DONALD MUNRO, Crofter, Strathan (48)—examined.
27510. Sheriff Nicolson
—Are you a fisherman?
27511. Have you a statement to make?
27512. Just read it?
— We beg to ask the Royal Commission to allow us to say a few words at the beginning of our statement, to tell how the people of Inverkirkag, Badinaban, and Strathan, came to such poverty. At one time their ancestors peopled the glens, and other portions of arable land that lie inland. They lived then chiefly by their cattle. They had a good number of them and had plenty provender to keep them in good condition during the winter months. They were thus in easy and comfortable circumstances. The then Duke, from some motive unknown to us, removed them. Some sought shelter in foreign lands, the others were crammed in small townships near the shores. The lots there were divided to the people of each township so that when each family got their share it was very small. This land was cultivated by, and came down from sire to son, so that now it has become so poor that the people have to force a crop with manure. The people are now so poor that they cannot emigrate if they wished, or take a much larger holding then they have. They cannot improve their land much more than they have already done, as it is limited in extent and very poor. At the death of the parents the son has to pay yearly an additional sum of 7s. 6d. or more for getting his name in the rent roll books. The people are also poor from the want of work. The father of one of the present crofters of Assynt was only paying £20 for the township of Inverkirkag. That township now pays upwards of £50, although it has been reduced in size and is occupied by fifteen crofters besides cottars. The township of Badinaban, two generations ago, was occupied by four crofters each paying a rent of £1, 15s. That township now pays upwards of £20, and is occupied by nine crofters. The people have no fixity of rent or tenure. In order to raise the people out of their present condition they would require to get more land, either more hill pasture or the arable land that now lies waste under sheep and deer. There could be very good and comfortable townships formed on the said land, each tenant paying a rent of £10 to £15, but unless they got help from either Government or proprietor, or from both, they could not stock this land; but should Government or proprietor, or both, give this loan, and some time to pay it —say fifty years—at a rate of £ 3 per cent, interest, and the first rent to be paid two years after the tenant settles in his new home. This would raise the crofter once again. Another way would be to give the hill pasture as aforesaid, and work draining the ground on those large sheep farms where now the brackens and rushes grow, and keeping the ground from being overrun by heather. Those who seek to better their condition by fishing would wish a curing station or two at Lochinver, and the East Coast fishermen have repeatedly said that they would fish so much per cran less at Lochinver than they would at Stornoway, if they had conveniences for a station there, as it is more convenient to the fishing ground. The people also wish fixity of tenure and rent.
—JOHN M'KENZIE, DONALD M'CASKILL, Inverkirkaig, DONALD MUNRO, ALEXANDER M'FARLANE, Strathan.
27513. Do these three townships adjoin each other?
27514. Where do they lie—how far from this?
—Two or three miles.
27515. Along the coast?
27516. Do you know how many families there are in each of them?
—About sixteen in Strathan.
27517. When were the crofters sent there?
—I cannot tell.
27518. Were any of them removed from Strathnaver?
—From the heights of their own parish.
27519. What rent do you pay yourself?
—£7, 17s. 6d.
27520. I suppose that is one of the highest?
27521. What stock do you keep?
—Three cows and a horse; twelve sheep.
27522. How much arable land have you—what number of acres?
—About six acres or a little more perhaps.
27523. Are you able to raise crop enough for your family or for your cattle?
—Not for the family, but enough for the cattle.
27524. What sort of soil have you?
27525. Is it the same in each of these townships?
—No, it is better in some.
27526. Is it rocky or boggy, or both?
27527. Do you consider your rent too high?
27528. But you want more land?
27529. Are there any large sheep farms close upon your boundary?
—It is only deer forest now.
27530. What forest is that?
27531. When was it made a forest?
—Two or three years ago.
27532. It was a sheep farm before that?
27533. Is it sufficiently fenced to keep the deer from getting into the crofts?
27534. Do they go over the fence?
—They can go over it; it is only
about 3½ feet high. There are not many deer yet.
27535. Will it be of any use to protect your crops when the deer increase in numbers?
—We don't know yet; but they would spoil the crops I know.
