Golspie, Sutherland, 8 October 1883 - John Mackay

JOHN MACKAY, Railway Contractor, and resident at Hereford (61)—examined.

39160. The Chairman.
—Do you appear as a delegate before us?
—I do.

39161. From what township or parish?
—If you will allow me I will just give you the explanation which the crofters wished me to give before the Commissioners.
Parish of Rogart, Sutherland—upper portion of the parish. The crofters of Rogart respectfully desire to state to Her Majesty's Commissioners that they held a general meeting on the 19th June, to discuss their grievances, and made an application to the Commission for an inquiry into them. Another general meeting was held afterwards to consider the reply of the Commissioners, and to discuss the best mode in which their grievances could be represented before the Commission, when it was resolved that the parish be divided into three divisions, and each of these to elect its own representatives. Consequent upon this resolution, district meetings were held a few days afterwards at Torbreac Public School, Rogart Public School, and at Rhilochan Public School. At each of these meetings several delegates were appointed to represent each district; but at a subsequent meeting, on having further information from the Commission, and having regard to the limited time the Commissioners could devote to hearing evidence from the representatives of four parishes in one day, the subject of delegates was reconsidered, and it was finally resolved that the number of delegates be reduced to two —one for the lower portion of the parish, and one for the upper; that John Sutherland, merchant, Pittertrail, be the representative of the crofters in the lower portion of the parish, comprising the townships of Achoillie, Achvrail, Ardachadh, Junisdeape Cluaranaich, Junisoraig, Dalmore, Muie, Blarich, Torbreac, Pitfure, and Pittentrail; and John Mackay, Achellach, be the representative of the upper, comprising the townships of Rhilium, Rhimusaig, Phichalmia, Little Rogart, Meikle Rogart, Achcook, Cnoc-arthur, Rhilochan, Tanachy, Dalreavich, Bauscoll, Craggie Beg, Craggie Mor, East and West Langwell, Breacachadh, and Morness. These two representatives were considered sufficient upon the consideration above stated, and for the additional consideration that the grievances complained of were generally of the same nature in all the townships, and the remedies thought necessary were the same all round. The above townships contain nearly two hundred crofters' lots and families, paying upwards of £1000 rental or an average of £5, 5s, each. There are two tenants paying £15; six, £ 14; one, £ 13; one, £12; one, £ 11; four, £10; three, £ 9; three, £8, 10s.; seven, £ 8; one, £7, 10s.; seven, £ 7; five, £6, 10s.; eight, £ 6; three, £5, 10s.; twenty-seven, £5; nine, £4 10s.; twenty-nine, £4; five, £3, 10s.; thirty-three £ 3; eight, £2, 10s.,; nineteen £2. The grievances complained of are too small holdings, insufficient for the subsistence of a family, and bring it up in the way Highlanders always desired to do. Hill pasture too scant, and too restricted—in some places taken from the crofters to be added to that of the large farmers. Boundaries generally unfenced. Rents generally considered too high, and frequently raised without notice, particularly upon a son succeeding a parent, notwithstanding that the son might be the improver and not the father. It frequently happens that the mother survives the father. The son remaining with the mother makes most of the improvements himself, and when he succeeds the mother the rent is invariably raised, in many instances from 20 to 100 per cent, and more, as for example 5s. to 47s., 25s. to 5ls., £4,15s. 8d. to £10, 35s. to 80s. Numerous other instances could be produced. Crofters' rents are paid in advance. The mode of rent-raising upon holdings reclaimed by the crofters themselves, from moor and other equally sterile land. The houses and steadings being also built by themselves often at a cost they could not afford nor bear, if they were not assisted by their sons and daughters in the south of Scotland and in the colonies. The tenure being uncertain, acts detrimentally upon their minds, and prevents many of them from effecting improvements, and thereby incur the odium of idleness. Lots falling vacant are given to strangers, in preference to natives of the parish, who are able and willing to take them. The parish of Rogart contains 67,000 acres, 55,000 of which are occupied by fifteen large farmers, paying an aggregate rent of £2370; while about 200 crofters pay upwards of £1000 for the 12,000 acres they occupy, making 10d. an acre for the large farmers, and 1s. 10d. for the crofters. One half of the arable land now occupied by the crofters has been reclaimed by themselves within the last forty years. Previous to that date they were so stunned and disheartened by the terror created by the evictions that very little reclamation of land, or any other improvement, was effected. The population of the parish within the last fifty years has decreased from 2300 to 1300, chiefly by voluntary emigrations to various parts of the world. During the eviction years no less than 140 families in the parish were displaced, most of them wedged in amongst crofters in townships which did not covet the notice of these large farmers who then came into the county with the object of obtaining sheep runs. There are three sheep farms in the parish; the number of families displaced for them was, in one case fifty-two, in another forty-three, in the third forty-five. The result of this displacement is seen to this day in the congestion of the population in various townships, particularly in Little Rogart, Meikle, Rogart, Cnocarthur,and other places adjacent. The number of lots being now double what it was in 1815, the result of this congestion being, that while the arable land was increased by reclamation, to provide food for subsistence, hillpasture, such as it is, and so necessary for summer pasture, has been diminished, and is now insufficient for the horses, cattle, and sheep which must be kept for the consumption of the provender grown, and the maintenance of the people, in the means of paying their rents, and providing themselves with necessaries of life, education, food, and clothing. The remedies the people of Rogart desire to be applied are compensation for improvements effected by themselves, security of tenure, more hill pasture, and more land capable of cultivation, to do away with the congestion enforced from them by the evictions. They beg most respectfully to submit these considerations to Her Majesty's Commissioners. They desire to say, that they, in common with their countrymen in other parts of the Highlands, have sad recollections and woeful tales to tell of evictions and burnings, and other harsh proceedings, at that time and since. That hitherto they have submitted quietly and submissively to much suffering; they now hope that brighter days may shine upon them, that repression and oppression by factors shall cease, and that the ancient feelings of reciprocal attachment and affection, once the pride of the Sutherland tenantry, and that bound chiefs and retainers in a great and grand whole, may again be restored and revived, to be a source of contentment and happiness, conducive to the best interests and prosperity of all, and a strength to the nation.'

