Torran, Raasay, 22 May 1883 - James Ross

JAMES ROSS, Solicitor, Inverness (41)—examined.

8240. The Chairman
—You are factor on the estate of Raasay?

8211. Will you kindly make any statement you desire to make?
—The entire population of the three islands would, when Mr Wood acquired them at Whitsunday 1876, be about 650. As taken by the census in 1881 it was about 710, and it is now estimated at 730, showing an increase of about eighty, or 12½ per cent. This increase has arisen mainly, it is believed, from two causes, namely—
(1) the introduction of managers and farm servants with tradesmen, and
(2) the natural increase of the families of the resident crofter population.
Daring these seven years very few of the people had left the island permanently. With reference to the
pauperism, the numbers on the poor roll at present are sixteen, being a ratio of 2 per cent, on the average population of Raasay—say 700—while the other portion of the parish of Portree has a ratio of 2½ per cent, on a population of 2191. Raasay in this respect will bear a favourable comparison with any of the best-conditioned parishes in the Highlands, and even with the best-conditional rural parishes in agricultural districts of the Lowlands of Scotland. The number of acres in Raasay, Rona, and Fladda is roughly estimated at about 29,000, whereof there is supposed to be in proprietor's hands as farms, woods, and policies about 18,000 acres, are the remainder of 11,000 is held by the crofters, lotters, and cottagers. Of the 18,000 acres in the proprietor's hands about 220 are now under cultivation in gardens and nurseries, in policies, in woods and plantations, and in sheep and pasture lands connected with his sheep and arable farmers and of the 11,000 acres occupied by the crofters and other small tenants about 200 are cultivated, and the remaining 10,800 acres are occupied by them as pasture. The whole extent capable of profitable improvements including the portions already under cultivation, is estimated at about, 1800 acres. There were on the rent-roll at last audit day (Martinmas, 1882) six tenants paying under £ 2 of rent; under £5, 33 ; under £10. 33; at £10, 2 ; at £11, 2 ; at £15, 4; at £18, 1. —in all, 81 crofters, The average rental for the last six years has been £371, 13s. 10d., and the. average rent per tenant of the same period £1, 17s. Eleven lotters have gardens or potato plots under half an acre. Sixty-seven crofters have three to four and a half acres of cultivated ground, judged from the quantity of seed sown, together with their share of the hill ground or commonty, and the remaining three tenants are not connected with the tenantry grounds. On crofts under £ 5 there will be generally about four cattle of all ages, and on crofts above £5, about eight; and the crofters mostly all keep sheep numbering from 20 to 100, according to their circumstances. No removals have taken place at the instance of the proprietor since he acquired the estate, but he has planted nine new tenants on a portion of the sheep farm, and these enjoy privileges like the others, and for them he has built good slated cottages, and done other things to promote their comfort. They have already improved in all about eighteen acres. Fully nine-tenths of the whole tenantry have other occupations than that of applying themselves exclusively to the working of their land, and add considerably to their means of living by either themselves or members of their families employing themselves at the several estate works, and at the salmon, white, lobster, and herring fishing, as well as at other industries, both at home and beyond the islands; but their chief employment since the entry of Mr Wood has been at the various improvements carried on by him in buildings, improvements on land, trenching, draining, planting, road-making, &c, the aggregate amount of which has been very large. Since his entry the proprietor has encouraged his tenantry by building six new crofters' houses, all slated, at an expense of £1200, three lodges for cottars at £450, four cottagers' houses at £165, and rebuilding six cottar houses at £265, —in all, £2080. Then, thirteen crofters have been each allowed £ 10 to build better houses, £130; and there has been expended in wood for doors and windows, roofing and inside fittings, and ironmongery to a large number of crofters for the six years for the same purpose, £137, 18s. This gives a total of £2353, 18s. When Mr Wood first took possession of the estate of Raasay he felt disposed to erect houses for his tenants. Experience, however, showed that such a system would be both expensive and unsatisfactory. He consequently came to the resolution that it would be much more advisable to furnish the tenants with wood and slate, and make a certain allowance of money for building purposes, leaving it to themselves to do the work. This course was carried into effect with considerable success, and will no doubt eventually tend to the clearance of the present houses. Mr Wood offered to lay concrete floors for the tenants, if they would provide gravel and sand. He has also paid £92 for bulls for improving their stock, and has given in loan for purchasing stock in necessitous cases £35 ; for replacing herring boats and nets destroyed by storms, £235; and for replacing tenants' boats destroyed by high tides and gales in November 1881, £37, 5s. 8d. Again, during Mr Wood's possession, there has been expended by him in work to inhabitants of the island up to May 1877, £1736, 10s. 8d.; 1878, £2800; 1879, £3528, 2s. 6d.; 1880, £4209, 19s 3d.; 1881, £4155, 4s; and 1882, £3668, 3s. 2d. —in all, £20,098,14s. 2d., exclusive of main building connected with the mansionhouse. The number of people permanently employed immediately before the acquisition of the estate by Mr Wood was about twenty-four, but the number may be now stated at ninety-four, or nearly a fourfold increase, and mostly all connected with works which require a permanent staff. The average yearly amount expended among the people resident in the island over the six years is £3349, 9s., being equal to £4,16s. 3d. for each one of 697 inhabitants, or £28, 17s. 6d. for each, family of six members, and is about equal to nine rents of the crofters average rental of £374, 13s. 10d.; and it is believed that fully more than one-half of this annual outlay passed directly into the hands of the crofters, or into those who were members of their families; and over and above these, considerable amounts came into the crofter population from those contractors and others who were temporarily resident on the island during the execution of the several undertakings. A considerable part of the expenditure of course fell into low-country tradesmen's hands. The proprietor has, during the six years, expended £32,492, 5s. 4d. on the various improvements, and other outlays on the estate over and above all receipts that he has got there from. During that period he has remitted rents to tenants to the extent of £48, 15s, 4d., has given gratuities of meal and coals to people to the value of £42, 14s. 3d., and has granted, free of rent, houses to five widows, equal to £60, making £151, 9s. 7d. To meet disasters of seasons 1881 and 1882, he has paid two-thirds of the price for replacing tenantry's boats destroyed by high tide and gale in November 1881, amounting to £74, 11 s . 