £1, rendering our condition such that, should our rents be reduced to the sum it was when Major Fraser became proprietor, it would take a considerable time before we could clear ourselves from our just debts. Of fifteen crofters our liabilities amount to over £600 sterling, and with but few exceptions our credit is gone also; our stock is unsaleable at this time, owing to their impoverished condition. Our grazing will not carry more than half the stock assigned to it; the death-rate is excessive both summer and winter ; some of us at times lose perhaps the half of his small number. Concerning the cultivating land, the soil is so poor, that on an average for six years back, if any of us makes a boll or two of meal from his own oats, he must buy sowing seed. Our houses are scarcely habitable, which we cannot repair owing to our being so poor, and for want of lime and wood. We also suffer great inconvenience from the want of our roads, which were destroyed by the great flood of 1877, and never was repaired, although we pay for roads, and have done so for a considerable time. We pray that the Royal Commission will give us the land in a way that we can live on, and in such a way that the proprietor cannot raise our rent or remove us, although we would improve our lands. (Signed) MALCOLM M'LEOD.'

1557. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Were you present at the meeting when this was agreed to?

1558. Is Malcolm M'Leod, who was in the chair, present to-day ?
—He is here to-day.

1559. Who chose you for examination to-day?
—The people of Glen Hinisdale.

1560. Did they select anybody besides you?

1561. Is Malcolm M'Leod one of them?

1562. So far as you know, does this express the view of the people of the glen?
—A good part of their wishes.

1563. You mean to say they all agree in this so far as it goes?

1564. In the whole of it ?
—Every man of them.

1565. And in the whole of the paper?

1566. Is there anything else that you would like to say?
—Yes. Our holdings are too small, even if they were of their value.

1567. How many holdings are there in Glen Henisdale now?

1568. How many were there when Captain Fraser got the property?

1569. Then they are not increased in number?

1570. No land has been taken from them?
—Not since the captain came.

1571. Was there land taken from them before that?
—Yes, the hill.

1572. How much hill?
—A great piece.

1573. How long ago is that?
—It may be sixty years ago.

1574. What became of the hill?
—It was added to the Kingsburgh tack.

1575. What stock are they able to keep on the hill they have now ? In the first place, what are they allowed to keep?
—Four cows and fifty sheep and a horse.

1576. Has each of them got that?
—Each of us have not got that, or the half, but that is the summing.

1577. What will the place keep?
—The place will not keep half that number.

1578. What have you got yourself?
—I have six cow and seven young beasts. I buy grass every year.

1579. Have you a horse?
—Yes, two horses.

1580. And sheep?
—Yes, about fifty old sheep and twenty hoggs.

1581. What rent are you paying?
—£24, 10s.

1582. Is yours a double lot ?
—Yes, mine is a double lot.

1583. Then the other tenants will have about half the stock that you have?
—Yes; the other tenants have a little more than the half that I have.

1584. There are thirteen crofts and two double ones?

1585. What stock are the single crofts keeping?
—Two cows, two young beasts, and about twenty or thirty sheep.

1586. Including hoggs ?

1587. Any horse?
—They have a horse also.

1588. Whom do you take the extra grass from?
—I get the grazing of a cow for 2s. 6d. in any part of the estate; that is to say, not in any part, but in most of it.

1589. Do you get it from the crofters or the large farmers?
—From the crofters. You will not get it from the large farmers.

1590. Is that in summer ?

1591. For how long do you get the grass for half a crown?
—For half the year, from Whitsunday. The small tenants, many of them, have not got cows. They have become so poor, and they are glad to let their grazing in this way.

1592. Then it is not the case generally that the people cannot keep the summing of their place?
—Because they have not got the stock on it. They have become so poor; they have not got cattle, and they make use of it in this way.

1593. How do you keep these cattle in winter that you graze out in summer?
—From those who have got no cattle themselves.

1594. Do you buy fodder ?

1595. How much fodder do you usually buy?
—Two stacks sometimes, or one stack of corn.

1596. What do they cost you?
—According to the year, £3 or £4.

1597. Is that for one or two stacks?
—For one stack, and sometimes £2.

1598. You spend from £2 to £4 usually upon fodder in the year?
— Yes, often.

1599. The crofters ask that they should get the croft in such a way that the proprietor could not raise their rents if they improved the land. Would their lands bear improvement ?
—Yes, some of them are improvable ; the land is bad, but some of it is improvable.

