WILLIAM MACKENZIE, Crofter's Son, Trantlemore, Strath Halladale (37) —examined.
(See Appendix A, LXIV.)
25400. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Were you freely elected a delegate?
25401. Was there a number of people present at your election?
—Yes. At a public meeting of crofters and cottars held in Dalhalvag Schoolhouse on Wednesday, 4th July 1883, the following resolutions were unanimously adopted with the view of laying them before the Royal Commission :—
1st, That the people ask enlarged holdings at fair rents, and for this purpose pray for the breaking down of large sheep farms.
2nd, That the people ask the Government to give them security in their holdings.
3rd, That compensation for improvements be given to any tenant removing of his own accord.
(Signed) WILLIAM M'KENZIE, secretary and delegate, and by fifty-three crofters, crofters' sons, and
25402. What is the number of families liviug in the district to which you belong?
25403. How many of these are crofters?
—Fifty-one and fourteen cottars.
25404. Are the crofts much of an average in size?
—No, they vary in size.
25405. What do the rents average?
—I should say they will average about £5, 10s.
25406. What is the highest rent you know?
—About £20, but I am not exactly sure.
25407. And the lowest?
—About £2, 10s. or £2, 6s.
25408. What stock will a man keep on a £2, 10s. croft?
—A very small stock indeed. He can perhaps keep a cow by buying additional provender, and two or three sheep or even half a dozen.
25409. Are there any of them who live upon the produce of their crofts?
—Yes, I believe there are.
25410. Do the majority of them do so?
—No, a small minority of them only.
25411. How do those whose land is not sufficient to maintain them, live?
—They just struggle through the world some way or another. They go to work in all quarters of the world, and gather money to support their families.
25412. How do the cottars live?
—Some of them are paupers; others live by labouring in different places, and at different kinds of work.
25413. Is there any work to be had in the neighbourhood?
—No, there is no public work in the meantime.
25414. What kind of houses have the crofters generally?
—Some of them have very good cottages and others very miserable, the worst on the estate, I believe.
25415. Are many of them very poor houses'?
—I should say about half of the houses are very bad.
Are they old houses?
—Yes, I believe they have been built by the grandfathers of the present crofters, or perhaps at an earlier date.
25416. Do the people get any encouragement to improve their houses?
—Yes. They get lime from his Grace the Duke of Sutherland, and timber for the roof, but nothing else, so far as I am aware.
25417. Do any of them keep cattle in the same houses with themselves?
—Yes, I know instances of cattle going in at the same door, and no partition being between the people and the cattle.
25418. But I suppose there are not many such?
—There are two or three so far as I can recollect, but only two or three.
25419. Do you consider the present rents too high?
—No, I don't consider the rent per acre too high, but I consider that the holdings are so small, that the rent would be far too high, although the men paid in fact nothing at all.
25420. Can you give an estimate of what it is per acre?
—I would say about £ 1 , or perhaps a little more for the arable land, and the hill pasture besides.
25421. Have you plenty of hill pasture?
—There is a good deal of hill pasture. The fifty-one crofts, I should say, will have about twelve square miles of hill pasture, but a great deal of that is worse than useless. It would be better under the sea.
25422. All moor?
—Yes, it is full of bogs and bad pools for drowning their sheep.
25423. Is there any limit to the number of sheep a man may keep?
—No, they are not limited; but they are limited in this respect, that a man can only keep them by being at great expense. The lot I occupy would not keep more than two-thirds of my present stock without outside keep.
25424. Are there any large farms near?
—Yes, both ends of Strath Halladale are occupied by one farmer, Mr Paterson, Bighouse.
25425. Is your land fenced from his?
25426. Does that lead to any disadvantage or injury to your crops?
—In former times it did, but now the inconvenience is quite inconsiderable.
25427. You don't want a fence?
—No, I don't hear any complaint with regard to that.
25428. All the crofters have at least one cow, have they not?
—Yes, so far as I know.
25429. Are the cottars able also to keep cows?
—I am not aware of any cottar who has a cow in Strath Halladale.
25430. Have the cottars been long there?
—Yes, some of them, and others only a short period—three or four years.
25431. Where have they come from?
—They are generally natives of the place.
25432. Has the number of crofters in Strath Halladale increased within the last twenty or thirty years?
—Very slightly. One or two lots have been subdivided since that period—one that I am aware of.
25433. Is subdivision allowed by the laws of the estate?
—No, and it is not practised in our locality.
25434. You are some distance from the sea?
—I should say the nearest tenant would be 3½ miles from the sea.
25435. Then I suppose there are no fishermen among you?
25436. Have you plenty of peats?
—Yes, but they are very difficult to get.
25437. Do you keep horses?
—We keep ponies.
25438. Has every crofter a pony?
—No, I believe there is a considerable number without them.
