Rev. JOHN ROSS MACNEILL, Free Church Minister, Tongue (37)—examined.
(See Appendix A. XLIV.)
25736. The Chairman.
—Are you a delegate?
—I am one of three delegates from the middle district of the parish of Tongue, one of whom you have already heard, and another of whom met with an accident this morning, and is not able to be here. The one who is not able to be here sent me a statement which he had prepared to read before the Commission.
25737. You were elected a delegate along with two other persons, one of whom we have heard and another who is not able to attend?
—He met with an accident this morning, He handed me this paper (produces paper).
25738. This statement is perhaps rather too long to read. Could you give us the substance of it in your verbal evidence, or is it desirable that we should read it?
—It is not my statement.
25739. Is this a statement on behalf of the people, or a statement referring to a particular personal case?
—It is both.
25740. I think we will take your own statement first.
—I was appointed delegate at a meeting held in the Free Church on Wednesday 20th June 1883, by the crofters of Coldbacke and Rhi-Tongue. In the district I represent there are eleven crofters, who hold from one to five acres of arable land, and pay from 30s. to £7 between rent and taxes. Their common pasture is Cnocand Fhreiceadain (Sentinel Hill).
The rents are considered high. Within the recollection of some of themselves their rents were doubled. Since the year 1808 the rises were
(1) a lot of 2½ acres was rented at 20s., which was considered a hardship at the time;
(2) the lot of 2½ was rented at £ 4; this was done after a southern sheep-farmer of the name of Clarke (and Anderson, factor) had moved Lord Reay to re-value the land;
(3) 4s. added for road money and 6s. for work that was wont to be done by the crofters; the road-money had to be paid by every young man as well as old, and whether he held a croft or not; this was about thirty years ago. The 10s of additional rent were not taken off, though we pay road money now, and though we know and all acknowledge that to give labour or money in lieu of work to the laird, to whom a reasonable or rather unreasonable rent is at the same time paid, is wrong—most unjust. Still rents are raised as often as a change of tenant takes place. And three years ago there was an attempt made to raise our rents, which failed, for well-known reasons.
2. Houses. —
Their dwellings contain two rooms and a closet. They were built and are kept in repair by themselves. They were built on certain conditions; these were—that if evicted within seven years two-thirds of their value was to be considered as belonging to the tenant; if within fourteen years one-third, and if after nineteen years nothing—the whole belongs to the proprietor. Some timber and lime were given by the Duke's agent for building them; six couples for a thatched house, which requires about fifteen; twenty couples for a slated house; and some tabling for the walls; but no doors nor windows. Three bolls of lime were given; and for outhouses, all of which were built by the crofter, permission at certain seasons was granted to cut down natural wood.
3. Stock :—
An average of three head of cattle and six sheep.
—We want re-valuation of our lots, larger holdings, security against evictions, and compensation for
Coidbackie, in parish of Tongue.
—There are eleven crofters in Coulbackie and Rhi-Tongue district, viz.:—
The Free Church minister, having 5 acres, and paying £5 /10/ 0
Widow M'Kay having 1 acre and paying £1/ 10/ 0
Mrs Munro having 5 acres and paying £7 /0/ 0
Widow Alexander M'Kay having 2 ¾ acres and paying £4/ 4/ 0
Hugh M'Kay, having 2¾ acres and paying £ 5 /1 /0
James M'Kay, having 1 ½ acres and paying £3 /0/ 0
Andrew Ross, having 2 ¾ acres, and paying £4/12/0
William M'Kay, having 2 ¾ acres and paying £4/12/0
M’Kay having 2 ¾ acres and paying £0/0/0
Sutherland, having 3 acres and paying £4/10/0
These hold from one to five acres, and pay from 30s. to £7.
25741. In the district you represent there are eleven crofts?
25742. And each crofter holds from one to five acres of arable land?
25743. Their common pasture is called Sentinel Hill; is it a spacious and convenient pasture?
25744. At what period was this little district formed? is it an old place? Have there been crofters there from time immemorial; or was the land lotted out at a recent period?
