Bonar Bridge, Sutherland, 9 October 1883 - John Sutherland

JOHN SUTHERLAND, Feuar and Tenant, Rosehall (52) examined.

39750. The Chairman.
—In what year was the property sold by the Matheson family to Mr Mackay ?
—In 1870.

39751. To whom was it sold by Mr Mackay?
—To Mr Robert Tennant of Leeds.

39752. Was it not sold first to a company?
—No; but Mr George Grant Mackay had Messrs Rule and Stewart as his partners when he bought the estate first, and he paid them off, and kept the estate for himself.

39753. Then Mr Mackay bought the estate in partnership with other persons?
—Yes, in 1870.

39754. But then he bought in for himself separately?

39755. And ho has sold another portion of it?
—Yes. He has sold Glen Cassley, but he sold that before he got Rosehall as his own portion.

39756. But the two properties were first of all sold by the Mathesons altogether ?
—There are three properties—Glen Cassley, Glen Rossal, and Rosehall. They were sold altogether in 1870.

39757. How much was the price of the three?

39758. Then Mr Mackay became proprietor of one of these ?

39759. And he sold that one to Mr Tennant; how much did he get for the one ?
—I am not certain of the amount, I believe it was close on £50,000; but for the whole estate they got £100,000.

39760. They bought the three properties for £50,000, and got £100,000 for them ?

39761. Were they supposed to have laid out much money on improvements?
—Very little. There were temporary roads made, and some of the hill pasture that was to be feued was ploughed by oxen so as to encourage feuars to feu the ground.

39762. Since Mr Tennant bought Rosehall, what has he done with the property ?
—There were a few that were unable to keep their feus, and the land fell back into Mr Tennant's hands, and he gave them leases.

39763. Will you describe what Mr Mackay and his partners did with the property first of all?
—First of all, after buying the property, they sold all the wood that was on the estate. There were four steam sawmills put up to cut down the wood, and the whole of the wood on the estate almost was cut down. Then Glen Cassley was sold to Mr Gordon M'Leod from Skye, and Glen Rossal was sold to Mr Stewart, who had been a partner in the purchase of the property, and afterwards Mr Mackay became the proprietor of the Rosehall estate. After the whole was feued the hill pasture was taken off the tenants.

39764. How did they set about feuing ? Describe the process by which they divided these feus. First of all, in whose hands was the ground which was laid off in feus; was it in the hands of the small
—There were about 1200 acres of hill ground in the hands of the crofters. This 1200 acres was advertised in the papers to be feued, and people from a distance that did not know the land came forward and feued the ground at an average of about 5s. an acre. These feuars took possession of the ground, and some of them have been making improvements upon it. Some of them have wasted their means upon these grounds, and after wasting their own means they applied to loan companies to lend money on the securities of their holdings.

39765. In the meantime, what became of the small tenants ?
—There were a few acres of the pasture that was held formerly attached to their arable ground and given out as feus. This pasture they were charged 6s. an acre for, and they were charged £ 1 an acre for their arable ground.

39766. But the arable land, now in the posession of the small tenants, was not offered to be feued?
—Most of them got the option of taking it themselves first, and if they did not take it then it was offered to any man who would take it.

39767. Arable as well as pasture ?
—Yes, the whole of their holdings.

39768. Did many of the small tenants take feus?
—At first they all refused, but Mr Mackay told them he would carry out his wish, and if they did not take it he would give ground and houses to other people. Therefore, about ten days before Whitsunday 1870, most of them came to give it a trial. There were about thirty crofters on the township of Altas at the time the estate was sold, and of these there were twelve who did not accept of the terms. There were six of these who did not get the chance of taking them. These were women, and the old men who could not do any good to the land, and these meu did not get the chance of taking it on any terms. They were deprived of the whole of their labour and their dwelling-houses, and without a halfpenny of compensation. There were other six also that would not take it, and they left without getting any compensation for what they had done.

39769. What was the length of the feus?

39770. How were the ground rents of the feuars compared with the rent on the arable ground paid by the small tenants before?
—After taking about 1200 acres of hill ground off them, and about 200 or 300 acres of lowland pasture off them, for what was left to them they were charged double what their former rent was with this pasturage.

39771. Had they to pay down a sum of money for the feu besides?
—No, they paid an annual feu-duty.

39772. There was no fine?

39773. £1 per acre for the arable land?

