GEORGE MACDONALD, Crofter, Lairg (50)—examined.
38995, The Chairman.
—Have you been elected a delegate by the people of Lairg?
38996. What is the name of the township?
38997. Have you a paper to read?
—Yes. ' I am a native of this parish, and have always resided in it. I occupy the croft which my mother held, for which she only paid 2s. 6d. until I improved some of the waste ground to arable land; it was rented to her at £1 then; and when I got my name in the rental book it was rented at £3, and now I pay £4. I am put forward to represent Rheanbreok and Tomich district, in which there are twenty crofters. We have to complain of the smallness of our holdings, especially of Rheanbreck. Of late years the railway passed through our lots, and deprived us of part of the best of our land, and that without any reduction of rent or compensation for our labour; but the following summer we were made to pay for the grass growing inside the fence opposite each croft, so that we pay double rent for that portion where the railway went through. Then iu 1871 nine of us were deprived of the lower parts of our lots to the average of about three or four acres each, of which a good deal was under cultivation, for which we received no compensation or reduction of rent, but three who got a few shilling off their rent. This land taken from us was for the new farm of Ballone. The land in our township has a northern exposure, and was valued some years ago at a higher rate per acre than the southern exposure on the opposite side of the valley; some of us being valued at about 14s. per acre, and the opposite side, which is much better land for crops, at about 12s. per acre. The rent of Rheanbreck is £57. We had to pay last year for meal, £119, 10s.; for seed oats, £20, 13s.; hay and straw for wintering, £30, 18s.; lime for land, £19, 6s.; manure for land, £2, 18s.; outlay, £250, 5s. Our income for cattle sold, £67, 10s.; sheep sold, £7, 10s.; pigs sold, £6,10s. ; —income £81,10s .; deficiency, £168, 15s. To make up this deficiency we have to work wherever we get it to do, and what we earn elsewhere is swallowed up to keep our lots and families together. Both townships have too little pasture, and the grazing on it is very inferior, and the stock on it the same; as it is surrounded by sheep farms, and there being no march fence between us and the farms, our stock do not get the same justice as they would if there was a fence. Should we make improvements on houses or land, we have no guarantee that we can reap the benefit of such labour, as we have no hold upon our lots further than the good-will of the proprietor, and we can get no compensation for such improvements if we were to leave.
38998. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Who holds the land upon the south slope?
—Other crofters or tenants.
38999. And they have their land cheaper?
39000. Do you object to their holding their land so cheap?
—No, but I object to the rent of our own, for it is of different quality.
39001. Is the land worse on your side, or is it only the exposure?
—The land is worse. The climate is bad and the soil is bad.
39002. Sheriff Nicolson.
—You are on the south side?
39003. Are Rheanbreck and Tomich both on that side ?
39004. What is the name of the place on the other side?
—-Ball and Kinvonie.
39005. What is the size of your own croft?
—Four acres of arable land; but there is more enclosed in the fence that cannot be arable land, for it
is rocks and stones.
39006. Were all these four acres taken in and cultivated by yourself?
—Yes, with the exception of the sowing of three bushels of oats. That is what my mother would sow.
39007. When she got it at 2s. 6d. how much of it was arable?
—None at all; it was a waste place.
39008. Was there any lease or agreement that if it were improved the rent would be kept as it was ?
—-Never. She was removed from another place to make a large place, and she was put there to make a living, and most that are on that side were put there for that purpose.
39009. Your rent is £4. Then if you have only four acres,that is £1 per acre?
—Yes, but I have more that I took in since that of arable land, for which I got Government money. £3 was the standard put on by the valuators, and £ 1 was put on by Government. £20 I drew out of the
office for trenching.
39010. What is the general size of the other crofts in your neighbourhood?
—Much about the same till we come to Tomich. They are larger in Tomich.
39011. Are the rents on an average like yours ?
39012. How much an acre generally, do you think?
—We are valuing it at about 14s.
