Arisaig, 6 August 1883 - Colin Macdonald and Ranald Macdonald

COLIN MACDONALD, Crofter's Son, Bunacaimb (35,) assisted by RANALD MACDONALD, Crofter, Bunacaimb (30)—examined.

32532. The Chairman.
—Have you been elected by the people?

32533. Have you any written statement to make?
—Yes. Grievances.
—(1) Rent.
—The rent of Bunacaimb in 1857 was £57, and remained so for three years, when it was increased fully 70 per cent., namely to £100, and at which date we received "tiles" for drainage purposes. Then in 1861 land to the value of £11 per annum was taken from us, and in two years after (1863) the greatest part of, and the most valuable of our hill pasture was retained by the proprietor, and has remained in the estate hands since then, namely twenty years, valued at £22, 10s. yearly in proportion to our rents. Again in 1865 land to the value of £15 per annum belonging to the township was let to an incomer, and the rent put into the landlord's pocket, without any reduction in the rent of the rest. In the course of four years a promise of substantial slated houses was given, and on that basis the rent was raised from £100 to £144, but fourteen years have elapsed and the substantial houses have not been built yet. So that our rental for the past twenty-six years has increased fully 150 per cent., and the heart of the hill pasturage kept from us during the past twenty years.
(2) Land
—The average rental is £12, 108. Stock, four cows and followers. The ground is a sandy loam in one part, which is greatly impoverished by the tenants being obliged to plant an incessant potato crop for more than twenty years past on the same ground. Again, the ground raises an inferior corn crop, and after the cattle has received the full produce of hay, corn, and part produce of potatoes, wintering has to be provided. Draining, fencing, trenching, and other works of reclamation have been pushed on in the face of trying obstacles, without any assistance from the proprietor. The land requires an extraordinary amount of sea-ware.
(3) Houses
—They are in general huts with two apartments, and a few slated houses. The huts and outhouses were built in most cases by the tenants, only in three instances aid to the amount of £4 was given. The oldest lent payer has built two houses, and was obliged to repair a third one, the walls of which are now rent, and the house itself very uncomfortable, as well as being at the mercy of the high tides, which have played havoc at different times.
(4) Cattle
—Our stirks on au average return annually about £5, 10s. Yet it must be understood that the purchasing of wintering materially reduces the average gain from cattle, even to fully £1 per crofter. Again, an old practice of paying £ 1 , 5s. by the neighbour who had one cow in excess to the neighbour who had a deficiency of one cow, was prohibited by the factor. The tenant with one cow extra pays the estate £ 3 for the extra cow; and the tenant whose grass is eaten by the other man's cow is without cow and money. The stirks on an average do not pay our rents, and if our main dependence, namely the herring fishing, proves a failure, we must have recourse to whelk gathering to aid us in paying our rents, as for the last eight years we have had no work provided by the proprietor. The new regulations of 1883 have several rules unbearable, and unless they are modified and in some instances curtailed, we cannot bind ourselves to them. A copy of the rules are on hand, and the objections underlined.

(1) Reduction of rent of present holding as may be made by a duly qualified and appointed Government valuator.
(2) Increase of land
—In the first place enough to enable us to keep horses, so as to save men, and especially women, from carrying peats, sea-weed, and dung itself. Land enough we want to save our wives and sisters from serving as beasts of burden.
(3) In the next instance, we want room enough for a certain number of sheep, if only for home consumption.
(4) Again, we desire room to prevent incessant planting of potato crop on the same ground. Next we seek for substantial and commodious houses, as well as a common fence between the hill pasturage and arable land. And last, we claim compensation for the deprivation of our hill pasturage since 1863.

