Rev. JAMES M'CULLOCH, Minister of the Free Church, Latheron—examined.
37332. The Chairman.
—How long have you been minister of Latheron?
37333. Do you appear here as a delegate ?
37334. And as representing in a manner the whole parish, or a particular district of the parish?
—The estate of Latheronwheel particularly.
37335. How many different estates have you to deal with or represent on this occasion ?
—Well there are three proprietors whose whole properties may be said to be within the district, and there is a part —but a very small part—of a fourth.
37336. What are the names of those proprietors and their estates ?
—Mr Sutherland of Forse, Mrs Gunn of Latheron, Major Stocks of Latheronwheel, and the fourth is Mr Thomson Sinclair of Freswick.
37337. Which is the largest and most important of these estates ?
—Major Stocks, I believe, has the largest estate.
37338. Which is the estate with which you are most concerned and about which you wish to speak ?
—The estate of Latheronwheel.
37339. Have you any written statement to present on behalf of the people ?
37340. Has that statement reference to the whole district, or has it reference to a particular estate ?
—To the state of Latheronwheel. The statement is as follows:
—' Statement of Grievances and proposed Remedies to be made before the Royal Commissioners, on Crofters, &c., at Lybster, on the 4th day of October 1883, in behalf of tenants on the estate of Latheronwheel.
—1. It is due to others who requested me to represent them before the Commission, and to whose request I acceded at the time it was made, that I should explain why it may seem as if I were neglectful of my promise to them. After due consideration, it appeared to me that I could best serve the several interests involved by limiting special reference in the following statement to grievances on the property of Latheronwheel, because I have been led to understand that delegates were appointed to speak as to the state of the parish generally, and I am aware that other estates are to be specially represented by delegates well qualified to speak from personal knowledge of the circumstances peculiar to them; while, so far as I am informed, there is no one appointed to speak for the crofters on Latheronwheel besides myself, and it is therefore necessary that I should endeavour to present their case more fully than it would be reasonable to expect one delegate to be permitted to do in behalf of the crofters on several properties.
2. One other remark of a preliminary nature I think it necessary to make is, that in the following statement I am not giving my own opinions, nor depending upon my own knowledge for the facts, but am relating what was told me by those I represent at a public meeting, with the exception of a few statistics of acreage and rents for which I am indebted to valuation rolls and such like documents, while at the same time I state nothing inconsistent with my knowledge, and have been at some pains in the way of verification. The grievances of the crofters and some farmers on the estate of Latheronwheel may, for convenience, be ranged under six heads.
I. Deprivation of hill pasture;
II. No compensation for improvements;
III. Insecurity of tenure;
IV. Excessive rent;
V. Damage to crops and pasture by game ;
VI. Extent of holdings.
I. Deprivation of hill pasture.
—This grievance, whether or not the greatest, is entitled to the first place, on account of the great number who complained of it, and the prominence given it by every one who complained. The tenants of the townships Brachungie, Guidabost, Leodabost, Smeral, and Buailtach are those who have most to complain of in respect of hill pasture.
1. Brachungie. The occupants of this township number fifteen. Their arable land averages seven or eight acres to each, with the addition of patches of comparatively recent improvement out of their own pasture, and at their own expeuse. Until a few years since, they had hill pasture called " The Brachungie Shieling," which extends to within a fraction of three square miles (1870 acres 3 roods 8 poles). Of this pasture they were deprived without their consent—that is tosay, the factor and a sheriff officer acting on the maxim, divide and conquer, —visited the tenants separately, and holding over their heads the threat of immediate eviction, forced from them an unwilling assent to the spoliation. After having an opportunity to consult with one another, they petitioned the landlord to leave them in possession of their shieling, and received a reply in the form of summonses of ejection. It was not convenient to move, and accordingly they occupy now about one-sixth of their former holdings, including arable and pasture lands. It would seem reasonable to suppose that a compensation should be made for so large a part of their pasture, in the form of a reduction of rent, or otherwise. But such is not the case. The full rent is exacted as before the spoliation. And when to some the irritation caused by their cattle destroying the corn on a small croft, which is situated in the middle of a piece of common, and which became vacant, they requested the proprietor not to put a tenant into it again, but let them have it as part of their common pasture, their request was granted on condition of their agreeing to pay the full rent (£8) annually, valuation of the timber on the house and offices (of which they could get no benefit), and the value of the downlay of the crop, which was not to be laid down. This was taken from their pasture, which, with the part of it cultivated by the proprietor, brings in to him an annual rent of £50, while they must pay full rent and additions for the little croft which has been given them. It is perhaps not possible to give a correct estimate of the value to the tenants of their sheiling, but when it is stated that they can keep only from one-half to two-thirds of their former stock, it will be seen that the loss is not small. Note.—In one case the number of cattle had to be reduced from eighteen to four, and of sheep from twenty to none (in consequence of the pasture being taken from them). In another case, the reduction was from fifteen cattle to ten and from twenty sheep to two or three kept at home on tethers.
