Arisaig, 6 August 1883 - Thomas A. Swinburne

Captain THOMAS ANTHONY SWINBURNE, Royal Navy, Proprietor of Eilean Shona (63)—examined.

33210. The Chairman.
—Is Eilean Shona an island?

33211. How long has it been in the possession of your family?
—I bought it in 1852 or 1853.

33212. Have you built a residence?
—I added to the old residence.

33213. I believe you wish to make a statement regarding the fishing industry ; would you kindly make it ?
—When I first came to this country I found fishing going on to a certain extent, at certain times; but the general complaint was that there was no market. I took in hand the fishing of my own people, and fitted out better boats, and improved them, and saw that they had proper lines and gear to commence with. They fished during the cod season, which commences generally about February, and goes on till the latter end of April. They dry the cod, and I take fish at a certain rate, and provide salt and labour to cure the fish and send them south. I have had as much as sixteen tons, and sometimes the fish sell at £16 per ton or £20, or more; and by that the people make a good deal of money during that short season. I have also gone into the fishing much more extensively. During the time of the Rockall fishing I fitted out three vessels, and went out to Rockall, and afterwards I sent the vessels to Ireland, and if Government had looked after the banks then I think I should have made a good thing of it, and it would have peen a perpetual source of employment.

33214. Do you mean the banks at Rockall?
—Rockall principally, and also the banks from the Butt of Lewis to Barra Head; and the west side of the Long Island is lying waste, and unfished, although it is swarming with fish.

33215. You state that your first object was to supply the people with proper boats and tackle?

33216. What was the nature of the boat you supplied?
—A larger boat than they had—boats upwards of twenty feet in length.

33217. You did not supply them with any of the big boats with which we are familiar on the east coast?
—Not at first; I had the large boats afterwards.

33218. How far could they go with an open boat of twenty feet keel?
—They go out to the banks where the cod are found and near this off the Ardnamurchan coast from seven to eight miles off Shona, and sometimes the fish are pretty close to the point of Rhu.

33219. On what system did you supply the boats? Did you receive in the usual way half the catch, or did you make a present of the boats to the people, or sell them, or how?
—Various ways. With one boat I got a share of the catch, and another boat was supplied entirely to the people who were not well off, and in various ways ; but the way I have done usually has been to give a set price for the fish.

33220. Did you find that the people entered readily into your suggestions?
—Yes, the people of my own place, and of the next property to mine; and also, I think sometimes one or two boats across from Arisiag, and so on. I have odd boats from these places.

33221. Do you look upon the present type of big boat now coming into use as the proper definitive type of boat for the north of Scotland?
—Yes, you want a big fishing boat for the deep sea fishing.

33222. What tonnage?
—The tonnage is a very difficult thing to say, but I should say the dimensions of a boat would be about 60 feet in length, by 16 feet or 17 feet beam; in fact, the largest class of boats about Buckie
and so on, is the class of boats wanted.

33223. I don't think we have seen anything above 52 feet?
—Yes, but the mean over all, and these Buckie boats run a great deal more overall.

33224. Is 52 feet keel is the type you mean?

33225. Would you state the cost of the boat and tackle, and gear of every description necessary for herring fishing?
—From £400 to £500.

33226. Is such a boat equally useful for the deep sea line fishing?

33227. Is such a boat capable of being fitted for both fishings ?

33228. Have you any such boat now?
—Not in my own possession, but I have built such a boat

33229. You suggested something about Ireland?
—After the Rockall fishing was getting slack I sent two vessels to Ireland, and they brought home a good cargo of fish; but it was too late in the season to dry the fish properly.

33230. What kind of fish?
—Cod principally, and also herring, which I hear has since become a great industry in Ireland. I had very few nets; herring were merely caught as bait for the cod.

33231. Do you think, generally speaking, that the seafaring population on this side of the country might become as expert fishermen as the east country people if they had boats and tackle?
—I don't see why they should not. At the time when I was working with my three vessels I had Orkney men, Shetland men, and one crew from Grimsby, and I found some of my own men did just as welL Latterly I had a whole crew of my own men.

33232. When we saw the fishery at Barra this year, there were hardly any large boats belonging to the west country people in the herring fleet?
—Yes, I know they have a peculiar class of boats there, the Barra skiff, and they use them principally for night line fishing for cod outside of Barra.

33233. Is there any suggestion you are able to make at this moment which Government might consider in regard to the encouragement of the fisheries? Is there any form in which Government could advance boats, or money for the purchase of boats, to the people, with a fair chance of r recovering the outlay?
—The greater number of the people are now so very poor that it would be a long time before there could be any repayment; but when men have a little money they are very glad, I think, to get boats. My own tenants have now two very good boats which they have bought for themselves; but they had something to commence with. I think if Government found out from the proprietors that there was an inclination for fishing, and so on, they might advance a certain sum for boats, and be repaid in the course of a certain number of years.

