Arisaig, 6 August 1883 - Nigel B. Mackenzie

NIGEL BANKS MACKENZIE, Solicitor, and Factor on the Estate of Arisaig, Fort William (44)—examined.

33258. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You don't reside here during any portion of the year?

33259. You are not a native of the district, but have been resident some time at Fort William?
—I am a native of Inverness-shire, a Highlander, and I speak Gaelic.

33260. You have heard to-day what some of the delegates or people say about the estate of Arisaig; do you wish to make any observations?
—I wish, with the permission of the Chairman, to read a short statement which I have prepared :
—' The late Mr F. D. P. Astley bought the estate of Arisaig i n 1851, with the view of building a residence and residing in a part of the country which he dearly loved. After the purchase he at once began to improve and develop the estate. A new mansion house was built, with suitable offices and gardens, at very considerable cost. I have been unable to ascertain the exact cost, as the estate papers prior to 1858 are not in my possession. It is, however, one of the finest residences in the West Highlands. At the same time he commenced to improve the tenants' houses and to rearrange the estate, having especial regard to the improvement and amelioration of the condition of the crofters and cottars. Substantial stone and lime and slated houses were built for most of the Back of Keppoch crofters, and their arable land drained. Similar houses were built at Arisaig for the cottar class. Interest at an average rate of 3 per cent, was charged on the former, and the rents of the latter were fixed at a similar rate of interest on the cost of their new houses. When the estate was bought it was very populous. Being obviously more so than the land could support even with such assistance as he could give them, he encouraged such of the crofters and cottars as were disposed to do so to emigrate, their whole expenses in doiug so, including outfits and everything requisite for their comfort, being borne by him. I have been unable to ascertain how many emigrated, but I understand that a good number did so. Mr Astley's intention was that crofts should not be of a smaller size than a family could live upon in comfort, and he aimed at every crofter on the estate having eventually a stone and lime and slated house. His son and daughter, who afterwards succeeded him in the estate, carried out the same policy, and from time to time new houses are being built. Everything that could be thought of was also done to elevate the social position of the smaller tenants. Schools were erected at two places where none had previously been, and the salary of one of the teachers is still paid by the proprietrix. A reading room has also been started in the village, and entertainments of various kinds given in connection therewith. Prizes are also given for the best kept cottages, gardens, and the best cultivated croft. Direct communication between proprietor and tenants has ever been the rule of the estate, and nowhere else throughout the whole Highlands has more kindly consideration been shown by the proprietors to their tenants than upon this estate; and, generally speaking, the tenants appreciate and acknowledge the kind treatment they have always received from the Astley family. The population of Arisaig at the last census in 18S1 was 727, and is not decreasing. There are no large tenants on the estate, a gradation of tenants having been what was aimed at. The following classification speaks for itself:—
(1) Tenants paying over £100, under £200, 3 ;
(2) Tenants paying over £30 and under £100, 10;
(3) Crofters paying over £2 and under £30, 66;
(4) Cottars on crofts 15;
(5) Cottars not on crofts, 13;
(6) Cottages in village, &c, paying £ 2 and upwards, 26.

The expenditure on the estate improvements has been very great. Since 1st January 1858 it amounted to £58,370, and was expended as follows:—
roads, £1260;
plantations, £1564;
trench or canal at Mains farm, £948;
buildings, exclusive of mansion house, £7993;
fences, £5685;
drainage and trenching, £5352;
workmen's wages, £35,568
= £58,370.

The rental of the estate has increased very little since 1857. There has been no change on the crofters' rents other than that they pay £54 additional for their new houses and the drainage. On the farms, and the new cottages in the village, there has been an increase of £156, making a total increase of £210. In 1857 the rental, exclusive of shootings and fishings, was £1460, and in 1882, £1670 ; the difference being as above, £210. The shootings and fishings were let last year at a rent of £330, making a total rent of £2000. The expenditure upon estate improvements has therefore largely exceeded the rental, even excluding the cost of the new mansion house. The crofters and cottars got the greater part of the wages, as the proprietors were anxious to keep the work as much as possible for their own tenants. There is no way whereby additional land can be given to the crofters except by breaking up some of the small farms and dividing it among them, and this is obviously not desirable. There is, however, every wish to make the crofters as comf ortable as possible. Certainly none need fear eviction so long as they pay their rents, and the proprietrix will be as ready to help them in the future as she has been in the past. It is not desirable, however, to increase their numbers, as at best the croft affords but a bare subsistence, and the work on the estate is now necessarily getting less. With regard to the estate of South Morar, it was bought by the late F. D. Astley in 1878. As it has been purchased so recently nothing has as yet been done except improving some of the crofters' houses and erecting some fencing, upon which no interest is charged. The rents of the crofters remain the same, with the exception of one or two reductions of small amount No alterations have been made upon the farm boundaries. I may remark, in addition, as some allusion has been made to the forest, that what is now forest is a very small extent of ground indeed. It will be observed that the whole shootings, including the forest, were let last year at a rent of £330, which doe3 not indicate any great stretch of ground. It was very much larger at one time, but the present proprietrix, Mrs Nicholson, thought it desirable to reduce its extent, and a considerable stretch of it was let two years ago. The principal part was let, and divided amongst the two adjoining tenants at the west end of Rhu, or let to another tenant. All the tenants held upon leases, with the exception of the crofters, who were yearly tenants.

