ANGUS ROSS, Crofter, Meikle Altas, Rosehall (68)—examined.
39729. The Chairman.
—You are a delegate from the whole property of Rosehall ?
39730. Have you a written statement ?
—No, but there is another delegate here that has got one.
[Statement handed in.']
—Statement read at a public meeting of the Crofters and Feuars held on the 2nd October 1883, approved of by them as a proper statement to be laid before the Royal Commissoners at Bonar on 9th October 1883. Although previous to the year 1870, some evictions had taken place on the estate of Rosehall, yet these had not been very generally resorted to, and under the rule of Sir James Matheson, the crofters were fairly, and in some cases, generously treated, —the principal drawback to their contentment and happiness being the absence of any security as to the tenure of their holdings. Many of them felt keenly on this point, and made application for leases, but they were always put off with the assurance that there was no fear of their ever being removed. Resting on the faith of this promise, they applied themselves diligently to their work. They improved their lands, built dwelling-houses, steadings, &c, and otherwise conducted matters as if they had a life interest in the welfare of the estate. Well, things went on smoothly enough till 1870. In that year Sir James sold the estate to Mr G. G. Mackay, and a state of consternation at once ensued. Every crofter on the estate at once received a sheriff warrant to quit his holding in forty days. After the first shock was over, the crofters began to gather courage again. Time for reflection and inquiry led them to believe that they might be allowed
to stay on in their places on something like the old terms, and no one ever dreamt of the blow which was to descend upon them coming in the shape which it ultimately assumed. A month was allowed to glide quietly away, and then, within about ten days from the expiry of the forty days of warning that had beeu given, the terms on which they might retain their holdings were made known to them. The publication of these created a storm of indignation, and no one seemed to have any thought of submitting to them. All the hill pasture, consisting of about 1200 acres, together with low-lying pasture amounting to about 250 acres, were to be taken from them. Their crofts shorn of these pasturings were to become feus, at an annual feu-duty more than double what their former rents had been. Added to this were a number of clauses all favouring the proprietor's interest, in such a way as to make the feuar toil and labour, with the result that at some future time the proprietor should reap the fruits, and the feuar get nothing. As already stated, no one at first thought of submitting to Mr Mackay's terms, but as the fatal day approached, and no provision had been made for it, men's hearts began to fail them, and gradually one after another succumbed to the threatening storm till nearly all agreed to give the new scheme a trial. A few, however, rather than risk what little capital they had in a speculation they regarded as hopeless, yielded up their places, after having spent a lifetime upon them, without getting a single halfpenny of compensation for what they had done. When they suggested to Mr Mackay that they had built houses, &c, they were answered roughly that he could not help that —he bought these along with the property. Having got things put somewhat in order, it was found that the township of Altas alone, which under the old system had yielded an annual rental of about £200, was to yield under the new order of things about £700 per annum, a sum which might look very respectable in the books, but which it has been found impossible to get in,—no matter by what means attempted. However, having got things to present a fair aspect on paper at least, the next move on the board was now made. The estate was put into the market, and sold at an enormous profit. Mr Mackay seems to have acted according to his instincts, and treated the matter from a commercial point of view. The crofters were mere accidents in the concern, and counted like any other ordinary stock of sheep and cattle. They were as it were bought for a certain price, and sold again to the first buyer who would give a big enough profit. Our present proprietor (Mr Tennant) would, we believe, be a generous landlord if he had the means to be generous with. But in the transactions with which we are dealing he seems to have been plucked as mercilessly as the crofters were; and having retired, apparently disgusted and disappointed, we are now left in the hands of trustees, who seem to take no interest in our welfare, and whose chief duties seem to be to take as much out of us as they can, and to keep a careful record of any balance that may stand against us, to be used as circumstances may direct. Although there are other points we would like to touch upon, yet, being unwilling to occupy too much time, we will refrain from entering upon them, and conclude by drawing your attention specially to the following points:
—(1) When wishing to dispose of our feus, or when a son succeeds his father, in fact at every change of name in the charter, a double feu-duty is charged for that year, so that a man is fined a year's rent for dying or giving over his feu to another. We think this ought to be abolished.
(2) If a feuar runs two years rent in arrears the proprietor may seize his feu without giving him any compensation for his outlay. As we pay a year in advance, we thus lose all right to our holdings by being one year's rent in arrears. We think a longer term ought to be allowed us, and that in any case, when the proprietor ejects us, we ought to get compensation for unexhausted improvements
(3) The high feu-duty (we are paying 6s. an acre for hill pasture alone), together with the poor yield of our land, makes the struggle for existence so great as to be almost unendurable, and we think a revaluation of our holdings ought to be made, and fair rents fixed. Praying that the result of your painstaking labours may tend to bring help to those who so much need it, and offering our most loyal and heartfelt thanks to our gracious Sovereign for affording us this opportunity of making our difficulties known, we remain, your obedient servants, signed on behalf of the feuars and tenants on the estate of Rosehall, JAMES L SKERRET, secretary.'
39730. Sheriff Nicolson.
—To whom is Mr Skerret secretary?
—He was appointed secretary at the meeting.
39731. It is not mentioned that you were appointed a delegate?
—Not in that paper.
39732. Were all the crofters at the meeting feuars?
39733. Then how much land have you now left to yourself?
—Close on six acres of arable land, and I am not quite sure what amount of pasture there is.
39734. What is your rent?
—£17, 10s. I am not a feuar. I refused to take a feu. Mr Mackay and I were pretty chief at the time.
39735. Have you any hill pasture, or is it all arable?
—There is a good deal of it that is heathery ground, but it is low ground for all that; and there is a bit of meadow down at the waterside, about ten acres of meadow ground. The rest is all under juniper bushes —a great deal of it.
39736. What stock have you?
—I keep three Highland cows and five little beasties in the summer time, but I have no keep for the little beasts in the winter time. In Sir James's time I was only paying £3, 4s., and I was keeping two cows and perhaps a few little ones and a few sheep, and a horse besides; so that I have four times the rent, and only one cow and four or five little beasts in the summer time over what I had then.
39737. How many other crofters are there?
—Not a great many. Most of them are feuars.
39738. Had they any new buildings to erect?
—Yes; mostly every one in the place. I have built houses myself, and got nothing; and I have trenched about two-thirds of what I have of land, and got nothing for it. There is another man, a neighbour of mine, who got a statement from the manager that Sir James had, showing what he was doing. He measured what I did, but I did not get a written statement of it.
39739. The present proprietor does not reside on the property?
39740. Where does he live?
—In London. It is in the hands of the trustees now.
39741. And I suppose it is likely to be sold again now?
—Where will they get a man to buy it? It is not easy to get a man to buy it.
39742. For how much was it sold to Mr Mackay?
—I understand the Glen Cassley estate was sold at about the same price for which he bought the whole —about £50,000.
39743. But the Rosehall land you don't know about?
—About £50,000; that was what he gave for the two.
39744. After how long?
—Three years, I believe.
39745. But I suppose he made great improvements on the estate?
—Well he made a little of roads and cut wood that was on it. He made more mischief than improvement.
39746. Did he not plant trees?
—He planted a great deal on the Rossshire side. He did not plant any on this side that is worth speaking of.
39747. How many acres of land have most of these feuars?
—The lots are of different sizes. Some of them will have over twenty acres.
39748. Of arable land?
—No; fourteen in general of arable land.
39749. What feu-duty will they pay?
—Some who are in the valley pay 5s. for what they have, but what the old township had they are paying 6s. for. About a dozen acres will not keep a single sheep—nothing growing on it at all