Portree, Skye, 24 May 1883 - John Forsyth

JOHN FORSYTH, Factor for Sir Charles Ross of Balnagowan (61)—examined.

9385. The Chairman.
—Have you got any statement to make to the Commission?
—Yes. Before reading any statement, I may say I was requested by Lord Macdonald's agents to go over to the Braes district last summer, after the disturbances there, and value, and report to his Lordship on the state of his crofters. That report is what I have now to read. I have been factor on the Balnagowan estate in Ross-shire for eighteen years. Before being appointed factor I was for nineteen years tenant of the farm of Arabella, on the Calrossie estate, in Easter Ross. I have had considerable experience during the period of my factorship in dealing with crofters and small tenants paying rents of from £1 to £20. There is a considerable number of such crofters and tenants on the estate of Balnagowan. Their holdings are situated mostly in the parishes of Kincardine and Edderdon, in Ross-shire. The climate is better than in Skye, but in Edderdon the climate is damp and cold. These crofters and tenants pay much higher rents in proportion to their acreage than the crofters in Skye do, but they work their land according to the five- shift or course of cropping, which does not exhaust it, and consequently they obtain from the land very much better returns. In June of last year I received instruction from Messrs John C. Brodie & Sons, Writers to the Signet, Edinburgh, agents for Lord Macdonald, to proceed to Skye, and make a valuation and report upon the crofts of the three townships of Peinchorran, Balmeanach, and Gedentailer, in the Braes district of belonging to Lord Macdonald. The crofters in these townships had been trespassing on the grazings of Ben Lee, then occupied by Mr Mackay, and they had refused to pay their rents unless that grazing was given to them. My instructions from Lord Macdonald's agents were in writing, and were in the following terms:
—Memorandum of Instructions for John Forsyth, Esq., Parkhill, Ross-shire, to enable him to
furnish a report and valuation for the guidance of Lord Macdonald as to the holdings of his Lordship's crofters in the Braes district of his Lordship's estates in Skye.
—22nd June 1882. The tenants of the crofts in the Braes district of his Lordship's estates, forming the townships of Peinchorran, Balmeanach, and Gedentailer, have lately refused to pay their rents, and attempt to justify their position by asserting that the grazing of the hill of Ben Lee was improperly taken from them at Martinmas 1865, and that it must now be restored to them without any addition being made to their present rents. The three townships above mentioned are distant about 6 miles from Portree, and are situated at the foot of the western slope of Ben Lee, which rises behind them. Prior to Martinmas 1865 the hill of Ben Lee (which lies adjacent to the market stance of Portree) was a commonty, and was open to all Lord Macdonald's tenants, and was taken advantage of by them at the market times, and for putting stray beasts on, &c. It was also to a great extent used by the tenants of the three townships in question. The boundaries of the three townships are distinctly laid down on the maps of the Macdonald estates prepared about the years 1810-11, and the acreage is stated as follows:—
1. Peinchorran crofts, 56,359 Scotch acres ; pasture, 279,466.
2. Balmeanach crofts, 50,380 ; pasture, 280,093.
3. Gedentailer crofts, 37,440; pasture, 251,061.

