Portree, Skye, 24 May 1883 - John Baird

JOHN BAIRD, Proprietor of Knoydart (31)—examined.

9210. The Chairman.
—Do you wish to make a statement to the Commission?
—I have really no statement to make. I should much prefer being questioned on one or two subjects. I have heard the subject of deer forests brought forward, and I thought it desirable that I should be examined on that point.

9211. Mr Cameron.
—When did you succeed to your property?
—In 1876.

9212. In what state did you find your property when you succeeded? Were the farms all let, and to whom?
—There are practically only five farms on the place—very large farms. Two of these were unlet, and I
was obliged to take over the stock myself. I have since had other two farms falling into my own hands.

9213. But when you succeeded three of them were let to tenants?

9214. To large tenants'?
—To large tenants who were non-resident.

9215. And the other two?
—They were unlet.

9216. Were they in the hands of your uncle when he died?

9217. And the sheep stock belonged to him?

9218. Did he leave you the sheep stock?
—I had to buy it.

9219. Have you had these farms in your possession ever since?

9220. How have these farms answered with you financially?
—I had a return last year for the first time upon the capital invested. Up till last year, I shall be sufficiently accurate if I say the rent was paid, and there was no return for the capital invested in the stock during the period from 1876 to 1881.

9221. Then what was the next thing that happened with the other three tenants? Did any of them leave, or were their leases out, or what happened?
—One of the farms fell into my hands the year before last, and another last year.

9222. And you still have one tenant left?
—One tenant left.

9223. When is his lease out?
—In about six or seven years.

9224. Do you anticipate that that farm will also fall into your own hands?
—As my experience hitherto has been, I should say so.

9225. In point of fact, you are in possession of four out of the five large farms, and you anticipate that when the fifth falls out of lease you will have to take that over to?
—I believe so.

9226. And on the two farms which you have held for some years you have practically lost money?
—In the sense that I had no return for the capital invested.

9227. If you had borrowed the money you would have had to pay interest, and therefore you would have lost it?

9228. Of course, I need not ask you whether it is against your own will that these things have happened, because if you lost money you don't want to be burdened with more farms?
—Very much against my will.

9229. Can you give us any idea as to the causes which render the taking of these sheep farms so difficult to arrange, and also to what you attribute your own losses on the farms you occupy?
—In the first place, the chief cause why these farms are not let is because I declined to let them on the same terms on which they were let before. I declined to let them to non-resident south country farmers. I wish to divide them so far as I can into sizes which would form respectable farms for respectable resident tenants, and hitherto I have not had offers for that class of farm that were
at all acceptable.

9230. Before you go on to that point I wish to finish the other point. You say one reason was that you did not wish to let them to non-resident tenants was you believe you could have let them to non-resident tenants at the present time?
—Not without very great loss. In fact, I have not had an offer.

9231. Did you advertise them1?
—I did not advertise them as large farms. I advertised the land to be divided up as might be thought most advisable to form workable farms.

9232. But you still think a non-resident tenant, if he could be found, would not be able to work those farms satisfactorily to himself without a large reduction of rent?
—In 1870 a farm which was previously let at £826 was offered to the outgoing tenant for £700, and that was refused.

9233. Now, will you please go on with your statement as to what steps you took recently, when the other two farms fell into your own hands, to get them let?
—I advertised. I hand in the form of advertisement that was put into the papers last year. It practically means that I was prepared to let the land to be divided up into farms that could be worked by resident

9234. How many large farms were advertised?
—Three are advertised now.

9235. Into how many did you propose to divide them?
—I was prepared to divide them to suit any reasonable offer on the part of any tenant who seemed desirable.

9236. Then you say you did not care though you got five, six, or seven separate tenants for the three holdings?
—I hoped to get more than that.

9237. Were you prepared to build houses and do what was necessary in order to enable the tenants to make a start?
—I was prepared to do all that, and to make a considerable sacrifice in order to have a resident tenantry.

9238. What was the result of these endeavours of yours?
—The result was that I had two offers. I had offers for two pieces of land. One was in May 1881. It was entirely new ground, and very good ground. The offer for that was about 2s. 2d. per sheep. That we considered too small, the stock being all ewes. Then I had an offer for what I considered the best part of the land on my estate —practically a slice of the best land on the coast, cutting off the hill land, which had formerly been under sheep—and the offer for that amounted to Is. 5d. per sheep ; and that was only on condition of my expending about £1000 in putting the farm-house into repair and other matters of that kind, which would have brought the actual rent per sheep below Is. That offer I felt justified in refusing. These were the only two offers I had, and the first offer was made before the advertisement appeared.