Summary of the aforesaid Grievances reduced in figures:—
1. Deprivations.
(a) Loss of land from 1861 to 1883, valued at £11 per year: £242 / 10 / 0
(b) „ „ 1863 to 1883, „ £22, 10s. per year: £450/0/0
(c) ,, „ 1865 to 1883, „ £15 per year: £270/0/0
(d) Increase of rent from 1869 to 1883, valued at £21 per year: £294/0/0
(e) Improvements by crofters since I860 on land and fencing, &c: £400/0/0

Subtotal: £1696/10/0
Concessions: £172/0/0
Balance in favour of crofters: £1524/10/0
Concessions given since 1860 were—
1. Three houses, valued at about £120,: £120/0/0
2. One house repaired, valued at £20: £20/0/0
3. Money aid for erecting three huts: £12/0/0
4. Fences, tiles, doors, windows, and lime, valued at £172/0/0

32534. You have drawn up a sort of balance account here. Since 1861 the rent of the land has been once increased, and there have been three subtractions of various portions of land; and you have calculated these, added to the amounts executed by the crofters, at a total value of £1696,
and you have calculated the concessions of the proprietor at £172, and brought out a balance in favour of the crofters of £1524, what do you mean by that? Do you mean that you claim the repayment of £1524 ?
—I mean that the land we lost was taken off us unjustly, and that we had to pay it.

32535. I understand that; but I ask you whether you merely present this as a picture of what was lost of your own, or whether you claim repayment of it?
—We put it that way to show what we have lost. I mean it to show the way we suffer.

32536. The first increase of rent was in the year I860?

32537. Who was the proprietor at that time?
—Mr Macdonnell, who is present here to-day.

32538. Do you remember that time?
—Very well.

32539. Were you engaged in the cultivation of the croft at that time?
—My father was.

32540. Your father experienced this rise of rental?
—Yes, and I remember it.

32541. Was this first increase of rental in the way of payment of interest for the tiles supplied and the drainage executed, or was it a simple rise of rental having no reference to those things?
—I think it was just for a lift of money; the money was wanted on the proprietor's side.

32542. You say you received tiles for drainage purposes?

32543. Were drains made?
—Yes, by us crofters.

32544. Were you paid for the work at the drains?

32545. You merely received the tiles?
—Received the tiles.

32546. And the rise of rental was more than the interest on the value of the tiles?
—I would think so.

32547. Was the land really improved by this operation of drainage?
—Certainly it was, by the crofters themselves.

32548. With the assistance of the tiles furnished by the proprietor?

32549. In 1861 land to the value of £11 was taken —what was the nature of that?
—Some more people coming in got some of our land, and they had to pay rent to that extent to the factor.

32550. People were brought in and placed upon land to the extent of £11?

32551. Where were those people brought from?
—Not very far distant.

32552. Were they strangers, or the natural increase of the people of the township?
—They came from some other places.

32553. What was done with the land which they left?
—It is in the hands of one man principally at present.

32554. Was it all given to one man?

32555. Was he a sheep farmer?
—A sheep farmer.

32556. You say that the most valuable portion of the hill pasture was retained by the proprietor, and has remained in the hands of the estate ever since then?

32557. What sort of land was that; was it heather land?
—Yes, but it was the best of our pasturage.

32558. What is done with it now that it is turned into a farm?
—It is let to another tenant who keeps sheep; it is also added to the sheep farm.

32559. In 1865 land of the value of £15 per annum was let to an incomer ; where did that incomer come from?
—From this place which is occupied by the sheep farm at present

32560. He was turned out of the sheep farm to be put into your place?
—Yes; and he is paying rent to the proprietor.

32561. A promise of slated houses was given, and on that basis the rent was raised from £100 to £144. How was that promise given —was it made in writing?

32562. What evidence have you got that any such promise was made?
—We have different witnesses.

32563. Did the factor or the proprietor make the promise in person?
—Yes, the proprietor.

32564. Who was the proprietor at that time?
—Mr Macdonuell, South Morar.

32565. Have you ever complained that this promise has not been fulfilled?
—Yes, it never was fulfilled.

32566. What is the answer of the proprietor when the complaint was made?
—We don't put that question to them.

32567. You said they made a complaint that it was not fulfilled?
—We are making the complaint.

32568. What reply did the proprietor make?
—They gave no reply whatever.

32569. The estate has changed hands?

32570. Does the present proprietor admit that any such promise was made by his predecessor?
—He does not know whether that was the case or not.

