Glendale, Skye, 21 May 1883 - Magnus Mclean

MAGNUS M’LEAN, Crofter, Husabost (50)—examined.

7424. The Chairman.
—Are you a fisherman too?
—It is very seldom I fish.

7425. You produce a written statement to the Commissioners ?
—Yes. Husabost, 19th May 1883. The Royal Commissioners, Highlands and Islands. HONOURABLE GENTLEMEN,
—The crofters in this township desire to make the following candid statements:—
(1) That while the whole township was, during a period of years previous to 1838, held in common
by eight tenants, paying a yearly rental of £ 8 each, and keeping a stock of seven cows, a horse, and seven sheep with their followers, the third and least productive part is presently overcrowded by twenty-six crofters, paying yearly rentals varying from £ 1 to £ 6 each ; which in all amounts to about £ 100. When the township was divided into crofts or lots in 1838, there were thirty-one crofts in all, varying in yearly rentals from £ 2 , 10s. to £ 5 each. The crofters were at this date deprived of their horses, but were allowed to keep sheep till the present proprietor got the estate into his own hands about thirty-eight years ago.
(2) That there are at present only nineteen crofts in our possession, each crofter having a summing equal to three cows. These cows are during the summer and harvest very poorly pastured, but to winter them is almost impossible. Should they get the whole produce of the croft it would barely supply them.
(3) That at the time of the division into lots, the cultivated land on many of them was not more that what would produce four pecks of corn; so that what is presently cultivated is the result of our own labour. Owing to the incessant tilling of the soil and its thinness, we must sow twice as much seed as strong good land requires ; we are of opinion that a great part of the seed does not take root at all
(4) That the twelve crofts deducted from the township are by far the best, and are presently utilised by the proprietor. These twelve crofts are in the centre of the township, where the proprietor's house is also. In the time of the former proprietor he had only a piece of land beside the house. He did not evict any one from the township.
(5) That there are nine crofts marching on the north side with the proprietor's share, and with the exception of two have been curtailed by the present proprietor, specially the three crofts marching with Bororraig.
(6) That £ 1 , 9s is exacted from eight of those nine crofts, to keep park dykes in repair for the proprietor, to protect his own crops.
(7) That there are two cottars and four paupers in the township. The crofters have been hitherto compelled by the proprietor to keep the paupershouses in repair, at our own expense; failing to obey orders we would be threatened with a warning of removal, notwithstanding how great our own abodes stood in need of repair.
(8) That ten days work was claimed by the proprietor from each crofter, at spring and harvest labour. All their thanks and wages at sunset from the manager was a lot of abusive language. Failing to perform eight days specially, 2s, 6d. had to be paid for any of or all those days, or if missed through any cause whatever, and threats of warning for omitting the other two days. In fact, we had to reply whenever called to any sort of work, which was not seldom. The labour was that severe that it required the strongest in the family to perform it. And in cases of labourers under wages, it varied from 6d. to Is. 6d. per day. Each man had to buy a hook to do the harvest work for the proprietor. We can give an instance of a crofter in this township having paid 17s. 6d. for omitting seven of the eight days work claimed; and that through ill-health. Is it not a disgrace to British legislation that any human being in the realm should be compelled, in the present age, to perform horse work without either thanks or wages.
(9) That we have to bring our sea-ware for four miles across Dunvegan Loch.
(10) That the average yearly expenditure in meal is about £14 per crofter.
(11) That some time ago the proprietor prohibited lobster fishing on his own foreshores, and various other grievances of which we are ashamed to make mention. We do therefore beg to state the desires of the township :—

(1) That our holdings be enlarged;
(2) That Government would grant money to improve our lands and houses;
(3) That permanent security be given us against proprietors oppression and eviction ;
(4) That a reasonable rent be fixed on our holdings. Names of delegates
—MAGNUS MACLEAN, crofter; DONALD CAMERON, crofter. Signed by Widow
—P.S. With regard to paragraph (5) we desire to state that at the time the township was divided into lots, the three said crofts were left undivided in the possession of three at a yearly rental of £13. As there was not enough of land on the Husabost side of the old march separating it from Borroraig, those crofts were extended over the march, so that it would come to the value of £15. There are now nine families instead of three, paving an aggregate rental of £24, 10s.'

7426. Have you any verbal statement to make ?
—No, not much.

7427. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie
—Is it true that the summing is only three cows?
—Yes, nothing but the three cows.

7428. If you kept four, would anybody say anything to you?
—Yes, we would need to buy grass for the fourth.

7429. The Chairman
—I wish to speak about the ten days’ work which was exacted from the crofters. In whose time were these ten days first exacted ? Was it in Dr Martin's time, or previously?
—Some days work was exacted from us in Mr Nicolson's time, but more work is now exacted from us.

7430. Was it the old custom of the country on the tacksman's land or on the proprietor's land to take part of the rent in labour?
—This service was not for payment of rent. We were giving our work for nothing.

7431. But you said there was always some service exacted —in Mr Nicolson's time and in earlier times perhaps?
—I never heard about that.

