Waternish, Skye, 14 May 1883 - Neil Mcdiarmid

NEIL M'DIARMID, Crofter, Geary (70)—examined

3362. The Chairman.
—How long have you been on your croft ?
— Since I was born.

3363. Have you been freely elected a delegate ?

3364. What statement have you to make on the part of those whom you represent ?
—I think that those who have preceded me have left little for me to say, but those who delegated me desired me to say in your presence that there are thirty-three crofts in Geary, and when our fathers had it there
were twelve crofts. And they are complaining that they are without horses or sheep now. It cannot be that they could have sheep or horses when there are thirty-three tenants in Geary. Who will extend their holdings unless the landlord does it? If the landlord will not give them more room, so long as there are so many sheep tacks in Skye, the poor man will never get justice. Sheep do not improve the soil, but the people will. The land will run into heather and rushes under sheep. Instead of that the Land should be in the hands of the people who improve it. If the people do not get enlarged holdings, they will become poorer every day. (see Appendix A. VII)

3365. I have to say, further, that in Geary some of the people have left for the south country, leaving the spring work unfinished, owing to their inability to procure food for their families, as their credit was gone. In regard to debts, I have to say that the landlord is very favourable to the people. He never yet put a man out of his possession for rent. Geary crofters can keep two cows aud a two-year-old, but the holdings would not support these, but for the landlord allowing the crofters a mouth or two grazing in spring on his own grounds. The first year that Captain Macdonald became our landlord he gave them a strip of hill pasture in addition to what they had, and did not charge them one shilling extra. This year, again, he gave them another strip. They would have to enclose it with a dyke, and they considered it too small for that. It is not the present proprietor who has done them any harm, but those who preceded him. As to the hill pasture, I need not say anything about it, as it was taken from us at the same time that those who before were deprived of it.

3366. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Is there any restriction upon them as to the sale of their cattle?
—I am not aware of anything of the sort. I did not experience anything of the sort.

3367. Do you know of any such thing' in Geary ?
—I am not aware of that, and I have not seen him take vengeance on any one.

3368. Are they free to sell them to anybody?
—Yes, the ground officer gives the people an offer for the stock. If the people don't accept this offer, they are at liberty to sell to anybody else. If the landlord does not givo what another gives, the crofters are at liberty to sell them elsewhere.

3369. Does the ground officer offer for all the stock that is sold ?
—It is for the stirks that he offers oftenest.

3370. Then he has the first offer always ?
—Yes. That might be about the Whitsunday time.

3371. Are they much in arrears at Geary ?
—Yes, I know that some are.

3372. How far are any of them in arrear?
—I know that some are in arrears to the extent of a full year's rent. The landlord said nothing to them about it.

3373. Is there any business done among the people here by bills, to raise money?
—No, not for him whatever.

3374. As to other matters, are they in debt generally to merchants for food and other things ?
—Surely, they are.

3375. Have you any notion of the amount of debt there is in Geary just now ?
—Can it bo without debt ? Hundreds of bolls have been brought to it not within the last year, but other years.

3376. Are there many of them in debt for the meal?

3377. Where do they get it generally ?
—From Greenock. There is a man named M'Lean, a native of this island, in Greenock. The Geary people are often working in Greenock. The man knows some of them. When one is not acquainted with him, it is natural he will not be trusted. I am sure that that man has scores of pounds against Geary, for the produce of Geary won't feed the people half a year. And I believe there is not in the island of Skye any people who have made more work in trenching their ground than the Geary people have done.

3378. Have they done that at their own expense ?

3379. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie
—You mentioned there were only twelve tenants formerly in Geary. How long ago is that ?
—I think about sixty years ago.

3380. Where did the other twenty-one tenants come from
—From about Waternish.

3381. Are they Geary people—born in the place?
—Some have come from this side of Waternish.

3382. Were the crofts or lots of land divided by the proprietor -without their consent?
—It was done with the people's consent. I am of opinion that if the arable land were cultivated on the ' run rig' system, Geary would not be so well off as it is, because it would not be tilled.

3383. What I want to know is how these twenty-one additional people got into Geary ? Was it by the wish of the tenants of Geary themselves at the time
— When the west side of Waternish was cleared some of them, I believe, went to Geary.

3384. But who invited them there ?
—I believe it was the proprietor.

3385. And the lands he gave them were held in occupation at the time by these crofters?
—Yes, and the hill also.

3386. Did these thirteen crofters voluntarily resign half of their lands for the sake of the people on the west side ?
—I will not say they did.

