Bettyhill, Sutherland, 25 July 1883 - Angus Mackay

ANGUS MACKAY, Crofters' son, Cattlefield, Farr (22)—examined.

26027. The Chairman.
—You are a student?

26028. Of what ?

26029. Were you elected a delegate by the people?

26030. Have you got any written statement?
—Yes. ' At a public meeting of the crofters and cottars of the townships of Achnerkickaird and Cattlefield in the parish of Farr, the following resolutions were agreed to and grievances discussed, with a view to lay them before the Royal Commission :
—(1) That our crofts are ridiculously small, not being sufficient to maintain us and our families for a few months in the year. To enable us to pay our rents and buy meal, we have in the summer months to go to the herring fishings, in England and East Coast of Scotland, or labour in the large towns of the south. Thus, we are neither fishermen nor crofters in the true sense of the term, but " Jacks of all trades and masters of none." If we had crofts of the right size (from 7 to 25 acres arable land together with hill pasture) we could stay more at home, and devote our energies to the working of our crofts,
which would then be sure to give us better returns.
(2) That we have no security of tenure. Under the present form of the land laws we can be turned off our crofts at term day, without a penny of compensation for all our and our fathers' labour in bringing our crofts into proper working order.
(3) That we and our fathers have been cruelly burnt like wasps out of Strathnaver, and forced down to the barren rocks of the sea-shore, where we had in many cases to carry earth on our backs to form a patch of land. And now, after we have improved the land, at our own expense, and built houses, our rents are raised at every opportunity—always when the head of the family dies and a new name is put upon the roll—to double and treble the rental before that. We consider it to be unreasonable thus to raise a man's rent after he has spent labour and capital on the improvement of his croft. Compensation for improvement is a thing unknown to the small tenants here.
(4) That we are too much " kept under " by the proprietor's officials. The only way that we can live here at all is by becoming absolutely passive and suffering ourselves to be used and misused at the factor's pleasure. The Duke of Sutherland is a good proprietor, but his officials are tyrannical,
(5) That the land our forefathers lived upon so happy and prosperous is now under deer and sheep, and turning into moss and fog, which is not profitable to man or beast, while we are huddled together in small townships on the sea shore, exposed to all the fury of the wild north sea breezes, which generally carry away the little corn we have. Every good piece of land was taken from us and we were planted on every spot for which no other use could be found. We want more land, security against eviction, compensation for improvements, and fair rent. ANGUS MACKAY.

26031. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You are one of a number of delegates?

26032. Is it understood by the other delegates that the paper you have read expresses the views of all?
—Yes, it is.

26033. It is a general statement regarding this part of the parish?

26031. And you have reason to believe that the others will concur in that?

26035. You say you are used and abused by the officials of the estate will you be good enough to mention instances of abuse?
—I will give you a few specimens. The first case is one of Angus Gordon, tenant, Aird. In 1879 a road was made through Angus Gordon's croft while a large piece was taken from him at the lower end and a lime storing-house built upon it. The tenant was promised surface damages as his corn was partly destroyed, and a reduction of rent, but on making his demands when paying his rent he was only laughed at, and told that they would get plenty men to take his croft if he was not pleased with it. As he had roused the ire of the officials they gave permission to the vessels carrying lime into the river, to use for ballast the stones of the dyke fencing in Gordon's lot at the lower end. The dyke was pulled down accordingly, and now his croft is exposed to damage from his neighbours' cattle; and next year his rent was raised eighteen shillings—that was when the general rise was made on the rent —but he went to the Duke and the rent was reduced again.

26036. Are you aware personally that the factor gave permission to pull down this dyke?
—The factor or the ground officer gave permission.

26037. Did the captains tell you?
—They told William Gordon, and he is present here himself.

26038. That they had permission to pull the dyke down?
—Yes; and he believed them and could not stop them.

26039. Have you other instances you wish to bring forward?
—I have. Another instance is the case of one Christina Mackay, Beathag. She was an old woman and permitted James Thomson, her brother-in-law, to live in an end of her house, but, as the factor was at enmity with this man, he evicted Christina before the term, and sent the ground officer round the district forbidding the people upon pain of eviction to give her shelter in their houses. The public broke open the door of her house and she went in again and stayed till the term, when she was formally to be evicted upon a warrant. The thing preyed upon her mind so much that when the day of final eviction came she died about twelve o'clock, broken hearted, the ground officer and sheriff officer being then within half a mile of her house on their way to evict her.

26040. Was Christina Mackay in a croft ?

26041. Did you know her?
—No, I did not.

26042. Did she live near you?
—This was before I remember; it was about twenty-five years ago.

26043. Are there any other instances of abuse ?
—There was another instance in the western corner of Aird. There were four lots and one of the lots was in the hands of two women.

26044. What period are you speaking about?
—1860 or 1861, Mr Crawford was factor then. A salmon fisher from the south country came to fish at Naver here, and they wanted to give him a piece of land and they evicted these two women, and the other three crofters were called to Bettyhill, and two of them went to Mr Crawford who asked them to sign a paper. They wanted to know what was in it and he refused to let them know. But he wanted them to sign it and forced them to do it, and they did so. The paper contained words to this effect, that they were agreeable to have their lands cut up. The other man who did not come to Bettyhill was summoned out of his lot, and he had to yield too, and the lots were divided. Jane Mackay, a daughter of the old woman, and William Gordon, a son of the old man, are here and can tell the facts.

