Bettyhill, Sutherland, 24 July 1883 - Adam Gunn

ADAM GUNN, Crofter's son, Strathy West (23) — examined.
[See Appendix A, LXIV]

25510. Mr Cameron.
—Were you elected a delegate?

25511. How far is Strathy West from here?
—About ten miles.

25512. Are there many crofters where you reside?
—Yes. I have a written statement which embraces the grievances between Strathy and Armadale. I acted as secretary for five townships.

25513. And you speak for them?
—Not exactly, but I will be able to answer any questions. There are crofters from the several townships to speak for themselves :

—There are forty-two crofters in this township. Previous to the Sutherland clearances there were only four. Of these above twenty families were evicted from Strathnaver alone, and the remainder from the neighbouring straths. The immediate result of these clearances was overcrowding. Our crofts are so small that we cannot afford to give them due rotation, while constant cropping has completely impoverished the soil. Our chief grievance is the small size of our holdings and the want of sufficient hill pasture. We want more land to cultivate at a reasonable rent. We want more hill pasture, of which there is abundance in the vicinity. Let an oversman appointed by Government fix the rent—one acquainted with the nature of the soil and climate, and the relative value of property in Sutherlandshire. We also want compensation for improvements in cases of removal at the crofter's own request, and a permanent hold on the soil of our forefathers.

—There are eleven crofters and two cottars in this township. At the time of the Strathnaver evictions the land allotted to us was wholly unreclaimed. It was valued at £2, 10s., and after years of industry on our part, without any aid from the proprietor, our labours were rewarded by raising the rental to above £20. We desire more arable land at a fair rent, and hill pasture, of which we may say we have none. We are unwilling to emigrate so long as there are so many depopulated glens in Sutherlandshire. We complain strongly of the system of raising our rents invariably when a new name has to be inserted. The sea-blast destroys our crops every other year, and we are thus compelled to carry meal for our families and provender for our cattle a distance sometimes of twenty miles. We do not want a tract of useless, barren, moorland, such as the neighbouring townships possess. Let us get a share of good hill pasture, and let an oversman appointed by Government fix the rent.

Strathy Point.
—Between crofters and cottars there are thirty families in this township. We complain of the small size of our holdings and the want of hill pasture for our cattle and sheep, which in consequence of the
small extent and inferior quality of our pasture are always lean and fetch but low prices in the market. A good proportion of the people prosecute the fishing, and would be greatly benefited by the erection of a harbour at Portskerra. There is plenty of hill pasture in the vicinity for which we are willing to pay a reasonable rent. Our cultivated land consists solely of scattered patches among the clefts of the rocks and exposed to the sea-blast. Only in a few cases can horses be of any service to us, and we are thus compelled to do their work ourselves.

—There were seven crofters here before the Sutherland evictions; here are now thirty. Our crofts vary from 1½ acre to 4 acres, only one as high as six, Sea-blast destroys our crops, and we have in consequence to provide provisions for ourselves and stock from the market. Owing to the small size of our holdings, and constant cropping, the land is deteriorating. We want more arable land, of which there is plenty in the vicinity; so that each crofter may have from ten to twenty acres; of hill pasture a sufficient amount to enable us to rear not less than twenty sheep. We want a permanent hold on the land, and compensation for improvements when the removal takes place at the crofter's own request. Let Government appoint an oversman to value our crofts and hill pasture.

—There are nine crofters and two cottars in this township. We have about four acres each of arable land. Our chief grievance is the small size of our holdings. In 1829 a promise was made to reclaim more land in the neighbourhood and to extend our crofts. That promise was repeated several times by the present factor, but never fulfilled. We had also a lime-kiln which provided the crofters in the neighbouring townships with lime for their crofts and houses. Ten years ago a flood carried away the bridge leading to the kiln, which at once cut off the supply of lime from ourselves and neighbouring crofters. We applied, but in vain, to get the bridge rebuilt, and the consequence now is that this whole surrounding district suffers from the want of it.

25514. These various petitions appear to be written in the same handwriting, and are almost identical in their terms ?
—Yes. I have acted as secretary for the people, and prepared these statements in the presence of the crofters themselves, and that is how the writing is all in the same hand.

25515. Was there a separate meeting at each of these places?
—No, it was not necessary. We assembled in Strathy Free Church, and the delegates drew up the statement there.

25516. So that the whole of the crofters from the five districts assembled together and had one meeting at one place?
—I don't mean to say the whole of them, but a good majority of them. They came to a meeting in the Free Church and appointed delegates.

25517. And you acted as secretary?
—I did, for the whole district.

25518. So that practically the grievances and requisitions of the different townships are identical?
—There is a want of hill pasture and of more arable ground.

25519. I notice there is no complaint as to excessive rents in any of these?
—Well the rents are not perhaps excessive, but when you consider the small size of the holdings they are. The rents would not be excessive supposing we had two or three crofts at the present rate.

25520. You can imagine the size of a croft being so small that any rent would be excessive?
—Exactly so. A croft of about 1½ acre is too small at merely a nominal rent. There are no cases of rack-renting.

25521. I see the general demand is for more land, does that include more arable land or more hill pasture?
—It includes both. We want more arable land to give us a holding of ten or fifteen acres, and we want
also a sufficient amount of hill pasture to enable us to keep some stock. Of hill pasture we may say we have nothing; it is of inferior quality—the worst patches were given to us because they were of no other use in the world.

25522. In order to carry out the wishes of the crofters and give them more land, they would have to remove bodily to some other part of the country?
—No, but we want to migrate to the strath our forefathers had ; and some of us could then remain in the several townships by getting the neighbouring crofts along with our own. But the majority of them would require to migrate.