These maps will be exhibited to the reporter by Mr Alexander Macdonald, solicitor, Portree, the local factor for Lord Macdonald. Although the arable land of the crofts was clearly pointed out, and the
boundaries of the grazing land attached to each of the townships were distinctly laid down, there seems to be no doubt that the crofters were never kept strictly within their bounds ; and as the commonty of Ben Lee lay contiguous to them they were allowed, on sufferance, as much grazing as they liked on the hill of Ben Lee. This privilege of grazing on the commonty of Ben Lee was not, it is understood, taken into account in fixing the rents of the crofters, and in point of fact they only paid for the ground included in the measurements above mentioned, as being taken from the old plan of the Macdonald estates. The rental of the three townships in question, prior to the year 1829, was £280, 0s 2¼ d., but in that year it was reduced to £200, 17s., made up as follows:
—Peinchorran, £70, 2s.; Balmeanach, £76, 19s.; Gedentailer, £53,16s.; —total, £200, 17s. And from 1829 down to the present date it has remained stationary at the same figure. It is not quite clear what led to the reduction in 1829, but it is believed that a revaluation of the estate was then obtained, and the rents readjusted. The particulars of the three townships as at present let to the crofters are as
follows :
— 1. Peinchorran consists of thirteen lots of about 5½ acres each of arable land, with grazing for four cows and twelve sheep for each lot, and besides grazing for seven horses for the whole township. The
average rent per lot is £5, 8s.
2. Balmeanach consists of eight lots of about 6 acres each of arable land. The average rental is £9, 11s. per lot, and the grazing per lot is six cows, sixteen sheep, and one horse.
3. Gedentailer consists of seven lots of about 6½ acres each arable land, with grazing for five cows, twenty sheep, and one horse per croft. The average rent is £6, 14s. 6d. per lot. It will be observed the tenants of the townships hold crofts or pieces of arable land averaging from 5 to 6 acres in extent, and in addition to the arable land the tenants of each township hold considerable pieces of pasture land situated immediately behind their crofts and occupied by each township in common. The lots of the various townships have been divided, and are now occupied as follows :—
1. Peinchorran —the thirteen crofts are now occupied by seventeen tenants.
2. Balmeanach—the eight lots are now occupied by fourteen tenants and two cottars.
3. Gedentailer—the seven lots are now occupied by thirteen tenants and two cottars.
A detailed rental giving the names of the whole of the tenants, and showing the rents paid by them respectively, will be placed in the hands of the reporter by Mr Alexander Macdonald, in Portree, and there is sent herewith a copy of the rental of the three townships for the year from Whitsunday 1864, as showing the tenants who were in possession of the various crofts when the hill of Ben Lee ceased to be a common, and was let by Lord Macdonald as a separate farm. The whole of the crofters are yearly tenants, holding from Whitsunday to Whitsunday. Many changes in the tenancies have taken place since Martinmas 1865, after which date they were prohibited from pasturing stock on Ben Lee, but it is understood that for many years past the crofters have been in the habit of trespassing constantly on the hill of Ben Lee, greatly to the loss and annoyance of the tenants of that holding. And the crofters who are now in possession of the crofts state that when Ben Lee was let by Lord Macdonald as a separate holding, it was arranged that the hiH should be given back to the crofters at Whitsunday 1882, being the expiry of the lease for which it was then let There seems to be no foundation whatever for such a statement; and the accounts of Mr Mackinuon, who was then factor for Lord Macdonald, show that the arrangement made by him with regard to Ben Lee was not of a temporary nature, but that the crofters were from and after that date to be prevented from sending their stock to the hill. It may be mentioned that, as the commonty of Ben Lee was not taken into account in letting the crofts, no abatement whatever was made on the rents of the crofters when the hill was resumed by the proprietor. The circumstances under which Ben Lee was let as a separate holding have been brought prominently before the reporter for his information, but he will understand that he is not expected when in Skye to inquire more fully into them than he may consider to be necessary for enabling him to carry out fully the instructions embraced in the queries annexed hereto. At Martinmas 1865 the hill of Ben Lee was let at the annual rent of £100, and has since been possessed by various tenants, and is now let to Mr John Mackay, Portree, at the annual rent of £128. The hill is said to be capable of carrying 1400 sheep in summer and 1200 in winter. It may be mentioned to the reporter, that from Martinmas 1865 down to Martinmas 1881, the crofters acquiesced in the letting of the hill, and were peaceable and, contented ; and, in point of fact, the rents prior to the last mentioned date were regularly paid. About the middle of November 1881, however, a deputation of young men —the sons of crofters —waited upon Mr Alexander Macdonald in Portree, and presented a petition which had been signed by almost all the tenants of the three townships, to the effect that they demanded the hill of Ben Lee in addition to