7432. Have you not often heard that it used to be the custom in the
time of your forefathers ?
—I did not hear that; I never heard about it.

7433. Is it not the case that labour is often given by crofters living upon tacksman's land ?

7431. When was this labour last exacted by the proprietor? When was it last given by the tenants ?
—A year ago, and the service would still be exacted from us were it not that we have rebelled against it.

7435. Would the proprietor exact the services when it was inconvenient to the tenant to give it ?
—It doesn't matter, we would be made to pay. We were bound to render the service any time it was wanted.

7436. Suppose the tenants were doing their own harvest work, would the proprietor take them away from their own harvest and make them work on his harvest ?
—Should there be only at home my wife, and my corn going with the wind, she must needs attend to the landlord's work when required; and I remember coming home from the fishing —I was four months away— and I found my wife reaping my landlord's corn; and she asked as a favour of the factor, the manager, to be allowed to go home to prepare food for me, and she would not get leave.

7437. Were you allowed to find a substitute for the work —to get another man to do it instead of yourself ?
—Yes, if I would pay for a substitute.

7438. And if you found another man how much did you pay ?
—2s. 6d has been paid. They are here present who have paid 2s. 6d.; at least if the man who paid the money is not here, his son is.

7439. You state here that they met with abusive language ?
—Yes, from the manager; bad language which I would be ashamed to repeat in the presence of gentlemen.

7440. Were any allowances made in money or in food by the proprietor to those who were engaged in this work ?
—We were getting food —sort of food—no wages.

7441. What kind of food ?
—Porridge and milk in the morning, and potatoes and herring for dinner. Sometimes we would get some treacle and water, and a bit of bread afterwards, and sometimes we would be getting meal with the bread also.

7442. Was the food brought out to you in the field ?

7443. Then you did get some kind of wages —remuneration in the shape of food ?
—Oh, well it may be called sort of wages, but we would need to get the food at any rate. If we did not get it from him we would need to go home every day, and I know some who went to their own homes and took their own food.

7444. How far from your own homes was this labour exacted from you?
—Some quarter of a mile; I cannot tell the distance exactly.

7445. Do you think that the rent was made any lower than others pay for the same advantages, on account of the labour that was exacted from them ?
—No, we don't think the rent was less.

7446. Did the proprietor show them any favour or kindness generally at the time they were doing this sort of work ?
—I don't know what that means.

7447. Did he do anything for them because they did this for him ?
—Yes, he was giving us his skill and his medicines sometimes—every time we went to him; we must speak the truth.

7448. And for their wives and children ?
—Any one who was sick in the family.

7449. Sheriff Nicolson
—You speak about porridge and potatoes and herring as being a kind of food. Don't you think it is a good kind of food ?
—Yes, it was good food.

7450. Then why do you call it a sort of food contemptuously?
—There is many a sort of food.

7451. What better food have you in your own houses 2
—I have cheese and butter in my own house.

7452. Then you are not so badly off?
—No, but I would get it to buy.

7453. Do you think that any man is badly used who gets porridge and milk to his breakfast and potatoes and herring to his dinner ?
—I think that potatoes and herring is no food for a man who is working as hard as a horse, and I never considered porridge and milk food to keep a man in strength when I had hard work. I know it is healthy enough food for any person.

7454. Have not porridge and milk and potatoes and fish —especially herring—been the principal food of the people of Skye for several generations?
—It was part of their food. They were using plenty fish, and they would have flesh in the days gone by, and they cannot get it now.

7455. Was it a common thing for them to have meat?

7456. When ?
—In former times.

7457. When?
—In Mr Nicolson's time.

7458. Were you alive then yourself—were you not a baby then ?
—Yes, and I was employed by old Mr Nicolson planting his potatoes; and I knew Sheriff Nicolson at that time.

7459. And did you use to get roast beef to dinner at that time, or anything of the sort ?
—I never got food from him; I was only there one day, and I was but a small boy.

7460. Mr Cameron.
—What to you mean by Is. 6d to Is. a day? Was that given beside the day's labour ?
—That was the wages which we would get.

7461. But the ten days you had to give without any wages?

7462. How long ago was it that they got this Is. 6d. and Is. a day?
—It is going on yet.

7463. What are the ordinary wages in the district ?
—I know no person who employs labour except the landlord.

7464. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—With reference to the £ 1 , 9s. exacted from three of the crofters for putting up a dyke—is that exacted up to this date ?
—It is still going on.

7465. Is it a special burden upon those three, or is it a burden upon the whole township ?
—It is a burden upon the entire township. It is on the township altogether.

7466. You say there are four paupers in the township, and that the crofters have hitherto been compelled to keep the paupers’ houses in repair. When you speak of paupers do you mean people who are on the poors roll ?

7467. Are you aware that the parochial board is bound to keep paupershouses up ?
—That is what I was thinking.

7468. Then, that being the case, why did you do it?
—We would require to do it, or if we refused we would be told we would be warned out of our lands, and besides that we had to take our own fodder to use for thatch.

7469. Not only your labour, but your material ?
—The fodder off our own crofts.

7470. Is that going on until this day ?
—I have not done it for the past two or three years.

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