2. The township of Leodabost was at an earlier date deprived of its shieling, which consisted of thirty-
seven acres green pasture, and 246 acres moor, in all 283 acres, part of which was very valuable. On this sheiling also a farm has been cultivated for some time which brought in a rent of £30 annually a few years since, but somewhat less now. For this sheiling no reduction of rent or other compensation was made to the tenants. Together with the loss of their shieling the same tenants have been deprived of their common pasture to a great extent by the settling upon it of four or five crofters. These two townships with Buailtach, which had benefit of Brachungie shieling, may be said to stand in a position by themselves, and to have suffered most, inasmuch as they had shielings and were deprived of them; but the case of the other places mentioned, especially of Smeral and Achnemgoul, which can hardly be said to have anything worth the name of pasture, is not less hard. It may, however, be sufficient to summarise the hardships arising from the loss of pasture without entering further into statistics—
(1) There is first the injustice 'of paying for what they have not, as when they had it;
(2) The difficulty of keeping the few beasts they have, and which are necessary to bring in the rent;
(3) In some instances the curtailed holdings are as small as to make it impossible to keep a horse,and of course there follows the paying of others to cultivate the land, drive peats, and everything else for which the services of a horse are necessary. On this subject the only other observation I wish to make, is that although a reduction of rent, and a large one in lieu of the pasture taken from them, and which is bringing in rent to the proprietor, seems a plain act of common justice, no such reduction would bean equivalent for the pasture.
II. No compensation for improvement.—
The complaint in respect of this grievance embraces, making arable land of waste, draining land already arable, and repairing and rebuildinghouses. For such work so necessary, but at the same time so expensive, there is absolutely no compensation for the tenant, with one apparent rather than real exception to be mentioned immediately. It is true, and it is right to mention it, that the present proprietor is wont to allow an improving tenant to enjoy his improvements without increase of rent, while he continues to pay rents and customs punctually, shows himself submissive to all that is propounded to him as the landlord's pleasure, and lives and chooses to remain in his holding, although the rule is not without exception. Notwithstanding this favourable fact, it is a hardship, that if a man want to remove from his croft, if he cannot submit to conditions arbitrarily imposed upon him (such as the deprivation of pasture referred to), he can claim no compensation for his money, nor remuneration for his labour expended on his holding; and that if he dies his heir can neither expect to be permitted to sit at the old rent, nor enforce payment of their means sunk in the land. And there can be no doubt that a landlord or his agent is more apt to be more un-reasonable and aggressive when it is lound a tenant has no alternative but to submit or remove, such removal of course adding to the landlord's income in the form of increased rent from a new tenant, and that a tenant in such circumstances can have no heart to do much in the way of improving croft or farm. There was a time, and it is not yet wholly a bye-gone time, when a rise of rent was the result of the tenant's improvements, even while he behaved himself in the most admirable manner. It is in the case of repairs to houses that the apparent exception from the rule of no compensation holds. The case stands thus :—
On becoming a tenant, one has to pay to the outgoing tenant the appraised value of the roof, or timber; during the occupancy he may have to replace part, or the whole of the old wood, but on leaving he can
claim no more than he paid on entry, at whatever sum the appraiser values the repaired or renovated roofs; and should, as frequently happens, the landlord have wood in the roof—"master's wood, " as it is called —it must retain its value, however long the roof is maintained, which value is always a first charge on the sum at which the timber is appraised. It is not only so, but crofters have sometimes to rebuild their houses without any compensation at all; and in the best arrangement that I have heard of the tenants had to build a roof, part of the dwelling house, or the whole offices, without a shilling of compensation except for the timber; on leaving the holding, quarrying, driving, building walls and putting on the roof all done for the proprietor. It is not to be wondered at that the houses occupied by some crofters are so wretched in appearance, and as they themselves say, neither wind nor water-tight.
