Arisaig, 6 August 1883 - Rev. Charles Macdonald

Rev. CHARLES MACDONALD, Mingarry, Moidart, Ardnamurchan (49)—examined.

33134. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You have a voluntary statement to make?
—Yes. Some delegates were appointed by the people over on Lord Howard's estate to attend this meeting, in order to express the feeling of the tenants with regard to those questions which have caused the Commission to travel through the Highlands. I am asked to mention to your Lordship and the other gentlemen here, that the tenants have no complaint to urge against their proprietor, and that they are exceedingly well pleased and satisfied with him. There are some tenants here who are not exactly delegates, but who are on Captain Swinburne's property in Eilan Shona, to whom I sent word that they should come forward and express their feelings regarding the property on which they are, because, so far as I can gather, the feeling of all the tenants on Lord Howard's estate, and on the estate of Captain Swinburne, is one of complete and universal satisfaction. I may state to your Lordship that the real cause of this satisfaction on the part of Lord Howard's tenants is, that when his Lordship came into possession of this estate, he saw at once that it would be a burden upon the proprietor if the people were to depend for a comfortable existence principally upon the support, or labour, or employment, which the proprietor or estate would afford them, because, as a rule, there is no permanent form of industry in the Highlands, certainly not in the country parts; and it would be a great drain upon the assets of the proprietor and a great strain upon the resources of the property itself, if the tenants were to look for their maintenance principally to being employed by the proprietor and by the estate. Therefore, his Lordship saw that the real solution of all this difficulty was to put the people in a better condition —to make use of the condition in which they were before, and to enlarge the circle in which they were to move or act. For instance, he saw that if they had more arable ground, and a certain tract of hill pasture, they might be in a condition which would make them very comfortable; whilst the more active and industrious members of the family, when they came to a certain age, might go south and provide for themselves. On this account, he at once—at least, immediately after he had carried out some improvements upon those parts of the estate which he kept in his own hands —encouraged the people to cultivate more arable ground for themselves, and to enlarge the number of the stock. For instance, within the last eight years, for as many as twenty-nine or thirty tenants he has brought in close upon fifty acres of arable ground, entirely for the benefit of the people; and this is the way in which he proceeds ; he allows to each tenant from £ 10 to £14 per acre that they cultivate. They have to trench this acre three feet deep. They take two green crops, potatoes or turnips, off this new ground before any interest is charged upon the outlay. The interest is not fixed as yet, but I think it will be from 4½ to 5 per cent. But no rent is charged upon the ground taken in; it is merely the interest of the capital expended on it ; and the people take this land in themselves, and get the money from him; or, if they are otherwise engaged, or are too weak to personally take in land, the manager of the estate, employs strangers or other parties to take in the land for them, and they get the sum which the tenant would have got if he had performed it himself. His Lordship also told his tenants over and over again, that when they had taken in a certain number of acres they would be allowed to increase the number of their stock ; that is to say, where they had five cows before they might keep six, provided excessive increase were avoided. He has also encouraged habits of industry by giving prizes for the best cattle, prizes for the best crofts, and for various products of the crofts; and he has built very nice cottages to make them comfortable, especially, I think, a very successful form of cottage which he has hit upon, and which only costs him £30. This cottage is a very great improvement upon what hitherto existed. With regard to Captain Swinburne's property, I may add that the land is not susceptible of much improvement. The island is a very rough and rocky piece of land, but the captain has won the great esteem of his people, who are thoroughly pleased with him, because he has greatly encouraged the fishing in the district. He has done a great deal in that respect, having spent a great deal of money in encouraging it. There is another proprietor in the district who is also a very excellent landlord, and of whom I have not heard any complaints. We are very well off indeed, so far as Moidart is concerned.

33135. Mr Cameron.
—Are these cottages thatched?
—Yes, they are thatched. The size of the cottage is forty-two feet external measurement, and this space is divided into three compartments. One end is used as a kitchen, and the other is a double bed-room. There is a long passage behind the front door, and behind this passage there is an intermediate bed-room between the bed-room at the one end and the kitchen at the other. Off the kitchen there is a slanting building erected which forms a pantry, and the roof of this is on a line with the roof of the main house. His Lordship, however, is giving £30 to the tenant, I should have added gives them bricks and lime, and as much natural wood grown on the estate as will suffice for the thatch.

33136. What does the house cost altogether between proprietor and tenant?
—It is hard to tell that, because the tenant makes the contract.

33137. But does he build?
—He contracts with the mason.

33138. But does he build?
—- Yes.

33139. Does the tenant also do the joiner work?

33140. Does he do all the work in connection with the house?

33141. And what does Lord Howard give him?
—£30, and the bricks for the partitions.

33142. And the lime?
—Yes, and the wood.

33143. I want to arrive at what the house costs. Lord Howard gives the man £ 30?

33144. Also the bricks for the partition and tiles for the floor?

33145. Then he gives him the lime besides?

33146. Is that all Lord Howard gives'?

33147. Is that £30 meant to compensate the tenant for joiner and mason work?
—I think so.

33148. Do you think the tenant can do it for £30?
—I think so, because I have an instance over there of a tenant who merely got £30, and he contracted for mason and stone-work of the house at £15, and his son, who was living with his father, brought the stones and did all that work, so that I think he could have done it for £30.