33261. What is the total acreage of the estate?
—It is believed to be about 25,000 acres.

33262. Including the two properties?
—Yes, including the two properties; that is a mere approximation, for we have no plan showing the exact acreage.

33263. How much of that was under deer forest until lately?
—I should fancy something like 2000 acres.

33264. Originally?

33265. When it was at first made?
—Yes; but the deer forest is a very small affair.

33266. You have heard what the delegates stated to-day?
—I have been present all through, and have heard what they said.

33267. And they agreed in stating that they are poor, and not in a desirable position?
—I should like to see every man of them better.

33268. You don't deny that there is some poverty, and it may be other grievances?
—I think, wherever there are crofters, there is more or less of poverty.

33269. So long as crofters exist there will be poverty?
—I am afraid so.

33270. Did it not occur to you when the proprietrix thought of reducing the forest, that, in place of adding it to the bigger farms, it would have been advisable to try the effect of giving it to those who were wanting it so urgently?
—I am afraid, from the nature of it, that it would not divide among the crofters.

33271. But they seem to think it would suit them?
—I am not sure that any one said so exactly. I think they said they would like some of what is forest land, but I am not sure that they said they would like any of what has been let to other tenants.

33272. What are the names of the parts let to other tenants?
—Glen Beasdale and Rhu of Rhumach.

33273. I think several people said they would like Rhu?
—I should like it myself.

33274. We passed through it this morning?
—No doubt.

33275. And you don't suppose that we did not see a great deal of very fine grass?
—Very good grass indeed.

33276. And the remains of places where people had once been?
—I am not aware as to that

33277. Perhaps you never went over it?
—Oh yes ; every part of it.

33278. Next time you drive down that way, you will find appearances of a considerable number of small crofts?
—I don't think so.

33279. You state that the population of Arisaig was 727, and that it is not decreasing?
—Not decreasing ; it is pretty stationary, according to the census tables.

33280. You have, no doubt, looked into matters connected with history of old. How many fighting men could be taken out of a population of 727?
—I could not say.

33281. Would it have been too much to have taken one in five?
—I would rather not express an opinion.

33282. You have not studied the matter?
—No, I have not given very much attention to that.

33283. At the time you state Mr Astley bought the property, you state that he found the place too populous?
—That was his opinion.

33284. And the consequence was that so many people either emigrated or had to go?
—No, they emigrated themselves at his expense.

33285. Did they get any inducement to remain?
—The inducement was rather to go.

33286. Have you heard that they were willing to go?
—I have been told that every one went with his own consent, but I am aware people emigrated from the Highlands with extreme reluctance.

33287. You have stated that a good deal of the expense on the estate has been laid out on buildings?
—That is so.

33288. Is it not possible that the buildings are so good merely to please the eye of the proprietor, and that they may be rather beyond the means of the occupants who pay the rent or interest?
—That is quite possible ; but I know the intention was to make them good, so as to promote the comfort of the people.

33289. Does such a house necessarily increase the comfort?
—That is always a matter of opinion. I think a good house always adds to the comfort of the occupant.

33290. Have you ever heard that a slated house is not so comfortable as a nicely built thatched house?
—I have heard such an opinion expressed, but never by a person who lived in such a house.

33291. The crofters paying between £2 and £30 amount to over sixty in number?
—Yes, I think sixty-six.

33292. And that is the class about which this Commission has more particularly to inquire?
—No doubt.

33293. And cottars are also included?
—No doubt.

33294. Is it, or not, too arduous a task for such a proprietrix as that of Arisaig, to satisfy these sixty-six crofters?
—It is a very difficult thing to satisfy every person.

33295. To satisfy their reasonable aspirations?
—I know that the proprietrix of this estate is exceedingly anxious to satisfy every aspiration which she considers reasonable.

