Glendale, Skye, 21 May 1883 - Dr Nicol Martin

NICOL MARTIN, M.D., of Husabost (83)—examined.

7533. The Chairman.
—Were you born in this country?
—I was born in Skye.

7534. You belong to an old family long settled in this country?

7535. And you have personal recollection of the country and its condition all your life?
—Yes, and I know a good deal about the country.

7536. Where were you resident before you came to Husabost?
—On the east side of Trotternish, on Lord Macdonald's property.

7537. Do you remember something of the country before many of the changes took place of which we heard? Do you remember the country when the crofters possessed larger crofts before many of the clearances were effected?
—I remember that there were few crofters in Skye. They were generally cottars on gentlemen's farms
—tacksmen's —and they worked the lands of the gentlemen, and they had as much as the grass of two
cows and some sheep, but their names never appeared in the rental until lately.

7538. But do you remember the time in which some of the land was held on the runrig system?

7539. Then, as to those who held their lands on the runrig system, were they not crofters? Did they not appear on the rental book?
—The large farmers employed these people to work their farms, and gave them so much land themselves for their work, and so much of what they called half-foot,—that is, whatever they turned besides the land that was laid out for themselves; they cut half the corn and the other half belonged to the tenant, and the tenant gave one-half of the seed and the crofter gave the other half. They dried the corn and carried it home, something like the serfs in Russia, in my first recollection.

7540. Then in your first recollection the crofters were tenants of the gentlemen tacksmen?

7541. They were not tenants of the proprietor of the land?

7542. But they held their portions of land from the tacksmen ; now were those portions of land more spacious and convenient? Had they larger summings of stock on them than they now possess?
—Yes, they had so many head of cattle and sheep, and they were better off than the lotters in the present day.

7543. You think they had larger amounts of stock, and were more comfortable in that respect?
—No, I don't think they had a larger amount of stock, but they had sheep, the small sheep of the country. They used to go with these sheep in summer when they were nearly starving, and they
used to milk them and come home with the milk. Then they had a great deal of shell-fish in summer.

7544. Then, when the gentlemen tacksmen disappeared, and when the sheep farmers came into the country, many of the crofters who paid their rent to the tacksman removed to other places?
— A good many went to America—Prince Edward's Island. The Earl of Selkirk sent a great many to Prince Edward's Island. I believe he had a grant of the land there.

7545. But, besides that, were not a great number removed from different tacks and settled on smaller crofts?
—The proprietor, when he wanted to raise a regiment, enlisted the sons of the lotters on condition that they would get crofts—and then he divided some of these farms into crofts and gave them to the parents of those people who enlisted. I believe that was the origin. Then, there were a good many crofts made at the time when kelp was selling at a large price, in order to make the kelp principally for the tacksmen and partly for the proprietor. That was the origin, I believe, of the small crofts.

7546. First in connection with recruiting, and then in connection with kelp manufacture?
—Yes. And then afterwards these lots —the crofts which are on my place—I believe, were first settled by Mr Macdonald of Vallay, North Uist, in order to enable the people to live a good deal by fishing.

7547. You have stated three causes for the formation of the crofts—enlistment, the kelp manufacture, and improved fishing?

7548. Do you consider that the formation of the sheep farms was a fourth cause?
—Well, for very large tacks a proprietor such as M'Leod of M’Leod or Lord Macdonald got high rents —much higher rents, and regularly paid —whereas the crofters' pay was very precarious.

7549. You have heard what has been said by some of the delegates with reference to the customs which are alleged to have been enforced upon your estate; one of these was the exaction of labour from the tenantry, another was the exaction of the sale of fish. Would you give us some explanation of these customs upon your property? For instance, when you first acquired the property, did you find the practice existing of so many days' labour?
—I believe so : I am not very sure. As for their labour, I did not care a straw for it. The small tenants on Meiloveg and the other neighbouring properties offered me when the people on my own place refused. I supplied them with medicine and medical advice so long as I was able to visit their sick, and I visited their houses, but I have been afflicted with gout, and I cannot do it now ; but I still continue to give medicine and advice to all and sundry—every one who comes. I keep a stock of medicine, and they all come to me for medicine and advice.

