Waternish, Skye, 14 May 1883 - Donald Mckinnon

DONALD M'KINNON, Crofter, Hallistra (51)—examined.

2958. The Chairman.
—How long have you been upon your croft ?
—I am twenty years paying rent.

2959. On the same croft ?
—Not on the same croft.

2960. Have you been freely selected as a delegate of the people of Hallistra ?
—Yes, it is they who sent me here.

2961. Who is the proprietor?
—Captain Macdonald.

2962. Will you be so good as to state what the hardships and grievances are of which the people complain whom you represent?
—That we are confined to small crofts, and that we have no place on which to graze our cows other than at tether.

2963. How are they grazed at tether?
—It has a peg at the one end. We would like to have a bit of hill pasture for our cows, if we could get it. The crofts which we have have been cultivated incessantly for the past eighty or one hundred years, and are now exhausted. We cannot keep horses. We have no grazing for them, and we have to do the harrowing ourselves. I need to use a double quantity of seed in sowing my land, the land is so bad. I have no further complaint to make.

2964. Is there any complaint about sea-weed ?
—We get a little sea-weed for payment.

2965. Can you suggest anything that could be done to improve your condition besides what you have said?
—I think if we had more land that would enable us to rest what we have been continuously cultivating. We would not require much (see Appendix A. VII)

2966. How about the road? Is there a road about this place or near this place ?
—The road passes my house.

2967. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many people are in the township you represent ?
—Nine crofters, and the Captain's herd. These nine pay rent.

2968. Are they all in the same position as yourself ?
—Yes, very much.

2969. You want more land. Is there land convenient which this township could get from the laird?
—Yes, above our houses; the land which our forefathers had.

2970. Has that place a name ?
—Upper Hallistra.

2971. How long ago was this taken from you?
—About forty-two or forty-three years ago, when the township was divided into lots.

2972. Was that in the time of the present family?
—In the time of Major Macdonald, Captain Macdonald's father.

2973. Have the people asked the present laird at any time to get that hill back?
—We asked it once or twice. We have done so this year. We have repeatedly spoken for an addition to our lots and grazing.

2974. And what was the answer?
—He did not give us any encouragement that we would get it.

2975. In whose possession is it at this moment ?
—In his own possession, under sheep and cattle.

2976. I understand you to say you are not complaining of the rent?
— The rent is very high for all that we can keep.

2977. When was it last raised1?
—To the best of my recollection, it is the same rent still which is laid on the crofts. The present landlord did not raise the rent at any rate.

2978. Is your present township near where we are now sitting?
— Within two miles of it.

2979. Are you on the shore?

2980. Are they generally fishermen ?
—The most. We would be fishing when there was nothing else to do.

2981. There is a harbour here which we have seen this morning— a nice little place, which does not seem to be much used; what is the reason of that ?
—That is a port which the captain built for his own boats, but he does not prevent anybody else from using it. They have full liberty to use it.

2982. Is there any other landing place ?
—There is a small quay they are working at. The fishermen land at the upper quay.

2983. It is not a protection for boats to lie in, is it?

2984. Is there a good deal of fish got in this bay here ?
—At one time a good deal of fish was got in the bay, but for some time past it has been going past.

2985. We hear in every place we go to the same story that fish were once got, but now they are scarce. Can you give any explanation of that ?
—I cannot explain it, but I think it is the hand of Providence.

2986. You are not able to assign any cause yourself?

2987. What is the extent of your arable ground?
—About 5 or 6 acres of all sorts, but there is part of it under the name of land which is not cultivatable. It would cost from £12 to £8 an acre to trench it to make it good land.

2988. How much are you actually cultivating now?
—I think about 4 acres.

2989. Have you ever thought of improving that land, if it is capable of improvement ?
—Yes, I have thought of that. Money would improve it. Some of the stones would take four or five men, as strong as myself, to lift them. I would need 100 or 200 barrels of gunpowder to clean the lot

2990. Then, you think that land practically is not capable of improvement ?
—It is, by spending money on it.

2991. But, practically, it is not capable of improvement?
—It would not pay for a long time to come.

2992. Mr Cameron.
—Do you speak of the land of your own croft, or does the same apply to your neighbours ?
—Most of my neighbours' crofts are in the same state. I think my own lot is as bad as another with stones.