32571. Have you given him evidence?
—We petitioned him telling him the state we were in at present, and the low rent we were paying in 1857, and the manner in which the rent had been increased. We asked him to do something for us, and he said nothing to that.

32572. Is any portion of the land which has been taken from your township during the last twenty years now occupied by the proprietor, or has it been let off to the farmers?
—It is given to other tenants, and paid for to the proprietor.

32573. There is none of it in the proprietor's hands?
—No, it is given to the tenants.

32574. Have these tenants, to whom it has been given, leases of it?
—With the exception of one, I believe not.

32575. Passing over the former increases of rent and diminution of area, you state that your present rental is £12, 10s. ; and you can keep four cows with followers, no horse, and no sheep?
—That is so.

32576. And how many acres of arable land may there be?
—There will be about three or four acres, so far as I can calculate.

32577. What rental do you at present pay?
—[Ranald Macdonald] £12, 10s.

32578. And do you keep four cows?

32579. Your memorial says that your land requires a great deal of seaware, where do you get it?
—We go two or three miles in a boat for it.

32580. Do you pay anything for it when you get it?

32581. Upon whose coast is the sea-ware? Does it belong to the same proprietor?

32582. Does it belong to the same township, this piece of coast?
—Not exactly.

32583. Is there plenty of sea-ware?

32584. And you pay nothing for it?

32585. But you cannot bring it by land?

32586. Could a road be made through your place to the shore, or is it impossible to make a road?
—It is impossible; we have to carry it by boats.

32587. You say that the oldest rent payer has built two houses, and was obliged to repair a third one. Where has he built two houses?
—We shifted about on account of the crowd that was coming in. He shifted back and forward, and had to build two houses for himself.

32588. He left his first house and went into a second?

32589. When he left the first house did he get any compensation?

32590. Did he carry the roof of it away?
—No, it was not worth carrying.

32591. Then he built a second house?

32592. Did he get any assistance from the proprietor to build it?

32593. No wood or lime?

32594. Why did he repair the third house?
—[Colin Macdonald]. He got something for the third one.

32595. Why was he turned out of the second one?
—On account of the people increasing and overcrowders coming in, he was, as it were, put on the one side.

32596. He was removed twice?
—Three times.

32597. And the house, you say, is at the mercy of the high tides?

32598. Has the high tide ever come into the house?
—At different times.

32599. Has he represented that to the proprietor?

32600. He has got older and the house has got worse?

32601. And the complaint is that when a man has one cow too much, he is not allowed to pay the rent for the cow to the other man who has one cow too little. Why has the proprietor prohibited that?
—The factor is here, and can explain that.

32602. Perhaps it was in order to prevent some having too many cattle and others too few?
—If they have too little, they have to pay six month's rent forehand.

32603. You state that you have recourse to gathering whelks, to whom do you sell them?
—They go to London.

32604. How much do you get for them?
—8s. or 10s. per bag.

32605. Who gathers them?
—The women, and the men if the herring fishing fails them. We have no other work.

32606. How much can you make in a week in that way if you are gathering whelks?
—A woman would gather about a bag in a week. She could save say 8s. in the week.

32607. For how long a period in the year can she do that; is it in a particular season?
—It is, and they can only gather them when the tide is out. There may only be five days in a fortnight when they can gather them.

32608. At spring tides?

32609. From whom do you get the winter keep which you purchase for your cattle?
—We get it from the large farmers who have sheep and so on.

32610. What is it—straw and hay?

32611. Have you ever any difficulty in getting it?
—No, in the majority of cases we can; that is, if we have the money to pay for it.