7550. With reference to the practice which they attribute to a former manager of yours, of going round and buying the choicest cattle, what can you tell us about that? Are you aware such a practice existed?
—Well, I don't believe it; I don't know, though my manager might do some things of which I was unaware, but I know this that he used to buy a six months' stirk—calves I may call them—at Martinmas for wintering. The prices then were very low. When I came here first he used to buy them for 16s., 17s., and 20s. Well, some of them came to me, and complained to me that the price was too small I told them to sell them to any person that would give them more, —only give me the money the grieve offered. Well, some of them went to the market. There was always a market at Martinmas, but they could not get a penny more than my grieve offered, and then they came back and gave them to him again.

7551. And with reference to the custom of purchasing the fish, to which allusion has been made, was it a rule on the estate?
—That was a rule before I had anything to do with it. I built two curing houses and two salt cellars—one at Glendale and one at Galtrigill. They are quite close to the sea. They had only to take the fish into the house. I had a curer, and they had nothing to do with curing. In spring, perhaps, they would send children to spread the fish over the shore to dry, and in the evening for perhaps an hour to gather fish up after being dried. That would go on for perhaps three or four days if the weather was good.

7552. That was the custom of the estate when you came to the place?
—That was always the custom. Then I gave up taking any fish at all.

7553. What was the price with reference to the catching?
—The price, when I came here, was 3d. for a cod and 4d. for a ling; but the prices were very bad in the south. Then, when the prices got a little better, I raised them to 4d. for the cod and 5d. for the ling, and one year I gave 5d. for the cod and 7d. for the ling, but the quantity was so small —giving £10 to the fish curer —that last year I took the fish I had, less than three tons, and I gave £10 to the fish curer, and there was the freight by the steamer, which was about £1, and the salt, so you can see what profit I got out of it.

7554. What was the price of cattle when you first recollect?
—A good stirk would bring 20s.

7555. In the market?
—A very good stirk at Martinmas.

7556. What would the same description of animal sell for last year!
—Last year there were queys on my place sold for £8, 10s. ; and they did not get more than £3, and a good one would only get £3 when I came here first.

7557. The animal which was sold for £3 when you came here would now sell for £8?
—Yes, a quey.

7558. But is the animal now a better one than it was then?
—Yes, because the first thing I did was to buy three bulls from Mr Macdonald, Monkstadt, and the people saw the advantage which they derived from having good bulls, and after that they began to buy bulls from Captain Macdonald, Waternish, and other people, paying as much as £20.

7559. Since you came here have you ever evicted any families except for failure to pay rent?
—I never evicted one. I never evicted a tenant who paid his rent.

7560. And since you came here have you raised the rent generally?
—Yes, I believe, several years ago, there was £1 put on; but I took that off last year, if they would pay their rents. In the case of the Ferrinvicquarrie people—you saw one of them here—-I told them I would take £2 of a deduction off some lots—I think the lots of people that went to Australia, if they would pay their rent —but they would not pay, and they never paid a farthing. Now, three years ago, John Mackinnon and almost every one of the tenants sold three rents of potatoes. The year before last they had plenty of potatoes. They could get nobody to buy them, for potatoes were plentiful all over the country. They came from Ayrshire and Ireland. They were getting 6s. and 8s. a barrel for potatoes.

7561. What is your recollection of early times? Do you think the people are now better fed and clothed than they were in those days, or do you think they are not so well clothed?
—I don't know as to their feeding. Perhaps it is mere extravagance, but decidedly they are better clad. You will see the women now with boas and bonnets and feathers.

7562. But are they as substantially dressed or are they as usefully dressed as they used to be?
—Well, I don't know. They go to the Lothians to work in summer and spring, and they buy some dresses of no great value.

