Portree, Skye, 23 May 1883 - John Stewart

JOHN STEWART, Scorrybreck, formerly at Duntulm, Proprietor of Ensay (about 60)—examined.

8801. Mr Cameron.
—When did you first become tenant of Duntulm
—I was tenant of Flodigarry in 1846. I commenced there.

8802. When did you take Duntulm?
—Four years after that.

8803. That was in 1850?

8804. And you have been there ever since until last Whitsunday?

8805. What did your stock consist of on Duntulm?
—Cheviot ewes and Highland cattle.

8806. Any blackfaced sheep?
—No, not one.

8807. Were there blackfaced sheep when you first went to Duntulm?
—I found no sheep at all at Duutulm.

8808. You put the sheep on yourself?
—I put the sheep on myself.

8809. When you left did the incoming tenant give you the valuation for your stock?

8810. Did you find from your experience at Duntulm that sheep were more profitable to you, or the breeding of cattle?
—-It depends on the seasons. When the price of wool was somewhat high, of course sheep paid liberally, but now I think cattle pay quite as well.

8811. How many acres of arable ground are there?
—I have not the least idea. I can form an idea of what I cultivated myself. There was a great deal of pasture land that was formerly croft land, but I do not know the amount.

8812. How much did you cultivate yourself?
—About fifty acres.

8813. May I ask your reason for not continuing on Duntulm?
—The proprietor and I could not agree about the rent.

8814. The proprietor thought your rent should be raised?
—Yes, or kept at the old figure.

8815. Did you think your rent was too high already?
—I really thought so, or I would not have left it.

8816. Were you sorry to leave it?
—No, certainly not.

8817. You have no affection for it particularly?
—I liked the place; I was a long time there, and pretty successful.

8818. And if the rent had been satisfactory you would have remained?

8819. And you regretted that you and your landlord could not agree about the rent?
—Yes, certainly.

8820. Now, to what do you attribute the fact that you were unable to continue at the same rent?
Was it the fall in prices; and if so, the prices of what?
—The price of wool had very much to do with it ; I could not farm it to pay.

8S21. Would you be willing to take a large sheep farm now, on which there was little or no arable ground?
—No, I think I will take no more farms.

8822. I suppose you made more out of Duntulm in the earlier years of your lease than you did in the later ones?
—Yes, much more.

8823. But you think practically sheep farming is now anything but a profitable occupation?
—Well, I think it is not very profitable at present.

8824. To what other causes do you attribute that fact besides the fall in the price of wool?
—Winterings are very high, and we require to winter a good many sheep.

8825. Are not the present high prices of sheep stock one great reason why sheep farmers are unwilling to embark in a speculation of that kind ?
—Well, it requires a great amount of money to take a farm with any stock at present.

8826. Are they not afraid, if they go in when prices are very high, that when their lease comes to an end they may have to go out when prices are much lower?
—Yes, I have no doubt that feeling exists.

8827. In fact, a sheep farmer who would otherwise wish to take a farm is deterred from doing so by the fact that, on the one hand, he has to employ more capital in stocking his land ; and, on the other hand, from the low price of wool, he has to make less profit during the currency of his lease?
—Yes, that is my idea.

8828. That being so, I should like to know what your opinion is with regard to the possibility of converting Duntulm farm, or a portion of it, into small holdings, to be occupied by the race of men who have been described to us as having occupied the greater portion of that land in times past? Do you think that could be profitably done?
—Well, I question it.

8829. Will you give us your experience or your reasons why you think it could not be done?
—I have seen it tried in Harris perhaps forty-five years ago.

8830. What was the result?
—That the crofters only paid three or four years when the place had to be turned into a sheep run again.

8831. What became of the crofters?
—They got other holdings. I have seen adjoining the farm of Duntulm there were two or three small farms, one of which paid about £30, and another, I believe, paid about £15 of rent; and they had to give up their holdings, they found the land dear.

8832. What is the nature of the land in Harris that you talk of?
—Pretty fair arable land.

8833. About what size were these farms on Harris that were occupied by the small tenants, and which they had to leave?
—I think the rents varied from £10 to £15.

