DONALD STEWART, Crofter and Blacksmith (53), assisted by DONALD M'LEOD, Crofter and Mason, Galder (54)—examined.
32330. The Chairman.
—Have you a statement to make?
—Yes. 'My name is Donald Stewart, blacksmith and crofter, Little Galder. About sixty-five years ago all this glen was inhabited, there being twelve or thirteen townships. All these were deprived of their holdings. The most of them emigrated to America. The rest of them were put close together near the sea-shore, namely Galder. There were about twenty crofters in Galder, having an acre or two acres each of arable land, with hill pasture for one or two cows and their followers, but no sheep. At the time of the famine thirty-four years ago, these crofters petitioned the proprietor for assistance, who gave them their choice of a free passage to America, or to have their crofts free of rent till the famine ended; but the then factor concealed from them the fact that they might have the land free for a time, and thus they had no choice but to emigrate. Those that remained were in possession of Galder. About two years after the emigration, Mr Mitchell, the large sheep farmer, who was very intimate with the factor, and wishing to enlarge his farm, asked the whole of Galder, which the factor at once granted him, much against the will of the people, and of my father who had a large share in it, and who reasoned with the factor about the loss the people suffered by taking the land from them, and their rent paid. The factor gave no hearing to this, but gave it to Mitchell; and we believe all this was done quite unknown to the proprietor. Since then, a person cannot get pasture for any beast in Glenelg, unless he can get it in Skye. But still my father was left in possession of Little Galder, for which he paid £14 of rent, until he died twenty-two years ago. Then I succeeded him, and paid the same rent. Sixteen years ago I reclaimed two and a half acres of land; since then I built a barn, byre, and stable, and built an addition to our dwelling house which my father built. I spent more money on the property than any other crofter in it. Five years ago the present factor Mr Mollison, in June 1878, took from me the largest half of my croft, and charged me £10, 10s. for the remaining half, saying Mr Mitchell, the farmer, who had already twenty miles stretch of land, by in some part adding townships together, was offering £12 for it. I wrote to Mr Mitchell and. reminded him of how his father took from us Big Galder, and that I thought it a hard matter if he was again coveting the small piece left me, by which I supported a large family and aged mother. He replied stating that he never asked any of my land. I showed Mr Mollison unwillingness to the alteration, at which he became haughty, saying he was commissioner of the estate, and if I would say a single word, he would take the whole from me, and drew out a form in writing and made me sign it to that effect, and promised me more land in a short time. Likely he was afraid the proprietor would hear of it, of whom we had never any reason to complain, for if the factors had acted according to his orders, the crofters here would have been as well off as any in Scotland, for it was a rule on the estate that the land was not to be taken from any man as long as he paid the rent. But as he was not coming to the place, the factors did as they liked. The half taken from me would keep four cows, from which I took a profit of between £15 and £20 a year. Next Whitsunday the factor mentioned that he would require to raise my rent again, for he said the half given to Mitchell was worth only £4, 10s. to him, but he did not follow his demand. I calculated on Mr Mitchell's large farm, which should contain upwards of 5000 sheep, at £800 rent, the pasture of fifteen sheep which the half taken from me should keep, would come to £2, 8s. which it is worth to Mitchell, and now of less value, for it is already overgrown with rashes and coarse grass, where I had good crops of corn, potatoes, and ryegrass. Many of my neighbours who have no land would thankfully give £ 6 for it. Being thus deprived of the best half of my croft, I was unable to keep my family and mother in the same circumstances as formerly, and became under the necessity of breaking an agreement made with my mother at my father's death that I would support and give her a cow's grazing as long as I could. This change made a great injury on my mother. I am not afraid of the factor this year. If I was as little afraid of him five years ago, I would have my croft yet. We got a new proprietor, who is very kind to the people, and seeming to have a great interest in them, and who will not, we trust, allow the same as the foregoing usages. My circumstances was now so much reduced that I had to begin the herring fishing. This is only one instance of many others of a far worse kind done to my neighbours, and some of these carried on yet by Mr Mitchell. I have no pleasure in running down any person, but merely to show how we are treated as slaves, misrepresented and befooled continually, that suffering under these grievances. We want as much land as will keep us comfortable, which is our inheritance, at a fair rent; that the Government would buy good slices of these sheep runs, going into waste for want of cultivation and stock; that we pay the rent to Government, so as to enable us to look upon ourselves as free men, for we are tired of this tyranny. Another of my neighbours, who has a large family, and aged father and mother dependent on him, has a cow's pasture on Mr Mitchell's sheep pasture, for which he charges £3, 10s. The man asked to be allowed to keep the calf, for which he offered 10s. more, to enable him to pay the pasture. This was refused ; the man complained, and said he was afraid ho would require to sell the cow, for the wintering with the pastnre was too heavy on him. Mr Mitchell replied that was what he liked. So there is no sympathy with the aged or infant; sheep and the love of money is the whole go, and so on with every other person.'