7563. But you have been a physician for very many years, and you must be a very good judge of the state of the people. Do you think that the children are as well fed and dressed and as strong now as they were many years ago? Do you think there is a deterioration or an improvement?
—I don't think the children are nearly so well fed. Formerly they used to have a great many eggs, and they gave them to the children. Now they sell all their eggs for tea and sugar and tobacco, and the children get none of them. The consequence is that the children are weakly, scrofulous, and very much deteriorated.

7564. Do you think the children get as much milk now as they used to do ?
—I don't think they ever got meat, except fowls and eggs.

7565. I said milk; do they get as much milk as they used to do?
—Yes, I think they do. They get as much as they used to do when I came here. But no doubt the crofts are deteriorated from constant cropping, and not large enough to leave any out of crop. In my own time the people had what they called tithing folds—that is, folds outside in the grazing where they kept their cattle at night, and the cattle manured these folds, and they got an excellent crop from these folds manured by cattle. There is nothing of that kind now.

7566. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—That is because of the introduction of sheep farming, I suppose. The sheep now occupy the ground where those folds were?
—No, the township had a good deal of that.

7567. And why have they given up that practice?
—I don't know. Their crofts were measured and put out to them —by whom I don't know—but formerly there were no crofts. They made crofts wherever they could, and they had a summing of cattle, and a few had sheep; but then, latterly, those who had sheep never attended to them. The sheep got the scab. They never smeared them, or kept them out of their own corn.

7568. Then, how would you propose to improve the lands now-a-days that have got so deteriorated?
—I don't see how the land can be improved. The only remedy, I think, for them is to go where they can get land—that is, America. Go to Manitoba and various parts of America and Canada, and you can get lands there very cheap ; but they cling to the soil, and it is very difficult. A good many of the people since I came here went to Canada and Prince Edward's Island.

7569. I daresay you know they talk as if they would prefer to go to Bracadale instead of going to America? Would they give the rents the tacksmen are giving for Bracadale now?
—They could not. Do you suppose M'Leod of M'Leod could divide his lands among the people
perhaps who would never pay his rent? M'Leod has one tenant in Bracadale and Minginish who pays £1900 a year; another pays £1500. Do you suppose M'Leod would take small crofters, for they never would pay that rent—one-half of it, one-third of it even, if they got it.

7570. You think they could not pay the rent?
—I know they could not do it, and they would not do it. They are getting indolent and lazy besides. Look at this winter; they did nothing but go about with fires on every hill, and playing sentinels to watch for fear of sheriff's officers coming with warnings to take their cattle for rent. They went about with pitch-forks and scythes and poles pointed with iron or steel, and it was a mercy no one would serve the processes upon them, or they would have murdered him sure enough. You cannot get a sheriffs officer now to serve a process on any tenant in Skye.

7571. There is a specific allegation that you removed four crofters from Galtrigill and added their crofts to your own parks. Had they not paid their rents?
—Not one that I ever removed paid rent. There was one, not at Galtrigill, but at Ferrinvicquarrie, and there were two who went to Lowergil. M'Leod of M'Leod had that land then, and he wanted to establish a fishery, and he got some people from my place and gave them lots at Meiloveg.

7572. Did you hear Donald M'Lean from Galtrigill giving an account of stopping a cart of yours? Was that quite correct?
—Quite correct, so my servant told me. A number of women and men met the cart en the road. The cart was going with meal to my shepherd, and they wanted to know, at least the man said they wanted to know, what was in the cart, and he said it was none of their business, and then they jumped to take
hold of the horse's reins, and both horse and cart went off the road.

7573. But did they do any hurt to the cart?
—They did no harm fortunately, because at that part of the road there was no drain near the place.

7574. This is what I refer to. The tenants of Borroraig say
—'Dr Martin has in his time removed four crofters from this township, and he made seven new parks from lands belonging to the township, which were within the old landmarks or boundaries of the township, and he added these parks to his own holdings'?
—That is quite true.

