DUGALD MACLACHLAN, Bank Agent and Clerk of Court at Portree (41)—examined.
9935. Professor Mackinnon.
—How long have you been in Skye?
—I came to Skye in 1856, and since then I have been resident in Skye, except for about six years, when I was abroad.
9936. So you have known Skye almost all your life?
—I may say I have.
9937. And of late years you have known the whole island?
—Yes, pretty much.
9938. And the condition of the people?
9939. Especially those of the crofting class?
—Yes, I may say I know a good deal of their condition.
9940. I need not ask you if you have read the evidence, for you heard it all. Do you agree in the main with the description which the delegates of the crofters throughout Skye have given of their own condition?
—Yes, I do, most certainly.
9941. You believe it is a fair statement of their condition?
—I believe that their condition is very poor as a rule —that they live from hand to mouth.
9942. And even putting last year out of question, that it is getting poorer?
—I must say that is my impression. They cannot stand a bad year. When a bad year comes they go to the wall at once.
9943. The main cause which they themselves give as accounting for that state of matters is the small holdings?
9944. Do you agree with that?
—Yes, I do, so far as my knowledge enables me to judge.
9945. You believe that is the main cause of it all?
—Yes, I do.
9946. And almost the sole remedy that they themselves suggested was to increase these holdings?
—To increase these holdings. I may say that I am an emigration agent, and I have the honour of representing the colony of Queensland in this country as emigration agent. I have heard the opinions of the crofters on the subject of emigration, and, of course, there is but very little inclination that way.
9947. You have heard them express their opinions among themselves for a number of years past?
9948. Putting it broadly, were the opinions which they have expressed in this inquiry much to the same effect as those you have heard for some years back?
—Very much, except as to some of their petty grievances which have come out here.
9949. But the great cause of the distress, and the great remedy for it, which they expressed here, they have been in the habit of expressing pretty generally from year to year?
—Yes, for a long time past.
9950. Do you yourself agree that if it was practicable to increase these holdings such a scheme would reasonably be expected to remove at least a part of the present distress?
—I think so, certainly.
9951. Of course, we all know there is plenty of land in Skye to give the people enlarged holdings; but have you considered the question of framing a practicable scheme, supposing it were agreed upon?
—Well, it is a subject upon which all of us have been thinking for these last years —we who live by dealing with the producers of wealth in the country —and it is a very serious problem.
9952. What solution of the problem would you be prepared to recommend, to make it practicable for them to acquire larger holdings?
—Generally speaking, the crofters themselves—a very large number, at all events— would not be able to stock these holdings, but there are many of them no doubt who would be able to stock very considerable holdings. But the difficulty would remain, what to do with those who are not able. In the course of applying the remedy of increased holdings, there is no doubt the landlord's interest would have to be taken into account, and conserved out of some fund or other, and also that the tenant should be helped to stock these larger holdings. So far as I personally am concerned, my opinion is that there is a fund just now in existence which is of very little service in many parts of the Highlands, and which could profitably be applied in that way, both to enable the tenant to stock his holding and to compensate the proprietor for any loss.
9953. Have you any objection to name that fund?
—I may as well come out with it; it is the funds of the Established Church. I think it would be very much better to apply them to that purpose than to keep them as they are. I think it would be a very great privilege that Christians should be enabled to pay for their own religion.
9954. It would be a natural question to ask, whether those who have undertaken to pay for their own religion in this part of the country are able to pay for it, but we had better not pursue that?
—Yes, they do that, because those who pay for religion here are mostly of the class to which our Saviour called attention when he saw the widow casting her mites into the treasury. They are those who would share their last mite for the cause of Christ.
9955. I suppose you would not think of taking the funds belonging to the Church itself. That would be reserved for the State to put it on the proper footing?
—Well, though I have come out here in that way, I have not fully considered the scheme. The fund is there —the money is there —and what we say in the Highlands generally is that it might be much better applied.
9956. Have you considered to what extent that remedy would be sufficient for Skye?
—No, but I know it would be sufficient to a very considerable extent.
9957. In the first place, there are a good number of crofters who would be able themselves to stock crofts?
9958. In the second place, there are some who would require a good deal of assistance?
9959. Now, supposing you capitalised the whole ecclesiastical revenue of Skye, would you exhaust it all?
—I cannot say; that is a matter of calculation.
9960. The Chairman.
—Then would you make a rapid calculation?
