MURDOCH KERR, Crofter's Son, formerly a Fisherman, Auchmelvich (55)—examined.
27581. The Chairman.
—Have you any written statement?
Auchmelvich Township Grievances :
—There are 44 families in this township, of which 26 pay rent, the odd 18 being a burden on the rest,
with subdivisions of crofts, grazings, fuel, &c. In the time of the father of one of the present crofters, the township paid only £18, shortly afterwards 20 crofters paid £63, and now (1883) 26 crofter's pay over £83. There are two families placed in the best of our hill pasture entirely against our will, who are paying rent to the proprietor and there was no reduction of our rent. Our greatest grievance is the smallness of our holdings, the stony and unproductive nature of the ground, which is almost exhausted with constant cultivation for the last ninety years. Another grievance is the scarcity and poor nature of our hill pasture. The produce of the crofts is not sufficient to keep the people for three months on an average from being under the necessity of buying food. There are four times as many people in the township as the place could properly support There is not half an acre of arable land in the whole township that could be ploughed, it is delved among rocks and stones with spades and crooked-spades. The most of the crofters and cottars are fishermen, who depend all the year round on their earnings from the fishing, excepting what we have mentioned they derive from the land. A low water quay and fishing station is greatly needed at Lochinver, as Stoer and Coigach points are the best fishing ground on this coast. There is generally a good deal of fish, but no market, and the people are compelled to go to the far away and more exposed east coast, where they can get a market for their fish. Another grievance is that if a man enters into possession of a croft he will need to pay the arrears of the outgoing tenant. Again if a man is to get his name entered in the rent book after his predecessor's death he is taxed up to a pound as the factor sees fit, and this is to continue as long as the factor pleases, or for ever. We complain of turning sheep farms into deer forests, and that the taxes the sheep farmer paid fall upon the poor crofters in a large measure while these deer forests remain unoccupied, 50,000 acres have remained thus unoccupied in this parish for two years, and the shepherds and others who got work on this farm were thrown out of employment, and some of them had to throw themselves among the crofters, who were already over-crowded.
—The only means to improve our present grievances would be to give us work, as there is no kind of work going on in this parish. Also to give us as much land as we can live on, and some help to stock and improve it from Government, for which we are willing to pay so much per cent. The people require liberty to fish all fish in the sea. We are prohibited this year from setting small lines because the nets, buoys, ropes, and anchors for fishing the salmon are there. We would also require compensation for improvements on buildings and land.
27582. You state that there are eighteen families which are a burden on the rest: are a portion of these the children of the crofters?
—Some of them are the children of the crofters; others of them have been placed among us, when they were removed from the sheep runs.
27583. Does the township march with a sheep farm?
—Yes, it marches with a sheep farm.
27584. And is the land on the sheep farm of an arable character?
—Plenty of it.
27585. Which is not cultivated by the farmer?
—Yes, which is not cultivated now, but which was cultivated in old times. It is only detached bits or fields that are arable. It is pasture lands that we want. The amount of arable land in Assynt would not maintain the people.
27586. Don't you require any arable ground to raise straw for feeding your cattle?
27587. You state that if a man has to get his name entered on the rent book after his predecessor's death, he is taxed up to £ 1 , as the factor thinks fit. Has that additional rent always been levied when a
son succeeds to his father?
27588. And supposing that a new tenant died suddenly and was succeeded by another, a brother or a son, would he have to pay a new addition?
—He would just pay as much as the factor might choose to impose.
27589. And do you expect that that system of increase is to go on indefinitely?
—We expect it to continue for ever.
27590. I suppose when a widow succeeds her husband as tenant of the holding she does not pay anything additional?
27591. Is there any work given by the proprietor to the people near his place?
27592. Are there not sometimes roads made from the public road to the townships?
—The predecessor of the present Duke made a walk from the main road down to the extreme end of the township, a mile and three-quarters in length.
27593. And did the proprietor pay for the whole of that?
—The proprietor paid for the whole of it.
27594. You state that the taxation fell upon the crofters while 50,000 acres of deer forest remained unoccupied; were not taxes levied upon the land while it remained unoccupied?
—I am aware that there were rates paid for that place for the last two years.
27595. Do you know that taxes were levied upon that ground although there were neither sheep nor deer upon it?
—Yes, I am aware it was paying rates.
27596. Then why do you say that the taxes fall in a large measure upon the poor crofters?
—We pay so much per pound of poor rates, and the Duke and we, between us, have to pay poor rates for the place that used to pay poor rates when there were sheep upon it.
27597. Which pays the highest rent, the sheep farm or a deer forest of the same size?
—I cannot say.
27598. Which do you think?
—I cannot say; I should not wonder at all if the deer forest did.
27599. Do you think, with reference to the rates and taxes, that it is more advantageous for the crofter that the land should be let as a deer forest than as a sheep farm ?