(1) A man lost £20 valuation, through having mislaid or destroyed his " melioration paper; "
(2) A woman who rebuilt her house not entitled to a penny of compensation.
Insecurity of tenure naturally connects itself with the grievance justspoken of. Had tenants a good legal hold of their crofts and houses,they might venture to do some slight improvements, although there should be no hope of compensation beyond a reasonably lengthened occupation. But such is not the case. There are but few leases given or asked. For the proprietor it is convenient to have a written engagement, since, in that case the usual " If you're not satisfied, go," is more likely to silence any complaints than where a tenant could found on his lease a plea for damages ; and some tenants having made the experiment and found the lease to be " only good for the laird," are not disposed toagain risk entanglement in its legal meshes. Yet, of two evils, the lease or other security might be the less; for but a very slight offence is sufficient to provoke eviction. It may be somewhat over the mark to say that the crofter who execrates the grouse, or shakes his fist at the rabbits which devour his crops, is sure to be removed from house and land : but it is little else than a paraphase of the words of a crofter, who, in stating his vexation and loss through these creatures, said " And if you say a word you're turned out." He did not specify whether the vocable of such direful result was to be addressed to the grouse or their owner. There are not wanting, I am informed, instances which would, if fully stated, transfer such statements from the category of figurative expressions to the regions of sober history.
IV. Excessive rent.
—Of the case of the tenants who have been deprived of their pastures or sheilings, it is needful only to say, that if their rent was within sight of being a reasonable one before such deprivation, it must have been unreasonably and unjustly high. And I could not ascertain that landlord or factor complained that it had been too low; certainly the tenants did not. A different class of cases is composed of persons whose rent has been gradually increased, although nothing has been expended on the land or houses occupied by them, except by themselves.
1. A croft which began, so far as known, with a rent of 15s., some meaL peats, and a hen and eggs, is now about £13 and custom peats, not costing the proprietorone shHling during the rise of rent.
2. Another rent was raised from £10 to £12, with nothing done to account for the increase except the
crofter's own improvements.
3. A third rent is stated to have been only 30s. when the present occupant's father entered it in his time it rose to £9. It is now over £16, and its privilege of pasture greatly curtailed in the manner already noted. A class of crofts, different from the two just mentioned, consists of those which are situated nearer the sea coast, and seem to have been too high rented during two generations at least. The rents are said to range there from £1, 5s. to £ 1 , 15s. and more per acre of arable land, -with comparatively little pasture. These crofts are not at all so much more valuable than others, but the rent is, as the occupants usually express it, laid on the sea; that is, the proprietor of the land reaps the benefit of the fishing without going to sea. The increase of rent on the whole property during the last twenty years appears to be about £380, or about 25 per cent To this sum the home farm—the only very large one on the property—contributes nothing, although within the period just named improvements in draining, fencing, reclaiming waste land, and in building, at, I have no doubt, a cost of much more than £3000, it being presently let at £50 less than its then estimated rental. If the home farm is reasonably rented, and it must be assumed to be so, what can be said of the rents of the crofts on which there is so marked an increase, and on which the proprietor expended nothing?
37341. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—To whom is it let ?
—To Dr Burn. It was valued twenty-two years ago at £300, and according to the valuation-roll it is now let at £250. It does seem inconsistent with equity that crofts should be rented so high above the rental per acre of the large farms which are usually the best soil on the property. In connection with the unequal rental per acre on large farms and crofts, it is to be noted that the incidence of taxation shares with rent the same stigma of want of equity—the stronger and more favourably situated having here also the lighter burden to bear.