4d.; 63 tons of seed in the spring of 1883, which had been given free of charge to tenants in quantities from ¼ to 2½ bolls, £360; and abatement of one-third of the year's rent due at Martinmas 1882, £135, 10s. 5d. ; while labour at good wages and at convenient places has been offered to all his people who are disposed to accept it. The position of the people now, as compared with their state in 1876, is one of great improvement. Better dwelling-houses have been provided where necessary, work is provided for all who may require it, at wages from 10s to 15s. a week, and no well-conducted person has been refused employment who has asked for it. Crofts have been improved by the erection of substantial fences between the arable and pasture lands, but most of the crofts are capable of much further improvement, such as the clearing out of open drains between the plots of arable land, cutting or cleaning out of drains around their dwelling-houses, and the observing of a proper system of rotation of crops and the sowing of grass seeds, instead of allowing to lie for a time out of cultivation, and thus giving room for the growth of coarse plants or weeds to shed their seeds. The breed of cattle has been greatly improved, as the tenants have had the use of well-bred bulls from the proprietor. The improvement in this respect is becoming more apparent every year, and the value of the stock will doubtless go on in an increasing ratio, as the younger cattle, as breeding stock, take the place of the older, and with more attention to the feeding and general comfort of the stock, would greatly enhance their market value. The opening up of some of the roughest parts of the estate by new roads has also been of great benefit to the people. The road from Torrin to Kyle-Rona, 3¾ miles, 6 feet wide, cost £395. There are three board schools —at Clachan, Torrin, and Dryharbour. The proprietor has been at an expense of £411, 19s. 11d. in erecting and fitting up two suitable meeting-houses, in connection with the Free Church, at Rona and Torrin, for the people of those districts, which has contributed greatly to their convenience and comfort It has been already stated that the annual value of the gross raw produce from arable and pasture lands is estimated at £4047, and that the proprietor's average annual outlay passing into the hands of the resident population for wages has been £3349, 9s. Further, the privileges of free peat, fuel, and sea-weed are afforded them, the value of which, added to the above-noted labour fund, would amount to a sum nearly equal to the also above-noted amount of £4047 for the whole production from arable and pasture lands. This is considered a very important and, as regards the Highlands, a very exceptional fact. As perhaps four-fifths of the population of Raasay belong to the crofter class, and it is conceived not unreasonable to infer that more than one-half of the labour fund above alluded to passed into their hands, which would be about equal in amount to the whole annual value of raw produce from their arable and pasture lands ; or, in other words, doubling their annual domestic earnings. In its effects upon the condition of the people, a result like this greatly more than realises the design of Sir John Sinclair, who, when he laid down his scheme for putting the population of the Highlands on small lots, made it part of his plan that each tenant should have provided for him in addition to his lot, two hundred days a year of extra work —a provision which, unfortunately, was not carried out, but which, if it had, would, it is believed, have obviated the necessity for all claims for aid for the people from without, and would have kept them from want during any and all of the periods of destitution that have occurred since the system was first introduced into the northern Highlands. It appears, also, that the fact of so much money being spent annually for labour by the proprietor of Raasay among his people has this additional importance attached to it, that, as it is mainly all connected with undertakings having permanent annual requirements, the amount, so long as these works are carried on, can scarce ever suffer a very material reduction. Since Mr Wood purchased the estate of Raasay, he has made it the home of himself and his family, making the condition of his population a matter of personal interest and care. There are no leases on the property, the tenants holding simply from year to year. It is to be regretted that the Education Act, —so far as the parish of Portree is concerned,—is not vigorous enforced. If report speaks truly, and there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of it, there is a large proportion of the children of the parish attending no school, a matter of deep regret. If properly administered, an educational system would, in all probability, do more for the Highlands of Scotland than almost any scheme which can be suggested. With regard to Fladda, Mr Wood thought, at one time, with some degree of reason, that possibly a slate quarry might be opened there, and he took every means to ascertain the way it could be opened, first with a view of getting slates, and secondly, with a view of providing labour, but scientific people reported it would not work. With regard to the Oscaig cottages, there was a man here who said he paid £14, which was quite true. The original intention of these was not with a view to crofters at all. When Mr Wood took possession of the estate, he was of opinion it would be a good thing if he could induce such men as tailors and shoemakers to come, and encourage them to work, and these cottages were originally built for those men as trade cottages; and they cost more than they would have done for other purposes. But then that would not suit, so he added small crofts to them. As to the game, Mr Wood has reduced the stock of sheep fully two-eighths from what it was during the time of Mr Mackay. Originally the stock had been about 15,000, and they are down to 3,000. The difference between 3000 and 5000 goes to provide for the game.