9239. Suppose you had fair offers for those two portions of the farm to which you allude, would you be able to let them without sacrificing the rest of the land, or would that have been a disadvantage?
—The first I mentioned was in such a form as I wished to let. I should have been glad to accept a good offer for that,

9240. If the offer for the first mentioned piece had been satisfactory you would have accepted it?
—Yes, but for the other it was absurd. It was merely taking a bit, and leaving the rest further inland useless.

9241. Did the former tenants, when their leases came to an end, make any offer of renewal or express any willingness to go on with their farms, or did they simply refuse to have anything to do with them?
—I never heard from them at all.

9242. Did you take any steps to renew the leases?
—I did not, because I had a fixed determination not to continue the system of large non-resident farmers.

6243. You did not give them the opportunity ?
—I did not.

9244. You mentioned one cause of the difficulty of letting sheep farms. Can you state any other cause?
—In my experience wool, is the great difficulty. I fancy if wool bad been at a reasonable price during the years I have spoken of, there would have been no special difficulty in letting the farms; but the price of wool, combined with the low price of sheep, made wedder land particularly unprofitable. During the six years from 1876 to 1881, part of Scotas, which forms half the land I purposed clearing, produced not only no return for the money invested, but no rent —less than no rent, it is put in my paper. I was rather doubtful about that matter, so I wrote to my agent to see if it produced no rent, as I thought it must mean no interest on the capital invested, and he writes to me this morning:
—Regarding the wedder land of Scotas, from 1876 to 1881, that land as stated produced no rent at all for six years, and no interest for the money invested in the stock upon it during those years.'

9245. Do you attribute the present difficulty of letting sheep farms at all to the high price of stock and to the doubt which a farmer has when he goes into a farm whether he will ever get his money back again?
—I should say that is distinctly a difficulty now.

9246. What do you do about the wintering of your sheep?
—I have to send them away.

9247. What does that cost you?
—Something like half a sovereign a head for the young sheep we send away.

9248. Have you any idea, from what you have heard from people formerly connected with sheep farming, what the cost of wintering sheep used to be in old days?
—So far as I know, there was less sending away of sheep in old days, and that was got at by there being few sheep on the place. In those days they kept only the number of sheep the land could winter and now, so far as I can make out, the number kept is the number the land can summer.

9249. But I presume they always sent away a certain proportion?
—I believe they sent away a certain proportion.

9250. But you cannot say what was the former cost of wintering hoggs?

9251. You have described to us the difficulties which beset the sheep farmer, and the difficulties particularly which beset you in your endeavour to let those lands ; will you tell us what you have done in consequence?
—I found that the chief stretch of my wedder land was a dead loss to me from year to year. For some six years I was losing money steadily upon it. It occurred to me to give it up as wedder land, and I am putting it under forest.

9252. The Chairman.
—That means deer forest?
—Deer forest.

9253. Mr Cameron.
—Suppose you wish to let it as a deer forest, what rent do you expect to get for it?
—According to the figures I have got here, putting the wedders at 2s. a year, which is a great deal more than the rent I can get, and more rent than it ever fetched in fact,—and putting the full stock, such as was given over by the outgoing tenant, as the highest that could be put upon it —the amount was £1716, 18s. on the part of the land that I propose foresting.

9254. You don't propose foresting it all?
—Only a certain part of the wedder land; the high land.

9255. What do you expect from the forest?
—I reckon it will be worth more than double that, at all events.

9256. Is there any crofting population on your estate?
—None at all on this part or the part that is going to be forested. I have one township with eleven crofters on the side facing the Sound of Sleat.

9257. They are not near the ground you propose to forest ?
—They are not within nine miles of any point of it.

9258. Do you see any signs on your estate of the remains of crofting populations ?
—Yes, considerable remains.

9259. Do these places where you see the remains appear to be suitable for cultivation ?
—I think it would be possible to support a certain number of people in the neighbourhood of the remains, but I think that would be done at the expense of losing the pasturage of the inner and upper hill country which is at present under sheep, apart altogether from the piece of land I purpose foresting.

9260. Would you approve of the introduction of crofters into these places as they used to be before?
—I think it would be an injury to the property.

9261. Are your eleven crofters at all crowded together so that you could move some of them from that place which you described to where they were before ?
—I have not had any complaint of crowding. I have not had any complaints from my crofters at all.

9262. What size are the crofts ?
—Something like 500 acres among the eleven.

9263. Including hill pasture ?

9264. How many cows do they each keep ?
—I have not got the numbers down separately, but they have fifty cattle of all ages. That figure refers
to the cattle actually on the place, not to the summing. There are fifty cattle, one hundred and ninety-nine sheep, and five horses, among the eleven tenants.