V. Damage done to crops by game.
The word game must for convenience be allowed to designate rabbits, hares, wild-geese &c, as well as grouse and pheasants. Various notorious cases of hardships of long standing arising from this source were mentioned at the meeting referred to at the beginning of this statement. For instance, one crofter complained that he had almost wholly lost his crop of oats this season, it being eaten by rabbits, and that he had resolved he would not be at the expense of sowing corn again. Some of his neighbours had, he said, managed by nets and bells to preserve for themselves some of their crops ; others, like himself, had lost very much. Another stated that for many years he could secure nothing like a crop of oats or turnips off one of his best fields. He once sowed it in prime condition with six bushels of oats, and he reaped two bushels, instead of the fifty or sixty which would have been his return were it not for rabbits. That was by much the most damaged of his fields, but by no means the only one damaged. Complaints .were made, but not listened to. A third sufferer from this source says he one year valued the damage to the crop by rabbits at £6 sterling, and informed the proprietor of the loss, whose reply was, " If you are not satisfied, go." But there is no need to multiply
instances. And surely no argument is required to show the injustice of exacting high rents for land, and making a profit of the vermin fed upon it. I am not in a position to give an approximate estimate of the damage caused by grouse; but have to testify that the crofters of the higher grounds complain as bitterly of their ravages as the crofters in the low grounds do of the destruction caused by rabbits. Other creatures, which tenants in other places are permitted to keep down, cause here undoubted loss, but not so much, I presume, as to constitute a grievance, although their names have been cast in with those mentioned.
VI. The last grievance which I have been requested to bring before the Commission is that of persons who have little or no land; and their wish naturally is that large farms should be divided into small holdings, so that each man who has a family, and who prosecutes the fishing during summer, might have land enough to occupy him at home during winter. In view of the hardships which they have to bear, and the obstacles which stand in the way of the amelioration of their circumstances, I trust the Commission will not judge unreasonable the desire of those whom I represent, viz., that Parliament shall enact a law which may enable the crofter to possess his holding without being crushed into the degradation of serfdom, which will be instrumental in restricting his rent to the actual value of his croft when well tilled, and which will tend to the enlarging of crofts, with pasture attached, to such an extent as would enable the crofter to keep his children under his own guardianship until they arrived at the years of discretion.
37342. The Chairman.
—In reference to taking away the hill pasture from the two townships you mentioned how long is it since the hillpasture was taken from the townships of Brachungie ?
—I should say, six or seven years ago; but there are other delegates here who can give the information.
37343. It is quite recent ?
—Yes ; I think not much more than that.
37344. Quite in the memory of the present people ?
37345. What became of the hill pasture of Brachungie ; what was done with it ?
—It forms part of a farm ; the proprietor cultivated a part of the pasture. He turned off those people before he made it arable land, and in order to get it let he took their pasture and joined it to this newly
37346. You call this larger common pasture shieling ground; was this larger common pasture contiguous to the arable of the township, or was it separate and at a distance ?
—It was not far from some of it, but from some it was pretty far.
37347. Was it adjacent to some ?
37348. How far was it from those from whom it was most remote?
—I should suppose not more than half a mile.
37349. Was it enclosed ?
37350. No enclosure whatever?
37351. Was the right of pasture upon it lotted? I mean, had each tenant a prescribed number of stock he was allowed to keep upon it, or did all the tenants run out any number of stock they pleased ?
—I am not able to say. I never heard any statement regarding that, but I believe the rule which regulated it was the provender they had in winter for their stock ; that is to say, the size of the cultivated land would regulate the number of stock kept.
37352. The crofters seem to have kept a great quantity of stock upon this common pasture. It appears that in one case the number kept is reduced from eighteen to four ?
—That is the statement of the tenant.
37353. Were those cattle ?
37354. How did the small tenants manage to keep in winter such a large number of cattle as eighteen upon their arable resources ?
—I believe, in a case like that, many of the cattle, being hardy Highland cattle, would be out during the winter; I suppose so, though I am not sufficiently acquainted with the fact, to be sure.
37355. Do you think the crofters were in the habit of purchasing a great deal of provender in winter for their cattle ?
—Well, at that time, I do not know, they purchased a great deal ; but that was one of the statements made at this public meeting, —that a chief annoyance arising from being deprived of the sheiling is that, as a tenant expressed it, they have to scour the whole country, and (he said in his own graphic way) by dint of paying, and prigging, and some greeting, they were able to get some straw and hay throughout the country to keep their beasts alive.
37356. When this pasture and sheiling ground was taken away, was that done in connection with any re-lotting, or general change in the distribution of the arable ground, or was it simply taken away leaving the tenants as they were before ?
—Simply leaving them as they were before.
37357. Without any reduction of rent whatever ?
37358. You seem to have two kinds of common pasture, —common pasture near the arable land, and then a larger portion that you call sheiling ground ?
37359. Are there any townships left which still possess sheiling ground, or has the sheiling ground been universally taken away ?