39774. And the former rent was 10s. ?
—Yes, and 6s. for the waste ground, which no sheep farmer in the county would think worth 6d. an acre.

39775. So they got positive property in the land for a feu-duty of £1 per acre and 6s. for pasture. Was the pasture at 6s. an acre susceptible of improvement? Was it generally land that could be trenched and taken in, or was it quite hopeless ground ?
—Some of it was hopeless, but there were other parts that would improve, and could be made arable with great expense, after about £20 an acre was put out on them.

39776. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—All the matters you referred to created a good deal of talk and excitement at the time?
—A great deal.

39777. There was a considerable demand, prices were high, and a considerable demand for land and farms?
—Yes, by strangers who came to see it, but none of those parties who knew the land ever offered for it.

39778. I suppose, though you and others are making a complaint against the amount of feu-duty that was put upon you, you are not against the principle of feuing lots?
—No/the principle is good, but it is overdone by the feu-duties being, in some cases, three times what the value of the land is.

39779. I think, in a paper which was read by the previous delegate, he states that a full year's rent would be paid upon a death. Surely that is a mistake? Was it not a double feu?
—The double of the feu-duty, that is a year's rent.

39780. With regard to the six aged women and others, what became of those who didn't get the opportunity of offering for land?
—Some of them were put on the parochial roll and supported by the parish.

39781. Was no allowance made of any kind?

39782. And no contribution made by the proprietor?

39783. And no houses supplied, for them?
—Nothing of the kind. Along with the thirty crofters there were 100 cottars and paupers upon the estate, and they were ejected, and their holdings were given to others along with the crofters.

39784. Then how many heads of families were deprived of their houses by these operations?
—I stated there were six who did not get an opportunity, and six who got the opportunity and did not accept of it.

39785. I am referring now to the cottars you are speaking of?
—Probably there might be about eight cottars; I am not certain of the number.

39786. And no provision was made for them ?
—No provision whatever.

39787. And what became of them?
—The parties who feued the ground allowed some of them to remain in their holdings.

39788. What is the positiou of such of the feuars as have still been enabled to carry on ; are they complaining very much?
—The condition is this, with regard to some of the feuars, that when their means were done they applied to loan companies for money to carry on, and money has been advanced to them by loan companies upon the faith of their holdings and the result was that they were not able to pay according to the terms of agreement, and they were sequestrated, and vacancies occurred in Rosehall, with liabilities amounting to over £10,000 in the last seven years. In some cases the trustees were not able to realise what would make a halfpenny of a dividend after the expenses and preferable claims were paid. In other cases it was only a few pounds; so it is not only the feuars who have suffered, but a great many of the public as well.

39789. Other people have suffered from the insolvencies?
—Yes, even our good Caledonian Bank has lost £2000 or £3000.

39790. Are any people complaining from the estate of Culrain, on the opposite side, the same as you are at Rosehall?
—I am not very well acquainted with them, but they have been complaining.

39791. Have you been well acquainted with this district for many years ?
—I have lived in Rosehall for the last twenty-four years.

39792. Do you carry on any other business?
—I sometimes carry on shoemaking.

39793. And you have means of knowing the real state of the people?
—Yes, I know everything about them for the last twenty-four years by what I saw, and for more than twenty years before that from old men.

39794. Do you think, upon the whole, it would have been better for the crofters and small tenants had this experiment never been tried, and that the property should have remained in the Mathesons' possession?
—I am certain of that.

39795. Will you still say that when I tell you that yesterday we had—also from the property of the Matheson's —very great complaints from the Gruids, though matters remain apparently as they were forty years ago?
—And so we do, because our holdings were sold by Sir James to Mr Mackay, and the improvements made he says he bought for a sum of money, and they were all summonsed at the instance of Sir James.

39796. Supposing the amount of feu-duty were in any way modified or reduced, would the place be prosperous?
—Yes, I believe it would.

39797. Can you say from your own observation that additional land has been taken in, or that old land that was formerly taken in has been meliorated or improved by the feuars since they became feuars?
—There has been both.