8834. But that would be a comparatively small croft?
—No, a very good extent with hill ground.

8835. On which they kept cattle and sheep?

8836. How many acres of arable ground?
—I do not exactly know the extent of arable land.

8837. Do you think the rent they paid was more or less on an average than you paid on your farm of Duntulm?
—Much about the same.

8838. And these crofters could not make a living by it?
—So I understood.

8839. Suppose that, instead of there being three of £15 each, there had been two or three of £ 30 each, would that have made a difference in your opinion?
—Well, it depended entirely on their capital, and skill and enterprise.

8840. But supposing they had a fair average amount of skill and enterprise, and that they had capital sufficient, when they originally went in to stock their land, would they be able to carry on at the same rent there as you did at Duntulm?
—Well, I question it; I am afraid that the rent at Duntulm would be found too dear for a division of that kind.

8841. Suppose it was not found possible or expedient to divide Duntulm altogether amongst the small class of tenants, and that it was found possible to give some of the most suitable land to small tenants, in your opinion would that spoil the remainder of the farm for a tenant who might use the larger portion of it? Would that injure the farmer?
—I would be afraid it would.

8842. Would it prevent the farm from letting ?
—I think so.

8843. In what manner?
—It would reduce the size of the farm; the portion which the tenants would require would be arable land, and this would take the arable land off the farm.

8844. But is there not land on the farm of Duntulm which is now under permanent pasture, but which could be utilised by crofters as arable ground?
—Oh, yes.

8845. That is to say, by ordinary delving?
—I believe that the most of it would require to be done on the old system of the cas-chrom.

8846. Why could not horses be used upon it?
—It is very rocky and broken ground, the land that is outside; what was cultivated by me within enclosures could be well ploughed, but most of what is outside would require to be delved with the spade or cas-chrom.

8847. But suppose it could be done and was done, in what way would the taking of that land injure the remaining portion of the farm of Duntulm, provided they did not take any of the present arable land that you have cultivated?
—I suppose it would just make the farm less.

8848. Would that be the only injury that would be inflicted on the farm in your opinion?
—I suppose it would, if there were proper marches made between them—a proper fence between the tenants and the tacksman who had the rest of the farm.

8849. You are well acquainted with the Isle of Skye?
—I think I should be.

8850. May I ask whether the remarks you have made in answer to my questions as regards Duntulm, would hold good with regard to other large sheep farms in Skye; that is to say, whether they would be injured only in the same degree in which you think Duntulm would be if land could be found upon them suitable to be divided amongst tenants of the smaller class?
—I suppose it would be something similar, if there was land to suit them.

8851. Then, according to the evidence you have given, there are many farms in Skye where land might be given to small tenants without deteriorating from the value of these farms except to the extent of the actual loss of land?
—But that would reduce the value of the land. The tenant in possession could not expect to have the same returns, nor the proprietor.

8852. But is it not the fact that large sheep farms which are now in the market are almost impossible to let?
—Well, what was explained before about the price of stocks has a good deal to do with that.

8853. But are you aware there are large sheep farms that have been lately in the market, and have found no offerers at all ?
—There may be reasons for that. Perhaps they were not very good farms, or the proprietor might be seeking too much rent. I do not think there is any good farm reasonably rented but would let.

8854. Are you acquainted with any proprietors in the Highlands who have been compelled to take farms into their own hands for want of tenants ?

8855. Then, in that case, if large farms are so difficult to let, might it not be for the interest of the proprietor, as well as meeting a desire which is pretty generally expressed now, if these large farms were reduced in size, and more tenants enabled to live upon the land ?
—I suppose the proprietors who find it difficult to let their land ought to try that plan.

8856. What is your opinion as to the comparative advantages of Highland cattle and sheep? Do you think they could be worked together well on these farms ?
—I have found them to do well together.

8857. Do you think, if that practice were more generally adopted, the sheep farms could be turned to better account than by having only sheep ?
—I think so; in this country in particular.

