Lybster, Caithness, 4 October 1883 - Donald Mckay

DONALD M'KAY, Crofter, Bulldoo, Caithness (46)—examined.

37819. The Chairman
—You have been elected a delegate?

37820. You produce a statement. Is this a statement on behalf of the people who have sent you here or on your own behalf?
—On behalf of the majority of the people who have sent me.
—'I, Donald M'Kay, crofter, Bulldoo, am forty-six years of age. I have been appointed to give evidence before the Royal Commission as to the condition of the crofters in Achremie and Bulldoo, on the estate of Sir R. C. Sinclair of Stevenston and Murkle, Bart (see Appendix A. LXII). The district I represent contains twenty-seven crofters, of whom the greater number is either those who have been formerly evicted from other parts of the estate and crowded in on the seven tenants then in possession, as described by another delegate, or by their representatives. The evictions took place between forty and fifty years ago, when the late John Paterson was tacksman of the whole district. When his lease expired, in 1859, the number of crofters, after being removed from one place to another, and each time building houses and improving land all at their own expense, was the same number as now. Great suffering and oppression were endured at the hands of the tacksman; but when our present proprietor came to the estate in 1859, we hoped forbetter treatment and more security, and therefore set to and improved our crofts almost wholly at our own expense. At that time the rent of the twenty-seven crofters amounted to £60, 8s. sterling. Between 1859 and 1876 our rents were raised to £152, 17s. sterling, all on the fruit of our own industry except a small sum for drainage, the interest of which amounted to £ 1 , 2s. sterling, of the above sum of £152, 17s. Twelve pounds was expended on ditches, for which no interest was charged; but this was all the outlay by the proprietor, unless one thousand and four hundred yards of a road be taken into account, on which the labour of the tenants was fully equal to, if it did not exceed, the sum spent on it by the proprietor. Again, between 1876 and the present time, a further rise of £68, 13s. took place, including £1, 4s. drainage interest. Thus in twenty-four years a rise of £161, 2s. took place, with only £2, 6s. for interest, or over three times the amount of rent paid by us in 1859. During these last seven years there was expended by the proprietor on houses—
(1) On new buildings. On one holding £35, 2s. was expended, while the tenant's share was £57, 12s. 6d. In addition to this, £ 5 were expended by the proprietor in fencing on the same holding, while the tenant expended £18 for the same purpose—thus making a total expenditure by the owner of £10, 2s. and by the tenant of £ / 5 , 12s. 6d.; or a sum nearly double. On a second holding, lime, wood, woodwork, and slate were supplied, while quarrying, carting, and building were done by the tenant A third tenant got a dwelling house of thirty-eight feet by twenty feet, of which he did the carting himself, erected by the pro-prietor, while he himself is erecting buildings fifty feet by twenty feet.
(2) Repairing houses. Eleven tenants got wood, five of them also getting lime, the total cost of which would be somewhat under £10. For the sums thus expended by the proprietor he is more than fully recouped by the addition of £67, 9s. to his rent roll. But this is not all, for he has the advantage of the expenditure of the tenants, who will receive no compensation from proprietor unless the recently passed Agricultural Holdings Bill compels him. The only alteration made in the distribution of the land since 1859 is that of four crofts. One was given up on account of the death of the occupant and joined to a neighbouring croft; another was given up by the occupant on account of his old age, and also joined to a neighbouring croft. But the same number was kept up, as two new crofts were formed on land formerly held as pasture by the tenants. The houses (for tradesmen) on these were erected by the proprietor, and the rent charged for them, and for the land improved at the expense of the tenants, was for the first twenty-one years £9 and £10, 2s. respectively. Now the rent is £11 each. The twenty-seven crofters may be classified as follows :
—Four, having an average of 50¼ acres each, for which they pay £80, Is. of rent, may be said to require no more land. Other four, occupying 15 acres, may be said to desire no more. These pay £ 1 of rent. Of the remaining nineteen, three occupy 36 acres arable and nine waste and unimprovable ground at a rent of £31. The other sixteen hold 165 acres for £103, 6s. Comparing the rents with the quantity of ground occupied, one might be inclined to think that the rents were not too high; but when the fact is known that about 73 acres held by us is waste, and much of the rest of very poor quality, their opinion may well be changed. We are surrounded by large farms from which some of uswere evicted, and which contain rich land, but pay less per acre than our poor lots, thus showing that the large farm system is not advantageous even to the proprietor. What we desire is revaluation of our land by persons well qualified to know its value, and appointed mutually by proprietor and tenant; also an increase of land, fixity of tenure at fair rents, and compensation for improvements. We the undersigned crofters in Bulldoo and Achremie testify to the correctness of the above statements.

