Kinlochbervie, Sutherland, 26 July 1883 - Alexander Ross

ALEXANDER ROSS, Foindale, Scourie (74)—examined.

26520. The Chairman.
—Are you a crofter?
—No, I was helping my parents a length of time.

26521. Was your father a crofter?

26522. Is your father alive?
—No, nor my mother.

26523. What is your occupation?
—Nothing, I am only a citizen of
the world.

26524. Where do you live?
—At Foindale, at Loch Laxford. But I may say I have no residence, because I am hated by factors and all in authority.

26525. Have you been chosen a delegate?
—Yes by the people of Eddrachillis and the other end of Scourie and Badcall.

26526. Have you a written statement?
—I have a written statement of grievances, and what we think would amend our condition :
—It is to be acknowledged that it is not easy to tell of the people's grievances in this district in a very clear and straight narrative, because it is sometimes necessary to give seemingly insignificant details to throw light on the leading facts. One of the characteristics of the management in this district is that widows who are not likely to be choosen as delegates, comes for a special share of hardships. Alexander F. Ross, one of the delegates gives a remarkable testimony that the first words he ever heard from the present factor was harassing a poor widow in distress, telling her hardships, yet no mercy was shown her, but turned out of her house without any melioration nor care for when she should be helped., The case of the delegate's own mother is equally to the point, and still harder. After being tenant for upwards of fifty-four years, and in her 78th year of age, was turned out on the hill by the factors personly and party, all doors being locked, even the barn door, which was never heard done in Eddrachillis or the Reay district; and fourteen year previous she was likewise dealt with allowing no melioration, although there was a full claim. These proceedings, as correspondence in the factor's office Scourie will abundantly prove, were taken against the widow as part of a system against her son. The enmity towards equally instructive, it began out of his telling a poor tenant that it was the Bute of Sutherland and Mr Loch's order, that a tenant removed to give his lot to the remaining tenant, M'lver taking it as curtailing his own plans. The lot of the distressed was to be added to the factor's own farm, and it is a part of Mr M'lver's own farm to-day. Another widow, Mrs Dolly Ross, suffered because the delegate had helped to lay down the crop one season. She was distinctly told that she would only be allowed to remain on her lot on condition that she would not permit him to have the shelter of her roof.- This she had to comply with, and forego his assistance that he was willing to render her with her croft. Another, a brother's widow, Jannet Ross, was attacked by Mr M'lver on the road in Scourie, and nearly driven out of her senses by fear of being compelled to turn out her son, who was supporting her, because he took in a young wife. In the township of Ardmore the antagonism to widows had more than an ordinary scope, there being no fewer than four of them. They were ordered to be removed, that their lands might be absorbed in a sheep walk; one of them died within twenty-four hours of being served with the notice of removal; the others were kept under sentence of removal for two or three years, and I believe some of them yet, but only to finding a place in which to put them, they were allowed to remain. Widow Robert Fleming, Fanagmore, was dispensed of a portion of her lot to augment the lot of a man who was fortunate enough to have the favour of Mr M'lver. Widow Hugh M'Kenzie, Rhemhiche, had her rents raised from £42 to £50 a year for no other reason than that her newly married son-in-law had been a very few weeks less than an honeymoon in her house, and with no intention whatever to remain there. She was written to, and a notice of removal served on her; and after the daughter and son-in-law was away, she was only allowed to remain on condition that she would go under a yearly penalty of £8, which she pays to this day. She has to confess, to the credit of his Grace the Duke of Sutherland, that she was allowed an abatement when the other tacksmen got it. Closely related to the widows is the distribution of charity, when it became know that seeds potatoes and