25439. Is your inconvenience with regard to the peats that they are far away?
—They are not far away, but Strath Halladale is a deep valley, and there are high hills on each side,- and it is very difficult to carry the peats over these high rough hills.
25440. Do you carry them on horses?
25441. The women are not obliged to carry them?
—A considerable part of the way they are—in the worst parts; they have to carry them on their backs.
25442. Do you use horses in ploughing, or do you dig with a spade?
—The horses plough all the crofts, so far as I am aware.
25443. I suppose the use of the crooked spade has gone out long ago?
25444. How long ago?
—I have never seen it.
25445. And the women are not employed in harrowing, as they are in some of the islands?
25146. Did they use to be?
—I have seen instances of it, but not many.
25447. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You mention that you want enlarged crofts; the last witness from Melness stated that there would be very few people capable of taking such crofts without help—how would that be in your district?
— I know I could take one if I could get it at a reasonable rent.
25448. There are fifty-one crofters—would all those who have small crofts be able to take large ones?
—Not all, but I believe a considerable number of them would by getting some assistance in the way of building houses and so forth.
25449. Would they require assistance to stock the crofts?
—I believe they would manage to buy it by their credit, and some of them have friends who would lend them money and so forth. They would try a great many means to stock the ground.
25450. What do you consider a reasonable-sized croft? What rent would it be as rents go?
—The land is very bad in the district; it is generally overflowed by the river.
25451. You said you did not think the land over-rented if you had a sufficient quantity of i t; what do you consider would be the rent of a fair sized croft?
—I would consider a fair sized croft one of ten acres.
25452. That would be about £10; would you consider that sufficient to keep a man?
—It would be rather small in some cases; it would depend on the nature of the land. The land varies a great deal in different parts of the Strath.
25453. How many crofters are there in Strath Halladale paying less than £12 a year?
—I should say that all pay less than that with one exeception.
25454. There is only one paying £20 of rent?
25455. And you think the half of these would be able to take proper sized crofts?
—I should think they would.
25456. Mention was made of the Loch laws, which I presume means the regulations of the estate; do you know anything about these regulations?
—No, but the estate of Strath Halladale belonged to the Mackays of Bighouse down to 1830, and all the evictions in that quarter took place prior to that date. We have nothing bad to say of the house of Sutherland as a community; in fact, the house of Sutherland has benefited us. But this has been a small estate before, and the tenants had been rack-rented prior to the property coming into the hands of the Sutherland family. And besides being rack-rented they had to do a great deal of feudal service which his Grace the Duke of Sutherland did away with.
25457. Are you subject to annoyance from the officials on the estate?
—There are cases of that.
25458. Are there any estate regulations of which you have heard, and of which you don't really know the meaning?
—We are ignorant about the regulations, but some of them are rather sharply exercised amongst us. For instance, a man is is banished off the estate for killing grouse.
25459. Are there any printed rules?
—We never got our hands upon any printed rules.
25460. But you know if you are found shooting game you have to go?
—Yes, it is generally the case. [See Appendix A, LXIV]
25461. Are there any other rules you complain of?
—We would desire security against the raising of our rent so that we cannot live.
25462. I mean are there any rules on the estate you complain of, besides that with reference to the shooting of game?
—It is a rule of the estate that the officials can fix the rent, and do anything they please, and that is considered a great grievance by many of the crofters.
25463. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Is Strath Halladale a large district?
—I t is about fifteen miles long.
25464. You say that the crofters are in the middle of the glen, and a tenant above them, and a tenant below them?
—The same tenant occupies both ends.
25465. Were there many people removed in the time of the Mackays of Bighouse?
—A great many. I cannot specify the number, but it would be considerable.
25466. What became of them?
—Some of them were planted amongst those who lived in the place where the crofters are now, and that was the occasion of the overcrowding.
25467. And others had to leave altogether, I presume?
—Others left the estate altogether; some went abroad, and others went to Caithness.
25468. Do the people you represent, represent the whole of Strath Halladale?
—Yes; I was elected at a public meeting.
25469. Do you know the rental of the parish of Reay in this county?
—I should say it was something about £3000, or perhaps a little over it.
25470. How much of that does Mr Paterson the large tenant pay?
—Well nigh on £2000, I understand, including shooting.
25471. I suppose the people don't consider that a very fair division, do they?
—Far from it.
25472. Have your people been in the place where you are for a long time?
—My father and grandfather were evicted from Strathnaver about seventy years ago, and planted in Strathhalladalemore, and the lot they then got was divided between other two tenants, and my grandfather had to labour for a time.
25473. You have sometimes heard it alleged, have you not, that it was for the benefit of the people that all these great clearances took place seventy years ago?
—Yes, but it is a great mistake.
25474. Are the crofters generally now upon the Sutherland estates rather poor?
—They are very poor in general.