32612. You still have some common pasture?
—Yes, but the best of it was taken from us.

32613. Does what you have lie conveniently to the arable land?
—Yes, pretty convenient, although it is very inferior.

32614. You want a fence upon the hill pasture and the arable land?
—Yes, we got that from the first proprietor, Mr Macdonnell, and we asked our present proprietor to do some of it, but he would not do it.

32615. Is that fence not generally made by the crofters themselves?
—No ; our first proprietor, Mr Macdonnell, was keeping up the fence for us.

32616. But what is the common custom of the country? Is it not that the crofters put up the fence?
—No, it is not.

32617. Does the proprietor do it, or do they do it altogether?
—Well, the proprietor did it for the township I am here representing.

32618. If the proprietor offered to do part of the fence, would you assist him?
—Well, I would, perhaps, conditionally.

32619. The township would assist him?
—I believe we would.

32620. What sort of fence do you want?
—Any kind, to keep out sheep and deer and our own cattle from our crops.

32621. But we have generally found that the crofters put up that fence themselves?
—But I say the reverse; it was kept up by our former proprietors.

32622. Why has it fallen into disrepair?
—It gave way, after having stood for twenty years.

32623. What was it made of?

32624. And when it was put up was there any understanding between you and the proprietor as to who was to repair it or replace it?
—No, we never came to any understanding.

32625. Why was it made of wood; is it not generally made of turf?
—No, it was made of wood.

32626. Have you any stones?
—Stones can be got too; but it would cost far too much to bring stones to the place.

32627. Are there no stones taken out of the arable ground which could be used to make the fence?
—No; there would be very few anyhow.

32628. Do you expect the proprietor to be at the whole expense of making the fence?
—Yes, on account of the rent being so heavy, I think he should do this.

32629. Is there any fence between your hill pasture and the adjoining farm?

32630. Was there ever a fence?
—Not unless ourselves were doing it.

32631. Do you require a fence?
—Some of us do.

32632. Do the deer do you any harm?
—They don't do us any harm in the township I am here representing.

32633. [To Ranald Macdonald] Have you understood what he has said, generally?
—I understood part of it.

32634. Is there anything you would like to say?
—I think my friend has said all that we had to say.

32635. Mr Cameron.
—Do you not get any work about here?
—There has been no work on the land on which we are for the last eight years.

32636. What sort of work did you get eight years ago?
—The proprietor we had at that time was keeping us in work.

32637. Who was the proprietor?
Mr Macdonnell. He gave all the work he had on the lands.

32638. How many crofters are there upon his lands?
Colin Macdonald. Fourteen.

32639. Do they all complain of want of work?

32640. Is there no work on the roads?

32641. No work in the woods?

32642. Is it near Lord Lovat's estate?
—Connected with it.

32643. Do you get any work on that estate?

32644. So that you have to live entirely by the profits of your own crofts?
—We could not live by that; we are dependent upon the herring fishing, and if it fails we have recourse to the whelk gathering.

32645. Do you go to Loch Hourn to the herring fishing?

32646. Do you all go?
—Yes, we all follow that; it is the only thing we have had to depend upon for the last eight years.

32647. The herring fishing has been good for the last two years'?
—It has been.

32618. But it was not so good before that?

32619. Then your worst time must have been eight years ago when work stopped, and two years ago when the fishing was not good?
—I think our worst time is just now. Formerly we got work from the proprietor, and the fences were kept up, and wood was given to us.

32650. What was the wood given for?
—Fences between the arable land and pasture.

32651. Did you suffer much from the bad season last year?
—We did. We lost almost all we had; and we got no assistance from anybody.

32652. Did you ask for any assistance?
—We spoke of it to those who were relieving the country to see if they could do anything for us, but nothing was done.

32653. Did you plant your crofts with potatoes?

32654. You saved enough of your crop for that?
—We did manage to do it, although we had to suffer on some other side by doing that.

32655. You had to buy the seed?
—We had.

32656. You bought fresh seed?
—Yes; but we sold some of what we had ourselves to better ourselves by getting a change of seed. I believe our factor is prepared to answer that. There was a shop here which bought and sold potatoes. Although we sold some, we bought twice as much.

