STATEMENT by Captain ALLAN MACDONALD of Waternish, Isle of Skye.
WATERNISH, October 1883.
In submitting the following statement to the Royal Commissioners I must first take exception to the evidence given before them by the several delegates put forward in this district. Donald MacKinnon, crofter and fisherman, Halistra, stated that he himself and those he represented 'wanted more land' (Q. 2965), while last Martinmas he expressed a wish to give up part of his land, as having too much, and the 200 barrels of gunpowder which he considered necessary to demolish the stones on his croft (Q. 2989) is too absurd to notice, only to show how little regard he had to facts, considering that the whole of his croft has been under cultivation and turned by the plough.
Angus M'Lean, from the same township, stated that he and those he represented wanted more pasture (Q. 3056), and that they had not so much grazing behind their fence as would feed a hen. Yet at the time he was giving this evidence, and for weeks before, he had three or four cattle behind the fence referred to grazing in my pasture, and had them there for weeks after, without any charge made by me or equivalent received by me in any manner or way —and not even an expression of gratitude on his part; and I have acted in the same way towards scores of the crofters, though little was said about it.
Charles MacKinnon, crofter and fisherman, Lochbay, complained that the land in his township ' was too dear and too little of it' (Q. 3184). This man, having come from Duirinish, is not likely to know much about Watemish, but being of a discontented spirit is sure to be put forward as a delegate. If he does know anything of the township in which he resides, he has concealed the fact from the Commissioners that the rental is now very much less than it was many years ago, that the hill grazing has within the last fifteen years been considerably increased, and that he and the other thirty-seven crofters have in their occupancy 305 acres arable, 57 acres green pasture, and 1801 acres hill pasture,—in all 3166 acres, for which they pay me £220. This man never leaves home and is employed all the year round on his croft or fishing; yet, notwithstanding his “dear land and too little of it” he pays his rent regularly and is not in arrear, and I am sure would not accept of more land if it were offered him, which I am at any time ready to do, on condition that he does not subdivide his croft. This is the first and only man in Skye who I have known to sell ling fish at two shillings each to his neighbours, which in my younger days was sold at sixpence, and now regularly sold throughout the country from ninepence to one shilling. One thing I am glad of is that I am not a crofter under him, as I have not the slightest doubt but land would then, more than now, be ' too dear and too little of it.' I remember when this township consisted of fourteen families, while there are now thirty-eight, caused by marriages and subdivision of crofts.
Neil MacDiarrnid, crofter, Gearey, complained of the smallness of their crofts —* (Q. 3364) at which I am not astonished, considering that he remembers when there were but twelve families in this township, and there are now thirty-three, caused by the natural increase of the population and the subdivision of their crofts, though he was not honest enough to state so. This delegate, in answer to a question put to him by Mr Fraser-Mackintosh as to the number of families that occupied the lands now held by me and when these clearances were made (Q. 3399-3401), stated what was not true (though I cannot think that he did so intentionally), to the effect that my father had cleared the farm of Unish of eighteen families and Scorr of eighteen more. Now the fact is, that the farm of Unish was always let to one tenant farmer, and had not been, within the memory of man, in the occupancy of small tenants until my father let it to some crofters who had left or had been removed from the parish of Bracadale, giving it to them till such time as they could provide themselves elsewhere, which some of them did in about twelve months, while some went to America, and as their numbers were reduced the remainder were removed to Scorr, part of the lands in my father's occupancy; and Scorr was not cleared by him as stated by MacDiarmid, for it was a considerable time after my father's death, and I had been for some years in possession, that some of the crofters at Scorr expressed a wish to remove from there to Gillin, part of the lands in my occupancy, alleging that there was a mortality among their younger children at Scorr, and it was only then that they changed from the lands of Scorr to those of Gillin, receiving the latter at the rent they themselves offered. Yet this is erroneously represented to the Commissioners as ' clearances' made by my father, whereas he actually conferred a great favour on these Bracadale people in giving them the farm of Unish when they had no place to go to, until they could provide themselves elsewhere, as they had no claim whatever upon him for lands, being from another parish, while the statement that he cleared Scorr of eighteen families is entirely without foundation, as they were there eight or nine years after my father's death.
