Inverness, 12 October 1883 - John Macdonald

JOHN MACDONALD, Merchant, Inverness (39)—examined.

41514. The Chairman.
—You appear as a delegate from the association?

41515. Have you a written statement?
—I have no written statement. I was merely asked to corroborate the statement that was presented by the first witness, Charles Mackay.

41516. And is there any branch of this question on which you wish to express a personal independent opinion particularly?
—I am of opinion generally, that if the crofters throughout the Highlands had more land and security of tenure —that is to say, that they would be in no apprehension of removal in their ordinary circumstances —they would produce far more out of their crofts, and that they might perhaps devote their attention to the production of various other things from their holdings.

41517. You think that they would not only produce more of what they produce already, but that they would embark in other cultures?

41518. What other cultures do you think they might adopt?
—I might draw your attention, for one instance, to the large quantities of eggs imported into this country from other countries, and there is a very large quantity of eggs sent from the Highlands to the southern markets besides what is consumed at home. I think that even in this matter alone, the production of eggs throughout the Highlands might be very much increased, so much so indeed that I think an ordinary crofter with a small holding might possibly pay his rent nearly from eggs alone. From calculations I have been making, I do not give them as very accurate, but they are satisfactory to my own mind, I believe that throughout the Highlands, taking the mainland apart from the islands, perhaps upwards of £100,000 worth of eggs is produced.

41519. I would like to know how you connect the increased production of eggs particularly with security of tenure. I can perfectly understand that the increased production of corn might be stimulated by security of tenure,—a thing that requires a first outlay and a sustained expenditure, —
but surely the stock that produce eggs are more cheaply and rapidly reared and of a more transitory nature than any other stock?
—I do not connect it with security of tenure; I rather connect it with the increase of the number of smaller holdings.

41520. That if there was more security there would be more small holdings, and the small holdings would produce more small produce?

41521. And particularly poultry?
—Poultry and other things.

41522. If keeping poultry was more extensively practised on the small holdings, how are the poultry to be fed? Do you anticipate that food would have to be purchased for the poultry, or would the poultry be fed from the ordinary produce of the farm and leavings of the house?
—Partly from the produce of the farm and partly from purchased articles.

41523. Have you any example of a small holder devoting himself particularly and profitably to poultry farming?
—No, I don't know that it would be to devote himself particularly to it, except as an accompaniment to other things.

41524. They all have poultry already, I fancy?
—Yes, I understand they have.

41525. Is there anything else in the way of small produce that you think might be raised upon small holdings, such as small fruits and better sorts of vegetables, and so on?
—I may mention I had a communication from a firm in Ireland, who have devoted considerable attention to pork curing and pork rearing, and I have had inquiries about what the prospects would be of starting an industry like this in some part of the west coast and among the crofting population.

41526. But the people on the west coast, at least in the islands, generally have a repugnance to pigs?
—I understand they have.

41527. Have they any repugnance to them here in the east?
—Not so much.

41528. Do you know any case of small crofts or holdings about here where the farmer devotes himself to raising garden produce for the market and the town at all?
—No, not in this locality; but I have heard it repeatedly said that the small holders might with considerable advantage devote considerable attention to the rearing of market produce.

41529. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Have you any personal experience of croft holding?
—Not personal.

41530. Or have you any acquaintance among the crofters?
—I have.

41531. Were you brought up in the country?
—I was.

41532. In your opinion what is the proper size of a small holding?
—I cannot say as to the acreage, but I know crofts where, say, two or three cows and a horse are kept, and where the family seem to be comfortable and contented, and where they rear respectable families.

41533. Are these crofts situated in positions where the tenants are able to give their labour for hire, or do they live entirely on the croft?
—In cases which have come under my notice the members of the family, with perhaps a little outside assistance, are able to cultivate the croft

41534. But are they able to do other work besides?

41535. Then what size of croft do you think would be able to maintain a family without such outside labour?
—I cannot say for that.

41536. You think it would be desirable to bring about an increase in the number of small holdings; in what way do you propose to bring that about?
—I am of opinion that the extent of land at present under deer might with advantage to the country and to the people be cut up into small holdings, and I also think it would be for the interests of proprietors themselves and for the country that the land at present under large sheep farms should be cut up into small holdings.

41537. But how do you propose to bring this about?
—I would think it would be quite a proper matter for the Legislature to interfere with the deer forests, and to restrict them at all events, or cut them up.

41538. Would you have the Legislature restrict the size of farms'?
—I cannot say personally that I would. I would not have them to interfere to that extent.

41539. Then how do you think you would induce proprietors to create small farms or crofts?
—I have an opinion myself that it would be more for the interest of proprietors themselves to have a large number of smaller well-to-do tenantry on sizes of crofts where they could be comfortable, than
to have very large farms that are sometimes thrown upon their hands.

41540. Do you think that the proprietors themselves are coming to be of that opinion?
—Well, I don't know many cases where they are, but I strongly suspect they must surely come to be.

41541. And in the natural course of events you think that the small holdings will increase?
—Yes, I rather think so, but I would be inclined to have some indication from the Legislature that it would be necessary in the interests of the people.

41542. That is just the point I want to arrive at. How is the Legislature to indicate this?
—Well, they have got over very great- difficulties in the legislature of the country, and probably if you accept the principle I think they might get over that.

41543. Is there anything you wish to state in regard to the evidence you heard here yesterday?
—I would like to say for myself, and many others who are associated with me in this matter, that I disapprove of the references that have been made by Dean of Guild Mackenzie to Dr Mackenzie's management of the estate of Gairloch during his time. I do not wish to contradict it in any way, because I am not a native of Gairloch or acquainted with the circumstances of the case, but I simply express my opinion, from Dr Mackenzie's well-known character in this community and throughout the country for many years, his great age, and his present state of health, that we cannot approve of the references made to him when he is not in a position to explain them personally. That is all I wish to say with reference to that matter.

