38166*. The following statement was given in by Magnus Sinclair, Lingland
—I was appointed by the Clyth tenants to appear as a delegate in behalf of the Newlands district of the Clyth estate. As is the case overall the rest of the Clyth property, our chief grievance is the enormous rise on our rents. I think Mr Sharp has used the screw to greater effect in rack-renting the Newlands district than any other part of the estate. Within a radius of a mile our proprietor raised the rents of some of my neighbours from £15 to £ 30; from £ 9 to £19; from £9 to £22; from £4,10s. to £10, 10s.; from £5,10s. to £ 11; from £7 to £ 14; from £1, 10s. to £8, 5s.; from £ 1 to £8, 9s. And all these great rises have been put on the poor tenants twelve or thirteen years after Mr Sharp held possession of the estate. The people quietly submitted to the taking away of the hill pasture, and instead of getting any abatement of rent, it went up. I shall now give a case or two to show the injustice and oppression of landlords and their officials. A violent gale swept over the north of Scotland in November 1877, which did a great deal of damage in the way of unroofing houses and overturning stacks of corn.A poor, weak, delicate man in Newlands, with a young helpless family, got the roof taken off the whole of his dwelling-house. A neighbour kindly lent him a boat's fore-sail, which was put over the house. He sat for a week under canvas, when a few of his friends and neighbours gathered to get the roof on. They began to cut divots near the house on as poor a piece of heath as can be found in Caithness, when Mr Sharp's ground officer came and stopped them, and would not allow them to cut a single divot, although the house lay roofless in winter. Again—another neighbour took a fourteen years' lease of a croft at £4, 10s. about the time that Mr Sharp came into possession. My neighbour died four or five years before the expiry of the lease, leaving a widow between eighty and ninety years of age and two elderly daughters in the croft. The daughters, to keep a home for the aged mother, pluckily stuck in, and did well until the expiry of the lease, and owed no man anything. Mr Sharp then demanded £14 for the croft, and tried to frighten the poor women by saying that he had several offers of that rent. This was a custom of his when he wished to squeeze a rack-rent from the sitting tenant. The poor women were at a loss what to do. At last they were allowed to sit at £10, 10s. yearly rent. At this time their stock was worth £ 3 0 or £40. But in four or five years afterwards, when the aged widow died, what was the result 1 They were in debt, and £15 in arrears of rent. The ground officer bullied and threatened to hypothecate, &c. It took all their remaining stock to pay the land- lord. So they were driven out on the world penniless, although they had sat in the croft for forty years. Many others on the estate could tell the same tale of the consequences of rack-renting. When a tenant is rack- rented, and plainly sees that he cannot make ends meet, he loses heart and cannot work, and will not do the same justice to the land that a tenant with a fair rent will do. With regard to our own croft at Lingland, where I was born, and my father before me, in the beginning of the present century, the land which now belongs to the croft was only 30s., with miles of hill pasture. In 1850 it was £9, in 1860 it was £15, 15s., in 1880 it was £30. I believe we put out perhaps £300 in money and labour in improving the croft since the last twenty-five years. Mr Sharp and our critics may say that we have ourselves to blame for the rise of rental on the estate, for (say they) did we not outbid one another. I say - no. To the credit of the people be it said (except in two or three cases as far as I know), they did not bid for a croft when the sitting tenant was an offerer, although Mr Sharp left no stone unturned to induce them to do so. On the expiry of a tenant's lease, our proprietor visits the croft the last summer of the lease, and goes through the process of valuing the farm, as he calls it. He takes out a note-book, and I suppose fixes the rent. Very often if he could not get that rent, he would allow the house to lie vacant. A few years ago there were several vacant houses on the property. Eight or ten years ago Mr Sharp was-charging us with being thriftless and worthless; and he threatened us with a wholesale importation of Morayside farmers, and the first symptom of that threat being real, was the appearance in our midst of a poor Morayshire crofter, with all his goods, chattels, etc. It was on the evening of a beautiful Sabbath in summer that this distinguished individual happened to come. He took a look of his new home. But little time was needed to convince him that he had been miserably duped; so he about ship, and took his departure across the Ord, a sadder but a wiser man. We heard no more of the Speyside crofters. What we want is our holdings valued by competent local judges, compensation for improvements, and that the land of our country be given to its people to live on at a fair rent.
MAGNUS SINCLAIR, Lingland, Lybster, Caithness.—4th October 1883.
—Something must be done for the Highlands.'