Portree, Skye, 24 May 1883 - Allan Macdonald

Captain ALLAN MACDONALD, Proprietor of Waternish (60)—examined.

9663. The Chairman.
—Do you desire to make a statement to the Commission?
—I have no statement. I was not aware that I would be called upon to make any statement.(see Appendix A. VII for statement)

9664. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—I suppose you have read in the papers the account of our inquiry of Waternish the other day?
—I did.

9665. Have you anything to say in reference to what was stated by the witnesses there?
—Yes, with regard to removals; and that I occupied townships which had been in the possession of crofters, which I did not.

9666. Do you say there have been no removals?
—Certainly, no removals.

9667. The people complain of being crowded and having too little land
—I am not astonished at it.

9668. Would it be possible to give them any more?
—I do not think so. Since I entered into possession I have given them 1500 acres in addition to what they had before, and should I give them 1500 more. I think they will be equally crowded in the course of a little time.

9669. Then the population has increased in your time by the natural increase of the people?

9670. You have not taken people in from outside1?
—I have not.

9671. In what way would you propose to remedy this overcrowding?
—Well, I do not see any possible remedy for it, but that when young men get married, and settle down in their father's lands, they should be removed. I do not see any remedy for it but that.

9672. Have you taken any steps to prevent subdivision of land?
—Yes, I sent word by the ground officer that I would not permit it, but they did not care much for that.

9673. And so the population has gone on increasing?

9674. Now, with this increase of population, have you observed there has been any increase of poverty?
—Well, no, because from having given them so much additional land since I came into possession, I think their condition has been rather improving; but I daresay they are pretty well crowded now, and will continue to be more so.

9675. Have they obtained any new means of support within your recollection?
—The fishing is the only industry there.

9676. Has the fishing not deteriorated too?
—I cannot say it has. I think if the people had piers, and better boats and material, they would
prosecute the fishing very successfully.

9677. We have been told in more than one place that the fish have to a certain extent disappeared, both herring and cod and ling. Don't you think that is the case?
—I don't think so. This last year was not a favourable year for fishing, but the year before I have known a boat's crew—I think one family —who got 200 crans of herring in about twenty days, which I don't think bad.

9678. The herring fishing at home is a more or less precarious fishing?
—It is.

9679. But the cod and ling fishing is much the same year by year?
—Very much the same.

9680. Do you think that has fallen off at all?
—I do not think it has.

9681. Do the people make much of that now-a-days?
—No, they do not. They salt the fish themselves, and send it to the Glasgow market.

9682. Do you think they might catch and salt more fish?
—I think they might, had they boats and proper material and piers. It is a very great labour, because they have to haul the boats up on the beach immediately they come on shore, and if they had piers they would just fasten the boats alongside the pier till they went out again.

9683. What is the population of your property?
—About 1020, I think.

9684. Are there many points on the property where it would be necessary to have piers?
—I think there are four very suitable places.

9685. But would you require a pier at each of these places to suit the wants of the 1020 people?
—The people are located on both sides of the points.

9686. Would they require two piers on each side?
—On each side.

9687. Would one pier on each side not answer the purpose?
—Not well, because the townships are separated on both sides.

9688. What would be the cost of erecting piers that would suit the people?
—-I should think from £800 to £1000 each pier.

9689. That would be a very considerable outlay for a population of 1020. Unless there was some certainty that they would be able to make a good living off the fishing, would it not be a very large outlay to make?
—Well, the British Fisheries Society had part of those lands at one time, and they built a small village, which you may have observed the other day. They erected a pier there at a cost of £2000, thinking it would pay; but I do not think the fishing is very well conducted there.

9690. It was not a success ?
—No; in fact, there were only ten or twelve crofters there altogether at the time, and now there are thirty-two. That is in the immediate neighbourhood of the pier at the village of Stein. That pier was destroyed.

9691. And you think, notwithstanding the want of success which attended the establishment of this village of Stein, if the people had proper piers and nets and boats, they might make a good living by fishing?
—I think so.

9692. At home?
—I think so.

9693. Do you say you think the people have not got much poorer or much richer in your time ?
—I think they are very much better circumstanced that when I first knew them.

9694. In what respect?
—Better clad and better fed.

9695. Are they better housed?
—Well, they are very careless about their houses. I induced some of them to build a middle wall with a chimney in it, but they would not follow it. I got one or two of them to do it, and I went to see how they were getting on. When I went in I found the fire in the centre of the house, which they prefer, because they say they can get round it.

