Lybster, Caithness, 4 October 1883 - John Mowat

JOHN MOWAT, Bank Agent and Factor, Lybster (40)—examined.

37688. The Chairman.
—Upon what estates are you factor?
—Upon Latheronwheel only.

37689. How long have you been a factor upon this estate?
—Eight years.

37690. Who was the previous factor?
—I don't think Major Stocks had a factor. He had a manager who looked after the estate.

37691. Had you ever been connected with the management of land?
—Not previously.

37692. Are you in the occupation of land yourself?
—Not at present.

37693. You have no holding?

37694. Have you any statement you wish to make in consequence of what occurred to-day?
—I have. In the first place, Mr M'Culloch went on to say there was a common pasture at Braelungie taken from the tenants, and he said I went and used threats along with the sheriff's officer to induce them to sign a letter that they would go out. I deny that I ever used a threat. Major Stocks expended £2000 on a piece of land to have it reclaimed. He built a steading, and wanted a tenant. We thought it would be well to have the pasture divided, so that this tenant would have his own share of it. He paid £.50 of rent. Twelve tenants in Braelungie paid £70. I went and asked each tenant if he was willing it should be divided, and they said yes. - Well,' I said, 'give me a letter to that effect,' because my instructions from the Major were not to take it unless they were willing to give it up. I find from the map of the estate that the tenant who got the pasture has about 500 acres or thereby, and the tenants who are round about have now actually 2000 or 3000 acres of pasture. I cannot speak with regard to the pasture referred to by Mr M'Culloch taken from the Leodabost tenants. I was never aware that such a thing happened. Mr M'Culloch said something about leases —that there were no leases granted at Latheronwheel. Now, there was a very good reason for that. They never asked a lease, and Major Stocks never puts out a tenant and never raises the rent. I never knew him raise the rent except in one case, and that was the case of a man who had a lease at a rather low rent. He improved his farm, and his lease was out, and he was asked if he was now prepared to give £30 for his farm. He had paid £26, 10s. He said, ' No, Major, I cannot give you that; I have been worked hard, and I will give you £28,'—and therefore he got his farm at a rise of 30s. Mr M'Culloch went on to say that the Mains farm of Latheronwheel was let at a rent of £250. It is quite correct; but he went further, and tried to show that the value had decreased. Now that is really not the case, because although Dr Burn has this farm for £250, we were offered £350 for it, which I am prepared to prove. With regard to game, I must say there is not one rabbit now on Latheronwheel for ten there were ten years ago; and Major Stocks has given Dr Burn permission under the Game Law Act to destroy the rabbits on the Mains farm, although he was sitting under a lease previous to the passing of the Act. Mr M'Culloch has also referred to some pasture at Achnagoul taken from the tenants and given to Dr Burn. That is not the case. Dr Burn occupies the farm just now as it was occupied by the previous tenant. I regret to say that some of the statements of Mr M'Culloch, got at the meeting at Latheron, are false. I was told by a person present at the meeting that a man rose and said his rent was raised. Now the person who told me that told it in the office, and I opened the ledger and showed him it was false. I think it wrong for people to make false statements, and ask Mr M'Culloch to come here and give them to the Commissioners. That is all I have to say.

37695. I would like to understand about the constitution of the farm and the withdrawal of the sheiling ground, as they called it, or common pasture. When this new farm was constituted how was it made? How was it formed?
—It was made by Major Stocks at his own expense; the land was brought under cultivation at his own expense.

37696. But when the first portion of land was taken in for the purpose of forming this new farm, what was it taken from?
—From the centre of the common pasture.

37697. How large was the new farm to be?
—About sixty acres arable.

37698. And then the additional portion of the common pasture was added to it in order to give it a share of the general common pasture?

37699. Well, when the original sixty acres were taken out of the common pasture or sheiling ground, was any reduction made of rental in connection with the first sixty acres?
—Not that I am aware of, but that was previous to my being made factor.

37700. Well, the ground was taken and no reduction of rent made to your knowledge?
—Not to my knowledge.

37701. When the second piece of ground was taken and added to the common pasture of this new farm, was any reduction of rental made to the tenants?
—No, but the tenant of that farm has no right whatever to go on the common pasture. It was separated at the time. Previously the occupier of that farm pastured the common pasture along with the tenants.

