Glendale, Skye, 21 May 1883 - Alexander Mackenzie

ALEXANDER MACKENZIE, Crofter and Fisherman, Boreraig (48)—examined.

7261. The Chairman.
—Have you been freely elected a delegate?
—Yes ; but I wish to say, before making any statement, that I would wish to have the assurance that the landlord would not do any hurt to me in respect of anything I may say here to-day.

7262. The delegate who is now before us has stated his desire to have an assurance from Dr Martin that he will not be molested on account of anything he may state here to-day ?
Mr Nicol Martin, nephew of Dr Martin.
—Nothing will be done to him for anything he states, so far as my uncle and myself are concerned.

7263. You produce a written statement of the grievances of the Boreraig crofters?
—Yes. The Grievances of the Boreraig Crofters, one township on Dr Martins Estate. To the Royal Commission of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. We complain generally of the smallness of our crofts or lots—the want of hill pasture —that we can neither keep sheep nor horses, and that we are too highly rented. When the late Mr Malcolm Nicolson became proprietor of this estate, about fifty-nine or sixty years ago, there were only twelve crofters in Boreraig, and each tenant had then six cows, two horses, and thirty or forty sheep, and the rent for the whole township was only eighty guineas. Forty-five years ago our proprietor subdivided and cut up our twelve crofts into twenty-four different small lots, and raised the rent from £3, 10s. to £7, 10s. The rent for the whole township is now about £130. At the same time our proprietor also deprived us of our horses, and of all our sheep except six sheep for each crofter. And besides the stock of the Galtrigill township was by him placed upon the pasture of the Boreraig township. When the former crofts were cut up into small lots tenants were brought from Waternish and Bracadale for them, and all were crowded together in this little township. When the present proprietor, Dr Martin, became proprietor, he took from us the six sheep left us by Mr Nicolson, and now we have neither sheep nor horses, and in consequence have to do all the ploughing and harrowing and a vast amount of other brutalising horse work ourselves. We have to carry sea-ware in creels on our backs in some instances for a distance, of nearly half a mile up the face of rocks and steep braes, and we have to carry the peats in the same fashion for even a longer distance, while if we were allowed to keep horses, we would be relieved of all this slavish degradation and hardship. The summing of the lots is now only three cows, but the small patches we have now left us would be inadequate either to feed or fodder two cows, and would not keep the smallest family in the township in food for two months of the year. The land having been in perpetual cultivation for hundreds of years, is become so poor and so much reduced that it is incapable of yielding any crop except of the very poorest, and that by constant manuring. Each crofter on an average has to spend from £16 to £ 20 a year in meal, besides the produce of the farm, while in an exceptionally bad year like the present the outlay is much greater. The result is that we are for ever sunk in debt, and have to spend the greater part of the year away from home to earn money to buy food for our families, and to pay the rent for the landlords; while want of success at the fishing, or other work we go to, for even one year, means either ruin or starvation. If we had properly sized crofts at a reasonable rent and fully stocked, this alternative would never arise. Dr Martin has in his time removed four crofters from this township, and he made seven new parks from land belonging to the township, and which were within the old landmarks or boundaries of the township, and he added these parks to his own holdings. Moreover, we had to give ten days a year of free labour to Dr Martin, and to cut his corn for him with
our own hooks; while a servant of Dr Martin —one William Campbell— who acted as stirk-drover, ploughman, and grieve—in performing this unlawful labour, used to make us work like slaves. The people were in perfect dread of him ; and if they did not work as hard as he wished, or were absent for a day, he would threaten them with eviction. Further, though as we said our present small patches would not keep any of us in food for two months, there are twenty-six families of us crowded together in this small township, fully twice the number the place is capable of supporting, though we had it on the old boundary lines. We consider that if we had plenty of land to live upon, at a fair rent, we would be able to live comfortably on our farm all the year round, and could stay at home to work the land and improve them, instead of as now we have to hunt after work wherever it is to be had in the south country, so that ourselves and our families can live. There is plenty of land in Skye for all the people in it, and that land which originally belonged to our own forefathers. We wish to get enough of land to enable us to keep sheep and horses, as both men and women have now to do the work of the horse, while our children and families are going naked for want of wool to make clothes, and we are too poor to buy both wool and meal for our families. We would be quite content if we had as much land as would keep us comfortably, and also that we had fixity of tenure or security against arbitrary removal; that we would get compensation for any improvement we make on houses or land.
Signed as witnesses by ALEXANDER MACKENZIE, crofter, Boreraig; JOHN MLEOD, junior,
crofter, Boreraig; JOHN MATHESON, crofter, Boreraig; JOHN MLEAN, crofter, Boreraig; MURDOCH MLEOD, crofter, Boreraig; MURDOCH MATHESON, senior, crofter, Boreraig; MALCOLM MLEAN, crofter, Boreraig; NEIL MACLEAN, crofter, Boreraig; KENNETH MATHESON, crofter, Boreraig; WILLIAM MLEOD, crofter, Boreraig; MURDO MATHESON, junior, crofter, Boreraig; ALEXANDER MACKENZIE, junior, crofter, Boreraig; DONALD LAMONT, crofter, Boreraig; KENNETH MACKASKILL crofter, Boreraig; JOHN CAMPBELL, crofter, Boreraig; JOHN MLEOD, senior, crofter, Boreraig ; JOHN MKINNON, crofter, Boreraig.
[Dr Martin.
—I take the opportunity of saying, that no one will be molested in consequence of anything that is said to-day. I never moved a man from my estates if he paid his debts, and if he had not been complained of by his neighbours. I never issued a letter of removal for the last seven years.]

