Glendale, Skye, 21 May 1883 - John Mackay

JOHN MACKAY, Crofter, Colbost (69)—examined.

7097. The Chairman.
—Were you freely elected a delegate?
—Yes, and it was against my will too.

7098. Were there a number of people present who elected you?
—Yes; all the township.

7099. This is your statement which you present to us:
The grievances of the above township may be seen in the following statement. The township of Colbost, the property of the late Sir John M'Leod in 1830 was occupied by seven crofters; they had a good number of cattle, sheep, and horses. They also derived a good living from their crofts, and were in comfortable circumstances. But on account of the proprietor being away in India for a long time, and the entire management entrusted to factors, the crofters suffered from their hands. About the year 1834, during Mr M'Kinnon Corry's factorship, the township was let with the crofters to a man of the name of John Tolmie on lease of fourteen years, who upon his entry as tenant immediately raised the rent to nearly double the former. The crofters therefore were forced to leave the place, as they refused to pay the increased rent. The township therefore being cleared, the said John Tolmie divided the land into small lots, and settled a large number of crofters thereon that were evicted from various townships in the parish for the purpose of making room for sheep, and he also charged them double the rent that the former crofters paid. He also deprived them of the hill pasture, except a very small piece on which they kept a few cattle. The crofters, being sorely oppressed and straitened, were reduced to great poverty. When Sir John returned from India, on being informed of the state of affairs on his estate, he immediately dismissed the said John Tolmie at the expiry of his lease. On account of the poverty which prevailed, caused by the failure of crops, which brought about the destitution of 1846, the proprietor sent to our relief a large quantity of oatmeal and seed, as a donation, and entrusted its distribution to Norman M'Raild, Colbost, afterwards factor for Colbost and Skiniden. Instead of giving the meal gratis, as was ordered by the proprietor we were charged the enormous price of £1,16s. to £ 2 per boll of 140 lbs. On account of our poverty, we could not pay the said meal, and consequently our cattle were seized and taken from us at half their value, so that we were left without stock and pennyless, and a good number were reduced to pauperism. When the said Norman M'Raild became factor in 1848, the proprietor instructed him to make new settlements with us, granting the township at the old rent which the seven afore-mentioned crofters paid, with the old landmarks. This he actually told us, but on a second consideration he deprived us of a promontory piece of the township of the value of £16, charging the full rent, exclusive of the said piece. Into this piece he removed the most poor of the crofters, divided the arable part of it into small lots, and put rent on them payable to himself. All this was done quite unknown to the landlord, who resided in London, and never visited his property but once for the last fifty years. The cottars removed on account of their poverty were unable to pay rent for the said piece, and it was therefore taken from them; and we were compelled to take it with an additional rent of £15. We were also told by the factor, if we would not take it, that we would be evicted from our holdings at the first term. There was also a considerable sum of money expended on improving the land; drainage money was therefore laid on us, both capital and interest, for the
last thirty-two years. We were told it would be paid up in twenty years, but we are still paying it. W^e are not allowed to keep a horse, but have to undergo all the slavish work ourselves, such as carrying manure and sea-ware on our backs in creels, dragging the harrow, &c. We also build our own houses, and we get no compensation from the proprietor, except for the roof at the time of leaving. The present number of crofters in the township is twenty-three. There are also fifteen cottars, which is a great burden to the crofters. The fourth part of the township is also in the possession of one man. Owing to the incessant tilling of the sod for the last seventy years, the land has become so poor and unproductive that it will not now yield half the crop it used to have given in by-gone years; that our holdings are quite inadequate to support us; that we pay from £ 10 to £15 in meal every year, exclusive of other necessaries; that therefore the only remedy for the improving of our condition, is the extension of our holdings, a permanent security against capricious eviction and rackrenting, and compensation for any improvement made upon the croft in case of removal.'
Signed by seventeen. Have you any other statement to make to the Commission?
— Not much. We are wanting the burden and the increase of rent that was laid upon us to be taken off. We wrote to the trustees explaining how we were, and we got no reply.