37702. Still I don't understand it. The first was ground that was taken to form ground for this new farm and was taken out of the common pasture. Had all the tenants or all the crofters in the township a right to the pasture then?
—No, I don't admit they had a right, and I don't admit they have a right now, because there is nothing in their agreements about pasture at all. We let the arable farms.

37703. Had they a right by custom or usage?
—I quite believe the proprietor allowed them the privilege of pasturing.

37704. Had they by custom or usage the practice if not the right of pasturing upon both the ground occupied for the new farm and the ground added to the new farm?
—They were accustomed to do so.

37705. And when this customary right was taken away there was no reduction made whatever?
—No reduction.

37706. Then you say there was a sort of resignation or paper which they signed; but you say they signed it of their own accord?
—They did.

37707. Have you a copy of that paper?
—I think I have. I have not got it with me at this moment.

37708. But you say they voluntarily resigned it?
—They did.

37709. When they resigned this usage, which must have been of some value to them, did they ask for any reduction of rent at all?
—They did not.

37710. They made no application for reduction of rent?
—No application.

37711. With reference to the question of leases, I think you say there are leases now?
—There are leases.

37712. In the leases which are given upon this property is there any stipulation with reference to reimbursement for improvements or anything of that sort?

37713. What is the length of the lease in general?
—Nineteen years.

37714. Have the majority of the small tenants got leases?
—They have not.

37715. What proportion do you think have leases?
—There are very few leases indeed. It is principally the larger holders who have leases.

37716. Have any of the small tenants—the ten acre or five acre tenants—got leases?

37717. Had they leases originally when the land was first taken in and improved?
—Not that I am aware of.

37718. What is the reason that the people have no leases? Has the proprietor a dislike to the system of leases?
—I don't think so. I never heard of anybody who ever asked it.

37719 Do you think the crofters don't want it?
—They don't seem to want it. Major Stocks never evicts a tenant.

37720. Since you have been in the management of the estate have you never heard any expression of a desire on the part of the tenants for leases?
—I have never been asked for a lease.

37721. What is the practice of the estate about improvements? If the tenants voluntarily make improvements, and if they have occasion to leave, is there any compensation given to them?
—The improvements are generally made by the landlord and tenant. Major Stocks assists them if they
want a house or want land broken in. He did so regularly so long as he had the home farm in charge. He sent persons to break in the land.

37722. Will you explain to me this system of co-operation more accurately. Supposing a man says he wants to break up two or three acres of moor, what does the proprietor do for him, and what does he do himself?
—He gives him the land free of charge, and does not add any rent.

37723. For how long?
—As long as he sits.

37724. Then you say he helps them. In what manner does he help?
—In building houses.

37725. Suppose a house is to be built, what part of the house is done at the expense of the tenant and what part at the expense of the landlord?
—There is no rule to go by. It depends entirely on the arrangement between the proprietor and the individual.

37726. Take a particular case that you remember?
—I cannot, because there have been no new houses built since I have been factor, but I know that previous to that Major Stocks had done something in the way of building houses. He would, perhaps, put on the roof, and supply the wood, and they built the walls,

37727. Would he pay the wages of the labourer?

37728. I mean he would pay the mason, the carpenter, and the slater?

37729. But there is no general rule?
—No general rule.

37730. With regard to the farm which is now said to be let at £250, but for which you say £360 has been offered, is it indiscreet to ask you what the reason was?
—I will be very glad to answer what I believe to be the case. It was on account of very valuable services rendered by Dr Burn to Major Stocks' family.

37731. Then the expenditure made by Major Stocks on the farm has not been an unprofitable one?
—Not at all, if Major Stocks cared to take advantage of it, but in the meantime he does not care to do so.

37732. There was a complaint about the destruction of crops by game or rabbits, and the first witness said he thought that the small tenants were deterred from destroying rabbits by fear of the landlord—lest they should be disturbed in their occupancy —and you reply to that that there are much fewer rabbits on the estate now than there were before, and that leave has been given to Dr Burn to destroy rabbits on the large farm. Of course if there were many rabbits on the large farm that leave might indirectly benefit the small tenants, because the rabbits might come from the large farm on to the small tenants; but am I to understand that, in reality, the small tenants are at perfect liberty upon their own grounds to destroy rabbits exactly as they like or not?
—They have the full power under the Act to do so.

