JOHN M'DONALD NIMMO, Law Agent in Wick, and Factor for Mr Sutherland of Forse (59)—examined.
37800. The Chairman.
—Do you desire to make some statement in consequence of what has occurred to-day?
—I do. I came here from the south in the end of 1859, and through my predecessor in business I became acquainted with Mr Sutherland of Forse, and at first acted as his law adviser. In course of time I came to have the management of the estate more or less. In regard to the evictions that George Sinclair has referred to, I had to give advice in regard to the mode of carrying out these affairs. There had been some little difficulty in the matter, and it is very likely that I gave instructions by Mr Sutherland's authority, and in point of fact by his orders, that these evictions upon Stemster should be carried out. I daresay I may have been about hand at or shortly after the evictions. I have been frequently upon that part of the estate, as well as over all the other parts of the estate, and I may tell you I found that, on that particular part of the estate, there was a regular system of smuggling going on, and this man's father's house I inspected particularly after the parties had been removed, and I found a concealed part of the house where the operations were carried on—a sort of false wall. Well, I cannot tell what were Mr Sutherland's views in regard to clearing out these people, but this I know, that in practice the land they occupied was made to a very large extent by Mr Sutherland, by ditching, draining, and otherwise, and it remained in his hands for some time until he got tenants; and, speaking from recollection, I have no hesitation in saying that the place is letting for more now, on account of the improvements that Mr Sutherland made, M 'Donald and of the help that he has given to the tenants he has got there—very much more than the five tenants paid that were there, and of whom Mr Sinclair speaks. Then there was a process of improvement going on upon the whole upper part of the estate about the same time, and there were small places where the people were, so far as I could gather, merely vegetating—not making a proper existence at all. They were very small places with really little or no cultivation upon them, except, perhaps, a miller who had a holding, and whose rent I have never been able to ascertain, owing to my having no proper rental. Then there were some small farms further to the west, including one upon the boundary of Tacherledie, but these places have all been very much improved since that time. There were not many evictions there—very few indeed. Then there was a place that was called Badree-eiskeith. It is now called Shepherdstoun. I remember there being a number of very small tenants there, with a sort of common pasturage among them. I think I travelled over that ground with Mr Sutherland previous to there being any removals from it. Mr Sutherland had laid off a part of the estate by division ditches and otherwise, and in the case of those who were removed from that part of the estate offers were made to go to this part that Mr Sutherland had so laid off, and the tenants were then offered to be placed in the same position as to meliorations for houses as they would have been had they remained. That is to say, Mr Sutherland would have assisted them with the building anew of their house, and would have allowed them what they call comprisement for the wood they put upon them the same as if they had remained. Besides that, there are at least three of these families who chose to take lots, and are now possessing them. They took them, I think, in 1861, on short leases, and have remained till this day, with the exception of one man who has died, and whose sister was unable to carry on the place. She is allowed to remain in the house, and the pasturage belonging to that place is given to the remaining two. There have been further changes besides that. Reference was made to Rumster. A number of the tenants there were offered, and went to, other places. Some of these remain on the estate still, and some of them, after taking other places, have left them. There were parties who were getting hopelessly into arrear; some of them leaving over £30 in arrear upon a small rent. These places Mr Sutherland took into his own hand, and spent a great deal of money in improving them, and they are now let to a tenant upon lease; and I may mention that Mr Sutherland is always quite willing to aid these small tenants, when they can show that draining or ditching will be a beneficial thing, by contributing towards the cost—that is, if parties avail themselves of that. I may, however, state in regard to the letting of farms now—those farms which have been taken and improved by Mr Sutherland in the first place, and given off as large farms —it is a very common thing for Mr Sutherland to make this bargain—that he will provide the mason work and slater work and the tenant will supply the wood, and the like of that, and he gets a valuation for his wood at the termination of his lease. That is quite a common thing. There are what are known as comprisements on the estate, and there is what we call master-wood; but I may say that, generally speaking, there is no objection to the tenants improving their houses as much as they please. They will get the full valuation, less what they call this master-wood. There is a prohibition in the articles and regulations of the estate, of which I sent a copy on 3rd August to the Secretary of the Commission, against building without the consent of the proprietor, and the proprietor is not disinclined to give such consent when it will benefit the holding; but he, of course, looks to this that these small holdings are not to be overburdened with buildings—that is to say, that there are to be no unnecessary buildings.