39013. What stock are you able to keep?
—Well, of the kind we have I keep two cows, but it would not keep one right cow, because the other
cows would not live in the place we are in for want of pasture and winter feeding.
39014. Have you to buy winter feeding for them?
—Yes; little wee Highland things.
39015. Are the rest of your neighbours much in the same condition?
—Yes, the same.
39016. When was that farm made to which the land was added—the farm of Ballone?
—In 1871, I think.
39017. What land was that farm made up out of?
—Out of the tenants' pasture and arable. On our side it was arable and pasture mixed, but on the Ballone side it was pasture.
39018. Was it entirely made up of land that had been in possession of crofters?
—Yes, the crofters had it all in possession between them.
39019. What size of farm was it?
—I am told it was well on to 100 acres, between 80 and 90 acres.
39020. Then it is not a large farm ?
—Not very large.
39021. What is the rent of it?
—I am told it is 26s. per acre.
39022. To whom was it given?
—To Mr Crawford, hotel-keeper at Lairg.
39023. Had he any land before that?
—Yes, he has an arable farm at Lairg too.
39024. How much land was taken from you for the use of the railway?
—About one acre of arable land, but then we had more of pasture that was not cultivated at the time, and that was as good.
39025. Was that average taken from each croft?
—Some of them more. At my side there was more, and there was one man who lost nearly all he had. He had his arable land below the line, and he got a piece above it to take it out of the rocks and stones the best way he could.
39026. Did you make any representation to the factor as to the fact that your land was taken away and your rent not reduced?
—I have made a representation, and others have too, for a reduction of rent, but Mr Peacock said it was not his fault, but it was the valuator's fault, to raise the rent to that, and he could not reduce it.
39027. Who was the valuator?
—One Mr Mackenzie from Inverness.
39028. The produce of your land is not sufficient to support you. How do you make your living otherwise?
—Well, I have to work wherever I get it.
39029. Do you or your neighbours get any work in the neighbourhood?
39030. There are no works going on?
—No. There were two or three years when work was going on very brisk, when his Grace was going on with reclamations, but that is all finished. There has been no work since two years ago.
39031. Do your able-bodied men all go away from home in search of work?
—They must do so.
39032. None of them go to fish, I suppose?
39033. The Chairman.
—Can you tell me the history of the township of Rheanbreck ; how long has it existed, and where did the people come from?
—They were removed from other parts of the parish. They were not able to keep the lots they had at the time, and they were put to that place.
39034. Where did they come from—from Kildonan?
—Some from Strathnaver and some from Kildonan.
39035. They were families which were evicted from other parts of the country and brought to Rheanbreck?
—There were three families sent from Strathnaver at the time of the sheep coming there.
39036. Did your father and mother come there?
—My father did not live with my mother at the time.
39037. Did your mother come there?
—Yes, from the far east end of the place. That place was made too large for her, and a smaller place came in to her to make a living of.
39038. Where did she come from?
—She always lived in the same township.
Then she got a piece of ground; was that unimproved ground ?
39040. Not improved?
39041. How many acres did they give her?
—A long strip.
39042. How much did she pay at first?
39043. Was it given to her for her life?
—From year to year.
39044. Who lived with her and kept the croft and worked?
—Her sister and herself.
39045. But they could not till the ground. Who tilled the ground for them?
—It was themselves that did all that was done of it till I came to maturity.
39046. Did these women dig the ground and improve it?
39047. Then when you came to maturity you set to work to improve the ground?
39048. Who built the house ?
—I did myself.
39049. How long did the rent of 2s. 6d. continue?
—It was a long time.
39050. How long did it last at 2s. 6d. Was it thirty or forty years?
—I am safe in saying twenty years.
39051. Then on what occasion was the rent raised; was it raised in consequence of the death of your mother, or how was it raised?
—Because I improved some land, and they were saying it was too much value for 2s. 6d.