9696. But their clothing and food have improved?

9697. How is it that they have been enabled to purchase better food and clothing?
—Well, the value of stock has gone up very much since my early recollection. I remember stirks used to sell for £ 1 and 30s., and now they get £ 5 for them.

9698. What is the age of the animal?

9699. What is the price of a two-year-old?
—£7 or £8, and £ 10 or £12 for a cow. I remember when cows used to sell for 50s. or £3.

9700. Are there any natural processes at work by which you think the condition of the people will goon improving, their food getting better, and their clothing better?
—I don't know about that, because I believe the people now are overcrowded.

9701. Do you see any way of reducing this pressure of population?
—I think the crofter system altogether is a very bad one. I think that a crofter, to enable him to live at all, should have at least £ 30 worth of laud.

9702. But that is not possible in the present state of things?
—It is not possible at present.

9703. How do you propose to give him £30 worth of land ?
—I don't know unless some of them were assisted to emigrate.

9704. But if a good scheme of emigration were provided under which these arrangements were all satisfactorily made, do you think they would be then inclined to emigrate?
—I think many would.

9705. They complain not only of the smallness of their holdings, but of the want of certainty of tenure. Do you think it would be desirable to give them leases or confer upon them anything like fixity of tenure?
—I think it would be the very worst thing that could possibly be done, fixity of tenure; at least it would tell very badly on the considerate landlord and the man who allowed his tenants to increase and settle down till they were overcrowded. Fixity of tenure would fix them there as miserable poor creatures, who could not benefit themselves in any way. It certainly would be a good thing where the tenants were not crowded, but where they were crowded I think it would work very badly indeed.

9706. Do you think it is a measure which should be deferred till the numbers of the people were reduced?
—Exactly so.

9707. With regard to security and raising of rent, they complain that if they make improvements, their rents are apt to be raised. Do you think that that acts as an impediment to the making of improvements, the fear of having their rents raised ?
—Well, no doubt in some cases it will do so. But I should be inclined to raise the rent of the man who did not improve, and let the man who improved have the benefit of his improvements.

9708. Do you think it would be desirable to give legal protection to the man who made improvements?
—I think so.

9709. That he should be allowed compensation in some form or other ?

9710. Would you make it a saleable right?
—Well, I think it ought to be.

9711. The Chairman.
—You stated that you had given up about 1500 acres for the improvement of the crofterslands?
—Well, I fancy it would be for their improvement. I stated that I had given them 1500 acres in addition to what they had when I entered into possession.

9712. In whose occupancy were these 1500 acres?
—In my own.

9713. Is it all in the form of hill pasture, or is part arable?
—Part arable, but the greater part hill pasture.

9714. Have you in that way constituted new crofts, or have you added these acres to existing crofts?
—It is just a separate part of the district where there were no crofts before in the neighbourhood.

9715. And on these you have settled others?

9716. May I ask what is the whole area of your property occupied by crofters?
—About 4500 or 5000 acres.

9717. How much is occupied by yourself?
—About 5000 acres.

9718. How much is occupied by large tenants?
—None; I have no large tenants.

9719. So your property is nearly equally shared between yourself and the crofters?
—Quite so.

9720. Do you think that, without inflicting any serious damage upon the property occupied by yourself, you could still enlarge the boundaries of the crofters?
—I would not be inclined, while the present system exists, to give them any more land, because it would only be a question of time when they would become overcrowded, whatever quantity of land I gave them. But if the system was improved, I would be glad to do anything I could to assist them.

9721. What improvement do you refer to?
—To provide against overcrowding and marrying down two or three families upon one croft. I may
state a case on this land which I have given off to the crofters. Since I entered into possession I gave one man a croft of about ten acres. He pays about £9 of rent. He has now two sons married upon that
ground along with himself. So this croft must support three families instead of one. There is no use giving them extension of land, if that eystem goes on.

9722. But if you could be protected against the evils of subdivision you would be inclined to create new crofts?
—I would.

9723. And you think you would be able in that way to derive as good rental as you do from farming yourself or from having a large farm?
—I do not think they pay so well as a large farm does.

9724. If you wished at this moment to let the land which you now occupy yourself in the shape of a large farm would you have a difficulty or not in finding a tenant?
—I would have no difficulty.