9265. Then they are pretty comfortable?
—So far as I understand, they are pretty comfortable. I have never heard any complaint from them.

9266. Would they get any more employment if you had a shooting tenant for the deer forest, or if you yourself occupied the deer forest ?
—I think the younger men might be employed as ghillies if they chose to give up their fishing.

9267. Do they fish much?
—Some of them fish.

9268. Do they prosecute it with any vigour ?
—Not so much as I should like. I had a good deal of annoyance with them some years ago. I was very much annoyed at their not fishing, and I called the heads of the families together one day, and rather abused them for allowing the east coast fishers to come and take the fish away under their noses. They lie between Loch Hourn and Loch Nevis, and Loch Hourn has been a large fishing station of late. I asked why they stood by with their hands folded, when they saw the east coast men taking the food from under their noses. They explained that their only difficulty was the want of nets. I asked how much it would cost to supply them with nets. I was told about £15 for each boat, and the men there represented half a dozen boats. They were overjoyed when I told them I would furnish them with the money if they would repay me in a reasonable time. They said they would repay me in three months. I said that three years would do quite well. They went away quite overjoyed. When I came back next year I found that one man had purchased £5 worth of nets from a neighbour, but otherwise the offer had not been taken advantage of at all. I had told them they were to get nets, and my factor was entrusted to pay for them as soon as they were bought, and all they had to do was to send the bill to me.

9269. Have you talked to them since ?
—I have talked to one or two since. They seemed to me to be rather disheartened.

9270. They are not very keen fishermen 1
—I think they did fish better in the winter. The last year or two, when there was a great amount of fishing in Loch Hourn, they got a certain amount of employment about the fishers without having nets themselves. I don't think they can be called keen fishermen.

9271. Did they make much last year at the herring fishing?
—Very little, I think.

9272. Was that owing to their own fault?
—I can understand no other cause for it.

9273. It was a very good fishing last year?
—I have been so informed. I was making some inquiry last winter, and I was told there was something like £180,000 worth of herring taken out of Loch Hourn.

9274. Into whose pockets did that money go?
—There were about 1000 boats there. I think most of them were east country boats, and some of
them were from Stornoway.

9275. You don't know the proportion between the east coast and west coast boats?
—No, but there was a very large number of east coast boats, and they are large boats.

9276. The Chairman.
—You spoke of certain large sheep farms which came into your possession, some untenanted and some tenanted. What was the ancient condition of those farms, both tenanted and untenanted? Were they in remote times held as small crofts or small farms?
—As regards one or two of them, I think I can say they were not held as small holdings. There were always a number of small cottages upon them with crofters ; but Scotas was regarded as an estate distinct from the rest of it at one time, and I believe that was held practically by one man. For Berrisdale the same may be said.

9277. About what time was the large sheep farming system introduced? When were the first leases given to non-resident low country farmers?
—I imagine it is not more than twenty-five or thirty years ago, but I can only speak by guess.

9278. Then were the rents recently paid the first rents paid, or had there been a renewal of lease with a rise?
—There had been a renewal, with a rise in some cases. The rent was certainly very much larger than
it was at first.

9279. Can you give me any idea what was the amount of rent paid by the sheep farmer under the first lease, and what was the amount paid under the second lease, in any one particular farm?
—I have not got it in any one case, but I have the estate rental, which will come to the same thing.

9280. It is chiefly under sheep farms?

9281. What was the estate rental under the first leases and then under the second leases?
—In the year 1858-59 it was £2766, 9s. 6d.

9282. And under the second leases?
—£4193, 17s. 10d.

9283. When the second leases expired, or were about to expire, you say you did not wish to relet on the old system, but if you had wished it you could not have got tenants to take the farms on the terms of the second leases, which produced £4193?
—I very much doubt whether I could have got much more than the original rent for them.

9284. Suppose the property had been offered at the original rent of £2766, could that or something a little more have been got?
—I can hardly say; certainly I think not more.

9285. So that practically, if there had been a determination to relet, the rental of 1858 could have been got?
—I am not sure of that, but I had no wish to relet in the same way.

9286. I know you stated that, but I want to arrive at a sort of impression as to whether, if you had resolved to relet to the same class of tenants they would have given the same rent which was given twenty or twentyfive years ago?
—I believe it could be got now. I rather doubt whether it could have been got within the last year or two.