27536. But does it keep your cattle from going over it?
—It will do that sufficiently—it is a barbed fence.
27537. Why was it made a barbed fence?
—So as to pierce any beast that would attempt to leap over it; that is our belief,
27538. Is there no work going on around or near you of which you could get the benefit.?
—There may be a little now and again, but far too little for the population of the place.
27539. Have you a good place for landing when you come back from the fishing?
—Yes, the coast is very good for landing; but we thought it would be a greater benefit to the place if the curers would come to it as they go to Stornoway.
27540. Are all your men fishermen more or less?
27541. Do they go to the East Coast fishing?
27542. What kind of fishing do you engage in at home?
—Very little home fishing is done. There was a boat here the other day that had 200 cod fish, and they could not get them sold.
27543. Is there nobody in Lochinver who could take them?
—Not a soul.
27544. Do you never try your hand at curing the fish yourselves?
27545. Has it never been done here?
—There were curers once.
27546. But you never tried to cure fish and send it away yourselves?
27547. If you had the curers once, why did they abandon it?
—I think it was because the fish got scarcer, and it was not worth the while of the fishermen to prosecute it.
27548. How long is it since the fishing became less productive?
—A good many years ago; but I may mention about twelve years ago especially, since it has ceased to be productive.
27549. The Chairman.
—Do you salt fish for your own domestic consumption ?
27550. Is fish a large part of the diet of the people in their own houses?
27551. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Are you able to make a living out of your own croft?
27552. What else do you do to support yourself and your family?
—I get a little work about the place when I can take work, and I must just live as I may.
27553. You don't go the south to work?
27554. What size of croft do you think would support you, and what rent would you consider fair for it?
—This is not a place for crofting, and one expends a great deal of labour in cultivating it with the spade, and cas-chrom.
27555. You still use the cas-chrom?
27556. Is the land not fit to be ploughed?
—There are very few places where the horses could work it.
27557. Because the ground is so rocky?
—So rocky. The whole place is far more suitable for rearing cattle, and a little cultivation.
27558. Would you like to have some pasture to breed cattle and sheep, even although you should buy food for them?
27559. But there is no land near you except the deer forest available for the purpose?
27560. Have the Inverkirkaig people horses?
27561. The same as you or more?
27562. Has everybody a horse?
—Some of them have; it would not be worth while for them all to keep horses, the bit they have is so small.
27563. Are there any cottars amongst you?
—Not very many.
27565. How do they live?
—They get bits of the township as we have ourselves, and they just do as best they may.
27566. Where do they get work?
—They get a little here. They can attend to their work even better than the crofters, because they have
no land to look after.
27567. Does it support the people?
—They must live as they can.
27568. What kind of work do they get? Is there any draining, or building of dykes?
—No. There is very little work at all. This year, for example, there is a walk being made through the forest, but that is exceptional. Then there is a fence being set up between the deer forest and the crofts, and that too is special. The people are away at the south and east coast fishing. Were it not for these two things they might go where they pleased, they have nothing else to do.
27569. Are there many young men employed in the forest?
—Very few, if any.
27570. Are any of them employed here attending anglers?
27571. I suppose in summer some have steady employment at that?
—Not very steady.
27572. And not very many of them?
27573. How many men in your place would find occupation in attending upon anglers hereabout?
27574. Have you a good supply of peats?
27575. Do you carry them on horses?
—No, we carry them on the people's backs.
27576. Do the men ever condescend to carry them, or is it the women who do that work?
27577. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have said in your paper that at the death of the parents the son has to pay yearly an additional sum of 7s. 6d. or more for getting his name in the rent roll books?
—I have been told that.
27578. Do you know yourself of any case? did anybody who paid this rent tell you?
—Yes, I am aware of a man who told me he paid it himself, and I believe he is in here. I don't pay it myself; I am not on the rent roll.
27579. Has this system been going on for some years?
—I am certain that it has been.
27580. Can you say that since you have been old enough to take notice of things about you, you heard of this?
—It certainly has been a subject of complaint at all events for the last ten or fifteen years.