Rev. DONALD MACKENZIE, Free Church Minister, Farr (54)—examined.
26077. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How long have you been minister here?
26078. Where were you before?
—I was in America a few years. Before making my own statement I wish to read statements by two
delegates from Kirkton. The delegates are fishermen who could not be relieved to attend here to-day :
—' The crofters of the townships of Kirtoney, Swordly, and Ponberiskag met at the Public School, Kirktoney, on the fourth instant. Different resolutions were put to the meeting and unanimously agreed to. The following grievances were discussed and agreed to. That the township of Kirtoney comprises nineteen holdings or crofts; Swordly, ten; and Ponberiskag three. That the soil is poor and unproductive, producing in its annual returns what will barely support the crofter during the winter months of the year. So that he must seek employment elsewhere, striving hard to make both ends meet. While, on the other hand, he would require to be at home, during the laying down and gathering in the crop, but as no work of any description is to be had at home this cannot be so. Cod and ling fishing would be remunerative on this coast, but the want of any kind of harbours, render this aim of industry abortive. We are cheerfully striving, year after year, trying the best means within our reach to make the sterile patches amongst the rocks yield something like a return for our labour, but our efforts are very often fruitless. A bad harvest comes, when the crop is scattered by storms in the fields, or driven over the rocks into the sea, as in the case of last year when a third of it had been lost. Taking the township of Kirtoney, for example, there is 150 souls located within the small area of one and a quarter mile circumference. This year's produce for the nineteen holdings only amounted to fifty-four bolls of meal. How is this to support the above 150 souls during the twelve months of the year. The people had been huddled and packed together, driven by wholesale eviction from the fertile fields and valleys of Strathnaver, to make room for sheep and deer, for the benefit and pleasure of a few farmers and sportsmen. How is it possible for us under present circumstances to raise our heads above water? Actual beggary is staring us in the face unless some amendment takes place. What we want, to meet our requirements, is extension of our crofts from our present small holdings to moderate sized farms of from ten to thirty acres, arable with hill pasture, wherewith the occupier could maintain himself and family in the necessaries of life with comfort, and find employment on the same during the year. We want some of the sheep farms of Strathnaver to be broken down to small farms of the above, two-thirds or so of the crofters to be replaced in the holdings once their fathers/ and the crofts which they left to be added to those remaining at a fair rent, and fixture of tenure. This system of farming would also benefit His Grace the Duke of Sutherland. He would realise as much rent as is now paid by the big farmers, besides it would diminish pauperism amongst the people, and raise a class of respectable tenantry throughout the land.
Statement of George M'Leod, Crofter, Crask of Farr.
—I represent the townships of Crask of Farr and Clerkhill. There are thirty-three crofts and on these there are no fewer then 245 souls. Before the Strathnaver evictions there were only twelve crofters. The average rent of each croft is £3, 7s. 3d. The land is being encroached upon by the sands of the Bay of Farr, and in one instance a croft has been spoiled by the sand to a great extent. The people I represent are the descendants of respectable tenants who passed the greater part of their lives in the enjoyment of abundance and in the exercise of hospitality and charity. We are now pining on a few miserable acres of poor land, with but a few half-starved cattle, while our able men are spread all over the British Islands and America trying to keep the wolf from the doors of their families and never see their home except for a few months in winter. It is very aggravating to be kept in abject misery when there is plenty of good land lying waste under sheep and game in the same parish. We do not ask much or any unreasonable thing, but that our crofts should be enlarged to fifteen or twenty acres of arable land, with proportionate hilt pasture at a fair rent, with such a fixed hold, as that we could not be liable to eviction as long as we paid our rents. I have further to add that my rent has been twice raised this last fifteen years from £2, 16s. to £5, l½s . , not including poor-rates and other rates besides. The yield of corn is about 4½ bolls.
26079. Were there many people present at the meeting which appointed you as delegate?
—Yes. It was publicly intimated and a large section of the church was occupied.