7264. Have you any further statement to make ?

7265. The paper you have given in states there were originally twelve crofts ?

7266. And that they were divided into twenty-four ?
—Yes; forty-five years ago I think.

7267. At the time they were divided into twenty-four—forty-five years ago —as I understand, they were deprived of horses and sheep ?
—Six sheep were left to us.

7268. Was the hill pasture taken away at that time ?
—No, but it was taken from the Galtrigill people, and the people of Galtrigill were crowded upon us.

7269. Then subsequently the sheep were taken away ?
—Six sheep were taken from us.

7270. After the first division into twenty-four shares, then the summing was three cows, no horses, and six sheep ?

7271. What was the rent then ?
—From £3, 10s. to £7, 10s.

7272. Why was there so great a difference ? Was that owing to the different amount of arable ground on the different crofts ?
—The valuator of the land thought that some crofts were bettor than others.

7273. Then when the six sheep were taken away, by whom were they taken away ? Were they taken away by the last proprietor or by the present proprietor ?
—By Dr Martin.

7274. When the six sheep were taken away was the rent reduced ?

7275. How long is it since Dr Martin became proprietor of the estate ?
—I am not sure, but I think it is up to forty years.

7276. During the last forty years, since Dr Martin became proprietor of the estate, has the rent been raised ?
—Eight years ago it was raised.

7277. How much was it raised?
—My rent was raised £1 at all events, and I think the rent of most of us was raised to the same extent. But when I paid my rent at last Martinmas that £1 was taken off, but I am not sure if that reduction will continue.

7278. How many years was the additional £1 exacted ?
—-About seven years.

7279. Since you remember, has anybody been evicted from the township?
—I cannot say that I do remember any except the four of whom the paper speaks.

7280. Why were the four removed ?
—Their holdings were added to the park which Dr Martin has in his own hands.

7281. And what became of those four families ?
—Two of them went to Waternish, and I think the doctor himself gave a place to the other two.

7282. Was any compensation made to them in connection with their removal ?
—I cannot tell.

7283. But supposing the £1 additional rent to be reduced, as it has been this year, you sit at the same rent you did forty-five years ago ?

7284. Has the value of the croft diminished in the course of these forty-five years ?
—Yes. The croft is not to-day half what it was worth forty-five years ago.

7285. What is the reason of that ?
—Turning the ground so often. Forty-five years ago there was a good depth of sod on our ground, but
now we have no more than from two inches to six inches in depth —the deepest is six inches.

7286. Have you any complaint about the peats or about the sea ware ?
—We are complaining that the peats are far from us, but the landlord cannot help that; and as to sea-ware, we are bringing it across the loch, a distance of four or five miles.

7287. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Where from?
—From Claggan.