2993. So, in fact, there is no land capable of improvement so as to add to the arable acreage of your croft, or your neighbours' crofts ?

—I am there twenty-six years paying rent, and it is two cows I am able to keep, and the grazing is scant enough for them
—mostly on the tether, and starving.

2995. Is that the case with your neighbours in the township ?
—They are not much better.

2996. But two cows is what they keep?
—Some of them are keeping only one cow. When I have a young beast I am obliged to sell it at the end of the year, having no grass for it.

2997. What is your rent?
—£7, 15s. of bare rent; £8, 10s. with rates. _

2998. Are you and your neighbours in poor circumstances ?
—Poor enough. There may be one man who has a cow, and five perhaps may be claiming it.

2999. You mean he has borrowed money upon it ?
—No, but we are getting meal from the merchants in Glasgow, and shoemakers, and rent, and everything. It may be that five may be claiming an interest in that cow and the value of the cow not able to pay them.

3000. Is that the case generally amongst your neighbours in the township ?
—Yes, they are mostly in debt. In families in which there may be four young men working, even these may have enough to do to clear their families.

3001. Since when did that state of things begin ?
—Since the potato failure. People have been poor ever since the land has been lotted, and the pasture taken.

3002. Has it been getting greatly worse within the last few years, or has this state of things been constant ?
—We were poor enough, but this year has sunk us entirely in debt. We were poor enough before, so poor that we could not get a boll of meal on credit.

3003. And this year has been the worst ?

3004. Do you account for that in any measure by the loss of the grazing forty years ago ?
—We were not, certainly, the better of the deprivation of the hill. We need to sell the stirk at a year old, having no place to keep it in.

3005. Is your arable ground sufficient to winter more cattle if you had grazing for them in summer?
—I might be able to winter another beast
— a two-year-old ; but if I had more land I would be able to bring in another bit under cultivation.

3006. Now, will you explain exactly what you mean by the tethering ?
—The place is so confined, and the corn is so close to where we have to graze them, that we must have them tethered, otherwise they would be in our corn. There is no room to feed them otherwise. When they see the corn and the grass, and they hungry, there would be no keeping them back without the tether.

3007. Could you not drive them to the hill in the morning, and leave them there ?
—We have no hill at all. The laird has a dyke to the roadside.

3008. Where do you tether your cows?
—On our crofts, on that part of our arable land which we leave out for grass. Part of our ground is so bad that it will never grow grass, and we leave that out.

3009. Is there any common grazing at all within the township ?
—No, nothing; not 3 inches of hill pasture.

3010. To whom do you pay for your sea-ware?
—To the ground officer, and the ground officer hands it to the landlord.

3011. Has that always been the practice?
—I never saw it otherwise but one year.

3012. What do you pay for it?
—Is. 6d. a hundred-weight.

3013. How much is that a cart load?
—A cart would not contain a scale.

3014. How much is a scale ?
—One hundred-weight.

3015. Do you really mean Is. 6d. per cwt. ?
—Yes, the drift ware; we cut the sea-weed for ourselves.

3016. You don't really mean to say you pay Is. 6d. per cwt. for seaware ?
—It is not actually weighed, but the ground officer points out the space of the sea-shore on which we are to cut the sea-ware. He is marking out a lot of the seashore on which each has a right to cut.

3017. How many cwts. go to one of the country carts?
—The scale to which I refer is more than a cart-load; sometimes twelve to fifteen cartloads for Is. 6d., and at other times three and four. We measure the sea-ware in creels, and there should be sixty creels in the scale.

3018. How much do you pay in the year for your sea-weed?
—Some of us take 2s. worth and others 2s. 6d. worth, and down to Is. as their families are able to manage.

3019. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You say you make a large part of your living by fishing ?

3020. If you had hill pasture, and a larger extent of arable land, would that not rather prevent you pursuing the employment of a fisherman ?
—It would; but where there are large families, they will do the spring work in three or four weeks with the cas-chrom.

3021. Do you think there is more to be made at the sea here than is to be made on the land ?
—Yes, if there was fishing, but the sea cannot be depended upon. The land is surer.

3022. Do you know if, when the hill pasture was taken away from them, it was done with the view of turning their attention more to fishing ?
—I do not know.