26080. You were present all day yesterday, and you have been present to-day?
26081. And you have heard what was stated?
26082. In particular you have heard the first delegate, the Rev. Mr Cumming?
26083. Do you agree with all the statements he made?
—I do; as far as my information goes.
26084. Are you a native of Sutherland?
—No, of Ross-shire.
26085. It has been often stated that what is now called the agitation of the people for more land is of modern growth ; is that consistent with your observation?
—Well, it has been reanimated and revived but it has been slumbering in our minds for years. We required no one from the outside to come and agitate us upon this question.
26086. Do you find that this feeling is pervading the crofters of all ages, from old men of eighty to young men of twenty-one?
—Yes, but it is more common among the young who go south and mingle with the people in the south and labour there. Our young men go there for a season and some of them even go across the Atlantic. They get no work or employment here. There are eight or a dozen young men, heads of families, who crossed the Atlantic and worked there for a season and then came home.
26087. So that there is a strong attachment to their native place?
26088. I asked the parish minister of Tongue whether a strong active young man had any prospect of benefiting himself within this parish; is there such prospect in the parish of Farr?
—Some of those young men have gone across the Atlantic. One of them, a man who had learned his trade and had a good knowledge of building, extended his hand and said he had never earned on the Duke's estate more than 3s. 6d., and that was for putting in a grate into a public school. There is no work here.
26089. And no prospect of any?
26090. Does that not give rise to a good deal of discontent?
—It does; to a very great deal.
26091. To some extent does it not give rise to a feeling of hopelessness?
—It does, and there is this in it —I have heard some of the other delegates refer to it—last year a good deal of our corn was threshed and it was blown over the rocks. A numerously signed petition was prepared in the parish of Farr and sent to his Grace. It was sent to Dunrobin where it was understood the Duke was and we never got any acknowledgement of it. No one connected with his Grace had the grace to acknowledge receipt of the petition. The petition was sent away in October last. It was forwarded at that time and we thought it would be taken into consideration at the rent collection in November.
26092. Is it the fact that the proprietor is not very accessible to the people when they want to see him, or to complain of any grievance—that he is surrounded as it were with a hedge?
—That is the fact ; all that we are allowed is to gaze with admiration on the retreating wheels of his
carriage when he is going away. Last year was an exception. He spent three days here at that time, an unprecedented thing in the Tongue management.
26093. Did he at that time come freely in contact with the people?
—He did; more freely than he was ever known to come before.
26094. Was that much appreciated by the people?
—Much appreciated, and it was looked upon as perhaps a sign of good times coming.
26095. I suppose you have frequently talked with old people upon the subject of the Strathnaver evictions?
26096. With people who were themselves alive, and eye-witnesses of the evictions?
26097. And you have read many accounts of what occurred?
26098. Am I right in coming to this conclusion, that the descriptions which were given to you were more vivid that anything than has been written on the subject?
—The accounts of old men living in Aird, and in the different townships about, are more graphic and vivid and harrowing than anything that has ever been written on the subject.
26099. And those are credible men whom you can quite well believe?
—Credible men whose word one would take for anything.
26100. Is there anything in reality in your mind to prevent the proprietor if so minded, when the present leases fall out, meeting the demands of the people ?
—I see nothing.
26101. And it would not be disadvantageous to him pecuniarly?
—My belief is that it would be the very opposite.
26102. You concur in the observations of Mr Mackay, Alt-na-harra?
26103. He has paid attention to the subject?
—Yes, and also Mr Cumming and others.
26104. I suppose now the people don't want anything they are not prepared to pay for; they want no eleemosynary assistance?
— Decidedly not. They don't consider their present rents high; but really although they got the crofts for nothing what good would it do them? There are 293 crofters who pay a rental of £681, 12s. 8d. Divide that among the whole and you have an average rent of £2, 6s. 6d. Now how much land can they have for that 1 It is nothing one way or another; it would not keep them a couple of months.