9287. Then I should say you are very much in the position of a great number of proprietors on the borders and in the south of Scotland, who are practically obliged to go back to the rental of about 1856. However, you embraced a resolution not to relet to the same class of tenants at all, and you had an honest and zealous desire to let the property in smaller parcels available for resident tenants?
—Quite so.

9288. Have you abandoned all hope of being able to do that?
—Not at all. I am perfectly ready to accept tenants at this moment, and very desirous to get rid of the anxiety.

9289. You intend to persevere in your previous intention?

9290. Except with reference to a particular farm or class of land?
—That is a portion composed of wedder land, which does not all belong to one farm. It is land which I have hitherto found unprofitable, taken mainly from one farm and partly from two others.

9291. But the withdrawal of that wedder land will not seriously impair the value of the sheep farms?
—It will very highly increase it. It will make the farms more letable.

9292. But it was not from a desire to convert the land into a deer forest, but really from inability to let it otherwise?
—If the land had been profitable to me, I should not have turned it into a deer forest.

9293. You are prepared to erect on the farms buildings and everything that is necessary to set up this smaller class of tenants?
—That is my intention. I shall be unable to do it all at once for everybody, but that is my intention.

9294. What is the average rental of those smaller farms you propose to establish?
—I have absolutely no fixed intention on the subject. I should like to have farms at from £100 to £200 or less. I should be prepared to have them at £50, if I found desirable tenants. The size of the farm would depend on the condition of the place. I should let it only in such a way that the hill grazing would be divided among the farmers who had the shore ground.

9295. Do you expect that the aggregate rental of these small farms would amount to as much as the £2766?
—No, considering the buildings. I expect I should have to throw in the buildings probably.

9296. Then you expect to get the original rental of £2766 plus the rental of the deer forest?

9297. Which would raise the whole rental to about £1192?
—Somewhere about that.

9298. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—In what year did your uncle buy the estate?
—I believe it was in the year 1859.

9299. What is the extent of it ?
—About 67,000 acres.

9300. Have you got a plan of it?
—I have not.

9301. Have you any idea how much arable land is among those 67,000 acres,—I mean what had once been under the plough?
—I cannot say.

9302. Would there be 2000 or 3000?
—I should think not.

9303. How much then, roughly?
—I have never thought of the matter. It is in extremely small patches, and what has been arable land is now in such a condition that cultivation is hardly practicable. At a rough guess, I should say that there is not one-third of the extent you have put; I should say it is very much under 1000 acres.

9304. You mentioned that you have eleven families of crofters by the shores of the Loch. Do you know the number of souls in those families?
—I do not, but I think there are not above fifty.

9305. What other population is upon your estate?
—The total population is about 450.

9306. Are you aware there was a very large population resident at one time upon your estate?
—There was, I believe.

9307. Scotas was once an independent property?
—I have so understood.

9308. And you stated you did not think there were many small tenants upon that at one time?
—I stated it was held by one man. There are the remains of a number of small cottages; I do not know whether these were crofters or cottars'.

9309. That makes you suppose the proprietor of Scotas had no tenants?
—I did not venture to suppose that, but I understood it had been a sheep farm longer than any other place in the neighbourhood. That is what I meant to convey.

9310. There is another property, Barrisdale. There was a well-known family of that name, Macdonald of Barrisdale?

9311. Don't you suppose they had a very considerable number of followers, —in 1745, for instance ?
—Undoubtedly they had in those days.

9312. There is another farm of yours called Scammadale?
—I have a place called Scammadale; there is no farm on it.

9313. Would you be surprised to hear there was a distinct farm and property there?
—I am most anxious to have a family there again.

9314. I mean a family in the position of gentlemen?
—I was not aware of that.

9315. Glen Medle is part of your estate?

9316. Was there not an hereditary family there?
—I was not aware of that.

9317. With regard to evictions which took place before your time, are you not aware that within the memory of living men there was a very serious eviction,—in the time of the Glengarry trustees?
—I believe there were some very barbarous evictions at that time.

9318. And that there was some resistance on the part of the people?
—So I have read.

9319. You made a remark which probably you would like to reconsider. In answer to Lochiel, you said that the introduction of crofters (you did not mention in large numbers or small numbers) would be an injury to the property?
—What I meant was that I should like to carry out my idea of having moderate sized farms first. I think crofters might follow with advantage then. Work could be found for them. My conception is that
a small crofter there would have no outlet for his labour beyond the work of his croft; and I think it is desirable that the crofters should find labour on a farm in the neighbourhood.