8242. Let us put a proper name upon it. It goes to form a deer forest, and to pasture deer ?

8243. Will you explain whether there is any part of the area pastured by deer entirely cleared of sheep or whether the sheep, and deer go together ?
—I think there is a portion of it, but I don't know how much it is.

8244. Mr Cameron.
—Is that also for the sake of the rabbits ?

8245. That he might feed his rabbits on his own ground ?
—Yes, and keep them away from his tenants, and so far as Raasay is concerned, every part of the crofters' crops is separated from the shootings by ordinary fences and rabbit-net wire —all except a very small portion which they are just completing. Then there was a statement made about a fence —that the deer fence came too close to the hill land, and they could not drive the cows up to the hill ground without trouble. The facts are these, that Mr Wood is very anxious there should be no disturbance, and he asked the township to appoint a man to lay out the route of the fence. The oldest man was appointed, and he went to the place, and the fence was put in the exact place that man suggested.

8246. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—With regard to the rabbits outside the netting, are people allowed to kill rabbits as they like ?
—I don't know what Mr Wood's instructions are. He stays here eight or nine months in the year, and keeps almost all these things in his own hands. For instance, he calculates what damage is done by game, and he pays that in money. I know, in several cases, he has paid in money the full amount of damage that they had sustained.

8247. The Chairman.
—One of the crofters stated to us, and another stated hesitatingly, that they would not be allowed to kill the rabbits ?
—I am informed by the manager that Mr Wood has not given authority or refused authority to kill rabbits. Nothing has been done, in fact.