26105. If you take the crofter population of Farr and the neighbouring parish as a body is it the fact that were it not for extra assistance, earning money and labouring outside, and getting money from relatives, they could not exist?
—Decidedly; above three months in the year; during the other nine months they would die. That is a general thing I believe.
26106. Will you make a brief statement about what is called some interferences by estate officials?
—I will. It intimately concerns my profession. I would like to see the people having the liberty of free
citizens in a free country, but I find their liberty is interfered with in connection with the elections for School Boards, Poor Boards, sand Road Trustees, and so on. I may instance the case of the School Board election which took place in 1879 in this parish. There was a good deal of canvassing and I may refer to the case of one widow woman, the election had taken place, and of course Mr Crawford, the factor, was elected, as he always is, with double the number that would carry any other. A few days after the election the ground officer went to this woman's house and accused her of not having voted as she had promised—accused her of not having voted for Mr Crawford after he had been so good to her. The lands had been revalued shortly before that, and the impression —we were then more amenable to terror, from the local officiate —had gone abroad
—I cannot say who was responsible for it—that according to the voting so would be the rent. But the ground officer went on this occasion and accused this woman of not voting as she had promised, but in favour of another who was obnoxious to the local officiate and Mr Mackay of Skelpick. She said, no, she had voted for Mr Crawford, given three votes to him and two to me, the answer was
—' No, no; that's a lie.' These were the words that were used to her, as the daughter of the woman, who is here, can testify. The woman said she would go to the returning officer, who gave her assistance to vote, as she could neither read nor write, and get him to testify how she had voted. The ground officer said she need not; but the woman came to the inspector and said to the inspector
—' Don't you remember how I voted? ' Yes,' he said,
—' and do you remember what I said to you?—take care and not spoil my pencil.'
The returning officer testified that she had voted right. The daughter then went to the ground officer and said that the inspector remembered how her mother had voted and was ready to testify to it; the
ground officer said —' You should not have gone to the returning officer. Perhaps I may have made a mistake, but Mr Crawford and I will look after the papers; ' as if the ballot papers were in possession of the local officials, and they were interfering with our liberty at elections.
26107. That is one illustration of the interferences?
—Yes. I could give another on the same occasion in connection with that election. It is the case of a widow Murray whose house I can see from the window here. She had been visited more than once
—more than ten times —to induce her to vote in a particular direction.
26108. By whom?
—By the ground officer. She is a member of my church and had favoured me before, and was known to favour me at that time. She was set upon incessantly by the ground officer, and she said
—No, she would not vote as he wished.' Then he said she had not paid her rent, and would she not better give up her holding —because parting with her holding was parting with her food; and she said
—' No; she had not paid, but Providence would help her yet.' I am obnoxious, I know, to the officials ; and, failing every effort to keep this woman from voting for me, the ground officer went to her house on the morning of the day of the election—she is an old woman over eighty —and said Mr Crawford had sent him purposely to tell her not to come out —not to vote; and adding for himself — If you want the factor's favour or mine you won't come out.' This got wind among the people, namely, that this woman was made a prisoner in her own house, and that one of the Duke's officials constituted himself her jailer.
26109. Did she come out?
—She got weak and trembled because the loss of the factor's favour was the loss of house and home; but before the close of the poll she felt better and was able to come out.
26110. What is the present constitution of the School Board?
—It is very much in the territorial interest. Mr Crawford, the factor, is chairman.
26111. How many members are there?
—Five; Mr Purves, Mr Sellar, Rev. Mr Munro, Strathy, and myself.