1600. Would they improve it if they were not afraid the rent would be raised ?
—Yes, no doubt of that.

1601. Have any improvements been effected within your memory?
— Yes.

1602. Was the raising of the rent due to these improvements having been made ?
—I cannot say that, but it was when we had improved our crofts that the rent was raised.

1603. Was the rent raised more than once?

1604. How many times?
—Three times, I think.

1605. When was the first?
—Shortly after the captain got the property.

1606. Were there improvements made after their rents were raised the first time?
—Yes, some of them. Most of them were improved a little.

1607. In what way? Did they trench the ground?
—Drains and trenches.

1608. They do trench the ground ?

1609. Was there the same rise upon each of the fifteen?
—Not altogether. 

1610. Did those who improved most suffer the greatest rise?
—I do not think so with regard to Glen Henisdale, but it was the case in Glen Uig where I first was.

1611. Then it is not the same fifteen tenants who are in Glen Henisdale now who were there from the first?

1612. How many of them are changed?
—There are five new tenants.
What became of the five who occupied these places before ?
—They became so poor that they preferred leaving the place.

1613. Where did they go?
—Some to Portree, some to Glasgow, some to Australia.

1614. Are they doing well in Australia?
—Yes, those who are in Australia are doing well.

1615. Are there any people in this country who would care to go to Australia if there were means provided?
—I do not know, but I believe there are.

1616. You mentioned they are £600 in debt. Are those debts to the meal-dealers, to the landlord, or to the bank principally?
—Both to the landlord and the meal-dealer and the bank.

1617. To go back about five years, what would be the amount of the debts on the place then?
—I cannot say; not the third part of that.

1618. What is the difference between your own indebtedness now and your indebtedness five years ago ?
—I was not in debt at all five years ago.

1619. You have got into debt now?

1620. To others besides the proprietor?

1621. Has it been the custom for some time to pay the rent by bills drawn upon the banks ?
—Yes, some of them.

1622. Had they anything to pay for these loans of money, besides interest ?

1623. To the persons who granted the bills?

1624. At what rate was it,—how much per pound?
—Some Is. or 2s. in the pound. They say so.

1625. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Do you mean for first granting, or for a renewal ?
—I cannot say particularly about that.

1626. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Were the rents regularly paid in Glen Hinisdale ?
—Yes, till about a year or two ago.

1627. Was there a proposal last year to remove the people to Australia ?

1628. What was the proposal made by Captain Fraser?
—He was going to give us two years' rent back, and to take our effects at a valuation.

1629. Where was it proposed you should emigrate to?
—Some of them were thinking of going to America and to Australia, and others could not emigrate at all. There were those who could not pay the cart to take their effects to Portree.

1630. Were some of you willing to go?

1631. Most of the people, I think?
—I believe so.

1632. What was the reason why the thing was broken off?
—I do not know. Some of them drew back. We believed that those who drew back had been bribed to do so,—bought to do so.

1633. By whom?
—I do not know.

1634. Did you agree to go on condition that the whole of the people should go, and sign a paper to that effect?
—Yes, they agreed to go if all would go.

1635. And some then refused to go ?

1636. And then you considered that the agreement was broken by that, and that you were not bound to go?
—The landlord drew back from his promise.

1637. Because you would not all go ?

1638. How many people were there that drew back?
—I do not know, about half of them.

1639. Have you anything to go upon except suspicion in regard to the alleged bribery of these people ?
—I have only suspicion.

1640. Have these people shown any difference in their means or condition from the others since that time?

1641. You have a schoolhouse at Glen Hinisdale?

1642. One of the board schools?

1643. Is it well attended?
—We have no schoolmaster just now.

1644. How long has it been vacant ?
—From last winter we have not had a schoolmaster.

1645. What is the reason of that?
—I do uot know.

1646. Is there a school board in the parish?

1647. Who is the chairman?
—I do not know but it is the Rev. Mr Lamont.

1648. Who is the clerk?
—Mr Macdonald, Portree, factor.

1649. Have any members of the board ever visited the school or had a meeting upon the subject there within the last year ?
—No, none of them visited us. They hold their meetings at Kensaleyre.

