DONALD M'DONALD, Crofter's Son, Back of Keppoch (38), assisted by JOHN M'EACHRAN, Crofter, Back of Keppoch (70)—examined.
32725. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—What statement have you to make?
—The township of Back of Keppoch contains in all ten and a half lots or crofts of about five arable acres each, one-third of which is kept as pasturage. The average rent on each lot is £14, 8s. The average number of cattle on each lot is four cows. The rental of our township is £151, 17s. About forty-one years ago our rent was raised on an average by £2 on each lot, and the most of our hill pasture was taken from us; and having no place to keep part of our cattle, we had to part with them for less than half their value. About twenty-one years ago £4, 15s. were added to the rent of each lot, in name of interest on money expended on houses and drains, a sum which we believe to be a full rent in itself. When our rent was raised last the proprietor gave us plenty of employment, and consequently we did not feel the hardship to be so great. We have now nothing to depend on but the crofts and the fishing. For want of hill pasture, mortality among our cattle is very great. We lose an average of four cows every year. The loss, at times, falls on one man, at other times we share it. The soil is poor and sandy, and in many instances gives no corn. If we sow a boll of corn where we had potatoes the previous year the return very often will not exceed three bushels. We have made no meal for the last thirty years. Manure consists chiefly of sea-ware, which we carry on our backs. If we would keep a horse, one croft would not carry more than the horse and one cow, so that it is evident a croft is too dear at £14, 8s. About forty-two years ago sixteen families were evicted from the farm of Kinloyd, which is now in the hands of one man. These were restored by next proprietor. About thirty years ago they were again removed. Some of the evicted were obliged to emigrate, and others were sent in among us. Those that were forced to emigrate would get no work nor food at the time unless they would sign a paper that they would emigrate. At last payment of rent the present proprietor gave us new regulations, which we considered so hard that at the time we delayed payment of rent. They consist of seventeen rules, every one of which takes away some right or other which legally belongs to us. It would take up too much time to speak of these rules minutely. We will give you a printed copy, which we hope you will have the goodness to look into, and print in your report. What we wish done for us is that, we will get the land we at present possess at its real value, that the rent be fixed by land commissioners appointed by Government, or that the land be otherwise fairly valued, that all the land which was taken from our township be restored, and that we be not removed so long as we pay a
fair rent. Seeing that our forefathers have been here from time immemorial, we consider that we have as much right to live in comfort here as the proprietor has to be superior over us. As to emigration—what land has a greater right to sustain us than the land for which our forefathers suffered and bled? Why should we emigrate? There is plenty of waste land around us; for what is an extensive deer forest in the heart of the most fertile part of our land but waste land? And there is far too much of that here. The best part, and almost the whole of this estate, is partly in the hands of three farmers and partly a deer forest. The deer forest itself, once land flowing with milk and honey, which supported scores of families in comfort, but who, alas ! are now, on the account of the mania for sport scattered over the wide world, is far better than all the land now cultivated by the poor crofters. Although some of us have good houses, there are others who have very bad ones—so bad that on stormy nights they cannot rest for fear they will fall upon them. We wish that instead of those houses good ones may be built. We pay road money regularly, yet the road which passes through our township has never been repaired, and it is in very bad condition. We consider it a very great hardship that, though we may be short of the rent only by a few pence, we get no receipt for what we pay.'
Signed by DONALD M'DONALD, ANGUS CAMPBELL, and twelve others.
32726. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Are these fourteen names those of tenants at the Back of Keppoch?
—There are two more than these.
32727. Are these two at home?
—Yes; I don't see them to-day; we thought that was enough.
32728. Do you believe the other two agree with this?
—Yes; they are here, and can answer for themselves.
32729. Is it the case that you get no receipt for what you pay unless you pay the full rent?
32730. Does it often happen that you don't pay the full rent?
—It does not often happen.
32731. Has there ever been any dispute with the factor as to the account —when there has been arrears—in consequence of not having a receipt?
32732. You have no reason to question the factor's dealings in that respect?
—Except that he does not give us the receipt unless we pay the rent in full.
32733. In consequence of not having the receipt in full, you have had no reason to question the factor's account?
32734. Does the proprietor give any help in building the houses?
—When we do the mason work of the houses he gives us wood and slates.
32735. Do you want anything more than that in the way of assistance to build the houses?
—We have been paying interest on the money expended upon them for nineteen years, and we have ourselves been at the expense of painting them for seven years.
32736. But it is stated here that some have very bad houses. These were not built nineteen years ago, and they want new ones; are they not satisfied with the proprietor's terms for new ones?
—These are houses which were built by the tenants themselves, but they have become so bad that they cannot live in them.
