STATEMENT by the Rev. JOSEPH LAMONT, Free Church Minister, Snizort, Isle of Skye.
In giving my humble evidence before the Commission, I take this opportunity of bearing testimony, as a Free Church minister, and in behalf of a Free Church community, to the kindness shown us by the three proprietors in the parish upon whose lands our ecclesiastical buildings are situated. There is first Major Fraser of Kilmuir. It is owing to him that we have our present church at Uig. Until he came in possession of the estate our people were refused a site, and many a Sabbath has my venerable predecessor, the Rev. Roderick M'Leod, preached in the open air with the hailstones dancing on his forehead, the people wiping away the snow before they could sit down, and when the shower was past not distinguished from the ground except by their faces. When Major Fraser bought the estate there was not only liberty heartily granted to erect a church upon the most eligible spot, but he largely helped from his own resources and with the aid of his friends to raise the necessary funds, kept it in neat repair while he resided at Uig, and hitherto has not demanded a single farthing for the 6ite. For these generous and noble acts, whatever views may be entertained as to the lands, the heart of the Free Church community will ever beat with kindly feeling and gratitude towards Major Fraser. We have to thank Lachlan MacDonald, Esq. of Skeabost, for permission to hold our summer communions upon his grounds, and for liberty to those who take horses to graze them upon his lands during the days of that solemnity.
We are deeply grateful to Alexander M'Donald, Esq. of Lyndale, for handing over to us a small mission church not required by the Established Church: but from which they excluded us at the Disruption. I wish to make another preliminary observation regarding the part we acted as Free Church ministers in connection with the visit of the Royal Commission. We have been accused of being the leaders in the crusade. In common with our brethren in the Establishment we received notices, and apart altogether from our relationship with our people, and our duty towards them, we considered it respectful to the representatives of royalty to give due publicity to the notices. I myself presided at the meeting at Skeabost to appoint delegates, but did not propose a single name. I was sent for to Uig after the delegates had been chosen, and the only name I suggested there was one also suggested by Major Fraser.
I have to corroborate in the main the evidence given by the delegates from the parish of Snizort, and also to certify as to their moral character. Some of them are among the most exemplary within the bounds of the parish, and foremost in every good work. The grievances complained of were quite farniliar to me before any agitation came into the island. The people in general are as responsible for the statements made during this inquiry as the delegates whom they have appointed. If few or many have been led to give expression to different sentiments in any public testimonials, no clearer proof could be shown for the necessity of the inquiry, or that the fear of man bringeth a snare. The poverty so frequently referred to has been going on for years, though the past two adverse seasons have occasioned its outcome, as the last straw breaking the camel's back. I am familiarly acquainted with the West Coast as far as Cape Wrath, and know the habits and customs of the people, and never met a class more reluctant to trouble a clergyman for temporal relief or ventilate their griefs than the Skyemen. But necessity has no law. Our parish is twenty miles in extent, with a population exceeding 2000. I visited every family within its bounds over and over again. The clergymen do not visit our people merely in summer, when others come with the return of the cuckoo and see Skye in its glory; but our hardest work is in the dead of winter, and we are therefore entitled to tell what we see and hear—but the whole shall never be told. Last year has undoubtedly been an exceptional one; but one bad year might not throw the people into their present state of helplessness if this state of matters had not been previously going on. It is owing to the generosity of meal dealers, in whose books the people are sunk to an incredible extent, and the liberality of friends in the south, that we have not starvation by scores. When a township of eight or nine tenants is £50 in debt for meal, another of seven, £54, another of about thirty £152, another of thirty-four £300 or £400; when one man having two cows is £18, another having one and a stirk, £20, there is room for inquiry.
There has been reference made to the number of mills standing still. Next to the mill the most serious question in my humble opinion is how many looms are standing still or converted into roosts. The loss or want of the hill pasture for sheep is one of the saddest. Families accustomed to spin their own wool for blankets and warm clothing will see a hundred family requirements before they would purchase a pair of Scotch or English blankets from Mr John Robertson, merchant. Hence the frequency with which the melancholy fact came out that bags are used instead of blankets in many instances. I can testify to the correctness of that statement, and have even been informed that some sleep in their day-clothing. The young people, male and female, as a rule go south, and will endeavour, if they do not lapse altogether, to appear like their neighbours in respectable clothing. If in that decent attire they appear in public at home—at church or at market—it can scarely be called extravagance in dress. Let it be remembered that towards that so-called extravagant dress their native hills may not have contributed one single thread of the outer or under clothing. Reference has been made to extravagance in tea, and I must admit it; and to those who have no milk I recommend gruel to help down their dry morsel. But where there is the necessary supply of milk that extravagance does not exist. My own position is happily better than that of the people in general; but for the feeding of three of my bairns I have been more indebted to the hills of Switzerland than to the land of my adoption. What substitute, therefore can be suggested for tea, in the case of the poor, when milk is wanting! To this poverty I partly attribute much of the immorality which is still prevalent. There being so few separate sleeping apartments—though the sin is on the decrease through the influence of the Gospel. I do not believe there would be such a temptation to resort to the public-house it home were made more attractive by greater comfort. The relief given to paupers is not half what it ought to be, and they would literally starve if their neighbours did not help them out of their own too scanty store. The tenants have thus the double burden of paying heavy poor rates and otherwise assisting the poor. They are groaning under school-rates and fees, more regularly charged under a compulsory enactment. They are paying heavy interest for school buildings to the Public Loan Commissioners a subject which should receive the serious attention of Government, especially in the case of the West Highlands. The tenants are insulted, as well as burdened, by a recent importation of hefty additional policemen. Apart from the skirmishes at Braes and Glendale, there could not be a more peaceable community; and if an outbreak did occur, the former complement were as efficient to quell it as the present unnecessary staff. There is a general distribution of relief throughout the island; and unless some means are devised to give more lands to the people at reasonable rents, we have not seen the end of that destitution. Some of my cloth recommend emigration as a solution of the dimculty. I admit that, as a rule, those who have gone to America are more comfortable than those they left behind; but surely the whole truth regarding them does not come out when the clergy themselves are so keen to come back, even though their relatives may be left in Canada. If a scheme of emigration is planned, aid for that purpose must be forthcoming from some source or other. Surely it is more reasonable that such aid should be granted for improving the condition of the people at home than improving them abroad. We are sometimes accused as a Church of burdening the people by exacting too much for' the support of the ministry. We do not exact, my lord; we receive the voluntary contributions of the people. It should not be a heavy burden for a population of 2500 to support one man. My parish only pays the half, and will bear favourable comparison with most West Highland parishes. That amount never kept a shilling from the rent at Martinmas, or the same amount from the merchant's rendered account at Whitsunday. This poverty is one of the greatest trials we have to contend with. Pastoral visits cannot be so acceptable to a family in need; and when the cases are numerous, the clergyman, with a small stipend, cannot do much. The house of God is not so regularly attended, for want of warm and decent clothing; and scores in Skye choose, like Nicodemus, to come at night that their scanty clothing may not be seen. Whoever of our Highland proprietors will first come forward to set an example—restoring what he can to the people of the lands his forefathers cultivated—will be the first to bring the blessing of Him that was ready to perish " upon his own head and that of his descendants after him.