WILLIAM MACKENZIE, Labourer, presently residing at Clashnessie (38)—examined.
27231. The Chairman.
—Have you been elected a delegate?
—I was. I am home from abroad, from South Africa.
27232. Were you elected by the people of Clashnassie?
—By the people of Stoer, and I have made up a paper here of the general grievances.
—The general grievances are the insufficiency and badness of the land. Bearing upon these grievances it may be stated that the valuation of 1878-79 shows a large proportion of the land of the parish in the hands of half-a-dozen tacksmen; although the great mass of the population are in poverty because of the badness and smallness of their lots. Those tacksmen have their land valued at £3345, while seven sportsmen have a valuation of £883. And when we set £305 against churches, schools, and shops, and £226, 14s. 11d . for hotels, there remains only £1093, 5s. 4d. for the rest of the population of 2781 souls. The whole of the land available for the mass of the people is really included in about 340 crofts, with their hill pasture divided and sub-divided—these do not on an average yield more than from one-sixth to two-thirds of the support of those who have land at all. This state of things was brought about by a process which Sutherland men would like to forget, if the process bad been reversed, and the evil remedied, by the use of means which have made the ears of savages, let alone Christians tingle. Over fifty townships in this parish were made desolate, and the tenants sent hither and thither over the face of the earth, and when they found a resting place at all in their native land, it was on the poorest scraps, rocks, and bogs, and often put in amongst the poorest crofters, subdividing their lots, and intensifying their poverty. Their stock, their furniture, and their houses were subjected to treatment which reduced their value to such a degree that many were in abject poverty when bound to set about the building of houses which were meant not so much for their own comfort as to add to the value and appearance of the evictor's property, and which building was often a condition on which they would get any land at all. Even when, according to estate regulations, lime and timber were allowed, there were so many masters, and so many ways of raising objections to individual claims, that the houses had to be got up as the Israelites had to make bricks—without straw —or else shift their camp and seek shelter elsewhere. Cuilean township was sought by Mr Charles Clark, and in due time he got possession of it. There are persons living to testify to deeds of violence committed by the officials, to the loss and hardship endured by the people. Colin M'Rae, Culkein, remembers the extinguishing of his father's fire at Achnaheglish, when the victims went to cook a little food for their famished and frightened children, exposed to any inclemency and shelterless like fugitives. Seven families came to Culkein, where were sixteen before them, paying a rent of £42. Some got skirts of the land already paid for by those persons occupying, and some got the lots taken from poor old persons whose sons had gone to the wars on the distinct understanding that the parents would be lift on their lots, but the soldiers died in battle, and the parents were of no more value on the estate book. There are twenty-three crofts in the township subdivided into two, three, four, and even five portions. There are now thirty-eight families paying a rent for land and making up a rental of £70, 10s. 5d. Then there are eighteen cottars who pay the Duke from 10s. to 20s. for house stance on the crofts previously paying rents, and besides these subdivisions going to impoverish the people. There was a tidy farm made of the best of the land and given with a good house and steading at £ 20, 11s 6d., to one of the agents who for years acted the scourge on this part of the estate. When all these things are put together the crowding of the people, the curtailing and subdividing of the land and the raising the rent, we have Culkein yielding a yearly rent of £100 odds to the Duke, and the unfortunate rent producers sunk in poverty in a corresponding degree. Nor is this all; by some strange satirical fate the noble Duke of Sutherland stands before the country as reaping a revenue from the greatest calamity of the widow and orphan. There is now on the estate a regulation by which the Duke reaps a death premium from every crofter family, when the father dies and the son undertakes the support of his widowed mother, his brothers and sisters. He has to pay this premium of 10s. 15s., or may be 20s. Nor is this all; he goes under the impost as an annual tax of from 10 to 25 per cent, on the rent. Not long ago a young man, paying the rent due by his father, a couple of months after his death, was called upon to pay the death premium, not with his own rent when it was due, but almost before he was under any rent at all, and along with what was due by the father. There is a tale that the rule has been ordered to be discontinued, but no one has had any experience to corroborate the report, and the theory that that premium is only paid on these crofts on which at a recent valuation there was an increase of rent imposed is not supported by the experience of any one coming in for a reduction under that valuation. It would be ungenerous to pass over a reduction made not long ago, it is believed at the suggestion of the present ground-officer. There is a croft iu Clashmore on which was one of the evicted from Clashmore farm, now in the occupation of the Lochinver hotelkeeper. This man became reduced to debt and pauperism, and his lot was given to Hector Mackenzie, and the rent reduced £ 1 , but even this measure of justice under the rules or rulers of the estate, was not - allowed to run a straight course. The pauper was left in the house of the crofter, and Hector pays 10s. to the estate for an old hut on his own farm. Much the same story is to be told regarding the people who were evicted from Ardvar and Glenleiraig to make room for William Scobie, with this variation, that of those who did not emigrate some were put in at Torbreek to the inconvenience of preceding crofters, and by the time they had matters in some measure settled, they were removed to