ALEXANDER M'PHERSON, Crofter, Strath (54), assisted by ALEXANDER M'EACHRAN, Cottar, Strath (51)—examined.
32821. Professor Mackinnon.
—Have you any paper?
The Strath, or village, of Arisaig contains about twenty-six families of very poor people with grievances of its own—such as utter landlessness, excessive rents, and want of constant employment. People do not expect any one to give employment for the mere sake of the labourers ; but these people urge that the families to which many of them belonged were turned out of the better lands where they could employ themselves ; and that, thus, they have a moral right to constant employment at good wages. They would have preferred the freedom to live by the land, and they have a hankering after the land still. But the majority of them are so poor that they cannot face the expenses of a croft without assistance. Cottagers who have strong families might, with the assistance of their friends, make a bold effort to get once more established on the soil. Some say that they could make a shift in their present houses for a time if they got crofts on the near lands. As it is they go far to their precarious employment; and if they got crofts they would go as far to them until they are able to build houses on the ground. This claim of theirs to be allowed to take a living out of the land is supported, in their case, by the circumstances that the very lands which their fathers occupied are just now, in great part, lying in a comparatively unproductive state —some of it under nothing more productive than deer. They make distinct reference to the places which were cleared under the names of Ceann-Coid, Gaoideal, Ardghasairidh, Sandaig, Tor-beithe, Rumach, Acha-gharbh-alt, Auch-na-creige, Am Blàr, Ard-nam-fuaran. The rents on the cottages and houses of these people are exorbitant. If there were plenty of employment and enough of trade people could afford to pay; but with poor trade £12, £13, and £14 are quite out of the question for the houses of the little dealers, and £4, 10s. for bare walls.
—ALEXANDER M'EACHRAN, ALEXANDER M'PHERSON, RONALD M'DONALD.
32822. How many crofters are there in the Strath paying rent for land?
—There are twenty-six families.
32823. How many of these twenty-six families have land?
32824. And the others have only their houses?
32825. How much rent do these four pay —those who have land?
—Between £6 and £7.
32826. And how much rent do those who have only houses pay?
—Between £1 and £4, 10s.
32827. Is it those who have the shops who pay the £4, 10s.?
32828. Those are mentioned in the paper as paying £12, £13, and £14?
—That is the shopkeepers.
32829. The cottages are from £1 to £4?
32830. How much stock do the four crofters keep?
—I have only one cow.
32831. How many cows would you be allowed to keep?
—My ground will not feed more than one.
32832. Have you any sheep?
32833. Have any of the other twenty-two families cows at all?
—No; unless one or two may have them.
32834. Where do they get milk?
—From the farmers round about.
32835. Do they get a steady supply from these farmers if they are able to pay for it?
—No, they cannot get it in winter, and, even if they got it now, they could hardly drink it.
—[M'Eachran]. Because it will be so sour; they think it is good enough for us.
32837. Was it about eight years ago that work ceased to be given to you in this Strath?
—Yes, chiefly after the death of old Mr Astley.
32838. Before that time were you in steady employment?
32839. And were you paid reasonable wages?
—Yes; very fair.
32840. And you were able to live in some comfort then, at least those who lost the land?
32841. Are the four crofters able to take their living out of their crofts?
—No, nor anything like it
32842. How are they able to make their living?
—Just working at whatever they can get.
32843. What sort of work do they get \
—There is a little work on the land and some in the woods.
32844. What are the day's wages in the place?
—Two shillings for each man.
32845. And what for a woman?
32846. Does that hold for summer and winter?
32847. And for all kinds of field work?
32848. Do any of the people go fishing ?
—No, none in this place.
32849. I suppose they fish about the rocks for their own families?
32850. Is there not good fishing about the shore1?
—Not near where we are, because we live further down.
32851. When were you deprived of these lands of which you speak here—these ten townships?
—It is about thirty years since we were put out of Kinloyd.
32852. Was it from that place you came?
32853. Kinloyd was cleared about thirty years ago?
32854. When was the other place cleared ?
—Long before our time.
32855. Have you heard your people say when that took place ?
—I cannot say how long ago it was.
32856. Seventy years?
—Not so much.
32857. And when was the next place, Ardghasairidh, cleared?
—About the same time.
32858. And Sandaig and Runiach, and Acba-gharbh-alt ?
—Thirty years ago.
—That was in Lord Cranstoun's time.
32860. There were three places that would have been cleared about thirty or forty years ago?
—There are some people in some of these places yet. There are some at Achnacreige.
32861. Large tenants?
—Three have it.
32862. Are they in good circumstances?
32863. They have not large crofts ?
—Not very large.
32864. And how are those places now occupied from which the other people have been evicted?
—They are under a sheep farmer.