37821. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Your principal complaint is that the rent has been raised ?
—And too little land.

37822. I observe there are four that have fifteen acres between them who don't wish for more land. How does it happen that they are satisfied?
—They are aged, and unable to labour their ground.

37823. Are they able to support themselves on the fifteen acres?
—No, the land is wrought by the neighbours.

37824. But the produce of the land is sufficient to keep them?

37825. Do the neighbours give them help besides?
—They give them help in labouring it.

37826. What have they to subsist on besides the produce of the land?
—I don't know of anything else.

37827. What is the extent of land you would think sufficient for each?
—About fifty acres would support a family.

37828. And what rent is that worth?
—According to the quality of the land.

37829. As the land goes at Bulldoo?
—The land is of various qualities there —some good and some waste land —some very inferior.

37830. You mention that there are new buildings, and that on one holding £35, 2s. was expended, while the tenant's share was £57, 12s. 6d., and that in addition £5 was expended by the proprietor in fencing, while the tenant expended £18 for the same purpose; was that under an agreement?
—I am not sure if it was. The conditions might have been an agreement, but the sum expended was not.

37831. Are there written agreements with the tenants?
—Not so far as I know.

37832. Are you a tenant yourself?

37833. Have you any written agreement?
—No written agreement.

37834. And in this particular case where it is mentioned—on the second holding —lime, wood-work, and slate were supplied, while quarrying, carting, and building, were done by the tenant; was that done in virtue of an agreement?
—I believe it was.

37835. Is the tenant satisfied or not satisfied with the agreement?
—He is not satisfied with the quality of the land.

37836. I am speaking as to these improvements on the houses?
—Yes, he is.

37837. He is satisfied with the agreement?

37338. It is not put in here as a complaint?
—No, there is little complaint among those poor who have fifteen acres in regard to too little land.

37839. Sheriff Nicolson.
—You say in the paper that three occupy thirty acres of arable and waste unimprovable land at a rent of £ 34; are these content with what they have?
—No; I am one of the three.

37840. If you had fifteen or twenty acres, do you think it would be enough to live upon?
—No, it is too little to live upon.

37841. What is the lowest you think you would require?
—We would require fifty acres at the least to work and live upon.

37842. But it seems there are four who, you say, may be said to require no more land?

37843. They have an average of fifty acres each?

37844. And these are the only ones you consider in a comfortable condition?

37845. Do you consider their rent reasonable? It is about £20 each?
—Well, it is a general complaint that it is too high.

37846. What stock do these £20 ones keep?
—Two horses, two cows, and a follower, and sometimes a few sheep.

37847. Can they keep no more than two cows?
—No, there are no more than two cows on any of these except in one case, where one of them owns
a separate croft of thirty acres. That thirty acres is not included in the acreage stated there.

37848. Don't you think two horses are too many in proportion to two cows ?
—They require two horses for the work of the place.

37849. Would not two horses between two neighbours be sufficient ?
—Sometimes it is, but sometimes they don't agree about it.

37850. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Does a tenant with fifty acres not keep more than two cows?
—There is one who has more.

37851. That is upon another place; but will the fifty acres only keep two cows ?
—No more.

37852. And what have you who have only fifteen acres?
—I have two cows.

37853. The same as the men who have fifty acres?
—Yes, but he can keep some sheep.

37854. How many sheep ?
—About a dozen.

37855. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Is it because the land is so poor that fifty acres of it cannot support more than two cows, for we have been in places elsewhere where people had only about ten acres, and some of them managed to keep four cows?
—There is no outside pasture on the land.