—Perhaps the funds of the Established Church in Skye may be worth some £3000 a year.
—[Rev. Mr Darroch. Not half of it ]That is between the value of the glebes and the stipends.
9961. Professor Mackinnon.
—What is the average value of the livings of the Established Church in this island—£350 a year?
—No, I would not say that.
—Perhaps £250 or £300.
9963. With the glebe?
—With the glebe it might be £350.
9964. How many livings are there?
9965. That is £3150. Multiplying that by 25, it brings out £78,750. So far as that goes, there would be no interest to be paid back upon it?
9966. How would you distribute it? Would not those who are decently well off require their share of it as well as those who are not?
9967. It would be a capitation grant ?
—It would be very difficult to judge who was able and who was not, because you could scarcely pry into the private affairs of each crofter.
9968. Would you not compel any one, before you gave him assistance, to make some statement of his affairs?
—I would not be prepared all at once to go into the details of the method of applying the scheme, but I only state broadly that that appears to me to be a fund which ought to be made available for some useful public purpose, and let the good people of the Established Church, who compose, generally speaking, in this country the wealthiest portion of the community, have the privilege of paying for their own Church.
9969. There was a great deal said about the conditions on which these enlarged holdings should be given to the people. Have you formed an idea in your own mind what reasonable conditions should be imposed?
—Of course, we repeat the parrot cry of fixity of tenure.
9970. What is meant by that?
—Just that the tenant should not be removed at the will of the landlord, so long as he paid his rent, and a fair rent.
9971. How would the rent be determined?
—By some neutral party.
9972. And revalued how often?
—Very much on the lines of the Irish Land Bill, namely, once in every fifteen years. There is practically such a valuation periodically now in the country. We know it by the name of summing. That amounts to the same thing.
9973. And so long as the tenant pays his rent, he is not to be removed?
9974. I asked a question of a gentleman before about the right of succession to such a croft. Have you anything to say upon that subject? Would you allow the croft to descend from father to son?
—Yes, I should certainly think so.
9975. Would the one who was allowed to succeed be obliged to buy out the rest of the family?
—Yes, I should think so.
9976. You would on no account subdivide the croft?
—No; I would certainly be against subdivision.
9977. And if he was unable to buy out the rest, what then?
—It would be subject to the rules of the market.
9978. Would it become the proprietor's?
—I suppose then it would come into public competition. Some other crofter might be got to take it.
9979. Would you say that the tenant might then be entitled to sell it to the highest bidder?
—I would rather be afraid to adopt such a plan, because it might end in the same state of matters of which we are now complaining. It might end in such high rents being exacted as would induce the distress of which we are now complaining.
9980. What is the minimum croft you would make under this scheme?
—These are really matters which are pretty much outside my business.
9981. You have given a good deal of attention to the matter?
—I could not help doing that, because I come so much in contact with the people who are principally interested.
9982. What would be the amount of stock you would have upon the lowest sized croft?
—I would not believe much in crofts which were not of sufficient size to enable a family to live in comfort, and I would say that such a croft would be one upon which a tenant could keep six cows, thirty to forty or fifty sheep, and a horse, with perhaps twenty to thirty acres of arable land. I have been considering the matter, and of course I speak very much from hearsay, but I have had the opinion of a very considerable number of crofters as to the kind of croft they would consider a comfortable croft, and though my figures are at second hand, I may say that just about an hour ago I took the figures which I have now given from a crofter of very great experience and knowledge. His idea of a good croft, as I have said, is twenty acres arable, with a stock of six cows, one horse, and fifty sheep.
9983. And the rent would be fixed by a valuator?
—The rent would be fixed by a valuator, and would amount to a certain proportion of the profits of the croft.
9981. Then you would have the arable ground fenced off, I presume, in a croft of that size?
—I should think so.
9985. And the hill pasture might be worked upon the club system?
—I think so.
9986. These figures would be the minimum croft, but you would have a gradation right up?
—I would have a gradation right up to the peasant proprietor. I would like to see the path opened up to the Highlander not only to work a comfortably sized croft with profit and comfort to himself, but to work himself into the proprietorship of it.
9987. I understand your claim to fixity of tenure practically meant that?
—Practically it does.
9988. But you would not confine all the crofts to much the same size?
—Would you not allow a gradation among them, so that a man might be able to get one, two, or three times as big a croft as you have mentioned?
—I think so.