—I believe it has been universally taken away there is no sheiling ground now that I know of.
37360. Is there still common pasture left in some places ?
—Yes, there is some common pasture.
37361. Considerable amounts?
—Not a very great deal.
37362. Are the tenants allowed to break up their common pasture and make it arable 1 Is there any regulation affecting that ?
—I do not suppose there was ever need, for it is scarcely capable of being broken up; it is very rocky heather pasture that they have, —either that or peat mosses. I never heard any allusion made to that.
37363. You spoke of the high rents, and gave one or two examples of very great increases of rental,
—for instance, one from 15s. to £13. Over how long a period did an increase of that sort take place ? When was it 15s. and when did it become £13?
—I should say the 15s. would date back about fifty years.
37364. In that case, do you know whether the holding was let on an improving lease ?
—I am not aware whether there was a lease of any kind; the tenant was allowed to do pretty much what he liked, if he paid his rent
37365. But there may have been an understanding, when he got it for 15s., that the ground was to be improved during a course of years?
—I have no reason to suppose that that was the case.
37366. When a tenant had a holding for so small a rent as 15s., he must have improved it very much over a term of years, to justify a demand for an increase of rent. In a case of that kind, would the
tenant have felt it a hardship to pay some increase of rent ?
—I should think not; the hardships in that connection is the being deprived of their pastures to so large an extent, together with the rise of rent on the arable land.
37367. It is a question of degree?
—Well, I suppose so ; I do not think any tenant would grudge some increase of rent in that time, although it was all by his own labour that the improvements were made.
37368. The tenant would recognise that by having entered at a low rent for a term of years, he was in some measure repaid ?
37369. You mentioned a case of a recent rise of rent from £ 10 to £12 : would that be regarded as a great hardship ?
—The tenant spoke of it as a hardship; he said he had not got a farthing's value for the £2.
37370. How long had he had it at £ 10 ?
—I cannot say; I just took down the statement as it was made at the meeting.
37371. You say the rents are higher in proportion to the area of ground in holdings down near the sea; what sort of holdings are those down near the sea ?
—Well, some of them keep a horse and a cow, some of them two cows without a horse, and I know an instance or two where a horse and two cows are kept; I should suppose, something like eight
or nine acres.
37372. Are the men who have those holdings fishermen ?
37373. What is the rent of such a holding,—keeping two cows for instance, and having a fisherman's house ?
—£20 is the rent of one I looked at last night, where a horse and two cows are kept.
37374. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—What is the name of the village ?
—It is not a village; Shantry is the name of the place.
37375. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many acres would there be?
—I was informed it was between 35s. and 40s. per acre.
37376. The Chairman.
—In the specific case, is the man a trader or shopkeeper? Is he something above the rank of a fisherman or labourer ?
—No. There are two brothers who occupy it ; one is a shoemaker, and the other works the farm, and they both go to sea in the season
37377. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie [referring to the valuation roll].
—Benjamin and John Dunbar ?
—Those are the two.
37378. The Chairman.
—You spoke of there being no leases or few leases granted upon this estate ? Had there been leases granted in order to promote the improvements of the soil in the first instance ? I mean, had those tenants improving leases originally, and then, at the close of the first lease, was a lease afterwards refused them ?
—A few had leases,—a very few only, so far as I am aware,—and when those leases were run out, I believe the truth is, that the proprietor did not want to give a new one, and the tenant, considering the terms on which he would get a new one, did not want to have it. Indeed, I was told quite recently by one man, that he would not have a lease on the conditions on which it would be granted. He did not mention what these would be.
37379. Do you think generally that these little farms or holdings were improved and taken in under a lease, or were they improved and taken in without a lease ?
—Without a lease, I understand.
37380. Generally ?
37381. You said that the people were anxious to have and to hold the land in connection with the fishing industry. We have had it stated to us, on the west coast frequently, that the people on the east coast did not desire to hold land in connection with the fishing industry, and that on the east coast the two industries of farming and fishing either were divided, or become divided j is that the case here ? Do you ever hear that the people prefer to devote themselves exclusively to fishing, and to have no land, or do they prefer to fish and farm together ?
—They prefer to fish and farm, undoubtedly.
