Portree, Skye, 24 May 1883 - Donald Colin Cameron

DONALD COLIN CAMERON, Tacksman of Tallisker (56)—examined.

9807. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Have you any statement to make?
—I have no statement to make; I want to be questioned.

9808. Mr Cameron.
—Have you observed in the newspapers the account of the meeting which the Commissioners held at Bracadale ?
—I have.

9809. Did you observe that we examined a witness named John M'Caskill?
—Yes ; he is a merchant, not a cottar.

9810. He made some statements which you no doubt would like to have an opportunity to explain ?

9811. M'Caskill, after comparing you to the Babylonians who came after the Assyrians, proceeded to say that another M'Caskill —your predecessor, I presume —had left a remnant of the people for his own convenience, but when Mr Cameron came to Tallisker he would have nothing to do with any of the people, and, as I understand, began to litigate, holding that their being allowed on the tack was not mentioned in the lease?
—There was no litigation, but letters passed.

9812. Did you ever express any feeling of hostility towards the people you saw there?

9813. So it is not the fact that you said you would have nothing to do with the people?

9814. This witness also gave us in evidence that the cottars were obliged to work for the tacksman whenever he required them, and that the strongest man only got a shilling a day and a woman sixpence. Will you explain the nature of the arrangement between you and the crofters?
—They are bound to work certain days, but I don't suppose there is a single cottar on the farm who has worked more than twenty days. They were bound to work as I wanted them, but I never pressed them much. In summer I have four hired women to prevent me sending for these people. When I want them on certain occasions they get a shilling a day and their food.

9815. What food do they get?
—Porridge and milk for breakfast, and flour scones and meat and broth or potatoes for dinner.

9816. Do you suppose they get better food when working with you than when working at home ?
—I should think they do.

9817. What would that add to the value of their labour?
—A shilling a day. At smearing time I allow them 2s. 6d. a day and board and lodging.

9818. How long does smearing last ?
—About one month, and as soon as the smearing is done the money is paid down that very night or next morning.

9819. So, for one month of the year—and that not a month of the year when they get much work
—they receive 2s. 6d. a day and their board?

9820. What arrangements are there in regard to the rent for the houses which they occupy on your farm ?
—They do not pay any rent for the houses. Matheson, who is a merchant in Carabost, pays no rent; for the last two or three years he has been paying rent for his father-in-law.

9821. Was there any bad feeling between you and John M'Caskill?
—Yes, there was.

9822. How did it arise ?
—I cannot say at all; but Mr Macdonald, the factor, knows I never wanted to evict him. I had him warned through Mr Macdonald, but Mr Macdonald can state that I never wanted to evict him. I only wanted to bring him to his senses. His brother came to me to get the man back, and he got it, and since then he has built a house with stone and lime, which shows he is not afraid of being evicted.

9823. How did he make the money to build a stone and lime house?
—He is a shoemaker and keeps one or two men employed, and keeps a shop, dealing with his neighbours.

9824. Had he any quarrel with you about the shop ?
—I wanted himself or his brother to work when I desired him, and he declined.

9825. You had no quarrel with him about the shop ?
—No, never.

9826. But because he did not choose to fulfil the conditions on which he had the holding ?
—Yes; because he would not take his turn of work when I wanted him with the other people, and the other people would say—Why do we come to work when the other man is let off ?

9827. He said that he and his mother, who was about seventy-five years of age, were served with summonses to remove because he refused to work?
—Yes; because the house was hers. He had two brothers living in the house and a sister, and if the sister had gone to work occasionally, I would have been as content as with himself; but the family refused to work at all.

9828. Have you had any trouble with any of the other cottars ?

9829. You believe they are all well-disposed to you ?
—Yes. Not one of them appeared at the meeting at Bracadale.

9830. You mean the meeting previous to the arrival of the Commissioners?
—At the meeting to appoint delegates, not a soul of my crofters appeared except John M'Caskill.

