COLIN MACKENZIE, Crofter, Grantown—examined.
43873. The Chairman.
—On whose ground are you settled?
—Lord Mackenzie. Seafield's ground.
43874. You have heard the previous delegates from other parts of the estate. Do you agree substantially with what they stated?
—Well, I differ from them in some things.
43875. Will you make your statement? Have you brought a written statement?
—I have a few notes. ' I was elected a delegate to represent my own district of Braes of Castle Grant, and to make a general statement. The holdings in my immediate neighbourhood vary in extent from six to thirty acres, and are rented at from £ 5 to £29. They were improved by the present and former occupiers entirely at their own expense, unless in one or two instances, where a leading drain and a few others were put in by the proprietor. I take the croft which I hold as a specimen. In my grandfather's time, seventy-four years ago, it was rented at £5, 5s. 5d., and contained about six acres of arable land, with a run of the hill pasture then commonty. In 1848 about thirty acres of birch wood pasture were added, and the rent raised to £11, 10s. My father then began to improve or rather trench, so that at the setting of the last lease sixteen years ago the arable acres were brought up to twenty, and the present rent is £19 on account of improvements; that meant a yearly tax of £7, 10s. on his own labour. The privileges of the hill were very much curtailed,being restricted to the keeping of seventy-five sheep. The run of a strip of fir plantation was cut away by the wood manager, but let to him at the sum of £ 3 from year to year until six years ago, when it was raised, double which I have since paid. That is £25 yearly now, and just £2 more than double what it was during the previous lease. During the first four or five years of the current lease my father turned his attention to the building and slating of dwelling houses and outhouses, on which he spent much labour and expense. The proprietor gave the wood in a rough state and £38 for the slate; £64 would be about the value. On my father complaining that that sum was too little, the factor passed him off with the remark, "You will yet find that you have got enough." We could only infer from that remark that we'll be charged on our own industry as usual. We were justified in making this inference, from the fact that he was asked eight or nine years ago to sign an agreement of contract of lease. By so doing he would have discharged all claim for compensation whatever. The buildings, if they were in Grantown, are said to be worth over £600, —after the buildings were finished or three more acres were trenched and thousands of loads of stones thrown up in dykes. The land is hilly, being the slope of the ravine known as Huntly Cave. My father died six years ago, at the age of seventy, leaving a family of nine sons and two daughters, all of whom are alive with the exception of the eldest son, who was a surgeon and dentist in Edinburgh, where he died of typhus fever twelve years ago at the age of thirty. On the death of my father, I took up the lease, binding myself to educate and bring up respectably two young brothers and a sister. Owing to insecurity of tenure and the experience of the past, I gave over all expensive improvements. If I got compensation I could employ my spare hours trenching and draining the little bits that are yet between me and the rocks—that done I could clothe the very rocks with verdure. At this high elevation, 1149 feet, crops in bad years cannot ripen. In 1877 we had neither meal nor seed; 1879 was little better. This year the crop is still uncut and green. If I had a silo I think I would consign the whole to it. I hope silos may turn out a success. What I would like, and most of those with whom I come in contact is a fair rent, security of tenure, and compensation for unexhausted outlay. Some say go back to the rents of the previous lease, and give us back our hill privileges. The crofts away from the foot of the hill are surrounded by plantations enclofeed, and are thereby put on the same footing as a low country farm, with which there is no comparison. The cattle on such crofts are compelled to pick on the same bare leas from morning till night. When I see starving cows, the mothers of the creatures that the rent depends on, looking through the fence in a very thoughtful mood at the conserved grass lying rotting, I am grieved and angry. To show how much we are at the mercy of landlords and factors, I’ll enumerate a few cases of dispossession of crofts or farms. The Aitendow grazings contain two farms, each of which maintained large and respectable families, and were made up of the hill pasture taken from the Braes crofters together with the said farms sixteen years ago. The combined rent of the two places was £38, 5s. The grazings are £100. William Paterson was eighty-three years of age when dispossessed. He brought up a family of nine. The youngest son, then thirty-two, wished to take the place in company with another man M'Donald, who was seventy years of age, with a growing family of eight, but got no chance. Both were good men, and the present tenant was not the favoured one. Another, at or about the same time, the late Mr John Grant of Lagg, was dispossessed for no other cause than his being not only a liberal but a leader and teacher of the people. Such is freedom. So we exercise our little brief authority. Still another was the previous tenant of Auchosnich, turned off without meliorations, but recovered them by law. I could tell of many others within a radius of three miles, but I think we have enough to show what need there is for our country to interfere between the people and their extortioners. We feel insecure, depressed, and cannot assert our independence. We have none. Set us free, and do not let us be for ever the subjects of subjects. I have not been led by any one or from any other motive than the good of my class and country. I detest and abhor all class laws and privileges, and would like to see them wiped off the statute book.' I have here a list of farms that now contain two or three holdings. Those sixty-seven holdings, which presumably at one time supported sixty-seven families, are now in the hands of twenty-six families. That is just in my neighbourhood, in the parish of Cromdale.
43876. What document is that you are referring to ?
—It is the Grantown Supplement, published weekly in Grantown. I find there has been a decrease in the parish of Inverallan of ninety-five, and an increase of fifty-two, or a total decrease of forty-three.
43877. In what period has this decrease occurred?
—In ten years from 1871: Total population, 1530 in 1871, 1752 in 1861, decrease, 222.
Decrease since 1861, 398. Cromdale and Advie, decrease since 1871, 129; since 1861, 142. Duthil, population in 1871, 160; decrease since 1861, 239. I think I heard Mr Bruce say he did not know of an agreement of lease or set between the proprietor and the tenant. I have got a copy here.
43878. I did not understand Mr Bruce to say there was no agreement or lease, but give it, and say what you like. Do you mean that is the lease under which you yourself hold?
—That is a copy of the agreement between Lord Seafield's tenants and himself.
43879. Is it a printed document?
—It is a written document
43880. Are there any particular articles of which you complain as unreasonable or oppressive?
—By signing this agreement, our claim to meliorations is destroyed.
43881. Will you read me that article if you please? Is this the form of lease which was imposed or which was prescribed in the year 1864?
—In 1867, I think.
43882. Is that the original form of lease to which Mr Bruce referred?
—This is a copy.
43883. Then read the article which refers to meliorations?
—The article is to the effect that whereas by the leases held by the tenants in Strathspey, dated October 31, 1807, the tenants were entitled to certain meliorations for houses and land, and the said farms of Strathspey having been let at rents which imply a discharge of all such claims, and the rents
of the subjects hereby let having been adjusted on this principle, the said farmer hereby discharges all claims for meliorations on account of the houses and land occupied by him, and all enclosures.
43884. This is the clause by which the tenants have abdicated all claims to meliorations. Then you don't think you have, under that lease, any claim to meliorations which you have executed during the lease?
43885. What other clause or article do yon particularly complain of?
—There are no others.
43886. Then your principal complaint is, I understand, that you have no claim to compensation for improvements which you have executed by your own labour in the course of the lease?
—That is my complaint.
43887. But then you or your predecessors voluntarily —it may be unfortunately —abdicated all claim, in the terms of their leases ?
—Well, I think that the rents were high enough.
43888. You think they made a mistake in signing that lease?
43889. But now you are going to have new leases, you will be able to make new stipulations. Is there any other statement you wish to make?