Bettyhill, Sutherland, 25 July 1883 - Rev John Stuart Mackay

Rev. JOHN STUART MACKAY, Free Church Minister, Alt-na-harra, Strathnaver (45)—examined.

25979. Mr Cameron.
—You have heard the evidence given by the last witness?

25980. The other Mr Mackay was questioned a good deal upon the subject of the possibility of giving more land to the crofters by taking it from the adjoining sheep farms; have you at all studied the question, and are you prepared to give evidence on it, or would you rather touch upon other points?
—I am quite prepared to give evidence upon that point; I have made it a study. But I wish to make this statement before giving the evidence upon that, that I know farmers having these holdings personally, and holding them in the highest respect, I would not wish it to be supposed that in any opinion of mine I should be supposed to be inimical to the gentlemen.

25981. You are acquainted with the parish of Farr?
—Yes, I am a native of the country.

259S2. The parishes of Farr and Tongue are adjacent?

25983. And you are acquainted with both equally well?

25984. You are aware that the crofts are bounded by farms on either side?

25985. And these farms are very large?
—Very large.

25986. What is the smallest of these large farms in rental?
—The smallest is about £350. There are two farms paying about that rent, one of them at the extreme top end of the Strath and the other at the lower end. The one at the top end is in the hands of a farmer having another farm extending from the other end. They were two separate farms in my time.

25987. From your knowledge of the people do you believe there would be any objection on their part to migrate to these farms even although the distance be something considerable?
—Not at all; quite the opposite. But it might be difficult from lack of means on the part of many of them.

25988. Have you ever had any conversation with the tacksmen with whom you say you are acquainted, as to the possibility when a suitable opportunity offers of adding to the crofters' holding some of the land at present occupied by them?
—Yes, I have spoken to some on that point.

25989. Will you tell us if these gentlemen have any objection to such being done, and what is the nature of their objection?
—One of them expresses himself that his farm is too large, and that having respect to the rights of the body of the people, he thinks they ought to be more liberally dwelt with; and he would personally wish very much that should be done.

25990. My questions refer exclusively at present to this; suppose the Duke of Sutherland were willing to do this voluntarily when the existing tacks are out of lease, would it be possible, and how far, to give the crofters what they evidently desire most ardently, additional land, out of these sheep farms? I cannot talk of anything but the voluntary giving up of it by the Duke, and I want to know how far in your opinion, and that of the tacksmen, that could be profitably or satisfactorily carried out?
—That is, by the tacksman retaining as much as would make good farms of them?

—25991. Yes; what I wish to know is whether the tacksmen could give up a portion of his farm such as would enlarge the holdings of the crofters who remain, and yet be able to pay an equal rent proportionately or that which remains as he does now for the whole?
—I do not know that the present tacksmen would be able to do that, because the larger the
holding is for them the better able they are to carry on their sheep farming ; it is more profitable for them the larger the holding. But I have not the slightest doubt that the Duke would realise a larger rental by placing the ground in the hands of small tenants.

25992. It is a fact now, is it not, that these very large sheep farms are so difficult to let, that it is almost impossible to get tenants?
—That is coming to be the case.

25993. That is generally owing to the enormous capital required to stock these sheep farms at the present high price of sheep?
—Yes, and also on account of the high price of wintering and the badness of the pasture.

25994. From that point of view, provided the Duke or any other large proprietor had a sufficient amount of capital to subdivide his farm, it would be more profitable to him to let even sheep farms of smaller size than at present?
—I believe it would.

25995. There only remains the question of the possibility of dividing these farms in such a way as would give a moderate share, a fair proportion, of hill pasture for summer and wintering for the sheep in winter, and still leave ground suitable for the crofters?
—Yes, leaving low ground for the sheep, that would be on the high ground in summer, for the farmer, and the ground being of the same nature almost all along the strath, the rest could be more profitably placed in the hands of small tenants.

25996. Would the land that might be taken from the large tacks be divided in your opinion more suitably up and down?
—Much more.

25997. Rather than horizontally ?
—That would not do at all. That would not suit either the crofter or the large farmer; they must have it up and down for the waterside.

25998. Is that your opinion from experience and also from conversation with large farmers?
—Certainly. Some of the farmers express a doubt, and say that dividing the ground into small sheep farms would not pay the small sheep farmers better than the large sheep farmers pay their shepherds. The shepherds themselves say it would pay them better. The farmers say if the farms are divided among so many farmers as there are of shepherds, the farmers in these small farms would not be paid better than the shepherds are, but the shepherds are of a very different opinion. They think they could make the thing pay much better by having farms of that size or less, and they would give double the rent

25999. But that would hardly apply to the case of a crofter, because the crofter would not get as large a holding as the hirsel of a shepherd at present?
—Certainly not, but the crofters would be comfortable with from twelve to twenty acres of higher pasture.

