Bettyhill, Sutherland, 25 July 1883 - Rev Thomson Mackay

Rev. THOMSON MACKAY, Parish Minister, Tongue (35)—examined.

25884. The Chairman.
—How long have you been minister in your present charge?
—For seven years.

25885. Were you here yesterday?
—I was.

25886. Did you hear the evidence that was given?
—Every word of it.

25887. Would you be so kind as to make any remarks which occur to you in connection with the evidence?
—I may remark that I have not been appointed a delegate, but in respectful obedience to the Commission I am willing to give any information I can. With respect to the evidence, I think the holdings are too small as a rule. Through the constant application of sea-ware the land is exhausted. They must use the sea-ware. If a larger holding could be given to the crofters whereby parts of the land could get rest, the people would be in comfort, but the land is exhausted every year with sea-ware. I am of opinion that the less sea-ware they would use the better, but in present circumstances they must use sea-ware to force a crop out of the land.

25888. We heard a good deal stated about the effect of the wind upon the crofts, and the loss of crop by wind and stress of weather. Is that the case in your neighbourhood?
—It was the case last year.

25889. Is it frequently the case?
—Not in the Tongue district, with which I am best acquainted.

25890. The smallness of the croft is a disadvantage?
—I think so.

25891. What do you think of the facilities that exist for enlarging the area of crofts—could that be done in your district?
—It could not be done without taking the landlord's interest into consideration.

25892. Could the crofts be enlarged by adding to them on their own borders from other lands; or would it be necessary to take the people and transplant them elsewhere?
—It would be necessary to transplant them elsewhere.

25893. What do you think about the scale of rental?
—I have been a minister in Argyleshire for half a year, in the island of Ulva, and I was a student missionary in the island of Tyree, and also assistant to the late Rev. John Macleod of Morven, and I consider that the rents of the crofters in Argyllshire are much higher than the rents of the crofters in the Reay country. But the Argyllshire men on the other hand have steamboat communication, and can send their produce direct to the market; any produce in the shape of eggs and dairy produce they can send to the best markets in the south, We have no steamboat communication in the north.

25894. Comparing the stock kept by the crofters in the two countries, is the stock here superior or inferior?
—The breed here is inferior, but the people have more cattle.

25895. Do you see any improvement in the breed since you came here ?
—Not much.

25896. We heard yesterday that the Duke was in the habit of keeping a good bull or bulls for improving the breed?
—I do not think there is one of that kind in my neighbourhood.

25897. Do you think the accommodation in the houses is such as to be prejudicial to the health or morals of the people; or are they sufficiently and decently housed?
—They are sufficiently and decently housed.

25898. Better than in the Western islands?

25899. Mr Cameron.
—What is the general condition of the crofters in your district as to means of comfort?
—On the whole with the most of them it is a struggle for existence.

25900. Do you find some of them are poorer than others, or are their means pretty much the same?
—They are poorer, but there are degrees of poverty amongst them.

25901. Do you find that those who are comparatively well off are willing to assist their poorer neighbours in times of distress?

25902. How many of the people have got relations in the colonies?
—Not many in the colonies. There are some, but not many.

25903. Did many of the people emigrate to America?
—A few, but not very many.

25904. What class of people chiefly emigrate?
—Chiefly young men.

25905. Are they generally dissuaded from doing so by their parents, or do their parents encourage the ideal?
—There is a tie of natural affection between mother and son; she is unwilling to part with her son.

25906. And does she push it to the length of preventing young men from going abroad to better their position; or is it simply an expression of natural affection?
—The expression of natural affection.

25907. You state that the lands on the borders of the crofts would not be available for enlarging the area of the crofts; what is the nature of the lands on the borders of the crofts—in whose occupation is it ?
—Sheep farms.

25908. Why in your opinion would it not be suitable for enlarging the crofts?
—The present interests are concerned, it would be a matter of time.

