Kinlochbervie, Sutherland, 26 July 1883 - Donald Mackay

DONALD MACKAY, Laid, Port-na-Con (60)—examined.

26405. Sheriff Nicolson.
—What has been your business in life?
—I was a fisherman in Nova Scotia, a teacher in Rogart, Sutherland, and in Argyleshire, and I have been a landed proprietor and sheep-run holder in New Zealaud. I am at present residing at Laid, Loch Erriboll.

26406. Have you been elected a delegate?
—I have. At two public meetings recently held I was unanimously elected by all the crofters of the hamlet of Laid.

26407. What statement have you to make on behalf of these people?
—Well, I have studied to the best of my ability medicine as a private person. I made myself a good deal acquainted with the order and practice of hydropathic treatment, and have got intimately acquainted with the actual condition of the people in that way, so that I can tell the Commission the actual state and kind of land they occupy. If I may be allowed to say a few words before I am examined, I should like to say that I have no personal grievance. With regard to the factor, I have to say for him that if no good result is to accrue from my presence here, it will in a way be attributed to the factor, for if it were not for his generosity of heart and private liberality to me, I would not be here. With regard to what the people complain of, I have to say that this crofting hamlet of Laid is the most recently formed of all the settlements, in consequence of the evictions previous to 1835, the year when I first left the parish. Laid then was of so little account that there were only some kelp-workers' huts on the shore, that any person could reside in and do what he liked, without let or hindrance. The mountain slope rises from the water side, and the hamlet has a frontage of nearly two or three miles on the slope. The road runs parallel with the sea to the village, and the houses are between the road and the sea. The formation of the surface of the mountain is quartzite rock, and above this there is a
cairn of the same material, which is chemically the same as flint, and a thin skin of peat over this, with the cairn protruding, so that there are only patches here and there between the protruding cairn which can be at all tilled. In dry weather this is traversed by currents of air in the fissures, and when the soil is dry and pulverises, this communicates with the cairn above; and in winter or spring the rain falls upon the whole mountain slope and runs down, because there are no depressions in the rock to store it, and it comes through this cairn and wells up through the cultivated soil, so that the tilled land becomes flooded, and it washes away the soil. In dry weather the soil is simply peat dust, which becomes, if there is a length of drought, as dry as chaff and nearly as light, and part is blown away with the winds. The general result is, that since the place was settled in 1835 many of the plots first brought under cultivation have disappeared; and with regard to the remaining plots, some half or more, the same process is going on, and in another generation or so the crofts will have to be left, because there will be no soil. There is a mountain torrent at the little hamlet, and there is a delta of gravel and quartzite sand of some three acres, where this stream enters the sea. The sand and gravel are not drifted away, so that this site, to any person of ordinary powers of observation and the least humanity, would be seen to be absolutely unfit for occupation. It was like penal servitude to put people to cultivate such a place.

26408. Where were the people brought from to that place, and why?
—-The first man that was put there by eviction was from the sheep farm of Erriboll. He was sent there before the place was laid out. There was a fine green spot at the head of Loch Erriboll, where he had a small croft, and he was evicted, and settled where this stream is. He was a man who had served his country; he was a piper in the army, and was over in Ireland. He was a most inoffensive kind of man, and he was the first who was removed and settled there; and he died there. When I left the place for America, I and my father went to see him on his death-bed.

26409. How many more were sent with him?
—The last formed sheep farm was Rispond, and my maternal grandmother was evicted from Rispond, and had to settle here at Laid. Several other parties from Rispond sheep farm also settled there.

26410. How many families are there now altogether?
—There are altogether twenty-three families, but one of these, although in the same community, is the family of a keeper who has a croft.

26411. Are some of them cottars, or are they all crofters?
—There are nineteen crofts, and one is a cottar, who has a small spot near the boundary, and pays no rent; and I think there are two sub-crofters.

26412. What rent do they generally pay?
—The rents range, I think, from £ 1 to £ 1 , 15s.

26413. Are there none higher than that?

26414. What amount of stock are they able to keep?
—There are twenty-nine cows in the hamlet, I believe, and eleven stirks, making the whole number forty, which is nearly two beasts per family. There are, as far as I could ascertain, about 121 sheep, or five and a quarter per family. There is a population, taking an average, of a little over five to each family.

26415. Are there any of them able to make a living out of the land?
—No, certainly not.

26416. How long does the produce of their land support them generally?
—Since the potato failure it does not support them at all. The main benefit which they get from the corn produce in their crofts is to winter their beasts, and it is not sufficient for that; they have always every year to buy fodder for their cattle—to import it. One thing further that I should tell about the place is, that it is imperfectly sheltered; it is an even plane, which tells greatly against it. It is situated on the mountain slope, and there is no shelter from one end to the other. There is abundant shelter on the sheep farms about, but not at Laid.