1650. Have you a board officer ?

1651. Where does he live?
—At Uig.

1652. How often does he visit you ?
—I do not know.

1653. Did you ever see him there ?
—There is no occasion for him to visit us when there is no schoolmaster.

1654. About how many children are there in the place between the ages of five and thirteen ?
—I should think there are twenty-five ; perhaps there are more than that.

1655. And have these been getting no teaching for the last half year ?
—They have been getting no teaching for the last half year.

1656. Mr Cameron.
—Did you hear the evidence given by the last witness ?
—Yes, I heard the most part of it.

1657. Do you agree that a croft of 10 acres, with six cows, is the least upon which a family can maiutain itself for the whole year in comfort?
—It would be little enough. Ten acres of ground will not on any part of this estate keep six cows. It would not keep three cows with us.

1658. Of course arable land is meant,—the wintering?

1659. Now, on your croft you have six cows and what you have told us. Do you consider that enough to keep a family for the whole year?
—It would not support a family for a month, without live stock.

1660. But you have your sheep. I am speaking of your whole holding ?
—Our township is the worst land on the estate.

1661. What do you sell off your croft in the shape of cattle and sheep and wool ?
—About three wedders, each tenant, on an average. That was the case last year.

1662. How many cattle?
—Our whole township only sold four cattle last year. We are only two of us, and the two of us sold of the increase of our stock three stirks and one two-year-old.

1663. Out of that, what came to your share in money value?
—About £15 or £16.

1664. Was last year a bad year, or an average year, or a good year?
—Some years the yield might be worse than that, some years might be better.

1665. A good average year, in fact?

1666. How many acres of ground are there on the double croft?
—Not more than 10 acres.

1667. Do you consider the 10 acres of arable ground, with the produce of your cows and £16 derived from the sale of beasts, is sufficient to keep a family comfortably during the year?
—No, it would not keep my family in comfort.

1668. Would it require to be doubled in order to keep the family in comfort, or would half as much again be sufficient ?
—We would need double that.

1669. Is all your ground alternately planted with potatoes and corn, or do you ever lay down grass in rotation?
—We can only leave out very little of it, and it would require very much manure to put it in heart to yield any crop. It would go back to heather in three years.

1670. As a matter of fact, do you sow it out in grass at all?

1671. Do you ever put on any artificial manure or lime?
—We put guano on potatoes and turnips.

1672. There is no sea-ware about?
—We have no sea-ware. It is too far away from us. We use a little.

1673. Does anybody ever put any lime on their land?

1674. Is lime expensive where you come from?

1675. Very dear ?

1676. What do you mean by the statement in the resolution you have submitted that the death-rate was excessive. Is it cattle or people

1677. Do you consider your rent too high ?

1678. What would you consider a fair rent for your holding?
—I cannot say what would be a reasonable rent for the ugly place. If you ask me what would be a reasonable rent in the place which I had before, it was £ 8 when Captain Fraser became proprietor.

1679. And you thought that a reasonable rent?
—Yes; that was in Glen Uig.

1680. What stock had you then?
—Seven cows, big and little.

1681. How many acres of arable ground ?
—Between 9 and 10 acres.

1682. Any sheep ?
—Up to fifty a piece.

1683. Why had the people any suspicion there was any bribing or undue influence used to induce the half of them to draw back from their undertaking to go to Australia ?
—I was thinking that the landlord could keep them to the agreement when every one of them had signed it.

1684. But whom did you or the people suspect of having used influence ? Who got them to change their minds.
—I thought it was from the landlord it came.

1685. What interest could the landlord have had in not wishing the people to emigrate ?
—That the place was dear, and I do not think anybody else would give the rent for it,—that he would not not get the same rent for it.

1686. But you think nobody except the landlord could have had any interest in endeavouring to dissuade the people from going abroad ?
—I did not think that anybody else had influence.

1687. Did you never had any suspicion of anybody else having influence ?

1688. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Who has got the land from which you were removed when you went to your present place ?
—The innkeeper, Mr Urquhart.

