Kingussie, 16 October 1883 - John Macarthur

JOHN MACARTHUR, Farmer, Ettridge (66)—examined.

43118. The Chairman.
—You desire to give evidence as to your experience and grievances regarding deer forests?

43119. Would you be so good as to make a statement?
—I have no statement

43120. Then will you state what your hardships and what your grievances are?
—I am marching with the forest for a considerable distance, and I have been very much aggrieved ever since I came.

43121. How long have you been in the occupation of this farm of Ettridge?
—Seven years.

43122. Under a lease?
—Under a lease.

43123. What duration?
—Nineteen years.

43124. What is the nature of your farm—I mean with reference to arable and pasture?
—There is a good deal of pasture, but very little arable.

43125. What is your area of arable?
—I believe about 50 or 60 acres crop—not more at all events.

43126. What area of pasture?
—I believe it will be upwards of 20,000 acres.

43127. How many hirsels do you keep—how many shepherds?
—I keep five in the summer, and I keep double in the winter.

43128. Then you mean you have five hirsels; how large is your sheep stock ?
—About 6000.

43129. Cheviot stock?
—No; blackfaced.

43130. All blackfaced?
—All blackfaced.

43131. Is your arable enclosed and surrounded by your own pasture, or does it border at any point on the deer forest?
—No, it does not border at any point on the deer forest.

43132. It is surrounded all by your own pasture?

43133. Is there any substantial fence between your arable and your own pasture?
—Merely a wire fence.

43134. An ordinary wire fence—no stone dyke?
—No stone dyke.

43135. Have you any fence round your hill pasture?
—Partially now, but not before I came.

43136. Is it in the nature at all of a deer fence?
—No, it is not a deer fence, but merely a sheep fence.

43137. Do your farm and the adjacent forest belong to the same proprietor?
—No, they do not.

43138. Will you kindly give me the name of the proprietor of your farm?
—My own proprietor is Mr Macpherson of Belleville, with whom I have no grievance at all; I find him one of the best proprietors.

43139. Who is your neighbour —the proprietor of the neighbouring forest?
—I understand it is Sir George Macpherson Grant.

43140. When you entered on your farm, was the land belonging to Sir George Macpherson Grant under forest?
—It was.

43141. Well, now, when you entered, you were aware your farm was conterminous with a deer forest?
—I had no idea that I was joining a deer forest.

43142. You did not know?
—I did not know. I was never marching with a deer forest in my life before, old as I am, and I did not know it when I came to Badenoch.

43143. Was it not a subject on which you might naturally have made inquiry in taking the farm?
—I made no inquiry, because I was a long distance from it. I believe I was perhaps 150 miles away. I am a native of Argyllshire, and did not know anything about Badenoch when I came to it.

43144. But there are deer forests in Argyllshire?
—Very few.

43145. Do you complain of the aggressions of the deer?
—No, I do not complain of the aggressions of the deer at all, not so, much. I complain of the aggressions of the tenant and the landlord.

43146. Of the shooting tenant?
—Yes, and the landlord.

43147. What is the nature of these aggressions?
—When I came there I understood that my predecessors had bothies erected in the summer season. I only get the benefit of the neighbourhood of the forest in the summer months, and I very naturally put my sheep up there when I can get the benefit of it, because these high hills are covered with snow during seven months of the year. I put them all up there, consequent they cross over to the forest. My predecessors had bothies there and shepherds to keep them back, and so had I. I erected an iron bothy to make a permanent thing, because I concluded it would see out the termination of my lease, for I did not expect to see it out myself. Very well, I erected a permanent, bothy and my shepherd of course was there the whole season keeping my sheep back as my predecessors did, but still they were going over in spite of him. Well, the first two years I was very much aggrieved indeed with complaints from the head forester and from the tenant that my sheep were going over. I told them I used every precaution to keep them back, but could not, and when it is foggy weather for two or three days my sheep will go over in spite of the best shepherd, and then when they are putting them back they are disturbing the forest, which is a great grievance to the shooting tenant, and certainly very injurious to my stock. The second year I was gathering my stock, about the end of September, for marketing. I wrote to the principal keeper over there that I intended sending my shepherds in on such a day, and I hoped they would disturb the forest as little as possible, in order to get out my stock for marketing. I have still a farm in Argyllshire, and I had occasion to go there to look after it, and I left word with my manager, but a letter came in my absence prohibiting me going into the forest, and saying that legal proceedings would be taken against me if I entered the forest even for my own property. My men did not go on that occasion, and consequently I lost about £150 that year.

43148. On the sheep that strayed into the forest?
—I was not allowed to get back both ewes and wedders that I should have put away, and I calculated I lost £150 that year.