7575. When we asked the witness about it he said that two of those men had gone to Waternish, and two you provided for elsewhere?
—Well, some went to Glendale, to M'Leod's lands, and some went to Watemish, and some to Sheadcr, and some to Skiniden.

7576. But these were not paying rent?
—No, they went of their own accord. I never turned them off. As for M'Lean, he has no lands at all.
The man M’Lean who gave evidence is £17 in arrear. He came from Mr Macdonald of Lyndale's property, and I believe he left that property without paying his rent too.

7577. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You said, in answer to Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, that it would be quite absurd in M'Leod to cut up the large farms, one of which pays £1900, and another pays £1500, because the crofters could not pay those rents. Now, are you aware that in proportion to the extent of their holdings the crofters of Skye are paying much higher rents than the large tacksmen?
—Well, I am not sure of that.

7578. You are not aware of it?
—I am not aware of it.

7579. And you don't believe it is a fact?
—And I don't believe it is a fact. I would give £500 to-day if all the crofters on my place went away.
I would keep the paupers. I would not ask the paupers to go away.

7580. The Chairman.
—Do you mean you would give £ 500 in order to facilitate their establishment in America or elsewhere?
—Elsewhere, if they leave my place; but not partially leave it, because I would be just as bad then as I a m now, because if only a few went away all these crofts would be vacant, and I would get nothing for them, but if all went away I would give £500. During the three years of destitution we had here, there were Government officers who came to superintend the distribution of large sums of money collected everywhere for the people. Well, the allowance given to the people was 1 lb. of meal a day for a day's work—just 1 lb. Well, when I saw that, I commenced draining bogs myself—bogs that were 15 or 16 feet deep, that no beast could get through,—and I was paying the people according to the work they did. I spent upwards of £10,000 of my own money during that destitution. Well, I am no worse than any man living, I believe.

7581. You say you believe you spent £10,000 in providing work?
—In providing work for the people.

7582. For the destitute people?
—For the destitute people.

7583. Have you received any benefit or interest upon that outlay?
—Hardly any. That land was in my own possession—no person's possession I may say—for even the sheep could not get through it.

7584. But is it more valuable now that it is drained?
—Oh, it will graze some beasts now.

7585. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How were these £10,000 expended?
—In giving work to these people.

7586. What kind of work?
—Draining and trenching —not their own lots—but lots that were vacant. People went to Australia and other places.

7587. Was any part of it expended on works for their own benefit?
—None, because they would not do it, you know. They would not take it to be expended as my grieve would approve of.

7588. I observed in reading not long ago the last Destitution Committee report by Mr Skene in 1852, that an offer was made to the various proprietors in Skye of a sum of money to be expended by them for certain objects and under certain conditions, and you undertook to execute certain works?
—That was the last year of the destitution.

7589. Among other things you undertook to establish a fishing colony at Boreraig, and that phrase struck me because there were always fishers there?
—There was always a fishing colony there; and some persons to-day said I prevented them from fishing.

7590. But in that report a letter of yours is printed stating that you were going to establish a fishing colony at Boreraig?
—That must be a mistake. I built a salt cellar and a curing house at Boreraig, and one at Glendale, which cost me £800, and they are not worth anything to me.

7591. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You said it would be well worth your while to pay down £500 in order to get rid of the crofters altogether in a body. I want to follow that up with the question, Would it be wise for Lord Macdonald, and M'Leod, and the other big proprietors to pay down a much larger sum than the £500 for the very same purpose?
—Well, I should think it would.

7592. The Chairman.
—That is, you mean to emigrate them!
—Or migrate them ; go where they like. I don't see who would take them; I don't think M'Leod would take them.

7593. Professor Mackinnon.
—Would you leave any people in the island at all?
—I would not give the sum I mentioned for a partial emigration.

7594. And would you then have no people on the island at all ?
—That I don't know. I am only speaking about my own place.

7595. The Chairman.
—Have you any further statement?

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