Helmsdale, Sutherland, 6 October 1883 - Alexander Gunn

ALEXANDER GUNN, Crofter, Bual, West Helmsdale (38)—examined.

38685. The Chairman.
—You have a written statement to make to the Commission ?
—' Bual District. I was appointed delegate by the crofters of the Bual district, in West Helmsdale, to state our grievances. There are fourteen crofters in the district. We complain of the smallness of our holdings, which are from two to three acres each, and which is not sufficient to maintain our families for four months in the year. The most of our land was reclaimed by our forefathers out of the face of a barren hillside. Our forefathers were removed off the Strath of Kildonan in order to make room for sheep farms. We are generally very poor, as there is no work of any kind going on except during the herring fishing season, when only a comparative few are employed by the fish-curers for a short time. Our rents are more than double what our forefathers paid, and this was done for improvements made by ourselves. My father's rent was £ 1 , 5s.; it was reduced six or seven years ago to 19s. on account of half an acre being cut off his croft by the railway going through it. When I became tenant the rent was raised to £3. I complained to his Grace and his local officials of the high and excessive rent for such a barren patch of rocky land; but they paid no attention to my complaint. The land has deteriorated by continual cropping. We are forbidden to keep sheep. What we want is more land, enough for families to live comfortably upon, with fair rents, fixity of tenure, and compensation for improvements.
—ALEXANDER GUNN, crofter.'

38686. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many people are in the town you represent?
—Fourteen families.

38687. What is the average rent paid per acre by them ?
—From £2.

38688. For three acres?
—For two and a half acres.

38689. In fact, you may say £1 per acre, or a little more?

38690. Have you got any grazing ?
—No grazing, except steep rocky hill adjoining the croft.

38691. What stock are you able to keep on your own piece?
—Well, previous to this present year, I was not able to keep more than one cow. Now, this year, I managed, on account of being thrown out of other employment, to get two young calves. I could manage to rear them in the summer time on the croft by putting them on to the hill, but I was forced to put them away because I could not provide straw for them during the winter, on account of the smallness of the holding and the scarcity of straw.

38692. What is the number of your family?
—Just my wife and myself.

38693. What work do you go in search of?
—I have nothing to depend upon at present except the croft, and any other turn I will get to do.

38694. You say the railway has taken off a piece of your land?
—Half an acre.

38695. Do they occupy the whole, or has somebody else got some of it?
—The railway possess the whole half acre.

38696. Do you assert as correct that all the people in your township reclaimed every inch of the arable land at their own cost?
—No, they did not reclaim the whole of it.

38697. How much did they reclaim on an average?
—I am certain they reclaimed an acre and a half at any rate, or about that.

38698. Were there people there before your predecessors came from Kildonan? Were there crofters there before?
—I am not aware of any.

38699. How did you find then some arable land before you?
—There was none reclaimed on the lot I occupied when my grandfather was removed from the Strath of Kildonan. He built a house on the barren hillside, and took most of the ground in himself, and a number of years after that the late Duke reclaimed a few roods and raised the crofters' rents on account of that.

38700. Is there any land in your neighbourhood that the other crofters and yourself could get with advantage?
—Well, not near hand.

38701. What do you wish then exactly to be done for you. Supposing you had only to ask, what would you like?
—The want is that we would get land where it is easy got. There is plenty land in the parish. It is better for us to get it than for it to be lying waste.

38702. Are you willing to remove to another part of the parish?
—Quite willing, if I could be better.

38703. How much could you afford to take? Supposing you got a piece of old arable land given you, how much could you afford to take in and how much hill land could you afford to stock?
—I would be very glad to get from ten to fifteen acres.

38704. You would in course of time take in from ten to fifteen acres of arable land?

38705. And what stock would you like to have?
—Two cows, and two or three calves, and a horse or two, and some sheep.

38706. Suppose you got such a thing as that, are you prepared to work hard day and night to get those fifteen acres brought under cultivation?
—Very willing to do it.

38707. And I suppose, in giving expression to that sentiment, you express the sentiments of your neighbours who are also cramped in their land?

38708. Are you one of those who have a share in this joint stock company?

38709. Did you get an offer of taking it?
—I got an offer, but I did not take any part of it.

38710. Will you explain why, because it would seem rather suitable for you who bought the two young beasts?
—I would rather have them at hand in order that I might be ready to sell them to the first person that
came round to buy cattle, because I would require it to meet the demands upon me.

38711. But Suisgill is not very far away. Was there a disinclination on the part of the other crofters besides yourself to take part in this Suisgill farm?
—A good many.

38712. Then will you explain what your objections are?
—Yes. I was talking to some of them and they had not the means to buy the beasties on account of their poverty, especially in the district I represent.

38713. Is that the only reason?
—The only reason some of them had.

38714. You have heard what Mr Greig stated; do you approve of his views?
—Not altogether.

38715. In what respect do you not approve?
—I do not approve of the large farms he was proposing for the crofters, because the crofters being reduced to poverty ou account of not getting a chance, would never be able to take so large farms as those.

38716. Not at once?
—Not to jump to the top of the ladder at once. I do not believe in that.

38717. Then what you are pointing at is this, that you would like to have about fifteen acres of arable land and hill pasture in proportion?

38718. What rent could you afford to pay for that arable farm and that stock?
—Well, I would not grudge to pay £ 9 or £10.

38719. Do you think about £10 would be a fair rent?
—I think so.

38720. Could you at that rent, and having such a possession, be able to make a livelihood of it without goiug to other external sources?
—I think so.

38721. Mr Cameron.
—You say that the crofters declined to join this association because they could not afford to put any beasts at all upon the common grazing?
—I know that some of them could.

38722. I am afraid they would be equally unable to take such a farm as you point at with fourteen or sixteen acres and the hill grazing in proportion?
—Very many of them would not be able to take it

38723. So that in suggesting that figure you are alluding more to yourself than your neighbours?
—Yes, and a few young crofters.

38724. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—When you speak of £10 for sixteen acres and a proportion of hill pasture, you mean the sixteen acres should be improved arable land?

38725. But, first of all, I understood you to say you would be willing to take land that was improvable and to improve it yourself?
—Well, I could not do that without having a little capital.

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