Bettyhill, Sutherland, 24 July 1883 - Angus Mackay

ANGUS MACKAY, Cottar, Strathy Point (80)—examined.

25561. Professor Mackinnon.
—Are you a crofter?
—No, I have no land at all, I am living at the east side of Strathy Point and some old people wanted me to give information about the poor circumstances they were in.

25565. What were you when you were a young man—were you a crofter?
—I was worse than a crofter, I was a cottar —a slave completely.

25566. What did the people of your place ask you to say on their behalf?
—To tell how poor they were. According to my judgment they are the poorest people under the Duke of Sutherland. Strathy Point is two miles in length on one side and three upon the other. The westerly
wind blows upon it, the north-west wind blows upon it, the north wind blows upon it, the north-east wind blows upon it; and when a storm comes it blasts the croft, and the people have no meat for the cattle or for themselves.

25567. How can these matters be put right?
—Really it beats me to make that out; I was only desired to state these people's poverty, and I am doing so. The place is allotted on both sides, and there is pasture between the two lots, and they have each of them a few sheep, but they must have them in the house all night and out on the hill all day.
Anything they have between cattle and sheep they keep on the hill during the day until eleven o'clock at night.

25568. There is arable ground upon each side of the pasture ground that they have?
—They have no pasture at all, and the arable ground they have, if you go there to-day you would see on it as bonnie a crop as there is in the country, but if a storm comes on, in a fortnight perhaps it might be blasted so as to be of no use.

25569. There is no fence between the bit of arable ground they have and the pasture?
—None in the world. There was one single individual spoke to me when I came away and said
—' I hope you will speak on my behalf.' They made a road, since two years, through his place where
there ought to have been one sixty-four or sixty-five years ago, but it was not done till then. He said
—Hares will be out all night and will be in my corn, and I must be out Sabbath and Saturday, and every day in the week, watching as I can; and, after all, my corn is eaten in the night.

25570. The road was no advantage to that man?
—Very little; it destroyed the crop he put in the ground. The people are in perfect poverty. They are something. kind towards one another, and when they see one destitute a small help what be given by the neighbours, but it came to that state last year that they had to raise a collection in the Free Church to assist the poverty of the people.

25571. Were the crops blown very much last year?
—Blasted with the storm.

25572. You say you never had any land yourself?
—No, and I have been there thirty years. I came there from Ribigill.

25573. Had you land before you left Ribigill
—Yes, an acre and a half from Mr Mitchell; and I was paying £3, 10s. I had to pay, not money, but seventy days' labour—a shilling a day during the time the rent was to pay.

25574. Mr Mitchell was the tacksman of the place at the time?

25575. How have you been maintaining yourself since that time?
—By working at Caithness in the quarries; and I was so unfortunate that, one day I was working in the quarry, a large flag which was supposed to be half a ton in weight fell upon me, and made me useless to this day, so that I have never won a penny since then.

25576. What do the people of the place in which you are just now, think themselves should be done to improve their circumstances?
—Give them more pasture for their cattle and more land—land that would suit for cropping. At present they may have a crop one year, but they will not get three years' crop on it.

25577. Would they require to move out of the place altogether?
—It ought to be so done; never a man should be put there at all. It is just a wild nasty place.

25578. Were there people there in old times?
—There might be some six or seven, and they might live comfortably, but now there are beyond sixty. There are seven or eight people living in their good-mother's and good-father's, raising their family. Another thing is that you cannot see a lassie or a boy of from seven to ten years of age, but must go away herding when they ought to be at school. They go to herd in Caithness and Strath Halladale, or wherever they can get work.

25579. Do they get wages as herds?
—Yes, from £1 to 80s.

25580. Do they attend school in winter when they come back?
—Yes, they do that.

25581. Where do the people themselves wish to go to?
—That is a thing I did not ask them, I am just a poor man amongst them.

25582. I suppose the place is very much crowded?
—Yes, just crowded like my fingers.

25583. How many houses do you think there are in the place where there are two families living together ?
—I could not say, I did not count, I did not think it would better me. I only came to favour the people. There is a town holding three tenants in the place, and the place might be a kind of living to one in a good year if the crop were got in. But there are three on it, and they cannot get a right to their houses, and they have to carry everything upon their back. In my opinion, these three ought to be taken out and placed somewhere else, and their places given to the rest of the crofters for pasture for their sheep or cattle; but I have no business with it.

25584. Where were you brought up yourself?
—In Strathnaver.

25585. When did you leave Strathnaver?
—I left when young and came to Strathy Point, when the sheep commenced.

25586. Do you remember the time?
—Yes, I was very nearly drowned that day. ,

25587. Is that what makes you remember it?
—Yes. I will remember it as long as I live. I got a terrible fright.

25588. Were you old enough to remember the circumstances of the people at the time?
—It would be a very hard heart but would mourn to see the circumstances of the people that day. He would be a very cruel man who would not mourn for the people.

25589. What condition were they in before they left?
—If you were going up the strath now you would see on both sides of it the places where the towns were —you would see a mile or half a mile between every town; there were four or five families in each of these towns, and bonnie haughs between the towns, and hill pasture for miles, as far as they could wish to go. The people had plenty of flocks of goats, sheep, horses, and cattle, and they were living happy.

