JOHN ROSS, Crofter, Achresgil (75)—examined.
26644. Mr Cameron.
—What is the size of your croft?
—My lot is about two acres; some are smaller and some larger than mine.
26645. How many beasts do you keep on it?
—One horse, two cows and about twenty sheep.
26646. What is the rent?
—£5, I have only two cows now, but I used to have more formerly.
26647. Have you any observations to make?
—Nothing, except that the rent is increased at a change of the tenure of bath father and son. There are eight widows in the place and their time is near about out like mine, and when an increase of rent is put on, the crofts will be too dear.
26648. How long have you paid that rent?
—I have been in the township for sixty-eight years, and I have paid this rent for fifty-four years' altogether; and my father paid it before me.
26649. It is the future rent you are alarmed about, and not the past?
—We don't say it is too dear just now; we complain of the smallness of the holdings. When the potatoes fail, our crofts don't support us for three months. They would be too small supposing we had twice the amount of land we have.
26650. Do you know anything about fishing?
—I used to fish as long as I was able, but now I can neither fish nor till the land.
26651. Do the people earn as much money at the fishing as will support them during nine months?
—Some make it out of their stock and some make it out of their fishing.
26652. Are they in general in poor circumstances in your village?
—In general they are very poor.
26653. Are they worse off than they were twenty years ago?
—They are getting worse. Last year was an exceptional year, and the crofts would not keep them a month.
26654. Putting out of account last year, to what do you attribute the fact that the people are worse off now than they were twenty years ago?
—That they have nothing in the world to support them, and the smallness of the holding.
26655. Were the holdings not of the same size twenty years ago as they are now?
—The lots were the same, but there are more people on them now; the people are more crowded than they were then.
26656. But if each person has the same lot, how can that person be worse off than he was twenty years ago?
—The crofts are getting worse; the croft cannot yield as good crop. The crofts are not sufficiently large to enable us to leave out some of the land to give it a rest.
26657. Has a croft been sub-divided so as to be of smaller size than it was twenty years ago?
—No, not by the proprietor, but there are some lots with two families upon them, all the same.
26658. Have these two families been allowed to remain there with the consent of the proprietor?
—At that time the proprietor was not opposed to there being two families upon one lot.
26659. Do you think it a good thing yourself?
—No. One family
would require three of the lots.
26660. We have heard it stated to-day, that the people consider it a hardship that the rules of the estate prevent the dividing of crofts and marrying; do you agree in that?
—I don't think it right that the lots should be sub-divided; there too many upon them as it is.
26661. Is the price of stock higher now, or the same, or less than it was twenty years ago?
—The price of stock is higher now, but there are some of the people without any stock.
26662. Under these circumstances can you account for the greater poverty of the people now compared with their condition twenty years ago?
—What benefit would that be to a man who has no stock at all; there are some without stock.
26663. If the lots are the same and the rents are the same and the price of produce is higher, why are the people poorer now than they were twenty years ago?
—The people are very much poorer, and if it was not for gentlemen sending us money, the merchant in Thurso and the merchant in Wick, there would be famine in the land some years.
26664. The Royal Commission are very anxious to find a remedy for the present state of matters, but unless we can find out first the cause of the poverty, it will be difficult for them to recommend anything which can remedy the condition of the people?
—The cause of the poverty is that the people have so little land to support them.
26665. Have you any observations to make about the condition of people's houses?
—There are some of the houses very bad. I have myself built a house that would suit, if the other things were all right. I got from Mr M'Iver £ 3 to assist in building a house.
26666. Are the rules of your district the same as those we have heard from other delegates?
—He offered me also slate, but I would not undertake the repayment of it in three years. I could not buy wood either, for £ 3 would go but a little way in buying wood.
26667. What would you like done?
—To give the people more land.
26668. But about houses?
—We are so poor we cannot build houses.
26669. What you want is, that the proprietor should re-build the houses for you entirely at his own cost?
—That would be a great matter to do, and the people would need it; but I don't want such an arrangement.
26670. Have you anything else to say on the general subject?