25523. Would the crofters be willing to migrate to a distance as you have described?

25521. Would the crofters in case they were moved to these straths be able or willing to erect houses for themselves?
—Well, no, they would require some help, because they are at present in poverty, and it could not be expected that they should be able. They are verging on pauperism, the most of them.

25525. Are the crofters verging on pauperism?
—The most of them I should say are verging on poverty; they have no money at their disposal. They may be able to get help from the south, and some go elsewhere to earn money, but most of them have no money at their disposal, and could not build houses all at once.

25526. You don't think a fair proportion even of the crofters would manage to build houses for themselves—I mean such a proportion of them as would make a substantial and effective relief to those in the present townships?
—No, I think not.

25527. So that in order to carry an effective relief to the overcrowding in these townships a proportion would require to be migrated, and would also require help to build their houses?

25528. Would that stock which these crofters possess already be sufficient to stock the ground, or would they require more stock to be satisfactory ?
—They would require more stock; they have scarcely any stock at all in sheep in these townships.

25529. That would be another difficulty in the way of carrying out their wishes, would it not?

25530. So that they would require assistance to build their houses and assistance to furnish stock to fill the ground ?
—Well, with respect to stock, some of them might be able to put on about thirty sheep each, and
I think if they got the hill pasture the whole of them might in a few years be able to stock it; some of them to do it might require help from Government, but we have had to contend with difficulties in the
past, and I think we would be able to do it again and stock the land ourselves.

25531. Would help be required from Government or other sources for any other purpose connected with these new settlements, such as fencing or improving land, creating crofts, and so on ?

25532. The crofters would be able to do that themselves ?

25533. To fence their land ?
—Perhaps they might do it in conjunction with the large sheep farmer in the vicinity, provided there is one. The large sheep farmer might do one half and they might do the other.

25534. But they would not be able to do the whole of the fencing themselves ?
—There would be no occasion if there was no tacksman in the vicinity.

25535. And as I understand it there would still be a large sheep farm at the back ?

25536. The crofters would not be able to occupy all these numerous sheep farms?
—Not at once.

25537. These Sutherland clearances took place a great many years ago; may I ask you how the people have managed to get on for so long as they have ?
—Because they are people with whom the fates will have to bargain before they are annihilated, or succumb to bad usage.

25538. Do you think they are much worse off now than they were twenty years ago?
—No, twenty years ago they were much the same, I think. Of course there is a downward tendency so far as the value of the crofts themselves is concerned, because the land is deteriorating, and they don't raise the crops they did at that time.

25539. In regard to other sources of profit to the crofters, have they any more employment now than they used to have ?
—Of late years there has been more employment in the shape of making roads to villages which have for seventy years had to do without them, and to which the people had to carry their meal and everything on their back a distance of two or three miles. Of late years roads have been made, and consequently some of the men have got employment.

25540. Can you mention any other employment which has benefited the crofters of late years ?
—The reclaiming of such farms as Ribigill and Kildonan has given employment to some of the people in the district.

25541. Has the price of cattle improved at all in the last twenty years ?
—Certainly it has, last year at any rate.

25542. If the people have got employment on the roads and these improvements, and if the price of cattle has increased, would it not be the natural inference that their condition is better than it was twenty years ago?
—But their crofts don't produce the same amount as they did formerly; and it is only a limited number of people who are employed on the roads—nothing at all to the large population of the several townships only a few men here and there, perhaps twenty or so.

25543. But, as I understand, you say that the crofts are so small that the people could never depend upon them to produce sufficient food for the sustenance of themselves and their families?
—That is true.

25544 Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—The petition from Strathy Point refers to the want of a harbour at Port Skerra, is that a suitable place?
—Yes, I have heard it said it is the most suitable place between Cape Wrath and Dunnet Head.

25515. We were told that another place was the most suitable—Talmin; but you think Port Skerra would be the best?
—I have been told that.

25516. Would Port Skerra suit the whole of these five townships?

25547. They could all live at home and keep their boats there?
—Yes, and be able in a short time to build better boats. They cannot compete; with the east coast fishermen now, owing to the small size of their boats, and if they could prosecute the fishing at home they could provide themselves with better boats so as to compete with the east coast fishermen.

25518. What would a harbour at Port Skerra cost?
—I cannot say.

25519. Has it ever been talked of?
—Several times.

25550. Has it ever been brought under the notice of the Duke of Sutherland?
—I think so, and the grievances also which the people had to endure owing to the want of it. There is a man present with a written statement who will tell these grievances.

25551. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You told us that a good number of the people in the five townships referred to, came from Strathnaver?

25552. Strathnaver is a big place?

25553. Supposing the Duke were to send back to Strathnaver all the people who came from it, would that be a good thing for them?

25551. Would it not also be a good thing for those that would be left behind?
—Certainly, it is the only way to remedy the present condition of things, I think.

25555. If all the Strathnaver people were sent back would there be enough left for you?
—I don't know, I am sure.

25556. Pretty nearly?
—I think so, it is such a wide place.

25557. The Chairman.
—You said you were a crofter's son—is your father in the occupancy of a croft?
—He is not alive.

25558. You are not at the present moment engaged in cultivation?
—Yes, I am at present.

25559. Who is the actual tenant or occupier?
—My mother.

25560. Have you always been engaged in agricultural labour, or have you had any other occupation?
—I am a student as well.

25561. In the university?

25562. Which university?
—St Andrews.

25563. For the purpose of entering one of the professions?
—I am not sure.

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