Helmsdale, Sutherland, 6 October 1883 - Adam Bannerman

ADAM BANNERMAN, Crofter's Son, Marrel, Parish of Kildonan (27)—examined.

38420 Sheriff Nicolson
—How far is it from this to the place you come from?
—About one and a half miles—the nearest way

38421 What number of families is there?
—Twenty-four. I have a statement to lay before the Commission I am elected by the crofters of the township of Marrel to represent them in giving evidence before the Commission. The grievances are too little land unfixity of tenure and non-compensation for improvements. Previous to the evictions on the Kildonan Strath, Marrel was occupied by four tenants, whereas there are now twentv four, each occupying about two acres in average of arable land, hardly sufficient to keep one cow and one horse. There are also about 1000 acres of hill pasture, on which we were grazing a few sheep. We were deprived of the sheep in May 1882—whether by the proprietor, or his officials, or by both, I am not prepared to say only the act of deprivation had been performed by the official under the proprietor's name. And not only that we had been deprived of the sheep, but we were forced to sign a bond to that effect there were only nine families in the parish at large who refused to sign, and these nine got summonses to quit their holdings unless they would sign the bond. And I wish to explain that these nine never said1 but they would deliver up their sheep to the Duke's officials when their neighbours would, only they would not sign to make a voluntary act of a thing contrary to their will and welfare. I may mention that the factor and ground officer, and Thomson, the head salmon fisherman, had two days' canvassing getting the people to sign this quasi-proprietor's petition. It is likely the people thought that they would be evicted if they would not sign, and the course adopted towards the few who refused to sign confirmed that. There are five tenants in Marrel which had been rented so much per head for grazing a few sheep on the hill pasture. The sheep have been taken from them, but still they pay sheep rent. Now that hill pasture is of no use to the crofters, it is not fit for cattle or horses, so that it is now left to the adjoining tacksman's sheep—they go and come daily as they choose; so that we can count from fifty to one hundred sheep daily on average all over the tenant's ground, so that the crofters cannot understand how it is that they have been deprived of their few sheep, and their grazing ground left with them, but stocked with the tacksman's sheep. I made the remark in the former part of my statement that the main grievance was too little land, and the only remedy for that is more land, fixity of tenure, and compensation for improvements. There is plenty of land lying waste in all parts of Sutherlandshire and in this part of it as well, especially the Kildonan Strath, where our forefathers were burnt out, in which there is sufficient land; if divided right, it would bring more money to the proprietor than by sheep farms, and supply a small farm to every third crofter crammed on others on the sea-side, where they hold crofts only sufficient to support them for four months in the year; whereas the only thing that would make a crofter comfortable would be to have as much land as would support him all the year round, say thirty to fifty acres of arable land, and hill pasture accordingly.

38422. When was Marrel occupied bj four tenants?
—After the evictions.

38423. How were the other twenty added to that number?
—-They have been added to it generally since then. .

38424. Were they brought from other places?

38425. Was any of the land held by these four people subdivided among their families?
—Not that I am aware of.

38426. How long have these twenty-four been there?
—Upwards of sixty years now.

38427. Have they the same amount of land now that was originally given to them?

38428. With the exception of the hill pasture?

38429. Was any reason given for taking that pasture from them?
—Not that I am aware of, except that the sheep might have been trespassing sometimes on the neighbours—on the same crofters. The whole of them had sheep except four. I understand they all had sheep except those.

38430. Had there been any complaint made by any of the crofters against their neighbours?
—Not that I am aware of.

38431. Had they been, in point of fact, trespassing upon their neighbours?
—They might go in just occasionally. In the summer months there was a shepherd kept, but in the winter season they came down to the low ground, to the crofts.

38432. Did they use. to trespass on the sheep farm contiguous to them?
—Certainly, all sheep come and go; there is no neighbour but gives and takes.

38433. But, in point of fact, did they trespass to a considerable extent on the sheep farm?
—Not to a considerable extent.