8858. In the island of Skye ?

8859. You rather regret that there are so many sheep and so few cattle?
—Yes; I think there should be more cattle.

8860. You are a great admirer of Highland cattle, I believe1?
—Yes, I like them very much.

8861. And you are a very successful rearer of them?

8862. You have won prizes at the Highland and Agricultural Society very frequently ?
—Very many of them, and I expect to get a few more if I am spared.

8863. Do you think Highland cattle are suitable for large farmers as well as small crofters ?
—Yes; they are the native breed, and resist the cold and wet of our country.

8864. What sort of bulls do the crofters use in the island of Skye ?
—The best they can afford to buy. They are very endeavouring in that way.

8865. Are they generally pretty fair animals ?
—Very good.

8866. Have you ever sold young bulls of your famous breed to the crofters ?
—Scores of them.

8867. Do you find they are willing to take advantage of so excellent an opportunity of purchasing these?
—Very willing.

8868. Do you think the croftersstock has improved or deteriorated of late years ?
—Very much improved.

8869. What is your impression of the relative condition of the crofters at the present time compared with what it was when you first came to the country ? Do you think they are better off and more comfortable, or not ?
—Well, I am afraid not in a sense. We are all more extravagant. I am a tenant myself, and I am much more extravagant thao I was thirty years ago; all my requirements are more.

8870. I suppose we are all more extravagant, from the highest in the land to the simple crofters ?
—Yes; and we have had a very bad season this last year, which has damped the crofters very much. They lost their corn almost altogether, but they have had good fishings and easy access to the south, where labour is very abundant.

8871. Do you think they devote less attention to fishing than they used to do ?
—No, they go to the fishing every year. They are very anxious in that way. They go to Ireland and the east coast and everywhere.

8872. In short, they show a considerable amount of energy as to fishing?
—Yes; if they had better boats and more of them, the people would struggle on and be successful too.

8873. And do you think they would struggle and endeavour to be successful on land if they had the chance? Do you think they are equally suited to become successful farmers as to become successful fishermen?
—Well, I am afraid not.

8874. Do you think they have not got the requisite perseverance or skill, or what is it?
—They are more indolent about their own land than they might be. There are no better workers or more faithful men for others, but I am afraid they are a little indolent at home. There are exceptions, of course.

8875. Do you think anything could be done to increase their skill in agriculture— to give them better information on agricultural matters, so as to enable them more successfully to cope with the difficulties of the climate?
—Yes, I think a good deal might be done in that way.

8876. And you think they would be willing to learn if they had the chance?
—Yes, and to help them by enclosures.

8877. What do you mean by that?
—Divisions of their crofts.

8878. Fences?

8879. To enclose their arable land from their hill land1
—Yes, so as to enable them to sow grass seed. They cannot do so when the farm is in a common, without division or enclosures. They have no encouragement to put down any green crop or grass seed.

8880. Your opinion is that it is the want of enclosures which ought to exist, to prevent the trespass of their cattle on their arable ground, that prevents them sowing grass seeds?
—A good deal of that.

8881. So if they had better fences they would be more encouraged to adopt a better system of rotation of crops?
—Yes, and in many cases to take in more of the outland.

8882. Do you think they would be willing to do that?
—Oh, yes.

8883. Do you think improving leases would be any encouragement to them?
—Yes, I really think so.

8884. Do you think they would be willing to take leases?
—I think so, if the restrictions were not very stringent.

8885. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—I think, since you have been at Duntulm, several additions have been made to the farm ?
—Some additions.

8886. Were they hill lands, or were there lowlands along with them?

8887. One whole township was added to Duntulm?

8888. And the people were removed to neighbouring townships ?
—Yes, but two old tenants died.

8889. Can you tell me whether you gave the landlord a better rent for these lands than the original tenants had been able to give?
—I think I was charged more than they paid for them.

8890. Were you willing to give more?
—Well, I had to do so.

8891. There were a number of crofters situated near you at Kilmaluag?

8892. Do you know what sort of rent they paid for their land?

8893. Do you think those lands were worth more to a man of capital, a large farmer, than they were to these crofters at Kilmaluag?
—Not worth more, I think. I think they were paying full rent for them; I should say too much now.