32657. Is that the first time you adopted a change of seed?
—No. We shift it as often as we think it is to do us good.

32658. Do oats grow here?
—They require a great deal of manure and sea-ware, for the ground is poor, sandy, and mossy —part of it.

32659. Do you put any manure upon it except sea-ware?
—Yes, we do.

32660. Byre manure?

32661. With what do you litter your cattle—do you get ferns?
—No ; because they are so far away from us, and we would have great difficulty in taking them to our byres, because our ground is so small that we cannot keep horses or anything.

32662. What do you use for bedding?
—Sand and sea-ware.

32663. Do you not fish for cod and ling?
—Sometimes we do, when we think that fishing is going to benefit us.

32664. How do you find out when it is to benefit you?
—Well, every fisherman has a good idea of how the fishing is, as it were, going to come on.

32665. You do fish for cod and ling?
—We do.

32666. Do you make much by that?
—Very little in cod and ling, but some years we are very successful in the herring fishing, particularly the last two years. We were very successful—pretty successful.

32667. Do you often go out fishing for cod and ling?
—Just sometimes, we don't go very often.

32668. You don't care much about it?
—We do if we think we can make any money by it.

32669. Is the cod and ling fishing very good here?
—Just middling, not extra good ; but in our present state—so very poor —we are glad to utilise every kind of fishing, although we rely more upon the herring fishing.

32670. Will you explain what you mean by saying that there were several rules made in 1883 which are intolerable?
—His reverence, Mr Macallum, has them in his hand, I believe. One rule is, I believe, that [reads]:
All leases shall be for a period of fifteen years, with a mutual break at the end of the seventh year (unless otherwise agreed upon), with a year's: written notice to quit. This notice to be alike available for proprietor as for tenant, and is also to apply to breaks. For crofts where there is no lease, the notice to quit shall be six months, and for cottages without land attached, three months.'

32671. I suppose you consider that notice too short?
—I cannot understand these rules at all. They were formed by a lawyer, and put in such a way that he could get out of the responsibility. It would be better for me to say I do not understand them at all.

32672. You don't understand them?
—No, I don't really.

32673. Although you don't understand law, you can tell me whether you think notice to quit in six months is too short? Would you like the term to be a year?
—I never read these rules, because they were frightening me, I was told they were that bad. I did not even glance at them. I was told I would not understand them, they were done in such a way by the lawyer that he could get out this way and that way.

32674. What sort of people told you that?
—Intelligent people. They referred me to this that the house was to be put into good order before the tenant entered. It does not say who will have to put them in order; that is one thing.

32675. So, in point of fact, you have not read the rules?
—I never read them in my life.

32676. Were the people who told you they were not worth reading natives of the place or strangers?
—They did not say they were not worth reading.

32677. But they advised you not to read them?

32678. What did they say?
—They said they were done by a lawyer in such a way that so many questions would require to be asked before a man could understand them.

32679. We should like to know who the people were who told you this?
—I don't like to name any individual party, but I know they were good scholars. I never glanced at the rules myself, because none of them ever were in my possession. I had not even an opportunity of going over them.

32680. What makes me ask this question is, that in your own statement you say the rules are intolerable, and when I asked why, you say you have not read them, because somebody said you could not understand them. Why did you say in this statement that they were intolerable if you did not read them?
—We drew a line under those we did not like.

32681. Do you wish me to ask you questions about them, or shall we ask somebody else?
—I may say I have been consulting with the Rev. Mr Macallum about them, for he understands them much better than I do ; and certainly he was reading them to me, and marked those that were not going to suit us ; but I did not read them myself.

32682. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Are you and your co-delegate the only representatives from South Morar?