33296. But she reserves to herself the right of saying what is reasonable and what is not on the part of the crofters?

33297. But you will allow the crofters to think they are the best judges of what is reasonable and convenient for themselves?
—No doubt they are of that opinion ; but it is also right to add that Mrs Nicholson, and her father and brother before her, always listened to, and considered fairly, any representation by the crofters before coming to a conclusion themselves.

33298. There has been a general concurrence by the delegates to that effect; that the proprietors have treated them affably, and with consideration?
—That is so.

33299. You stated further that for the last thirty years the Astley family have laid out in roads £1200?
—That is so.

33300. How much of that was laid out for roads that benefited the crofters?
—I really cannot tell you—it was before my factorship ; but I have been told that probably one-half of that would be for the benefit of the crofters.

33301. You heard one delegate say that he lived nine miles from this, and had to travel over six miles of road and three miles of moor?
—That is perfectly true. It is an abominable road ; I have traversed it myself ; but, from the nature of the country, it is impossible to make a road ; it is a physical impossibility.

33302. You have stated that of the large expenditure of £58,000 no less than £35,000 was for wages'?
—That is so.

33303. Spent among the people?

33304. But you cannot consider that as of anything but a temporary nature?
—No doubt, that cannot go on always.

33305. And has that gone?
—It has all been spent.

33306. And the crofters have not any left?
—I should think not.

33307. There may be some lying in the bank ?
—I am not at liberty to tell you.

33308. You say £5000 or so was laid out in drainage, what was the bulk of that for?
—The greater part of it was done before the period of my factorage, and I cannot tell you from personal knowledge ; but I have been told that the greater part was spent in the reclamation of the land. At the time Mr Astley purchased this estate the arable land was of the most limited character and of the worst description, and almost everything that has been done upon it has been done by the Astley family.

33309. But you gave us these figures, and you don't separate what is applicable to the crofters' land and what was done upon the big farms and the home farm?
—These figures represent the total expenditure upon the estate. I endeavoured to separate what was done upon the crofters' land from what was done on the large farms, and what for the proprietor's own residence, but unfortunately the books don't show it.

33310. Where are the books that would show it?
—It is impossible to trace some of the old books. I could not get anything beyond 1858.

33311. One of the delegates stated that there have been a considerable number of changes in the local administration for some time?
—That is so.

33312. Has that not necessarily been prejudicial to the estate and to the people?
—I don't think it is desirable, certainly.

33313. Is that all the length you can go?
—I can go almost any length you like; but it is not desirable to have frequent changes. They were not voluntary, but it was necessary to make them.

33314. We have been told that, from the factor down to the lowest gamekeeper, these vacancies have not been filled by local people?
—It is not the case upon Arisaig.

33315. Who is the highest official in Arisaig that is a native?
—The under factor, Mr Joseph Routledge.

33316. That is to say, he was born in the district?
—That constitutes a native, I think. Ha was born and bred in it, and never left it.

33317. I am afraid it is not a Highland name?
—That is his misfortune.

33318. Does he speak Gaelic ?

33319. Where did his father come from?
—I don't know; I know his father is not a Highlander; but he is an exceedingly clever man.

33320. In answer to my question you state that Mr Joseph Routledge must be considered a native of the estate?
—I think so.

33321. And a Highlander?
—And a Highlander; I wish he had a Highland name.

33322. How long has Mr Routledge been in charge?
—Since about five years ago.

33323. His name has never been mentioned by any of the delegates as a person to whom they had any objection?

33324. Can you give any other instance of a native official?
—There are no other officials but myself and the under factor.

33325. Have you any remark to make with regard to what one gentleman stated, that the inspector of poor comes only twice a year, and then to lift the rates?
—I heard it with exceeding regret, and, as a member of the Parochial Board, I must make inquiries about it. His duty is to come quarterly, and I shall be exceedingly disappointed if I don't find out at the board meeting that he did not attend to his duty; and there is a meeting to-morrow.

33326. How do you get on in school matters when there are so many Catholics in Arisaig; have they a school of their own?
—There are two schools—a Roman Catholic school and a Protestant school, and the arrangement works very well.

33327. Has the priest of Arisaig any land?
—He has.

33328. Of what extent?
— He pays, I think, a rent of £10; he has a croft.

33329. Has he got it in feu or is he dependent on the will of the proprietor?
—He holds from the proprietor the same as an ordinary tenant.

33330. Has that facility always been given to the Roman Catholic priest?
—It has during my time as factor.

33331. And has always been?
—I think so.

33332. But the people are not quite pleased. What do you propose to do with the complaints you have heard to-day?
—I am not quite sure. The proprietor, upon his return, will consider most carefully everything that has been said to-day. What determination he will come to I cannot tell, but I can say that both Mr and Mrs Nicholson will give it their most careful consideration, and that their leanings will be towards improving the condition of the crofters.

