STATEMENT by the Rev. D. JOHNSTONE regarding the Parish of Waternish, Isle of Skye.
WATERNISH, SKYE, 1883.
I have been now eleven years minister of this parish and so am well acquainted with the condition of the people. That condition is most deplorable and calls loudly for redress. As to the people themselves, they are not in the least lazy, but most industrious, hard-working people, and with a little fair-play would make the finest peasantry in the world. It is needless to inquire how they came to their present state, the remedy for the present state of matters is what the Commission have to deal with.
1. The first remedy I would propose is to give the small tenants, i.e., all paying under £20 of rent, fixity of tenure at a fair rent fixed by a practical man on the side of the landlord and another on the side of the tenants, with, if desired, an oversman in the case of disagreement.
The advantages of fixity of tenure would be :
(1) The crofter would build a better house—the houses of the people here are perfectly disgraceful. When remonstrated with, as I have often done, that they don't build better houses, their answer is that they can't tell how soou they may be removed from their present holdings and sent elsewhere, and so their labour would be in vain.
(2) The crofter would drain and improve his land if he knew that he was not to be disturbed till he reaped some benefit from his work.
(3) It would give the people a spirit of independence they never can have under the present system, which is a relic of feudalism, and when the landlord is as the old chief, when there was " no oath but by the Chaplain's hand, no law but Roderick Dhu's command." The landlord of this parish, who is not more guilty than others of evicting, deprived one of the very best me n in the neighbourhood of his lands because he would not go to hear the lay preacher approved of by the landlord.
(4) It would relieve the crofter of the work asked to be done for nothing if there was fixity of tenure.
From my window I can see a lot divided into two parts, and the crop off this said lot is only two small streaks of com, when the landlord asks and gets 28 day's work from these two individuals over and above their rent and taxes. That I consider complete injustice.
(5) It would relieve the crofter of being bound to sell his beasts to the landlord at the price he thinks fit to give, not the market value of the animal. I was present at the meeting of the Commission here on the 14th May last, and was surprised that the people said the ground-officer gave the market value for what he bought—I knew it to be incorrect and given so through fear, as said ground-officer was present all the time taking notes of what was said. The delegates got a sound scolding from their neighbours when they went out for not speaking the whole truth.
2. Another remedy is to give the small tenants an extension of their lots. This can so easily be done that it only requires the landlord and ground-officer to spend two or three days at the work and it is done. Every crofter ought to have as much land as to keep three cows, and a horse between two of them. A horse each is not in the least necessary. Any man of skill could easily tell what land would be necessary for his stock. A stock of three cows and a horse between two of them, with fixity of tenure, I am certain would make the Highlanders as happy as the day is long. In some cases sheep could be kept, but it is not practicable in every instance. Now I may be permitted to say here, that these reforms are urgently needed—the murmurings of the people are loud and deep, and they have great cause of complaint. I could give pages to show this, but it is not necessary.
3. Another remedy is to give the people the sea-ware to help to manure the land. I have been in four or five different parts of the Highlands, and never heard till I came here of the people paying for the seaware. I would ask who gave this stuff to the landlords ? It must have been given them by some musty Act of Parliament. Now it is this sort of legislation that gives the handle to the agitator. Away with such an Act of Parliament! Let an Act be passed that the sea-ware and the shell-fish belong to the people, and not be sent to jail for gathering a few whelks. If I was a Highland landlord I would blush to let it be known that I exacted 9d. or Is. or Is 6d. from a poor man for what was never sown or planted by me. The people complain very much of the taxes, the school-rate is 2s. in the pound. If the Board did its duty, it would be less than the half of that. The compulsory claim is a dead letter. My opinion is that the people injure themselves by their giving to the Free Church collectors—this too very much helps to impoverish them. Some of them are so much attached to the F. C. that they deny themselves and their families the necessaries of life to give to the F. C. minister. The fishing could be very much more vigorously prosecuted here if there was a breakwater or some shelter for their boats against the storms of winter—that too ought at once to be put right.