26000. And the crofter would plough and turn up the land now under grass?
—Certainly. The haughs are not adapted to be cropped constantly, they are better adapted for grass; but in the meantime the grass is deteriorating for moss, and it would be the better of being cultivated for a few years, which would give the crofter time to trench on the hillside and lay the ground out again in pasture, which would be very much more beneficial. It would in the meantime be better by putting the plough in and giving sustenance for his family and give an opportunity for cultivation of the hillside, and then lay this out in pasture again.

26001. In your opinion would much of this land which might be occupied by crofters require draining?
—It would require draining certainly, that is to say ground which was to be trenched; but not the ground in the present haughs.

26002. In the ground which shows the remains of old cultivation, were there drains?
—No, that would require to be cultivated.

26003. How was it cultivated before?
—It was not thoroughlv trenched, but merely scratched over. But that was sixty or seventy years ago when they had different ideas of agriculture. Had they been cultivating the same way as they are now, I believe the ground would have been worth five times its present value.

26004. But the people grew considerable crops of grain?
—In that case they would be infinitely better to-day, under better agricultural processes.

26005. What I want to know is whether in your opinion all these lets now under permanent pasture, and which if occupied by crofters would be cultivated, would require draining?

26006. That would involve considerable expense?
—Yes, but it would pay itself in a few years.

26007. Have you ever considered the question of how this expense might be met?
—Yes. My opinion is that everything of that kind done by the proprietor is done at great expense, and it is scarcely worth doing on a large scale in this country; but by a small tenantry it could be done better and at half the expense compared with what it could be done by the proprietor giving money at so much per cent, to the holder and allowing him to do it. The tenant would have double interest in doing it well and cheaply. He would keep down his own rental by spending money to the best purpose, aud the croft being his own, he would do the work much better than it would be done under contract.

26008. Do you think the proprietor would advance money to the tenant when he gave him this new land without charging him interest?
—No, charge interest at a reasonable rate.

26009. Would you consider the proprietor also entitled to ask rent as well as interest?
—Of course—for the hill pasture and for all the ground besides—rental for the ground iu its state of nature, but not as arable ground. The interest of the money would be paid on that.

26010. Do you think the people who appear to us to be not only willing but very anxious to migrate to these lauds, and to obtain a portion of the lands now occupied by the large farmers, would be in a position to enter into an arrangement of that kind, paying a rent and paying interest?
—A goodly number of them are, but that is the great difficulty I see in the way, that they have no capital to do it.

26011. But you have got over the difficulty about capital by the way you suggest of the proprietor's finding capital?

26012. But do you think the tenant would be in a position to pay rent plus interest upon the new farm he would get?
—I think so, for this reason that there is a great portion of land that might be immediately put in cultivation until such time as he gradually took in the hillside ground, and he would only be paying interest for the money he was gradually spending, and his stock on the hill in the meantime would pay the rental of the holding.

26013. But some portion of the expenditure would require to be laid out altogether and immediately?

26014. The houses would require to be built at once.
—Yes, and that is a great difficulty. I have no doubt some of the people might be able to pay—they would gradually get into it with houses not very commodious.

26015. Enclosures would also require to be made at once?
—That might be done gradually.

26016. There is another difficulty which I am afraid is still greater, that of stock?

26017. Of course if they are to have larger holdings they must have more stock?
—That is the great difficulty we see in the way, and I believe his Grace would be most willing to meet the people anywhere if he only saw they were able to stock the ground, and by translating a number from places overcrowded at present it would leave room for the benefit of those who remain in the present places.

26018. I am afraid there are one or two more difficulties. One is the question of schools. New schools will require to be built; would not that add to the already heavy taxation?
—I do net think that would be a great difficulty. The taxation presently in this parish is only a matter of 6d. in the pound or so.

26019. But by this arrangement the parish would not be relieved of any of the existing schools, and those new schools would be additional?
—There are schools at present in these straths for children, and they might be enlarged; and one or two others might be placed at other places. I do not think that would add very much to the rates.

26020. It would clearly add to the rates, because a whole staff would be required for every one of those schools'?
—We have presently schools for the shepherds with a pupil teacher, but not a right staff.

26021. But not sufficiently large to accommodate a population?
—No, but these might be enlarged at a not very great co3t.

26022. What salary do the teachers of these shepherds' schools get?
—Very small.

26023. I suppose the teacher of the regular schools under inspection would be something on a par with the rest of the teachers in the parish?
—That would depend upon the community. If you put a number of people in one place where they would not be within reach of the school there would require to be a school there.

26024. But it would be all additional?

26025. Would the Free Church to which most of the people belong find the money for building churches?
—Yes. I would undertake to do that.

26026. I might eliminate that difficulty from the others?
—Yes. The help of friends has helped us before. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie and Mr Fraser-Mackintosh have already helped us to the amount of £300.

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