3387. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Are the people of Geary in poor circumstances ?
—They are, as I have said. The land will no more than feed them for six months; and were it otherwise, there would not be so much meal coming to them from the south.

3388. Are they getting worse in their circumstances?
—Yes. The climate accounts largely for that. That is not the landlord's fault. It is the work of Providence.

3389. Are they falling back year by year. You know there are many years since the potato failure began ?
—That put a number of them back. They are very close .at work earning their support.

3390. You said that tacksmen in Skye were not advantageous to the place, and that sheep allowed the pasture to deteriorate, and that men ought to be allowed to cultivate it ?
—I am sure of that ?

3391. But it appears there are no tacksmen upon Waternish ?

3392. Then how was it that the people of Waternish are so poor; where is the land that would support them ?
—If it is not in Waternish, it is through the country.

3393. How much land has the proprietor in his own possession, apart from the farm surrounding his house
—I cannot tell within a mile, but I can mention the townships.

3394. Those the proprietor occupies himself 1

339.5. Mention them ?
—Lower Hallistra, Trumpan, Unish, Ballabourach, Scorr. I do not remember any other township lands he has.

3396. Will you give us a rough estimate as near as you can of the number of arable acres, or of what once was arable, in all those townships you have enumerated
—I will not try that

3397. Is it big or little ?
—It is big enough.

3398. Are the hill grounds attached to those different townships of considerable extent ?
—If you were on board the steamer, you would see its extent from sea to sea.

3399. Can you give us any estimate of the number of heads of families (crofters) that at one period occupied those different townships you have enumerated as being in the natural possession of the proprietor ?
—I do not know, but I think there were over eighteen families in Unish. I think Trumpan was in the occupancy of a tacksman at one time. I think there were four in Ballabourach. I don't know but there were eighteen latterly in Scorr, and I think there were ten in Lower Hallistra. (see Appendix A. VII)

3400. Were all the clearances of those places made at one time ?
—I think they were.

3401. Who was proprietor then?
—I think it was the major, the present proprietor's father.

3402. One of the witnesses said that the removals went back to the time of the Grants ?
—There were clearances by Corry, but I don't think they cleared these two townships.

3403. One of the witnesses said the factors came, and did certain mischief ; who were they factors for ?
—I think, for Grant.

3404. Were there more factors than M'Kinnon of Corry whom you could name as accessory to these removals ?
—I do not remember.

3405. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—We have had a crofter from Lower Hallistra, who spoke of Lower Hallistra being occupied. Is there a mistake about the name, or are there still crofters living about Lower Hallistra? There are people below the road yet, in Lower Hallistra.

3406. Professor Mackinnon.
—But, above the road?
—Above the road is cleared.

3407. Mr Cameron.
—What rent do you pay?
—Over £3.

3408. What stock have you got?
—My summing is two cows and a two year-old.

3409. And there is no hill pasture ?

3410. You say you have done some trenching—some improvement in your township? Have the people derived any profit from that improvement ?
—Yes, they got benefit from that.

3411. Have most of your neighbours improved the land ?
—I understand that the most of my neighbours improved their holdings the same way, and I am now taking out of the ground twice what I used to do.

3412. Is there any more land remaining to be improved beyond what they have already done ?

3413. They have improved it to the utmost extent?

3414. And what they want now is more hill pasture ?

3415. Would they be satisfied if they got more hillpasture?
—They are complaining of the arable land also.

3416. You mean there is not enough of it?
—There is not enough of it.

3417. Is there any place where you can get more hill pasture in the neighbourhood ?
—Just above us, and I don't know but the landlord may give us that.

3418. Have you ever asked him ?

3419. What was the answer?
—We got a little strip this year, but it is not enough.

3420. Did you trench the ground with the common spade, or in what way ?
—With the pick and spade.

3421. Do you get any work, either here or in the south, beyond what you have to do in your crofts ?-
—A few might get a little more work here than they got to do in their crofts.

3422. There is work going on here to a certain extent?
—Such work as the landlord may give them.

3423. None besides ?

3424. And in the south ?
—Yes, every person that can goes to the south to work. They must do that, or they would starve at home.

3425. How long do they stay in the south ?
—Till Christmas; plenty of those who left here a short time since.

3426. From when ?
—From this week.

3427. What money do they bring home with them on an average?
— This year many came back from the east coast who did not get paid at alt.

3428. What were they doing on the east coast ?

3429. But I was talking about other work. Do they get any other work besides fishing ?
—Yes. They get other work besides fishing out of the island.