38434. Did the sheep of the sheep farmer trespass upon their pasture?
—Yes, and do so to this day.

38435. As much as they did upon his?

38436. What is the sheep farm that borders upon Marrel?
—The farm of Crakaig—Mr Dudgeon'a

38437. What was the number of sheep kept by the people of Marrel?
—About fifty sheep, I suppose, altogether.

38438. Will the grass that they used to pasture upon not now give additional pasture to those other cattle possessed by the people?
—It is not fit to feed them.

38439. Can they not keep more cattle?
—Not a head more. It is not fit for cattle or horses, it is of so soft a nature, part of it, and if they are allowed to go upon it they starve.

38440. Is not the grass that the sheep feed upon also fit to be food for cows?
—Sheep feed upon it to this day, but not the tenants' sheep.

38441. Is there no fence between you and the sheep farmer?

38442. Was there ever any fence?
—Yes, there was an old stone dyke.

38443. Was it ever kept up?
—Not since my recollection.

38444. Whose duty was it to keep it up?
—-I am not prepared to say, but I think it was the tacksman's.

38445. I suppose it was the duty of both?
—-It was put up by the Duke.

38446-7. But were the tenants not bound to keep it up, especially those to whom there was injury?
—The tacksman was bound to keep it up.

38448. And he did not do so?
—No, he did not do so.

38419. What is the principal occupation of the people of Marrel besides the occupation that their crofts give them?
—The crofting occupation is all they have.

38450. Are there no fishermen there?
—No fishermen whatever.

38451. Then are they able to live out of what their crofts produce ?
—Not by the croft.

38452. How else?
—By any labour they get to do.

38453. And what labour do they get to do, and where?
—Some have been forced to go to the ebb and gather whelks.

38454. Has that happened often ?
—It has happened too often.

38455. Is there a considerable number of the inhabitants so employed?
—Yes, a good number of them.

38456. But if they are near enough to the sea to gather whelks, why have they not boats to go and get fish also?
—Some of them would never return if they got boats.

38457. Is their dread of the sea so great that they would prefer not to go?
—Yes, so great; and it is so awkward that they prefer the crofting business. They are no fishermen whatever.

38458. Have there never been fishermen there?
—Yes, there have.

38459. Why did they give it up?
—Because they could not attend to the croft and the fishery.

38460. Do they find any work in the neighbourhood?
—No work whatever, but in the summer season at the shore.

38461. In connection with the herring fishing?

38462. Do the able-bodied young men and young women not go and get work in the south and on the east coast?
—Some of them go that are inclined to go.

38463. Is there not somebody from every family that does so?
—No, there is not. There are some families that cannot go.

38464. How are they able to exist upon these small crofts of theirs?
—They just take the work they get to do at hand.

38465. And you say there is no work except at the herring fishing?
—Well, it is very seldom there is any work. They may get a day in the week now and again; that is all.

38466. What wages do you get generally for ordinary labour?
—According to the work.

38467. How much a day?
—From Is. 6d. to 3s. a day for men.

38468. Does anybody get so low as Is. 6d.?

38469. For what sort of work ?
—At the harvest work—shearing.

38470. What do the women get?
—Some of them get 2s. to follow the scythe.

38471. Do they get more than the men?
—Yes, in some cases they do. I have known it for a fact.

38472. Are they better workers?
—Yes, some of them are.

38473. What rents do you pay?
—According to the extent.

38474. But are the crofts not all of the same size?
—No; they are very near it.

38475. What is the highest rent that is paid?
—£4 and some odds.

38476. What stock does that man keep?
—One cow and a horse.

38477. And what is the lowest rent?
—The lowest rent is 25s., I think. There is one exception, and that is 8s.

38478. Has that person a cow?
—One cow.

38479. On an 8s. croft?
—Yes. It is not sufficient to keep the cow.

38480. How does he get it fed?
—By buying food for it —by the sweat of his brow.

38481. Are there any people there without a cow?

38482. How many?

38483. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Are you one of the nine who would not sign the paper?
—My mother was.

38484. Have you got a copy of it?
—No; I have the summons here.

38485. Can you give us the substance of it?
—No, I was not at home at the time; but I was at home when the ground officer came back wanting her to sign the bond.