—I cannot answer the question with that exactness I should like, but I know that some of them are descendants of those who were evicted from Ribigill to make room for sheep.
25745. Where is Ribigill?
—To the west of the district, about four or five miles.
25746. Is it still adjacent to those crofters' lands?
25747. Does it march with their hill pasture?
—I think so; that is my opinion.
25748. How long have you been acquainted with the district?
—Only three and a half years.
25749 Are the crofters at the present moment in a state of great depression and poverty?
25750. Is it your impression that the rents as here stated are too high ; are they higher than the fair value of the land?
—It is my impression that they are high.
25751. They seem to have been raised at three or four different periods. Do you know whether any benefit was conferred upon those people in connection with their rents being raised, or any improvement made upon the lands by the proprietor?
—1 am not aware. I know that the proprietor has improved, but I am not sure that it was in connection with the raising of the rents, and I rather think not.
25752. Of what nature are the improvements on this portion of his property?
—He has given encouragement to them to build better houses.
25753. Has he done anything for roads?
—There is a road through to Coulbackie—a county road.
25754. Are there any other outlays the proprietor has made, in the way of draining and fencing for instance?
—I am not aware. Generally speaking the people themselves drain and fence and trench their lots.
25755. Are you cognisant of any case of eviction which has ever taken place in this township?
25756. When the tenants fall into arrears of rent are they proceeded against summarily, or is time given to them to pay up their arrears?
—There is time given to them—at least in some cases.
25757. Do you know of any case in which a removal has taken place on account of arrears of rent?
—Not within my district.
25758. Are the dwelling houses generally of a very mean character?
—No, they are better than the houses in the surrounding districts.
25759. Are they generally houses built with stone and lime?
25760. Are they slated?
—Some of them; perhaps I should say most of them.
25761. Are they houses of two rooms?
—Two rooms and a closet.
25762. Have any houses of that kind been built since you came to the place?
25763. In your statement you say they were built and were kept in repair by the people themselves; but then it appears by the explanation that they are not built entirely at their own expense
—Quite so; that is the general statement made by the people themselves at a meeting we had, at which I took down their statement. The proprietor did give some assistance.
25764. Have you heard it generally stated since you were here that the people were dissatisfied with the conditions on which the houses were built?
25765. I mean, not recently, since the present movement began; but did you hear so at a previous period?
—They have said so to me.
25766. From an earlier period?
—From an earlier period.
25767. The statement says that after nineteen years have elapsed the whole of the houses would then belong to the proprietor; there would be no compensation paid afterwards upon that?
25768. Do you think that such a house would have any material value after the lapse of nineteen years, if it were kept in good repair? Would it still be a substantial house?
—I think so; I am sure it would.
25769. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Have you got anything else to state on behalf of the people generally of your parish?
—I have to say that I know there are loud complaints that there is no encouragement given to the young people to stay at home, and to get lots to work; nor is there much encouragement given to those who do stay at home to seek employment. My meaning is that the young and able-bodied men have to leave the country during the larger half of the year to seek employment far from their homes. Consequently much of what they earn away from home is spent away from home, and they do not therefore benefit their families by their earnings as they might otherwise do if they were enabled to earn their bread at home.
25770. Are you a native of Sutherland?
—-I am not.
25771. Where did you come from?
—Tyree. I may say I come from Skye, but I happen to have been born in Tyree.
25772. Do you concur in what has been stated by some of the previous delegates, that there is a large field for young men in the county of Sutherland if it were opened up to them?
25773. Do you think it would be useful and profitable for the county for the young men to get employment at home instead of going abroad?
—I think so.
25774. And there is nothing in your mind to prevent this to a great extent being developed in this county?
—No, not as far as I know.
25775. All that is necessary is the means and inclination?
25776. The hands are here to do it?
—They are when they are at home; but most of the people are away just now, earning daily bread
in the rest of the country.
25777. But if encouragement were given all the year round would they prefer working at home in the country?
—During the winter season when they are at home a good deal could be done in the way of giving them employment, but I am sorry to say there is little being done.
25778. I am referring more to the opening up of big sheep farms, and forming a number of smaller farms within the reach of the people of moderate means; do you think that would be a wise thing to do?