41544. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How long have you been in business in Inverness on your own account?
—I have been in Inverness for twenty-five years, and in business for about seventeen years.

41545. Are you aware that it has been for a long period a complaint on the part of the inhabitants of Inverness, and the proprietors of property especially, that the poor rates have been higher in consequence of the number of people who have been evicted from country places, and settling in
—I have heard so repeatedly, and cases have come under my notice where parties who had some connection with land in the country have ultimately come to be paupers in the town of Inverness.

41546. If an examination of the roll were made, would it be found that a large number of the paupers were not natives of Inverness?
—I believe it will be found so now, but if you examine the roll fifteen or twenty years ago you will find far more numerous cases in that connection.

41547. Has the consequence of that been that the attention of the intelligent public of Inverness has long been drawn to this particular point of the depopulation and evictions that have taken place in the Highlands?
—That is so.

41548. So it is not a matter of yesterday with them?

41549. In your business as a merchant do you consider that the establishment of a numerous and healthy crofting class would form a very good sound element for transacting business with?
—I do certainly.

41550. Is not the existence of large farms, and to some extent absentee proprietors, prejudicial to commercial transactions?
—Decidedly so.

41551. May I assume that nothing can be more sound commercially, to deal with a numerous class rather than with a few?
—That is my experience.

41552. You were asked by Sir Kenneth Mackenzie about crofts, and what you would like to do. I presume what you are pointing to at present is simply to give the existing population of the Highlands substantial holdings; that is what you and your associates are pointing at?
—Yes, to encourage them, rather than emigration.

41553. And do you fancy there is quite enough of land and to spare for all the people that are now in the Highlands?
—Well, I do think so.

41554. Mr Cameron.
—Have you ever compared the poor rates of Inverness wjth the poor rates of other large towns, so as to ascertain whether the increase is due to evictions from the neighbouring districts or to the natural gravitation from the country districts into towns?
—No, I have not.

41555. Is it not the fact that the recent returns of the census show there has been of late years a tendency from all rural districts to gravitate into centres of industry, from one end of the country to the other?
—Yes, there is, but I think it is particularly so in the Highlands.

41556. Then have you ever taken the trouble to compare the poor rates of Inverness, or its general circumstances, with other towns, so as to ascertain as a fact whether the tendency has been more or less in Inverness to gravitate to the town than it is in other parts of the country?
—No, I have not ascertained that from comparison of the poor rates, but from various other sources I am perfectly satisfied that it is so,—from the opinions so freely expressed by those who ought to know something about the matter.

41557. What I mean is that you might on investigation ascertain that the proportion of people who have migrated to Inverness is pretty much the same as it has been to other large towns both in England and Scotland, neither greater nor less?
—That may be so.

41558. But, so far as you are concerned, it is as yet an unascertained fact whether the proportion has been greater in Inverness than any other large towns?

41559. The Chairman.
—I would like to ask you a question which I might more properly have done before. In what degree do merchants and traders, persons in your position here, depend upon the custom of shooting tenants and tourists, and other external sources of consumption, and in what degree do they depend upon local demand—on the residents in the country? I mean, does the custom of strangers of all classes, both tenants and tourists, form a very great element in your trade?
—Speaking for merchants generally throughout the town, I may say that we depend very largely upon the permaneut rural population throughout the country. There are one or two individuals in the town who devote their attention to the applying of shooting tenants, but I think this of itself is decreasing now—this department of trade—because I am informed by those merchants who do that sort of business that the shooting tenants coming from the south supply themselves very largely with what they require from large stores in London and other large places, and bring all the supplies with them, which they used twenty or thirty years ago to buy in Inverness, so we are perhaps less than ever dependent upon these people.

41560. You think that if the custom of the shooting tenants, and persons who hire places and lands for various purposes here, were struck out, it would make no material difference to the trade of the town?
—I think it would be fully made up if there was substituted for it the custom arising from the people who would settle down upon the land that they have now.

41561. Mr Cameron.
—What do you mean by settling down upon the land they occupy now, because the shooting tenants shoot over land already occupied by farmers, except in the case of deer forests?
—I was referring to deer forests.

41562. I think the Chairman's question referred both to sporting tenants and tourists as well?
—From the changes that are proposed I do not suppose for a moment that the tourist traffic in the Highlands would decrease. I think it would increase, because the country would be much more open to them than it is now, because you have restrictions here and there that are rather a barrier to tourists.

41563. You make the statement you have just made, not as a personal one, I understand, but as so far representing the trading community of Inverness. You think that is their opinion as well as your own?
—Yes, I do.

41564. To go a step farther, do you think the tradesmen of Inverness have derived any benefit from all the shooting lodges that have been built?
—Certainly there has been a great deal of benefit derived from those shooting lodges and their surroundings.

41565. I suppose a large proportion of the shooting lodges have been built and constructed in the various departments by tradesmen and work people employed by those tradesmen situated in Inverness?
—I should think so.

41566. It must have given a good deal of employment to masons, carpenters, joiners, plumbers, and contractors?
—It must have done so.

41567. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—To clear up this a little about the position of the merchants and shooting people, I presume, with regard to such things for instance as butcher meat, fresh meat, poultry, eggs, and so on, of course the shooting tenants do benefit the people in the country, and perhaps the people in the town?
—Undoubtedly, in very many ways.

41568. What you refer to more are groceries, cloth, and things of that kind?

41569. Those are all brought here by the strangers?

41570. Mr Cameron.
—Shooting tenants do not buy their Highland tweeds in London rather than in Mr Macdougalls?
—Yes, but they require more than Highland tweeds.

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