33231. Would the proprietor be inclined to make himself in any degree responsible for the repayment?
—That I cannot say. If I were in that position I should be glad to do so; but I cannot speak for other propietors.

33235. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You referred to some want of action on the part of the Government which prevented your attempt to fish at Rockall being successful?
—Yes, the fishing ground was overcrowded. The offal of the fish was thrown overboard, and vessels, instead of standing off from the fishing ground, cleaned their fish there, bringing sharks and big fish, and utterly destroying the fishing. Instead of being full of cod, it became full of big fish and sharks. If the vessels had been compelled to leave the fishing ground, and clean the fish in deep water, that would not have happened.

33236. Is there any Rockall fishing now?
—Not to any extent; I never hear of it.

33237. You think if Government took charge of the boats there, it would be a great source of revenue?
—I do.

33238. You mentioned that there were good banks from the Butt of Lewis to Barrahead?

33239. Have you seen them fished?
—I have fished them there myself.

33240. Do you know if any of the long island boats fish there?
—The Barra sixerns' go out to a certain extent. I don't think there are any from Uist, Benbecula, or North Uist; but boats went from Loch Roag and Berneray. I believe it was first commenced there by an Englishman named Robinson, who went round in a Gravesend smack. He found the fishing good, and remained in the country, and bought a good-sized boat and got a crew of Highlanders and commenced the fishing. When I was there a few years ago there were several good-sized boats fishing there from Loch Roag, and I believe they did well.

33241. And you think the fishing might be extended so as to occupy the people from this district?

33242. Where would they cure their fish?
—Glendale, in Skye, is, I think, the best place. They would have to come through the Sound of Harris.

33243. Would they do that every day?
—No, once a week or so. I had a store there, at Hamara. There is plenty of beach for drying fish; I had
that place myself. I used to work at Rockall, and come in through the Sound of Harris.

33244. Do you think the boats would fish provided there was a curing place at Glendale?
—Yes, but no doubt there are other places. That place was enlarged for me; but I believe Carloway, at the other side of Lewis, is a good place. That could be still more enlarged, and possibly at Eilan Monach, at the back of North Uist; and there might be other places. Barra, at Kessimull Bay, would be a good station, or at North Bay. The back of Lewis is very flat and bad for fishing.

33245. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Have you any crofters on your estate?
—Yes, two good-sized tenants, and about ten crofters.

33246. Are they able to get their subsistence from the land, or must they fish?
—Scarcely from the land; some of them can make a livelihood by that, but they all do other work.

33247. You made use of the expression that a great number of people were now so very poor that they could not purchase boats to fish. Why are they so poor?
—Because they have not had employment, or because the crofts are too small, or something of that sort. I don't know exactly the occasion of their poverty.

33248. But you suggest these two causes as probable?

33249. Insufficiency of land and?
—Yes, and insufficiency of work. I think also that the oysters and mussels would be a great source of wealth and employment in this country. There are lochs all over the west coast, with a very fine climate, where oysters are to be found, to a certain extent, and mussels; but they are not looked after or cultivated. If the landlords had the sole right of the fore-shores, and were to look after their foreshores, that would be a great source of wealth and employment of a description suitable for the people who gather whelks and so on. They might look after the oyster and mussel beds, and it would pay better than anything I know of here. There are miles of the sea coast fitted for oyster and mussel cultivation.

33250. The Chairman.
—Has there been at one time a much larger stock of oysters and mussels on these beds than there is now?
—Oysters decidedly. They are taken away by strangers.

33251. It would, I presume, be necessary, in the first instance to have a period of very strict preservation?

33252. Would that be sufficient, or would it be necessary to replenish the beds?
—I think it would be necessary now to replenish in some places; they would have to be imported at first to commence new plantations. Mussels could be put on some of them. Although there is not such a run upon them as upon oysters, still they might be planted to a large extent. They are very valuable upon the east coast; but here they are not thought anything of.

33253. Is anything done on the east coast to keep up the stock?
—Yes, there are regular mussel beds at most of the large fishing places; and many parts of this coast are just the very thing for it. There is another thing—the lobster fishing. When I came here at first I used to work the lobster industry ; but I found that the supply was falling off. There is a Scottish law which forbids fishing between certain dates; I stuck to the law, while others fished all the year round, especially in the summer time, and that, I think, should be prevented. In a few years there will be no lobsters at all.

33254. We ate two lobsters to-day?
—Then you are lucky; in a few years you will not.

33255. Ought this present time to be made a close time?
—Yes, I think it should.

33256. Professor Markinnon.
—The law makes the close time from the 1st of June to the 1st of September?

33257. But it is never observed?
—No, I don't think it is. There is a great deal of fishing to be done on this coast; I have gone into it largely myself, and I know that there is a great deal to be done. I have not sufficient capital to continue what I have begun, but there is enough work in that direction to employ all the surplus population on the west coast.

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