—I could not give an opinion upon the matter.
27600. Which do you think the best neighbour of the crofter on the whole—the sheep farm or the deer forest?
—What good can we get out of deer. The sheep are bad enough. They were the cause of the people being expelled from their places, but still they are better than deer.
27601. But which—the stock on the sheep farm or the deer—are more likely to do your pasture and cultivation harm?
27602. Do you generally live on good terms with the large sheep farmers?
—Yes, we agree very well
27603. Do you complain of shepherds hunting and poinding your sheep or not?
—They used to do that, but we have a good fence now—a stone dyke, which separates the two stocks.
27604. It must be a very long one?
—There is only about a mile of it. but it joins in with a loch, about a mile broad, which does the rest.
27605. Who paid for the stone dyke?
—We paid the half of if, and the Duke the other half, or the tenant, I don't know which.
27606. It was a stone dyke?
—Stone in some parts, and turf in others.
27607. Mr Cameron.
—You say that the sheep farmers were the means of the people being evicted, and yet you think them better than the deer. Why do you think that?
—We can get no use of the deer, whereas if we can afford to purchase a sheep, it will at all events provide us with clothes. But for the deer, we are not allowed to kill or eat them, and they are of no other service.
27608. But, as a matter of fact, do you buy the wool of the sheep farmers?
—We have not, as a matter of fact, bought it for some years back, it is very dear, and we cannot afford to buy it. It is white wool they have. Sometimes we can buy broken fleeces at the time of the shearing, and the remnants, hanging about the flank.
27609. If you are not able to buy the wool what is the advantage of having sheep in the neighbourhood?
—The sheep are herded, for on tiling, and then there is some work connected with them in the way of smearing and shearing. But the deer require no herd, and they can leap the fences and eat our crops.
27610. Do you find any work in connection with the deer?
—I don't know that any work would be required in that case except some ghirlies, perhaps.
27611. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Do you know any of the cases where the incoming tenant had to pay the arrears of the outgoing tenant?
—I know a man in my own place.
27612. Who is the man?
—A man Donald Kerr, who is away at the fishing.
27613. Do you know how much he paid?
—-I do not know.
27614. Who was his predecessor?
—A man John M'Leod.
27615. What became of him?
—He is a labourer in Ross-shire now.
27616. Had he built any houses —improved his place?
—He built a little bothy of a house.
27617. Was anything given to him for doing this?
—He might have got wood, perhaps, I am not aware that he got anything else.
27618. Did he get anything for this bothy when he left?
27619. Was none of the money paid by Donald Kerr given to the outgoing tenant?
—John M'Leod could not get it; it would have gone to pay a debt which was on the lot.
27620. In what depth of water do you set small lines?
—Close to the shore, but the depth varies.
27621. What kind offish do you catch close to the shore?
—Codlings and flounders.
27622. Why are you prohibited from setting these lines?
—If we put them out we never get them again, owing to the ropes, and chains, and anchors, and bag nets along the shore.
27623. The bag nets are fixed in certain places, are they not?
27624. And if you don't set your lines across the bag nets, the bag nets won't touch them?
—No, that is quite true, but then they are set in the best fishing places we have got.
27625. The Chairman.
—Do the salmon ever take a bait set for another fish in the sea?
—No, we never get salmon upon our small lines; but it is one of our greatest complaints that we are not allowed to kill the salmon as we please.
27626. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Do you know whether there is a separate receipt given for the money paid at the death of the former
—I cannot say, but to the best of my knowledge it is only an increase of rent
27627. And therefore one receipt?
—That is my opinion.
27628. Who draws the rent here—is it Mr M'lver?
27629. With his own hand ?
27630. It is not paid through any ground officer?
27631. Your name is rather uncommon?
—It is a strange name in the place.
27632. Are there several more in this place of Auchmelvich?
27633. Do they all belong to the same clan?
—No, they are separate families.
27634. Are they long here?
—My ancestors have been here for seven hundred years, the Kerrs to whom I belong.
27635. What family were in possession of Assynt at that time?
—I cannot tell
27636. Do you, and the people in your place, look with favour upon the largo sheep farms?
—We would rather not see any in the country.
27637. Do you consider it a very great hardship when you don't want these sheep farms, that when shepherds are thrown out of employment by the tenant leaving the place, they are thrown upon you, and you are obliged to support them?
—-If the sheep run were restored to the crofters, why should not the shepherd get his portion of it as well as the others. We don't dislike the men, but there is no doubt but they are a burden upon the place when they are thrown in upon us.
27638. Is this in the nature of adding insult to injury, to make you support the old servants of people whom you don't care about?
—Yes, it is both insult and injury.
27639. You were asked to explain whether of the two you preferred, sheep or deer. Are they both bad neighbours?
—Have they not both been the destruction of the place to us? Have they not sent us down to the rocks, and the shore of the sea.