32737. Are you satisfied with the proprietor's terms for building the new ones—that he gives you certain materials?
—There are some of them who cannot do that although the proprietor should give them that assistance.
32738. Would you wish to pay interest upon the cost of the new houses if the proprietor built them?
—We tired of doing so ; we thought our crofts too dear, and that is why we are here to-day.
32739. And if the crofts were reasonably rented, would you be willing to pay interest upon the houses?
—We desire to get the houses at a reasonable rate as well as the crofts, but not to be paying interest as long as the grass is growing out of the ground.
32740. Have there always been sixteen tenants at Back of Keppoch?
—There have been no fewer for a long time ; but some were sent from Kinloyd, and some from other places. Those who had weak families could not be sent to America, and they were put into the places of those who had stronger families and who had gone away. They would not be sent away under the Government unless they had strong families.
32741. People who came from Kinloyd took the place of the people who came from Back of Keppoch?
32742. Then sixteen was always the number of the crofts in Back of Keppoch?
—There are only ten and one-half, and they are divided between sixteen families.
32743. How long have there been sixteen families there?
—There have been thirteen families since we went there first.
32744. And did the other three belong to the place, or were they brought in upon you?
—Five came from Kinloyd.
32745. Have you lost any hill pasture?
—Yes, but we are paying rent for it ; it was given to another tenant although we offered £ 3 more.
32746. Who was the tenant?
—Mr Fraser, who had the inn here.
32747. Who has it now?
—Another tenant. It has been in the hands of seven or eight tenants since then.
32748. Is it in the hands of the new tenant now?
32749. What is the extent of that tenant's holding?
—He pays £33 or £35 for it.
32750. Was this paper written by yourselves?
—It was composed by ourselves.
32751. Written by Mr Murdoch?
—I need not tell you who wrote it.
—[Rev. Mr MacCallum] Mr Murdoch did not write it ; these papers were written before Mr Murdoch came to the place at all.
32752. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Who was the proprietor when this ground was taken from you?
32753. When was that?
—Forty-one years ago.
32754. How long was he in possession of the property?
—Three or four years.
32755. From whom did he buy it?
32756. How long had she the property1?
—Four or five years.
32757. From whom did she buy it ?
—-Clanranald; she was married to Clanranald.
32758. Were there any people evicted in her time?
32759. Were there any in Lord Cranstoun's time?
32760. From what places?
32761. Any more?
—They were sent from the place now occupied by the deer forest also.
32762. Where is that deer forest?
—Down at the point there, along the road side, as you came from the steamer.
32763. Was it made into a deer forest then for the first time?
—The farmer had it for a while.
32765. The sheep farmer?
32766. Have you any idea how many families were removed from there?
32767. Where were they sent to?
—They were scattered over the wide world ; some went abroad and some to Moidart.
32768. Lord Cranstoun never lived there, I suppose?
—Yes, he did.
32769. Do you remember so long ago as that?
— [John M'Eachran]. Yes; it is only forty years ago; I remember it well enough.
32770. Were the people there in good circumstances?
—Yes, better than they are to-day.
32771. What stock of cattle did they keep?
—Some had four cows; others had three.
32772. Had they any sheep?
—There were sheep only upon one portion. That portion was estimated to carry twenty-eight to thirty.
32773. Did they at that time live upon the land without any other sources of subsistence?
—They were sub-tenants under the tacksman, and rented the whole place, and he provided them with work. Only one man held a place from the proprietor direct; the others were sub-tenants of the tacksman.
32774. And had these cottars the cows you speak of, or was it before your time?
—Some had one cow and others had two or three, but that was before my time.
32775. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Arisaig was once the property of Clanranald?
32776. For a long time?
32777. Was it very populous at one time?
—More so than it is to-day.
32778. Did Clanranald raise a number of his men from Arisaig and Moidart?
—I believe he did when he was going to war—about 400 or 500 people.
32779. If you were going from here towards the head of Loch Shiel, would you not see the ruins of an enormous number of houses that have been inhabited by small people?
—Yes, and there are plenty of them down beyond there too.
32780. Who commenced the making of the deer forest?
32781. You first mentioned Clanranald, then you said Lady Ashburton, then Lord Cranstoun?
32782. Mackay sold it to Astley?
32783. And the present proprietrix is a daughter of Mr Astley?
32784. Mr Astley began the deer forest?
32785. He had a large forest?
—Yes, a good size; I don't know how many acres.
32786. Does the old man recollect the time of the thirty families of whom the preceding delegate spoke as having been taken in by Mrs M'Donnell of Morar?
32787. From what place were they put out?
—It was sixteen.
32788. From what place were they put out?
—It was Kinloyd.
