Bonar Bridge, Sutherland, 9 October 1883 - James Ross

JAMES ROSS, Crofter, Breackwell (42)—examined.

39929. The Chairman.
—Have you a paper to read to the Commission?
—Yes. ' My father took a croft of three or four acres of arable land at Slestary in 1833, with hill pasture attached, at a rent of £17. He built a new house and farm steading on it. In 1838 the best part of the hill ground was taken off and put to the factor's sheep farm, and the rent reduced to £12. After the marches were thus altered it was allowed to be the dearest croft on Skibo estate. My father was yearly adding a little to the croft, and paying his rent up to the time of his death in1858. My mother, and children after him, continued to do the same until she died in 1863. Then my brother and my sister along with me continued reclaiming land as we were able, and in 1876 the croft contained twelve acres arable, well limed, and in regular rotation. The valuator that valued the estate for Mr Sutherland Walker said it was the best cultivated croft in the district. In 1876 Mr Sutherland Walker, by his new marches, reduced the croft to seven acres, and cut off all the outlying pasture. For the croft as now reduced he wanted £6, 10s., binding me at the same time to improve five acres on a ten years' lease. I could not agree to this, and was obliged to give up the place without compensation for buildings or land improvement. He has not settled with me for the valuation of manure, fallow land, and damaged crops. Having disagreed about Slestary,'he pressed me several times to take Breackwell, to which I had the same objections, and could never agree to take it on his conditions. But my brother Robert, in his anxiety to see his brother and his sister and myself in a home, agreed to take the place on the proprietor's representation of it, and promising to see us comfortable. In 1880, two acres of the turnip crop was destroyed by a burn overflowing its banks on account of the drains he made in the moor above; and in 1882 second year's grass and other pasture were damaged by another burn overflowing on account of obstructions left in it by parties digging for sand by his authority. On being rendered an account of these damages for payment, he repudiated, and told me to take legal steps to recover it; that the land was his, and he could do with it what he pleased. The outgoing tenant of this place carried off the best part of the straw that grew on it, and used the best part of the fallow land for potatoes, but we at the end of the lease are not allowed to carry away the straw nor plant potatoes; and in this way we pay ten rents for nine crops. This was not understood by us when the lease was signed. The tenant of the adjoining croft at Slestary, containing about nine acres arable at a rent of £13, 10s., is bound to improve nine acres, and to build a new dwelling-house and steadings.'

39930. Mr Cameron.
—This statement is more that of a personal grievance than that of a body of crofters?

39931. Are you referring to other people?
—To some.

39932. Did they send you here to speak for them?
—There are some who have grievances similar to this.

39933. But of course they cannot be quite alike?
—Not quite alike.

39934. Is the matter of the burn overflowing common to the place?
—No, it is personal to myself.

39935. Then, which of the grievances mentioned here affects your neighbours as well as yourself?
—They complain of high rent and want of compensation for improved lands and dwellings, and they want fixity of tenure, and not having pasture.

39936. Have they ever had pasture?

39937. When?
—They were deprived of their pasture about thirty-eight years ago.

39938. Now, what have they done in the way of improvement for which they want compensation?
—They have no satisfaction for all their labour. There are some crofters who improved their land to such an extent, and they are not allowed compensation even on their removal

39939. In what way did they improve their crofts?
—By cultivating it out of moor or bad ground.

39940. When did they begin these improvements; how long ago?
—This was the system upon the estate, that the estate was over-rented since this man got it.

39941. When did they begin the improvements?
—It was small lots the tenants were taking. They were taking the hill and improving the crofts themselves, making a kind of a home first.

39942. How long ago?
—I cannot say.

39943. Was it thirty eight years ago, or before that, or after?
—Before it.

39944. Have their rents been raised since?
—Yes, several times.

39945. As I understand you, they complain not so much of the want of compensation, as because their rents have been raised upon their own improvements?
—Their rents are heavily raised upon their own improvements.

39946. Have any of them left the estate and asked for compensation for what they have done?
—Yes, some of them left the estate.

