DONALD MACLEOD, Crofter's son, Achintighalavin, West Strathan (53)—examined.
25352. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Were you elected to come here today?
25353. Have you a statement to make on the part of the people of West Strathan, Melness?
—Yes. It is a statement that affects Melness altogether, and it is that our crofts are too limited to support our families.
25354. You heard Mr Cumming make his statement, does that apply to your district?
—Yes, so far as our crofts are concerned.
25355. Have you anything else to add to Mr Cumming's statement?
—I don't think I have anything to add to what he has said regarding crofts, insecurity of tenure, and want of harbour accommodation. These are the main complaints we have to make.
25356. Have you anything to say upon any other point?
—No, these are the points.
25357. Professor Mackinnon.
—I suppose you quite agree that the complaint here is not that the rents are too high, but that the crofts are too small?
—Yes, the rents are too high, in this respect, that the crofts are too small. If the crofts were of proper size, and the rent in proportion to what it is now, there would not be the same grudge, and there would
be the same cause for complaint.
25358. That is to say, if you had two or three crofts instead of one, you would not think that the rent that is paid just now by these two or three crofts would be too high?
—Generally speaking, I would not.
25359. Mr Gumming said some people keep twenty or thirty sheep; is there any rule that settles the number of sheep which each crofter can keep?
—I am not aware that there is.
25360. Each mau can keep as many sheep as he pleases?
—I don't suppose many of them have many sheep.
25361. What will be about the average number now, taking it off and on, that a crofter has of sheep in your place?
—Perhaps a dozen.
25362. But he might keep twenty or thirty?
—Very few, if any, have that number.
25363. Do these who have a number of sheep pay a higher rent than the others?
25364. Don't you think it would be a fair thing that there should be an estate regulation which should settle the number of sheep that each crofter might keep?
—Yes. I would not say anything against that, only considering how few they must have, and that the outrun is sufficient for the sheep that are on it, no one seems to feel aggrieved.
25365. Because there is plenty of ground?
—Yes, the outrun is good.
25366. Why do those who have only nine or ten not have twenty or thirty?
—Because they are very poor. Their crofts do not supply their families for six mouths of the year.
25367. Will that be the reason in all cases?
—The poverty of the people certainly is the cause of it.
25368. You don't remember, of course, when the people came from the inside of the country to the sea-shore?
25369. But you know well enough how many years ago it was?
—I understand it was from the year 1812 to the year 1820 or 1822.
25370. Do you know the country well enough to travel through the places they came from?
—Yes, I have travelled through them.
25371. You have gone over the ground often?
—Yes; not often through some of it, but I have been over it all.
25372. Judging from its appearance to-day, do you think it could easily be restored to crofting purposes again?
—I believe it would not be very difficult. The present crofts, on account of being cropped every year since that time, say for seventy years or thereabout, fail to yield anything like what they did thirty or forty years ago, and I believe the same may be said of the straths in which the sheep were placed at that time; they have failed on account of never being disturbed.
25373. There is plenty of room in those parts to give large enough crofts to the people of Melness?
25374. The population is not getting larger all over the whole country?
—No, not over the whole country.
25375. Is it getting larger in your place?
—It must be larger than it was a number of years ago, I think. There is a number of cottars in the place, but I don't know exactly how many.
25376. How do they live?
—It is hard to say. They are in a great measure supported by the crofters. They go round in the harvest time, and ask for sheaves of those who may have them.
25377. The strong men of course go to the fishing?
25378. Is there any work in the place?
—No. There are a few working just now at reclaiming land in connection with some of the crofts. His Grace has given them money at a certain rate of interest to reclaim land.
25379. Is it being taken advantage of to any extent?
—Yes, wherever the people have got it, and their crofts are so situated that land which can be reclaimed is contiguous to them.
25380. Do you look for some additional room being got for the crofters by that process?
—Yes, for a few.
25381. Do you expect it will succeed, and that the new ground will provide food for the crofters in a few years?
25382. The ground is suitable enough if it were reclaimed?
—Yes, if those holding it were so situated that they could do well towards it in liming, and such as that.
25383. No doubt, the people of Melness think Talmin the best situation for the desired harbour of which Mr Cumming spoke, but the people of Farr and Strathy think theirs is best?
—No doubt; but they cannot deny that Talmin is the best.
25384. Do you know any other place between Scrabster and Talmin where a harbour could be made without any extravagant cost?
—No, I don't know the coast between Scrabster and Tongue.
25385. Although Loch Erriboll has good anchorage, there is not a landing place there?
—No. At Talmin there was a prosperous herring fishing carried on at one time.
25386. But the herring have forsaken the Loch?
—I think the fishers forsook the herring, because there was no landing place at Talmin. The French and Dutch boats and curers from Wick were curing there, but there was no proper way of landing. The boats had to be run on the sand, and the men had to go waist deep into the water to carry off the fish.
25387. How do the people on the sea-coast here get their supplies and send their produce to market?
—They get their supplies by a smack that comes occasionally from William Macdonald & Co., merchants, Thurso. The smack comes up and lands her goods at Tongue here—at the east side of the Kyle of Tongue—and the people have to take their goods across the ferry of Tongue, and cart them home.
2538S. Is that the only regular communication by sea between Cape Wrath and Thurso?
—The only regular communication, and it is very irregular, just when Messrs Macdonald have goods to send.
25389. There is no steamer calling at any time along the whole shore?
25390. On the west, is there any steamer calling north of Lochinver?
—No, not unless the steamer from Stornoway, which goes to Badcall. I am not aware of any other.
25391. How do you send away the fish which you catch? You fish lobsters, do you not?
—-Yes, they are sometimes sent across the country, and at other times they are sent to Thurso by the low road, and sometimes I believe they are sent by boat. There is a boat run occasionally from Melness, and it runs whenever it can make any sort of trade.
25392. How do you send cattle to the market?
—We never send them unless cattle dealers come and purchase them.
25393. I suppose cattle dealers do come occasionally?
25394. How do you sell the sheep?
—We sell lambs, but it is a very rare thing to sell a sheep.
25395. Do cattle dealers come and take the lambs away too, or do you sell them to the big farmers?
—To cattle dealers—parties from Caithness ; it is they who generally buy the lambs.
25396. You said the people were so poor that they were not able to keep the whole stock they were entitled to on their own crofts; are there several crofters at Melness who, if they got the big crofts you want, would be able to take them up?
—Not many now, if any.
25397. But there are some?
—Yes, but very few.
25398. How would you propose to deal with them?
—Get the Government to assist them at a favourable rate of interest.
25399. Is that the opinion of the people?