oats was ordered by the Duke of Sutherland, each was giving as stinted order as possible, owing to the great price; but poor Robert M'Leod had the bad luck of his name being not in the rental, and would get no seed, as Mr M'lver wished to remove him for a sheep walk for a friend; but Robert would not be cowed until his effects were turned to the hill, which was too glaring, when a Royal Commission was ordered to the Highlands and was allowed, but on condition that he would pay a rise of 17s. on the rent of one of the poorest lots in Eddrachillis. For years the people' of this district have been under this sort of management, and the doings of the present is only in keeping with the past. When the great destitution in '46-'47 in the Highlands, a great quantity of meal and biscuits for soup was sent to Lochinver, Scourie, and Kinlochberbhi. The mouldy biscuits came first in Lochinver in one of M'Donald's vessels, stored in Fanagmore, reshiped and put aboard the emigrant ship, of which Mr M' lver's brother-in-law was owner, after passing the sound stores by the custom house officer, calling the emigrants roll and ordering them to their bunks, and asking if any stranger was aboard. Sound stores was taken out, and the bad put in its place. This carrying on of doings will be seen fully yet by various methods. Things were so managed, that lands which should have been available for the relief of the poor crofters have been laid together for a sheep farm for the factor, which caused his bankruptcy. This grasping of lands has carried with it this glairing consequence among the rest, that he has in his own possession every one of islands which used to be held by the crofter's townships of Tarbet, Fanagmore, and Foindale, for their lambs and rams. Island Handa, one of the best pieces of land for man or beast in the district, and which was occupied by ten crofters and their dependants, is now in the factor's hands. We know that Mr M' lver took some writing from one of the crofters, to blindfold his employers, saying that Island Handa was not fit for crofters, and by bribes and promises made those remaining to leave. There is not one in the place who believe the truth of this about Island Handa; and immediately eight young men petitioned M' lver for the island, and it is believed Mr M'lver's animosity to Angus M'Kascill was that petition, but the connection is very close with the fact of the people's need of reparation. We may mention, as bearing on the relative interests of the duke and the factor, that Mr M'lver tried to get the tenants of Foindalmore to go to Sciricha, Ardbeg, Inverna-Clashfuchrach, and Laxford, that Foindalemore might be added to the farm, and failing in his attempts, the offered lands have been let to a sheep farmer, although there were other tenants anxious to get crofts. In short it would take a Royal Commission specially for the purpose to unravel the Scourie management. All this time the most and best lands in the parish being in the hands of six or seven tacksmen and three or four sportsmen, the vast majority of a population of 1500 are pinched for land —for the land from which their fathers were removed in former times. We have already mentioned a number of the townships cleared and now in the occupation of tacksmen. We have to mention further the townships of Rian-na-strone, Balachintur, Bortlaodhinhorchi and part of the Achriscil ground taken from crofters and given to an innkeeper, all in Mr M'lver's time. Shegra was cleared for Hugh M'Kay, and Sandwood and (Scherica) cleared in former times for Munro Achany. It is also to be mentioned here that while the blunder of making these great farms or sheep walks has been abundantly proved by the failure of those who got them, the same policy has been pursued. New tenants, mostly from other places, have been put in possession, and the native crofters still left to become poorer from year to year and from generation to generation for want of the inheritance of their forefathers. These facts go to show that all this time there have been openings for the relief of the crofters, because not only have all the first sheep farmers disappeared, but on several of farms more than once vacant since the clearances. The remedy which has been so long withheld is the remedy which we now propose, the redistribution of the people over the better lands of the estate.