32683. How many are there?
—One more.

32684. Do you represent the estate generally or your own township?
—Only the Bunacaimb people.

32685. Do you know the whole estate?
—Yes, pretty well. I was born and brought up on it.

32686. Were your people there long?
—Yes, my father paid rent for fifty-five years.

32687. Did the estate of old belong to that branch of the Macdonalds called MacCoul ?

32688. They were a very old family?

32689. Are you aware of anything connected with that family which was prejudicial to the estate—were there not one or two of the proprietors out of their mind?
—Yes, and my father was paying rent to them at that time.

32690. For how many years was the estate owned by proprietors not competent to manage their affairs?
—I cannot say.

32691. Was it nearly fifty years?-
—I don't think it.

32692. When did the last proprietor of Morar, who was a member of the old family, die?
—I don't think it will be much more than thirty-two years, or thereabout, so far as I can calculate; but I am not sure.

32693. How many lairds of this estate were insane?
—Two in the one family.

32694. There were not three?
—Two, so far as I know; they were before my day.

32695. Was any money laid out upon the estate for improvements during the time of those two proprietors?
—Not that I am aware of.

32698. After the last of these Macdonalds died who got the property?
—One Ranald Macdonell, who came from America.

32697. He did not keep it long?
—About a year or two.

32698. And then it was purchased by Mr Eneas Macdonnell?

32699. So far as you have heard, and are aware, is it not a fact that, except the time when he was proprietor, there was not a penny laid out on the estate?
—Not so far as I know.

32700. And since he ceased to be proprietor things are no better?
—They are worse; we have not got even a day's work since he sold the estate.

32701. Do I understand you to say that, so far as your land is concerned, it does not support you? You are obliged to earn your subsistence elsewhere?
—That is so.

32702. Is that the case with most of the crofters in your position?
—It is.

32703. Has the population upon the estate of South Morar fallen off, or is it about the same as it was in your early recollection?
—My early recollection of the village is that the population, forty years ago, was much larger than it is at present.

32704. Were the people put away without their consent?
—Yes, shiploads.

32705. From South Morar?
—Arisaig in particular.

32706. Who put them away?
—There is some difficulty in explaining that, because there were, may be, thirty families to be evicted from that part of the Arisaig estate, now a deer forest, and Mr Macdonell's mother was so kind as to take them to South Morar, over to her own side for a year and keep them there; but after that, when she was unable to support them, they were obliged to go—to scatter anywhere.

32707. That was Mr Eneas Macdonell's mother?

32708. She was a member of the Loch Shiel family?

32709. And she was good enough to keep them for a year?

32710. And when there was no room on the estate they had to go ?

32711. But were any people put out of Morar itself without their consent?
—It was done in some such way as this, they were cramped into a small place by overcrowders coming in as I have shown; but I don't think any of them were evicted.

32712. Can you, or any of the people now living in South Morar, complain that any of your friends were, on former occasions, evicted against their consent?
—Well, I cannot say that they were evicted from so small an estate against their consent. I dare not speak about Arisaig.

32713. Are the people of South Morar, generally speaking—the class that you represent—very poor in their circumstances?
—Very poor.

32714. Then the sale of the estate has not been an advantage to the people. It has stopped all work?
—It has stopped all work.

32715. Is the present proprietor of South Morar a Highlander?
—Perhaps he is for all I know. His name is Nicholson ; he may be a Skye man; I believe he is.

32716. Why do you call him the proprietor?
—Because he is our proprietor. He married Miss Astley, and that is the way we call him the proprietor.

32717. With reference to the objections you make in your statement about the terms of the articles of the regulations, have your objections been committed to writing and handed to Mr M'Callum?

32718. And that is why you have some difficulty in entering into the question yourself?

32719. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You say it is eight years since you have had any work to do?

32720. How long is it since the estate was sold?
—Eight years.

32721. I understand it was only sold in 1878—five years ago?
—I think it was eight years.

32722. Had you work up to the time the estate was sold?

32723. And then it ceased?

32724. Had you work up to the time the estate was sold?
Ranald Macdonald. The estate was for some years in the hands of the trustees, and during these years very little work was done. The work ceased eight years ago—three years before the estate was sold.

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