9831. Who was at the meeting then ?
—The people on the other side.

9832. And they elected John M'Caskill ?
—Yes; and at the meeting the other day none of the crofters appeared against me except this John

9833. Do you suppose there was any undue influence used to get M'Caskill elected ?
—No; but there was a female emissary sent round to arouse my people to come, and appear against me, and not one of them went. I was told—I cannot vouch for the truth of it, but I will get at it yet
—that a new dress was offered to one of my oldest crofters to induce him to appear against me—a man named Malcolm Cameron —and the old man said that he had as much land as he wanted, and that he would not appear.

9834. You mean, to appear against you before the Commissioners?
—Yes : he was appointed, I believe, but he never attended the meeting of delegates.

9835. To turn to another branch of the subject, on your farm of Talisker, there is a great deal of land which was formerly occupied by crofters ?
—There is a great deal of land.

9836. In your opinion, could that land be resumed by crofters with advantage to themselves and with advantage to the landlord, and also without doing irreparable damage to the rest of the hill ground ?
—I think it would do great damage to the rest of the hill ground, because they would have the best and the tenant would have the worst.

9837. But if it were done in moderation—that is, not the whole of the low ground taken, but a certain quantity of the farm taken and divided into small holdings —would that interfere with the whole of Talisker ?
—Yes, I should let them have the hill land with the low land.

9838. And suppose they could not stock the hill land, what then?
—That is a question between themselves and the landlord.

9839. But you think it would not answer to give them the low land without the hill land?
—Yes, I have told Macleod that before.

9840. Would it not be possible in this way —supposing they had good sized crofts, and cultivated them fairly and well according to modern skill, using their best endeavours to make the land what it should be, and supposing the tacksman should then have the right, on paying for it to the crofters, of a run over the land for his sheep in winter?
—I do not see how that would work. It would be better to give them good-sized crofts and hill pasture as well, and let them keep sheep of their own.

9841. You are aware that in some parts of the mainland that system is adopted and found very beneficial, and sometimes they get one-third of the rent back from the tacksman ?
—-I do not see how that would work upon Talisker.

9842. You know my part of the country?
—Yes ; you have à good deal more of high land than I have.

9843. And that is all the more reason for the tacksman wanting to winter his sheep in some good place?
—Well, I do not see how it would work.

9844. But, as I understand, the lease to the tacksman would be a lease of low land for his sheep in winter?

9845. If he had, by arrangement entered into with consent of the landlord, the right of running his sheep over the same land, and perhaps with the advantage of sown grass, which he has not now, would that not pay and enable him to pay money to the crofter instead of to the landlord ?
—Well, you see, we put the sheep up to the top every afternoon at one o'clock. We have them below in the forenoon, and we put them up in the afternoon to get shelter and dry beds, which they could not have on cultivated land.

9846. Could you not move them from the cultivated land in the same way as you do now!
—Well, I doubt there would be nothing for them to eat.

9847. You admit it is done in other parts of the country, where the land is worse than on your farm?
—Yes; but you have more heather in Lochaber than we have. It is all green land.

9848. Can you suggest anything that might be done, so far as lies within your knowledge, to improve the position of the cottars on the land under your occupation ?
—I would give them more land decidedly. The proprietor should do it.

9849. Where would you give it?
—On differeuts parts of the farm, wherever he wanted.

9850. On your farm ?
— Yes.

9851. I understood you to say that none of it could be spared.
—Oh, after my lease is out.

9852. You do not suppose that I imagine anything could be done during the currency of your lease, because neither landlord nor anybody else can break that agreement; but I am talking of the interests of the country in the future, and what might be done if opportunity arose, and I am glad to find you think that the cottars on the farm of Tallisker might be allowed to have more land without detriment to the sheep farmer?
—Well, of course, the farmer would require to get a deduction of rent.

9853. Of course, proportionate to the land taken from him?

9854. But do you think it would be such an injury to the sheep farmer as would render it almost impossible to let the bulk of your high hill grazing?
—You would require to keep fewer sheep, and the rent would be reduced. It is altogether a question with the landlord.

9855. Then do you say that you approve of the cottars getting more land after your lease expires?
—What I should like to see done is to give the crofters low land and hill land as well.

9856. And to take it off that portion of the farm of Tallisker which would not interfere with the letting of the rest ?
—-And the tenant to get valuation for what is taken off.