37856. They have to pasture the cattle round about ?
—On their acres.

37857. On their arable land?

37858. Then, if the crofts of those who have the small lots were increased, would they be able to stock them sufficiently?
[Witness handed in the following papers to the Commissioners ]:
—' I, Donald Campbell, working farmer, Kennachy, in the parish of Reay, am seventy years of age. I have been elected a delegate by the working farmers and crofters of the parish of Reay, assembled in public meeting, to appear and give evidence before the Royal Commission, and specially to give evidence in respect of the evictions which have taken place in the parish, and whereby the great bulk of the parish and by far its best land has been converted into a few farms of very great extent, some containing about 30,000 acres. In the year 1838 there were evicted from Sheurrery,on the estate of Sandside, by the efforts of the late Captain M'Donald and John Paterson, factor on the estate of Sandside, not fewer than thirty-one families. Of these only five got permission to settle on wet mossy ground, where they erected dwellings for themselves, and by dint of hard toil were able by time to cultivate as much as enabled them to barely subsist. These five holdings have been increased by one, and are occupied chiefly by the descendants of those who first brought them under cultivation. The rest had to find habitations wherever they might. None of these tenants were in arrears, having always punctually paid their rents, yet they were ruthlessly and sore against their will forced to leave their homes. To add to the injustice they suffered, the wood of their houses, which was their own, although valued by men appointed by the proprietor and 'tenants respectively, was never paid for; and this applies to the other cases of eviction too. The late William Innes of Sandside was the then proprietor, but inasmuch as he had shortly before erected a church at his own expense, and invested money to meet the expense of a minister, entirely for the accommodation of the people of that locality, just immediately before the evictions, it is not believed that it was his wish to put these people out, but that he was induced to do so by Mr Paterson, factor, and the late Captain M'Donald, who was his nephew and heir presumptive, and was also tacksman of Brubster and Isauld, the property of the late Admiral Sir John Gordon Sinclair. The same policy of eviction was applied to Brubster, and twenty-seven families had to quit their holdings under circumstances similar to the above to make room for sheep. A goodly number found new homes for themselves in Canada, paying their own passages thither; a few, after one or two removals, got squatted through the parish, and the rest where they best could. For the reception of a number of families, a range of buildings, in the form of three sides of a square, was erected in a miry spot, and by way of courtesy or in irony has been dubbed the village of Brubster. In 1840 Shebster and Clashmore, part of the estate of Sandside, was under the same promptings as Sheurrery, and in a like manner, cleared of forty-two families. John Paterson, who for a time was factor on the estate of Sandside, became tacksman of Downreay, Skaill, and Borrowston, all the property of Admiral Sir John Gordon Sinclair. From these places Paterson was instrumental in evicting no fewer than sixty-seven families to gratify his propensity for sheep farming. An example or two of Paterson's treatment of the tenants before and after the evictions maybe given. A canal had to be made for drying a marl moss, and the expense of doing this was made to fall on the tenants, some of them paying £ 1 and others 10s., in proportion to the size of the holdings; but before any but one of them could make use of the marl they were turned out, while the marl was plentifully used by Paterson himself. Then when some of them had after two or three shiftings got settled in Bulldoo and Achremie, they were on one occasion called to meet at the school of Downreay, to sign a document prohibiting such as were able to work from leaving the place to work elsewhere, even though to their advantage, on pain of eviction. Of these high-handed proceedings it can well bebelieved that the worthy admiral, who seldom visited his estates, was kept in utter ignorance. In the neighbourhood of Sandside a slower process of thinning took place, so that the tenants who early in this century numbered seventy-two are now represented by only twenty-six. After making allowance for the tenants still existing, and whose present condition will be spoken to by other delegates, fully one hundred and sixty families have disappeared from the two estates within the period named. Some of the ground from which the tenants were evicted was the finest corn ground in the county. It is not desired that any revolutionary change should be made in regard to distribution of land, but it may surely be hoped that the Commission will recommend that additions, with hill pasture, will be made to the present small holdings, as the leases of the large farms fall out. On behalf of the six crofters in Sheurrery, the place of my birth, let me say that they want revaluation, more land, fixity of tenure, and wood and lime for building. We certify that the above statements are correct.

Evictions in Caithness.