32865. Are they cultivated?
—Some are cultivated.
32866. Are all the places named here at present cultivated or under sheep?
—Most of the places that have been named are under deer forest.
32867. And were those places suitable for cultivation?
—It seems they were at the time the people were in them.
32868. Have you walked through them?
—Many a time.
32869. And do they look suitable for cultivation still?
32870. If you got the choice of a good croft in one of these places, or steady employment as you had before Mr Ashley's death, which would you prefer?
—[McEachran]. I would prefer the land.
32871. Have you tried both ways?
—We have tried both. I have tried all means of work, and I was put out of the croft with my father and grandfather notwithstanding.
32872. What age would you be when you lo3t the croft held by your father and grandfather?
32873. So that up to twenty years of age you actually worked the croft ?
—Yes, I was assisting my father.
32874. And you remember quite distinctly how your fathers family were brought up and the people who lived upon the croft?
32875. And have you yourself worked as a day labourer since then?
32876. Have the family?
32877. And, having tried both ways, would you still prefer the croft ?
—I would rather the croft than anything.
32878. But supposing you got the steady employment you had before Mr Astley's death ?
—That is but a little hold that I have of my day's work.
32879. Your wish, then, is to get back to these waste places, and take up a croft there?
—That is what we desire, according as people can take the land.
32880. You say you would not be able to take much, still you would be able to take a small croft to begin with?
—I would take the grass of two or three cows.
32881. What rent was your father paying?
32882. And how much stock did he keep upon the croft?
32883. Any sheep ?
32884. Any horses?
32885. You would be willing to pay a rent of £3 for a croft that would carry three cows?
—We will be amenable to your rule upon that point.
32886. With regard to the small crofts which you have got here, do you complain of the size of the crofts or the rent, or of both Ì
32887. You want a bigger and a cheaper croft ?
32888. Is it more arable or more pasture land that you want ?
—More arable land.
32889. Is the arable land, as it goes, good ?
—Mine is not, nor is that of some of the others.
32890. The crofts look very well; but, I suppose, they look their best at this time ?
—Yes, this is the best time. The deer trouble me; they come and eat my crops, and there is no fence to protect me from them.
32891. Did you ask for a fence?
—I did, but I cannot blame the proprietor in that respect. I asked for it once or twice, and it was promised that I would get it ; but the managers did nothing.
32892. You mean the factor and local manager?
32893. And your complaint is that they have not carried out the promise of the proprietor ?
32894. Are the deer troubling other people as well as you?
32895. The whole of your neighbours ?
32896. Is there no proper fence between your crofts and the deer forest?
32897. Anywhere about the place?
—None of the crofts that are mentioned in that paper have a fence.
32898. Is the arable land of the big sheep farmers fenced off?
—Yes, it is, but the deer come upon it for all that.
32899. Do the people complain of that ?
—I don't know what they do.
32900. But you have good cause of complaint upon that ground?
—We have; I have spoken to the whole of them about it.
32901. Who rents this deer forest; is it in the hands of the proprietor?
—No, it is rented by Lord Kilcoursie.
32902. Was any representation made to him about it?
—I did not make any, at any rate.
32903. Did you ever ask for damages for the amount of your crops which was lost by the deer?
32904. Neither from the proprietor nor tenant?
—No, I always got whatever I asked from the laird, but not from the others.
32905. You got the promise from the proprietor, but not the performance from the factor?
32906. You complain that the rent is high ; when was the rent fixed at the present rate?
—I entered the croft fifteen years ago at a rent of £4, 8s. I was promised that a house would be built for me. It was built this year, and I now pay £2, 10s. interest for the house.
32907. Were all the cottages on the place occupied by crofters and cottars built entirely at the expense of the proprietor?
—Yes, every one.
32908. And this house of yours for which you pay £2, 10s. interest, was also built entirely at the expense of the proprietor?
32909. Do you consider £2, 10s. too high?
—Yes, seeing it was promised that the house should go along with the croft.
32910. You took the croft for £4, and it was promised that a house would be included without additional expense?
—Yes. That was under old Mr Astley, and I had the croft only two months when he died.
32911. What house have you lived in for the last twenty years?
—When Mr Astley himself took charge of the estate he gave me another house.
32912. The whole complaint of the people of the Strath is—of those who have crofts, that they are too small and too dear ; and of those who have no crofts that they have no work, and that the rent of their cottages is too high?
32913. And those who have crofts wish them larger and cheaper ; and those who have no crofts wish to get crofts?
—That is so.
32914. And you say there is plenty of land, and to spare, in these places you have named?
32915. Where crofts were before?
32916-19. And you would be willing to pay a reasonable rent for these crofts?