37382. Have you ever considered the question yourself, whether the division of the two industries is desirable or not ?
—I think it is not desirable on this coast. They are not able to prosecute the fishing to the same advantage as the fishermen on the opposite side of the Firth do. I am not able perhaps to tell all the reasons why, but I see the fishermen from the other side are able to be out when no boats can go out from this side; and I do not see what our men would do at all during a great part of the year, if they had no land. It is only the herring fishing that is prosecuted here, generally speaking. A few small boats may go out for a time to fish cod and haddocks, but that is solely or almost solely for the use of their families. The herring fishing is the fishing on this coast.
37383-4. You mentioned they did not go out in winter. Why do they not prosecute the white fishing 11s it for the want of a proper description of boats and tackle ?
—No, not at all. I have no doubt their boats are good enough. They do go to the winter herring fishing, but I do not think they have ever had much encouragement to prosecute the other fishing.It is not done, and I do not see there is very much success when they do go out from this coast. Then our people are scattered along the whole coast, and with the exception of the harbour down at Lybster here, there is not a harbour into which they can run in case of storms, and I believe this harbour is not always accessible to them.
37385. With reference to the ravages of game and rabbits, the people have no leases, and they are is full enjoyment of the benefits of the last Act as to the destruction of rabbits, if they can use those advantages. Have you any knowledge of what the people have done or begun to do under the new Act? Are they trying to destroy rabbits, or does the proprietor interfere with the exercise of their rights under the Act ?
—The proprietor would get rid of them at once. So far as my experience and acquaintance with the circumstances go, that would be the result.
37386. That is an impression you express, but do you know of any case where the proprietor has signified to the tenants that they must abstain from destroying rabbits, or go?
—I am not able just now to specify any particular case.
37387. But you think the people would be afraid to exercise their rights ?
—It is not an opinion; I know they are afraid ; and if dogs were seen chasing rabbits or going away off their own fields in pursuit of them, that is enough to create a disturbance.
37388. That is a different question from trapping rabbits on their own ground ?
—Well, I think, if the chasing of them with a dog off the field was an offence, trapping would be considered a far greater offence. The general impression on the part of the people who know the circumstances (some of them to their own cost) is, that if they were to interfere with rabbits by means of traps or any other way, they would be turned out of their holdings.
37389. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Are all the farmers whom you speak of employed at the fishing to some extent ?
—Not all. There are a very few of those on the heights who go.
37390. Then those on the heights live entirely on the produce of their own farms ?
—Entirely, with this exception, that some of them have to go away during part of the year to work where they can get work, such as at the slate quarries.
37391. Is the produce of their farms supplemented by the wages of labour ?
—In some cases.
37392. Do you know what sized farm is sufficient to support a man without his seeking for wages elsewhere ?
—From my own knowledge I cannot say, but on asking the men they said that the crofts should range
from twenty to fifty acres.
37393. Do the crofters with twenty acres keep one horse or two ?
—There are very few who have twenty acres. I do not think I know any who have twenty acres of arable land. I know one, I think, who has over twenty acres, and he keeps two horses.
37394. Is it the custom for the crofters to keep one horse each, and to arrange with each other to do the ploughing ?
—That is very common.
37395. What is the minimum size of croft that will keep a horse ?
—I suppose a croft of about five acres will keep a horse and a cow.
37396. What sort of rent is usually paid for a croft of five acres?
—About £5. I do not think there are many of them under £ 1 per acre.
37397. Would you expect the proprieter to build a house on a £5 croft ?
—-I would expect him to help so far.
37398. What is the yearly rent a fisherman pays for his house in a village like Lybster ?
—I believe about £4 or £5 is common for a fisherman to pay in the village of Lybster.
37399. Without any land at all ?
—I believe so.
37400. If the proprietor erected a house on a five acre croft, which is worth £5, would the crofter be willing to pay more rent ?
—I do not believe he would be willing to pay more rent, because he does not think the croft is worth £5, though he must give that for it.
37401. He thinks it worth £5, or he would not take it?
—Well, the question was put to a man at this meeting, who said he had to expend £30 of his own money in building a house, and that he would not get a halfpenny for it,—the question was asked, Why did you do that? and the answer was,—‘ Just because I cannot lie outside.'
37402. Could he not hire a house in the village of Lybster ?
—It is not always easy to do that.
37403. Do you know if the rises of rent have taken place at any distinct intervals ?
—I am not aware.
