Portree, Skye, 23 May 1883 - John Robertson (factor)

JOHN ROBERTSON, Esq., Farmer and Factor, Grishornish (60)—examined
(See Appendix A. XVII)

8746. The Chairman.
— You are a factor?
—I am factor for my son and for the Glendale trustees.

8747. Do you wish to make any statement to us?
—Well, I have taken some notes. At the meeting at Skeabost there was a case mentioned by John Bethune, who stated that when I was factor at Skeabost a man was fined £4, 10s. for the keep of a horse. I want to explain that I was not factor for the late Mr Macleod of Grishornish at that time, but I occasionally gave him assistance. I am not aware of any case of the kind. I believe there was a case where a man was charged £1 a year for the grazing of a horse, and that is the only case I am aware of. I would like to refer to the matter of Edinbane and what happened at Dunvegan.Murdo M'Lean made several complaints as to my management of the Grishornish property, to which I wish to reply. I may preface it by stating that I have had charge of the property for fourteen years. During that time I have not increased the rental of this township. I have not evicted a single tenant. I have not encroached upon the hill grazings nor taken an inch of their arable lands from them. M'Lean states that I increased the rent of one crofter for taking a lodger, who he admitted was a hawker. He should have added, that it was for harbouring tinkers and becoming a nuisance to the neighbours that the rent was raised. He next charged me with increasing the rent of another crofter 10s. for quarrelling with his neighbour. He should have said fighting with his neighbour, and being otherwise troublesome to the crofters adjoining his land. Both crofters in 1882 had this increase taken off, and the rents made the same as before. The crofter who had his rent slightly increased for selling part of his crop ofF the property knew that by the rules of the estate he could sell it to any of the crofters or to any one on the property, and he had no excuse for refusing to comply with the rules. This crofter and four others had been paying less rent than the other eighteen crofters who had half lots, and as they had about the same quantity of arable land, and were allowed the same summing of cattle, and received an equal share of the sheep profits, I considered they were bound to pay the same rent; and as two or three of the crofters had been complaining of paying more than the others, I reduced them, and made all as nearly as possible alike. These changes reduced the rental of the township £ 1 , 4s., as will be seen by comparing the valuation roll of 1881 with that of 1882. I may here state that the late Mr Macleod of Grishornish, about twenty years ago, assisted six families to emigrate from the township, purchasing lands for them in America. He then removed the crofters of Kerrol, taking the vacant lands of Kerrol and Bendhu into his own hands. He expended a large amount of money in draining and trenching parts of these lands, and put up houses for the cottars of Bendhu. The rest of the lands he had under cultivation; and I may also mention that he erected on these lands the Gesto Hospital, and left it handsomely endowed for the benefit of the people of Skye, and Murdo M'Lean's brother lately received some of its benefits. This was the state of matters when I received charge of the property for my son, who is a minor, and as I have said, I have made no change on the croftersholdings since. The houses were built by the crofters, and I have not interfered with them, nor have I interfered with the cropping of the land, but I have interested myself in the management of the stock of sheep. I purchased shares of these sheep, and I gave shares to those who had none, or who had not a full share, so as to make all equal in holding half or whole shares; I assisted at sales of their sheep and lambs, not even charging outlays, and the result is that for fourteen years the average profit has been £6 per share. A complaint has been made relative to the bank interest. The payments for sheep and lambs are as often made after the term as before it, as you will see by the past year's account, which I now produce. Besides, the bank only allows 1 or 1½ per cent, on current account, and though all the money was paid in two months before the'account closed, the interest would not amount to more than 5s. This year the difference is on my side. M'Lean states also that only 100 or 120 lambs are usually sold.
That is not correct. As you wLU see from the paper, 192 lambs were sold last year, and seldom under 180. Horses are not included in the summing, and no rent for them is paid. The charge of 10s. for each is divided amongst the crofters. I do not interfere in the sale of their cattle, and though I frequently ask them to give me the first offer of any animal they have for sale, it makes no difference whether they do so or rot. I can buy from strangers as a rule on better terms. My keeping a meal store also appears to be a grievance, but as I expend in labour £600 or £700 annuaHy, I require a store to supply my engaged servants and other workers with their ordinary allowance of meal The store is open to any of the tenants who may want a supply, but I never asked any one of them to take meal from the store, and I have often cautioned my manager not to give them so much. Our prices for the past two years have been 20s. or 21s. per boll cash, and 22s. credit —except for four months —last July, August, September, and October—when it was 6d. per boll more, owing to the prices in the south being higher. Another delegate from Edinbane says that the crofters there had only four boats. I find, however, they have fourteen good sea-going boats. I think I have shown that the complaints made are groundless, and are not correct. I may just state that Murdo M'Lean and his brother have got upwards of £70 from me for draining during the last three or four years. These are my statements in reply to the complaints made, and I exhibit a letter from the banker showing the rate of interest.