38486. Did he read it to you then?

38487. Did he read it to her the first time he came?

38488. Did she tell you what was in it?
—Just to sign a voluntary bond to put away the sheep for ever.

38489. And you say that she and others declined to do that because it was against their interest?
—Yes, against their weal and welfare.

38490. Then you and others were summoned to the court?

38491. Were you going to defend the case?

38492. And what came of it?
—It came about that the sheep had been taken away, and we did not refuse to put them away when the others went.

38493. Was the case called in the court against your mother?

38494. And was there a decree against her and others?

38495. A decree in absence?
—Not in absence. There was a law agent employed.

38496. And what did he state for you? What was the nature of your defence?
—Really I could not say what the defence was, because I was not there.

38497. You are a delegate, and you ought to tell us all about it. There was a lawyer instructed to see after the case for your mother and others at the court; what did he say for you?
—I am not prepared to say.
—[Mr Sutherland. The agent craved delay till the case was considered by his Grace the Duke of Sutherland, and ultimately the case was compromised, and was withdrawn.]

38498. Apparently some of the people in Marrel made a complaint to his Grace or to the estate officials that your sheep were trespassing upon their ground, and that was the alleged reason, was it not, why you were ordered to put them away?
—I am not aware that they ever complained to his Grace.

38499. But you said yourself that that was said to be the reason?
—Yes, but not to his Grace. It was that they had complained to the ground officer.

38500. Has there been any complaint on the part of these people to anybody whatever connected with the estate for the trespass of the tenants' sheep upon them? You say there are plenty of sheep on the ground now?

38501. Is there any complaint made against them by the crofters?
—Not to the estate.

38502. Why?
—Because they thought there was no use—that the tenant was to get the benefit whatever.

38503. They were afraid?

38504. Or, at all events, it would be of no use?
—No use.

38505. I suppose you think it rather hard, after being deprived of your own sheep, to see other people's sheep on your ground?
—By all means.

38506. I suppose the tenants of Marrel were scrimp enough before this happened?
—Too scrimp.

38507. And this has not improved your condition?
—Yes, for the worse.

38508. You stated, in the paper you gave in, that your forefathers had been removed from Kildonan. How long had your people been in this country?
—I am not prepared to say, but they were there hundreds of years' back.

38509. Where did the first of them come from originally?
—I don't know : they were Macdonalds.

38510. Is there plenty of land in your immediate neighbourhood where by the twenty-four crofters could be made comfortable?
—Yes, within eye sight.

38511. Is there only one big tenant between you and the march with Caithness?
—There is only one towards the seaboard —Mr Hills.

38512. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—When you had sheep on the hill you had a herd for them in the summer?

38513. Then the only time the sheep could trespass on the crofts was in the winter?

38514. Did the complaint refer to trespassing in summer or trespassing in winter?
—There was a little in both winter and summer.

38515. Do the tenants in your place sow grass seeds?

38516. Did they complain of the sheep eating up the young grass on their croft land? Was that their complaint?
—Partly it was.

38517. Do the large farmer's sheep come down upon the arable land?
—Yes, upon the corn too.

38518. And you don't complain?
—Of course we complained, and-we got no redress.

38519. To whom did you complain?
—To the shepherds.

38520. Have you got a share in the farm at Suisgill?
—Yes, we have got the grazing there, and pay so much.

38521. Do you pay so much a head, or so much in shares?
—So much a head for the cattle. There are some sheep there that are rather a joint stock.

38522. Have you a share in the joint stock?
—I suppose it will be for the good of us all if any good comes out of it.

38523. Have you any stock there?
—Not personally.

38524. Have you paid any money for the stock?

38525. Who has paid the money for the stock?
—No money whatever was paid.

38526. Has stock been put upon it?

38527. Who has put the stock on it?
—There was money got on loan to put the stock on it.

38528. Who got the money on loan? Was it the tenants who got it?
—Yes, part of them.

38529. Are you responsible for that money with the rest of them?

38530. Then you have a share iu the stock?

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