37733. They have the full power, but that is a theoretical power in some cases. Can you state that they have full power so far as the landlord is concerned, and that the landlord would not resent it or prevent them in any degree from destroying rabbits?
—I am not prepared to say anything on that point, because I have not Major Stocks' authority for doing so.

37734. Has the question ever been brought before you?
—I don't think so; I have never heard it.

37735. Is the right of shooting let?
—Major Stocks has the moor in his own hands.

37736. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie
— Was there ever any separate occupier of the ground that has now been made a new farm upon Braelungie comnionty?
—The proprietor had it in his own hands to begin with.

37737. But previously to his taking it into his own hands?
—It was part of the commonty.

37738. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—With reference to this question about the home farm, you say an offer was made of £360; was it by a good tenant?
—Yes, a good tenant.

37739. Would it not have been fairer to the parish generally, since an offer by a bona fide tenant was made of £360, that if the proprietor wished to benefit the doctor the rent should have been stated at its full value, and the difference between £250 and £360 given back?
—That is, perhaps, quite true; but after the doctor took the farm he complained that it was too dear even at £300. That was the first rent he paid for the farm. At the time these offers were made there was a mania for land, and perhaps there were higher offers put in than it was reasonable to expect; but he complained it was too dear at £300, and Major Stocks took £50 off the rent two years ago.

37740. But it conies to this that the parish suffers a loss of the taxation applicable to £110 a year1?

37741. You made use of the expression that Major Stocks never raised the rents in your time?
—With one exception.

37742. But, according to your own account, 500 acres were taken from the Braelungie tenants without any reduction whatever. Was not that a raising of the rent?
—--Well, we did not admit that they had a claim to it.

37743. You have admitted out and out they have a claim?
—Well, it is not let along with the arable. Major Stocks has allowed them the privilege of the pasture.

37744. Had the Braelungie people ever a lease?
—Not in my time.

37745. Then if they have been in possession, according to your own account, of this pasture, and if there is no writing on the subject, how can you say positively that they have not got that pasture?
—I don't think they have anything to show that they have got it.

37746. They have possession of it, and is that not nine points of the law?

37747. Major Stocks is not a resident now, in the ordinary sense of the term?
—No; he stays here a few months in the year.

37748. What might be the value of the shootings on the estate if they were let?
—I am not prepared to say.

37749. What offer would you be disposed to take?
—I am not disposed to let them at all; Major Stocks wishes to keep them.

37750. Will you not answer a hypothetical question; supposing they were in the market?
—The value put upon them when Major Stocks purchased the estate was £120.

37751. But that is an old story—a long time ago?
—Yes; but I am not prepared to say what they are worth now in the market

37752. Ten times as much?
—Oh, no.

37753. Five times as much?

37754. At all events, what they would let for is also a loss to the parish under the present law?
—It is.

37755. In regard to leases, you say they never asked for leases? You have heard a communication by one of the previous delegates that the terms of any leases that would be granted were of such a stringent nature that the tenants would not be disposed to take them. Now have you any estate regulations?
—No; no printed ones.

37756. Are you prepared to contradict what was stated by Mr M'Culloch and others as to the general impression, and to say that any leases which would be granted upon this estate contain no clauses except those that are usually articled?
—I am quite prepared to say that.

37757. If any tenant wished to come forward and take a lease there would be nothing exceptional in the clauses of the lease?
—I don't think so.

37758. Of course you have not the authority of the proprietor as to what the terms would be?
—So far as I am aware, there would be nothing objectionable.

37759. About the rabbits, you know this question of rabbits has been such a grievance in many parts of the country that it necessitated the interference of the Legislature to pass a Bill on the subject?

37760. Is that Act taken advantage of or is it not among the crofters on the estate of Latheron?
—I don't know what advantage they take of it. Some of their crofts have been destroyed by rabbits, but I have paid for damages done by rabbits; and even this year Major Stocks has ordered me to take half the rent from a man whose property was so destroyed.

37761. Then there is a grievance?
—There is, but Major Stocks has directed me on more than one occasion to pay for it when damage was done.

37762. Does he take ordinary or extraordinary precautions to keep down the rabbits?
—-He does take precautions, by snaring, shooting, and trapping, but it is a most difficult matter where there are woods to get at them. They run in. and it is not easy to shoot them.