25909. But if the Duke chose when the leases of these farms are out, could he not take, with advantage to the crofters and without any great disadvantage to himself, a portion of these farms so as to enlarge the holdings of the crofters?
—The question of rents comes in there.

25910. Have you ever considered the question of comparing the rents paid by crofters with the rents paid by large sheep farmers for a similar quality of ground?
—No, I have not studied that.

25911. Then you are not in a position to give an opinion as to the rents paid by one class as compared with the other. Do you think that the crofters pay on an average as high rents for a similar quality of land as the large sheep farmers do?
—Yes, I think that.

25912. Then, in that case, the Duke would not be a loser, would he, if he let a portion of these farms to the crofters?
—I do not think so.

25913. Have you ever had any conversation with the large farmers themselves on the subject?
—I have.

25914. What do you find their opinion to be about it? Do they, in conversation with you, think it possible that without altogether spoiling the remaining portion of the large farm, some of it might be added to the crofters' lots as opportunity offers?
—Not as a rule; they do not think so. They think it pays the Duke better to have large farms.

25915. I am not so much referring to that as to whether in their opinion the occupation of the large farm could be carried on profitably by them as tacksmen if a portion were taken away and added to the adjacent crofts?
—I do not think that they would approve of that.

25916. Do you know on what account ?
—Probably on the grounds of selfish interest.

25917. Have you ever heard it stated that one difficulty in the way might be—I am talking of the country which you know and I don't —that it would be difficult to keep the sheep on the upper or higher lands if the low grounds used for wintering were devoted to other purposes ?
—I have never heard the question put in that shape.

25918. Do you think from the nature of these large farms in the vicinity of Tongue, that a portion might be allotted to crofters and yet leave a sufficient portion available for wintering so as not altogether to interfere with the proper working of the large farm?
—I do not think that could be carried out if the sheep farming system is to be continued; they must have low and high ground, and if the crofter system is to be continued they must have the same.

25919. Could these large farms in the vicinity of Tongue be so redistributed so that a portion of the high ground and a portion of the low ground could be left with the farmer, and a portion of the high ground and a portion of the low ground given to the crofters—could that be worked?
—I think so.

25920. In that case would it not meet the objection which you stated to the Chairman that the lands adjacent to the crofts were not available for adding to the crofts?

25921. What I mean is this —are the large farms so situated that they might be divided longitudinally, reducing the size, but giving a proportion to the crofters, and not taking away merely the low ground and adding that to the crofter, and leaving the high ground without anybody to occupy it?
—I think the two would be mutually exclusive. I think it must be either a sheep farm entirely or a croft entirely— a fairly large holding.

25922. I understand you to mean that if anything was done by the Duke in the direction asked for by the people, he would require to take the whole of the large farm adjacent and devots it exclusively to crofting; it could not be left partly in a large farm and partly given to a crofter?
—It would be a difficulty, whether large farmers would come forward and bid for holdings of that kind, if the large farms were divided. It would interfere with freedom of contract.

25923. I am talking about what in your opinion the Duke might do voluntarily of his own accord. Supposing you were in the position of the Duke, do you think, from your knowledge of the country, that a re-arrangement might be made so as to afford satisfaction to the people without any considerable sacrifice of rent on the part of his Grace?
—As a question of rent I could not give au exact answer.

25924. In your opinion, if it were done at all the large farms should b3 altogether devoted to crofters or left as large farms?
—Quite so.

25925. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You spoke about young men emigrating from the neighbourhood, is there really any prospect in the parish here for an active young man, a member of a crofter's family?
—In present circumstances I could not conscientiously advise young men to remain in this north country.

25926. There is no prospect for them in their own country at present?
—I could not advise them to remain here.

25927. Supposing there was a strong young man who wanted to remain in the country and to get a small holding of his own, and he went to the authorities and asked for it, what reply would he probably get?
—A new holding or an old one?