37801. About how long ago is it since these proceedings originated—since Mr Sutherland first began to shift or remove the small tenants?
—About 1863 it commenced, I think.
37802. How long did it go on, and when did he terminate his operations Are they still being carried on or are they terminated?
—They have terminated. The bulk were in 1863 and 1864.
37803. At what time did they terminate?
—I think the last would be ten years or so ago.
37804. About 1874?
—I think so.
37805. During those ten years can you tell me how many cases of removal or eviction there were. The previous witness said 105 heads of families?
—Well, I made a return to the Secretary. I have a draft of it with me.
37806. Can you state it from memory?
—I could not trust myself to state it from memory.
37807. Does 105 seem to you to be an over-statement?
—I do think it an over-statement. There were voluntary removals, removals by death, and removals to other parts of the estate —so that 105 is very greatly over-stated in regard to the number of positive removals.
37808. But I said disturbances or transfers or evictions—I mean removals altogether from existing tenements and occupancies. Do you think there were as many as 105?
—I don't think it.
37809. What proportion, do you think, of the persons so removed or disturbed were practically accommodated with new holdings on the estate, and what proportion shifted for themselves in the world?
—I cannot state without referring to the paper. Referring to my draft, the first question that is put I have answered thus
—'Twenty-four, and about the same number of families. Impossible to state area of land, because there have been three divisions of commonty within the last thirty years, and in some cases more land was given than was taken away.' In regard to the second question, I have stated, ' No extent of pasture and no reductions of rent to speak of. There have been three divisions of commonty.'
Then, question number three
—' Sixty-six. Nearly one half received the option of going to ground laid out for them, but refused to accept.'
—Several parties who have crofts have leases varying from seven to thirteen years; others hold from year to year.'
37810. Will you allow me to adhere to the particular point? Can you make out from that statement how many transfers or how many removals occurred? You mentioned sixty-six?
—There were twenty-four transferences. Then there were sixty-six removed. Nearly half received the
option of going to ground laid out for them, but refused to accept.
37811. Sixty-six and twenty-four would represent a total of how many?
—Of ninety; but of those ninety, twenty-four got other places.
37812. There would be therefore about ninety removals and transferences, but as to the sixty-six removals half of these got offers to settle upon the estate again?
—There were three who accepted.
37813. What I want to arrive at is this, you say that about half of the sixty-six got offers to settle upon the estate elsewhere. When they were removed, and when they got this offer, was any compensation offered to them for any improvements that they left behind them?
—I cannot say whether they left improvements or not. I am not aware there was any thing to compensate them for. There were no compensations, strictly speaking. These parties got the usual allowance for the value of the timber upon their houses. They would be paid for whatever dung, fallow-break, and new grass they left; and perhaps, in some cases, they may have been allowed valuation for second year's grass; that is to say, current valuation for second year's grass.
37814. When those were offered new places, were the places they were introduced to in a state of nature, or were there any improvements upon them?
—I am hardly able to answer that, but the places were laid off in farms. I think they had been under the plough and cropped.
37815. In these extensive removals were the people very reluctant to remove?
—Some of them were. I don't deny that Sinclair's father and some others were very reluctant to remove, and perhaps this reluctance accounts a good deal for the strong evidence that George Sinclair has given here to-day.
37816. Were a great proportion of these —for instance, of the sixty-six—in arrears of rent?
—Well, I never looked into that.
37817. But you state that a great number of these small tenants were in a very poor condition—in fact, that they were, as it were, vegetating in their holdings? When they were removed and dispersed in the country, did their condition become any better?
—I cannot say. Some of them went to neighbouring estates.
37818. And do you think they were well treated upon the neighbouring estates?
—I know there are some of them on neighbouring estates now. Several of them I can name,—for instance, some on Mr Sharp's estate, some on Mrs Gunn's estate, and some upon the Latheronwheel estate