Golspie, Sutherland, 8 October 1883 - John Sutherland

JOHN SUTHERLAND, Merchant, Pittentrail (40)—examined.

39223. The Chairman.
—You are delegate from Lower Rogart?

39224. Have you got a written statement?
—Yes. 'At a meeting of the people of Rogart, held in Torbreck schoolhouse on the 11th September, I was elected delegate by the people of Strathfleet, to state their grievances before the Royal Commissioners. I am forty years of age, a crofter's son, and carry on a general business in the parish. In the district I represent there are 67 tenants—43 tenants on the south side and 21 on the north side of the river. The whole district comprises a population of about 360. In Muie alone there are 20 tenants who pay £78 rent for less than one mile square, arable and pasture land included. The arable land in this district is stony and rocky, and in some parts very steep, and the pasture is inferior. The tenants' grievances are —first, the smallness of their holdings the produce of which is not sufficient to sustain their families for more than six months. For their support during the other six months of the year they have to depend upon the small sums they may receive from sons and daughters resident in the south, or abroad, and also upon such work as they may get to do in the parish or elsewhere. The size of holdings to yield enough to support their families ought to be from 15 to 25 acres for each tenant, with pasture to keep three or four cows, three or four stirks, one or two horses, and forty or fifty sheep of a class superior to the stock the majority of them are constrained to keep under the present system, and that would compare favourably with the stock of larger farmers, without having to buy provender in winter, and pay for grazing part of their stock in summer, as they have to do now. Their second grievance is their being deprived of portions of their pasture without getting their rents reduced for the loss they sustain thereby. On the south side of the Strath the tenants were deprived, sixteen years ago, of over 200 acres of pasture, which was added to Torboll sheep farm. On the north side the tenants of Muie were deprived of a portion of their pasture, which was added to Blarich sheep farm, and a fence erected between the sheep farmer and the tenants; not only so, but the sheep farmer has his shepherds' houses, and about seven acres of arable land in on the tenants pasture about 200 yards from the fence, destroying that part of their pasture considerably. The tenants' third grievance is that their lots were valued by valuators appointed by the proprietor only, and unacquainted with the quality of the soil, and valued a number of lots without going off the main road, relying on the ground officer's word with regard to the quality of the land. What the tenants of Strathfleet want is larger holdings at fair rent, fixed by competent valuators appointed by landlord and tenant, sufficient pasture for their stock, compensation for improvements whether made on land or on houses, and security of tenure to encourage them to make improvements.'
I have also been requested to lay the following special grievances before the Commissioners:
—' The special Grievances of Alexander Bain, Tenant, Carry.—
My uncle George M'Kenzie, on being evicted from Strath-Carnaig, got the lot I now occupy which is situated in the tenants' pasture on the south side of Strathfleet. The lot is high and cold, and very much exposed to the north storm. I was adopted and brought up by my uncle, and his constant kindness induced me to devote as much as possible of my time to the improving of his lot, and by my own labour I reclaimed seven acres of moorland. After my uncle's death I expected to succeed him as tenant, but on account of some rent arrears left by my uncle, I was refused possession unless I would pay these arrears, which I considered illegal and unjust, consequently I was summonsed; and having occasion to be away on a certain day about the middle of July 1877, on my returning home in the evening I found my delicate wife, with my weak and numerous family, and all my furniture, turned out to the field, and all the doors locked. My first endeavour was to kindle a fire and cook a meal for my family, which 1 had to do in an earthen bank, and under drenching rain. I made several applications to get possession, but without success. At last the Duke and his factor came to the place, and stood in the hut I rudely built for protection. When his Grace was leaving I asked, what was to become of me now with my delicate wife and weak family. His Grace's reply was, " You are entirely in Mr Peacock's hands, and attend at the office Tuesday first." When I got there I was told the old story, viz., that I would get no settlement unless I would agree to pay the arrears of rent, and that in future the rent of my lot would be £9, 14s. instead of £ 3 , 7s. 6d., my uncle's rent. However, my rent was reduced to £6, but I had to pay the arrears, which I still feel a burden.