32789. Is it for the advantage of the people who remain in Arisaig that there should be a deer forest?
—No, I don't think so; very few get employment about it.
32790. Have you seen the regulations that have been recently put out on the estate?
32791. I see that regulation 11 is as follows:
—' No tenant or crofter shall unroof or dilapidate houses or cottages, or remove or add to any of them, without the proprietor's written consent. Crofter's houses which have been erected and kept in repair by themselves shall be valued at their removal, and two-thirds of the valued price shall be paid to the outgoing crofter by the incoming crofter or the proprietor at entry. Crofters' houses shall not exceed in value three years' rent of the croft, and no additional dwelling-houses shall be erected without the proprietor's written consent' Do you approve of that condition, that you cannot add to your buildings?
—No, I do not. There is many a convenience one would require to set up that he should not have to go to the proprietor about.
32792. ' Crofter's houses shall not exceed in value three years' rent of the croft.' If you want to put up a good house here you are prohibited?
—That prevents us from building good houses, for the houses cannot exceed in value three rents.
32793. Do you approve of this stipulation that any member of a family on attaining twenty-one years of age, whether married or not, is bound to find accommodation elsewhere unless allowed to remain with the written sanction of the proprietor?
—No man is pleased with that stipulation; it is a hard thing for any man to rear a family and expel them when they are twenty-one years of age. It is the young people who support the old. That one is so bad that it almost compels the father to curse his son, and send him out of his house, saying ' Walk out with you, and let me see your face no more,' when the son arrives at the age of twenty-one.
32794. Have these regulations given great dissatisfaction to the people?
—Yes, they have kept us from paying the last rent for a while.
32795. Who made them?
—It is a secret, I believe,
32796. Is the population of the estate of Arisaig proper, falling off or not?
—For the last forty years it has been falling off.
32797. The deer have been increasing during that time, I presume?
—Oh yes, and during my own time.
32798. The Chairman.
—You said it was a great hardship that the sons should be obliged, at the age of twenty-oue, to go away; but the paper says they must go away unless the proprietor allows them to remain. Do you know of any case in which the application has been made to the proprietor, and he has refused it?
—I know of one man whom they are putting away just now; I don't know for what reason unless that he got married.
32799. Supposing the proprietor allowed him to remain, where would he be able to live with his wife?
—I don't know.
32800. Do you think it would be a good thing that all the married sons should be allowed to remain with their wives in their father's house?
—'Deed, yes; one son should be allowed to stay with his father, and may be two, for even one son would not do at times.
32801. And do you think it would be a good thing if two married sons with their families were allowed to remain in the house with the father?
—That is a matter for consideration.
32802. Do you know any case in which the proprietor has refused to allow a son to remain in the house whose labour was necessary to the support of the father and mother?
—Unless that one is refused, I don't know.
32803. What is the name of the one to whom you allude?
32804. Is he here?
32805. How small are the smallest crofts in your place, and what is the lowest rent for the smallest croft?
—£3, 15s., I believe, is the lowest rent.
32806. The regulations say that the house is not to cost more than three times the rent of the croft, so that the house for this croft should not exceed in value £10, 15s.?
—That would make a good tent, I believe.
32807. £10, 15s. ! the house may not cost more than that; but I suppose the labour of the crofter who puts it up is not included?
—I don't think so.
32808. Then, supposing the crofter of a little croft wanted to put up a new house could he not put up a pretty good little house, with his own labour, spending £10, 15s. in money?
—It would be a good help to him.
32809. Crofters houses shall not exceed in value three years' rent of the croft. Does that mean that no house which exceeds three years' rental in value shall be built on a croft, on the property?
—I don't understand that very well
32810. But you say if a poor man wanted to put up a new house, and was willing to give his own labour to put it up, you think that, with that labour and the labour of his family, and £10, 15s. in money, he could build a pretty good little house?
—No, I don't think he could.
32811. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Have the people been pleased with the local administratiou of the estate for some time past?
—-Yes, they have; especially when Mr Astley was here. He was giving them plenty of work, and they felt no great hardships, for he was very kind to them. He gave them good houses, and I don't think it was his fault that interest was laid on them. It was the fault of the manager and the factor.
32812. But were the people pleased with the managers who were here before?
—No, not half of them.
32813. There was a manager here named Alexander?
32814. Was he dismissed for dishonesty?
32815. Was there another of the name of Carter?
32816. And did he disappear in a mysterious way?
32817. With a lot of cattle?
—A lot of horses.
32818. Was there another man of the name of Ailing?
32819. What became of him?
—He went away, and didn't pay some of the men. There is £26 against him or against the proprietor for one man's labour.
32820. And, altogether, these different matters were the cause of great dissatisfaction and complaint on the part of the people?