33149. Does the tenant put the thatch on for that too?

33150. So that you believe the house costs the value of the bricks, tiles, and lime and £30 besides?
—Yes, of course I do not count the labour of the tenant himself.

33151. And £30 covers his outlay?
—It must very nearly do so ; because the man who did it could not otherwise afford to do it—he had no means.

33152. Have many people taken advantage of Lord Howard's regulations in regard to the improvement of the land?
—Almost every one. But they could not begin it at first, because he had a great deal of land in his own hands —a large farm —but he cultivated that, and that employed the labour of the country.

33153. How many acres have been so reclaimed during the period Lord Howard has possessed the estate?
—He has reclaimed from 45 to 50 acres for the benefit of the tenants alone in eight years.

33154. How many heads of families are there among the tenants?
—Thirty-two, I think, altogether, but those who have benefited by this are about thirty.

33155. You think thirty have benefited by these regulations?
—Yes; some to a greater and some to a less extent. Some were not able to benefit so much as others
—some only brought in one acre and others might bring in three.

33156. Where does Lord Howard get the necessary pasture to meet the requirements of this additional arable land?
—The hill pasture is favourably situated for that purpose. There are two hamlets, Laugal and Dalnabrach, and the hill lies behind the tenants' houses and the arable land lies in front of them. They have had access to this hill pasture for many years past.

33157. Is the stock held in common?
—There are two club farms—Laugal and Dalnabrach

33158. How do they find that system answer?
—Very well.

33159. As they take in more arable ground, do they put more cows on this common hill pasture?
—I cannot say they have put more cattle on in consequence of the increase of acreage of the arable ground, but there are more cows in reality in this way. By the written transactions between themselves and the proprietor, the number of their cattle was limited to a certain figure. For instance, at one village they were allowed to have four or five cows and their followers. In one case they kept six, and in another they were keeping one more than the stipulated number, so that now they are in an agreement with their landlord; those beasts which they kept formerly without permission, and not altogether justifiably, they keep now rightly because they have had an addition to their land.

33160. Do the tenants agree amongst themselves as to the management of this club stock ?
—Yes, no quarrels whatever that I am aware of.

33161. The Chairman.
—What is the size of the croft on which Lord Howard desires to put his people?
—He thinks it is almost impossible to put tenants in a decent, comfortable, and respectable way, and in a way that would make them independent, more or less, of any extra labour or employment from the estate, without eight or twelve acres of arable ground and about six cows with their followers.

33162. And how many sheep?
—About fifty sheep. It is his aim to bring the tenants on the estate up to that position ; but on one part of the estate it is not possible to do so just now.

33163. Is that land under lease?
—There is one part called Moss, and the people of that place are in an inferior position. I think they were drafted from other parts of the estate and put into Moss, for they were in very poor circumstances and had very little land. But this was many years before my time, and since that they have extended, and their arable land has been much improved. The average land each one has is from five to six acres, or more ; but they have no hill pasture. They have moorland pasture, and not much hill pasture; they cannot get it until other arrangements are made.

33164. Has Lord Howard in view to endow them with hill pasture?
—Yes, he does so virtually already, because they put their cattle on the slopes of one of the ridges facing their crofts, but they don't go beyond the top of the ridge.

33165. And the policy you have described is the settled policy of the estate which is being carried out systematically?
—Yes, that is his aim, to improve as far as he can the condition of the people until they are put into an independent position.

33166. Has Lord Howard got any large farms upon his estate?
—He has two; one was thrown upon his hands, and he had to take it. It was advisable on his part to keep it, I think, because as a proprietor and gentleman having a son who, naturally, was fond of sport, it was the only part where there were any deer or game to be got; and, having it in his own hands, the game were not so liable to be disturbed as they might be if a stranger had it.

33167. Has he taken the stock off it?
—No, he leaves a heavy stock on it.

33168. How long has Captain Swinburne's family been in possession of the estate?
—He was there before I came. I think he must have been there close upon thirty years.

33169. Is his family of English origin?

33170. How long has Lord Howard had this property ?
—- Thirteen years.

33171. Are you aware of the condition of the property while it was in the possession of Mr Hope?
—It was Mr Hope Scott who gave it the start towards its present course of improvement.

33172. Did he aim at this same result?
—Not in the same direction. The country required more elementary improvement; it required to be opened up by roads, and he expended largely in opening up roads. He proceeded afterwards to erect a better style of dwelling-house for the people.

33173. Mr Hope Scott was not an Englishman?

33174. But his fortune had been acquired in England1?

33175. Then we have three persons who, either by origin or fortune, belong to England—Mr Hope Scott, Lord Howard, and Captain Swinburne?

