Helmsdale, Sutherland, 6 October 1883 - William Mackay

WILLIAM MACKAY, Factor and Farmer, and Chief Magistrate of the Town of Thurso (39)—examined.

38789. The Chairman.
—You have a statement you wish to make?
—I wish to make a statement in answer to a statement made by a delegate at the meeting at Lybster. I should have preferred to make the statement there in presence of the Caithness people, but as I was requested to come here I came here for this purpose. Mr Waters, the delegate for Dunnet stated, with regard to a grievance which he said was felt by the people of Dunnet, that the whole grazings were taken from them. I think it right to put the facts of the case as I apprehend them before your Lordship and the Commission. These grazings are near Dunnet Head, and they had been, like a great many other grazings in the Highlands, I admit, in the occupation of part of the tenants of Dunnet for a considerable period. They have never been in reality let to them, and no rent, as far as I could ever discover, had been put upon their holdings iu consequence of them. Part of the graziugs were grazed in common with the farmer who held what was, compared with the others, a large farm. That farmer does not now have any sheep upon the grazings in question, and a part of the grazings in consequence was let to Mr Traill, a neighbouring proprietor, for grazing purposes. When this was done I intimated this arrangement to the tenants at the rent time. I cannot say that they made any very serious objection to what had been done at the time, but a day or two afterwards a deputation of them visited me in Thurso, and said that they felt they would like to have retained these grazings, or, at any rate, they said they would be quite satisfied if a portion of them which they indicated would be left in their possession. I immediately communicated with Mr Traill, to whom they had been let, and we arranged a meeting on the ground between the deputation, Mr Traill, and myself. They pointed out what they wanted. He said he would be glad to give it up, and we went over the line of march. The tenants expressed their satisfaction with what was to be done. A fence was accordingly put up, and I have had no further representation made on the subject by the tenants of Dunnet from that day to this. It was at a time when there had been considerable commotion in the other parts of Scotland in connection with such questions, and on a representation being made to Mr Traill that they felt they were aggrieved by this land having been taken from them, he very generously arranged they should still have the liberty of grazing their cattle and horses upon these grazings at a small grazing charge, which I think was 6d. a head, and when the first rent came to be paid I believe all he exacted was Is. for the whole lot. I think it right to make that statement, because it was produced in Caithness as a case of oppression, which I do not admit it was, and the more so because I am factor upon an estate which holds the largest number of crofters of any estate in Caithness, and there has been no representation made to this Commission by any crofters upon that property. There are at present on the Freswick estates 488 tenants under £30, and thirty years ago the number was 479. So to all intents and purposes they remain very much about the same. The rent at present paid by thsse crofters is £2449, while it was, in 1850, £2455. I think it right to put these statistics before the Commission, in order that you may see that the position of the crofters upon that estate has been very much the same during the period for which the statistics are given.

38790. When this common grazing, or whatever it may be called, was withdrawn from the small tenants and let to Mr Traill, Mr Traill gave a rent for it?

38791. What was the amount of rent?
—It was to be £35, but after he gave up the part to which they objected it was reduced to £30.

38792. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Who lets it?
—Mr Thomson Sinclair of Freswick, for whom I am factor.

38793. The Chairman.
—Then we may assume the actual value of the subject practically withdrawn from the crofters was £35 a year?
—It was £30—what was let to Mr Traill—but I have made out, I think, that there was one tenant who grazed that land in common with the crofters and who does not now graze the land in common with them.

38794. What proportion do you suppose of the whole common grazing was absorbed by that one tenant, and what proportion was really in the hands of the crofters?
—The one tenant grazed not only upon the Freswick estate, but also upon Mr Traill's estate, and had a large flock which went over both. It would be difficult to arrive at the exact proportion, but I think it would be represented by one-third or one-fourth of the whole.

38795. So the value of the subject withdrawn from the crofters which was previously practically in their occupancy might have been worth £20 a year?

38796. In the meantime, whatever it was worth, they are really using it at a nominal rental at this moment?
—They are so.

38797. When the common pasture was withdrawn from the crofters were they left in possession of any other common pasture?
—Yes, possibly about one-third was taken off what they had, and they still have upwards of 1000 acres. I may mention that the tenants upon the Freswick estate are very much fishermen. The estates are situated in three different parts of the county—part about John O'Groat's House, part at Dunnet, and part about 16 miles from this village here—and they combine the occupations to a considerable extent of fishermen and crofters.

38798. What is your opinion personally about the division of the two industries? Do you think fishermen ought to be fishermen altogether, or do you think the tishing ought to be supplemented with crofts?
—A witness said to-day that it was sufficient if a fisherman had potato ground. I think every fisherman should have a cow to supply his family with milk, and where agriculture can be carried on alone there should be at least thirty acres of the arable land in order to enable a tenant to depend upon
it altogether. When it becomes less than that, I think he requires help from some other quarter.

38799. Besides a common outrun?
—Besides a common outrun.

38800. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Are you in favour of such crofts as thirty-acre crofts?
—I would be very much in favour of them.

38801. You have mentioned a very satisfactory state of matters in connection with the estate of Freswick. Which Mr Traill was it that got the hill from the tenants?
—Mr Traill, the proprietor of Ratter.

38802. That is a large estate?

38803. Still he wanted a bit of hill grazing from those small tenants?
—Yes; but the circumstances were these. He had an outlying corner at Dunnet Head which was lying waste, very much the same kind of pasture. It had not been much used, and he proposed putting sheep upon that corner, and he just wished this part in order to have a sufficient flock that would keep a shepherd. LAND

38804. You are a factor, and know exactly what should be done; is it usual and fair that a proprietor should take away part of the grazings of some of his own tenants and give it to another proprietor without consulting them?
—I do not quite comprehend your question.

38805. Those tenants were in possession of grazing. You intimated to them at a certain rent day that it had been given to Mr Traill. Now, is it proper for a propristor to take away grazings from his own tenants and give them to a stranger outside the property?
—Before taking any steps I took statistics of the stock held by the tenants on the ground. The pasture is rough and heathery, suitable only for blackfaced sheep or Highland cattle. The tenants had neither blackfaced sheep nor Highland cattle upon it; and for all the number of stock they held I considered the land was practically lying waste, because it was only grazed for a couple of months in summer, and they graze the same number of cattle upon the hill.

38806. But do you not think it would have been fairer, before you settled with this stranger, to go and ask whether you could not get the same rent from your own tenants?
—I had been a very short time on the estate its factor, and if I had been better acquainted with the state of the tenantry might have consulted them more on the subject, but certainly in what I did I was acting fairly as between man and man, and I would be willing to submit that to the arbitration of any one who knew the circumstances of the case.

38807. But as it turned out, Mr Traill changed his mind very soon after and gave up pasturing it?
—He has not given up pasturing it.

38808. The Chairman.
—He gave up a portion of it?
—No, he allowed the stock to be grazed with the sheep he put on it.

33809. I thought you said he put up a fence?
—Yes, on the portion he retained, but he allows them inside the fence.

38810. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—But that was in consequence of agitation on the subject?
—It was in consequence of their request.

38811. Does he keep any stock upon it at this moment?
—He keeps blackfaced sheep upon it.

38812. Does he continue to pay the £30?
—He continues to pay the £30.

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