9989. And still leave large farms in the country?
—Oh, there ought to be plenty of room in Skye for sufficiently large farms as well as for the accommodation and comfortable living of a very great number of small farmers, and that is what we desiderate in the country.
9990. Do you think there is a sufficient amount of available land in Skye at the present moment to make such a scheme as that feasible with its present population?
—That is a question of statistics and calculation into which I have not gone, but there is no doubt that any one who goes along the roads in Skye and looks right and left must see immense tracts of country which are suitable for the occupancy of small farmers. You see them uninhabited by human beings.
9991. Don't you think that for such a scheme as that the present population is too large?
—Possibly it may be.
9992. What would you do with the overplus?
—I have heard of a scheme of emigration. I would certainly encourage those who are willing to emigrate, but I would be very sorry indeed to see the people emigrate.
9993. Even although you are an emigration agent?
—Yes, I think it would be a loss to the kingdom, for a more loyal set of subjects could not be found.
9994. At the same time, of course, you know perfectly well that, under any conditions whatsoever, in a place like this there must always be an overflow of people?
—I would like to see the country so comfortable as that there would be just a natural outflow of people to the waste places of the world, to accomplish what Providence seems to be in course of
Accomplishing —giving the government of the world to this nation, to the English-speaking people.
9995. But don't you think there is room at this moment for several Skye men to go and occupy waste places elsewhere?
—Yes, there is plenty of room in foreign countries.
9996. So, even if your scheme were practicable at home, it would be necessary to carry on the other scheme along with it from the present time?
—Yes, I would certainly agree to the promotion of a scheme of emigration, which would enable those who are so minded, and who consider it better for them to leave the country, to do so, but hand in hand with that I should like to see an effort made by the legislature to provide comfortable livings, and to see to it that the people in the country have elbow room at home.
9997. You spoke of those who were so minded, but would it not require to be compulsory?
—Oh, dear no; don't speak of compulsion.
9998. On your scheme of the future, where would you put the people if the crofts were not subdivided?
—If they saw there was no room at home, they would fast enough go abroad.
9999. It does not look like it just now?
—We have had several reasons for that. The people are so poor that they must go to Glasgow and the south, or to the fishing, to earn money for their families. They cannot go far; they must always remain, as it were, in sight of home.
10000. Has it not been the case that hitherto poverty at home was the great motive power for emigration over the world, and that people emigrated more largely when ill off than when wealthy?
10001. How can you expect then that in the future people will voluntarily go away when they are comfortable, and will not allow the crofts to be subdivided?
—My idea is that if the sons of the family were so numerous that they could afford an overplus when they saw their people comfortable at home, they could, without any reluctance or compunction, leave the old folks, and go and cut out a living for themselves elsewhere.
10002. Just as you see in Skye and elsewhere at present, in the case of people who are comfortably off, that the families scatter easily?
10003. Do you think that the sole cause of the objection to emigrate on the part of those who are not so well off is that they wish to remain at home in order to attend to their parents?
—I don't say that is the sole reason, but it is a very powerful reason.
10004. Do you think it is the chief reason?
—I might almost say it is. The ties of affection are very strong amongst Highland families, and they
especially love their native soil.
10005. Is that not the case when they are well off just as when they are badly off?
—Yes, but when they picture the old people in misery lying on the straw at night, and covered with meal bags instead of blankets, they cannot have the heart to go very far from home.
10006. Don't you think there ought to be some among them that would say, Rather than lie along with them in that way, I would emigrate and 1 send home to them the price of a blanket?'
—Well, they ought certainly.
10007. But you suggest that if they were becoming more comfortable the people themselves would work out the problem by going away?
—Yes, I say so. When I speak about meal bags, I don't mean every case, but I speak of instances of which I have had believable testimony on one or two properties in Skye. Certainly it is not the case on other properties that I know.
10008. Have you paid much attention to the education of the district under the administration of the Act of 1872?
—No, not very much.
10009. We all understand that the education of the island has not been taken advantage of so much as one would wish, but is it your belief that there are a greater number of children receiving elementary education here than was the case thirteen or fourteen years ago?
—I believe so, but there are people who are better able to judge of that than I am. I know that within my short memory in Portree, say fifteen or twenty years ago, the number of children attending school in Portree was very much smaller than it is now.
10010. But it is admitted that the compulsory clause of the Education Act has not been worked so successfully in Skye as we might reasonably expect ?