9857. What tenant?
—The tacksman.

9858. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What is the extent of your farm of Tallisker?
—Between 11,000 and 12,000 acres.

9859. How much old arable land do you suppose is on it —land that was once cultivated?
—Several thousand acres —perhaps 2000 acres—that had been under cultivation perhaps sixty or seventy years ago.

9860. How many people are on your farm of Talisker altogether—shepherds, servants, and cottars?
—Over 200.

9861. How many would you find it necessary to have to work your farm supposing there were no cottars there?
—I have nine shepherds, two married ploughmen, and a gardener.

9862. Are these all the out servants?

9863. The nine shepherds are dotted about the whole of the farm ?
—They are scattered all over the farm.

9864. And that is the staff which you ordinarily require to work the farm?
—Yes, except for a few weeks in summer. I only cultivate 25 acres altogether, and I require a few people now and again to assist in securing the crop and at the clipping.

9865. Do you know a place called Cuillore?
—Yes; that is on Mr Scott's farm.

9866. Do you think it hard to see so many people on that small township and so much of Duirinish in the hands of one man?
—I always heard of Mr Scott that he was exceedingly kind to his people.

9867. I am putting the general question. Don't you think it hard to see so many of your fellow-countrymen crowded together and living on that small spot, and thousands upon thousands of acres in the hands of one man?
—I decline to answer that question ; I don't know much about it. However, if you press me to give an answer, I think they would be better off if they had more room.

9868. Did I understand you to state, in reply to Lochiel, that there are parts of your farm that could be sliced off, hill ground and low ground?
—Or fenced off.

9869. That would provide a good number of nice crofts paying from £10 to £30 of rent, and still leave a very handsome remainder for a big farm?
—Yes, that could be done no doubt out of 10,000 or 11,000 acres.

9870. How long has your lease to run?
—Seven years.

9871. Have you a break in your lease?
—No, I wish I had.

9872. Supposing your lease were expiring next year, would you renew it on the same terms?
—I could not.

9873. It is not merely that you would not, but you could not?
—I could not with profit to myself.

9874. Do you think that small crofters such as I have referred to would be able to pay in proportion as much as you pay?
—I don't think it.

9875. We have always heard that stated?
—I don't think it.

9876. Tell me why you think that?
—Because families of crofters living on £ 30 crofts would be rather expensive in their habits. They could not all make a living out of the land at the rent I pay; but if they got it cheap enough, I have no doubt they could.

9877. Then do you put it in this form, that if 10,000 acres of land in the possession of one man were divided amongst thirty, it is impossible for those thirty to pay such a rent as the one man pays?
—I say so honestly, the landlord would suffer in his purse.

9878. The Chairman.
—What is the position of your dwelling-house; are you near the sea or in the interior?
—About a quarter of a mile from the sea.

9879. Are you sheltered from the sea?
—Yes, very well sheltered.

9880. Is the house on high ground?
—No, it is only 20 feet above high-water mark.

9881. Have you a good garden?
—Very good.

9882. A walled garden ?
—No, there is a hedge round about it.

9883. A good deal has been said in the south of Scotland of the capacity these islands might have for growing garden vegetables for the supply of Glasgow or the great towns generally, have you found that garden vegetables thrive well?
—Well, in some seasons they do ; but one gale of wind may destroy the whole garden, as it did in October last year. I had not a single cabbage in my garden that I could eat last winter after that gale.

9884. What vegetables of the better sort do you cultivate besides cabbages?
—Carrots, beetroot, peas, and beans ; but sometimes a gale of wind comes and knocks the peas down, so that I have none.

9885. Do you think that garden vegetables are a precarious crop?
—I should say so most decidedly.

9886. Then you can hardly imagine that the crofters, with all the industry possible, would be able to raise vegetables for exportation?
—Nothing but potatoes, if the potatoes would grow.

9887. Of late years, have you found the potatoes in your garden and fields deteriorating?
—I had not a single potato after the month of April last year, they all rotted in the field.