25928. A new holding?
—He would probably get the reply that there was no land for him.

25929. For him?
—For him.

25930. Professor Mackinnon.
—I suppose you know the whole parish of Tongue?

25931. And the neighbouring parish of Durness?

25932. Between the land occupied by crofts and the land occupied by big farms, do you say that the low ground and high ground are about equally distributed between them; in all the big farms is there a good aid of low ground suitable for cultivation?

25933. Is there much about the same proportion of ground suitable for cultivation upon the big farms as there is upon the crofts around us here —pasture and arable combined?
—Yes, and better land, more fertile land.

25934. Do you know about the relative rent that is being paid acre for acre, high and low, arable and pasture, between the crofter and big farmer?
—No. I have not studied that.

25935. But your opinion is that the crofter pays about as much as the big farmer?
—For the extent of his land my opinion is that he pays fully as much.

25936. I happen to have a paper here which just exactly agrees with that. Taking pasture land and arable land, the crofter pays 10d. per acre and the large farmer pays 10¼d. You think that the low ground suitable for cultivation on the big farms, and now out of cultivation, is at least fully as good if not better than the low ground cultivated by crofters?
—I think so.

25937. Do you think that the pasture ground occupied by the big farmers is as good as the pasture ground occupied by the crofters?
—It is as a rule better, but I daresay the crofters themselves, owing to the taking off divots and turf and so on, spoil their pasture.

25938. The crofters' pasture would be worse although naturally it was the same?

25939. But you think the big farmers' ground is naturally equal to the small crofters' ground?
—Originally they might be much about the same, but now the big farmers' ground is better.

25940. So that it is worth the farthing extra?
—Very likely.

25941. Then if each big farm, paying say a rent of £1200, has a fair proportion of ground suitable for cultivation, and its proportion of high hill land, would there be anything in the nature of things except the expense of fencing to prevent the farm being split up into two parts high and low together, leaving a big farm upon one side of the fence and distributing the ground on the other side among crofters?
—I think that would work.

25942. Mr Cameron.
—I understood you to say that it would not work?
—I mean that it would not work as at present.

25943. I understood you to say that the sheep farms either should be left as sheep farms altogether or devoted to crofters altogether, and that they could not be divided in the way I suggested; but now you say you think it might be done?
—I misunderstood you.

25944. Professor Mackinnon.
—There is nothing except the cost of erecting a fence to prevent such au arrangement being made if the authorities were willing to do so?
—The stocking of the ground would be a difficulty.

25945. Are there many crofters throughout these two parishes of Tongue and Durness who would be able to bear the expense of removing to one of these places if they got it?
—A number I think would make sacrifices to enable them to occupy such a holding.

25946. Is there a number of them who, after making a sacrifice, would be able with reasonable expectation of carrying it out, to do that?
—A few of them—perhaps not many—with outside assistance.

25947. From your knowledge of the people, in the country and out of it, do you think that there might be a reasonable expectation of outside assistance?
—Do vou mean Government assistance?

25948. I was rather alluding to voluntary assistauce from friends; but put it that way if you like?
—Friends would help in some cases.

25949. I suppose you know the feeling of the people is very much in the direction of getting more land?
—Very much.

25950. We heard yesterday and to-day too, and from yourself also, that the croft for its acreage cannot be said to be too highly rented?
—As a rule, but there may be exceptions.

25951. We heard also that practically there have been no evictions for a great number of years past?
— Practically.

25952. Still the people ask for security of tenure?
—Yes, they do.

25953. And compensation for improvements?

25954. Do you think it is a genuine feeling in the minds of the people that that would be a very desirable thing to get?
—They want security of tenure, partly I think so that the landlord may not be in the position to raise the rents periodically.

25955. What benefits do you think yourself might reasonably be looked for if security of tenure and compensation for improvements were secured to the people by right?
—It might induce the great bulk of them to take more interest in their holdings if they had compensation. If they were aware they were to have compensation in the event of their leaving
the holding.