10011. Are you able to suggest any remedy by which matters might be improved in that respect?
—I hear people who ought to know complaining of the action of some school boards —that they are too stingy with their salaries, and don't encourage a proper class of teachers.
10012. The buildings are excellent at any rate?
—The buildings are excellent, but you will never get a proper teacher without offering an inducing salary.
10013. There was a statement made to-day upon which I should like to ask your opinion as a banker, but I am not very sure whether you feel yourself entitled to speak about it. From your knowledge as a banker, are you able to give us the benefit of that knowledge as to the circumstances of the people ?
—To a certain extent I am.
10014. Mr Macdonald, Tormore, in part of his evidence, without making a specific statement, so far as I understood him, left upon us the impression—and I thought it was meant we should have the impression —that a large number of deposits in the banks in Portree, amounting, as he supposed, to something like £200,000, must be in the name of the crofter class, because he supposed the proprietors would not, or could not, deposit there, and that the large tacksmen did not, and therefore it was left to be inferred that the great proportion belonged to the crofter class. Can you confirm that statement?
—I cannot by any means; he is under a very great mistake.
10015. Of course, if I found any reason to believe it was the case, I could almost see my way to your scheme being worked out without trenching on the funds of the Established Church?
—Oh no, I don't see it.
10016. You don't see how you could do without the funds of the church ?
—I don't see it.
10017. So far as the means of the crofters, to the best of your knowledge, are concerned ?
—No, I don't think it. There may be a good proportion of the crofters who might be able to provide stock.
10018. You believe there are a considerable number who would be able to take a croft if they got it, and others who would require more or less assistance ?
10019. But still a large margin who simply could not?
—Who simply could not.
10020. Who have nothing?
—And worse than nothing, as we have heard.
10021. In that respect you generally concur with and back up the statements that were made by the delegates of the crofters themselves ?
—Yes, upon the whole. The crofters on the north end of the island are worse off, I believe, than the crofters anywhere else on the island,
10022. That was attributed to the system of bills that was carried on. Did you observe in one of the papers that the banks were said to charge 10 to 15 per cent. ?
—Yes, and that is a complete mistake.
10023. The ordinary rate is charged, and that is all ?
—The ordinary rate, as fixed by the Council of Bankers in Edinburgh.
10024. And the difference between that and 10 or 15 per cent, is charged by another person?
—10 or 15 per cent, is never charged. As I understand the evidence of the delegate referred to —when he spoke of 2s., 2s. 6d., and 3s. being charged for accommodation bills, that referred entirely to what the securities charged, which was beyond the knowledge of the bank agent, though he might by a round-about way come to know that there was something charged. There was another delegate of whom the question was asked, in that end of the courtly, what interest was generally paid to the banks, and he said about 5 percent., or Is. in the £.
10025. The interest to the bank is the ordinary discount rate?
10026. And this 10 to 15 per cent, if it exists at all, is paid to quite different parties?
—Yes, it is an outside transaction between themselves, with which the bank agent has nothing to do at all.
10027. Mr Cameron.
—Do you consider that the actual rents paid by the crofters in Skye are high, or the reverse?
—I judge very much by hearsay, and we have heard a good number of them say they would rather pay
three times what they pay for a croft three times the present size than be on the present croft, though they should get it for nothing.
10028. That is hardly an answer to my inquiry, because nobody could have a croft for nothing. Taking the value of the land and the produce got out of it, do you consider that the present rents are too high, taking them all over?
—I think that the rent which the proprietor might, under present circumstances, reasonably expect would be too high to charge a crofter, and I think for the difference there ought to be some way of compensating him. Although in Skye here we may be credited with advanced ideas on the land question, we never would dream of advocating a policy of spoliation of the landlords. We wish to repudiate that most sincerely.
10029. Then you would not be apprehensive that, under a system of valuation by a neutral person, the rents might be raised beyond what they are now?
—No, I would not. I see that the same system is adopted under the Irish Land Bill, and I don't see why it should not work successfully in this country,
10030. That, of course, would depend upon the rents not being too high?
10031. Supposing that the rents were not too high in this country, but very moderate, would you feel any apprehension that under the system you propose, instead of being decreased, they might be increased?
—I don't think they would be increased.
—[Mr Alexander Macdonald. I just wish to say one word about the banks and deposits—namely, that no person in Skye, I believe, can tell the amount of deposits in the banks. I don't know myself, though I am agent for one of them. Mr Maclachlan is agent for another, and he does not know; and Mr Skene is agent for another, and he does not know. We all keep our own secrets, and no one in Skye has the slightest idea of the amount of deposits in the three banks].