43149. What became of the sheep?
—The sheep I did get I sold at the Falkirk October Tryst for 34s. 6d., and I had my ewes sold previously for 22s.

43150. I want to know first of all what became of the sheep; were the sheep which you were not allowed to pursue and gather honestly restored to you by the keeper?
—I was prohibited from going in for three weeks. The consequence was I gathered all I could get upon my own ground, and sent them to market. At the end of three weeks I asked liberty to get in and got it. But between the time I sold my first lot and the last lot I was short of about £150, because the market came down.

43151. I quite understand your loss, but I do not yet see where the responsibility exactly lies. They were your sheep which were on your neighbour's property. May it not in some degree have been the fault of your shepherds in not watching the marches with sufficient strictness?
—I grant you all that, but we cannot do it. For instance, I am marching with the same forest a distance of eight or nine miles.

43152. Would your grievance be entirely set aside if there was a deer fence?
—Certainly it would, I would even be pleased with a sheep fence.

43153. Although it might not be as good as a deer fence, would the sheep fence not prevent your sheep straying upon the ground? Would it not be entirely a remedy for your grievance?
—Yes, it would be a remedy for my grievance that my stock would not trespass into the forest.

43154. Has your proprietor not a right at law to compel his neighbour to put a sheepfence ?
—I do not say but he has, but it becomes very expensive for my proprietor even to share the half. He has done a very great deal for me already, and if he will do this it will be more than I ever anticipated.

43155. Then it appears to me that the law provides a complete remedy for your present grievance?
—Well, I do not say but it does; but I say myself that the law is one-sided very much now in regard to deer forests. How in the name of goodness are deer forests more sacred ground than my land? I do not object to them coming over to my ground, and the deer come over in hundreds and they never heard me complain, yet about their deer.

43156. You never complained?
—I never complained yet to my neighbour about his deer coming over.

43157. Do they do you any harm?
—Of course they will not stand and look at the grass.

43158. Then you think it is hard that your proprietor should be obliged to pay half of this fence?
—I think so.

43159. Do you think that in a case of a conflict between a deer forest and a sheep farm, when a fence is necessary, the fence should be put up entirely at the cost of the proprietor of the deer forest?
—I say so, that it should be put up entirely at the expense of the proprietor of the deer forest, because he is getting an equivalent benefit, a very great deal more benefit than the grazing proprietor is getting. Besides a considerable portion of this forest that is marching with me was under sheep for two years after I came. There was no reason of complaint between that neighbour and me in the world, though there were some sheep going back and forward. We were all neighbourly, but now this portion of the farm is added to the forest and is made a sanctuary, so that I am the same as if I was beside a house of glass.

43160. Then your sheep have been feeding in the sanctuary?
—Not the slightest doubt. There is nothing to keep them out of it.

43161. Do the deer ever come down to your arable ground at all?
—No, they are very seldom seen in the arable ground.

43162. You have no complaint to make on that score?
—I have no complaint to make of the arable ground as to the deer, nor yet even for the grazing. I make no complaint, supposing they are over in hundreds. The only thing I complain of is the grievances I have with the shooting tenant of Gaick forest.

43163. And you think the neighbouring proprietor should be obliged to go to the expense of the whole fence?
—Perhaps between himself and his tenant.

43164. Mr Cameron.
—What year was it you suffered this loss by the sales of sheep?
—I think it was in 1879.

43165. Are you sure prices fell that year between the Inverness market and the Falkirk market?
—Not at all. I did not sell my sheep at the Inverness market, but I sold them at the Falkirk tryst for 32s. 6d., and for what I took out of Gaick I only got 25s. 6d. at Perth market, which was the only market I could send them to after the tryst was over.

43166. You lost your market?
—I lost my market, because I was not allowed to enter the forest for them.

43167. I do not quite understand what you mean by there being a one-sided law for forests. Do you mean to say that you have no right to go on to the ground of the tenant of the deer forest, but that the tenant of the deer forest has a right to come on yours?
—It looks very like what you say, because I should never think of interdicting the tenant of the forest
from coming in upon my ground, but the proprietor and the tenant of Gaick summoned me to the Court of Session to get interdict against me. Of course they failed, fortunately for me and for the whole country. It was not granted. How could their land be more sacred than mine? I could never think of trying to interdict them from coming on to my ground, but they tried to interdict me from going on to their ground, even after my own property.

43168. Do you mean you have not a right to interdict them from coming on to your own ground?
—I don't believe it. I don't know whether I have the right, and even if I had it I would not put it in execution.

43169. Supposing you were told on good authority that you had as good a right to interdict all men, whether sheep farmer, tenant of deer forest, or proprietor of deer forest, from coming on to your ground, would you still say the law was one-sided?
—No, I certainly would not.