8894. Were they paying as much in proportion for the land as you were paying for Duntulm?
—Scarcely; I was paying more rent for the last twelve years. I think it was about the dearest place in the whole island of Skye during the last twelve years.

8895. And you do not think on the whole that the crofters could pay such a full rent for the land as the large farmers pay?
—Not by the returns of the land alone, if they had no other resources.

8896. But suppose they had crofts of such a size as would prevent them going fishing, would they then be able to pay such a reut as the large farmer?
—I would be afraid not.

8897. You spoke of indolence at home. Do you think that indolence at home arises from want of confidence in the landlord, from fear of their rents being raised if they make improvements on their crofts?
—Yes, I think so; they assert that.

8898. Do you think that indolence would disappear if they had such security as tenants have in other parts of the country?
—Well, it would disappear from a good many of them. There might be a lazy class for all that; but still, as a general rule, I think it would stir up the people a god deal to better their condition and improve their houses.

8899. With regard to crofts of the size we find in Kilmuir, would it be at all profitable to enclose each croft with an enclosing dyke? You have said that you cannot expect them to sow grass seed unless land is enclosed, and that is quite true?
—Yes, it is an advantage to have it enclosed.

8900. But would it pay the expense to enclose each individual croft of the size that crofts are now ?
—I think it would.

8901. Even where they are crofts of six acres?

8902. With stone dykes?
—Yes, I suppose.

8903. When I talk of paying I mean, could the holder of the land pay interest on the cost of that improvement in addition to the ordinary rent?
—It depends on the rent he is paying; if he had it at'a reasonable rent

8904. Suppose the farm of Duntulm were cut up into a number of townships, rented as low as Kilmaluag, which you say was fully lower than Duntulm, could the proprietor erect dykes around each crofter's holding, and expect the crofters to pay interest upon the cost of building these dykes?
—Not at the present rent, because the rent is increased by school rates, road money, and other things, and with a rate of interest to pay it would come to be too much money.

8905. And yet after all it does not come up to the rent of the large farm ?
—Well, I think not.

8906. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have now taken, I understand, the farm of Scorrybreck ?

8907. Is it a very large farm?
—Yes, it is a large farm.

8908. What was the last rent you were paying for Duntulm and Flodigarry?
—I think £1525, or something like that.

8909. For these two farms?
—Three—Duntulm, Flodigarry, and Sartle.

8910. Do you know what the proprietor is getting from the present tenant?
—I am not aware, but it think it is a pretty smart rent.

8911. Is it a fair question to ask how much you were willing to give him for a new lease?
—I offered £1250.

8912. You went first to Flodigarry, what did you pay for it?

8913. How much for Duntulm?

8914. And how much for Sartle?
—£130, but there were additions.

8915. Then before you left that estate your rental was more than doubled?
—Well, there were additions made to the farms; there were some lands thrown in.

8916. What were they ?
—Lachsay and Scor.

8917. Who were the people on Scor?
—The tenant who was there when I went was Sandy Macphail.

8918. Was he the only tenant there?
—I think so; he and his son-inlaw.

8919. What was your rent at the time Captain Fraser became proprietor ?
—I don't exactly remember.

8920. Did he put it up?
—Yes, considerably..

8921. So it is not the croftersland alone that he put up?
—No, more than once my rent was raised.

8922. Can you give us a rough estimate of how much arable land there was upon those three farms which had once been cultivated?
—I really cannot say.

8923. You yourself only cultivated about 50 acres?

8924. Can you not give us a rough estimate?
—No, I cannot: there was a great deal that had been in cultivation with the crooked spade.

8925. And it had once borne crop ?

8926. Am I exaggerating if I say 500 acres ?
—A great deal more than that.

8927. Would you say 1000 acres?
—No, 1 would not say that.

8928. But a great deal more than 500 acres?

8929. And those are the lands which you referred to when you said they were not perhaps altogether ready for the plough?

8930. Because they had been cultivated by hand?
—Yes, I believe that small crofts would still be better to be cultivated by the spade.