7288. The Chairman.
—Is there any charge made for that ?
—Yes, we pay for it.

7289. To whom do you pay for it ?
—To MLeod of MLeod.

7290. Have they any sea-ware upon their own lands?
—Not enough.

7291. Have they any complaint to make now at all about labour or services which they are obliged to render to the landlord ?
—We cannot say that he demanded labour of us during the past year, unless we chose to give it.

7292. Does he oblige them to make any money payment instead of the labour that used to be exacted?
—No, he did not ask any money off me the last time I paid my rent.

7293. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—Was there any truth in the report that some years ago they were obliged to sell fish, or fish so many days for the proprietor ?
—We gave our fish to him, but there was no obligation upon us as to the time we fished.

7294. And therefore you did not consider that a hardship ?
—No, but our cause of complaint was the smallness of the price we got for our fish. We were not getting the price for it.

7295. From the landlord ?
—Yes, it was the landlord who was taking it from us, but the landlord has ceased that now.

7296. Is there good fishing ?
—No, there is no fishing at all.

7297. Did there used to be fishing ?
—About forty years ago it was good fishing ground, but since then, except in occasional years, we could not make what would keep us in shoes, or in long lines.

7298. Have the people any other grievance than what is stated in the paper?
—No, I dont think we have; but there is plenty there itself.

7299. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Do they refuse to pay their rents now ?
—I paid my rent. I think every one in the township in which I am have paid their rents, but I am not sure.

7301. What are they claiming from Dr Martin just now?
—They want more land. Our places are so small that we cannot live by them.

7302. Has he more land conveniently to give to them?-
—There is land no doubt, but I am not sure. The doctor has not on his property as much land as would do for all the people on his property.

7303. Then what would they expect him to do for them ?
—We are thinking there is plenty land in the island of Skye if we only got it.

7304. Sheriff Nicolson
—There used to be very good fishing at Boreraig and Galtrigill ?
—Yes, but that is gone

7305. What is the reason of it?
—Well, I have noticed that since the Barra herring fishing commenced we have had no fishing.

7306. But how has the Barra fishing affected the cod and ling fishing of Galtrigill ?
—The dead herring that fall out the nets of the fishermen at Barra are enticing the cod and ling to remain about these places.

7307. Did not they ask Dr Martin to open the fish house which he shut up in consequence of the badness of the fishing ?
—I dont know but that that was the case some years ago.

7308. But for some time he has not been taking the fish at all ?
—Not for a year or two.

7309. Is there anybody else about here that takes the fish from them ?

7310. Who ?
—The post-master at Dunvegan.

7311. What price do you get for the cod and ling ?
—In winter 5d. for the cod, and 8d. for the ling.

7312. Had you a complaint against the doctor for the price he was giving for the fish ?
—I believe we had.

7313. What was he giving?
—4d. for the cod, and 6d. for the ling.

7314. And it seems it did not pay him notwithstanding ?
—I cannot say about that.

7313. At any rate he shut up the house ?

7316. Would you be the better of a good pier at Boreraig? Would it be worth while making one ?
—Not so far as concerns the fishing.

7317. Would it be any benefit in any other respect ?
—I dont know what convenience it would be unless it would be convenient for the people to land the sea-ware.

7318. Then you are contented so far as the sea is concerned?
—Yes, so far as the fishing is concerned.

7319. Have you any complaint about the post-office there ?
—We would be the better of a post certainly, for the post does not come further than Husabost, and it goes there for the sake of the doctor.

7320. And where do you get your letters ?
—Our two townships pay a post-runner from Husabost to ourselves.

7321. With regard to the price of the fish, did not the doctor raise the price one year ?
—Yes, that was when the £1 was added to our rents. We got one penny of rise in the price of the fish when the £1 was laid upon our rents, but this increase in the price of the fish did not last for more than one winter, while the increase on the rents remained.

7322. The Chairman.
—When the people were brought in from Galtrigill what was done with the land at Galtrigill which was cleared ?
—It is in the hands of the landlord for his sheep. Mr Nicolson, the present landlords predecessor, had it under sheep.

7323. Is it stilt under sheep ?

7324. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—In regard to the fishing, you said that the Barra fishing, you thought, had a prejudicial effect. How old is the Barra fishing ?
—It is many a year. I am not sure.