43170. Then there is another thing I do not quite understand. You told the Chairman that by the erection of a fence the owner of the deer forest would be the gainer, and therefore he ought to pay the expense?

43171. But, as I understand, the present complaint comes from the farmer; and, therefore, if the complaint comes from the farmer, the gain from the fence would be to the farmer too?
—The complaint always comes from the weaker side, not from the strong side. The strong side knows
the law better than the weak side, and can put it in force because he has plenty at his back to do it with. Now, I am the weak side, and I have a very little at my back to spare, although perhaps I am as independent as he is with regard to what I take in hand. I do not want to throw anything away in law.

43172. But the question which the Chairman asked was at whose expense the fence should be erected, and your answer was that it should be at the expense of the deer forest owner, because he would be the gainer. Now, as I understand, the deer forest owner does not complain of anything. The complaint is by the tenant?
—I complained, in the first instance, that he interdicted me going into the forest, and took me to the Court of Session. Then I came to lay my grievance before you as Commissioners. That is the only thing that I have to do. It is immaterial to me how you take it, but I know I am very much aggrieved with the deer forest.

43173. But under the present law a fence may be erected on an application by one or two conterminous proprietors at their joint expense. You suggest it is a hardship upon your proprietor that he should be called upon to pay the half, and you think it should be paid by the owner of the deer forest. Perhaps what you mean is that as the owner of the deer forest gets a larger rent for his land, he therefore can better afford to pay for it?
—Yes, I mean that.

43174. But you will admit the damage done is done to the sheep farmer, because he is the person who comes and complains?

43175. And, therefore, a fence erected would be to the gain of the sheep farmer?
—It would be mo gain to the sheep farm.

43176. But it would be an advantage to the sheep farmer?
—I believe it would be a greater gain to the forest than to the sheep farm to keep the sheep out of the forest.

43177. To avoid disputes?
—To avoid disputes entirely.

43178. What is the length of this fence?
—I believe from end to end of the forest it would be seven or eight miles. But, let me tell you, a few miles of that have been erected within a few years.

43179. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—When hill lands are employed for the grazing of sheep, is there any necessity for fences between conterminous farms?
—None in the world, because there is seldom any complaint between ordinary farms.

43180. There is mutual trespass and mutual obligation ?
—Mutual obligation.

43181. It is only when on one side of the fence the land is cleared that it becomes a necessity to have a fence?
—Yes; when the forbidden fruit is on the other side of the fence we are all liable to go to it.

431S2. And you think, when a person clears his ground for the purpose of amusement, he should be the person who should be at the expense of putting up the necessary fence?
—I would say so.

43183. How many sheep had you in the forest when you lost the £150?
—I don't know, but I would have 400 or 500..

43184. And you lost 7s. or 8s. apiece?
—I did indeed.

43185. You mentioned an attempt having been made to interdict you from getting into the forest; was that the exact object of the interdict? Was it for the purpose of preventing you getting to the sheep in the forest ?
—I was cited to the Court of Session with the expectation of getting interdict against me. My neighbours were going against me to prohibit me from going into the forest. Besides, I was threatened with legal proceedings about which there is a good deal of correspondence between us, and all my letters are in the hands of my agents in Edinburgh, or I could have brought them here. I was threatened with legal proceedings, and two years ago, or about twelve months ago, I was summoned to the Court of Session to protect myself against an interdict for going into the forest for my own property.

43186. You mentioned that part of the ground was fenced?
—Yes, now, within the last year or two.

43187. Did that fence answer the purpose at that point where it existed?
—It answered the purpose well enough as long as it stood, but the snow breaks it down, and my sheep went round the end of it. There is five or six miles not fenced yet, and my sheep go round the end of it and go in at the back of it.

43188. You were satisfied with it so far as it went?
—I was satisfied with it so far as it was a fence. They were threatened with being poinded over there, and on several occasions they have been gathering them down to the bottom of their own valleys. Their men would not let them get back the way they went forward, and they had twenty miles to travel before they got into their own hirsel again.

43189. Have you suggested that the fence should be extended?
—I suggested long ago that the fence should be extended, and not limited to the few miles it is. But I do not blame my proprietor at all. I tell you he is one of the best of proprietors. I have got a very great deal from him that there was no stipulation at all about.

43190. The Chairman.
—You have been in the habit of walking on the forest ground occasionally when you collected your sheep?
—I never walked on it in my life except on one occasion.

43191. I am sorry for that, because I wanted to ask whether you observed the condition of the pasture of the forest. Some people tell us that deer improve pasture and some tell us they injure it?
—If they do not keep grass for deer, deer will not be there. They must have grass to the point of their horns nearly.