32331. This memorial says that the proprietor desired that the people should have a free passage to America, or to have the crofts free of rent until the famine ended; but that the factor concealed from them the fact that the land might be free for that time. Do you remember that?
32332. How did you find out that the proprietor wished to give the people this alternative?
—One man got an acre or two free, and he was telling that he had been paying no rent for years.
32333. It is difficult to get pasture for any beasts in Glenelg, unless • we get it in Skye.' What do you mean by that?
—We go to Skye with any beasts we like to keep. We don't get pasture in Glenelg; we have to go to Skye.
32334. When you get a calf or a stirk you must take it to Skye to pasture it?
32335. What do you pay in Skye?
—About 6s. for a one-year-old and 10s. for a two-year-old.
32336. Who gives you the land to pasture it on? Why are the people there kinder?
—There are a good many of them who cannot stock their land fully, and are happy to get beasts to pasture.
32337. For how long do they remain in Skye?
—Half a year.
32338. At what age do you sell the young beasts?
—Two years old.
32339. How much would you get this year for a beast?
—£8 to £ 9.
32340. Have you a calf every year?
32341. How many cows have you got now?
32342. A horse?
32343. How many sheep?
32344. How many acres of arable land?
—About twelve acres, between arable and pasture.
32345. How much do you pay?
—£10, 10s.; about £ 1 2 , between taxes and everything else.
32346. And you built the house for yourself and your father?
32347. What sort of a house?
32348. Can you tell me how much your family have spent upon the house in money?
—The proprietor helped us with the slates, the lime, and the timber, and we had the workmanship to do —masonry, carpentry, and slater work.
32349. How much, in money, have you spent upon the house?
—I believe I spent more than £ 40 upon it.
32350. And how much do you think your father spent?
—He would have spent as much more upon the dwelling house.
32351. You think your family have spent £80?
32352. And, supposing you left it, have you any agreement with the proprietor for compensation?
32353. So that if you went away, you would leave it all behind you?
32354. Would the proprietor allow you to sell it to the incoming tenant?
—I don't believe he would; but I am not sure.
32355. Why has your family laid out so much money on the house without any agreement?
—Well, the proprietor was a kind man, and we had confidence in him.
32356. You work as a blacksmith?
32357. Do you depend more upon your labour as a blacksmith or more upon the croft?
—More on the croft; there is only a very little blacksmith work going on in the place.
32358. Do the large farmers not go to you?
—Yes, but they are doing very little work requiring a blacksmith.
32359. What do you want for yourself?
—I want the part of my croft which was taken from me back again.
32360. Is Mr Mitchell still living?
32361. Where does he stay?
—Rattagan and Bealary farm.
32362. Is his lease nearly finished?
—I suppose it is; but I am not very certain.
32363. Do you think he wishes to take it on again?
—I am not sure.
32364. Is he supposed to have had it at a high rent?
—I have not heard that said.
32365. Mr Cameron (to Donald M'Leod).
—What statement have you to make?
—'Statement in behalf of the Township of Galder, Glenelg.
The inhabitants of the district of Galder, Glenelg, wish to say to the Royal Commissioners, that in their district there are seventeen families consisting of eighty souls, ten of whom are paupers. Seven families of these have not an inch of ground except what their houses stand on. Their houses were erected by themselves, and they pay a ground rent of five shillings a year for their stances. Six families have from one to four acres each. The fences surrounding their land have been put up by themselves, but as they cannot afford to lay out money on wire fences to the extent required, their crops are much injured by the sheep of the farmers whose land surrounds them. Two of the crofters kept dogs for a short time, to help to keep off the trespassing sheep; but the farmer sent them word that unless they sent away their dogs, he would get them turned out of their crofts. These have to say, however, that the farmer has given them wire this summer, with which they intend, as soon as it can be done, to improve their fences. The district of Galder, over thirty years ago, was wholly occupied by crofters, when they had the whole of the hill pasture, and so were able to keep a sufficient number of cattle to provide milk for their families. Now, only three of the seventeen families are able to feed their cow on their own croft. Three others have a cow each, for which they have to pay £ 3 to the farmer for hill pasture. Owing to the unnecessary shutting up of an old road, which existed from time immemorial, these three cows have to be driven over two miles before they get to their pasture. If they come to the gate on this old road they are hunted by the farmer's dogs, to their great injury. This gate is not 200 yards from the crofters' houses, - and they consider it a great hardship, especially when it does not interfere with any crop, to have to drive their cattle such a round. One of the crofters said to the manager that he would lay this grievance before the Royal Commission. The reply was that neither he nor his master cared for the Royal Commission. These crofters trust that the Royal Commission will be the means of their getting their crofts added to, so that they may be enabled to support themselves and their families decently. There is a good deal of land in the parish at present available for their purpose, and they are willing to give a fair rent for any portion assigned to them. Another grievance which affects the whole parish is, that there is no money order office, and no telegraph office, nearer than Lochalsh. The post road to Lochalsh is merely a sheep track over the hill, and in wet weather it is absolutely dangerous, owing to the boggy nature of the ground. The want of proper postal and telegraph communication is most felt during the herring fishing season, when messages often cannot be sent in time to command a proper market for the herring, thereby entailing great loss on the poor people, many of whom go to Lochourn for the fishing.'