26112. There is no representative of the crofting interest?
—It is all the territorial interest; and so it is at the Parochial Board —it is all the territorial interest that is represented. Of course, whatever interest our friends the sheep-farmers have in education our children get the benefit of it. But they are absent the most of the year, and their interest is rather to keep down the rates, and we suffer. But I should complete what I had to say about widow Murray. This happened in the election of 1879. Had they succeeded ia preventing that woman coining out they would have excluded me from the School Board. When the state of the poll was declared, well might Mr Purves say with a cynical smile —' This is the result of compulsory education—putting a fool's cap upon all the proceedings. I don't object to canvassing in a reasonable way, but the canvassing in this case was abusing the Duke's influence to suppress the liberties of the people. By the next election the woman got a summons of ejection. She had paid her rent and after paying her rent and after the factor received it, she still was ejected cut of her lot and her lot was given to another, and this was the case of an aged woman, upwards of eighty. The community who knew the circumstances looked upon that as the following out of the threat at the previous election. This took place upon the eve of the following election.
26113. Not until then?
—Between the nomination and the election day she was evicted and the lot given to another. It is fair to say of Mr Crawford that he said he did not authorise the ground officer to go; and my reply to that was that I did not say who authorised him, but that the ground officer himself said Mr Crawford authorised him, and the intimidation was all the same, as he went there as his master's servant.
26114. Is it perfectly certain this poor woman was put out of her croft?
—They looked upon me as the cause of her losing her croft, and I wrote Sir Arnold perhaps more earnestly than I should have done for my own matter, and stated that this woman had been paying rent for sixty years on his Grace's estate, and that she was not a single sixpence in arrears. She had her son and daughter in beside her, besides her daughter-in-law and some seven or eight orphans ; and on taking the case into consideration Sir Arnold allowed her to remain, and she will be there I hope until she dies,
26115. Do you positively affirm that there does exist in this parish in the minds of the people of Farr, founded upon good causes, an impression that if they do anything in the way of asserting independence they will be put down by officialism?
—That is the case. I know nothing between myself and the Duke's representative here, but that I am not simpleminded enough to say, ' No,' when he chooses to say ' No,' and ' Yes,' when he chooses to say ' Yes.' I know of nothing more against me. I know that people are in fear and terror, and I only hope that the meeting of this Commission will enable them to assert their independence. They have a feeling of being cowed down and trampled upon. I may mention that the factor who is chairman and clerk to the School Board got a present of some £50 or £60. The other gentleman besides me who was obnoxious, Mr Mackay, Skelpick, opposed that. I did not oppose it, but I was understood to sympathise with Mr Mackay's view, and the first thing done as soon as the new board was elected was to vote £60 to the factor as clerk to the School Board. I did not oppose it. I said I saw the reasonableness of it, and that I would not do the work for the money. But by the next meeting of the board I saw in the Code that it was illegal to give any of the ratepayers' money to a member of the board, and I then dissented. I did not object. But Mr Crawford hearing that, and that others were opposed to it, accepted the money and returned thanks for it, and I did not object to it. But at the next meeting I had a copy of the Code where it was stated that it was illegal to give any of the ratepayers'
money to a member of the board. Mr Crawford then declined to accept it, and returned the money.
26116. Did the other members of the board return thanks to him for returning it ?
—Not likely. The first thing was to vote the £60 to the factor; and the second thing was that one of the members turned round to the ground officer and said
—' Will you not have some addition to your salary ?
—He did not know what Mr Crawford might think of this and did not refuse—no one would refuse
—and then Mr Purves seconded the motion on the ground that the ground officer would be more successful in taking out children as compulsory officer if he got an additional £5.
26117. Do I understand you that the chairman and factor is also clerk to the School Board?
—Yes; and he occupies the same positions in connection with the Parochial Board. Mr Crawford is chairman and the ground officer is a member also. The landed interest comes in so that the only thing any other person can do is simply to object
26118. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Who was returning officer at the first election you spoke of?
—Mr Macdougall, Inspector of poor and public teacher.
26119. Are you under the impression that he offered to tell how somebody had voted?
—No; but the woman who had voted and who had been accused of not voting right—not voting as she had promised —went to him and said —' Do you not remember how I voted; could you bring evidence to show how I voted?'
26120. How did he know?
—She was illiterate and required his assistance to enable her to vote.