43192. Suppose at this moment Sir George Macpherson Grant cleared his forest and put sheep back again, do you think the pasture would be found in worse condition than it was when under sheep?
—Certainly it would. It would be in worse condition under sheep than under deer.

43193. If he put it back to sheep again, would it be found to be in worse condition than it was years ago when it was under sheep; will the deer have done the pasture harm or good?
—I don't believe the deer have done it any harm.

43194. Then you think the pasture of the hills does not suffer from being cleared and lying under deer for a term of years?
—I don't believe it.

43195. You don't think it makes any difference either for good or evil?
—I don't believe it does; but I believe that land deteriorates under sheep.

43196. That is another question, but you don't think it deteriorates under deer?
—I have no great experience, I must say, about deer—none in the world.

43197. Now, about the deer getting on to your ground, supposing there was a sheep fence all the way along between you and the forest, a number of deer would get over the sheep fence into your ground?

43198. What would become of them; would they get freely back again over the sheep fence, or do you think they would remain about your ground, and not have as it were an equally free passage back to the forest?
—I would expect they would go back the same way as they would come forward if there was a sheep fence.

43199. You don't think they would be practically enclosed in any degree upon your ground?
—No. I do not believe it would keep the deer from entering into my ground, because I never made any complaint against them.

43200. But would the fence prevent the deer getting back again to the forest?
—No, it would not.

43201. Is the lie of the ground such that they would get back and forward equally?
—Yes, equally the same, I believe —perhaps not exactly, but it would not prevent them going one way or another.

43202. In fact, you would not catch the deer within your enclosure?
—No, and I would not attempt it. Suppose you put a rifle in my hand, I would not think it worth while to go to the railway station down there for one.

43203. You said you thought sheep deteriorated pasture?
—I believe they do.

43204. Explain how and why?
—I cannot see for myself how there is so much bone, wool, and flesh taken off the same land every year without deteriorating the land, and there is nothing put in there to replenish the grass except the droppings of the sheep, which are a mere bagatelle. Now, there is an extraordinary quantity of flesh, bone, and wool put off the land yearly, and nothing put in to replenish the ground for it.

43205. Do you find, practically speaking, that the pasture on your own farm is deteriorating?
—Yes, I do.

43206. Can you keep as numerous a stock as you did formerly?
—No, and that is the reason why I am at a very great deal more expense in wintering them than I was the first years I came in there.

43207. Though it is a blackfaced stock?
—A blackfaced stock.

43208. Mr Cameron.
—I should like to ask you a question about that, because we had some rather contradictory evidence in Inverness. A butcher informed us that winterings were no dearer now than they were fifteen years ago?
—It is my experience that they are dearer; and I will say another thing. I know that you, Lochiel, and the like of you, spoil us tenants very badly. I don't say you know of i t; but you send your managers out scouring the country for winterings. Then if I go for it—Oh, Lochiel's manager, and Sir John Ramsden's manager, and Sir Robert Menzies' manager, have been here, and we will get anything we want, and if you don't give that just move away.'

43209. Might not that difficulty be got over if some of the sheep farmers came and took our farms?
—Let me tell you it will be a good job now for you if you get your farms let. You will appreciate your farmers when you get them.

43210. But if we cannot let our farms, how can you blame us for taking wintering for our sheep?
—It is not that you take wintering, but you take them far too high, and raise the wintering upon us down in the country. If your men were keeping them down, of course we could easily live. If I could sit upon another person's coat-tail, my word, I would make the purse long enough, but I am sitting on my own coat-tail unfortunately.

43211. Do you think that the managers for proprietors do not try to do the best they can for their employers and get wintering as cheap as they can?
—I don't know, but I know I can do better than they do. I know that perfectly, and can prove it. And you are not singular. There are plenty of the noblemen in the country that I can prove the same thing
about, and I don't doubt but I have plenty witnesses here that I could bring forward to substantiate my statement.

43212. Sheriff Nicolson.
—What was the prayer of the petition in the interdict; was it to prevent you from entering upon the lands on the other side of your march—you or any persons coming under your authority?
—I believe it was, but when I got it I tell you honestly it made me shake. It is a thing I am not accustomed to.

43213. It was to prevent you from setting foot upon the deer forest?
—Yes. I sent it at once to my agent.

43214. Had you to appear at Edinburgh?
—No, I had not to appear. I believe I would have had to appear, but it was not granted.

43215. Was the petition refused?
—It was refused.

43216. Your agent appeared for you?
—My agent appeared for me.

43217. And the interdict was simply refused without ordering a proof?
—I understand without ordering a proof.

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