26045. That is twenty-two years ago?
—It was in 1860 or 1861.

26046. And the instances before that were twenty-five years previously. The only modern instance you have adduced is the first case?
—Yes. I want to say something regarding the acreage and what the crofters pay compared with what the large sheep farmers pay. The acreage of Farr is 188,355 acres, equal to 259 square miles. The number of crofters is 293, so there is enough land in the parish to give more than one square mile to each crofter. Of the 295 square miles the crofters only occupy 16½ , while the remainder, amouuting to 278½ square miles is portioned out among eight sheep farmers. The crofters pay for their land, hill pasture and all, at the average rate of Is. 3½d. per acre, while the sheep farmers pay only 8½d. per acre for infinitely better land; and since the last three or four years they have the land for half the rent, so that we pay Is. 3½ d. and they pay 4d. per acre.

26047. Is there much variation in the rate of rental between the various parishes here?
—I cannot say regarding other parishes.

26048. You don't know whether the crofters are lower rented in other parishes or whether the sheep farmers are higher rented?
—No, I just looked at the valuation roll for Farr.

26049. How did you take out the acreage for Farr?
—I got it in a guidebook.

26050. The acreage has been taken out by the factor here, and I understand it is correctly given, and over the whole factory the crofters pay 10d. an acre, and the sheep farmers 10½d., according to the rental in the valuation roll?
—I am speaking for the parish of Farr. I could not say what other parishes pay.

26051. Then the crofters must be paying much higher in Farr than elsewhere, and sheep farmers much less?

26052. From whom have you heard about the prosperity of your forefathers in Strathnaver?
—From my forefathers; and it is the common talk of the people who have been in Strathnaver who saw the doings and burning of it.

26053. But with regard to the prosperity at the time, have you reason to believe that the people were very prosperous there?
—They were better off as regards land; they had more land and more flesh and more fish and the like of that; but they were not given so much to work in the south then as now, and were not so intelligent They did not bring so much money into the county, but if they stayed at home now as they did then
they could not live at all.

26054. Were there fewer years of scarcity then than now?
—There were. I have heard of a year of scarcity 100 years ago.

26055. A hundred years ago there was a very scarce year; but were there not frequently years of scarcity before the removals from Strathnaver?
—No, I think they were pretty well off in Strathnaver, it was one of the best straths in Sutherland.

26056. With regard to the raising of the rents on the death of a holder of a croft, do you know in what way a croft is valued?
—I don't know how it is valued. You are told to pay the rent; they never say what it is. Whenever a lot becomes vacant it is always raised whether it is worth the rent or not; a rise of rent is always looked for whenever a new name is put on the roll.

26057. You don't think the value of the croft is always increased although the rent is increased?
—I consider the crofts were made by us. When we were forced down here it was barren moorland, we had to trench and drain and fence the ground and build our houses, and do everything, and we got no help to do that. I consider that if we got the land at perhaps what it is really worth now, it would be too much, because we have brought the land to be what it is ourselves, and we are improving the land every day—so that we are not only paying rent but interest on what we have done.

26058. But I understand it is the new tenant who does that?
—But it is always the son of the old tenant so that the new tenant is the man who really does the work.

26059. The new tenant is more a new tenant in name than in reality?
—It is always the son, the croft descends from father to son.

26060. With regard to the want of security of tenure, is it your experience that there is much insecurity?
—Not since the great clearance in Strathnaver, but the feeling rankles in the breast- of the people that they may be turned out any day. They don't believe that the present Duke would do it, but they don't know about his successor, so that they have no encouragement to improve, as if they had security in their lots or crofts.

26061. The Chairman.
—I did not understand you when you stated the acreage under farms and crofts. You stated that you had derived your information as to area from what source?
—A guide book.

26062. What book do you call it ?
—[Rev. D. Mackenzie]. The now Statistical Account.

26063. I only want to know whether you are well assured that the statistics given by you upon that point are well founded and accurate?
—[Angus Mackay]. They are founded on the Statistical Amount, and the rent is taken from the valuation roll for the year. It was out of a guide book I got the figures; I saw it written in the book.

26064. Did you see the area stated in the book? Did you take it out of the book?
—The number of acres —the figures.

26065. You got the figures in the book, but what book was it?
—I cannot be sure of the name of the book just now.

26066. Did you do it yourself?
—Yes, I did, in company with Mr Mackenzie who has the book.

26067. What Mr Mackenzie?
—The minister of Farr.

26068. Professor Mackinnon.
—There is a great deal of the surface of the county in lochs; are these not more in the places where the farmers are than where the crofters are?
—There is not much room for lochs where the crofters are.

26069. Do you include lochs in the acreage of the whole parish?
—The way I arrive at a mile and a half broad is that in some cases the big farms come down to the sea and in other cases they go up two miles and I drew a rough line across.

26070. It was a rough calculation which you think quite fair. If there was an accurate acreage taken of the parish which would materially affect your figures would you be prepared to modify your statement?
—I did it as fairly as I could.

26071. The Chairman.
—Your statement is not derived from any official document?
—No. There is another thing I wanted to speak about, namely, the extending of our hill pasture some years ago. We applied to the Duke of Sutherland for more hill pasture and got some. The hill pasture at both ends seemed to be pretty good—it was green—and when the line was drawn giving us the pasture they drew it in a curved way and whenever the land was bad the curve was drawn up and we got the bad land, and wherever there was a green spot the curve came down and they cut the green spot off us, so that we have the line drawn crooked, back and forward in curves taking the best land from us.

26072. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Keeping out all the good land?
—Keeping out all the good land.

26073. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Whose hill pasture are you speaking of?
—The hill pasture of Farr proper.

26074. The Chairman.
—Is there a fence up along this place?

26075. How was the division marked?
—There is a heap of stones here
and there.

26076. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Is the hill pasture of Farr common to the townships on the property?
—No, it is limited to seven.

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