8248. So far as a man killed rabbits on his own croft, would he be scolded or molested ?
—That is a hard question. He might get scolded.

8249. The subject of pheasants was incidentally mentioned. Is there a large stock of pheasants ?
—Yes, there is a pretty large stock.

8250. And where there is a large stock of pheasants on small patches of corn there may be damage done. Do you know any cases of compensation being paid for damage done by pheasants?
— I suppose the damages are for both pheasants and other game altogether. We feed them very
highly, and don't let them fly upon the crofts if we can help it.

8251. There has been no difficulty about poaching?
—No difficulty whatever.

8252. With regard to the area actually fenced for the deer run, about what area is there, do you think?
Mr Alexander Stewart, local manager (38).
—Deer and sheep are all together.

8253. There is no part exclusively cleared for deer?
—Not exclusively for deer.

8254. Are there any complaints about deer getting on to the crofters' patches?
—There were some complaints before this fence was put from sea to sea.

8255. What is the height of the fence?
— A six feet wire fence.

8256. And they are quite satisfied?
—There has been no complaint made since.

8257. You, Mr Ross, have probably heard, from the evidence given before us, that the main ground of complaint really is that the crofters have multiplied upon their small areas of ground, and with this multiplication there has been probably some exhaustion of the soil, and that they are ill off. There is a general expression of a desire to obtain the restoration of some portion of the hill farms to the small tenants in the form of crofts. I would like you to state your candid opinion as to whether that might not be done in moderation, with advantage to the tenantry; and without prejudice to the landlord?
Mr Ross.
As to whether it can be done with advantage to the tenant, I think it follows that if you could give him more land, and a better bit of it, he would be better off. I think there can be no possible doubt about that position. With regard to the second question, as to whether Mr Wood would cut off the upper part of the island—whether it would be a benefit to him —that is another question. For instance, a tenant has to build a house; he has to drain; he has to get stock. I don't see where the money is to come from. I am sorry to say I am informed there is on this estate a considerable amount of debt already due to merchants and people of that sort, so I don't see, even if they got facilities to go to the upper part of the island, how they could possibly do it. As your Lordship has put it, I am not aware of Government ever giving money to buy stock.

8258. No, but though the poor have not got stock, if ground is given to them, they do manage sometimes, with industry, to procure a stock by multiplication, or by gift, or by loan, or in some method or other. I don't think it impossible. They might manage, perhaps, to stock a little hill pasture. Do you think, without speaking of additional arable ground, that hill pasture could be advantageously added to the present crofts, here and there, without great prejudice to the landlord?
—That is a difficult question. I really would not like to answer that, because I am not sufficiently acquainted with the little bits and comers about the estate, but I have no doubt Mr Stewart, the manager, who lives in the island, will be able to give an opinion.
Mr Stewart.
Where the present tenants pasture is held, and where Mr Wood's pasture comes up alongside of it, the tenants upon his borders might be benefited, but unless the tenants were altogether removed from one district and planted on his land, I don't see that additional pasture to the tenants would be advantageous.

8259. I mean whether, in some cases, or in several cases, additional pieces of hill pasture could be advantageously given to the present crofters in their present places?
—In their present places they hold all the hill pasture. It is all held by the tenants in common. Mr Wood's sheep farm is all to one side, and there is a small narrow neck of land where this fence crosses, dividing Mr Wood's sheep farm from the tenant's pasture.

8260. Suppose the fence were removed a little further ?
—It could only be done that way by shifting the fence more into the sheep farm. It would only give the Arnish tenants, who lie alongside the sheep farm, advantage, not any of the others.

8261. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Don't some of the deer occasionally get outside the fence by the sea-shore ?
Mr Ross.
I have no doubt they do now and again. The gate-keepers are not so careful as they should be.

8262. Sheriff Nicolson.
—They sometimes swim over to Skye?

8263. The Chairman.
—What is the area retained in the hands of Mr Wood?
—19,000 acres, so far as I can see, assuming the whole area to be 29,000 acres.