—The grievances resulting to the agricultural holdings in Scotland with regard to the bad land laws. I do not speak for myself, as I have a good factor, who is willing to do all that lies in his power for the comfort of the tenants. We have also good trustees on this estate, who are not oppressors of the poor. But with regard to the parish of Reay I have not the same to say of it. There has been a great many evictions in all parts of the parish, viz., at Lamb's Dale, Brawlbin, Sheurrery, Brubster, Forssie, Shibster, Barium, Sandside, Upper andLower Downreay, Skail, Borrowstone, and Lybster. The late John Paterson occupied almost the whole of the above named places. He had a few crofters whom he kept as slaves. The men had to work for the small sum of one shilling per day, the women got a sixpence; they were bound as slaves not to leave their houses. The number that were evicted, as far as I remember, from 1838 to 1860, were from 150 to 200 comfortably sitting tenants and crofters. You may ask me what became of all those people. Those who had money emigrated to America and elsewhere, those who remained became paupers. But previous to that time a pauper or begger was unknown, but now there are plenty, and this shows that the land laws for Scotland should have been amended as they were for Ireland. The Land Act for Scotland speaks for itself. We must open our eyes in Scotland, and especially in Caithness. Every farm should have a resident tenant, or I am afraid some of the Irish will visit us, and we will get the Irish Land Act to Scotland by-and-by. We, the undersigned appointed David Nicolson, farmer, aged sixty-eight, Lieurary, as a delegate to appear before H. M. Royal Commission.

I , John M'Kenzie, aged forty-one years, being elected by the crofters in the parish of Reay to lay before Her Majesty's Royal Commission how they have been deprived of their land, and how it has been put into the occupation of a few. The rental of the Caithness section of the parish of Reay is about £7000, of which upwards of £4000, is in the occuption of four tenants. On Sir Robert C. Sinclair, Bart, of Murkle's estate, in the parish of Reay, there is a rental of £4384, of which there is £2527 paid by three tenants, £3144 by five tenants, and £3388 by six tenants, leaving land, the very worst on the estate, less than £900 of rental, for the whole of the rest of the population to live upon. When the evictions were taking place all the people that could not shift for themselves, by going to other parts of the country, got leave to set up on any barren skirts of ground that were not worth including in the large holdings. There was in Brubster, a part of the estate, a collection of houses built by the proprietor, on a bleak piece of moorland; there were rents charged for the houses, although there was no industry or any source from which they could derive a living whatever; there was not even a drop of pure water to be had in the district.

We, Kenneth Sinclair, aged , crofter, and Hugh Campbell, aged 50, blacksmith and crofter, Sandside, having been duly elected at a public meeting delegates for the townships of Sandside, New Reay, and Milton, all in the parish of Reay and county of Caithness, beg to submit the following statement:
—The district which we represent contains twenty-six crofters, whose rents aggregate £193, 15s., and vary from £17 to £38 each. About the beginning of the century there were in the same district, but occupying more than four times as much land with hill pasture besides, seventy-two crofters, whose total rental was £202, 15s. 11d., and varying from a few shillings to £45. Almost all the land then occupied by the tenants or crofters has been absorbed into the Mains farm of Sandside, while such of the crofters as were allowed to remain had to be content to move into new allotments of thin poor land on the margin of the moor, which but ill repays the labour which has to be expended on them. This land was rated at from 7s. 6d. (for but a small and very indifferent part of it) to £ 1 , 7s. per acre. The houses, erected by the labour or at the expense of the tenant, were all valued by a former proprietor, and these values, added to the value of the land, have become permanent burdens, along with the further burden of keeping the houses in repair; and this is the state of matters still. What we have to complain of is that, with a single exception or two, the quantity of land we occupy is by far too small to maintain us in any degree of comfort, and the rent too high in every case. Our small allotments require our labour to make them produce anything, but unless we work off them(and little work is to be got), they will not maintain us even had we no rent to pay. Further, there is no hill pasture which would enable us to rear stock, so that, unless now and then a person strives to rear up a calf to succeed a cow getting old, no such thing as young cattle are to be seen amongst us. True we have summer grazing for our cows on the links at a reasonable rate in addition to our rents j and although for a year or two we have had the privilege of leaving them on for a month or two in winter, yet the pasture, being bare and partially covered with sand during this period, gives little or no sustenance, and possibly does more harm than good, from the quantity of sand necessarily swallowed with the scanty grass. It is therefore no uncommon but the ordinary thing for our cows to be tied up for six months of the year. Nor is this all the hardships; for our crofts being small, will not produce fodder sufficient for winter use without going to the market, always scarce and often dear. Our usual stock consists of, for the most part, one cow, in some cases two; about half our number keep a pony, and a few two; no sheep except on the two largest holdings, where a few are taken during winter. What we would require is more land —holdings from 10 to 30 and 40 acres, with hill pasture, and revaluation of our present holdings. We have no complaint to make against our present noble proprietor. Both he and his immediate predecessor with all their officials have treated us well and kindly, except that they left us as we were when his Grace the late Duke of Portland came to the estate. We admit we never approached his Grace either singly or united requesting an alteration of our circumstances. We the undersigned witness that the above statements are correct.
—WILLIAM M'KAY, crofter; ROBERT SINCLAIR, crofter; JOSEPH M'LEOD, crofter.