their present holdings, without any additional payment of rent; but Mr Macdonald, on observing the deputation did not consist of tenants, dismissed them without entering into any discussion with them. The deputationists quietly left, and nothing was heard of the matter till the Martinmas rent collection. Upon 8th December 1881 the tenants marched in procession to Portree to attend the Martinmas rent audit, and all appeared before Mr Macdonald, and plainly declared their intention or resolution that they must have Ben Lee in addition to their present holdings without payment of additional rent. Mr Macdonald explained to them that their request could not be granted, and pointed out to them that they and their predecessors had been in possession of their crofts holding from year to year without complaint for between sixteen and seventeen years, and that there was no change of circumstances which justified their application or request. No rents were paid, but the factor explains that there are many tenants quite willing to pay, but who are afraid to do so in consequence of threats of personal violence at the hands of the agitators should they do so; and that two widows having been suspected of paying their rents, their houses were surrounded by a crowd, who threatened them and broke down a tree in front of their dwellings. As no rents were being paid, Mr Macdonald, on 23rd March last, addressed a circular to the crofters remonstrating with them, and calling upon them to settle the claims of their landlord. No attention was paid to this circular, and Mr Macdonald accordingly resolved to enforce payment of the rents, and to evict the ringleaders of what he believes to be an organization formed for the avowed object of resisting their landlord's claim for payment of rent. Accordingly summonses of removing and for payment of arrears were issued upon 7th April last against twelve of the ringleaders, and placed in the hands of a sheriff officer for service; but the crofters assembled in force, took the writs from the officer, and burnt them. These proceedings, as the reporter is doubtless aware, led to the trial before the sheriff, and the conviction of five of the agitators for deforcing the officer. Since the month of April no step practically has been taken by Lord Macdonald with the view of obtaining payment of the arrears due by the crofters, or of coming to a reasonable understanding with them in regard to the hill of Ben Lee. The crofters, on the other hand, both in December and in the course of the spring of the present year, threatened publicly that at Whitsunday 18S2 they would take forcible possession of the hill of Ben Lee, by placing their own stock upon it and driving off the stock of Mr Mackay, the present tenant. Upon 2lst June 1882, Lord Macdonald’s Edinburgh agents received the following telegram from Mr Alexander Macdonald, Portree :
—Have been informed by tenant of Ben Lee that Braes tenants sending cattle to Ben Lee, and that tenants informed Mackay's shepherd they were sending stock, have requested Mackay to ascertain definitely whether tenants taking forcible possession. On ascertaining definitely shall let you know. Informed tenants some days ago that their matter was receiving consideration. No confirmation of this telegram has as yet been received, and the reporter will therefore kindly inquire into the facts as to the present occupancy of Ben Lee. It does not appear to have ever been ascertained whether the grazing land belonging to the crofts proper is sufficient to maintain the stock at all times which they are entitled to keep under the arrangement with Lord Macdonald. The tenants themselves state most positively and strongly that their land will not keep their summing, and that they are consequently paying rent for the grazing of stock which the lands will not maintain. The local factor says there is no doubt that many of the tenants have their full summing and more, but that others are far short of it, The reporter will require to inspect each croft, and satisfy himself that the crofter has the full grazing let to him under his bargain with Lord Macdonald ; and if, in the opinion of the reporter, the grazing is not sufficient to maintain the stock which the crofter is entitled to keep, he will be good enough to say whether any, and if so what extent, of the hill of Ben Lee should be added to the crofts to enable the crofters to keep the stock which they are entitled to do under their bargain. A proposal has been mentioned to the effect that the whole of Ben Lee should be let to the crofters as a joint farm at the present rent, or such other rent as the reporter may consider to be its fair annual value; but it is doubted whether the crofters have sufficient capital to enable them to stock the hill sufficiently with stock of their own, and it is feared that, by enlarging the possessions by the addition of Ben Lee, Lord Macdonald might get himself into greater difficulties than ever with his crofters; the reporter, however, will kindly consider this proposal and give his opinion upon it. Lord Macdonald is desirous, if it could possibly be arranged, to come to an amicable and mutually satisfactory arrangement with his crofters, and for this purpose he wishes the advice and guidance of the reporter. The reporter will kindly examine each croft in the three townships, and if he can manage it, confer with each of the crofters and hear from him personally what it is that he particularly complains of, and after having gathered all available