The special Grievances of John Sutherland, Tenant, Muie.
—As an inducement to my father to enlist in the 93rd Highlanders, my grandfather got a promise of being left undisturbed in his lot during his lifetime, and that if his son survived the term of his service in the army, he would succeed him. Consequently my father joined that regiment, and was wounded in an engagement at New Orleans. On the expiry of his service in the army he returned home, and expected to succeed his father as tenant of the whole lot, but, to make room for another man who was evicted from a sheep farm, my father (William Sutherland) was summonsed, and deprived of the best part of his father's lot. He was offered about two acres of land on the outskirts of his lot, on which we had to build new houses. I reclaimed, mostly by my own labour, nearly all the land I have, and when I succeeded my father my rent was raised from £4, 10s. to £ 5 , 10s,, all of which I consider great grievances.

Grievances of Alexander Gunn, Inchcape, Rogart (see Appendix A. LXV)
My name is Alexander Gunn; my age is 49. I am a crofter living at Inchcape, in the parish of Rogart. I pay £7,16s. for twelve acres of land. The number of stock I have are as follows:
—Two Highland horses, two Highland cows, two young heifers, and eleven sheep. The returns from my croft will not supply my family with meal and vegetables more than six months in the year. My croft nearly employs my time in its cultivation, and even when I have a few days to spare from being employed on my croft it is seldom I get employment otherways. The fact is that between returns of outer employment and cattle and sheep, if sold, I can barely sustain my family; and even I am often compelled to keep my wife and children from what is termed good clothes on account of my rent. If I had double the amount of arable land that I now possess at fair rent, valued by competent valuators appointed by landlord and tenant, and guarantee to defend me against capricious eviction, I do consider that I would be able to educate and bring up my family in a manner more consonant to my mind, and have sufficient to defend me against pauperism in my old age. My grievance is the smallness of my croft, and the inferior cattle I am obliged to have, and no rule to govern the rise of rent or the threat of eviction, as my case will prove. When my mother died, twenty years ago, my eldest brother, on getting possession of the lot, had to pay death premium, or £1 of a rise of rent. This rise was put on, on the recommendation of two of the Duke's ground officers, who valued our lot.
Three years afterwards my brother died, and I became his successor, and I had to pay a death premium of -4s., that being four shillings more than the Duke's servants or ground officers valued my croft at. Four years ago I received a summons of removal, when on making inquiry I found out that this was an introduction to another £ l , l s . of a rise of rent, which I had to pay, and pay still; the actual fact is that I pay £ 1 , 5s. per annum more than what his Grace's own servants valued my croft at, and all the improvements on the lot were done by myself and predecessors.

Illustrative of harshness, I am requested to produce the case of Janet and Christina Ross, who succeeded their brother as tenants. In November 1877, one of the sisters attended, as usual, to pay the rent, but the factor, instead of accepting of the rent, told her that they were to be removed from their lot. After making fruitless attempts to get the factor to accept of her rent, she left the money on the table. The factor returned the money by one of their neighbours; but expecting to keep possession, they refused it. Shortly afterwards officers were sent to evict them. Instead of that being done in the ordinary way, they were shut up in a compartment of their dwelling-house till the other compartments and their barn were levelled to the ground, and their stock driven away to the hill. In this houseless condition, and their crop exposed on the field, they were visited by the ground officer, who saw clearly that they could not live without some shelter from the snow storm. A kind neighbour was applied to, and this man took them into his house for three weeks, after which time they were turned back to their old place, to live in one end of the byre which was left standing; and the ground officer, so as to make them more comfortable in their miserable situation, levelled down some manure that happened to be in the byre at the time. All this was done in the presence of three witnesses, who are ready to prove how these creatures were dealt with. As one of these creatures, on a certain occasion, applied to Mr Peacock for relief, the Rev. Mr M'Kay, who happened to be present, asked Mr Peacock if the Duke was aware of how these creatures were abused. Mr Peacock replied that the whole affair was carried out according to the Duke's instructions.
— ALEXANDER BAIN, witness; ALEXANDER GUNN, witness.'