10032. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You propose to adopt fixity of tenure. Do you mean to adopt it before the crofts are enlarged, or to confirm the present state of things?
—The present state of things, with enlarged holdings.
10033. But with the holdings as they are, do you wish to establish fixity of tenure?
—I would wish that it should not be in the power of the laird or factor arbitrarily to evict any man so long as he paid his rent.
10034. Even with the present small holdings?
—Yes, most certainly, even with the present small holdings. If an eviction took place, I should like to see it carried out in the same way in which I saw it carried out in the property of Mr Macdonald at Skeabost, which was done in a proper spirit and in a proper form. There was a tenant in the township who made himself very disagreeable to the rest of them, and the whole of the township joined in a petition to the landlord to have him removed, and the landlord gave effect to their desire.
10035. If you had fixity of tenure, of course you could not have removals?
10036. In regard to the school salaries, you said that the salaries in Skye are very low?
—Yes, I hear the complaint general.
10037. Do you think that tends towards making the education given here inefficient in character?
—Well, it tends in many instances to keep schools vacant for months in the year.
10038. And not to procure the best class of teacher to fill them?
10039. And probably the children don't make make same progress under these second-class teachers?
—I believe it would be the cheapest way to employ a good teacher at first, and so earn a larger amount of grant.
10040. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have the records of the sheriff court under your charge, I believe?
10041. Have you prepared a list of the decrees of the court for some time back?
—I attempted to do it, but it involved so much work that I have not been able to complete it.
10042. Will you make up and hand in a correct statement?
—I will. I should like to verify it before giving it in. I have made up a list of decrees of removal from agricultural small holdings since 1810.
10043. You will hand it in to the Commission by-and-by?
—Yes, when I have verified it to the best of my knowledge.
10044. Mr Cameron.
—Will the date of each be mentioned?
10045. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What number do they amount to?
—Roughly, they amount to 2046 decrees of removal proceeding upon summonses of removal. (see Appendix A. XXIII.)
10046. Are these extracted?
—They are extractable decrees. They may not have been extracted. It cannot be known to what extent these decrees were acted on.
10047. Professor Mackinnon.
—Is that what we popularly call a warning?
—Yes, a warning against the tenant, and the decree is the sheriff's authority granted upon it.
10048. Do you add to that the number that were enforced?
—I cannot. I have been asked simply to give this information —the number of decrees of removal since 1840.
10049. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have walked and driven about the island, and seen a good deal of Skye?
10050. Can you confirm what many delegates have stated, that the pasture is deteriorating in many places?
—Yes, both from my own judgment, so far as it goes, and from the opinion of men of practical experience.
10051. When you were going about the island you have seen what enables you to corroborate what has been stated here —that there are hundreds of ruined houses?
10052. You can also confirm this, that the people have been crowded into confined areas?
10053. And that in consequence subdivision has occurred?
10054. Suppose the crofts were enlarged as you propose, would there not be a much larger trade carried on in the island?
—Very much larger; that is what we desire.
10055. And lawyers and bankers and everybody else would be benefited ?
—Yes, every class of people who thrive by dealing with the wealth-producers of the country.
10056. Were you present when Mr Baird of Knoydart was examined?
10057. Because he stated that he would not take any farmers for his big farms who were non-resident. I suppose that some of the Skye proprietors are finding it to be well to take that step in advance and to have resident farmers as much as possible?
—There are just three that are non-resident.
10058. But these are pretty large?
10059. We have heard of the large farm of Scorrybreck. Have there been a great number of people removed from that farm at times?
10060. The tenant himself stated that the extent of that farm was eleven miles, but does he not rather minimise the extent of it?
—I hear it spoken of as fifteen miles in extent.
10061. You think eleven is rather under the mark?
—I think so. I have always heard it spoken of as having fourteen miles of sea coast
10062. And that includes bays?
—If you followed it out and in you might make it almost as long as from here to Stornoway.
10063. Then you mean in a straight line?
10064. Are you aware of any inconvenience that occurs to the people of Skye from there being only two practising agents in the court?
—I really cannot say there is.
10005. Have people complained to you as an official of the court and asked your advice, or anything of that kind?
—I cannot say.