26527. Who wrote that paper?
—I wrote it.

26528. Yourself?
—Yes, I wrote it myself.

26529. Did you read it to the people of the place in which you live?

26530. How many of them were called together?
—Not very many; there are not many at home; all that could leave for the fishing were away.

26531. Did you read that paper to them in a meeting, or did you take it to them one after another.
—I did not read it to them in a meeting.

26532. To how many did you take it?
—I really cannot say.

26533. Did you take it to anybody?
—Yes, and there are a great many of them in the house, and any one who has anything to say against
or for it can speak here.

26534. Did any one sign it?

26535. Why not?
—I didn't ask them, or any one to sign it; if they would speak here, nine-tenths of them would confirm the truth of it

26536. You stated that a man of the name of Ross was threatened to be evicted lately?
—I think not lately.

26537. How long since?
—I don't speak of a man of the name of Ross, I think, in the paper at all. I said a widow woman of the name of Ross was waylaid on the road to Scourie.

26538. That is not the case I refer to?
—I said the widow Dolly Ross.

26539. That is not the case which I mean?
—Then it was Robert Macleod I spoke of at Ardmore.

26540. How long is it since the case of Robert Macleod happened?
—This last winter and spring. His father died this last winter. His father was a servant of the Duke of Westminster and the Duke of Sutherland, and they were allowing him so much a year, but Robert's name was not in the lot, and when the father died Robert went to the factor for the lot, and the factor told him he would never be tenant of it. Robert spoke to the Duke of Westminster and the ladies, and went a second time to apply to the factor for the lot, and he said, ' You applied soon enough; you applied to the Duke of Westminster and the ladies, and what will that help you? Try now if the sun and moon will help you.' He applied then for seed in the spring of the year, but as his name was not in the rent roll, he would get no seed, and none was given him.

26541. This circumstance about Robert Macleod occurred this last year?
—Yes, and this year also.

26542. Did you get the information from Robert himself?

26543. And the end of it was that he got his father's croft upon payment of 17s. more?
—Yes. And he is there now, and he is here now; at least he was here to-day.

26544. What was the 17s. put on for?
—I don't know unless it was for his father's grave, or paying a clerk for keeping accounts.

26545. What was Robert Macleod's total rent before?
—I think £3.

26546. It is a small rent?

26547. Has Mr M'lver got a large farm?
—Pretty large; not very large. He has what was allotted as Scourie farm, which includes Foindale, Finnachmore, Finnachbeg, Trantleniore, Trantlebeg, Clashmore, Clashfearn, and Island Handa.

26548. You are an old man of seventy-four, and speaking under a great deal of responsibility. Do you say Mr M'lver, while factor for the Duke of Sutherland, has been the means of turning out a number of small people in order to increase his own farm?
—I do not say that.

26549. What became of these people?
—One went to Badcall and another to Achnaskail. When the tenant left to go to America he was
put into that lot with the promise of being water bailiff at the head of Loch Inchard.

26550. How long has Mr M'lver been factor?
—About thirty-eight years, I suppose.

26551. You mentioned particularly about Island Handa; there were ten crofters on that island, were there not?

26552. Why were they put away?
—I am not sure why they were put away there, because when these farms we are speaking of were laid in sheep the people were huddled together in Scourie.

26553. Did these families go away?
—They wanted to go to America, and one of them was willing to remain and take Island Handa himself.

26554. Would he have given the same rent?
—Yes, the same rent

26555. What were you doing most of your life; have you been out of the country?
—Only a short time.

26556. Have you been a fisherman?
—I have been fishing, but I was not a real fisherman.

26557. Where did you receive your education?
—In Scourie.

26558. You are now making a very serious charge here?
—I cannot help it. I don't think there is any charge in it.

26559. At all events you declare now publicly that all the statements drawn out in this paper are to the best of your belief correct?

26560. And you don't wish to withdraw them?
—Not an item of them.

26561. Mr Cameron.
—How did the 17s. come to be added to Robert Macleod's rent on account of his father's grave?
—It became a practice in this parish since Mr M'lver came to office, when parents died to add so much rent on the son or daughter getting their croft, and when Robert Macleod got the croft 17s. was added to the rent.

26562. It was added to the rent when his father died?

26563. How were you elected a delegate?
—I was elected a delegate in the parish of Eddrachillis. There was a meeting called, and I was elected,
and Angus Macaskill and Donald Mackintosh too.

26564. Did you ask the people to elect you?

26565. How came these people who are crofters to wish to be represented by one who is not a crofter?
—They knew that the one who had management of his father's and mother's croft for twenty years knew the state of the parish as well as any one, and one who was dealt with in such a harsh way; and they wanted the condition of the parish to be stated.

26566. You think they considered you would represent their views better than one of themselves?
—Yes, I do believe they did.