Clashrnore, where further removals shall have to be recounted ere we have done. Every removal attended with loss, and every settlement being for the worse. But there are further variations in the system of administration. Donald Macleod, carpenter, who had no croft, bought the crop of an emigrating crofter at Culkein, and paid the arrears due to the proprietor. This, according to the use and wont of the district, established a claim to the vacant croft, but all he was ever allowed to take out of his new possession was one crop of his own sowing, when his land was laid hold of to add to another croft—the aforesaid tidy farm for the semi-official. Donald Macleod was reduced again to a landless condition, and had to take a miserable patch behind his former lot, and although he was an industrious, well-doing man, and anxious to do well for his family, he was ever after denied an opening by which to improve his position, and the reasons for this are tolerably well known. Colin MacRae, son of the already mentioned Alexander MacRae, who came from Auchnaheglish, bought a house from an emigrating crofter, but orders came that Colin should give up and depart, the ground being wanted for the favoured underling already mentioned. This order not being submissively obeyed, the Duke himself came, accompanied by the factor, and Colin's father having gone to plead with his Grace, heard the Duke give the order to have the house pulled down about the occupant's ears. This was done, and although Colin had payed for the timber, he was not allowed to take a stick of it. He had to build another house on the pasture ground of the neighbourhood and he pays the estate 10s. 4d. for the site. It has been supposed that this sort of work was not possible on the estate since the days of the old Duke. Sutherland rule is the same whoever may be in the enjoyment of the fruit. John Mackenzie, Clashmore, was accused of being a ring-leader in a case of preventing what was regarded as an encroachment of the rights of the neighbourhood by Mr David Humphrey, and in face of every evidence to his innocence, he was sentenced to lose his croft, and he is now a pauper invalid and a burden to his neighbours. Donald Macleod, Clashmore, came in for the vengeance of the same power in connection remotely with the resistance offered to Mr Humphrey, when cutting off part of the Baffin pasture, when some boys went to obstruct the work. On this, Mr M' lver ran to catch two boys assumed to have been obstructing the work, reaching a house, the boys got out of Mr M'lver's sight, and he rushed into the house, supposing they had entered. There was a very sick woman who had been taken out of bed and placed on a shake-down at the fireside, Mr M' lver went on, however, searching for the boys, and tossing things about, and so frightened the woman that her death shortly afterwards took place. The boys not being there, were not found, and Mr M'lver, as soon as he came out, dashed at two small boys at play. The boys who were about nine years of age, and knowing of no offence, did not think of running from the factor, remained to be caught. Mr M'lver, seized one of them by the throat, and kneeling down held his captive to the ground, insisting that he should tell the names of the persons engaged in the obstruction. Hugh Macleod, the boy's brother, seeing this, remonstrated with the factor, who now persisted, demanding the father's name. Hugh took hold of the factor's hand and told him to let go, but as Mr M'lver held on, and the boy being in great danger, Hugh now took hold of the hand that was throttling the boy. On this, the factor's two sons and Mackay came. The factor said Hugh had struck him, but so little evidence was there for this, that an attempt was made to get Hugh to criminate himself. After this one of them came with a paper for Hugh to sign, which paper proved to be a declaration that he was guilty of striking the factor. He was told if he would sign this declaration, the factor would be his friend, and he would get anything he wanted ever after. But Hugh refused, saying he would have the factor prosecuted. The result was, that the father Donald had to emigrate with all his family, excepting Hugh, who had a little shop in which he carried on some business. The avenger did not rest satisfied with what he had done to the father. Hugh was about as offensive to him as Mordecai was to Haman. Taking advantage of Hugh's absence, his shop and his groceries, which he left carefully in boxes, were attacked by order of the factor, and when he returned he found the house broken into, and the boxes of goods smashed and damaged to a ruinous degree, and the house, which was built at the family's expense, except the roofing, was levelled to the ground shortly afterwards, and the timber handed to another man. John Mackenzie, son of Donald, an old, respectable man of 70, equally without foundation accused of the same offence, and deprived of his croft, which had come down to him from his forefathers. He went all the way to Lairg, then to Dunrobin, and not finding the Duke there, he went to Tarbert; but after travelling in all 160 miles, his efforts were in vain. The belief was, that the persistent hostility on the part of some of the officials was at the root of this. Humphrey said to John one day
—"You are bending to the grave,"
—"Yes," said John, "but see you are not bending with the weight of the evil you are doing to the widow and orphan." Janet Mackenzie, a relict of Alexander Mackenzie, had a better croft than many around her. She was not in debt to the estate, and she was in possession of good stock; but her husband had left her a croft on which he had • expended much productive labour. This was wanted for the tack, and she was a widow, so she was set upon, and as she did not go when the authorities visited, they built a stone wall so as to have her and her children walled in from water, peats, etc. One of the children made a breach in the wall, that they might pass out and in, and this was the only offence which could be brought against the family. In time, even the unfortunate widow got weary, and she was sent to a place so poor, that another widow, Mary Macdonald Mackenzie, was fain to seek relief from it in Greenock. Janet has been living so far on the stock, and what