7325. Has the Barra fishing anything to do with the scarcity of herring on the Skye coast ?
—Yes, and it has to do with the scarcity in the Lewis also. Before the Lewis fishing commenced there was plenty of herring to be got here.

7326. Do I understand that the fishing of the Lewis or in the outer islands is supposed to injure them before they come to the coast of Skye ?
—That is what we think.

7327. Is that a view generally entertained?
—Yes, we could not account for the scarcity of fish here in any other way.

7328. Is this consideration a new thing, or is it a matter of years standing?
—It is a long time since we were thinking of it, after we could think of no other cause. In my fathers time fish were very plentiful.

7329. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie
—There are two Alexander Mackenzies in the township? What is your rent?
—About £6 of rent after this reduction of £1.

7330. What arable land have you got ?
—I think, if half of my arable land were laid upon the other half, it would make three acres.

7331. And what is the summing of your stock ?
—Three cows, but I cannot keep three cows on it.

7332. What have you actually got ?
—Two cows.

7333. How many year-olds ?
—I have one two-year-old and one stirk.

7334. Does your summing include any young beasts ?
—The summing is three cows.

7335. What do you get from your croft ? Do you sow any bere ?
—No, barley would not grow upon it.

7336. How much oats do you sow ?
—About five bolls. The land which we have requires double the quantity of seed that other land requires.

7337. Five bolls. How many barrels of seed would that be ?
—I think it would make about six barrels of the sort of oats which we have ourselves.

7338. And what return do you have for that ?
—The best land that we have will yield about one bushel and a half, and other parts will not
return what is sown.

7339. Do you thresh it ?

7340. Do you take any of it to the mill ?
—Very little.

7341. What meal will you make in an average year?
—If I gave justice to my cattle, I could not make any meal.

7342. You give the most of it to the cattle ?

7343. How much potatoes do you plant ?
—Six barrels.

7344. What return do you get for that?
—About thirty-two. That would be the best year.

7345. Does that include the seed and all ? Is the seed to come out of that next year ?

7346. Then you will only got twenty-six barrels for use ?
—The best year.

7347. And what will you get on the average of years ?
—I have seen years quite as bad for potatoes as last year.

7348. What quantity of meal do you buy on an average?
—Sixteen bolls a year. I will have to buy twenty-four bolls this year.

7349. Will that meal be consumed by the family this year ?
—Yes, and it is little enough.

7350. What is the size of your family?
—Twelve individuals. But there are two of them not at home just now.

7351. Professor Mackinnon.
—Do you know Murdo MLeod?

7352. What is his summing ?
—Three cows.

7353. No young beasts?
—No, three cows is the summing of every full croft in the township.

7354. Norman Macpherson the same ?

7355. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Was your town famous of old as the seat of the pipers of Skye?
—Yes, the MCrimmons had the township as the hereditary pipers of the MLeods.

7356. How long is it since the last of the MCrimmons?
—I cannot tell, but my grandfather came to the place when it was first settled, and that was eighty years ago.

7357. Are there upon the place any of the old people who have been settled there for a hundred years, or are they all strangers within the last hundred years?
—I know of no representative of those in the place a hundred years ago, except myself—-or those who were settled in the township after MCrimmons left.

7358. Is there any music now among the people ?

7359. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Is there not one piper in all Duirinish?

7360. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have explained about the fishing in a very intelligible way. Will you give an explanation how the pipe music has so much gone out in Skye ?
—My opinion is that in those days of pipe music they were looking more to the Pope than they are to-day, and I believe it is the gospel that has done away with the pipe. It was death that did away with the MCrimmons.

7361. Are you fond of music yourself?
—I dont care should I not hear music any day of the year, if I was well off in other ways.

7362. If you were well off would not music and dancing come back again ?
—No doubt it would leave us happier, but I dont know whether it would set us to dance or no.

7363. Are there any MCrimmons, people of that name, in the neighbourhood ?
—There is a grandson or a great-grandson of theirs staying in the place yet

7364. Of the name of MCrimmon ?

7365. What is his age ?
—I think he will be about forty years. He is just as ourselves, running north and south for subsistence for our families.

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