33176. Perhaps you have heard it stated to-day that the impression prevailed that the purchase of land in the Highlands by Englishmen or strangers, capitalists strangers to the country, was not productive of harmony or not associated with good. Is that proved by your personal experience?
—No, it is quite the reverse. My experience of English gentlemen who have become proprietors in the country—I do not speak for any but my own experience—is that they have been a benefit to the country, because they bring wealth and a good disposition, so far as my experience goes, towards the people.

33177. Have you the impression that the course pursued by Lord Howard at the present moment is one thoroughly in consonance with the wishes and aspirations of the native people?
—Entirely so. The only thing upon which, perhaps, they would like a little improvement, or which they could wish to be taken into further consideration, is the extent of the leases. Mr Hope Scott was not prepared, for one reason or another, to grant leases; and Lord Howard, who had a very high respect for Mr Hope Scott, does not see why any change should be made in this respect. Of course, Lord Howard is extremely kind and considerate towards the people, and they have the utmost confidence in him, and are thoroughly convinced he would never dream of turning them away; but I know, from what they have told me, that it would give them particular satisfaction if they were so secured from any change which might take place on the estate that they would not be subjected to any necessity or fear of their land passing from them.

33178. Are there any elaborate technical printed regulations on Lord Howard's estate?
—None whatever. When he came, I believe, the tenants, when they entered into possession of their yearly holdings, had to sign some sort of document, but that was merely, for instance, that their quantity of stock was to be limited, and that they were not to take two white crops in succession —the ordinary rules of cultivation.

33179. How does Lord Howard control the tendency of the people to accumulate upon the croft?
—He told them very plainly that the overcrowding of the estate with tenants would be injurious, and that he would entertain no policy tending in that direction, and consequently, I may add, he has not increased the number of tenants on the estate since he came—not to any perceptible extent. But when there is plenty of work going on young men are employed at it, and when the work is not so, active young men and women go away at once to the south, where they find constant employment.

33180. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Do you know whether it is a common thing in England for proprietors to give leases?
—I believe it is not.

33181. Are you further aware that there is nothing that an Englishman coming to the Highlands dislikes more than to grant a lease?
—I cannot speak very much from personal experience of that; I only know that Captain Swinburne has not granted leases except in one instance, but this tenant has a larger tract of land than another
—in fact, he is a sheep farmer; but Lord Howard has not granted any leases to my knowledge.

33182. Then this exceedingly satisfactory state of matters which you have described is entirely dependent upon Lord Howard's good-will?
—Exactly so.

33183. If he were to sell the property?
—It might be all altered.

33184. Or if he died and left trustees?
—We have no guarantee that a change will not take place, except, of course, it is the good-will of the people, and that is what the tenants are conscious of.

33185. You have made out this blemish about the lease as one in this very good man's estate; now, don't you think there is something else? Is there not a demand for more hill pasture?
—There has been, I may say, such a grievance in the country, but that is an old complaint. There was a part of the hill called Dorlin, which includes Breack, Mingarry, and Blainard, in which there was a large population at one time—this, of course, was before my time —and every one of these were removed. There was not a single tenant left on Blainard or Breack, or Port Aviort or Mingarry. I tried to ascertain what became of them, and I found a few of them had been sent down to the Moss; one or two were sent up to Laugal, but the majority, I think, were sent away to Australia.

33186. What about the hill pasture?
—Three of these places are very enticing, Mingarry especially; there are the ruins of twelve cottages there. Port Aviort is also an enticing place, and well adapted for small tenants, and Breack and Blainard are more or less favourable. Naturally some of the people would like to get back there
—those who have the capital to take it. If they went up there, their sons might stop in the holdings they would leave behind them.

33187. In whose hands are these glens at present?
—They were put into one farm, and the tenant of that farm went away about twelve years ago, and Lord Howard took it into his own hands.

33188. So that it comes to this, that there are some aspirations not yet fulfilled?
—His Lordship has been approached on the subject, and he expressed a desire to grant it—at any rate he did not oppose the wish to put them in possession of it. The only thing that deterred him was the expense of building the houses and outhouses for the tenants.

33189. But don't you think these people would themselves very much contribute to the erection of the buildings?
—There is a delegate here present who told me the other day that if he got a portion of this hill he would undertake to build the houses if he got £30 from the proprietor, and lime and wood.

33190. Most of the people upon Lord Howard's estate are Catholics?
—Every one of them, I may say.

33191. And Lord Howard is himself one?

33192. Has it not always been found that the Catholics are kinder to each other and stick more to each other than the other prevailing and dominant bodies?
—-Well, persecution, I suppose, binds people together. When the penal laws were enforced, of course we were obliged to put shoulder and shoulder together.

33193. And does not that clannish feeling still remain?
—Very much so; but at the same time I must say ever since I came to the country there has never been the slightest difference amongst Presbyterians, Episcopalians, or Catholics upon religious matters. There is a perfect entente cordiale in these matters.

33194. Are there remains of an old castle at Mingarry?
—That castle is at Ardnamurchan.

33195. The Chairman.
—Who is the oldest delegate or tenant from Lord Howard's estate ?
—John M 'Isaac.

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