—I do think so, and I think it is a thing our young men are looking for—it is what they would like.
25779. Although young men from Sutherland do go away, it is from want of attachment to their country that they do so?
—I believe it is not, I believe they are warmly attached to their native country.
25780. Is it from hard necessity that they are obliged to do it?
25781. Do you suppose now that if a croft were enclosed to such an extent that it would really of itself support a family respectably, there would be any danger of the croft being subdivided?
—No, provided the proprietor gave new land to the young men who asked for it,
25782. And so long as there was any land in the country do you think the proprietor ought to do so?
—I think so.
25783. Do you find the people in the place quite peaceable and industrious?
—Very quiet, very peaceable, very intelligent, and very orderly.
25784. Are there many inns or public houses in the parish?
25785. Where is it?
—At Tongue village.
25786. Are there any grocer's licences in the parish?
—Not one so far as I am aware.
25787. So far as your observation has led you, do you concur in what has been said, that there is a great want of harbour or quay accommodation in the whole north-west of Sutherland?
—I do; I know that it is very difficult, during the winter season especially, to prosecute any kind of
25788. And both in exporting and importing there is hardship and expense placed upon the people which might be avoided?
—There is; and I think the want of harbour accommodation is one of the great drawbacks of this coast.
25789. Are you aware if the attention of the proprietor has been drawn to the improvement of that?
—Often; I know that his attention has been directed frequently to it.
25790. Why does it come to nothing?
—That is what I cannot tell.
25791. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Do you know the circumstances of the people of Tyree?
25792. Of Skye?
—I do, and also of Lewis and of the islands.
25793. You mentioned that the rents here seemed to you to be high; are they high compared with the rents in Skye and Lewis?
—In the district which I represent I think they are higher.
25794. Than in Skye or Lewis?
—It is difficult for one to speak for the whole island.
25795. You think they are high?
—I did not think of comparing them, but I know Skye pretty well, and Lewis, and I know that Coulbackie and Scullourie are more highly rented than some places I could mention on those islands.
25796. Do you think the people here are anxious to find work in the winter months?
—They say so to me, and I see no reason to doubt them.
25797. It is an old custom in the Highlands to lie on their oars from Christmas till seed time?
—Some of them do work when they can get it.
25798. Is the weather similar to what it is in Skye and Lewis?
—Not so wet
25799. It is more suitable for outdoor work?
25800. Has encouragement to build houses been given since ever you have been here?
25801. You have not noticed that the encouragement has been increased within the last few months?
25802. Mr Cameron.
—You have stated that you thought the rents were high, and you compared the rents with the number of acres of arable land at the same time you said that the hill pasture was good. Do you not think that the condition of the hill pasture ought to be taken into account in criticising the rents?
—Yes, I do.
25803. Supposing the crofters had arable land and no hill pasture; in that case almost any rent would be too high, would it not?
—It depends upon the nature of the soil. If there was very good soil, of course they could live on it without any hill pasture.
25804. You mean that hill pasture to a crofter in the Highlands is essential?
25805. And therefore ought fairly to be taken into consideration in judging whether the rent is a fair one or not?
25806. You mentioned in answer to the chairman that assistance had been given by the proprietor to people in erecting their houses, but I did not understand what that assistance was ?
—Some timber and slate until such time as they could relieve him; and also some lime. The statement which I handed in refers not so much to the present as to the past.
25807. You seem to dislike any of the young men from Sutherland going away. I suppose you don't mean to say absolutely that you cannot bear the idea of any young man going abroad?
—To be sure not.
25808. You are aware, I suppose, that much of the greatness of this country is derived from people who have gone to the colonies and foreign lands ?
—-Yes; and the fact is many of them do go abroad.
25809. You do not object altogether to any one going abroad?
—Certainly not. I was making general statements.
25810. You were making special statements?
—I know young men from this country have succeeded very well elsewhere. I have met with them
in the south as well as in other parts of the country, and I know that they do very well.
25811. In your position as adviser, or friend, on the whole would you wish to deter any young man from going abroad to build up his fortune in any of the British colonies?