assistance the children sends her, and the land which her husband meant for her and her young children's support, after his death, formed part of the tack. On the same poor croft, another widow removed out of the same Clashmore, ekes out her poverty since her eviction. Widow Flora Mackenzie, who has gone where the "weary are at rest," was removed out of the way of Humphrey's improvements. She had been a widow for twenty years, and had been bed- ridden for years—so ill that the other widow's cait had to be employed to carry her to a worthless place. In like manner widower James Mackenzie was sent out of Clashmore, from a better to a worse half croft in Achnancarnin. Ann Campbell, an old, unmarried woman, suffered the same treatment to that of the widows. Another example here. To make an extension on the same big farm, Kenneth Campbell was ordered to go, and was compelled to go to a bad lot, which soon reduced him to poverty and arrears. The pressure for his removal was so urgent, that he was compelled to quit, before he could prepare anything beyond the bare walls. In this rootless habitation they kindled a fire, and shortly thereafter the mother was taken in labour. The night coming on so wet, a neighbour named Matheson, supplied a sail to cover the woman in her emergency from the inclemency of the weather. There has been an atmosphere of chivalry and loyalty around the famous 93rd. The outside world has been believing for a half century, that the generosity of the Countess of Sutherland and the devotion of the clansmen, set up this regiment in a few days. Fathers and mothers devoting their sons, and the young men themselves burning with zeal to go to the House of Sutherland and the Crown, and eager to offer their lives on the altar of patriotism. In Assynt the great majority joined the army on the distinct understanding that their parents would be kept in their holdings; but on the return of the survivors, they found their parents huddled together on the sea-shore, ekeing out a miserable existence, and their former holdings converted into so many sheep-walks. For example, Roderick Mackenzie, Ardvar, was assured if his two sons, William and Colin, would enlist, that he would be kept in possession of his holding, but when they came home they found their parents endeavouring to exist on a miserable patch in Clachtoll. Many other instances could be adduced. There is sufficient land in the parish of Assynt. We could give the names of fifty townships with their hill pasture all under sheep and deer, and if we add to our demand for land the suggestion that this land, as it falls out of lease, should be restored to its rightful occupants. The Duke has been appealed to at different times, to break down these sheep-walks into holdings, so as to put them within the reach of the people, but he invariably turned a deaf ear to their appeals.'
27233. You told us that you were chairman of more than one meeting which was held by the crofters on this matter?
27234. Were you elected chairman by the crofters?
27235. Will you tell us how the paper was drawn up?
—It was done by me.
27236. Did you write it yourself?
—I did it at our meetings.
27237. The substance of it is your own?
27238. Your own composition?
—I had some help with it.
27239. Who gave you the help?
—Different parties within the last two days.
27240. Parties resident in the district?
—Yes; the Rev. Mr Mackay on the Monday night before the meeting helped me to put it in order.
27241. Did the Rev. Mr Mackay compose any of the paper which you have written?
27242. Did he strike out anything from the paper which was submitted to him?
27243. We have heard the Rev. Mr Mackay's name mentioned; had he no share in the composition of this?
—I had the first page from him, that was all. It was at the first meeting, and there were very few present.
27244. On what occasion did you and he compose this page? Was it a private meeting?
—He gave me that sheet with the valuation.
27245. Had he nothing to do with the rest of the paper?
27246. Did he see it?
—No, not this paper.
27247. Is it your own hand-writing ?
—No, I had an accident some time ago; and could not write it.
27248. Who wrote it?
—I would rather not say the name of the man who wrote it.
27249. Is he a crofter?
—No, he is not.
27250. What objection have you to tell?
—The writer of it is Donald Mackenzie.
27251. Who is he?
—He is just here on a visit, and I got him to write it for me.
27252. Where did he come from?
27253. So that you had the assistance of Mr Murdoch and Mr Mackenzie in the composition of that paper?
—[Donald Mackenzie]. All the assistance I gave was to make two or three grammatical corrections
on the paper.
27254. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How long were you abroad?
—Six and a half years.
27255. Have you resolved to stay in this country, or are you going back again?
—It depends on how my health is recruited.
27256. Have you been anywhere else but in South Africa?
—No, only South Africa.
27257. Did you go out just upon the chance of making your fortune, or under a special agreement?
—I went out specially under a contract.
27258. Where did you get your education?
27259. Is that the only education you have got?
—That is all.
27260. The Chairman.
—The greater part of the statement which you have presented is composed of alleged acts of injustice or oppression on the part of the factor or proprietor towards poor helpless persons, and especially widows. I wish to know whether you have made a careful inquiry into every particular case or whether you can state of your own knowledge that these circumstances are correct?
—Yes, of my own knowledge I can, because every word was read between four and six times at the meetings. I daresay there were some meetings at which it was not all read. The object of that was to get the statements in proper order.
27261. Was the whole paper, in its present form, approved of at any meeting which was held?
—Yes, it was approved of at every meeting.
27262. How many persons were present at the3e meetings?
—Sometimes there would be twenty or thirty and so on, because at this time of the year there are few at home. Many of the people who should have come are away on the East Coast, and we can hardly get more than twenty at any time.
27263. Were there crofters present?