8931. As regards Harris, don't you think matters have changed very much since forty-five years ago?

8932. Are you paying a smaller rent for Scorrybreck than the previous tenant paid?
—I believe I am paying more.

8933. Do you get any advantage that he did not possess?
—No, I do not; on the contrary, he had the one half of the shooting, and I don't have it.

8934. Did you wish the shooting?
—I should like it; it would be an advantage.

8935. You stated in answer to a previous inquiry that you thought Highland cattle were the best source of making money?
—I think so.

8936. For a big fanner as for a little farmer?
—Yes, I think a mixed stock is best where the land suits.

8937. I would like to ask you, in reference to your remark about the people being rather indolent at home and excellent workers abroad, you mean that you believed that arose to some extent from the people not being very sure that they would be left in their holdings?
—I attributed it to that. I do not say it is the case with all of them, but I think a good many of them are idly passing their time at home.

8938. Are you aware there are a great number of families that have been removed twice, three, four, and in some cases five times?
—Not families of any importance or consequence; they may have fishermen or crofters.

8939. Would you suppose that such people would have any inducement to improve the places they are on for the time?
—Certainly not, and that is my reason for saying they should have some hold on their ground.

8940. As you have lived so long in Skye, would you mention the length of lease they would be disposed to accept upon getting larger and improved crofts?
—I should suppose nothing less than fifteen years.

8941. Do you think they would be content with fifteen years?
—I should think so.

8942. Are you aware that in other parts of the country, such as Aberdeen and Inverness-shires, a great deal of hill land has been reclaimed upon improving leases of thirty-one years?
—-Yes, but these were very hopeless subjects when they commenced them.

8943. You also stated that not only some of the old land once in cultivation might be taken in, but also some good pasture land that had never been cultivated?
—I think I said something to the effect, that land which had been cultivated many years ago might be broken up to advantage,

8944. But is there not land that never was under cultivation at all that might bo taken in with advantage?
—Yes, but that would involve great outlay.

8945. And you would give them a long lease?
—Yes, certainly; thirty years at least.

8946. With such a long lease, say for thirty years, would you approve of the rental being a small sum at the beginning, rising gradually to a certain amount?
—Yes, certainly, rising every ten years, and rising according to the profit.

8947. We have heard on every hand a great desire expressed on the part of the people to get more land. Does that demand, in your opinion really arise from a sincere desire to better themselves and improve their position at home?
—Oh, I suppose so.

8948. And while no doubt some of them would not be able to stock those enlarged crofts all at once, is there any doubt that there are a good uumber of clever and active men with strong arms who would be able to begin and do something at once?
—I should think so. They have strong arms. If people have the will they can always get the way.

8949. Would not the same class of people, if they knew they were likely not to be disturbed, be disposed in your opinion at once to begin to improve their houses?
—They would be disposed if they had the means; but some of them are short of means.

8950. But those that have a little means would be disposed to do so?
—I think so.

8951. In answer to a question, you stated that the people generally were more extravagant than formerly, and that you yourself were?
—Yes, men who contented themselves with home produce at first must now have tea and all those extravagant outside luxuries or foreign ingredients, and the young people going south get into these habits and accustom us to these things at home, so that we have all got more extravagant.

8952. Do not all these things—what we may call improved food and extravagance in dress—point to a higher standard of living altogether, and that it is very likely their houses would be improved by themselves?
—If they were in position and circumstances to do so, I have no doubt they would improve their houses.

8953. Is there auything all over Skye that is in a lower position, whether for man or beast, than the dwellings? Are the houses in proportion much worse than the style of food the people eat or the clothes they wear ?
—Yes; but the houses inside are much more comfortable than a stranger would suppose from looking at the outside.

8954. Are they not generally very dirty?
—No, they are not; neither dirty nor inhospitable.

8955. Far be it from me to suggest such a thing as that; on the contrary. As regards the people, we have received the very kindest treatment. I spoke of houses. Were there many people removed from farms during your possession, at the instance of the landlord?
—Not one.