9888. Have you changed your seed occasionally?
—Every second year, and the potatoes were like nuts or small apples.

9889. You consider the potato very precarious?
—Most precarious. No man in the Highlands should depend upon it.

9890. Have you any small fruits, such as currants and gooseberries?
—Yes, and a few apples and pears.

9891. Do they grow and ripen well?
—In dry seasons they do, but not in wet seasons.

9892. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You said you employed smearers at 2s. 6d. a day ; are these all your own cottars ?
—-Not all my own. I would take as many as would come, but I have to get people.

9893. How many cottars have you on whom you can caU to do your work at Is. a day?
—Between men and women, about twenty, I should think; but I never have more than three or four at a time.

9894. But there are about twenty families?
—Yes, about twenty families.

9895. And you can call either for male labour at Is. or female labour Cameron. at 6d.?
—Yes, with their food; but I never insist upon it except in the case of those who remain at home. I never prevent a man going away to earn his living.

9896. Have any of them ever offered to pay you a rent instead of doing you service?
—Never, except M'Caskill.

9897. Did you decline it?
—Yes, because the rest would say they should do the same. I wish to say that not a man on my farm worked twenty days last year. I have not had a single crofter working for me since the beginning of November.

9898. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You stated a little ago that you had never troubled a man for not working for you ?
—If he was at home I would certainly trouble him, but I never prevent a man going away to other work.

9899. In consequence of that answer, I must put a specific question to you. Did you know a man named Murdoch Stewart?
—I did.

9900. Did you put him out of his place for not coming from the south to attend smearing?
—I was away in the militia at the time, and I could not get hands to work for me, and he and another man named M'Diarmid, when they saw I was away, took advantage and stayed away. They were bound to come and smear wherever they were. I had only half my number of smearers that year, and I certainly warned them, and they went away. He worked in the south during the time. I had him warned next summer after he came home.

9901. Did he go ?
—-He went, and he is far better to-day than he would be with me.

9902. But I understand he is not pleased with you for doing it ?
—Well, I don't know at all.

9903. What family has he ?
—I think he is in Portree.

9904. Do you know there is one of them in the room listening to you ?
—No, but I am sure he is far better off than he would be with me.

9905. He was just selected as an example, I suppose?
—That is so.

9906. The Chairman.
—Did you find that system of obligation to labour in force when you entered the farm ?

9907. How many years ago did you enter?
—Thirty-three years ago.

9908. What was the rate of wages you paid at that time?
—One shilling a day to the men and food.

9909. And 6d. a day and food to the women?.

9910. And it is the same now?

9911. During those thirty years has the rate of wages generally risen in the country?
—I think so.

9912. Did it ever occur to you that it would be equitable to make some rise in your wages corresponding to the general rise of wages in the country?
—They never made a complaint to me, and they were willing to come.

9913. You say that a man does not work more than twenty days in the year?
—I am sure not.

9914. That would be at the present rate of free wages worth about 50s.?

9915. It is a considerable tax upon a man's earnings in the year?

99l6. Does a man get three full meals during the day?
—Only two.

9917. And a woman the same ?

9918. Is the food carried to them in the fields ?
—No, they get it in my own kitchen and they feed with my own house servants.

9919. You mentioned the number of labourers, such as shepherds, in your employment. Have you any drainers ?
—There are four men from Bracadale who drain for me sometimes, and those four men earn £60,
£70, or £80 a year. They take draining by contract.

9920. Could the cottars not do that description of work?
—Well, they don't care for it.

9921. You have the system of superficial drainage that we have in the lowlands ?
—Yes. They only clean the drains. I give them 8s. 6d. for 100 roods for cleaning. I have just these four men who come to me year after year, and I don't like to part with them. Before I leave, I should like to mention that I have a man in my employment who has been fifty-seven years on the farm. He was guide to Sir Walter Scott in 1814 when he came to see Coruisk.

9922. What is his age?
—Eighty-three. His name is John Cameron, Tuisdale. I have the son of the first shepherd whom my father engaged in 1815. His son is herding for me still.

9923. Do you mean that father and son since 1815 have been in your employment?
—Yes, and I have another man who went into my father's service in 1825. I have his two sons in my employment; and I have another man whose father entered my father's service before I was born, in 1826. He died after being three years with me, and his son took his place. My gardener has been thirty-three years in my employment. I just state these facts that you may not think I am such a monster of iniquity as some would have me appear.

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