In addition to the foregoing, we have to state the following facts:
—That we went peaceably to Mr Mitchell, and asked him to be kind enough to open the gate for our cows. He answered, the argument is not at an end, it will be the case that you will not get a cow's grass at all, and he swore not to anger him. This was for making an opening for the cows to come home at a very late hour. Having got no satisfaction from Mr Mitchell, we went to Mr Mollison the factor, to consult with him about our trouble. He replied it was tormentable to drive the cattle up the hill and that round ; " but you must keep quiet, or else I "will put the snatches on you." Then we gave up getting any justice. Twenty-nine years ago we were put out of our houses, and every article we had put out on the main road, until we acknowledged to give up our land for another man, being three days and three nights outside until we consented to give up the land. Ever since that time we had no land until last Whitsunday, we got one acre each from the present factor. We believe all the hardships we suffered, was never known to the proprietor.'
32366. Do you represent the people of Galder?
32367. Who wrote this paper?
—Mrs Macdonald, the minister's wife, wrote the first part.
32368. And who wrote the last part?
—One of the scholars.
32369. The same person did not compose both parts?
—Upon the first occasion I told Mrs Macdonald what to put down, and she put it down in her own language; and I dictated some to the boy, and the boy put it down in his own language too.
32370. Is it the boy's composition or your own?
—It is my own language.
32371. You dictated it to a boy, who wrote it down?
32372. You say that the farmer has given some of them wire this summer, with which they intend, as soon as it can be done, to improve their fences. Does that mean all, or only some?
—That is some of them who have more land than I and my neighbour have. We have only a small portion, and our cows graze upon Mr Mitchell's place; and I had to sell my own, because of the way it was being used by the shepherds, and I have only a quey now.
32373. Is the whole township enclosed with a wire fence, or is each croft separated from the other by a wire fence?
—There are only two crofts that are fenced round; the others have no fence to separate them from Mr Mitchell's farm.
32374. And these two are the crofters who have got the wire with which they intend to repair the fence?
—Yes; and they have got it in order to prevent the farmer's sheep trespassing upon their arable ground, with which they had been very much bothered.
32375. What common grazing have these crofters got?
—We have no common grazing at all. My neighbour and I have nothing except the grazing upon the farm, and the other two have only the grazing within the fence.
32376. Then the pasture to which these three cows have to be driven is the pasture belonging to the farm?
32377. Can Mr Mitchell not give them pasture a little nearer than two miles?
—The pasture is near enough, if he would only let us through that gate ; it would only be 200 yards from the houses, but he compels us to make a circuit of two miles to get to it.
32378. Did the manager give any reason, when he was asked to allow the crofters' cattle to go through the gate, why he would not do it?
—No, he would not.
32379. Have you any idea what the reason is?
—I cannot tell; no reason in the world, unless that he would have better pasture for his sheep.
32380. But, as I understand, the cows get the pasture once they are on the other side of the fence, only you have to drive them round to the fence. They would not eat any more grass although they went through the gate?
—We have to take them round a circuit of two miles, morning and afternoon. He has reserve pasture within the fence, and which he does not like us to go over, and so he compels us to make the circuit. The public road is on one side, and there is a gate, but there is a rock, and the cattle have to go round this ; the wire fence ends at the rock, and the cattle have to go round.
32381. But there is no pasture along the road that they could injure or destroy?
—No; the fence is quite close to the road.
32382. Mr Mitchell said the argument was not at an end,' what did you understand by that?
—We got a chance one night of the gate being open, and we brought the cattle through it, and that was the reason why he commenced to talk.
32383. You talk about the telegraph and post, and you say the post road to Lochalsh is merely a sheep track over the hill. Is the post sent by a foot messenger?
—By a foot messenger.
32384. How many days a week?
—Three days a week.
32385. Are you aware that a new parcel post opened yesterday or the day before?
—Oh yes, I know of it ; and the man is carrying parcels.
32386. Have you received any parcels at Galder since it was opened?
32387. Have you sent any away?
—No. It would be very necessary to have improved communication during the fishing season to Loch Hourn.
32388. Do you suppose that a foot messenger will be able to carry parcels by this road?
—He is not obliged to carry above 30 lbs. weight or so.
32389. How many miles does this man go?
—Six or seven.
32390. Do you think the post-office would make a man go with 35 lbs. on his back?
—I don't know; but he told me last night he had about 30 lbs. on his back, or near about it.
32391. So that if the parcels increase the post-office will be obliged to find some other road?
—I heard that they would require to provide him with an assistant in such a case.
32392. I suppose the fishermen in Loch Hourn feel the want of telegraphic communication?
32393. Do you or any of the people fish at Galder?
32394. And the want of telegraphic communication is a general complaint?
32395. Had you a good fishing in Loch Hourn last year?
—There has been none as yet this season.