10066. Then it is not a grievance?
—I cannot really say it is. The court business has diminished very much of late. People are getting to be more sensible and less litigious. There used to be a time when there was an immense amount of business done in the court here. Now that is not the case. The introduction of the Debts Recovery Act and of the Small Debts Act has tended very much to decrease litigation.
10067. We find in many cases a repugnance on the part of the people to take leases. Can you explain that?
—The impression they gave me is that they don't want leases to give them connection with the soil. They consider that necessary with strangers, to give them an introduction to the land, but they say, 'We are here already, and we don't want that.'
10068. Is that the only account you can give of that repugnance?
—I think so ; at least except in so far as regards agreements that might be entered into as to the mode of cultivating the soil.
10069. Would you give us your opinion as to the general conduct and behaviour of the people and their character? They are accused of being indolent and lazy, and of not working sufficiently?
—I daresay that the Highlanders, as agriculturists, may with a considerable amount of truth be charged with laziness, but I believe it is not their fault. It is the fault of the conditions that have been imposed upon them by the legislature, for their condition seems to be such that there appears to be a premium upon laziness, because they see instances, such as that of Donald Nicolson, Totescore, who was arbitrarily cleared out of his possession, and although there should be only one such case occurring in a decade, it gets wind all round, and every person feels that he may be treated in the same way if a neighbouring sheep farmer should happen to offer a pound of rent more than he is able to pay, and his sense of insecurity is such that his energies are depressed.
10070. If they had proper inducements, do you think they would work as well in Skye as they work in the south?
10071. In speaking of the enlarged crofts for crofters, the only question always comes up as a difficulty, but don't you think that a young, strong man, willing to work, really has his capital in his two hands?
—That is his capital; his bodily health is his capital.
10072. Is that not a very good capital?
—That is a most important capital.
10073. Might it not really be of more importance to a man to be strong and healthy than to be somewhat weakly and in possession of £100 or £150?
—There is no use of a crofter undertaking the cultivation of a croft even if he had the money, if he has not physical health to work it, because he simply hands over the profit of the croft to another man.
10074. Considering the hard times which the people in Skye have generally passed through, what do you say as to their behaviour?
—It has been most exemplary. Such a thing as agrarian outrage is utterly unknown.
10075. It was mentioned to-day by Tormore that the agitation only began recently. How long is it since this agitation and movement of discontent began?
—In my experience, the first active expression of discontent and rebellion against the rents in Skye took place on Captain Fraser's property very early after he got the property.
10076. Even so far back?
—Yes, very shortly after he got the property.
10077. And that is some twenty years ago?
—Yes, fully that.
10078. Do you think that the successive increases of rent which he put upon his estate still kept up agitation?
10079. Then it cannot be considered a thing of to-day?
—No, and it is certainly not attributable to Irish agitators. The next active rebellion was when Mr G. G. Mackay of Raasay took to improving his estate, and carried out some removals. He sent an officer with summonses of removal, and I believe the officer crossed the ferry, but he had some difficulty in returning, for his boat was not to be found. Then came the agitation on Captain Fraser's property, in the case of Valtos, about three years ago. He came to see that he was in the wrong and that he had been overcharging them for a number of years; but the discontent has been fomented on Captain Fraser's estate in Skye—no doubt about that.
10080. Then there are some parts of Skye better off than others?
10081. The district of Sleat?
—I would rather not particularise. As to the character of the people, I was asked to give some statistics of the emigration which took place some years ago, but I have not been able to get these with any degree of accuracy ; but in hunting up the matter I came upon an appeal to the public by a Skye Emigration Committee in 1852, in which this passage occurs :
—In considering the appeal now made on behalf of the people of Skye, it will be borne in mind that periods of suffering are often periods of turbulence and disregard of the rights of property; that there was much in the social arrangements of Skye, and not a little even in the system on which the relief fund was administered, to excite bitterness, irritation, and discontent; yet during five years of suffering, no single case of violence, tumult, or outrage of any kind has occurred; and though the principal movable property in the island—its sheep flocks—is peculiarly exposed to depredation, and detection extremely difficult, yet sheep-stealing, or theft of any kind, has been comparatively unknown. It may indeed, be said, that in no district of Britain of equal population, and however prosperous, has crime been more rare than it has been in Skye, during years of misery, danger, and want.
10082. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Was Sheriff Fraser the chairman of that committee?
—Yes. That is the character of the people to the present day.
10083. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Are these decrees of removing often made use of by the landlords to recover their rent in preference to taking out small debt summonses?