37404. You mentioned, I think, that the small farms are rented at a greater sum per acre than the large farms, but you referred exclusively to the home farm of Latheronwheel ?
—Yes, I referred to that as the only one of which I had statistics; and that is the only large arable farm on the property.
37405. Do you know the property owned by Mr Sinclair of Freswick ?
—I do not know any particulars regarding it.
37406. Do you know the farm of Dunbeath ?
—No, I cannot say I have any special knowledge of it.
37407. You do not know whether generally in the county the small tenants are rented more highly than the large ones ?
—I believe they are, from inquiries I have been making.
37408. Do you know if Dr Burns, who has the home farm, gives any services gratis to the population as a medical man, in addition to his rent ?
—I am not aware of that.
37409. He does not get the farm at a reduced rent in consequence of any services he is supposed to render to the population?
37410. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have stated that £3000 has been expended upon this farm of which you have been speaking, and the result is that the rent is £ 50 less than it used to be ?
—The fact is so.
37411. Would it not have been wiser on the part of the proprietor to spend that £3000 for the benefit of the crofters whose rents have been raised so much ?
—I believe the expenditure was very wise upon the farm.
37412. It has beautified the place?
—It has improved the place, I should say, immensely. I did not see the farm before a great part of the
improvements were made upon it, but I saw many of them carried out, and I am convinced the money was wisely spent where it was spent.
37413. An expenditure is not a wise expenditure when it is not profitable?
—If one could say it was not to be profitable, it would not be wise, but one is not always able to foresee what the result of his speculations will be.
37414. You mentioned the name of the proprietor of Latheronwheel; has he been long in possession of the estate ?
—About twenty years. He is a Yorkshire gentleman.
37415. Was he a purchaser ?
37416. Can you give any explanation at all about the instance of the first township you referred to,—any reason why such an arbitrary proceeding should take place as to deprive the people at once of theix hill pasture, and make no reduction whatever of the rent ?
—The only reason I ever heard spoken of was that this piece of newly-cultivated land which was made a farm of. and a house built upon it, would not let,—at least, would not let well,—without a large addition of pasture to it.
37417. With regards to the matter of the rabbits, is it your impression, from what you know of the people, that the fear of being removed is so deterrent that practically the Act of Parliament in favour of the small tenants is a dead letter so far as freeing themselves from rabbits and hares is concerned ?
—That is my thorough conviction. I may be permitted to mention a statement made by one of the crofters at that meeting. He said, in speaking of his own loss, that some of his neighbours had managed to preserve a part of their corn by means of bells and nets and such things. I understand, on making inquiry regarding the bells, that they are not actual bells, but old tins and pails tied to a string and suspended from a pole, with a string brought into the house, so that when the rabbits are seen at the other end of the croft the pails may be allowed to fall and make a noise. If a person was not afraid of being interfered with otherwise, I do not think he would be at the pains to erect such an apparatus to keep the rabbits away, and I am told it is not a very effective one either.
37418. You have stated that some of the tenants object to have leases in consequence of the stringency of the conditions proposed to be inserted; have you yourself ever seen any lease ?
—No, I have never seen a lease.
37419. Going out of the parish of Lathoron, you have some know ledge of the adjoining parish of Wick ?
37420. We have seen, in coming from Wick to-day, a large population, with a great number of holdings ; do you think that most of the tenants there have leases, or have they not ?
—I have no knowledge, but I am led to believe it is not a common thing throughout the county for tenants to have leases.
37421. What remedy have you to suggest for the grievances you have detailed in your paper ?
—The people themselves mention fixity of tenure, on condition of their crofts being revalued. One man said it would be ruinous to have them continued as they are, but on condition of a revaluation, they would like to have some kind of security that they could not bo cast out at any time. The next point is compensation for improvements made on their houses and on their lands, so that they might better their own condition. These were the principal things; and, of course, compensation for damages done by game, which in some cases are very serious. A man told me, not at the meeting but quite recently, that he lost a good deal of his corn by having gathered it too green to preserve it from grouse. They were taking away all the corn from the stooks in the fields, and he had to gather it hurriedly, and the consequence was that he lost a good deal by that.
37422. Is the population of the parish of Latheron increasing or decreasing, or is it stationary ?
—The population of the parish of Latheron is decreasing.
37423. Is yours the only Free Church in the parish ?
—No, there are four.
37424. What is the attendance in your own district?
—The average attendance is about 500 or 550.