1689. Were you benefited by the change, or the reverse?
—I was much the worse of it.

1690. Did you go to the place which you call the worst part upon the property, because there was no other place open to you ?

1691. Who was there before you?
—A crofter who left the place and went to Glasgow.

1692. Was that man starved out, or what made him go ?
—It was getting poorer he was.

1693. Who is Mr Urquhart, whom we hear about? Does he belong to the locality, or is he a stranger?
—He does not belong to this island.

1694. Where did he come from, and when ?
—He came with the captain ; I do not know from where.

1695. Can you give us any idea how many people have been dispossessed for the sake of Mr Urquhart?
—It was not Mr Urquhart who had the place then.

1696. Who was it?
—The landlord himself had the land first which Mr Urquhart has now.

1697. How many people were removed in consequence of the landlord coming here, from the lands now occupied by Mr Urquhart?
—Twenty families were in the upper part, and more, and cottars besides ; and twenty-three families from the lower ground.

1698. And all that has occurred within a comparatively recent period ?
—It was in Captain Fraser's time.

1699. Can you say of your own knowledge, in regard to those people who have been removed, that their circumstances are better or worse by this removal ?
—I know that they are not the better of their removal.

1700. I suppose there is no fishing about your place?
—It is far from the sea.

1701. I think you made some complaint that you have no road. Will you explain that ?
—We are two miles from the country road. There is a cart track, but the floods spoiled it, and carried away a sort of bridge that was on it.

1702. The Chairman
—You stated that the rent of the crofts in your place had been raised two or three times. Is that the case?

1703. When the rents were raised, did the crofters make an earnest remonstrance to the proprietor, and represent that it would be a hardship ?
—We were not seeing the landlord at all. It was the factor who was raising the rent upon us.

1704. Did they make an earnest remonstrance to the factor?

1705. Who was the factor?
—Mr Alexander M'Donald.

1706. Do you consider that the rent of the crofts generally on this estate, and particularly at your own place, are higher thin the rents of the corresponding crofts on other estates in the island ?

1707. You spoke of certain improvements that had been made at a previous period on the croft. Did the landlord contribute to make those improvements, or were they made by the crofters?
—We got a little help from the landlord.

1708. In what respect?
—He sent the ground officer to value the work when he raised the rents last.

1709. Did he make any payment ?
—I got £6.

1710. Has the landlord been in the habit of visiting the place himself and interesting himself in the condition of the people, or are your relations entirely with the factor and the ground officer ?
—I have seen the landlord once or twice in our place.

1711. When you are in debt to the bank, what rate of interest do you pay to the bank for advances?
—About 1s. in the pound.

1712. Do you make any other payment to the bank except the simple rate of 5 per cent. ?

1713. Are the crofters in the habit of getting their neighbours or other people to be their security to the bank?
—They say so.

1714. When they obtain other persons to be security, are they in the habit of paying anything to these other persons ?

1715. How much have you heard they pay ?
—I heard that some were getting 2s. in the pound, and others 1s.

1716. What class of persons are these who became security ? Are they friends or neighbours, or are they tradesmen or other persons outside ?
— Any one who may have money in the bank and whom the bank will accept.

1717. Does the ground officer or anybody connected with the estate ever become security for the people?
—No, I have not known a case of that kind.

1718. Did you hear the former witness say it would be desirable to make new £10 crofts in some other place?

1719. In case new crofts were made in new places, and if the Government was inclined to assist the people in purchasing these crofts for themselves, do you think that any people here would be inclined to accept the offer and repay the Government by instalments ?
—I know that they would be willing.

1720. Would they be able to pay the Government the interest of the money which the Government advanced, and would they be able to pay instalments to cancel the debt?
—I should think it would be easier for them to pay that than as they are.

1721. Speaking of the hill pasture attached to the crofts, is the hill pasture ever fenced round against the neighbouring farms ?

1722. Would it be a great convenience to the crofters if fences were put round the hill pasture ?

1723. Would they be disposed to contribute to the expense if the landlord undertook part of it?
—I am sure they would, if they had the place in such a way that it would pay them.

1724. Have you any other remark that you wish to make before retiring ?

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