26417. What means of living have the people?
—The only other means taken advantage of to get money by the most of the population is whelk
gathering. These they commence to gather about the new year, and they continue to gather them untd they commence the crop cultivation in spring. Engaged in this work, in the most inclement season of the year, are women and half-clothed children, which tells most dreadfully against the constitutions of the children.

26418. Are there no fish?
—Yes, generally in Loch Erriboll there are fish which can be used for domestic purposes, but there is no market, and there is a great deal of decay in the families of a great many of them for some time now, from the active members going away. Many of them, although the fish are there, cannot get the benefit of them.

26419. Is there no cod or ling fishing?
—Not in the loch. They enter occasionally, but the principal fish caught are haddock and flounder, and at the mouth of the loch, at Rispond, cod and ling are abundant.

26420. Do none of the inhabitants regularly prosecute that fishing?

26421. Or herring fishing?
—The herring fishing is very poor in Loch Erriboll; some years there may be a few, but ordinarily they are not there.

26422. Do none of the men go to the east coast fishing?
—All those who are able are prosecuting, winter and spring, the lobster fishing.

26423. Is it good lobster fishing?
—Yes, it is as good as any here, but, as has been mentioned already, there is a great difficulty in getting lobsters in time for the market. They have to cart them sixty miles to Lairg.

26424. What have you to suggest for the improvement of the condition of the people—is it possible for them to get a comfortable subsistence out of that place?
—Not so far as I can see.

26425. Is there any land which, if added to their present crofts, would make them more comfortable?
—No there is no land. The big sheep farms of Rispond, on the one side, and Erriboll on the other, would in my opinion accommodate more than the present population of the parishes; but there is no other way of providing for them. There is a fertile limestone island; the peculiarity of this place is that there are various formations of limestone, gneiss and micaceous schist; and in this peculiar place there is not a particle of light soil but it goes away.

26426. Why was the place called Port-na-con
—Port of Dogs—There is a tradition that there was a fight between a dog and Fingal.

26427. Perhaps it was thought fit only for dogs to inhabit?
—That would be a very good construction, because it is not fit.

26428. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—For human beings ?
—It is not. The marriageable young people are about equal in number, but I consider, especially the females, from delicacy of constitution and disease, very few are fit to rear healthy offspring. There is a number of young men, who have good constitutions, hardy and able. There are two families side by side, in which there are six young men who have been marriageable for the last ten years, and they have seen that the most misery is where there are large families. I think it is miserable that during youth these young men should not have sufficient subsistence, and I have been speaking to them, as I have been on intimate terms with them since I came, and they told me what deterred them from marrying was the misery they would entail upon their offspring. I think it is a deplorable state of things, that young men who are industrious and prudent and of good constitution, should be deterred from marrying from these considerations. I was born in Strathmore.

26429. The Chairman.
—At what period was Strathmore cleared?
—Just before I was born. I was removed when I was at the breast to Strathbeg, at the head of Loch Erriboll, and I resided there until I was twelve years of age, when my father removed to Nova Scotia. I have been residing at Laid for ten years.

26430. You consider there is a good deal of land in Strathmore capable of cultivation?
—Of profitable cultivation; and I am confident there is not half nor a third of the pasture growing in it that was growing in my young days. It is reverting to a state of nature—heather, ling and moss.

26431. Which side of the strath was the more populous—the side on which the road is or the other?
—The east side was the more populous.

26432. It was not so good a strath for cultivation as Strathnaver?
—I think it is about the best sheltered spot I know in the country. The soil is good on the floor of the strath, and the pasture is good; but it is very much smaller than Strathnaver.

26433. When was it cleared —about what year? was it all done at once or gradually?
—I am not able to answer that question just now, because it was cleared when my father left, or before that.

26431. Is it in the Reay country?
—Yes, it is in the parish from which I am delegated.

26435. Was it cleared before it was purchased by the Sutherland family or after?
—I am not able positively to say, but my impression is that it was cleared before the Sutherland family got the estate.

26436. Do you think there are many of the people in your poor settlement here who would be glad to be transported into Strathmore, and who would be able to form crofts?
—Undoubtedly, if they could get crofts there upon terms that they could settle upon. But in my hamlet the people are so poor that they have no means to settle unless they get accommodation.

26437. How many of these poor people in the place you speak of have got friends abroad or in Scotland who would be able to assist them?
—I am not aware. I know a few have friends in Australia. I know a widow who has a son in Australia who sends his mother assistance.