—I don't know, because you have no power to recover under them, but it is a means of frightening them.
10084. And they pay?
—I suppose they do.
10085. Have you any means of making up a complete return which will show the cases in which the decrees were acted upon?
—I have no means of showing to what extent they were acted upon. The records of the court do not show it. Of course ; all these decrees could not have been acted upon, for if they had, there would have been no population in Skye today.
10086. The Chairman,
—You have stated your desire that larger crofts should be formed out of lands now occupied by proprietors or by tacksmen ?
—I cannot see how they could be formed without so encroaching.
10087. Do you contemplate compelling the proprietor to surrender the land when it is in his own hands, for the formation of such crofts ?
—If he has an undue proportion of it in his own hands.
10088. How would you settle the question whether he has an undue proportion or not ?
—That is a question of detail into which I would not be prepared strictly to go; but there is the parish of Bracadale, which is almost absolutely a waste, that is a very undue proportion of the land devoted to the maintenance of a very few.
10089. I want to get at your idea of the principle upon which you would contemplate compelling the proprietor to surrender lands in his own hands to form crofts ?
—I don't know that any proprietor in Skye has such an undue proportion of land in his own hands, unless in the island of Raasay.
10090. But still, if you have matured an opinion upon the subject, I should like to have an unqualified expression of it. Are there circumstances in which you think it desirable that the proprietor should be obliged to surrender ?
—By all means.
10091. Suppose the other case, that the land is not in the possession of the proprietor, but in the possession of a tenant holding under lease, do you contemplate cases in which it would be desirable that the law should oblige the lease to be cancelled, and the land surrendered for the formation of the crofts?
—Well, the leases are not so long. There are generally breaks in them, and I don't know that the exigencies of the case are such as would demand such a compulsitor to be immediately acted upon.
10092. Then you contemplate rather that at the termination of existing covenants the claim of the crofters to an augmentation of land should then be admitted?
10093. At the end of existing contracts?
—Yes. I would like, of course, that any change in that way should be made with as little inconvenience as possible all round, and with no loss either to the holder of the lease or
to the proprietor.
10094. Well, but the rights of property are not dear to people only on account of their pecuniary value. They are dear for many other considerations,—considerations of pleasure, ornament, indulgence, pride, and so on. I wish to understand whether you think the principle of compulsion ought in extreme cases to be applied or not ?
10095. You have also stated that you desire that the crofters, or persons in a humble condition, should have the means of becoming actual proprietors of their own holdings ?
10096. Then you would give the crofter or small tenant the power of claiming to purchase his holding, irrespective of the consent of the proprietor?
—Well, I have a great admiration for the provisions of the Irish Land Bill, and I consider that any measure for the amelioration of the condition of the Highland crofters would be incomplete or superficial without provision for the purchase by the crofters—crofters who are able and willing—of their own holdings.
10097. But does the Irish Land Bill contain any provision enabling the small tenant to purchase the property of his holding without the consent of his landlord ?
—-I believe it does not.
10098. Then do you desire the principle of compulsion, or would you admit that the right of purchase should only be exercised with the consent of the landlord?
—Well, I would not be prepared to give a definite answer right off; it involves very grave considerations.
10099. Speaking of the crofts in general that you desire to see formed, I understand that having selected the proper type of croft sufficient to support a single family, you think that croft ought to remain an undivisible quantity?
—I do think so. '
10100. Looking at the smaller class of crofts that exist now, do you desire that the holders of those crofts should have fixity of tenure?
10101. In the event of small crofts —smaller in value and dimensions than your typical crofts
—becoming naturally vacant, do you think that these small crofts ought to be relet or regranted in their present dimensions, or ought they to be added to other crofts?
—Added to other crofts.
10102. Where would you fix the limit? Would you say that a croft below £5 in value should be added to another, or where would you fix the limit?
—I would try to bring up the average crofts of the country to a size which would support a family in comfort.
10103. But in endeavouring to attain that ideal, which may be a very good one, how would you provide for that class of persons who desire to gain their living by fishing or other form of industry, but who don't want to be left without land altogether?
—The Highlander is a born land animal. He is not a fisherman. He is quite a different being altogether from the east coast fisherman. The east coaster is a fisherman ; the Highlander is a born soldier.
10104. But how could they be provided with those typical crofts sufficient to maintain a family ? Some must be fishermen; how would you provide them with cowsgrass and small holdings?
