Rev. DAVID WILLIAMSON, Minister of Assynt (84)—examined.
27417. Mr Cameron.
—How long have you been a minister in this parish?
—Thirty-four years. I came in the year 1849.
27418. Are you a native of this country?
27419. Where do you originally come from?
—From the parish of Cromarty.
27420. Can you tell us anything about the relative condition of the people now and when you first came to this parish?
—I don't think I can give any information in regard to the difference in their condition. They are much the same.
27421. Do you think there is more poverty now than there was in former times?
—I really cannot say; I am not much acquainted with the crofters of the parish. They are all along the coast, and I live in the middle of the country.
27422. Are there no crofters in your neighbourhood?
—Only one, and he is on the glebe. He came there in 1848, when the place was vacant, and took possession of the place his mother-in-law had, and then he took it without any leave from anyone. When I came I found him there, and he has been since then an opposition minister, and holds meetings. He wished me not to turn him off, and I said I did not want to interfere with him.
27423. Are you not in a position to say anything about the condition of the crofters on the coast?-
27424. Do you think they are fond of fishing?
—I don't know that they are fond of fishing in general, but they don't care for any fishing almost except the herring fishing.
27425. Do you think they would be disposed to do more in the way of fishing if they got more assistance?
—Perhaps they would, they are not supposed to care very much about fishing. There are fishermen who came from the East Coast, here in summer, and other parts of the year, and they take home a great quantity of fish —a great deal of value; but the natives, I understand —I don't speak positively—don't make much in that way.
27426. But people on the East Coast make a great deal of money. Do you think the people here are inclined to show as much enterprise, or more, in respect to fishing than when you came to the parish?
—I cannot say.
27427. Are you a member of the School Board?
—Not this present board. I retired in order to prevent a contest, and I have been allowed to be out since.
27428. Do you wish to say anything on the state of the education of the people in the parish?
—The education previous to the operation of the present Act went on very well in the parish. We had society schools and assembly schools, and I don't know but the education then was to some extent more advantageous; there were more good schools, but the education was not so general.
27429. Is the parish pretty well supplied with schools now in the more remote districts?
—Yes, education has now reached all, except a few families of gamekeepers and shepherds, and families of that sort.
27430. Professor Mackinnon.
—You were perfectly acquainted, before you came to this parish, with an inland parish in Inverness-shire ?
27431. Was there a considerable crofting community in that parish?
—Not a large community of crofters, it was a mixed lot of farmers that was there. There was one proprietor there, who had most of the property in his own hands—Mr Fraser—and he had a few crofters.
27432. Were the crofts there larger or smaller than here?
—My impression is that they were larger.
27433. And the farms smaller?
—Yes, and of a mixed kind. There were two or three—mostly of middle size, paying £40 or £50. It was a different community from that in this country altogether. Here we have only two classes, the crofters and the large farmers; but there there was a mixed population.
27434. And here there is a great gulf between the two?
—Yes, and that is the great evil in any country. There is little ambition to better their circumstances, whereas if there were different classes in the parish, the spirit amongst the young men would be very different. What we want here is ambition on the part of the young people to better themselves. I was always anxious to make the people discontented with their position; to get education as much as possible in order to make them try to better their circumstance, and not to be contented with the miserable living they have in this country; and sometimes parents found fault with me for being anxious to give schooling to their children. But that is long ago, and I suppose it is not so now. That was the only want we had those times, that the education was always voluntarily given.
27435. Do you think there were better scholars then than now?
27436. And all the good scholars went away?
—Yes, that is what we wanted.
27437. And did well?
—Yes, and did well.
27438. They had plenty of capacity, and plenty of ambition?
—Yes, I wanted the people to have ambition equal to their capacity, for certainly, taking them altogether, they are possessed of superior intellect in my opinion.
27439. And you wanted them to go away because there was no means of exercising that capacity you consider, at home?
27440. The desire of the people themselves is to get that at home; do you think that is practicable?
—I don't think it. If they got small holdings of £10 or £12 it would be far better than the present system, but still it would be a poor thing.
27441. Do you think such a community could be established as there was in Boleskine, of farms from £40 or £50 to £100?
—I don't see any objection to that.
27442. You would get a mixed community then?
—Yes, I think so; I think that is practicable.
27443. And if it were practicable at all, it would be very desirable?
—Yes, very, in a country that was suited for sheep farms. It is not easy to have small sheep farms; a sheep farm must be a large one, having a great variety of pasture, so that they can put all kinds of stock upon it—wedders and ewes and so forth. Small sheep farms in this country are not so easily managed; and then there is little arable land in the country generally. But if a proprietor were to set about it in earnest I think he could manage it to his own profit.
27444. You think it would not only be for the benefit of the people, but to the profit of the proprietor?
—Yes, and there is another view I have taken of these farms. When there is a large farm requiring
£10,000 to stock it, very few people who would apply for it care about farming; but they have so much money which they would like to lay out that way. But if you had it in small farms of £100 to £150, there would be a great number of people in the country—men who would work the farms themselves —who would have money and would wish to take them up. I think the large farm system is an evil in this way, that it requires so much capital. And the proprietor would get more rent for a middle class of farms than for large farms; that is my idea.
27445. You think there would be a greater number of bidders?
—Yes, and for the large farms there are not many bidders.
27446. I suppose if there are not so many good scholars there are a greater number of children now receiving education?
—Yes, they are compelled; but there are not so many good scholars.
27447. Could both systems be combined with profit?
—I think so; but in the old school system we taught the clever ones, and sometimes, I have no doubt, neglected the careless ones, and let them shift for themselves.
27448. And now you have given a trial to the other system?
27449. And the stupid are to have their day?
—Yes, to be sure.