39162. Sheriff Nicolson.
—You are a native of Rogart?

39163. And the son of a crofter, I believe?

39164. You received your education in the parish of Rogart?
—In the parish of Rogart entirely.

39165. At what age did you leave the parish ?

39166. But you have been in the habit of revisiting your native place regularly ever since?
—During the last fourteen years I think it is only twice I had been in it before 1869 or 1870, but since then I have came once or twice every year.

39167. Are you personally well acquainted with the parish and with all the facts which are stated in this paper?
—I am more particularly acquainted with the upper parts of the parish. It is in the upper part of the parish I was born, and I seldom visited other parts unless going along the road.

39168. But you believe, of course, that all the statements in this paper you have read are strictly correct ?
—I do.

39169. And that the figures are to be depended upon1?
—The figures are to be depended upon. The information about the townships can easily be seen on the Ordnance maps; and I got from two of the oldest men in the parish their statements, and I simply copied them.

39170. Has there been much change in the parish since you left it as a youth?
—There has been a great deal of land reclaimed. In fact, the crofters were obliged to reclaim merely for subsistence. I recollect the parish forty years ago, and, when I left it, I don't think there was half the land then under cultivation that there is now. I have not seen in any portion of the county of Sutherland so much improvement made, and entirely by the crofters themselves, and at their own expense. A few of them may have obtained what has been said by some here to be Government money; but with 5 per cent, charged for the money, the expenses of reclaiming the land in the parish of Rogart is so excessive that it will never repay them. The crofters must do it themselves at odd times—that is to say, when not busy with their spring and harvest work.

39171. Of what nature have their reclamations been ?
—Trenching the land. Every yard must be trenched, and generally they trench it from 15 to 20 inches deep, and it produces such a crop of stones as would surprise anybody. When I came into the parish, being attached to the parish, I wished to make improvements so as to ameliorate their own lot. I have been persuading many of them to work in the winter and reclaim land where they can do it. One man in particular I asked to start and reclaim half an acre, and, as it would cost £20, I said I would give £10 towards it I advised him that it should be let by contract to a man to reclaim the place and blast the stones out of it. When it was done the half acre cost £22, and seeing the cost was enormous, instead of confining myself to £10 I gave the man £15.