33333. Mr Cameron.
—Would you tell us exactly the acreage of the present ground which is called a deer forest?
—I have been endeavouring to calculate it from the Ordnance survey, and it seems something like 1500 acres.

33334. And it is fenced?
—It is most securely fenced; there is a six feet fence round the whole of it. I heard with surprise one delegate mention that the deer got over it?
—If anything can be done to keep them in it shall be done.

33335. 1500 acres is surely a very small extent of ground to be dignified with the name of deer forest?
—It is more a sanctuary than a forest.

33336. Is there no other deer forest except that?
—Nothing else.

33337. Do you know anything of the three cottars, Donald Macdonald, Donald Macdonald and Archibald M'Dougall, who live in Polnish?

33338. They have some potato land?

33339. They have had some potato land off a farm upon which they are cottars, and they complain very much, that the deer have destroyed their potatoes. Where do these deer come from?
—I have no idea.

33340. Where is that deer forest —round about here?
—No; it is on the Kinloch Moidart part of the estate.

33341. Where do these deer come from?
—They must be wild deer travelling over the country.

33342. It is stated that the late Mr Astley promised to fence this potato ground. Do you know why that has not been done?
—I do not know; but Mrs Nicholson was disposed to fence it, and there was an arrangement that it should be fenced when a certain thing was done. There was was a small rent put on the tenants, and, as soon as they clear that, I understand they will get that altered.

33343. But has that been intimated to these people?
—Yes, I have done it myself, by letter. It is a small potato patch.

33344. Are the schools you spoke of board schools—Catholic and Protestant?

33345. Neither of them?
—Both private schools, and the other school was started by the estate as a private school also, but all under Government inspection.

33346. The Chairman.
—How many board schools are there in the parish?

33347. Are any of these board schools situated in the quarter inhabited by the Roman Catholics?
—Yes, there is.

33348. What is the proportion of the Roman Catholic population to the Protestant population in the parish?
—In the Argyleshire part of the parish the bulk of population are Protestants ; in the Inverness-shire part the great proportian are Roman Catholics.

33349. Do you say three-fourths are Roman Catholics?
—I should say 95 per cent, are Catholics in the Inverness-shire part of the estate.

33350. How many board schools are there in the Inverness-shire part of the parish?
—Speaking from recollection, about three.

33351. In addition to these two private schools'!
—In addition to the two private schools.

33352. Then I may assume that there is a very large population of Roman Catholic children going to the three board schools?
—No doubt.

33353. Of whom is the School Board composed?
—It consists of seven members. The proprietor of the estate of Ardnamurchan ; Mr Dalgleish ; Mr M'Lean of Glenuig; myself; Mr Coulter, tenant upon the Ardnamurchan estate; the parish minister; the Moidart priest; and the seventh I forget. There are two Roman Catholics.

33354. In these three board schools in the Inverness-shire portion are the teachers Protestants or Roman Catholics?
—I really cannot say; I know some of them are Roman Catholics; but the board always shows an anxious desire to appoint a teacher of the religion of the majority of the people among whom they are to teach.

33355. As a matter of fact?
—As a matter of fact, I cannot tell you from recollection; my impression is that two out of the three are Roman Catholics.

33356. Are they men or women?

33357. The three teachers?
—I think so; two at any rate.

33358. Gaelic-speaking people?
—No; none of them, I think.

33359. Can you tell me on what footing the religious teaching in these three schools is?
—It is governed by the conscience clause of the Act.

33360. The Act allows the School Board to have any form of religious teaching?
—I don't think the board have laid down anything. I think it is left to the teacher to carry out the use and wont of the locality.

33361. But use and wont in Scotland usually means the Shorter Catechism?
—I know.

33362. Do you think it applies to the Catholic Catechism?
—To whatever comes in place of a catechism.

33363. Has the School Board, as a matter of fact, authorised the distinct teaching of the Roman Catholic religion by a teacher in any of the board schools?
—They have given no instructions for or against it.

33364. As a matter of fact, is there any distinct religious teaching?
—Personally, I am not aware that there is; I never inquired.

33365. I think you said you were a member of the board?

33366. Have you ever visited any of those three schools?

33367. At the hour of religious teaching?
—No, I do not remember ever being present at the hour of religious instruction.

33368. In fact you really are, although a member of the School Board, unable to state in what form religious instruction is given in these schools?
—I am not able to state whether or not any religious instruction is given.