8956. During all the forty years you were there?
—Not one.

8957. You have seen or heard of numerous instances in Skye during your days?
—Not in my end of the country at all.

8958. Whatever was done was before your time?

8959. Was not Scorrybreck very full of people at one time?
—I am not aware. But you can see traces where the land has been cultivated.

8960. You have walked over your new farm ?

8961. Don't you see the remains of old cultivation and ruins everywhere ?

8962. Have you any idea of the extent of the acreage of Scorrybreck?
—Not the least.

8963. Is it 10,000 acres?
— I suppose it is.

8964. How many people are on it ?
—Only shepherds; seven or eight families altogether.

8965. The Chairman.
—We have heard it stated to-day that keeping sheep for a length of time upon pasture ground depreciates the quality of the pasture. Is that consistent with your experience?
—No, I have not noticed that.

8966. Have you ever heard it said in the country, that pasturing ground by sheep alone for a length of time spoils the pasture ?
—That is my own idea—that the sheep are the better of having cattle with them.

8967. Do you think it is the mixture of cattle with sheep that prevents the ground being spoiled ?
—I think so.

8968. What is the reason? How is it that the mixture of the cattle keeps the pasture wholesome and abundant?
—I suppose the larger animal crops the large coarse grass that the sheep passes over, and also manures the land better.

8969. You have stated that the quality of the crofterscattle is very much improved, and it has been argued from that, that the crofters are now better able to pay their rent than they formerly would have been. Is the higher price of cattle which the crofters now get chiefly owing to the greater demand, or is it owing to the better quality of the animal?
—To both.

8970. But it is partly owing to the better quality of the animal?

8971. Does the crofter contribute by his own expenditure or skill to make the quality better? Does he, for instance, feed the cattle more expensively?
—I am afraid they have not been so well fed this year. The crop was rather scarce this year.

8972. But generally, do you think the crofter gives his cattle better food now than he did twenty years ago ? Does he feed them more for the market ?
—No; I don't think they feed them any better than they used to do

8973. But you stated that they have expended some money in obtaining better bulls?

8974. You have said that you think the people might be inclined to take up new crofts and larger crofts, and be capable of cultivating and stocking them. Do you think, in case such better crofts were granted to them, that they would submit to prohibition of dividing them. Do you think they would see it was impolitic to divide them, and submit not to divide them?
—It is very difficult to prevent division of the crofts. I am afraid they would not be pleased to bind themselves by restrictions of that sort.

8975. Sheriff Nicolson.
—There were no evictions made for the purpose of adding to Duntulm in your time ?

8976. But there was a good deal of pasture taken from the people on both sides of the hill ?

8977. When was Sartle added to Duntulm ?
—I got Sartle before I got Duntulm; when Hugh Macleod failed I got it.

8978. There were no crofters there ?
—No; there were cottars.

8979. But there was a considerable strip of moor taken from the people of Brogaig, Deig, and Glasbhen ?
—Yes, and added to Sartle.

8980. When was that done?
—It is twelve or fourteen years ago.

8981. Was that a very great disadvantage to the people there 1
—To some of them.

8982. They are now not allowed to keep a horse or a sheep, because they have no hill ?
—They have very few horses, but they have some sheep stilL

8983. Was not Sartle big enough before, joined to Flodigarry and Duntulm, without that strip of moor?

8984. Was the thing done at the proprietor's suggestion or at yours t
—I never requested it; I never solicited or asked an acre of any man, great or small.

8985. Was it offered to you ?
—All the farms that I got were farms that could not be held by those that went before me.

8986. Do you allow your shepherds to keep a cow ?
—Yes, three of them. Some shepherds have three cows each; in general they have two.

8987. But there is not one crofter at Scorrybreck ?
—There is one poor cottar down at Rigg—a woman.seventy-five years of age.

8988. How many miles is it walking round the cliffs from your house to Rigg ?
—About eleven miles.

8989. All inhabited by sheep ?
—And cattle and rabbits.

8990. Are there rabbits too ?
—Plenty of them.

8991. Was there any of the crofterspasture that was given to you by Major Fraser, and afterwards sublet by you to the people ?

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