39172. Have there been any reclamations on the large sheep farms?
—Not on the sheep farms in the parish of Rogart.

39173. There are fifteen large farms; has the number of large farms increased in your recollection ?

39174. Do you think that their occupation of the land is most beneficial to the landlord and the country ?
—I should say so.

39175. The occupation of the land by large farmers ?
—No, no. I mean the other way; and it can be proved, and I defy any one to disprove the figures I have given you. I measured the extent of the parish as given in the Ordnance map—67,000 acres. I measured all the land in the occupation of the crofters paying under £15.

39178. We call them crofters up to £30 ?
—Well, I did not. The 10d. includes the arable land held by the large fanners. Rogart farm pays £175; that is included in the 10d.; Dallebeg pays £100.

39177. Do you think the land occupied by the large sheep farmers is deteriorating in their possession?
—I am not able to say that of my own knowledge, but I have heard it said repeatedly, and I believe it to be a fact, and I think the proprietor is quite well aware of it. I have heard himself say it.

39178. Do you think it would be beneficial to the estate and the country that a considerable portion of that land should be given to increase the holdings of the small tenants ?
—Certainly. Why, this county, at any time before the evictions, could raise 1150 men. At the time of the French Revolution this county raised 1800 men, and when they were away defending their country, they behaved themselves well on the field of battle. They were fighting against the Irish rebels, and one of the Sutherland regiments of Fencibles defeated the Irish rebels on Tara hill, though they were only one to ten; and I say, on national grounds, that men are better than sheep. I have no detestation of sheep or of deer. Deer forests were in this country from time immemorial. There are tracts of land which are worth nothing except for deer; but I object entirely, upon national grounds, that land capable of cultivation or of supporting sheep should be put under deer. We may go too far, and find ourselves, as Rome found itself when it was invaded, with no Romans left to resist the Goths and Vandals.

39179. The population of the parish has decreased 1000 within the last fifty years ?
—I had not the figures by me, but I believe it is not quite so long ago.

39180. That implies that a great number of families have left the parish ?
—It does not. Every young lad in the parish of Rogart, almost as soon as he attains eighteen or twenty, goes off, because it is better for him. He is starving at home, and there is not subsistence enough to maintain a family of six or seven.

39181. But, personally, I suppose you have no reason to regret that you emigrated from Rogart?
—Not the slightest, and I advise every boy who has pluck in him, to go to New Zealand or the colonies; and if the authorities of this country don't take thought and mend, it will be better for the whole population.

39182. Then, supposing it to be feasible that there should be a redistribution of land in this parish among the crofters, would there not be a great difficulty in regard to their houses and to the existing farm steadings?
—No man should conceal that from himself.

39183. How would that difficulty be overcome practically?
—No doubt, if a family left, and their lot were added to another, one of the houses would be useless, and it might be used for an outhouse.

39184. With regard to the general character of the population, do you think that they have changed in any respect in their character since the days when you were young ?
—I don't think they are so quiet. They have been of late years irritated to such a degree that a rebellious spirit has arisen in the minds of the people. They have been irritated. In former years they were as submissive, as quiet, and as good people as could be found in the whole of Great Britain; and when I sometimes go and listen to the feelings of irritation they give expression to, I simply am surprised, and wish myself back in my own home.

39185. The educational condition of the parish has advanced, has it not?
—It is lower since my time.

39186. What is the cause of that?
—The Education Act—inefficient teaching. In my time I learned Latin, Greek, and all that —and so did every one of my brothers—and algebra, mathematics, and book-keeping.

39187. There is not the same encouragement now given in these branches?
—They work for results, for money results, and the standard of education of the teachers themselves is not so high as it was in my time.

39188. Do you mean to say the teachers are not such highly educated men?
—Certainly not, in my estimation.

39189. But in those days the number of teachers was smaller?
—Well, there were two schools in the parish when I was a boy.

