Portree, Skye, 24 May 1883 - Donald C. Cameron (Glen Brittle)

DONALD C. CAMERON, Tacksman of Glen Brittle—examined.

9924. The Chairman.
—You wish to make a statement in relation to what has been laid before the Commission?
—I do. There were two witnesses from Soay who stated that there had been actual starvation, and
that the people in Soay had been obliged to live on a dead stirk, and that they had no meal in the island. I never heard of such a thing, but I know that for a week the poor people were storm-stayed by weather. I believe they have no cause for complaint, and not one of the men would look me in the face the day they were there, and I could not catch their eye. They would not look me in the face, and they made statements which were not correct. I believe that the delegates whose evidence I have heard and read in the papers have told untruths—that is to say, they have drawn their statements from the place where fancy is bred. I agree with all that has been said against the delegates, and I believe that they are inspired by the Free Church, and that these are the Fenians we have—not the Free Church of the south, but the Free Church north of the Caledonian Canal—the Free Church that kept the people unbaptised ; the Free Church that had seventeen bastards on one island ; the Free Church that never visited, but sent ignorant unlettered men about the place to spread discontent among the people. That is my experience. I have been thirty years on my present farm. I am sorry for it. The Gaelic and the Free Church and the want of education are the curse of Skye. That is all the statement I have to make.

9925. You must not be led to use violent expressions, such as stating that any form of church is a curse to the country.
—I am a Christian; that is my reason. They teach false doctrine—Ultra-Calvinism. I am quite ready to go in and discuss the question with anybody.

9926. Let us rather proceed to the question of the hardships of Soay. We had a very unfavourable account of its condition—that it was a very poor, cold, unprofitable place, that the soil was exhausted, and that the people were in a very depressed condition. Is that your experience of the island, or can you give a better account of it?
—The island is there to speak for itself, if anybody goes and sees it.

9927. But I have never conversed with it?
—Seeing is believing in this country. You cannot believe anything except what you see and what you
have experienced. I have had all my friends abused, and is it after the manner of brave men to abuse the dead? Why, they have abused my predecessor, Mr M'Caskill, and called him all the names they could lay their tongues to, in spite of friendship, and blood, and relationship, and all the rest of it. It is not the people, but they are inspired to do it.

9928. Now, you have been a long time in the country: let us rather hear a deliberate expression of your opinion upon practical questions. Do you think with reference to the island of which you spoke, that it is a place unfit for habitation and cultivation, or is it just as good as other places?
—Far from it. It is not fit for cultivation. None of this country is, but it is a splendid fishing station, and the people of Soay are supposed to be the best off and most comfortable in the district from which I come.

9929. Do they make a great deal of money by fishing?
—No, because they are too lazy. They make just what will keep them alive, and that is all they want.

9930. You have heard what has been said. Without alluding to the exaggerations which you think have taken place on the part of the crofters, do you think, looking calmly at their condition, that their condition is, and has lately been, getting worse, or do you think it is getting better?
—When I first came to the country I never saw a shoe on anybody's foot. They went to the peats barefooted, and when I walked on the hill and came to the peat bog the prints on the moss were those of the naked feet. To-day it is nothing but fine new shoes and Balmoral boots, and the girls wear ulsters and bonnets.

9931. We have heard a great deal about exhaustion of the soil in consequence of constant cropping, and diminished holdings, and divided holdings; is that consistent with your experience?
—In the district where I am there are no crofters—only some miserable cottars whom I found there, and I exact no rent from them; but I allow them to keep cows for nothing, because I came there to found a home, if I could, under the form of speculation.

9932. Have you found those cottars useful labourers in connection with the farm?
—They would not do a turn unless I had the power to take a stick to them.

9933. How have you found your own industry—sheep farming? Is that as profitable as it was?
—It did very well until I foolishly went into competition with speculators and gave too big a rent, and wool went down in price, and I have been losing money of late years.

9934. Well, your account of all classes and all interests is discouraging. Can you suggest anything that could be done to improve the state of the place?
—Emigration. I look upon the cottars as much more comfortable in this country—that is to say, if they get leave to keep a cow —than the crofters are. Crofters in this country are very hard-worked, and have very bad times of it. As one man expressed it to me, he had to work all the day with a hold of his cow's tail, whereas a cottar has leave to send his cow where he likes—it may walk five miles—and it gets plenty to eat; but the crofter's cow, outside the dyke that hems it in, is as bare as the
road. That is what they state to me. The cottars are very comfortable.

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