8264. You admit that portions of that might possibly be colonised by new crofters with advantage to the crofters, but you don't see how the crofters would be enabled to undertake the necessary labour and the stocking of the lands?
—Yes, and there is this further question, so far as Mr Wood is concerned. I doubt whether it would suit his views, because we know he bought Raasay more as a sporting estate than anything else; and if this were carried out, it is questionable whether it would suit his views to continue on his estate.

8265. You must have heard of the very great indifference, not to say repugnance, expressed by the witnesses to emigration, even under favourable circumstances. To what do you attribute that? Do you think it is natural to them, or do you think they have been inspired in some degree by others as a matter of policy?
—I think it is natural to them to love their country. I also think they have been inspired by people with ideas that they should stick to their land, and get their own terms. I believe both elements have been at work. We know quite well that the Highlander does like his country, and does not like to leave it ; but, at the same time, like every one else, if you show him good cause he will probably go. There have been people going about showing them why they should not go, and that is probably one of the causes. But my opinion is that emigration is the only cure.

8266. But you don't think that this objection to emigration would, at other times, be an unconquerable objection?
—I think not, if conducted with fairness and well managed. They must go with their own conviction,
and not forced, if possible.

8267. Professor Mackinnon.
—I have been looking into the schedules, and I find discrepancies in regard to the stock ?
—You will observe these schedules are very voluminous, and the information cannot be got by the
proprietor unless he goes about and asks people, and I quite understand there may be discrepancies.

8268. You state that the number of sheep ranges from two to one hundred. There is only one case where it is one hundred ?
—That is what I mean. It goes from two to one hundred.

8269. You spoke of compensation. None of the people spoke of money compensation here ?
—Yes, I am surprised at it. I am perfectly certain that Mr Wood, when settling the compensation, used to pay it directly. When he paid money he seldom took a receipt, because he went over the damaged ground himself, and fixed the amount; but, in many cases, I think he gave more than the amount.

8270. The Chairman.
—With reference to fishing, is there anything you could suggest that Government could do materially to help the fishing?
—-I can suggest nothing just now.

8271. Professor Mackinnon.
—There was one man who stated that the boxes for feeding the pheasants were just at the fence?
—I have inquired about that, and I am told by the keeper who was in charge that he never knew of any such thing. The statement was perfectly new to him.

8272. You have heard the complaint about the teachers —that they and the children cannot understand each other?
—Yes. The teacher who is here is a young lady from Aberdeenshire, but I may explain that the teacher who has the permanent appointment here is an inhabitant of the asylum at Inverness. This is only a locum tenens and she may or may not remain.

8273. And for this whole matter of the crofters, you consider emigration the only cure?
—Yes, the only cure if fairly carried out.

8274. That the people should leave the place altogether?
—No, I won't go that length. My view is that not less than 50 per cent, would meet the requirements of the case. I would not take isolated cases, but by townships, and therefore not injure the natural feelings that exist between them. If you take whole townships, and provide for them when they go out, the natural feeling against emigration would not be so great.

8275. Would it not be easier to send them up to the other end of Raasay?
—I bow to that at once. It would be easier to send them to the upper end of Raasay.

8276. I see that an extraordinary amount of money has been expended by the landlord. Was that upon his own holdings or upon the crofts?
—For instance, he set to work up about Portree, to take in about 150 or 200 acres from the hill side, and employed people to do it.

8277. That is in his own possession?

8278. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—Can you name any person who received money for damage done by game?
Mr Stewart.
All the tenants at Balchuirn. The tenants of Braig also received compensation.

8279. The Chairman.
—You speak of emigration being conducted by townships. Suppose that, with the consent of the people, a township were removed, what would you contemplate doing with the land?
—I would divide the land among the neighbouring townships to increase the holdings.

8280. Then you don't think that both systems could be worked together —that some enlargement of boundary could be made here, and some encouragement given to emigration?
—My difficulty is this, that the Highlander has a very proper and natural liking for his own country, and if you give him an opening of comparative comfort in his native place, rather than go to another place, where he will have some hardships to start with, naturally he will elect to remain at home. I don't think he will select emigration. I think you must decide upon one or other, whatever it is.

8281. Do you think 700 people a great population for 29,000 acres?
—No, I don't say it is.

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