39190. The number of schools is sufficient?
—Certainly, the number is sufficient.

39191. You have, I think, established some educational association yourself in the parish for the promotion of education; is it doing good ?
—A great deal of good. The first lad taken in hand was an orphan boy. He was sent to Aberdeen Grammar School so as to qualify himself. The education he would receive in the board school was not sufficient. He was sent to the Aberdeen Grammar School. The first year he was there he gained a bursary of £18, tenable for two years. That relieved the funds of the association, and enabled them to take another. That same boy entered the university, and is now an M.A. Others have been sent to the Aberdeen Grammar School to qualify themselves for teaching. We assist not only boys, but girls; and, recently, the funds of the association being sufficient, if there are boys who have a predilection for trade —such as masons and so on —we provide them with money to assist them. So the association does not exactly help them to education alone, but education alone is the prime object.

39192. The chief purpose of the association is to encourage all those, of both sexes, of promising abilities, to go forward and advance their education ?
—Yes. I may mention the test applied for the election of these boys or girls. There is an examination every year, and prizes are given by the association, and the boy who wins the first prize is assisted to go forward, and the same with the girls.

39193. The military distinction of the inhabitants of. the country is beyond all question; but from your knowledge and study of it, and from what you have heard, did they voluntarily enter the army, or did they go because it was either a duty or a necessity to go to please the laird, or the cadets of the family, who were going also?
—No doubt, in the fencible regiments they were raised by what I call conscription, and when the 93rd was raised first in 1800 it was certainly by conscription. If a father had three sons, two were demanded; and if he had two sons, one was demanded. Our township was required to furnish a rough census of those who were of the age for soldiers, and there was simply the order sent, and they were obliged to go.

39194. Was there any inducement given to them in the shape of some reward to be given in connection with the land?
—There is not a doubt about it, and his Grace of Sutherland admitted that to me last night.

39195. Was that ever reduced to writing?
—I don't think so. I don't think any letter can be found now; but General Stewart, in his Sketches of
Highland Character and Highland Regiments, has several pages where he descants on the 93rd.

39196. Was there not a tradition, which was believed, that those who sent their sons into the army at that time were never to be deprived of their land?

39197. And that is still believed?

39198. But many of them were deprived of their lands?
—Oh, dear, yes. Some came back when they were discharged—the wounded especially who fell at the battle of New Orleans, where the 93rd was more than decimated. There were three hundred and fifteen soldiers killed or wounded at New Orleans; many of these returned, and one of them was an uncle of my father. He was discharged with a pension of 6d. a day. No land could be found for him, and he was shoved in with another on a little lot at Pitfour, and, after being there twelve or fourteen years, he went off to America.

39199. Does the military spirit still survive to any extent in the district?
—I don't know of any people in the country who have such a military tendency, and I don't know of any men in the country who would learn the drill so soon. The military spirit in the olden times before 1815 was extraordinarily strong in Sutherland. Why, my own father enlisted three times before he was accepted as a soldier; and I myself, if my father had allowed me to go on my own hook, would have been a soldier at this day. My predilection was to be a soldier, and so it is with my children.

39200. In point of fact, are there many young men from your parish or the county generally, in the army, and in the 93rd especially?
—Some few years ago the 93rd was quartered at Woolwich, and, always taking an interest in my own county men, I felt a very great interest in the 93rd, and went down to look at them on a Sunday. I visited them in their quarters, and I found only one man in the regiment who could speak Gaelic—that man being a Sutherland man.

39201. Then what is the chief reason why there are so few of them in the army?
—One is the passive resistance in the minds of the people. They say —' Let the Duke take his sheep to defend the country.'

39202. But they turn out well and make a splendid appearance as volunteers?
—Yes, admirable.

39203. But they are not willing to enter the regular army ?
—I don't think they are. There was a Rogart boy in the 72nd killed in the last Afghan war.

39201. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Are we to have the pleasure of seeing you in Edinburgh again?
—Yes, I hope so.