37763. I thought there were no woods in Caithness?
—There are some in Latheronwheel.

37764. One word more about the Braelungie matter. Mr M'Culloch told us the extent of that sheiling was 1800 acres?
—About 500 acres to the best of my knowledge. I looked up the map particularly for that.

37765. Do you say Mr M'Culloch is misinformed as to the quantity?

37766. As to the old sheiling?
—As to the common pasture.

37767. That the tenants used to have?

37768. But they have nothing now?
—They have some 2000 or 3000 acres yet of pasture.

37769. Where is that?
—All over the estate —all that is not under cultivation they are allowed to pasture.

37770. How do you reconcile that with the story which one or two of the tenants stated that they were obliged to reduce their stock very considerably?
—I cannot answer those questions.

37771. Have you an estate plan
—I have.

37772. What is the extent, at this moment, of pasture—sheiling ground as it is called—that those tenants at Braehungie are entitled to use?
—2000 acres and some odds.

37773. But according to the story we had, they have nothing1?
—I took it down from the map bit after bit with my pencil, and added it up, the other day.

37774. But other tenants besides them would have a right to it?
—Certainly other tenants have an equal right to the pasture.

37775. But we understood from Mr M'Culloch that exclusively the Braelungie crofters had about 1800 acres?
—I never understood that.

37776. As you have a plan of the estate and know the acreage, can you tell me whether the crofter or the large farmer pays the biggest rent per acre?
—I should certainly say that in Latheronwheel the crofter pays a larger rent per acre than Dr Burn does for the Mains farm.

37777. That is at £250?

37778. Is there any other large farm?
—No; we have no other large farm. It is all divided into small farms.

37779. Supposing you got £360, would that average about the same per acre as the crofters?
—I should think so.

37780. And to get that you laid out £3000 upon buildings?
—I quite believe that to be true. The farm was in Major Stocks' own hands when he let it out, and the old steading was getting very much out of repair, and was too near to his house, and he had it removed entirely, and a new steading built on another part of the farm.

37781. Then to get proportional rent from the big farmer you had to expend £3000, and you spend nothing on the crofter—and he pays the same rent?
—I do not see that, because Major Stocks might spend what he liked on the farm when it was in his own hands, but it might not be necessary to put out the same amount of money for a tenant.

37782. In what respect would he have spent more when it was in his own hands?
—Because a proprietor to suit his own purpose may spend more money than if the farm had been in the hands of a tenant.

37783. But, as regards mere reclamation, or building dykes, or trenching, it would be the same whatever he would do?
—Yes, but the farm was in the proprietor's hands for generations, and never was let till Dr Burn had it, so far as I know.

37784. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—The parochial rates are excessively heavy in this parish?
—They are.

37785. What is the cause of that?
—I cannot give you the reason for it.

37786. Is it the school rate or the rate for paupers that is so excessively heavy?
—They are both very heavy, but the rate for paupers is gradually coming down year by year. The parish is out of debt; previously it was in debt, and paying heavy interest on its overdraft at the bank.

37787. Is the number of paupers in the parish decreasing?
—It is.

37788. How did the great number of paupers arise originally?
—I cannot say.

37789. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Did the Forse evictions anything to do with it?
—Perhaps they had.

37790. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Do you think it likely the rate of pauperism in the parish will go on decreasing?
—I believe it will.

37791. Do you find the paupers come from the crofting or the fishing class mostly?
—-A good many from the crofter class in some parts of the parish, and a few from the fishing population also.

37792. Do crofters having crofts of twenty or twenty-five acres or any of their families degenerate into paupers?
—Not so readily. The small crofters are apt to degenerate into paupers.

37793. You think it would be advisable to increase the size of the crofts?
—I do.

37794. What would you consider a proper size of croft?
—From forty to fifty or sixty acres. They could manage to live upon that.

37795. Do you consider sixty acres a croft?
—A holding, with a pair of horses.

37796. Do you think two crofters sharing a pair are not in comfortable circumstances?
—They may not be, because you may have a large family and too little land to support them.

37797. Then you would have nothing between the labourer and the pair of horse farm? Do you think that is a desirable state of society?
—I would like the crofter to be able to live by his farm. I think it is safer than to depend on the farming partially, and depend on something else for his living.

37798. But there would not be land in the county to supply everybody with sixty acres?
—I am not sure but that, if subdivided, there might be.

37799. In this particular parish of Latheron there are not many large farms?
—There are not.

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