9725. At a fair rent?
—At a fair rent.

9726. How would you propose to protect yourself against the evils of subdivision? One person who was before us said he thought there ought to be a legislative enactment against subdivision?
—That, I fancy, would be necessary, because I do not think it could be done in any other way.

9727. In fact, you do not think that any proprietor is sufficiently stubborn and hard-hearted to resist their claims?
—Well, I do not think they will be advised by any landlord. They just carry out that system, and it
works very badly.

9728. Have you found that upon the ground farmed by yourself there is any deterioration of the productive qualities of the soil, or do you find the soil as productive as when you began?
—The climate is very much against us here. We have a very bad climate, and that tells very much
against the crops.

9729. Do you think the land farmed by the crofters has become deteriorated by constant cropping?
—I think so.

9730. Is it worse than when you first recollect it?
—I think it is.

9731. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Is the climate getting worse?
—I think so. I remember in my early days we used to have heavy falls of snow in winter, which we have not now.

9732. And you think that would help it?
—I think so.

9733. You mentioned that the price of a cow at Waternish was something like £ 10 or £12 ?

9734. Taking that township of Hallistra which we saw the other day, with a lot of very miserable-looking beasts upon it, do you think that anybody would give £ 10 or £12 for any cow upon the crofts of Hallistra?
—I know a cow in Hallistra that was bought for £14. I may add that all cows look miserable at present, for it has been a severe winter, and the people lost their crop, and the cows were starving.

9735. Have you done anything in the way of which Mr Stewart, Duntulm, spoke, to improve the breed of cattle?
—A good deal.

9736. For the benefit of the crofters?
—A good deal. They get improved stock from me at all times.

9737. Do you know all the people on your estate?

9738. And you are a constant resident?

9739. You do not prohibit cattle dealers from coming to buy from your crofters?

9740. Or anybody upon your estate?

9741. We have heard a good deal stated to-day to the effect that farming is very unprofitable. Do you find it so in your own experience?
—It was very unfavourable this last year.

9742. That applies more to crop, does it not?

9743. But cattle, I presume, are much the same?
—Cattle are rather improved.

9744. Is your stock a mixed stock of cattle and sheep?
—Yes; Highland cattle and sheep.

9745. Which do you depend upon most, the cattle or the sheep?
—Well, the sheep are easier managed. The black cattle are very expensive to keep, particularly in a bad winter; they require a good deal of handfeeding.

9746. Mr Stewart stated that he was in favour of going back a good deal to the old system of having cattle in Skye more than sheep. Do you concur in that, or do you not ?
— If we had a better climate, I think he is right; but with this climate it would be very expensive to rear sufficient food for them. Sheep require little or no hand-feeding, but cattle do.

9747. Do you go out boating a great deal?

9748. Is it consistent with your observation that there are valuable fish ings about your coasts?
—I believe so.

9749. You do not think these are falling off?
—No, I do not think the cod and ling fishing is falling off. The herring fishing is, because, I think, of the Stornoway fishing.

9750. But you desire apparently larger boats and protection in the form of piers?

9751. You think these two things would very much benefit your crofting population?
—I think so.

9752. The Chairman.
—At what age do the crofters generally sell their cattle?
—They generally sell them at one-year-old, for this reason, that they have not sufficient land to keep them; but it would be to the advantage of the crofter if he could keep his stirk, and not sell it until it was older.

9753. As regards their sheep, do they sell the lambs?
—Some sell their wedder lambs ; some keep them till they are three-year-old wedders.

9754. Which is the most common practice?
—I think keeping them as three-year-old wedders is the general practice.

9755. When you first recollect, what was the crofter's wedder worth on an average?
—About five shillings, I should think.

9756. At three years old?
—They had miserable sheep at that time. They had a small sheep which was peculiar to the country
—very different animals from the sheep they have now.

9757. What is the crofter's wedder worth now?
—I should think from thirty to thirty-five shillings.

9758. What was the two-year-old worth when you remember?
—About £2 or 50s.

9759. Does the crofter now go to any greater expense in feeding his cattle, or is all the additional price pure gain ?
—He does feed them; being a superior breed of cattle, they require particular care and attention.