7100. What is the particular increase of rent that you allude to?
—The piece of land that was put on us. We got the land at its old rent, and at the old boundaries, from Sir John, and when Norman M'Raild settled it on us he deprived us of the fifth part of it; and when Mr Harry Macdonald, Portree, became factor in succession to Norman, we got summonses of removal from this piece. We got it back with an increase of rent in respect of it of £15, and besides that there is the increase that was laid upon us for the drainage. The old rent was £110 when it was occupied by the seven who had it, and it is now up to £140. We were for having our rents reduced to the old amount of £110; and as to the drainage that was made upon our lands, the people got but little for their work—6d. a rood.

7101. What is the summing of the full croft?
—Two cows and a two year-old.

7102. No horse?
— No horse.

7103. How many sheep?
—Six sheep, but we keep between eight and nine.

7104. And what is the rent?
—£5, 0s. 6d. besides dues.

7105. How long is it since the rent was raised?
—In 1848 was the first increase, and then the drainage money was laid on us about thirty years ago.

7106. The rent has not been increased for thirty years?

7107. Was the land improved by the drainage?
—No, it was the worse of it ; because the work was done so very badly, owing to the small pay that was allowed for the work. The land is very much washed away with the heavy rains.

7108. Have you made any drains yourself since then?
—No, not much.

7109. Mr Cameron.
—Did the inspector come to look at the drains when they were made?
—I don't remember. I think Mr M'Caskill, Talisker, went to look at them after they were finished.

7110. But if the drains were made by money borrowed from Government, don't you think they must have been inspected by some Government official?
—-We did not see. We only saw M'Caskill.

7111. Are you quite sure that M'Caskill was not a Government inspector?
—I am not sure.

7112. You say in your statement that one man had one-fourth or one-fifth of the whole land. What do you mean by that?
—I mean by that that the factor who was appointed by Sir John —Norman M'Raild,—when he made lots of the township, kept that much for himself.

7113. And the fourth of the township is in the possession of one man?
—That is visible.

7114. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Have the small tenants—the crofters—any slated houses?
—No, not one.

7115. Coming along the road to-day, I saw a nice slated house which I understood was upon Colbost?
—It was the factor's house. It was Sir John who built it for M'Raild.

7116. Who has it now?
—It is in the family. The M'Railds have it yet.

7117. I think there are more than one slated house in the place?
—There are two store-houses slated.

7118. Has M'Raild any land except this one-fifth of your possession?
—That is all he has.

7119. Is he a crofter?

7120. With a good slated house and two store-houses?

7121. Did he sign the paper?
—No. We did not ask his signature.

7122. Why?
—We did not think that he would be willing to do it.

7123. You spoke about the promise that Sir John Macpherson M'Leod gave after the famine of 1846, when they were to get the old bounds at the old rent. Was that a written or a verbal statement?
—It was the factor—M'Raild—who informed us that Sir John was going to do this.

7124. But, afterwards, he did the very contrary?
—Yes. He settled the fifth part of the township upon poor people who were not able to pay for it and who portioned it out into small lots, and he himself laid the
rent upon it,

7125. He has the fourth of Colbost. Does he pay a fourth of the rent?
—I don't know how he is to-day.

7126. But is he not conjunct with them1?
—Yes, we are in the one township.

7127. Then don't you know what proportion of the rent McRaild is paying?
—I am not sure how much he pays.

7128. Has M'Raild got sheep ?
—Yes; but he has islands belonging to Skiniden which he took possession of at that time, and he is keeping his sheep there.

7129. But he has no sheep on the fourth part of Colbost?
—No, but he keeps two horses. We have no horses at all.

7130. When they found that M'Raild was acting contrary to Sir John's orders, did they make any representation to Sir John as to the way in which they were treated ?
—-I am not sure but we did, but even should we make such a representation we would not get a reply, as it would be sent back to M'Raild.

7131. Is this M'Raild in charge of the estate at this moment ?
—No, not since Tormore became factor. It was Tormore who was factor over us since Sir John purchased the property.