9320. Don't you think it would be better to begin the reverse way,—as a delegate told us in Skye, to begin with a smallish croft, but larger than the present, and work up till he gets a better?
—Quite so, and I should be glad to have some of those crofters to take my larger farms.

9321. But then you might commence upon your own estate by beginning them low?
—I am not sure of that. It does not seem that the crofters improve the land.

9322. That may or may not be; it depends upon the matter of encouragement. Now, with regard to the fishing, are you aware that the east coast people, with their larger boats and trawling, do really destroy the fishing.of the small people?
—I am aware a great deal of that goes on, but I am not aware it destroys the fishing. I am not sufficiently informed on the point to speak.

9323. But you are aware it is alleged?
—I am aware it is a grievance.

9324. With regard to your idea about settling those tenants whom you referred to, your property is not very accessible? Is there a good road going through Glengarry?
—To the edge of it practically there is, —to Loch Hourn.

9325. Have you made a pier upon the loch?
—Sir Arthur Bass is making a pier.

9326. Is it to be open to the public?
—Yes, he made it on that condition.

9327. Do you think the inaccessibility of your property had anything to do with the want of people coming forward?
—I have no doubt it had.

9328. Is the climate a good one ?
—It is ; I spent the last winter there, and enjoyed it admirably. So far as I can make out, we had the best winter weather there was in Scotland.

9329. You seem to find fault with the small people for not fishing, and you also told us you are suffering a good deal from not getting any return from your lands. Why don't you, in order to recoup yourself, think of the fishing, and getting a share of the £180,000 taken out of Loch Hourn?
—I have been very unsuccessful in my speculations, and I would rather let the people who work at it carry it out themselves. I would be glad to assist them another year.

9330. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Mr Fraser Mackintosh quoted a remark which you made in answer to Lochiel, to the effect that you thought it would be disadvantageous to the property to introduce crofters. Am I right in understanding you to mean that they would occupy the lower land, and you would not be able profitably to make use of the upper land?
—Quite so; that was my meaning.

9331. Professor Mackinnon.
—We had a gentleman here yesterday, himself a proprietor and a well-known farmer and grazier, who stated that large farms at reasonable rents ought not to remain long vacant. Your experience is quite different?
—I have not tried to let large farms. I would not accept an offer for a large farm.

9332. Have you considered the question of increasing the holdings? Could that be done with the crofting population you have?
—It has never been asked for.

9333. They could not very well leap up from their present holdings to a farm?
—I don't think any of them could.

9334. Would it be easy to increase their hill pasture in any way?
—I have not considered the question. It has not come before me in anyway.

9335. Are the rents the same?
—The rents have been raised 5s. in the last thirty years.

9336. I mean are the rents about equal, or are there some of them larger than the others?
—Practically, there is not much difference.

9337. There is not one who has two or three lots?
—Practically, I believe they are tolerably equal, but I have not got the figures.

9338. Your difficulty about the crofting population is that they could not occupy the higher ground ; but if you occupy it by deer that difficulty would disappear?
—I am speaking of another district. The land of which I am speaking is land which could be profitably grazed by sheep, but that which I am foresting could not profitably be grazed by sheep.

9339. But you stated that the rent would be double under deer, as compared with sheep?
—I stated that as my belief.

9340. Why not occupy the whole upper land with deer in that case ?
—Because I prefer sheep where I can keep them properly. I do not wish to forest land.

9341. It is only the upper portion ?
—I have never contemplated putting the lower portion under deer.

9342. But if it yielded a higher rent ?
—I certainly should not do it. My desire is to have a resident population there, and I am prepared to do that at some expense. It is not my desire to raise the value of the property by what I consider an injury to it.

9343. My difficulty is in seeing why the argument should not hold good for the lower as well as the higher ground ?
—I believe that in the one case sheep farming can be made to pay, and in the other case it can not.

9344. Could not the wedder ground also be made to pay, only not so highly as the deer forest 1 Is not the same argument true of the lower ground?
—I have farmed that place for six years at a dead loss, not only as regards rent, but as regards the interest on capital invested in stock.

9345. So it would not graze sheep at all ?
—It would graze sheep, but at a dead loss for those six years.

9346. The loss then would be greater upon the higher ground than upon the lower ground, but still deer would be more profitable both on high ground and low ground?
—I have not contemplated having deer on the low ground at all. I really have not thought of it.

9347. The Chairman.
—You look forward to a very great depreciation in the value of the largest class of sheep farms all over the country?
—To a further depreciation?

9348. Yes.
—I do not.

9349. Do you then think that generally large farms could be let now to non-resident tenants or any tenants at about the same rental as in 1856 ?
—I should suppose so.

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