information, he will form his own conclusion as to the fair annual value of each holding, taking all circumstances into account; and he will particularly state whether the grazing land attached to each township is sufficient for the stock which the tenants are entitled to keep. It would also be satisfactory for the reporter to ascertain and set forth in his report how, in his opinion, the rents of the three townships in question compare with the rents of neighbouring townships occupied by small tenants, and whether the crop of the arable land of each township is sufficient to winter the stock allowed to be grassed by the tenants. More particularly for the guidance of the reporter, in addition to the points above alluded to, in so far as these may not be covered by the following queries, he will be good enough to report specially upon the following points :
—1. What would be a fair rent at present on a yearly tenancy of the subjects let to each of the crofters of the three townships of Peinchorran, Balmeanach, and Gedentailer?
2. Is the land occupied by each of these crofters sufficient to enable each of them to keep the number of animals of each kind contemplated by his bargain with Lord Macdonald?
3. What would be a fair rent at present on a yearly tenancy of the grazing of Ben Lee as let to Mr Mackay?
4. Should any, and what portion, of the grazing of Ben Lee as let to Mr Mackay be taken from him and added to the land let to each of the crofters of the three townships above specified, in order to make the rent at present payable by each of these crofters a fair rent, or to enable each of them to keep on the land let to him the number of animals of each kind contemplated by 'his bargain with Lord Macdonald?
5. If any portion of the grazing of Ben Lee now let to Mr Mackay should be taken from him and added to the land occupied by the crofters as above, what abatement of rent should be allowed to Mr Mackay to compensate him for the lands resumed by the proprietor and added to the croits of the three townships?
6. If the reporter does not recommend that any additional land be added to the crofts as above, is the reporter of opinion that any and what abatement of rent should be granted to each of the crofters of the three townships and to Mr Mackay, the tenant of Ben Lee, and if so, for what period ?
7. Whether the reporter is of opinion that the land occupied by each crofter is not sufficient to keep the stock provided by his bargain, he thinks that it would be better to give relief by abatement of rent, rather than by addition of land, and if so, what should be the extent of that relief?
8. What does the reporter find to be the actual present state of possession of the grazing of Ben Lee ?
Is it in the actual peaceable possession of Mr Mackay, the tenant of Ben Lee, or is his possession of it practically obstructed or usurped or interfered with in any and what manner, and to what extent by any and which of the three townships above specified, or by any and what other persons, and during what period?
9. Is the reporter of opinion, after the fullest possible inquiry made by himself personally on the spot as well as from his own observation, that the crofters of the townships above referred to are or are not possessed of sufficient means to fully stock with stock their own absolute property the grazing of Ben
Lee, now let to Mr Mackay, in addition to the crofts now possessed by them respectively, and what number of sheep and of what kind and age, and during what period of the year, does the reporter consider to be a full and fair stock for the grazing of Ben Lee, and what amount of money would it be necessary for the crofters to possess to enable them to purchase a full and fair stock for that grazing of Ben Lee, apart altogether from the stock of the crofts now let to them respectively?
10. What course does the reporter advise Lord Macdonald to follow in the whole matter ? Ought his Lordship to refrain to any and what extent from insisting on full payment of the rent and arrears now due by each of the crofters of the three townships above referred to, and by 'Mr Mackay, the tenant of Ben Lee, and what steps does the reporter advise Lord Macdonald to take, and at what time, in order to obtain payment of those rents and arrears, under deduction of such part of them, if any, as the reporter may advise Lord Macdonald to refrain from exacting? In considering the whole of the matters embraced within the foregoing memorandum and queries, the reporter will keep prominently before him that it is the wish of Lord Macdonald to act fairly and justly towards the crofters of the three townships above referred to, and towards Mr Mackay, the tenant of Ben Lee. The reporter will also kindly favour Lord Macdonald with any information or suggestion which may occur to him, and which may not have been specially referred to in the foregoing memorandum. —5 Thistle Street, Edinburgh, 22 June 1882.
I may here refer to the following clause in a letter I received from Lord Macdonald's agents of the same date:—