39205. Then I will not detain you, but would you explain here the causes of irritation that you say have given rise to a rebellious spirit in the minds of the people ?
—Harshness on the part of the factor himself, and unconciliatory conduct towards the families; and so much is that carried out that he will take a stick and turn them out of his office, and any factor who would lift a stick to break the minister's head is surely not fit for his office.

39206. Do you think there is more harshness shown now than used to be shown?
—The population complain more.

39207. For how long has that complaint been growing?
—I have heard it for the last ten vears.

39208. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—I understand you have come here today to represent the parish of Rogart especiaUy, and to read that
statement, and that on a future occasion you propose to make a statement upon the county of Sutherland generally and upon the Highlands?
—I do, and I hope 1 shall have the pleasure of meeting the Commissioners in Edinburgh.

39209. The Chairman
—I think I am safe in stating that, at a former period—a period which has now become rather remote
—the policy of the estate management here (as it was in many other estates in the Highlands) was a policy of consolidation pursued in an unsparing spirit?
—That is so.

39210. But the most striking examples of that policy were as far back as the period between the year 1814 and the year 1820?
—They began sooner in various parts. The parish of Rogart was, I believe, the first touched, and they extended to Assynt, from that they came to the upper parts of Brora, and they began with the terrible doings in Strathnaver.

39211. We know that the policy of consolidation was not invented on this estate, and we know it occurred at a much earlier stage in other parts of the county, in the Reay country?
—Yes, the first evictions began under Lord Reay.

39212. I don't want to revert to the features that distinguished those evictions of those times. What I want to arrive at is as to the course which has been pursued since. Has the policy of consolidation been continuous, and pursued since those early examples of it? For example, since 1820, has the course of consolidation been continuous in this part of the country1?
—Not since 1822 or 1825. Enough had been done, and no more could be done.

39213. Then, during the last fifty years or so, there have been no striking examples of eviction or consolidation?

39214. No further harm has been done to the small tenantry?
—Not to any extent. You have heard at Helmsdale of the grazings taken away. Instances of that have occurred.

39215. But it has not been the deliberate policy of the estate?
—No, I don't think so, and I am unwilling to believe it.

39216. Then, are there any symptoms of a reaction in the policy of the estate; can you point to any examples?
—We are always hoping there may be a rift in the sky, and that the silver lining may come to be seen
on the edge of it. We hope for that.

39217. Do you discern such a rift? Do you yourself see the beginning of a different course ?
—I do; or, at least, I hope I do. Perhaps the hope may give rise to it, but I think it is sincere. People are more listened to now. They are more manly and make themselves respected, and by making themselves respected very likely they will obtain better redress.

39218. May there not also be a change of opinion? We are all more or less the creatures of the principles and opinions of our time. There were, fifty years ago, different economical ideas prevalent. It may not only be the resistance of the people, but may there not be a change in the views of the proprietors too?
—I hope so, and I think there is, and I think that will be seen, and very soon.

39219. You have pointed to the changes which you desire to see carried out; that is to say, the restitution of the land, and especially the pasture to the people—the enlargement of their boundaries —and the creation and development of new holdings of a small character. 1 suppose you don't expect these things to be done immediately, or by the infraction of existing contracts and leases?
—I think that would be unwise. To rehabilitate the people, and put them in what may be termed a good position, would, I am sure, take twenty years; unless the Duke of Sutherland lives to a good old age it will not be done in his time —unless he goes at it in a magnificent and princely way, as he did at the commencement.

39220. Without pursuing that subject in detail, as you have spoken of increased irritation in the country, would the manifestation of a disposition John and a resolution to do that in a cautious manner be received with very great satisfaction?
—I am positively certain of it. The people only want to see a manifestation of a change of policy, and they will be as quiet and submissive as ever they were before.

39221. You think that would produce a very happy change in the disposition of the people ?
—I think so, and that immediately.

39222. You say there is still in the country a very strong, although a latent, feeling of affection for the proprietor of the soil ?
—Very strong indeed. There are some of them here now. The people of Rogart cannot believe that the Duke can do any harm. They impute all the woes and cruelty, and repression they talk about to the Duke's officials. The Duke in their opinion, can do no wrong.

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