—I don't see how it could be done without encroaching upon large farms.
10105. You would provide for them by grants of land on the large farms and on the lands in the hands of the proprietors?
—So far as in the hands of proprietors to an undue extent.
10106. To what rule would you subject that class of small tenants? Would you give them also fixity of tenure?
—Yes, I cannot see it would be wise to make exceptions.
10107. Then you would give everybody who has a house and a small portion of land attached to it fixity of tenure so long as he pays his rent?
10108. What would you do with people who live in houses in the village of Portree?
—That is a different thing. These have no land, and we in Portree would give our eyes for it.
10109. They were asking for it to-day?
—Yes, and I hope they may get it. Before I retire I may be allowed to make an explanation which I consider necessary in regard to the case of Donald Nicolson, Totescore. I don't know but perhaps there has an impression gone abroad that there was some discrepancy between Mr Macdonald's statement of the case and what I stated in explanation at Uig, when appealed to by Donald Nicolson. There may be some outsiders who don't understand it.
10110. I don't quite understand it myself. I shall be very happy to hear your explanation?
—The explanation I wish recorded is that the £35, 11s. 8d. was paid by me—passed out of my hands
—and no portion of that remained in my hands. The proprietor kept in his own hands £15, 17s. 6d. as the value of the man's house.
10111. The original sum mentioned before was not £35, but £55?
—With that, so far as I was concerned, I had nothing to do. I had only to do with the account of expenses which was rendered to me by Mr Macdonald, acting for Captain Fraser. My sole object is to make it clear that I passed the whole of the money that came into my hands on account of Donald Nicolson to the proprietor or his agent. I have here a note of expenses, due by Donald Nicolson to Captain Fraser of Kilmuir, as follows :
—Rent and violent profits, £16; expenses decerned for, £4, 18s. 8d.; do., further, £3, 4s.; extract decree and charges, 10s. 6d.; ground officer ejecting, and party, £ 2, 18s.; expenses for breach of interdict, £ £8, 0s. 6d.; total, £35, 11s. 8d. ; to value of houses, £15, 17s. 6d. ; leaving a balance of £ 19, 14s 2d, which was paid by me to the factor on 5th December 1877, and for which his stamped receipt is produced.
—It is quite correct.
10112. The question that interested us most was to know what the proprietor actually got ; whether the proprietor got any more than the amount of the simple rent due to him at the term ?
—Not one single farthing but the rent. The incoming tenant got the difference. Anything we got for
violent profit went to the incoming tenant, to pay the damage which he alleged he suffered from not getting possession at Whitsunday.
10113. Then did the incoming tenant pay the proprietor any rent for the period during which he was not in the farm?
—No; we just got the rent, and nothing but the rent. I will show my books to the Commissioners,
showing that we did not get a farthing but the rent, and that the incoming tenant got the rest.
10114. Have you any other statement in connection with this eviction? So far as I remember, it was stated by Nicolson that his rent had been doubled, and that he was willing to submit to his rent being doubled, but then that they charged him £ 1 more, which really was the straw which broke the camel's back, and that he would not stand it?
—That was his statement, but we deny that. The £ 1 had nothing to do with his eviction; it was his misconduct.
10115. Was his rent doubled ?
—Yes, it was; but that had nothing to do with the eviction. He was quite agreeable to the rent.
10116. Why was his rent doubled?
—Like all the rest. It was according to the valuation of Mr Malcolm, like all the rest of the tenants on the estate. That had nothing to do with his eviction.
10117. There was a case cited by Mr Maclachlan of a model eviction, in which all the tenants in the township petitioned the landlord to get rid of an inconvenient member. Was the case of this poor man as bad as that ? Do you think that his fellow-crofters would have petitioned for his removal?
—I think it was a worse case, or fully as bad. The tenant who suffered from Nicolson's carelessness about his stock is here, I believe; and another tenant, whose sheep got killed by Nicolson's dog, is here. I have no personal ill-will to Nicolson, not the slightest.
[Mr Maclachlan]. I have no doubt it would involve going into a long proof to prove his misconduct, but there is no doubt that the circumstances at the time produced an impression on my mind which I have not forgotten yet, as being an exercise of the utmost high-handedness on the part of the landlord.
—That is your impression.
—I only speak of my own impression.
10118. We will stop this discussion, because it is impossible to go into the question. There is no doubt that in this matter Mr Maclachlan acted a most honourable and humane part, according to his view of the case.