39052. How much did you improve; how many acres?
—I have improved altogether about five acres between Government money and at my own expense.
39053. But at the time the first rise was made?
39054. Then, when you had improved three acres, they came and saw it and raised the rent upon it?
39055. How much did they raise it to?
—To £ 1 for the whole.
39056. That would be 6s. 8d. an acre?
39057. It was raised from 2s. 6d. to 6s. 8d.?
—It was 2s. 6d. for the whole lot at first.
39058. And then they raised it to £ 1 for the whole lot ?
39059. Then, as to the second rise, was that at the time of your mother's death?
—A year before that. She was for me getting my name put on.
39060. How much was it made then?
39061. And how much improved land was there then ?
—A little over four acres.
39062. Then what next? Has it remained at that rent since?
—There is another £1 put on since for the improvement money.
39063. Then it is now a little more than four acres and the rent is now how much?
—£4, towards five acres.
39064. How many years is it now since your mother got it altogether?
—Over fifty years.
39065. Then after fifty years the rent has been raised from 2s. 6d. to £4?
39066. During the whole course of these fifty years what assistance has the proprietor given for the improvement of the ground?
—None at all, but the £20.
39067. Was that Government money or out of the landlord's own pocket?
—Government money, for which we pay Is. a pound.
39068. What sort of house have you now got?
—A common stone and lime thatched house.
39069. Has it got chimneys at both ends?
—Yes, at one end.
39070. How much do you think the house has cost the family altogether?
—Something about £10.
39071. Now, as to the rest of the crofters around, have they been improving the ground and building their houses and paying rents just in the same way?
39072. That is in the township of Rheanbreck. You say that a farm has been taken out of the middle of these holdings; is the farm entirely composed of the parts of the holdings of the crofters?
39073. Is it in the middle of them or at one side of them?
—On both sides. There was a water going through the centre, and the one part was on the Ballone side, and the other on the Rheanbreck side of the farm; and the farm is made up of these two sides put together; the Ballone side being pasture, and our side both pasture and arable.
39074. When the farm was made, was some land taken away from almost all the crofts, or from only a few of them?
—From the most on our side.
39075. When the land was taken away from the crofters to make the farm was the rent of the crofters reduced?
—Never a penny.
39076. It was never reduced at all?
39077. Now, about the common pasture; is there common pasture attached to your township?
39078. Is it a good large common pasture?
—It is large, but it is not good.
39079. When the new farm of Ballone was formed did the farmer get a share of the common pasture of the township?
—Be has got a plantation that is next it, between his two farms, at the same rent, and has that for pasture.
39080. Did the township graze the plantation before? Was it taken away from the township?
—Yes, when it was planted it was taken from them.
39081. But did the township ever graze their cattle in the plantation when the trees grew up ?
39082. Then the farmer did not obtain any part of the common pasture?
—The farmer was giving it to them for so much per month for some of their cattle and horses.
39083. But when the farm was formed was it made out of the arable ground of the township, or out of both the arable ground and the pasture?
—Both arable and pasture.
39084. But the crofters in the township never got any compensation either for the arable or for the pasture?
39085. Are you quite sure of that?
—I am certain, on our side, with the exception that two or three got a few shillings.
39086. But I thought that was in connection with the railway?
—On the low part that was taken from them.
39087. For the farm or the railway ?
—For the farm.
39088. When the farm was formed and ground taken away did they petition the factor; did they make any representation to the factor?
—I am not very sure.
39089. Do the people in the township consider they have lost by the formation of the farm?
39090. It has been a loss to them?
39091. Have they received any kind of benefit or advantage in exchange for their loss?
39092. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Some of the crofters' land, you have told us, has been taken away by the railway; was any compensation given you for that?
39093. Had the crofters any leases?
39094. Do you know that if you had a lease the land could not be taken away from you without compensation?
—Yes, we have seen a case of that kind in our neighbourhood, and when he came on them for valuation when his lease was out, he would get no more from the estate.