25590. Do you remember yourself quite well that these people were comfortably off at the time?
—Remarkably comfortable —that is what they were—with flesh and fish and butter and cheese and fowl and potatoes and kail and milk too. There was no want of anything with them; and they had the Gospel preached to them at both ends of the strath. I remember of Mr M'Gillivray being there as a preacher. But what I have seen since then ! There was a beggar like myself, a woman living in Strathnaver, and she went round the shepherds; and when she came back there was one_Gordon in this low country asked her ' had she news from Strathnaver,' ' I shall tell you my news from Strathnaver, what is it?'
—' The wood has been taken off the crofters' houses and it was sent to Alt-na-harra for a house of revelry and drunkenness. The manse which the godly ministers of old occupied is now occupied by a fox hunter, and his study is the dog kennel. The house which yourself had, and the great big stone at which you were wont to pray, the crow now builds its nest upon the top of it.' Now I consider at that time the Gospel was preached at both ends of Strathnaver, and in the middle of the strath; and in several other towns the elders and those who were taking to themselves to be following the means of grace were keeping a meeting once a fortnight—a prayer meeting amongst themselves —and there were plenty gathering, so that the houses would be full.

25591. I am sure those good practices have not been altogether forgotten?
—I hope not.

25592. You are quite satisfied yourself that these people were far better off then than their children are now?
—Oh yes, I am quite satisfied of that. The thing that frightened me when I was nearly drowned that day was this : my father and mother and my brother went away, having got notice that if anything was upon the ground at twelve o'clock they would be fined. They rose in the morning and went away with cattle, sheep, a horse, two mares, and two foals, to the place they were to live in after, and left me and my brothers who were younger sleeping in the bed; and there was a woman came in and said
— ' Won't you wake up, Sellar is burning at a place called Rhistog.' We got such a fright that we started out of bed and ran down to the river, because there was a friend of ours living upon the other side, and we wished to go there for protection. I took my brother on my back, and through the river I went; and the water was that deep that when it came up upon his back he commenced crying and shaking himself upon my back, and I fell, and he gripped round about my neck, and I could not rise nor move. We were both greeting, and took a fright that we would be drowned. There was a poor woman coming with her family up the strath, and she saw us and jumped into the river and swept us out of it.

25593. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Did you see any burning houses yourself in Strathnaver?
—No, I did not. I was naked when I went to the river; and when they took me out of it my friends took such care of me that they dried me and put me into a bed.

25591. How old were you when this happened to yourself?
—About eleven years of age.

25595. How old was your brother that you were carrying?
—Three years of age.

25596. Do you know that a number of houses were burned at that time?
—Oh ! yes, yes.

25597. Many houses?
—All from the river Owenmalloch and another river coming into Strathnaver on the east side, down to Dunvedan Burn.

25598. The houses were burning?
—That is said, but I cannot say; I saw nothing because I was in bed.

25599. But you were told at the time?

25600. Were the people very willing to leave Strathnaver?
—You would have pitied them, tumbling on the ground and greeting and tearing the ground with their hands. Any soft-minded person would have pitied them.

25601. Were there a great number of people removed at that time?
—I cannot give the number, but yon was the first removal in Strathnaver.

25602. What was the notion of the people at the time as to the real cause of all?
—I cannot say who was the cause, but this is my opinion—Sellar was factor, Roy was clerk, and William Young was headfactor and they had Lady Stafford under their own control, and the factors were something troubled gathering their rent, and they just blindfolded Lady Stafford and said
—We will give you £100 or £200 out of that and move the people out of the place and give the money to you all at once,' and the people were removed.

25603. Who got the place after the people were removed?
—Sellar got it, but in five years time we had a second removal.

25604. Who got the place from which you were removed the second time?
—I believe Sellar. I was in Caithness herding at the time, but I suppose it was just Sellar who got it.

25605. Would you like to go back to Strathnaver?
—What would I do there? Nothing at all I want nothing but raiment and daily bread, if the Lord provide that for me.

25606. Was there, to the best of your knowledge, and from what you have been hearing since then, any cause whatever for removing these thousand people from Strathnaver ?
—I never heard any cause for it.

25607. Any good cause?
—No, I never did; no reasonable or lawful cause about it at all.

25608. The Chairman.
—You stated that your father and mother and the family went away with the stock of cows and horses in the morning?

25609. So as to reach their new place of abode?

25610. And that they left you and your brother in the house lying asleep on the bed?

25611. How do you explain that your father and mother left their twosons alone in the house in bed asleep when they went away themselves?
—Because we were weak and young, and they were sure we would sleep to nine or ten o'clock, when they would be back again. My father was back before I was ten minutes out of the river.

25612. How far had your father to go; how far was the new place from the old?
—About a mile and a half to the place called Wood of Skail, which was an uncultivated piece of ground until then.

25613. What sort of place was it; was it worse than the old place?
—It was a place that never was laboured before.

25614. Was he assisted to build his house?
—No, he had to build his house with feal and no stone at all

25615. Did the proprietor give him any stones to build a new house?

25616. Did ho give him any compensation for the old house he left ?
—Nothing in the world.

25617. How long was he in this new place?
—Five years, when he got a second removal.

25618. Why did he get the second removal?
—To Strathy Point, to the worst place there is in the district.

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