39947. Did they ask for compensation?
—They did not get any compensation.

39948. Did they ask for it?
—I cannot say. Most likely they did.

39949. Can you give us any dates? You seem to be not very well acquainted with the dates; but to arrive at any fair conclusion, we must know how long ago these improvements were made, and how often the rents were raised upon the improvements. Have you got that information?
—No, I have not got it; but there are some to come forward that can show it.

39950. The Chairman.
—Which delegate is best acquainted with the dates of old times?
—I think James Sutherland.

39951. What is the common rent for an acre of improved arable ground; how much does it come to?
—I am paying 17s. 6d.

39952. Did you improve it yourself or got it improved?
—I improved it where I was before I came to Breackwell.

39953. But when you came to Breackwell you received the ground already cultivated?

39954. And you pay 17s. 6d. ?
— Yes.

39955. Is there any outrun?
—There is no outrun except four or five acres, and it is charged Is. per acre.

39956. Then it is 17s. 6d. for improved arable, and Is. for unimproved pasture?

39957. Is the common pasture capable of being turned into arable?
—Yes, but at a great deal of expense.

39958. How many acres of arable have you got in your present holding?
—It is given to me under the name of twenty-three acres.

39959. How many acres of unimproved hill pasture?
—Four or five.

39960. What is your rent?
—£20, 5s.

39961. What stock do you keep?
—Two cows and two horses; I think that would be about the stock of the place.

39962. Is it the stock you actually do keep?
—No, for at times I may have a little more, and at times I may be under it; but it is about what
the place can keep.

39963. Can you produce enough food to support your family in meal and potatoes during the whole year?

39964. Are you able to sell potatoes?

39965. Are you able to sell a stirk every year?
—No; there are several years that there will not be a stirk. When a man has two cows, perhaps, they will go wrong at times.

39966. Have you got a lease?

39967. If you have a lease, does it not provide for any compensation at the end of it?

39968. Why did you not put that in?
—That is my grievance.

39969. But when you made the lease, why did you not stipulate with the proprietor for compensation?
—It was my brother took the lease.

39970. Why did not your brother make a provision to save you?
—The proprietor would not grant it upon that condition.

39971. You complain of no pasture?

39972. Is there any sheep farm or pasture farm on the march?
—Yes, there is.

39973. Part of which might be given to you?
—The whole of it is quite vacant, and it might be given to the whole of the tenants.

39974. Would they consider that a great advantage?
—Yes, a great advantage.

39975. Would they be disposed to pay additional rent for it?
—Of course they would.

39976. Who is the proprietor now?
—Mr Sutherland Walker.

39977. Have the tenants ever made any proposal to him to give them some of the pasture off the farm?
—I cannot say about that.

39978. Is the farm held under a lease?
—No, no lease, no stock; it is under game.

39979. What kind of game?

39980. Then it is a farm without any stock?
—Without any stock.

39981. Are there any deer?
—There are deer in the woods beside it.

39982. Is it held by the proprietor, or is it let?
—It is held by the proprietor.

39983. How long has it been like it, without any stock at all?
—About two or three years.

39984. What was before that?
—It was a sheep farm, but it was first occupied by tenants. In the year 1838 it was under tenants, and then the factor got it, and turned it into a sheep farm. He was turning out the tenants day by day.

39985. Is there a fence between the crofters' arable and the forest?
—In bits there is, but where it is the fence is put up at the tenant's own expense by paying so much yearly.

39986. What sort of fence is it?
—A wire fence where it is.

39987. Which do the most harm, the birds or the deer?
—Where I am I will not complain of either one or the other.

39988. Does any one complain?
—Yes, some of the tenants are complaining of them.

39989. What do they complain of most?
—Those that are on the hill complain of the grouse, but those that are in the down-lying district complain most of deer.

39990. When they complain does the proprietor give them any compensation?
—Not any compensation. It is in the lease that there is to be no compensation for any thing of the sort.

39991. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What was the name of the factor who turned out the small people day by day?

39992. Where is he now?
—He is in the grave.

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