8748. We understand from you that for the last fourteen years there have been no evictions?
—For a much longer period, but that is during my time.

8749. And during the same time there has been no increase of rental Robertson, on the crofters?
—None; as a whole, there have been a few shillings put on to equalise lower rents.

8750. And during that period has there been any subdivision of the crofts?

8751. You mentioned that at a previous time six crofters were supplied with the means of emigration, and provided with land in America. Will you kindly state what intelligence you have respecting the fate of these people since they settled in America?
—They have been successful.

8752. All the six?
—So I understand.

8753. In what part of the country did they settle?
—In Canada. There is a gentleman here who can tell all about them.
Rev. Mr Darrock. I have only to say that I happened to be in Canada at the time, and I saw the parties. They landed there, stopping on farms purchased for them by Mr Macleod of Grishornish, and most of them remained there in my time, but some of them were going further west, and getting land for themselves. They settled there on lands provided for them by Mr Macleod until such time as I understood they could purchase laud for themselves, and they seemed to be very much pleased indeed with the country.

8754. Did they ever express any regret that they had left this country?
—No, never.

8755. Were they supplied with clothes and passage money by the proprietor?
Mr Robertson. They were.
Rev. Mr Darrock. They seemed to be well clothed at all events.
Mr Robertson. We purchased the lands in addition.

8756. Have you any statement to make about Glendale?
—No, unless you have any questions to put to me in reference to it.

8757. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—One of the complaints by the people who were here was, that they did not know the proper state of the accounts. You have now handed in an account; did you always give a copy of this to the people?

8758. I do not observe the interest you refer to credited here?
—There is no interest in the account, except against some advances for wool.

8759. But they seem to think that there was some interest coming to you from the bank?
—No part of the money for the sheep was paid to me till 13th March, so that the account is rather in my favour than against me.

8760. The interest is in your favour?

8761. The Chairman.
—You mean there ought to be a payment to you rather than to them?
—Quite so.

8762. Sheriff Nicolson.
—There was also a complaint about a prohibition to take shell fish?
—There was none except against taking oysters. I have a lease of the beds of oysters and mussels, and they make a handle of that.

8763. You don't forbid them to take mussels?
—I don't forbid them, but I have a lease for the two.

8764. Is anybody at liberty to take bait off the shore there ?
—Anybody. I do not interfere with them if they do not touch the oysters. I pay a rent of £ 10 to the Board of Trade.

8765. For the oysters?

8766. Have the oysters been increasing since the people were prohibited from taking them?
—Yes, they are increasing.

8767. I suppose before your prohibition they were taking them indiscriminately?
—They were taking them all away at that time.

8768. The Chairman.
—Do you think they would have been exterminated if the people had retained the power of taking them away?
—I believe they would.

8769. Are they increasing to be a source of profit?
—They are increasing slowly, and last year was very much better than previous years.

8770. Do you offer any for sale?
—I have not offered any for sale yet. I intended to send some to the Exhibition, but I was rather late in doing it.

8771. What is your object? Is it to try to find a new source of profit in the country?
—Yes, an oyster shore ought to be very valuable.

8772. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Is the right to gather periwinkles free to the people?
—Free to the people.

8773. Is there any profitable oyster bank about Skye?
—A great number. There are a great number of oyster banks about Skye.

8774. You do not say they are profitable now?
—I do not think they are very profitable now. They have been cleaned off very much.

8775. Is there a good oyster bed at Skiniden?
—I do not remember.

8776. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—I observe one complaint is that you have two shares of sheep on the hill, and that you do not pay for the grazing?
—I have two shares on the hill, but they belong to that part of the Edinbane township called Kerrol. They have the same right to these two shares that the rest of the town has. There has been no change made by me.

