JOHN NICOLSON, Crofter and Fisherman, Doirre-na-Guille, Rona (36)—examined.
8052. The Chairman.
—Were you freely elected a delegate ?
8053. Have you got a statement to make on the part of the people who elected you ?
—I have not much to say but the truth. I make it out that should I be here from sunrise to sunset I could not fully disclose the poverty of Rona. It is a place in which no man need expect to make his living. We are working on sea and land, both summer, and winter, and spring—every quarter of the year—and after that we have only poverty. I cannot say but that Mr Wood is a kind man ever since we saw him—kind to the poor, and helpful to the widows; but we will ever be poor as long as we are kept crowded in a place of which we cannot make use. I can say with truth that my skiff is my cart, and that the wives and the children are the horses, and there is truth in that, because it is the work of the horses which they perform. The creel is on their back continually, and after being worked so hard as that, they cannot make a living out of it. I myself remember the township in which I am being in possession of one man. Then four had it. Now eight have it—I mean eight families—and I make out there are fifty souls in the township. That one man was paying £17, 19s. of rent, and now the rent is £25 ; but it is Mr Mackay who raised the rent, Mr Wood has left it as he found it. All the new houses which have been built have been built by Mr Wood.
8054. Who built the houses in Mr Mackay's time?
—There were no new houses built until Mr Wood became the proprietor.
8055. Where did the eight families come from?
—Two came from Kyle-Rona, and the rest was their own increase. They were getting no other place in which to live. I don't think any one could make a living in Rona as long as they live crowded upon each other as at present.
8056. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Did you build your own house?
—I never built a new house. I would get the house built for me ; but I was not seeing it worth my while building a house for the plot of land I had.
8057. Where was your father staying?
—In the same township.
8058. Was it ho who built the house?
—It was Mr Wood who gave him the timber.
8059. Is there wood enough growing in Raasay to supply roofs to the houses ?
8060. They supply some, I believe, to people on the mainland of Skye?
—Yes, he is very good for giving timber to people.
8061. Is your house a slated one!
—No, it is the old block house I have.
8062. But the one Mr Wood built?
—There are no slated houses in our township.
8063. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Do you concur with the preceding witness as to the necessity for several of them being removed to the mainland?
—I believe that they will never be well off till that is done.
8064. Are you yourself willing to go?
—Yes, I have been long willing. That is the reason why I don't want to build a house.
8065. Have the Rona people asked Mr Wood to do something for them in that direction?
—I cannot say that they did.
8066. Why did not they do so, if he is a kind landlord, and a good man?
—I am told there are some who asked to get land, and they told me so, but they did not get the land yet, and I did not hear what the reply was. I was speaking once or twice about a place to the manager, and the reason for not granting the request was that there was no vacant place for me.
8067. If you got the offer yourself to be carried to some good place in America or Australia, with your family, would you go?
—There are more of my friends in America and Australia than there are in Raasay, and I have not seen or heard that my father or mother got a paper or a letter asking them to go out there, and I am not aware that a £ 1 note or a Is. ever came to them to help them, to show that that land was better than
the place they had left.
8068. Sheriff Nicolson
—But don't you think that people who go to these far away places are apt to neglect their friends, not because they are not successful, but just because they become forgetful of friends? I believe there are plenty letters coming from others, but I never heard of them asking people to go out there.
8069. And therefore, you don't feel encouraged to go to any of these places?
—No, I would like to have a place in the land of my birth.
8070. But is it not a fact that there are men who went from Skye without a penny, who are now members of parliament and rich men in Canada and Australia?
—I cannot know about that, but I have no mind to go abroad.
8071. You would rather stay in Rona, bad as it is, than try your chance in these places?
—It is likely. I am there for some time past at any rate, and I am trying sea and land, and every one in the place is in the same way. We have gone to the east coast fishing with our bags to sell ourselves there to the highest bidder, and after all I have known many coming home, and the masters could not, after the fishing was over, give them one shilling of their own earnings to bring them home. The fishing is only a lottery. One year it may be successful, and another time the contrary; and that happened to me often.
8072. If you had one or two good big boats like those on the east coast given to you at Rona, could you work them ?
—We would know how to work them, but we have another thing against that. I think, when a man
is dealing with a croft, it is enough for him to attend to the croft itself, and the one thing is only spoiling the other.
8073. If you could get a good big boat, would it not be better to be a fisherman altogether, with just a little bit of ground for potatoes ?
—-If I was to be a fisherman I would be a fisherman; if I was to be a crofter I would be a crofter; and I think, if that would not be the case, it would simply be spoiling both.
8074. Then, would it not be better to be entirely fishermen, and not dependent upon that miserable rocky ground, which is wearying yourselves and your wives and children ?
—I have said already the fishing is only a lottery, and we are not in a good fishing place at all unless we are to go to other places.
8075. Then why should not you go to fish all round Scotland, as the east coast fishermen do ?
—I can only give my own opinion, but I myself have been going to sea ever since I could. I tried the fishing, and it defied me. I am thinking now that if a man could get in a good place a bit of ground, and if he should happen to get stock upon it at one time, and to get the land at a reasonable rent, it would be better for him than any fishing I have ever seen.
8076. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You said you remembered a time when there was only one family in the township, and when the township was rented at £17, 19s. ?
8077. When did these other families come in?
—I cannot tell.
8078. Who gave it to the four ?
8079. And who gave it to the eight ?
—Some were in Mackay's time, and others have had their names entered for lots in the township in Mr Wood's time.
8080. Those were sub-tenants—cottars in the township ?
8081. When was the rent raised from £17,19s. to £25?
—In Mackay's time.
8082. The whole of it?
8083. Are you paying anything for the new houses that have been built for you ?
8084. Did Mr Wood pay for the building of the houses as well as give the wood ?
—He paid for all but one of the houses, so far as I understand.
8085. And you were not asked for any increase of rent in consequence ?
—No, the rent is as Mr Mackay left it. Mr Wood has made no change.
8086. The Chairman.
—Has Mr Wood made any other improvements in the way of draining and fencing ?
—Nothing beyond the houses.
8087. Would draining do any good ?
—Is there no land in Rona that would be improved by draining 1
—No, not much. There are some places you could drain, but before the water could be got to run, the rocks would need to be blasted. It is bad ground —peaty soil.
8088. So you don't think any expenditure of money could do any material good in Rona?
—I cannot understand what expense would accomplish.
8089. Did the people assist in collecting the stones, or carrying materials to build the new houses, or was all the work done by Mr Wood?
—They were quarrying the stones, and they were getting so much for their labour in doing this, and Mr Wood was giving timber for internal fittings.
8090. Are these houses as little better than the old fashioned block houses?
8091. What are they covered with?
—Thatch. Some years, I may say with truth, that what I get from the oats will not sow the ground next year.