Helmsdale, Sutherland, 6 October 1883 - John Fraser

JOHN FRASER, Crofter's Son and Labourer, Gartamore, Parish of Kildonan (31)—examined.

38370. Mr Cameron.
—Have you any written statement to make?
—No; but any questions that may be asked I will be glad to answer to the best of my ability. I was elected at a meeting of the inhabitants held in May, I think.

38371. Was it a large meeting?
—Not very large. There was a fair attendance, but not a very full meeting.

38372. How was it called together?
—There were notices hung up in public places.

38373. Were there any strangers present at that meeting who were not connected with the district?
—None whatever.

38374. It was a meeting got up and held spontaneously by the people?
—Yes, entirely so.

38375. And you were not addressed by any outsider?

38376. Have you heard the evidence which has been given by the last witness, Mr Sutherland?
—I have heard it read.

38377. Was it read at this meeting to which you allude?
—It was read at a public meeting last night, but not till then.

38378. Do you agree generally with the statements therein made?
—Yes, I concur in the general statement.

38379. Have you any observations you wish to add to that statement?
—I have only to mention the small holdings, the want of fixity of tenure, and no compensation for unexhausted labours.

38380. With regard to the small holdings, what is the average size of the crofters' holdings?
—I think they average about three acres of arable ground.

38381. And what stock do they keep on their hill pasture?
—Perhaps a few milk cows go out there in the summer, and perhaps a few yeld beasts.

38382. How many does each crofter possess?
—Just a cow and a calf.

38383. And a horse, or a share of a horse?
—Yes, most of the people have horses. Of course there are a number who have not got them, and
their ground is turned by the neighbouring crofters' horses, but most of them have horses.

38384. You describe yourself as a crofter's son and labourer. What labour do you engage in?
—I just labour upon the croft, as it were, and I go to the Aberdeen coast in the fishing season, because there is no land to keep me working. I could not live upon it.

38385. But what is the labour at which you work? Where do you go to get this labour?
—Just labouring upon the croft. There is no other labour going on in fact, it would take my time though I put it altogether on the croft. The croft would take my labour entirely, though it is only three or four acres.

38386, When you describe yourself as a labouring man you mean that you labour for your father, not that you are a labourer and hire yourself out?
—No, I don't, because there is no employment to be had. I have gone out since I was sixteen years of age, and hired to the sea as a fisherman at Peterhead, Fraserburgh, and these places, at the herring fishing.

38387. How many months or weeks in the year do you go to the fishing?
—If I went to the Aberdeen coast it would take me, perhaps, ten weeks, and here seven weeks or so.

38388. And you go pretty regularly?
—I went regularly every season since I was sixteen years of age.

383S9. You said, just now, that the croft would occupy almost all your time, though it were a small one?
—Yes, taking it that way; because I may be absent at the very time my presence there would be necessary.

38390. But, of course, you are always present during the spring when the chief work of the croft is being done?

38391. And in the harvest when your services are also required?

38392. Is your position, that you have described, very much the position of other crofters in the district?
—We are considerably better so far, because his Grace grants the croft gratis to my father. We are better off than some are; but, upon the whole, they are much about the same.

38393. I am not talking about that, but is your position as a crofter and fisherman and labourer very much the same as that of your neighbours?
—Much about the same.

38394. They hold much about the same size of croft, and occupy their spare time in the same way as you do?
—Some of them do. Some go out hired as I do, but not many of them go out hired.

38395. Then what do they do?
—They just shift the best way they can.

38396. But I want to know what that best way is?
—Well, when there is any employment to be got in other localities they go and work there for
whiles in the year.

38397. Do they go at all to the south to obtain work?
—They do undoubtedly.

38398. Many of them?
—I have a brother who has gone to America to obtain employment as a mason.

38399. But those who retain their crofts, and whose crofts are not large enough to support themselves and their families, how do they eke out their subsistence?
—They just shift the best way they can.

38400. But what do they do?
—Well, anything they get to do, they do it.

38401. Do they go to the south? You say some of them go out, as you do, to fish, but others don't?

38402. Do the larger proportion go to fish?
—No, their attention is diverted otherwise. It is very few that go hired now. They come from other quarters hired for Helmsdale.

38403. Then, as to the work they are obliged to engage in, in order to help to support their families, will you kindly say what that work is?
—Well, the railway was carried on for a few years, but now it is done out, and there is not much more going so far as I know. There were a few employed at the gold diggings, I think.

38404. Were many employed in the reclamation works that were going on?
—Yes, a few —a very few, I may say.

38405. When I say south I mean south of Sutherland. Do many go there to work, and return at the time their services are required to carry on the business of their crofts?
—Well, not many; because when they go there, they try to make a living the best way they can; and those who are not able to work their crofts get assistance the best way they can. There are very few who return north.

38406. I suppose there are few crofts able to maintain a family without fishing or work of some kind?
—Not one that I know of. There may be an exception, but it is very few, if any at all.

38407. As to fixity of tenure, do you mean that you would like to have your present holdings as they are on a long lease?
—Ob, dear no. I would have means taken that people could not be evicted at forty days' notice, at all events.

38408. What limit would you supply for the forty days?
—What I should like is this, that they should not be evicted—those who have been in possession since sixty years at all events—that they could not be evicted at forty days' notice.

38409. Do you mean that the notice is too short, and that you would rather have a longer notice, or do you mean that they should never be evicted?
—What I mean is that there should be no power of eviction when a man is not guilty of any crime—as a bad neighbour or anything of that kind.

38410. Have the people suffered from arbitrary evictions of late years?
—No, there were no evictions, but there was an attempt made of late. They were served with summonses, at all events.

38411. How many of them?
—Nine, if I mistake not.

38412. What was the reason of that?
—Simply them not signing a document to the factor about not removing the sheep. They did not deny putting away the sheep, but at the same time they would not sign that document.

38413. Are you able to state any facts in regard to the practice which was mentioned by the previous witness on the subject of increasing the rent on the death of the holder of a croft?
—It is almost invariably the practice. It may not be in some cases, but, as a general rule, it is held to be the case.

38414. That, when a crofter dies, his successor, whatever relationship he may bear to the deceased, has his rent raised?
—Yes, if the son succeeds the father, though he should be labouring there for half his life, as a general rule it is done. It may not be done in every case, but as a general rule it is understood among the people that that is the case. [See Appendix A, LXV]

38415. And if a death occurs rapidly after another death, is the rent again raised, or is the one rise considered sufficient?
—Yes, that is done.

38416. Supposing a man dies, and is succeeded by his son, and then a very short period afterwards that son dies and is succeeded by his brother, is the rent raised twice, or would the one rise be considered sufficient?
—It has been done to my next door neighbour within a few years. The sister died, and as soon as the new name was installed the rent was raised.

38417. That was after one death?
—The second death. The father and mother died before. As soon as the first sister's name was put in there was a raising of the rent, and as soon as that sister died there was a rise upon the rent.

38418. During what period of years did that occur? How long time elapsed between the death of the father and the death of the sister?
—I suppose it will be seven since the father died, and three years since the sister died.

38419. What is the name of the party in that case?
—Margaret Macdonald.

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