8777. With regard to these two shares?
—No change whatever.

8778. The Chairman.
—I do not distinctly understand about the two shares. The delegates who spoke seemed to imply that you derive a full measure of profit from these shares, and that you do not participate in an equal degree of the expenses?
—I stand in the same position as any one of them. I pay the same share of the expenses, and I hold the arable land of Kerrol in my own hands.

8779. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many shares are there altogether in this hill farm?

8780. And you have two?
—I have two.

8781. And they complain, I understand, that you don't pay for a certain portion of the grazing, and you say that is a separate matter altogether?
—No, the grazing of Kerrol is enclosed. The late Mr Macleod made a sort of model farm, and he kept part of it in grass and cultivation, and had part of it planted. I just keep it in the same way.

8782. Is that the portion they complain of?
—That is the portion they think they should have the run of.

8783. When was that taken from them?
—About twenty years ago, but they were removed from the lands of Kerrol to Edinbane when he sent
the six away to America, and they got lands that became vacant there instead.

8784. If you have that portion reserved, how is it pastured? You have sheep in common?
—Well, there is a part of it given to the doctor of the hospital, but the sheep go on the hill where all the rest of the sheep are. The sheep don't come down there at all. It is the same as part of the crofts
—exactly two crofts.

8785. This part, then, you consider exclusively your own?
—It is exclusively the proprietor's. I am acting for my son.

8786. Have they got any grievance, in reality, about this matter?
—I don't think so. I was not aware of it till I heard of it at Dunvegan.

8787. The Chairman.
—You never heard of this grievance before? They never made any representation to you?
—Never. Each share pays £ 10 rent, and receives the same advantages in the hill grazing as the other
croft that pays £8 rent.

8788. There is another matter, namely, that you raised the rents for the purpose of qualifying them as voters?
—That is nonsense. The election was over before anything of the kind happened, and I had no inducement to do so. It was to equalise them, and, as you will observe from the paper, the changes reduced the rent £1, 4s., and did not, as a whole, increase it. They were all deriving the same amount of profit from the different lots. They had all the same arable land, and received the same summing of cattle.

8789. Do you mean you took it off some and put it on to others?
—I took it off some and put it on to others.

8790. And it is those on whom you put it that are complaining?

8791. And it is incorrect to attribute any such motive to you?
—Quite incorrect.

8792. One of the delegates stated that you distinctly said you put it on because you wanted to make a gentleman of him?
—It is quite possible I may have chaffed him, because at that time there was a little excitement about the election.

8793. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Where do the common stock winter?
—Over all the ground,

8794. And do they winter on your arable ground as well as on the crofters arable ground?
—No the lands of Kerrol are fenced off.

8795. That is the complaint of the crofters perhaps —that you do not share in the wintering of their sheep?
—That must have given rise to it.

8796. The Chairman.
—If you wish to make any further statement you are at liberty to do so?
—I have no other statement to make, unless I am asked in reference to Glendale.

8797. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Perhaps you could tell us something about Glendale
—I have had very little to do with it.

8798. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Do you wish of your own accord to make any statement about Glendale?
—There is not very much that I have got to say.

8799. The proprietor, Mr Macpherson, is here to-day; does he wish to make any statement?
—I am not aware.

8800. You do not wish to volunteer any statement?
—I am not prepared at present.

The following is the account referred to in the examination of this witness:
—Edinbane Sheep Stock, allowing Sales and Expenses for 1882.

14 September 1882.
130 wedder lambs, sold at £11/10 per c. score less 23s 9d: £70/0/0
62 shot wedder lambs and 1 wedder, 12s, sold at £17/1/0

5 March 1883
63 cast ewes sold at £17 per score, £51/0/0
Wool allowed unsold £50/8/0
Wool sold to tenants £3/16/6
Cast sheep skins, sold by Managers, as per list £14/4/8
Grazing for horses 6 at 10s each, £3/0/0

Shepherd’s wages £9, meal £6/6 = £15/6/0
Smearing 720 sheep, and meal 20s £4/13/0
Manager’s wages, £4, allowance for herding 26s £5/6/0
Smearing materials £24/14/10
Carting stuffs, 20s; repairing house 10s = £1/10/0
Mr Mckinnon’s account 4s 2½d, Mr Fenton’s account 10s = £0/14/2½
Herd’s wages: £3/5/0
Interest to Greig, on advance of £53/15/6, 9 months at 5 percent: £2/0/6
Total: £57/9/6½

29 shares, equal to £5/4/10, each share £152/0/7½

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