26567. You say in this paper that one of the characteristics of the management in the district is that widows are not likely to be chosen as delegates, and come in for a special share of hardship; what do you mean?
—Because there are no women chosen as delegates by any parish or any one.

26568. When did you first hear that delegates were to be chosen?
—When the Royal Commission came to the Isle of Skye I heard it, and when the commissioners were at the Lews I saw it in the papers.

26569. But the management of the estate in which these widows were concerned must have gone on a long time before there was any question of a Royal Commission?

26570. Then how can the management of the estate be affected by the election or non-election of delegates, when it was only known since the appointment of the Royal Commission ?
—I did not say the management was affected by the election of delegates.

26571. Then why do you put in anything about the delegates?
—Because women were not to be chosen as delegates.

26572. Then you are the representative of widows as well as crofters?
—Yes, I represent the parish, whether women or widows or crofters.

26573. The Chairman.
—You state the case of your own mother. What reason was given for removing your mother from her holding?
—The reason was, we had grazing at Achlighness, and that was taken from us, and I was claiming the grazing along with other tenants for my mother; and then the factor let that grazing a second time to another sheep farmer, and I was turned out, and would not be allowed to remain in the country for claiming that and keeping my mother's stock on that ground.

26574. You intended to put your mother's stock on a certain piece of ground, and you were forbidden to do that?

26575. And because you continued to keep the stock on, you were removed?

26576. Was your mother removed too, or would she have been allowed to remain in the house if she had pleased?
—She would not be allowed to remain if I remained with her; and she would not be allowed to remain
if my child eight years' old were to stay with her; and she would not be allowed to remain at last on any condition.

26577. Would she have been allowed to remain on any condition herself?
—I don't believe it.

26578. Was she ever summoned personally to go away ?

26579. Was she in arrear for her rent?
—Well, she was in arrear for one year's rent, but there was a sort of clearing account made up of arrears before then.

26580. Was any offer made to your mother of another place?
—I don't know if any offer was made to her of another place.

26581. Was any offer made to you of another place?

26582. When your mother left this place where did she go to?
—One of the neighbours took her into their house at night, but there was no place she could go to.

26583. Where did she go afterwards before her death ?
—She went with another brother of mine, who was in Foindale. There was some application to get up a hut or room for her, and Mr M'lver allowed that to be done.

26584. Was your brother a crofter ?
—- Yes.

26585. Your mother was supported after that by your brother?
—Not by that brother.

26586. Was she supported by you?
—In a measure. My mother had means herself for a time to support her.

26587. How long did she live after she removed?
—She lived about five years, I think.

26588. Where did you go to after you were turned out?
—I went to Wick; I have a brother a seafaring man there.

26589. And you gained your livelihood in Wick?
—Yes, for a short time.

26590. You stated that your mother was in arrear with the rent for one year?

26591. Did the factor forgive her rent for that year?
—He did'nt take the stock for the rent. He put in an account for something before then, but it was forgiven by the Duke of Sutherland fourteen years' before.

26592. I ask you whether your mother was obliged to pay the year's rent or not?

26593. Here is a letter addressed to Mrs Caroline Ross :
—' After the arrangement entered into here with you, in the presence of Mr Donald Macdonald, merchant in Scourie village, and the manner in which you have since departed from that arrangement, by declining on the 26th, in presence of so many people, to quit your holding, I have been unwillingly compelled to apply to the sheriff for a warrant to eject your family and stock from Achlighness. This will be carried out immediately. I regret the necessity of it, but there is no alternative. Had you acted up to the terms of our agreement to give quiet and peaceable admission to the incoming tenant, my intention was to give you a present of the year's rent; but that is now cut of the question. You will not cut any peats, and my advice to you and your son is to quit Achlighness on receipt of this letter.'
What was the arrangement?
—I don't know of any arrangement. I don't know of my mother speaking to the factor at any time, but it was arranged that the shepherd should be put at one end of the house and she would be allowed to remain in the other. That was said, but I don't know if it was true.

26594. You state that she was in the 78th year of her age?
—Yes, she was.

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