We need hardly mention that it is the desire of Lord Macdonald that you should take a thoroughly impartial view of the present position of matters, and that, although you are to proceed to Skye on his Lordship's instructions, you will pay due attention to any representations the crofters may have to make to you. In accordance with those instructions, I went to Skye in the beginning of July, and I examined each croft separately, and met with all the tenants, and heard what they had to say. I found that, in addition to the grazing belonging to the three townships named adjoining their own arable land, that they had right to graze their stock along with that of the other four townships of Connordan, Upper and Lower Ollach, and Achnahanaid adjoining. I had no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that these grounds were quite sufficient to graze the quantity of stock which each of the crofters was entitled to keep according to the summing of the respective holdings. The following is the report which I sent to Messrs Brodie & Sons as the result of my inspection and valuation :
—In terms of the memorandum of instructions sent me by Messrs J. C. Brodie and Sons, 5 Thistle
Street, Edinburgh, on 22nd June last, for the purpose of enabling me to report on and value of the holdings of the three townships of Peinchorran, Balmeanach, and Gedentader, in the Braes district of Lord Macdonald's property in Skye, I beg to state that I went to Skye, and carefully examined the three townships together with the hill of Ben Lee on the 5th, 6th, and 7th days of July current, and that
the result of my examination is as follows :
—I think the best way to convey the result of my examination will be to answer the questions as put in the memorandum of instructions, reserving the few remarks till after I have answered the questions. 1. See valuation attached to this paper.
2. Now that it is ascertained beyond doubt that the Peinchorran, Balmeanach, and Gedentailer crofters have right to graze with the other four townships of Connordan, Upper and Lower Ollach and Achnahanaid, they have grass enough for the stock they are entitled to keep according to agreement, but the arable ground possessed by each is not sufficient to grow straw to carry their cows and horses
through the winter.
3. Mr Mackay, I understand, at present pays £128 for Ben Lee, which I think a fair rent, providing he had the undisturbed use of the grazing.
4. This question is not applicable now, as the crofters of Peinchorran, Balmeanach, and Gedentailer have right of grazing along with the other four Braes townships,
5. Not applicable.
6. Not applicable.
7. Not applicable.
8. Mr Mackay, the tenant of Ben Lee, is not in full possession of it. The tenants of the townships admit that, particularly from Whitsunday last, they have allowed their sheep to go on to Ben Lee; that they do not try to keep them off; and that they have no intention of doing so. Indeed, when going over Ben Lee to-day (7th July) I saw a great many sheep which I understand to belong to the tenants of Peinchorran, Balmeanach, and Gedentailer, well on to the Ben Lee grazing and among Mr Mackay's
9. After a careful inquiry and from my own observation, I fear the tenants of the three townships have not funds sufficient to stock Ben Lee, but they say they could manage it. In addition to their present stock, £1400 to £1500 would be required to procure a sufficient stock for Ben Lee. I consider 1000 sheep a fair summer stock for Ben Lee, and the best stock for such ground is a blackfaced wedder- stock. I think it would be judicious to let the crofters of Peinchoran, Balmeanach, and Gedentailer Ben Lee at a fair rent, if it could be arranged; I think it would ultimately turn out the best arrangement for all concerned. It would be a difficult matter to keep their stock off Ben Lee, nothing would do this except an iron fence; this would cost about £80 a mile, and it would be costly to keep in repair. It would, I fear, be often broken.
10. Failing coming to such an arrangement as I have suggested, I do not think Lord Macdonald has any course open to him except to vindicate his rights. His Lordship's law agents are without doubt his proper advisers as to how this is to be done; but before taking any legal steps to compel payment of the rents due by the crofters, I would be inclined to put on a few firm shepherds—say three or four,—to turn off the tenants sheep and to keep them off, thus leaving it to the tenants to put them on again, if inclined, or to do what I understand has been done, to call upon the crofters to withdraw their stock from Ben Lee. I have already stated that the land held by each crofter will not grow straw to winter their cattle and horses, in this case it might be advisable to induce the crofters, or try to do so, to keep fewer cattle and more sheep; thus enabling them to winter their cattle without the necessity of their having to purchase straw or other feeding stuffs. As it has been ascertained that the crofters of the three upper townships have the right of grazing along with the crofters of the four lower townships, and if Ben Lee is let to the crofters of Peinchorran, Balmeanach, and Gedentailer, thus putting them in an improved position, would it not be wise to withdraw from them the right of grazing along with the crofters of the lower townships, and give the lower townships all the common grazing at an increased rent, thus also improving their position by enabling them to keep more stock than they do now? A few of the crofters are very poor, and although I have not made any difference in the valuation of their crofts on this account, I would recommend them to Lord Macdonald's consideration. The following are the results of my valuation :
—[I omit the details.]
1. Peinchorran: Present rent: £70/2/0, valuation £73/13/0
2. Balmeanach: Present rent: £78/19/0, valuation £73/5/0
3. Gedentailer: Present rent: £54/1/0, valuation £56/12/9
Totals: Present rent: £203/2/0, valuation £203/10/9