33369. But you have a general impression that the secular instruction is satisfactory?
—We pay very close attention to the secular instruction.

33370. Have you ever heard any complaint on the part of the Roman Catholic population that their religion is not sufficiently considered, in connection with the schools or teaching?
—No, certainly not.

33371. They are quite satisfied?
—So far as I know, they are. The matter has never cropped up in this parish.

33372. Mr Cameron.
—Would you explain the exact meaning which you give to paragraph 11 of these new regulations which have been referred to?
—The meaning of rule 11 altogether is to this effect; that as the crofter's houses—the slated houses—have been erected by the proprietor at his sole expense, the last clause of the rule does not apply to those at all, but solely to the thatched houses; and it is thus that at present they get no value for the thatched houses if they remove. But that was considered hardly fair, and it was thought they ought to get something, and the rule was framed as it stands, that two-thirds of the valued price should be paid to the outgoing crofter by the incoming crofter or the proprietor at entry, and the instructions to the valuator are that not more than three years' rent is to be held as the value of a thatched house.

33373. I think you must admit that it is rather ambiguous in language?
—I am quite sure the proprietor will be only too glad to alter it so as to make what is meant perfectly plain.

33374. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Our attention was called to the ambiguity of the clause which states by whom the houses are to be put in good order?
—The intention is that the house should be put in a state of repair by the proprietor at entry, and that any subsequent repair is to be done at the mutual expense of the proprietor and tenant, which is much more favourable than usual on many estates, where they are called upon to keep everything in order after getting everything put right. Here, all the subsequent repairs shall be at the mutual expense of the proprietor and tenant.

33375. It is not very clearly stated so?
—That is so.

33376. The Chairman.
—We have the regulations before us, and I would like to ask you, in a general way, whether you consider that regulations expressed in rather technical professional language are likely to give satisfaction to a numerous body of the tenants?
—It was always thought better on any estate with which I have had to do, to have the estate rules printed so that the tenants may really know what they are. It is not kind to hamper a good tenant in any way; But it is only for cases of difficulty that it is advisable to have a rule to fall back upon.

33377. But do you think that paper, put into the hands of an ordinary Highland tenant without a very copious verbal commentary, could be understood by them?
—I think it could. I never found any difficulty except upon this estate, and I heard with regret that there were difficulties in understanding them.

33378. Is this an example of the regulations which are common in the country?
—Quite common.

33379. Sheriff Nicolson.
—The two first delegates spoke of the cessation of work from the time Mr Macdonell ceased to be proprietor of the estate; is that correct?
—It is.

33380. Will you explain what the cause was?
—There is nothing more to do so far as I know. Mr Macdonell expended a great sum of money upon the improvement and development of the estate, and it is pretty well improved, and latterly there has been very little work to do. I know there are one or two small matters, fencing and so on.

33381. Was there any particular reason why the trustees should not expend money in the circumstances?
—I should think the reasons would be best known to the trustees themselves, and they gave instructions not to expend any more.

33382. But you know what the reasons were?
—I know generally that probably there was a difficulty in finding money to go on with the improvement .

33383. Mr Cameron.
—You stated with reference to these regulations that they were similar to those on other estates with which you are connected ? I am afraid I feel bound to ask you if rules such as these exist on the estate with which you and I have to do?
—I am not aware of any such regulations on the Lochiel estate.

33384. We get on very well without?

33385. Professor Mackinnon.
—The general complaint was that there was scarcely any work till of late years?
—That is so on the South Morar estate.

33386. And that, in connection with the rents they have still to pay for the houses, I think the general drift of the complaint was that formerly there were work and wages, and they were able to live in comfort; and now they have to pay rent when there is no work and no wages?
—I think there is a cessation of labour, and it is more difficult for the people to pay their rents.

33387. Is there any prospect of there being work in the future?
—There will always be something to do.

33388. To the same extent as in the past?
—I should doubt that it will be to the same extent as in the past.

33389. Were those people who are now in these cottages since this family came into possession once holders of crofts?
—I am not aware; but great changes were made during the proprietorship of Lord Cranstoun.

33390. Do you know what they were before these houses were built at all?

33391. One of the names which happened to turn up amongst them was Rhumach?

33392. Are any of the places still under deer mentioned as places from which people were dispossessed in Lord Cranstoun's time?
—Yes, one or two.

33393. Do you think these would be suitable for repeopling again?
—No doubt one or two of the places named are perfectly suitable.

33394. Both for arable and pasture ground?
—I suppose pasture ground especially.

33395. I suppose that could be said of most of the country side?
—No doubt.

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