37425. With regard to the fishings, I gathered from what you said that the Caithness side of the Firth could not compete so well with the Banff side. It is not so well suited for fishing?
—That is my opinion, though I could not perhaps account altogether for that.
37426. For one thing, on the other side there is a greater fishing population already gathered; is there not ?
—I believe so.
37427. They are nearer the markets?
—Yes, and they have harbours
37428. Would it not really be necessary to incur a very considerable expenditure before the fishing upon the Caithness coast could be conducted with any very great advantage to the population ?
—I think it would be necessary to incur a good deal of expenditure.
37429. The people themselves could not do it?
—That is out of the question.
37430. With regard to this place where we are now sitting, in Lybster,—the property of a very wealthy man, —could any encouragement be given to the fishing ? could it be very much developed ?
—I think so. There is a pretty good harbour already, and it could be made much better and larger.
37431. Is there any local authority in the village of Lybster, or any one having charge ?
—I am not aware there is any local authority. The Parochial Board is the only authority.
37432. And it is more a sanitary authority than anything else?
37433. Have any of the people in this place thought of petitioning the Duke of Portland to do anything in the way of developing the resources of the place ?
—I do not know.
37434. I understand he has reduced the rents in some cases?
—I do not know ; I am not so familiar with Lybster.
37435. With regard to the four names you mentioned, who seem to be the heritors in your district, do any of them live within your district ?
—Major Stocks has a residence, but he does not reside here except during the shooting season.
37436. None of the others have residences?
—Mr Sutherland of Forse has a residence, but never resides here.
37437. Practically, the whole of the proprietors are non-resident?
—Quite so. Mrs Gunn of Latheron resides on the estate of Swiney, so she may be considered resident, though not on her own property.
37438. Do any of these proprietors show much interest in the people, generally speaking ? Do they show any benevolent interest by contributing sums annually in the way of donations for charitable purposes ?
—I am not aware. I know assistance has been given in the way of seed corn free during the last two years, when there was great need, by Mrs Gunn ; and I believe Major Stocks procured seed corn so as to suit his tenantry, but of course they had to pay for it.
37439. What I want to come to is this, are the people generally looked after by the proprietors, and is there such an interest as you as a minister of religion think should be felt by the proprietors towards the people ?
—I think not. I cannot affirm that
37440. That, I persume, is a drawback to the happiness and prosperity of the people ?
—A great drawback.
37441. Judging by what we have seen to-day between this place and Wick, there has been a great deal of land taken in and reclaimed within the last fifty years ?
—A great deal.
37442. And principally, I should say, by what may be called the crofter class ?
—Yes. On some properties they have more encouragement than on others, and more help given them in the way of doing it.
37443. It cannot be pretended, then, that the people of Caithness are by any means other than industrious, if they had opportunities and facilities given to them ?
—I should certainly say they are industrious, if they had opportunities.
37444. And they are so still, notwithstanding what has occurred?
—Oh, yes. There are a good many who perhaps spend a good deal of their time during the winter idle, having nothing to occupy them. They cannot fish, and I suppose they have to be idle necessarily.
37445. Do you think many of them are compulsorily idle?
—I believe so. I believe, if they had crofts, they would be very glad to occupy themselves upon them.
37446. And if they had what is commonly called fixity of tenure, they would improve their dwellings and improve their enclosures ?
—I certainly think they would.
37447. And tidy up all their surroundings ?
—Yes, I have no doubt of that.
37448. Have you observed that upon certain estates in Caithness there appears a marked difference in the surroundings of the small houses compared with what they are upon other estates ?
—I am not sufficiently acquainted with the rest of the county to be able to speak very definitely. Of course there is an appearance of comfort about the small places down towards the middle of the county, and towards Thurso and Wick.
37449. Suppose you are driving from Lybster to Wick, is there not a perceptible difference in the external appearance and surroundings of some of the houses as compared with others ?
37450. The Chairman.
—Is there any sporting rent upon these properties? Is the shooting anywhere let to tenants, or do the proprietors themselves shoot ?
—Of those I have mentioned, the only proprietor who has the whole moors in his own hands is Major Stocks. The shootings on the estates of Forse and Latheron are all let, and partly on the estate of
37451. And the shooting rights of the tenants extend to the crofters' arable as well as the moors 1
—I understand that to be the case.