I may add that the crofters hold from me at this moment a much greater extent of land not before in the occupancy of crofters, than I hold which was formerly in the occupancy of crofters. The delegates M'Leod (p. 179) and M'Nabb (p. 181), from the township of Gillin, complained that they and those they represented were very poor, and that the land does not yield them a living, and that they are now poorer than when they came there. If such be the case, I can only say that it is no fault of mine, for the crofters in this township before entering into possession, had several consultations, after which they deliberately came forward and made me an offer for it, and I said not a word pro or con, in the matter but accepted their own offer.
Alexander Morrison, who appeared as one of the delegates for the crofters of Forsaviehuv (though I am told by the crofters themselves that he was not put forward by them), stated that it was not for men that this township was created at all, and that he had a very bad bargain of the land' (Q. 3542). There are six crofters at Forsaviehuv, and they pay a rent of £9, 3s. 4d. each. I had occasion a short time ago, at the request of the other crofters in the township, to procure a salesman for them at Inverness in order to dispose of their regular cast of sheep, which consisted of forty-eight wedders and eight ewes. I did so, and the account of sales was sent to me, which realised £65, 17s. 6d Morrison's share of this sum would be Morrison sold three stirks, the proceeds of his black cattle stock, for which he got his share of 37 stones blackfaced wool, at 8s. 6d. per st., his crop say £36/2/0. Add to this the average wage which they make when absent at the east coast fishing, or trenching at home, at the rate of 3s. per day, £18/ 0/ 0 - total £54/ 2/ 0
From this falls to be deducted—
Rent, £ 9, 3s.4d.; rates, 16s.9d, . .£10/0/1
Share of herdboy's wages, . . . 2/10/0
Share of smearing,. . . . 2/0/0
Total £14/ 10/ 1
Leaving a balance in his favour of . . . £39 11 8
They besides sell horses, and it appears to me that the township was 'created' for bipeds as well as quadrupeds, and I hope Morrison may never have a worse 'bargain.'
Murdo McLean, who appeared as another delegate (but who the crofters say they never put forward), made a statement which was untrue throughout. I did a good deal for the crofters in this township. I gave them when they entered into possession 169 blackfaced ewes, 50 ewe hoggs, 69 wedder lambs, and 64 ewe lambs, for which they have not yet paid me. I voluntarily gave them from one shilling to one shilling and twopence per rood of six yards for trenching their own land, without charging them any interest or increasing their rent in any way, and they acknowledge that they could earn three shillings a day when so employed. I also gave them two years' rent in order that they should build good houses for themselves. Yet nothing that I have done appears to have been appreciated.
I must here refer to a statement made before the Royal Commissioners at Glendale by John Macpherson, who said that my father had 'evicted ten or twelve families from Waternish, and that the land in this case was let under ‘deer' (Q. 6506, line 13). I must give my unqualified denial to this statement, there being not a word of truth in it. In order to try and develop the ling and cod fishing, my father offered to let the island of Isay to ten or twelve fishermen at an annual rent of so many tons of fish, the required number offered themselves (I think from the lands of Glendale), and occupied the island for a few years, but not succeeding with the
fishing, and having no peat or fuel on the island, they returned to the district they had come from, and my father stocked the island as formerly with sheep and cattle. This occurred nearly forty years ago, and the island continues to be so stocked. A few years ago I put eleven fallow deer there along with the cattle, and this M'Pherson now represents to the Commissioners as an eviction of tenants by my father and the land being let under deer. All I hope is, that the rest of M'Pherson's evidence is more reliable than thia statement, which is but an ingenious perversion of facts. I deny that either my father or myself at any time evicted tenants from Waternish, except a few individual cases now and again for misdemeanour. Crofters have occasionally been removed from one township to another, and to their advantage, for they themselves have frequently stated it as a grievance before the Commissioners that they have been so long in the same township that the land has become exhausted and yields them no return for their labour. Yet, if they are removed to any other township, where the land is more productive, they too often give that even as a grievance and a case of eviction. I regret to observe that they have stated before the Commissioners that they are not now so well off as they were, which I am satisfied is not correct, as I myself remember the time when they were not in a position to buy even a bag of oatmeal, and when south country meal was not known in the district, and when they and their families subsisted for the greater part of the summer on shellfish, which they never use now, but require a steamer to call in here once a week with their supplies of oatmeal, Flour, loaf-bread, tea, and sugar. Besides, many of them have money in the Portree bank, as I myself have been the medium through whom it has been lodged there. Such a thing was unknown thirty or forty years ago; and when the Scotch banks became Limited Companies, the number of circulars to depositors in the district was far in excess of what I could have imagined, and even astonished the letter-carrier. Many circumstances favour them now—prices of stock have improved, and stirks or young cattle, which I have seen them sell at £1 and 30s., they now sell for £4 and £5; they get double the price for their fish that they used to do, and four times the price for their eggs, while the crofter who has got no sheep can buy wool at less than half the price it sold at in 1818 when the Inverness Wool Market was first established. Still the crofter who has got sheep suffers no loss, because of the increased value of the carcass. With this rise in prices the rents here remain the same that they were forty years ago, so that if they managed to live then, they can surely manage to live better now; but as they have stated to the Commissioners that they are not so well off now as they were, I am quite ready to restore them to the same lands at the same rent and the exact position in which I found them, and that at Whitsunday first.