39225. What is the nature of your trade ?
—General business.

39226. Do you sell provisions chiefly, or do you also sell clothing?
—I sell both.

39227. Are you in the occupation of any land yourself?
—No, except a garden.

39228. You have a house?

39229. From whom do you hold it?
— I have a lease. I built the house myself.

39230. Are you the son of a crofter, and do you belong to the country?
—I do.

39231. How long is your lease?
—Ninety-nine years.

39232. Then it is a kind of feu ?
— Yes.

39233. Is it customary upon the estate that such feus should be granted?
—Yes, in villages especially.

39234. What is your ground rent?
—£1, 10s. for the feu.

39235. What is the area—an acre, or half an acre?
—Not a quarter of an acre.

39236. What description of house have you built on the strength of this tenure?
—It is a stone and lime house, cottage shape and slated.

39237. Your trade is that of a dealer in provisions, clothing, and so
on; have you a licence to sell whisky or spirituous liquors?

39238. How long have you been engaged in this trade?
—About ten years.

39239. From your experience in these ten years, has your business increased?
—Yes, a little.

39240. Do you find the people purchase more than they did at the beginning?
—Perhaps they don't purchase more, but I believe I have more customers.

39241. But the individual families don't purchase less?
—I believe they are much about the same.

39242. Has there been any change in the character or quality of goods that they take, or do they take the same kind of provisions and the same kind of dress?
—Very much the same.

39243. You sell oatmeal?

39244. Do you find the people buy more wheat flour than they did ten years ago?
—I don't think so.

39245. There is no change to the nature of their diet?
—I think it is much about the same.

39246. Do you sell loaves?

39247. Do they buy more bread or less bread than they did?
—I think it is much about the same.

39218. Have you in your books any evidence that the people are getting worse off or better off? Do you find you have more or fewer bad debts than you used to have?
—I cannot say I have. I think it is much about the same as it was at first.

39219. Your trade seems to be a stationary one?

39250. What do you think, generally? Do you think the people are better supplied with goods and better dressed and fed than they were ten years ago, or the contrary, so far as your experience as a draper goes?
—I don't think they are better, I would not like to say they are much worse, but I don't think they are better.

39251. Do you think they are any worse at all?
—I don't think they are much worse.

39252. How do your customers generally live, do they live principally by day's wages or by the sale of stock and commodities?
—They have to depend chiefly upon their crofts; but of course they have to work for a certain part of the year where they can get work.

39253. Do you buy cattle?

39254. Do the crofters, as a class, get much higher prices for their cattle now than they formerly did?
—Yes, than they did a long time ago.

39255. Taking the period of twenty years, for instance, what is the difference?
Do they get twice as much for a stirk as they did then ?
—I am not very well acquainted with that, as I don't buy and sell cattle.

39256. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You are one of the two delegates from the parish of Rogart ?

39257. You heard Mr Mackay's paper?

39258. Do you concur in it ?
—I do.

39259. And it may be held, I suppose, to represent the true feelings of the crofters of Rogart?

39260. You have been asked about your trade. You say it is rather stationary. Might not that be accounted for by the fact that the population of the parish seems to be decreasing ?
—There may be something in that too.

39261. With regard to the papers you have read to us about those especial grievances; do you know anything about the case of those two sisters personally ?
—No, I cannot speak of that.

39262. Are you acquainted personally with Alexander Bain and Alexander Gunn, who sign this paper?

39263. Are they credible witnesses?
—They are reliable.

39264. Are the two women living ?
—No, one is dead.

39265. Did she die in the house they ultimately went to ?
—No, a house was built for them afterwards —a better house, I understand.

39266. By the proprietor ?
—I think so.

39267. Were they paying any rent for the new house?
—I cannot say, but it is not likely.

39268. Had they any land at the time they were put out?
—Yes, they had the croft.

39269. Who got the croft?
—A neighbouring crofter.

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