39798. In fact, they have done their best to make the best of it?
—Yes, and gone past what was ordinarily done. There is one instance I can give of how the feus were over-feued. There is one place of 120 acres that was feued in 1870 at £30. Between 1870 and 1875 there were three feuars upon that place in succession one after another. Their loss was about £400 between them. In 1875 the feu came into the hands of Mr Tennant, and, after an outlay of £230, he was not able to let it at anything up till Whitsunday 1877. In 1877 there was a man who took a fifteen years' lease of it at an annual rent of £25.

39799. You give that as an illustration of over-renting?
—Yes. Then in the March following he made a moonlight flitting, and left Mr Tennant without paying a halfpenny of rent, and the place was in Mr Tennant's hands up till 1880. In 1880 he let it to another man for £12. That man kept it till Whitsunday 1881, and left without paying a halfpenny of the £12. In 1881 a neighbouring crofter gave an offer of £10, providing there woidd be a certain portion of it fenced, which would cost, I suppose about £50. This offer was accepted, and there has been £10 paid for it since Whitsunday 1881. Mr Tennant bought the feus upon twenty-two years' purchase, so this feu cost him at first £660, and he has laid out £280 along with that, and all the estate took in from 1875 up till now has been £ 20; only they have the shooting.

39800. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Do you say those three first feuars had expended a large sum of money upon it?
—The first man expended somewhere about £90, and he left it after paying a year's feu-duty, and
putting down a crop without getting anything for it, only Mr Mackay gave him a valuation for the crop. Then it was feued to a man from Orkney. He came forward and built houses upon it and a waterpower threshing-mill. He got disgusted, and the feus were not supposed to be so bad as they were, and he tried to get it sold, and he got a man from Aberdeen to come forward and give £310 for it. He was there for about two years, and he saw he was ' done,' and tried to sell it. He went to Mr Tennant and told him what he had done, and Mr Tennant gave him £200 for it, and he thought he would get it let at a high rent, but he never got anything for it till late in 1881. Mr Tennant then laid out about £30 in improving the houses and doing other improvements.

39801. I thought you said Mr Tennant gave £600?
—Yes, for purchasing the property from Mr Mackay. He gave twenty-two years' purchase.

39802. How many of these feus are there?
—About thirty-three.

39803. What is the average extent of them?
—There is one feu that is, I suppose, over 1000 acres, feued by Professor Geddes, Aberdeen.

39804. What is the smallest?
—About fourteen acres.

39805. They run from fourteen to 1000 acres?

39806. What will most of them be?
—Well, as to the old crofters who took feus, their average will be from twelve to seventeen acres.

39807. There have been other vacancies besides the one you mentioned?
—Yes, several cases.

39808. Have their feus been sold?
—They have been tried to be sold, but a halfpenny could not be got for them. There was a gentleman
from Glasgow who expended £1000 on his feu. He was paying £65 of feu-duty, and he expended £1000, and he became bankrupt before he died, and the trustees were unable to get a halfpenny for it.

39809. Have these feus been sold in any circumstances whatever?
—Yes, they have.

39810. At a profit?
—No, I don't think they were sold for a profit, after the outlay.

39811. But some of them have been saleable; they have not been all so bad?
—No, some of them have been sold.

39812. The Chairman.
—With regard to the small feuars who were formerly crofters—that class who have kept their former arable land as feus—have they done pretty well, or been ruined too?
—Well, they are trying to clear their way pretty well; some of them got help from Australia and friends elsewhere.

39813. In the case of the small tenants who remained as feuars, about what area of arable land do they generally hold—five or six acres?
—Their average will be about seven. There are some as low as five and six, and some as high as nine and ten.

39814. Do you think they have made greater improvements on the land which they hold as feus at a higher rent than they would have done if they had continued to hold the land as crofters ?
—No, they have not; they made more improvements when they were tenants at will, than they have done since they became feuars.

39815. They are nut able to do it now? There are some of the people who still remained as crofters?
—No, there are none here allowed to remain as crofters. They became crofters afterwards by giving up their feus to Mr Tennant, but every one who would not be a feuar was turned out

39816. But the previous witness said his rent had been raised from £3, 10s. to £7, 10s.?
—Yes, but I understand that he got some more low-lying pasture added to it.

39817. He said he had more stock?
—Yes, but the hill pasture was taken off him. His land was feued by another man, —he was only the sub-tenant of this feuar. He lost his holding from Mr Mackay, and he was a sub-tenant.

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