26438. You have been in Nova Scotia; is there any land there still available near the coast for the purpose of a settlement for emigrants from this country?
—Oh ! yes.

26439. Is land there still cheap?
—I believe it is.

26440. Do you think Nova Scotia a colony well adapted for settlement from here?
—Yes, I think so; but I think Australia and New Zealand are more eligible.

26441. Is the voyage there not much more expensive?
—It is.

26442. Would the people find more facilities for fishing and practising their natural industries in Nova Scotia?
—I don't know, because along the coast in Nova Scotia fishing is one of the principal industries, and the strip of land along the coast is nearly all bought up and occupied by the fishermen. Those who are to settle now must go back into the interior, and live by farming.

26443. Do you think the fishing population on the coast of Nova Scotia happier and more prosperous than the corresponding class of people here?
—There is no comparison between them.

26444. Would you advise your countrymen, unless they got land, to emigrate and settle abroad?
—My view of that question is this—I can say that both in North America and New Zealand, I have seen the same class of men working the same as the crofter class here, and because they were certain of the fruits of the labour and industry which they expended upon the soil, they made their places like a gentleman's house; they had the orchards and gardens and fields in such a state. They had there this great inducement to persevering industry which the people here don't understand that they want, because they never had the advantage of it. I look upon them as eagles reared in a cage, who don't know what they could do if they were free. My view as to emigration is that we should not force the people to go, nor prevent those who are willing, but put them under just and free conditions, so that they might be equally well off here.

26445. Professor Mackinnon.
—Do you think it would be advisable to have a pier at Rispond?
—I think so; I think it would be in the interest of everybody. There would be no opposition to it, and I think it would be a great advantage to the whole place. There is a mine of wealth in the sea there, if it could be made available, and it never can be made available until there is a sufficient pier made at Rispond.

26446. Is the place suitable?
—It is the most suitable we have. The expense might be very considerable, but it would be a permanent boon to the place.

26447. It would open up the place?
—It would, and would enable men to live by fishing, who have no means of living now.

26448. They would be able to send fish to the market, which they are not able to do now?

26449. I suppose your meaning with regard to emigration is that the young eagle should fly towards Strathmore rather than Nova Scotia?
—Let it fly where it likes.

26450. But you think that would be the best way to start matters?

26451. And then after that place was peopled, let them search for other places : is that what you mean?
—Yes. My own view is that it would be better for the colonies if the people were to emigrate there, and no doubt, in present circumstances, it would be better for the people; but I think it would be better for this country if the people had these natural inducements. At present whatever a man does in improving his lot, even as a workman, the Duke is heir to it, and this is demoralising, because the people can never acquire industrious habits and the spirit for industry which they would have if they were differently situated.

26452. I suppose the place where they are just now is so bad that it would not be worth giving it to them, even with certainty of tenure?
—No. Perhaps two or three persons could live there by the cattle run, but there are twenty-three just now.

26453. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—When were you last in Strathmore ?
—Last summer.

26451. Do you know how high up the glen people were once living?
—They were living up as far as the shooting cottages at the head of the main stream. It then branches into several rivers at the new forest.

26455. Where two or three large streams meet at Gobnanuisgeich?

26456. There were actually families living there?

26457. All the year ?

26458. It was not a small shieling merely?

26459. And were living from there all the way down?
—Yes; on the slopes of Loch Hope below, there were some settlements; but there is a great deal of land which is the debris of mica schist and micaceous flagstones, which could be tilled profitably.

26460. Have you any idea how many souls, when the place was fully occupied, there would be from the ferry up to the place at the meeting of the waters?
—I have no data from which I could answer that question.

26461. Would there be several hundred souls, not families?
—I think there would be 200 at any rate.

26462. You have travelled over the world and seen a good deal, and studied many things. We saw an old tower there; can you tell us very briefly what it once was?
—I don't know; it is a prehistoric ruin. There are several similar ruins there. There are some even in the top of high hills, and it would be a puzzle to know why human beings resided in such exposed situations.

26463. What story have the people themselves about this tower? It is called Dornadilla's Tower?
—There is one story that the stones were taken from a very long distance, but I can give no story about it, which would give any satisfactory explanation. There are others nearer where I live now, the remains of old ruins, which I have explored, and I find that those who had these strongholds lived upon shell fish and animals of the chase. I have got the teeth of very large graminivorous animals, as large as horses and cows, and I sent some of them to the late Professor of Natural History in Aberdeen, but although he knew they were the teeth of graminiverous animals, he could not make out the species. I think they may have been teeth of the Irish elk.

26464. But you don't know anything about this tower in Strathmore?

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