3023. You never heard of it ?
—I never heard of that.

3024. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Do they fish for cod and ling here ?
—Yes, pretty often. When they don't work at the land, they are working at fishing and at lobsters.

3025. What price do you get for cod and ling?
—Is. for the ling; I am not sure, however.

3026. Is it cured here ?
—Some of the fishers do cure, and send to Glasgow themselves.

3027. Have they generally good boats ?
—The boats are not bad; they are improving. They are much better than they were in our early recollection.

3028. Did they get new ones for those broken in 1881 ?

3029. Professor Mackinnon.
—You say you have 5 or 6 acres of arable land. Does that include the pasture land?
—That includes all my holding.

3030. And for that you pay £7, 15s. of rent?

3031. And £8, 10s. including taxes?

3032. I think you also said there was no land that could be made arable outside ?
—There is arable land outside of my holding; what my forefathers had.

3033. And I suppose there is plenty of pasture land ?

3034. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Does the captain give employment to a good many of the people here ?
—He used to give some work. There was not so much work these last two or three years.

3035. Does he go about much among them ?

3036. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—Does he live all the year round here?
—Yes, unless he goes south on business.

3037. The Chairman.
—You stated that about forty-two years ago the hill pasture was taken away from you ?

3038. Was it only hill pasture, or was there arable land taken away at the same time ?
—The arable land was taken from us at the same time; arable land on which they used to grow potatoes and corn.

3039. You said that this land was now joined to a farm which was in the occupation of the landlord?

3040. If the proprietor gave them back that land, would it spoil the farm altogether ? Would it take up the whole of the landlord's farm, and spoil it, or would there be enough left to the landlord for a good farm?
—It would take a piece out of the landlord's holding, but he has a good deal more besides that.

3041. Do you mean a good deal more on the same spot, connected with it
—Yes, marching with our township.

3042. May that farm in the possession of the landlord be called his home farm—his own particular farm attached to his residence ?
—No, it is three or four miles from his dwelling-house, and some of it is six miles from his dwelling-house. He keeps sheep and cattle upon it.

3043. Has the proprietor got another farm nearer his residence in his own hands ?
—Yes, plenty; parks and a big farm.

3044. You said that the farming deteriorated when the land was lotted. Do you mean you would prefer a system of cultivation in common—the 'run rig' system ?
—Yes, it would be better for us to be as we were before. We might be able to keep a horse, and we might have a herd in common.

3045. Did you ever hear the people express a regret that the old 'run-rig' system had been abolished?
—Yes, they lament it to the present day.

3046. Do you understand what is meant by the ' run rig' system
— Yes, I understand it; and that is the system which they regret at the present day. They had more land then.

3047. Supposing the common hill pasture were given to them, would that satisfy them, or would they still wish to have a system of 'run-rig' re-established in connection with the arable ground?
—If we got common hill pasture we would be very well satisfied with that.

3048. At the earliest period you can remember, do you think that the clothes and the food and the houses of the people were better or worse than they are now ? Do you think that, in these respects, the people have been improving or not?
—We used to get fine home-made blankets at home, that any person could sleep in, and the clothes my wife would make I could appear in any where, but now lam reduced to purchase south country made cloth, which will not last a year. The food is pretty much as it was. We are getting meal from Glasgow, and we use milk; but our houses are too bare for want of clothing—night clothes especially.

3049. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—If you got this hill land back, would you be willing to pay a fair rent for it 1

3050. Now, the present laird is evidently a very good landlord, who lives among you, and has not raised your rent. That being the case, if you get back the hill land, would you really set to work and improve the arable land, which under present circumstances, you have not done, without assistance ? Would you take in the whole of what is now uncultivated of your arable land
—Yes, if we would have such encouragement. We are considering our present land dear at its present rent.

3051. But I understand you would feel so encouraged by being able to send your cows to the hill, that you would really then set to work to ameliorate the croft so far as it might be possible for you to do it
—Yes, we would do our best, if we would not be removed out of it.

3052. But you are not at all afraid of eviction ?
—The landlord was not given to eviction unless a person would do wrong, but we have not such a good bargain. We are not the least afraid of eviction as long as we behave ourselves.

3053. Can you say the same all over this estate of Waternish—that the people feel the same ?
—I do not say. I speak for the part of the property on which I am myself.

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