(signed) JOHN FORSYTH. Auchoyle, 12nd July, 1882.
The arable land would at one time probably have been sufficient to grow fodder to carry the stock of cattle and horses over winter, but from constant cropping, without a sufficient supply of farm yard manure, the soil has become exhausted. The rents of the crofts forming the three townships named I considered on the whole to be moderate. In the cases where I was of opinion the rents were too low, I understand no increase has been made, and in those cases where in my opinion the rents were rather high they have been reduced. In a letter which I addressed to Lord Macdonald's agents subsequent to the date of my report, I advised that, though the rent of Ben Lee to Mr Mackay was a fair rent, yet it might be well to let the grazings at £100 or even £90 to the crofters, who ought to have done well with it at either of these rents. The hill has actually been let to the crofters at £74, 15s., which I consider a very moderate rent indeed. On the whole, I consider the crofters of these three townships have now little to complain of. I think the crofts that have come to be divided should again be let as one holding, twelve to sixteen acres would be a fair croft, and only one family should be allowed to live on the croft. If the crofts were enlarged, this would probably induce the tenants to crop the land according to a regular system of rotation. They seem to be under the impression that this cannot be done at present, on account of the small size of their holdings.

9386. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How long were you about this inspection?
—Three days.

9387. Was the weather good?
—Very good. I never had an umbrella up except for about ten minutes one day.

9388. July is a nice time of the year in Skye?
—It is.

9389. Had you ever been in Skye before?
—I had been in it, and crossed the island before.

9390. Never on business?
—I had been getting sheep there.

9391. Then your recommendations have been practically carried out?
—Yes, I understand so,

9392. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You refer to the smallness of the holdings as preventing, in the opinion of the people, a proper rotation of cropping?

9393. But you mentioned that you have had great experience of crofters in Edderton and Easter Ross. Are there not small crofts there?

9394. What size of crofts are you accustomed to deal with in Easter Ross?
—From £1 to £20. On the Balnagowan estate there are 126 crofts at from £1 to £20.

9395. A number of 3, 4, and 5 acres?

9396. Do you find they follow a proper rotation of cropping?
—Yes. They did not do so a few years ago, but I was able to induce them to do so, and they did better.

9397. Do you find that from the two-fifths of the land which they now crop with grain annually they get as much return as the tenants in Skye get from cropping their whole land annually?

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