No doubt there is still room for improvement, and the small crofter with his lot and cow (the result of the subdivision of land) should be abolished, for he is at best but a pauper, and lives a life such as no other class of labourer does; he is idle for six months in the year—from the time he returns from the east coast fishing until he commences the cultivation of his croft in spring—and no other labourer could exist under similar circumstances, while it is impossible on a small estate with thousands of poor people to give them employment. So that the fishing is the only industry open to them, which they cannot prosecute successfully with their small boats, and even if they had larger ones, they have no piers or boat-harbours where to keep them. All crofters should have hill ground, and should depend upon the produce of their stock and not on that of their croft, for this is essentially a grazing country and in no way suited for cropping. Each crofter should have from £20 to £30 worth of land, and those who could not enter on such a holding should be assisted to emigrate, for those who cannot produce more than they consume are a burden to the state, while those who can produce more than they consume benefit the state.
The crofters, in response to paid agitators, have, to a man, asked for ' more land’ yet they all say that it is too dear, and people don't generally press for what they consider too dear. The crofters here have about 5000 acres of land, for which they are supposed to pay me an annual rent of about £500, exclusive of rates; but, on the other hand, I am called upon to pay annually on my whole income from £202 to £220 of poor and school rates alone, besides other assessments applicable to crofters, reducing the rent they pay me nearly one-half; while, if the crofters in the parish were in such a position as I have suggested, having from £20 to £30 worth of land, there would be no such assessments, and the proprietor would get a fair rent, which he does not now, the crofters themselves would have few or no rates to pay, and the country would be benefited to the extent of what they would produce over and above their own consumption; then leases might be granted with advantage where crofters were comfortably situated and fairly distributed, but would be worse than useless in overcrowded districts where indulgent landlords have allowed them to subdivide and cut up their crofts into small patches. No doubt, all this land cry has been got up by outside agitators and by paid agents, who have little or no interest in the crofters, for the crofters as a class were never so well off as they are at this moment; but there are amongst themselves designing men, who encourage this agitation for their own selfish ends, and so it goes on—men who have a little money, and by agitating and getting more land, put more stock upon it than they are entitled to, at the expense of their poorer neighbours who cannot stock it, and by this means reap the profit of the land for which their poorer neighbours pay. To prevent this, club farms should be established in all townships, and would tend to stop this agitation, as by that means the whole stock would be under the control of three managers chosen by the crofters themselves out of their number. And then no man could have more than his neighbour.
I must here take notice of a statement made by the Rev. Mr Johnstone (Appendix A. VIII. ), which surprised me, to the effect, that I had ' deprived one of the very best men in the neighbourhood of his lands, because he would not go to hear the lay preacher approved of by me’. This is absurd, as it was no business of mine where the man went to, and I must distinctly state that I never did anything of the sort, and to be plain, that the statement is nothing short of a pure fabrication. When Mr Johnstone will be candid enough to state the name of ' one of the very best men in the neighbourhood’ and the particular case which he refers to, I shall be obliged to him. I think it is to be regretted that the evidence taken before the Commissioners was not taken on oath, as all parties would then be more likely to adhere to facts, for in this district alone, where the delegates were not so extreme in their demands as in other places, and where, perhaps, they were more oderate in framing and relating grievances, yet those of them who descended to particulars made such erroneous statements, that if they will before a magistrate prove them on oath to be true, or that my statements in reply are untrue, I shall bind myself to pay each of them a year's rent.
WATERNISH, PORTREE, SKYE,
4fh February 1884.