3430. And what do the people bring back ?
—It cannot be much, between board and lodging—perhaps £ 7 or £8. It will give them enough to do by steady working to bring home £9 or £10.

3431. But, averaging the years, do you think they make more by fishing, or by working in the south ?
—They do much better at the fishing when it succeeds with them.

3432. And which do they prefer?
—They prefer the fishing, because then chance is better.

3433. Do you think it would have answered the people better to have worked less land and been more in the way of getting wages in the south either by fishing or otherwise ?
—I can say that they would not put an oar between rowlocks, and would not man a boat, and would not hoist a sail, if they were dependent upon all the fishing they got here through the year. As for the Geary people, unless they catch herring, no other fishing will be of any use to them, for the ling fishing is very scanty. The year in which the herring take is most plentiful, it will not last them much past winter. They may then take their long lines ashore.

3434. If you got better boats and tackle, do you think you could do more in the way of fishing ?
—I cannot say. I think they have boats that will serve the purpose out here, for on this side they catch ling. A few ling can be caught here through the year. There are no piers and no place of refuge. What would they do with the boat when they could not draw it up?

3435. But if they had better boats and a pier?
—I cannot say much about that.

3436. Are the people about here disposed to fishing, or do they generally dislike it, and would they rather stick to the land ?
—Yes, they do like it; and in evidence of that, they are very often at Barra and the east coast.

3437. And if they saw an opportunity of prosecuting it more successfully they might make more money by it ?
—Yes, they would. The fishing is very good if successful. The fishing would need to be very good before it would pay for sufficient fishing tackle and fishing material in this place.

3438. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Have you a pier at Geary ?
—Not a pier.

3439. Is there something like a pier at Scorhoren ?
—Yes, there was,
but it has long since fallen into decay.

3440. Would it encourage them to fish if they had a good pier there ?

3441. Mr Cameron.
—Has the poverty of the people dated from the period when there were thirty-three crofts, or is it a more recent production?
— The poverty of the crofters commenced with the thirty-one families in Geary, for every crofter had four or five cows and a horse and twenty sheep or so.

3442. But that was a long time ago ?

3443. Has the poverty been severe ever since then?
—Poverty was increasing ever since the potatoes began to fad at first

3444. Has it not increased in a greater proportion of late years ?-

3445. Professor Mackinnon.
—Were you born at Geary ?

3446. Were your people one of the twelve families that had it ?

3447. How old were you before these other people came in ?
—I was very young at the time.

3448. Do you remember the time ?

3449. And do you remember that the twelve who were there before you were pretty well off ?

3450 I think you said they had a hill which they lost ?_That is true near enough.

3451. So that the twelve had a hill more than what the thirty-three have now ? They lost the hill they had, and other people were thrown in upon them as well ?
—That is true; they had more than that. They had the island—the island of Geary —at that time.

3452. Among the twelve ?

3453. What rent did the twelve pay at that time ?
—I am not sure.

3454. About what was it?
—It is doubled to-day.

3455. Do you think, if the twelve had it over again, they would be fairly comfortable ?
—I think they would; I know they would.

3456. It would support twelve fairly well?
—Fairly well.

3457. Are there twelve that could take it?
—I cannot say, without assistance.

3458. You could take a twelfth part of it yourself? Of course, if the twelve got it, they would be willing to pay a fair rent for it ?
—They would.

3459. And do you think there is plenty of land that could be given to the others ?
—Through the country ?

3460. Through the country?
—I think there is.

3461. And do you think the people would be willing to take up a croft if they got it ?
—Would not that be better than buying twelve bolls of meal and more from the south ?

3462. But would they be able to take it up ?
—I do not know if the whole would.

3463. But some of them would?
—I know that.

3464 Then of those who would not be able to take up the croft, do you think there are any among them that would be willing to go elsewhere, out of Skye, if they got assistance ?
—I do not know. What could they do after they landed over; I have a son in Australia, and a sister, and I know both sides.

3465. And are they fairly well off there ?
—My son is a schoolmaster there.

3466. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Does he help you?
—He does.

3467. Professor Mackinnon.
—But you think this township could perfectly well support the number of people who were there when you were a boy yourself ?
—I know that, because I know the people who are alive in it now are better at working the ground than their fathers were. They were not up to it.

3468. You said there were many improvements made in Geary. Do you think that the people are more skilled workers, all over the place, than they were fifty or sixty years ago ?
—I do not remember in my first days of any people using a pick at all

3469. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Are there any places worse off than Geary ?
—I think there are.

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