25475. And after seventy years experience of these removals, don't you think that the system of turning them out of these glens, and putting them down by the sea shore, was a great mistake?
25476. Mr Cumming stated that a good number of people emigrate, because they cannot find anything to do here. Is that consistent with your observation?
—Yes, but the people are so poor in our place, that they seldom leave t h e country, and the population does not increase much. A few emigrants leave every year, but very few, the population is about 300.
25477. Does the going away of these emigrants benefit those who remain behind?
—In many cases they support those they leave behind.
25478. Does the emigration of these young men do any good to those that are left behind?
—No further than that they support the families at home very often, after they leave.
25479. By sending money?
—Yes, and by helping in various ways.
25480. Is it a common thing in your part for a croft to be actually vacant, so that the neighbours may get it?
—It is never heard of.
25481. I suppose whatever difficulties there may be in providing crofters with bigger crofts, in some places there would be no difficulty in providing your people with large crofts, because there is a big farm above you and below you ?
—I don't suppose there would be any difficulty.
25482. You would not require to move many miles'?
25483. You said that the part that is occupied by the crofters is not very good land in some cases, and is liable to flooding; is the upper part of the glen, where the people once were removed from, a sound healthy place?
25484. And if anybody walked up through it to the head they would find a great many remains of ruined houses, where the people once lived?
—A great many.
25485. Not now turned over by the plough at all, but lying waste under sheep?
—Fast going to waste at any rate.
25486. The Chairman.
—You stated that there were some houses in your place in which the entrance was through the byre or cow shed?
—That is so.
25487. You also stated that there was some, in which there was no division between the cow shed and the dwelling rooms?
—There is one I know, and I fancy there is another one or two.
25488. You mean there is no partition between the byre and the kitchen?
25489. Was that the case long ago in the old Caithness and Sutherland houses?
—It was the case in my first recollection in the greater number of houses in Strath Halladale.
25490. Are those houses that still remain in that condition, the houses of crofters or cottars?
25491. Do you know whether any application has been made, in connection with those houses, to have new houses built?
—The people cannot build them, and therefore don't apply.
25492. But we heard that assistance was given to build new houses'?
—With that assistance they cannot do it. A tenant was removed on that account nine years ago from my neighbourhood.
—Because he would not build a new house upon the croft his father had before him; and there was a good house already upon the place.
25494. Why did they want him to build a new house if there was a good one already?
—That is a question I cannot answer, but the fact is clear, the tenant had to leave the place on account of his not building a house.
25495. You said that one of the regulations on the estate was, that crofters were removed for killing a grouse. Do you mean that in the case of a first offence against the game laws, or one offence, a crofter would be removed with his family from a holding?
—I am aware of one case only. There have been other cases, but I cannot specify them in the meantime.
25496. In which for a first offence—a first act of poaching—a man was removed?
—Yes, so far as I know. [See Appendix A, LXIV]
25497. Were they cases of single men or men with families'?
—It was a case of a married man assisting his father-in-law in keeping the croft in order.
25498. A married man assisting his father-in-law—was he properly the occupier or tenant of the croft?
—He was not the tenant of the croft, but likely to become so.
25499. I am rather particular upon this point, are you acquainted with any case of a man actually an occupier of a croft being removed from his holding on account of poaching or killing game at all?
—I cannot recollect any case from memory just now.
25500. Either for one offence, or more than one offence?
—I cannot in the meantime say; but there have been such cases in the past.
25501. Are offences against the game laws common or uncommon?
25502. What is your opinion generally, about the state of the people from what you have heard?
—Are the people in your place better off on the whole than they used to be,—better fed, and better clothed, or are they poorer, and worse off?
—I should say one-third of them are better off than the crofters I see anywhere here about. And another third of them exist someway or another, and the remaining third live in misery and poverty.
25503. But are they better off than the last generation—than their fathers and grandfathers, or are they worse off?
—They are not better off by any means.
25504. Do you see any improvement going on in the way of building and fencing and so on?
—A good deal.
25505. Is there any improvement in the breed of cattle —are the cattle bigger and better than they were t
—His Grace the Duke of Sutherland gives a bull to the tenants which improves the breed considerably; still the animals are of an inferior breed. ,
25506. And the sheep?
—The sheep are inferior to those upon the sheep farm in the neighbourhood, owing to the over-stocking.
25507. Do you think your arable and pasture ground generally is decidedly of worse quality than the arable and pasture land in the hands, of the sheep farmer; or are they much about the same?
—The district in which I live is much worse than any part I know, so far as pasture is concerned, for sheep or cattle.
25508. Do you think that the best pasture was deliberately taken for the purpose of forming the sheep farms, or was it an accident?
—It was deliberately taken.
25509. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Why were a few people left, when the others were removed from up and down the glen?
—The only answer I can give is that, I suppose their places were scarcely worth coveting at that