7132. Is there no such person as a ground officer on the estate?
—Norman M'Raild's son is ground officer.

7133. What is the age of the son?
—About forty-six or forty-seven.

7134. Does he live with his father at Colbost?

7135. Is there any other ground officer on the estate?
—No. There is another thing I have to bring forward. I had a daughter and others
gathering whelks, and Norman M'Raild gave me a summons of removing, because of my daughter gathering a bushel of whelks, and when I went to pay the rent to Tormore he exacted from me a payment of 3s.

7136. What right had he to interfere about the gathering of the whelks?
—I am not aware he had any authority other than his own assumption; and he used to bo pouring out the whelks which the people gathered on the shore,

7137. Were these gathered opposite their own crofts or opposite his part?
—M'Raild had a piece of the shore marked off for himself.

7138. I presume he marked it off for himself?
—Yes, and it was the whelks that were gathered there that he poured out.

7139. Does that grievance still remain?
—No, not now. He has now no authority over us of any consequence.

7140. And the present proprietors, I presume, never thought of interfering
with you gathering these shell-fish?

7141. Is the gathering of shell-fish a source of living to the people, and
also of profit?
—I never gathered shell-fish, but there are some people in our township who are gathering them to help them.

7142. There is a good landing place at Colbost. Is there a good place for a quay there?

7143. Is there any fishing in the neighbourhood?
—Not in these times, at any rate. Sometimes the fishing will be better than at other times.

7144. There are at this moment several boats drawn up on the shore, which we saw there. Is that not the case?

7145. Who made those divisions, because each seems to have a little dock for itself? Was it the people who made them?
—The owner of each boat cuts out a dock for his boat.

7146. Did they get any assistance from the superior?

7147. Supposing the pier was improved-or a new pier made there, would it be advantageous to the people of Colbost and Skiniden?
—Yes, especially when the steamers would come with goods.

7148. A steamer could come pretty close to it?

7149. A good number of people would use that spot?
—Yes; a quay would be very convenient—very suitable.

7150. Have you lived all your days in Colbost?
—I came about fortynine years ago.

7151. Where were you before—in this township?
—I was sixteen years in this township of Lephin before that. It was when Tolmie got Colbost that we went there.

7152. The Chairman.
—Is Colbost near Skiniden?
—They march at this side.

7153. It was stated in the newspaper that a placard had been put up at Skiniden threatening vengeance upon any one who would pay his rent. Have you any knowledge of such a placard having been put up : have you ever heard of it?
—I did not hear the like of that.

7154. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Do you hear it now for the first time?
—I was hearing a little about that they were refusing to pay their rent until they would get what they were wanting, but I never heard there was such a paper as that.

7155. I presume you don't for one moment approve of the sentiment contained in such a paper?
—No, I would not approve of such. I would not consent to deprive any one of his life for any reason. The lives of people are more valuable in my eyes than that; and I am very sorry for the state that they are in just now in every place —how we are oppressed by factors and ground officers, who have skinned us.

7156. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Is there a great trade in eggs in Colbost?
—A little.

7157. Do they ship off a good many boxes by the steamboats?
—Yes, they will be shipping off boxes, but it is poverty that will be causing them
to do that.

7158. What do they get a dozen for them from the dealers?
—At this time 5d. per dozen, and in winter 10d. when eggs are scarce.

7159. How many dozen would an ordinary crofter in Colbost be able to collect in the course of a month?
—I cannot tell.

7160. Do you think he would be able to get as many as would pay his rent?
—It would not keep them in tobacco.

7161. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Is it the wife or the man who gets payment for them?
—The women get it; the men take nothing to do with the like of that.

7162. Sheriff Nicolson
—I suppose tea is got in exchange for it?
—Yes, that is so. They cannot do otherwise. They cannot eat their bread dry. They must have something to wash it down, and they cannot get anything else.

7163. Do they ever give the eggs to the calves?

7164. For want of anything else to give the calves?
—Yes, they are young, and their mothers have no milk; the cows are so poor that they have no milk at all. Our cows are just like Pharaoh's lean kine, owing to the inferior nature of the pasture.

7165. Have you any complaint about the sea-ware at Colbost?
—Not now, but when we were settled in Colbost we were promised a ton of seaware, but instead of that we were only getting bits that were opposite to our lots and we had to buy the rest.

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