37859. The Chairman
—The whole of these papers are sent by different townships, in what we may call the Reay country?

37860. But they belong to different proprietors; some, I see, are upon the Duke of Portland's property, some upon Sir Robert Sinclair's, and one or two others. What is the general character of the townships in that country? Have the townships got hill pasture—common pasture—attached to them, or not?
—Part of the country has very little common pasture.

37861. Have most of the townships got common pasture, or is it an uncommon thing?
—It is a common thing. One part I am not well acquainted with, but in another it is the common pasture for which they pay rent.

37862. Do you mean that all the country is lotted—that all the crofters have lots of arable land?

37863. They don't cultivate on the runrig system?

37864. Besides the lots, have most of them got a run upon the common pasture, or have most of them not got a run upon it?
—They are allowed to keep their cows on the common pasture.

37865. Is each allowed to keep a cow?
—Or more, as they are able to put them on.

37866. Is that common pasture generally fenced in, or is it wild and open?
—It is fenced in on one part I am acquainted with, but I am not prepared to give evidence upon it.

37867. Has any of the common pasture been taken away of late years by the proprietors?
—We have been deprived of some common pasture ourselves in the district I represent.

37868. How long since?
—Twenty-four years ago.

37869. Now, within this same period of twenty-four years, have there been any evictions? Have people been turned away altogether?
—None at all.

37870. Then they have not been turned away, but they have been partially deprived of the common pasture. With regard to rents, have the rents generally been raised within the last twenty or thirty years?
—The rents were raised at the expiration of the tacksman's lease.

37871. But since the expiry of the tacksman's lease?
—At the end of sixteen years it was further raised.

37872. That is in the particular case that I read, but generally all over the country have the rents been raised, or have they remained the same during the last twenty years?
—I believe they have remained the same— the parts that I know.

37873. Have they generally remained the same upon the Duke of Portland's estate?
—They are the same as they have been in former years.

37874. And upon the Duke of Sutherland's estate?
—I am not acquainted with it.

37875. Has the Duke of Sutherland not got any land in your country?

37876. Then what is the chief complaint; is it the raising of the rent?
—And too little land.

37877. Now, in some cases, are these large farms which are contiguous to or adjacent to the crofters' holdings?
—The smallest of the large farms in our neighbourhood is £570 of rent.

37878. And, generally speaking, are the townships adjacent to these farms; do they march together?
—The township is surrounded by three large farms from which the most of the people have been evicted.

37879. So if the proprietor was disposed to give them back a portion of the hill pasture it could be done?
—There is no hill pasture now. The land has been improved.

37880. But the whole of these large farms have not been improved?

37881. In what sense have they been improved?
—There is a large sheep farm that has been improved and turned into an arable farm in the
year 1859.

37882. But now you say there are three large farms near to your place; have they all been taken into arable farms?
—The other two had been arable before.

37883. Had they been occupied by crofters?

37884. But part of the arable ground might be given back to the crofters, supposing the proprietor were disposed to do it?
—Yes, it could be done.

37885. Would the crofters be able to stock the ground; would they be able to use it, or are they too poor?
—I think not. I think they could use it.

37886. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—You have been authorised to put in the different papers that are here?
—Yes, I have.

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