25956. You think they would make the best of their holdings then?

25957. And would work them better than they work them now?
—They work the arable land well enough already, but they might trench more new land. In fact they work their crofts too well in some cases, because they use too much sea-ware.

25958. And you think relative to the south, even allowing for the advantage of steamboat communication, this place is not too highly rented?
—I don't think so.

25959. So that the great grievance is not the rent but the smallness of the croft?
—No, it is not the rent. Some of them would be poor even although they had the land for nothing.

25960. And you think that if the croft was twice or three times the size that would not be the case?
—I think they would be in comfort if the holdings were enlarged.

25961. Do you think if parties were willing to do it, there is plenty of suitable land in the country to give the people such a croft as that?
—I think so.

25962. I see there has been no subdivision to speak of for a number of years back in this place?
—Not much that I know of.

25963. Do you think that if the people got these big crofts there would not be a danger of subdividing the crofts and making them small again?
—There would need to be a sine qua non that there should be no subdivision.

25964. And you would secure that by quite as firm a right as you would secure tenure and compensation?
—Yes; if Government interference at all is to be allowed in this case, I think it might be allowed to preven the subdivision of crofts. I know there is a difference of opinion as to Government interference.

25965. I observe that although the area of the crofts has remained the same for thirty years under the present management, both the cattle and sheep of the crofters have decreased in number; were you aware of that?

25966. Do you think it could be accounted for by the people having heavier beasts than before?
—No, I do not think the breed has improved ; but perhaps their pasture has deteriorated by their taking away divots, turf, and peats.

25967. In the two parishes you mentioned do you think the land is equally as good for arable cultivation as in the island of Tyree?
—Tyree is a very fertile island.

25968. But in the matter of housing and general condition the people of this country are probably, taking all in all, superior?
—Taking all in all they are very comfortable tenants in Tyree but there are a great many poor people, as poor as anywhere.

25969. They are less equal in their circumstances there than here, some are better off and some worse off?
—Yes, better off and worse off.

25970. The Chairman.
—You have been asked a number of questions with reference to the extension of the croft and the division of sheep farms. I would take the liberty of asking you whether the replies which you have given upon these points have been the result of previous inquiry and deliberation, or whether you have been answering as it were on the spur of the moment without previous preparation?
—I have studied the question during the recent agitation about the crofting system. I had not paid much attention to the subject until the recent agitation.

25971. But has that particular point been presented to your consideration before, of the division of a large sheep farm in its whole length, dividing both pasture and arable land, and the restoration of a portion of it to the crofter—has that particular point been before you previously?
—Recently, I have thought of that.

25972. You have stated that there is a general desire on the part of the people for an increase of the area of their crofts, for fixity of tenure, and for compensation?
—I have found when I have been moving about among the people that they want these things.

25973. Have you been aware that these feelings and wishes have been entertained in past years—for a long time past —or do you think they are the result of recent discussion and agitation ?
—They may have lain dormant in former years; the thing has been quickening by recent agitation.

25974. You think that the same wants have been almost unconsciously felt before, but were not expressed so much?
—Quite so, not expressed.

25975. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—I think you stated that you wished to say something?
—I wished to say that this north country is very badly off for steamboat communication, and for want of piers, I do not mean a harbour of refuge as some delegate stated yesterday, but piers at which a small steamer could land and discharge goods—piers at which fishing boats could be securely moored. I think there is traffic enough to keep a small steamer going, say for Strome Ferry to Thurso, right round the coast.

25976. And you wish some calling place for the steamer?
—Yes, I do.

25977. What place would you suggest as the most suitable for the two parishes you have been referring to?
—There is one on the Melness side already, and I do not think it would cost very much. On the Tongue side there is a tidal ferry at the place where the pier would be most convenient, but perhaps it would not be so easy to make a harbour there.

25978. But there are places where it could be done?
—There are. I think it was stated also by the delegate that there is no right mill in the parish of Tongue. The little surplus bere the crofters have, many of them have to carry seventeen miles to get it turned into wholesome bere meal.

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