9760. Then he goes to some expense in preparing these animals for the market?
—He does.

9761. Is there any sale of dairy produce or butter?
—There is, to the merchants.

9762. By the crofters?
—Yes; I sell none.

9763. Do they get much better prices than they formerly did?
—They do ; very much better.

9764. What would butter be worth per pound when you first recollect?
—I cannot remember.

9765. What do they get now?
—I am not very sure.

9766. But there is not very much sold, I suppose?
—Not much.

9767. Sheriff Nicolson.
—You live among your own people?
—Very much.

9768. Your home is there?

9769. And you move about among them constantly?
—I do.

9770. I suppose you are acquainted with everybody upon your estate?

9771. You know their condition and their circumstances?
—Pretty well

9772. If there is any grievance, is it made known to you personally?

9773. You do not employ any factor?

9774. You manage your own affairs?

9775. Have there been any grievances addressed to you personally with regard to the want of land, too high rents, or anything of that kind?
—No. No representation of that sort has been made to me.

9776. Not until this Commission was appointed?
—Not even since then.

9777. Since you came into possession of the estate, do you think the condition of the people is worse or better than it was before?

9778. Have you made any considerable increase on their rents?
—No; I have not raised their rents one farthing. I do not think their rents have been raised for forty years, and you may understand that their condition must be improved to a considerable extent, because forty years ago the price of a stirk was £ 1 or 30s., and now it is £5.

9779. Do you think they are better òr worse off in respect of food, clothing, education, and everything else, in their social condition, than they were when you came into possession of the property?
—I do not say in regard to education. The children cannot be got to attend school. But as to food and clothing, I am satisfied they are better off.

9780. You think that their food is really more wholesome food, and that there is more of it than they had before?

9781. Have you any recollection of their having at any time been reduced to the necessity of using shell-fish for want of any other food?
—I have.

9782. Within your own recollection?
—Within my own recollection.

9783. How long ago?
—Upwards of forty years ago.

9784. Was that before the great potato failure in 1846?

9785. Did they really to a considerable extent depend on shell-fish for their daily food?
—In summer they did to a considerable extent, and there are heaps of shells still to be seen at their old houses.

9786. Has there been anything of that sort within recent years ?

9787. Do you think they have less milk now than they had forty years ago for themselves and their children?
—Well, I daresay they have; but still I think they have a sufficiency of milk.

9788. Is there any family on your estate that does not keep a cow?
—I am not aware of any except some cottars; but all the crofters have milk.

9789. With respect to the recreations of the people, have you noticed any difference since you were young? Is there less music and singing and gaiety than their used to be when you were young?
—Much less.

9790. Do you consider that an improvement or the reverse?
—I must say I like to hear them sing a song. I remember, when they used to manufacture kelp, it was pretty in the evening to hear them crossing in their boats and singing songs as they rowed along.

9791. And they used to sing songs when reaping the harvest?

9792. Do they ever do so now?

9793. What do you think is the chief cause of that?
—I think the clergy rather discourage it.

9794. Do they impress people with the idea that all such amusements and songs are profane, and should rather be avoided than otherwise?
—I don't think that. It is the abuse of these things that they complain of.

9795. Do you think they were abused?
—I think they were, sometimes. Young men, when they sang songs of that kind, might be found carrying a bottle of whisky in their pocket, or something of that sort, and thus I daresay these amusements were abused.

9796. Do you think there is more or less whisky drunk now than there was forty years ago?
—A great deal more, I am sorry to say. I believe that at the small inn in the village of Stein there is nearly as much whisky consumed as the value of the whole rent they pay to me.

9797. By the crofters on your estate?

9798. Drank on the premises'?
—I cannot say about that; but it is landed at the inn there.

9799. That is the only inn on your property ?
—The only inn.

9800. The Chairman.
—Has there not been a reaction of late years? Has the present temperance movement not reached the place ?
—I cannot say it has. The clergyman of the parish did something in that way, but I do not think he was very successful.

9801. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Has that inn been always there?
—So far as I remember it always has.

9802. Is it required by the local circumstances, or is it more for strangers ?
—It is to a certain extent required because of the steamer calling there, and people landing from the.steamer and going by the steamer.

9803. Then you do not see your way to remove it ?
—Not very well. I daresay there would be complaints if it were removed. Still it is no advantage to the district.

9804. Where is the nearest one to it ?
—At Dunvegan or Edinbane.

9805. Do you think the people themselves are sensible of the disadvantages of the inn in the way of temptation ?
—No doubt the heads of families are, but the young people are not sensible of them.

9806. Do you think, if there was any form of local option, the people would be inclined to vote it down?
—I believe they would.

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