39095. But by the want of a lease here you were deprived of what the law has ordered to be given to tenants when their lands are compulsorily taken from them?
39096. You spoke about remonstrating with Mr Peacock, the factor, on the subject, and_that he said it was the fault of the valuator; was it the crofters who appointed the valuator ?
—I am not very sure.
39097. Had they anything to do with his appointment?
—I don't believe it.
39098. In fact, there was no one to look after their interest ?
—Not at all. There were some lots he did not see at all. I am told he passed without looking at them.
39099. Considering you had not the benefit of a lease, which would be very important to you in the circumstances, I suppose you and the others expected that the people who were over you would look after your interests as well as their own?
—Yes, we would expect that.
39100. But it was not so ?
39101. Are you far from a station ?
—About a mile.
39102. I suppose the railway is of undoubted benefit to yourself and the others?
—Yes, in one sense.
39103. Have you any crossing?
—The low parts were taken from us, and there is no occasion for a crossing. There were crossings put in at first, and we had them for a few years, but then the land was taken for a farm and the crossings were closed.
39104. I suppose the best land is generally in the low part of the valley?
39105. And the railway likes to keep as low as possible?
39106. Am I correct in assuming that the line of railway took a fair average of your land from you?
—The very best of it from the one end to the other.
39107. And in point of fact your crofts are so small that nothing would make up for this cutting away?
39108. From your own point of view and that of the other crofters, if you were told a railway was to be made, but you would get no compensation, and that so much land was to be taken from you without any reduction, would you be satisfied to give it if it was at your disposal?
—No, but before then we were promised to get a reduction for it before the railway came through, but we never got it.
39109. Who gave the promise?
—A man from Dunrobin—from the Duke.
39110. Was it in consequence of that, that none of you offered any opposition to the railway being passed?
—No, not for that.
39111. Still you were glad to hear you were going to get compensation?
39112. Mr Cameron.
—I did not quite understand how much land was taken away from each crofter by the railway?
—Between three and four acres; some of them three and others four —not arable land, but altogether.
39113. How many crofters were there who had land taken away from them?
—There were nine of them.
39114. Suppose a railway occupies ten acres to the mile, that would be 176 lineal yards for every acre. That would make a considerable mileage if you multiplied it by three or four and afterwards by nine. What is the lineal distance over which the radway runs through your crofts; I mean not only what was taken for the railway but what was taken on the low part for forming the farm?
—We have not measured what was taken for the railway, but very much more than was required, for the fence has come out too far on our cultivated land.
39115. You talk about having to go to work to make up sufficient to maintain your family; where do you get work?
—The best way we can,—here and there; not in one place at all.
39116. In the neighbourhood here?
—Sometimes, according as it turns out.
39117. What wages are current in the district?
—2s. 6d. when we get it. We are as often without it as with it.
39118. But you speak in your paper as if it were rather a hardship to work. You do not consider it a hardship to have to work?
—Well, it is a hardship, for we lose the work on the crofts.
39119. Are you aware the great grievance in the Highlands in many places is that there is no work, and one great grievance brought before us by crofters is that the crofts are not able to maintain them, and they have to make up the difference to support themselves and their families?
—Well, we don't get work but very seldom since two or three years ago.
39120. Do any of you go to the south to get work ?
—Not since some years back. I was forced to go myself once or twice; but there was no work in Lairg till the reclamations commenced and the railway came on.
39121. But if you could get regular work in the district at 2s. 6d. a day you would not be so badly off with your crofts?
—No, but we do not get it except very seldom.
39122. Have many of you been engaged in the reclamations?
—Most of us.
39123. What do you get there?
—There were good wages going there.
39124. And that has been going on for some years?
39125. So long as that lasted, it enabled you to make up the difference betweeu what you got from your croft and what was required for your family ?