ALEXANDER STEWART, Crofter, Strone (38)—examined.
43380. The Chairman.
— Where is Strone?
—On the estate of Mr Macpherson of Belleville.
43381. Have you got a statement to make?
—No. I did not prepare a statement.
43382. Are you a delegate?
43383. From whence are you a delegate?
—From the township of Strone.
43384. Were yon elected at a meeting?
—We had not a special meeting.
43385. How have you been chosen a delegate?
—Because there was no other one that would come to speak. They were afraid, or something of that sort.
43386. I only wish to understand by what process you were elected. Were you nominated by other people, or have you come forward spontaneously as the representative of other people?
—I came as the representative of a few of them, not the whole of them, because we had not a special meeting, but I came to represent a few of them.
43387. You have been privately asked to come?
43388. By various persons?
43389. Then what statement do your friends wish you to make?
—That we cannot live in the place—that the place is too dear for us to live in. The place is put out to carry so many sheep and so many cattle, and the place will not keep that number of sheep or cattle.
43390. What is Strone; is it a township?
—Yes, it is a township.
43391. How many holdings are there?
—There are eleven holdings.
43392. Has it got a common outrun or common pasture?
—Yes, it has a common pasture, and we are in common with two large sheep farms, and they get the better of us there.
43393. Do you mean you run your sheep out upon the same ground which is also pastured by sheep farmers?
43394. So that the stock of the sheep farmers and that of the crofters go together ?
43395. Ought they to go together by rights, or is it merely because there is no fence?
—Yes, they ought to go all together by rights; but we wish that ours should be separated, and that we should be fenced from the big farmers.
43396. Have you asked for a fence?
—No, we did not ask for a fence.
43397. Supposing the proprietor would put up a wire fence, would the crofters assist him in carrying the materials and help to put it up?
—Undoubtedly they would, but in the way we are just now it is taking the last thing out.
43398. Have you got leases?
—I got a lease last year upon condition that I would build a house and steading upon the ground. I have not got that lease. They charged me £ 3 , 10s., and I think that an enormous price to pay for a lease.
43399. But, speaking at present rather for the others than for yourself, have the other crofters in the township got leases?
—No, the only one who has a lease is myself.
43400. What area of arable has each crofter, on an average?
—The croft I have is between myself and my brother, and there are eighteen acres of it, and the rest have from seven to nine acres.
43401. Of arable land?
—Of arable land.
43402. Is the arable divided by a fence from the pasture?
—It has been done this year by the proprietor. He has divided it.
43403. What sort of fence is it?
—A wire fence.
43404. Do the people keep sheep upon the common pasture, or only cattle?
43405. Supposing a man has eight or nine acres of arable, how many sheep will he have?
—There are 1000 sheep put out for the whole of our township.
43406. Then a man who has eight acres of arable would usually have how many sheep?
—One hundred and ten, if he had nine acres.
43407. Nine acres of arable and one hundred and ten sheep; what cattle does he keep generally?
—Four cows and one stirk.
43408. Any horses?
43409. What is his rent?
43410. Has your township been deprived of any hill pasture?
—It has been deprived of the low pasture, and that is what makes us suffer altogether. It has been planted, all except our arable ground.
43411. The lower part of the hill pasture has been planted?
43412. When it was planted, were the rents of the crofts reduced?
—No, they were not, but they were put up at that time. The whole township was put up £50 at that time.
43413. How old is the plantation now?
—Either seven or eight years.
43414. Was it the best part of the hill pasture which was planted?
—It was, undoubtedly.
43415. When this good piece of hill pasture was taken away did the proprietor give the crofters any other compensation or benefit?
—We got a small thing on the other side of the Spey, but the water is between us, and it does us very little good.
43416. Was it for cutting hay upon?
—No, for feeding the cows.
43417. How do the cows get over the water?
—It is very bad for them to cross the water. They lose more by going over there than they gain by it, and they cannot get there but very seldom.
43418. There is no bridge near hand?
—There is no bridge at all.
43419. However, the people have not given up the piece of pasture—they have not surrendered it?
43420. They keep it?
—They keep the pasture.
43421. So it looks as if it was of some value?
—Yes, undoubtedly it is of some value. There is another thing. We are taxed for a road, and we don't get anything done in our township for the road. Our neighbours in Glen Banchor get their road repaired every year, and there are only two or three townships there, but in our township there is nothing done at all. It was repaired for four or five years at the time Mr Macpherson of the British Linen Bank was taking sheep from our fank, and every time he was there the road was repaired; but since then there has been no word of it.
43422. Am I to understand generally that the complaint is that the rent is too high?
—Yes, and that there is no feeding for the stock we have on the ground, and that we don't want to be iu common with the big farmers.
43423. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—What are the farms with which you have grazing in common?
—One is in the proprietor's own hands, and the other is Glen Banchor, now in the possession of a large farmer.
43424. What stock is there in Glen Banchor?
—One thousand sheep.
43425. And on the farm in the proprietor's hands?
43426. What stock is your crofter township entitled to keep?
—A thousand sheep; but there is another township which is in common too, and there are about 700 in that township.
43427. Does your township keep 1000 sheep?
—Yes, or very near it.
43428. Have those 1000 sheep worse grazing than the sheep belonging to the other farms that have a right to the common pasture?
—The other farms have very low ground. They have it fenced, and our sheep when they are in common with them are not fenced, and their sheep will come into our ground at this time of the year when they don't get into their own ground. They have good arable ground when they come into it, and plenty of meat, and when our sheep come into it there is nothing.
