Lybster, Caithness, 4 October 1883 - George Sinclair

GEORGE SINCLAIR, Crofter, Latheron (55)—examined.

37452. The Chairman.
—Are you on the estate of Forse?
—No; I was born and brought up on it.

37453. Whose estate are you on?
—The estate of Latheron—Mrs Gunn's.

37454. Sheriff Nicolson.
—You appear here as a delegate for the Latheron people?
—No, from the upper end of the estate of Forse, where I was born and brought up, and from which I was evicted.

37455. When were you appointed by those people?
—I was appointed at the first meeting we had at Latheron, close upon two years ago.

37456. Is Forse contiguous to Latheron?
—The march comes within a hundred yards of my door.

37457. Was it people from Forse who elected you?
—Yes, people from Forse.

37458. How long did you live in Forse?
—I lived in Forse till I was thirty-one years of age.

37459. So it is twenty-five years since you left it?

37460. What statement have you to make on behalf of the people of Forse?
—I have a statement to make that they were evicted twenty-five years ago. Five families were evicted in one day in the upper end of Forse.

37461. Who was the proprietor?
—Mr Sutherland—the present Forse.

37462. What was the ground for removing them?
—He raised the rent, and when he raised the rent he wanted them to put up new houses at their own expense, and they could not do that.

37463. What was their rent?
—Their rent was £13, and then he raised it to £18.

37464. Was it on account of their not being willing to pay that £18 that they were removed?
—No, not at all.

37465. Then was it raised again from £18 still higher when they were removed?
—No, he wanted no more; but he wanted to clear them out, and he said he would get the whole tenants cleared.

37466. Had they not good houses before?
—They had houses that would do as they were, but he wanted them off the place. He wanted them to put up new houses at their own expense.

37467. What kind of houses had they?
—Divot roofs and what they call Highland couples—the cattle and themselves going in at the same door. They lived all under the same roof, only there was an old sail between the animals and the fire.

37468. And he wanted them to build better houses'
—Yes, if they would do it themselves.

37469. Was there any other ground of complaint against the people?
—No ground.

37470. Had they been cultivating their lands?
—They did cultivate them. It was because they cultivated the land that he put the rise on them. That was what they got for cultivating the land.

37471. Had they made improvements?
—A great deal of improvements, but some of them did not.

37472. Were there only five crofters removed?
—There were five removed in one day. There were eight removed, but there were five removed in one day; the roof was off, and they had to go.

37473. Who got their crofts?
—He had them for three years in his own hand, and no one offered for them.

37474. How is the place occupied now?
—It is occupied now, I believe, at less rent than the tenants were paying then.

37475. As a farm?
—It is in two farms now.

37476. What was the name of the place where you lived?
—Stemster, Forse, in the parish of Latheron. They had no place to go to unless they went to the churchyard that was near. They stopped in the barns, but they were evicted out of the barns after that.

37477. Where did they go to?
—Some went to the parish of Halkirk, and most of them turned to be paupers after the little money they made out of their subject was gone.

37478. Were there any other evictions made at that time?
—There were made in all one hundred and five evictions about that same time from that same estate. That was about the beginning of it. There were one hundred and five upon the estate evicted.

37479. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Do you mean families?
—Yes, crofters and cottars.

37480. Sheriff Nicolson.
—By the same laird who is there now?
—Yes. There is most of it under sheep. There is one place where thirty-five were evicted for one farm.

37481. What is the name of that farm?
—The farm of Rumster.

37482. Is there a higher rent being paid now than was paid before?
—No, I do not believe it is higher now. The tenants were giving more rent.

37483. To what part of the world did all these one hundred families go, do you know?
—I believe most of them went to be paupers; I attended the funerals of a good many of them from the poorhouse, and they just got nothing but the funeral of an ass.

37484. Then the representations you have been asked to make here are not on behalf of the present crofters of Forse, but in respect of what has been done there?
—The present ones have put me in as a delegate.

37485. How many have been left there?
—There are very few of the old ones. There are some down at the fishings below the road. There are a few of them still in it.

37486. But they have no grievance of their own which they wish you to represent?
—They have grievances of their own. The land is three times rented owing to the sea. It is on the sea they put the rents. They pay the rent for the sea, not for the land.

37487. Are you the only person here to represent them?
—No, there is another to represent them.

37488. Is he living on the property of Forse?
—No, he is not. He was put off twenty-five years ago. He was one of those one hundred and five who were put out. His aunt was evicted that same day she,was on her deathbed. She was put out by the police and the sheriff officer under the factor, and was for eight days under a sail, and then she was taken away, and about two months afterwards she died on another estate.

37489. These are interesting facts, but have you nothing to say in regard to the present crofters?
—-Their grievance is that the rent is too high.

37490. What is the rate of the rent per acre?
—I cannot tell. There are those here who can tell about it.

37491. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—In what part of the parish of Latheron is Forse estate?
—About the centre of the parish.

37492. Is it far from where we are just now?
—About one and a half miles south from where we are.

37493. Is it a large estate?
—It is two and a half miles in length and seven miles long.

37494. What was the meaning of those extraordinary evictions that took place on the estate? What was the object in doing it?
—I believe it was owing to his father-in-law and his wife. They were Irish, and he had to give in to their way. There was an old man who died —I believe he was a pauper—and they came in and told Forse that he was dead. Shepherd, his father-in-law, was there, and he said—Yes, George, that is right; that is the way they should go.'

37495. Are you quite correct in saying there were 105 families? Do you mean heads of families?
—Yes, I mean all smoking houses —cottars and small places.

37496. How many heads of families of that class may there be upon the estate now?
—Well, there are very few on it now except what are at the fishing. There are none but two that were put out, but they are lying on the face of the hill miserable, worse than if they were out with the tinkers.

37497. With regard to the place where you are now living, upon Mrs Gunn's estate, you do not represent the people on that estate?

37498. Is there any complaint from that estate?
—We have no complaint but that we are, like all the rest, too high rented by the proprietor, that has owned the land since twenty-five years ago, and we are paying the rent that they were paying for it then. I may say we are all double rented.

37499. Are you a fisherman as well as a crofter?

37500. You say that of those families that were evicted from Forse a great many became paupers and died. Were many obliged to emigrate and leave the country?
—I believe there were very few that emigrated. There was very little emigration at that time.

37501. Where did they go to then?
—Most of them that are living are on the estate that I am on. Their parents are dead, and they became paupers, because they had nothing to support them.

37502. Who was the proprietor at the time who took the poor people on the estate of Latheron?
—Munro had most of it then.

37503. Did he take them out of kindness, or what were the circumstances under which they came to this estate?
—It was small places that were on the estate of Latheron then, and any of them that got better places removed and went to other places and made the best shift they could, because it was a place that had nothing but rocks on it, and all the green on it was not fit to be cultivated.

37504. The Chairman.
—What is the name of the proprietor now—Sutherland of Forse?

37505. Is it the same gentleman who made these evictions?
—Yes, it is he who is living still.

37506. Does he ever live in the country?
—He has lived in Ireland ever since the evictions, unless he comes for a short time. He may come for a night or two. The last time he was in Caithness was at the time of last election.

37507. Is it an old family in the country, or did they buy the estate?
—They ran from generation to generation for I believe the memory of man; but we had good proprietors in that family—as good as were in Caithness—until he came.

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