43429. I understand that was so in former years, but now your low ground is fenced?
—It is fenced between the arable land and the low pasture ground. There is ground put out which is not in common, for use in the latter end of the year, and that ground is not fenced.
43430. And if that ground were fenced it would give you what you want?
—Yes, it would give us what we want j and to value our ground for what stock it would keep, and to pay for them.
43431. Do you mean you are paying more highly for your stock on the common pasture than the tenants on the other farms are paying?
—I don't mean to say that, because I don't know whether we are or not, but I mean to say there are a good many more sheep in common than are able to live upon it, and then our sheep have not feeding in the winter time the same as the others have, and it is from that we suffer most.
43432. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Does the proprietor live in the neighbourhood?
43433. And I suppose he is accessible to all his tenants?
—Yes, he is. He is very easy to speak to.
43434. Why have you not gone to him and made a representation either in a body or by a deputation to represent your case?
—Because we think it is useless.
43435. There is a large population about Clunes and Newtonmore, on the same estate?
43436. And there are some fine glens there
—Glen Balloch and Glen Banchor?
43437. Who has got them just now?
43438. Is there plenty room for all the Clunes people up there?
—In Glen Banchor they may go there, but there are enough already.
43439. I don't mean to put them there, but suppose this farmer gave up the place, or it came into the proprietor's hands, would there be plenty of room there?
—Plenty room there.
43440. Do your people belong to the estate? Have you been there for some time?
43441. I suppose all the Strone people are old residenters?
—Yes, they have been on the estate for generations past
43442. And probably they expect the proprietor would be kinder to them than to a stranger?
—Yes, they do expect that, but they don't think it is the case. Of course this present proprietor is very good to his tenants. He gives them almost everything that is wanted. If it were stated right to him what was wanted, I don't think but what he would give it.
43443. But he has heard the story to-day?
—Yes, I think he has heard it to-day.
43444. Mr Cameron.
—How many of the eleven tenants asked you to come here and speak for them?
—Four of them.
43445. What did the other seven say?
—I was not personally speaking to the other seven. We have all the same tale in all our gatherings —how we are used, and how our sheep are in a mesh; and next year we shall be much worse, as The Mackintosh of Mackintosh is to make a forest on the other side of the hill where our sheep go just now, and it is in every gathering where two or three meet together —' What is to become of our sheep if that is made a forest of —whether they are to be driven further away or whether he is to fence it?
43446. That refers to the future, but as to the existing state of things these four people asked you to speak for them?
43447. And the seven did not?
43448. Do you know if any of the other crofters ever asked about this fence?
—I don't think they have.
43449. How long would it require to be in order to be of use?
—If we got the fencing the same as the other farms have, I think it would require to be three miles, if we got our half hill fenced the same as the other farms have it, but there are about twenty crofters on the length of three miles; for there is another township of crofters, and I don't think there is any delegate to speak for them here. Of course, we crofters will agree better in common than we do with the large farmers.
43450. The Chairman.
—Speaking of the amount of rent, you said there were four cows and one stirk. I want to know whether the crofters in your township are obliged to buy in fodder for the cows in winter, or can they keep the cows on the stuff grown on the ground?
—They are obliged to buy in stuff for winter; and as to the feeding they have in the summer time, it will be half the year, because there is not proper feeding in the summer time.
43151. How are your houses built?
—It was the reason I got a lease that I took in hand to build a slated house, and the proprietor was to
supply me with all the materials, but I was to pay for the carting of the material myself. That was the reason why I got a lease, or why I shall get it if I pay £3, 10s. for it.
43452. Generally speaking, what kind of houses are they; are they old black houses or good houses?
—They are mostly the old black houses.
43453. Sheriff Nicolson.
—What would you consider a fair rent instead of the £21, 5s. which you are paying just now?
—Well, I don't consider anything fair till we would have just a proper grazing for our beasts.
43454. How many pounds instead of £21 would you think a reasonable rent?
—The last rise that was put on the place was £ 3 on every £12. But there were one hundred more sheep put upon our township at that time, and all the rest were added to greatly, and ever since that time every one has enough to do to eke out a living.
43455. But you have not answered my question. What do you think you should be paying instead of the £21? Do you think it should be £15 or anything like that?
—I should think that would be quite sufficient. I think if one-third of all the sheep on the hill were put off and one-third of the cattle, and the rent reduced greatly, we could live.
43456. When was the rent last raised?
—About nine or ten years ago.
43457. By £ 3?
—£3 for every £12.
43458. How many sheep are you able to keep instead of 110 which is your summing?
—I have that number.
43459. If it is a fair question, how much did you get out of these 110 sheep last year?
—For instance, I bought in fifty-three young wedder hogs last Whitsunday, and all I was able to send away this year was forty. All the rest died, and I thought it was the want of feeding that was the cause of it.
43460. Are you not able to make a good comfortable living off your croft?
—No, the way we are just now, it is impossible for us to make a good living.
43461. Have you not corn or potatoes enough out of your ground to support you?
—Yes, there are plenty for us, but to pay the rent and everything that follows it we are not able to pay our way.
43462. Do you mean that you are in debt?
—Yes, I mean to say I am losing money.
43463. And do you think your neighbours are so too?
—Yes, I think so. Some of them are more lucky than others in getting jobs out by.