Bonar Bridge, Sutherland, 9 October 1883 - John Campbell

JOHN CAMPBELL, Crofter's Son, Balvraid Muir (52)—examined.

39677. The Chairman.
—Have you got any written statement?
Grievance of the Badinisli and Balvraid Tenants.
—These people are a part of those who were expelled from the neighbouring lands to make room for the large farms of Skelbo, Torboll, Cambusavie, and Trentam and were huddled together on this black heath. Built houses there at their own expense, and cultivated patches of land which can never be made productive, owing to the natural sterility of the moor. They are wholly dependent on these poor holdings, and they are not sufficient to maintain them above a few months in the year. When a new name is entered on the rent roll the rent is raised, in some cases from 7s. to £5, 10s. They complain of the scarcity of pasture, the enclosed woods, which was at one time their pasture, being at their door, from which game comes and injures their crops, for which loss tbey get no compensation. The people earnestly desire that the lands of their forefathers should be restored to them, and earnestly appeal to the Commissioners for restitution of their rights. The tenants' grievances are insecurity of tenure, no protection against rack-renting, and no compensation for the improvements they make in reclaiming and draining land, and building houses, barns, and byres. They complain that on the money they may get for making improvements there is made a perpetual charge at a high rate of interest.'

39678. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—How long have the tenants of Badinish and Balvraid been there?
—I suppose the first of them came there about 1833.

39679. Evicted from these large arable farms?
—Yes; but there is a delegate from Dornoch, an old man, Sandy Mackintosh, who can testify to this and he has seen his father's and his grandfather's houses on fire.He has a personal grievance of his own.

39680. Do you know what rents they paid when they were first settled?
—Nominal A nominal rent; some of them Is. Then their parents improved the land with the help of the children as they were getting up and when the father died the rent was raised, and successively raised in cases of death within a few years after that I will give you an instance of a woman—Isabel Mathieson —living in the neighbourhood. Her father paid a rent of Is. He improved a few acres of land. He died, and the son was entered as tenant. He was rented at £3.

39681. Do you know how long it was afterwards?
—No, I don't; and about eight years after the son became tenant he died, and this woman was rented at £6 and a few shillings —at seventy years of age—and she cannot keep more than a cow, a horse, and a stirk.

39682. Was she a sister of the man?
—A sister of the man who entered after his father. I think there were six or seven years between the deaths of the father and brother.

39683. Can you give us the history of your own mother's croft?
—My mother's croft is supposed to have suffered more through evictions than any other in Sutherland. Mr Mackenzie describes the evictions on page 115 of his Clearances; and last year I suffered fourteen days' imprisonment for an expression of dissent against the incoming tenant.

39684. Was it your father who was evicted?
—My father; and I was ten years of age at the time.

39685. But you said the evictions took place fifty years ago?
—This was at a later date.

39686. Where was your father when he was evicted?
—My father was not evicted from these lands, because these lands were in the parish of Rogart.

39687. He was evicted from Rogart?
—Yes, forty-two years ago; but I don't complain of that.

39688. Was the land to which he came bare moorland?
—No; my father didn't come here.

33689. Is your mother not here now?
—No, she is not in the parish of Rogart.

39690. You have no interest in this district?
—No; I am merely a delegate. I reside in the place six or seven months in the year.

39691. Have you any further statement you wish to make about these evictions, and about the uncertainty of tenure?
—Yes. Whenever a new name enters, the rent is raised—sometimes from 7s. to £6 —after all their
own and their forefathers' labour. On this barren heath there is no pasture of any kind; and there is a long bleak] ridge, with a northern exposure, about one mile in length and half a mile in breadth, and they have no pasture on it, and most of them have to toil cutting whins for their beasts.

39692. They are allowed to cut whins in the neighbourhood?
—Yes, but that was all taken from them this last spring. The visitors have got it.

39693. For what purpose?
—That is best known to themselves. Perhaps it is for improving the woods, but that supply is cut off from them.

39694. There are no hill lands in the neighbourhood of these farms now, are there?
—Yes, the pasture lands on the farm of Cambusavie are in the neighbourhood.

39695. In whose possession is that?
—Mr Urquhart's.

39696. Is it a large farm ?
—There are two shepherds and a two-horse arable farm.

30697. Is there any pasture attached to these lands of Skelbo and Torboll?
—Yes, it is a large sheep farm.

39698. But a large arable farm too?
—No; two pair of horses. Skelbo, I think, keeps five pair of horses.

39699. Was it from the lands now arable that the crofters were evicted?

39700. And these lands were cleared off and made into large farms?
— Yes; and the people were driven away to these barren heaths, where none but men in despairing circumstances would attempt it.

39701. Sheriff Nicolson.
—What was this that happened last year?
—It was an eviction in the parish of Rogart at the instance of the Duke. The keeper was averse to the incoming tenant, who was the son of a southern shepherd who took an active part in the burning. His name was Robert Orr, and I used the expression that he would never come there I was tried before the sheriff.

39702. It was for using threatening expressions?
—Yes; of course, there was a lot of people gathered.

39703. Was there anything of a riot?
—No; we were convicted of a breach of the peace.

39704. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You mentioned one or two cases where the rents had been very much raised on the deaths of the tenants; are you aware from your knowledge of the country that the Duke of Sutherland employed two men to value the small crofts?
—I am, but what kind of a valuation was it?

39705. Both the valuators are strangers to the country, they do not belong to Sutherland?

39706. Are you aware that they asked the crofters themselves, or made any inquiries as to who made the improvements on the lands that were valued, or how long the crofters had the benefit of their own reclamations?
—To my knowledge they never made any inquiries, and they never travelled the ground. I was up at Rogart, on my mother's land, and I could see they were almost a quarter of a mile away when they
took out the rent roll, looked at the place, and walked away. I got the same version ever since from every other person. They may have travelled the ground in some instances, but I never heard of it.

39707. Then you are prepared to say that the people themselves were not spoken to or asked to give any information as to what they had done, or how long they had been in possession?
—None, so far as I made inquiries about it, and to my own knowledge that is the way they stood looking at my mother's croft. They came on the opposite side, not far off—about a quarter of a mile—and they took out the rent-roll and walked away, the ground officers telling them, I suppose, the croft, and the name of the tenant. I believe the Duke never intended that. I believe he meant the valuation to be in a just and fair way, and if that had been done, very few complaints would have been heard by the Commission.

39708. Would your opinion of a true valuation be this, that the parties sent to value would make inquiry who made the improvements in the first place, and how long since, and then would fix the rent?
—Undoubtedly, that they would walk over the ground to see what kind of soil it was, and I think they should consult some local expert as to what return the land was giving for the labour bestowed upon it. I would call that a just valuation.

39709. Mr Cameron.
—Don't you think that would, perhaps, be more for the proprietor than for a paid professional valuator to do, taking into consideration how long the tenant had been there, with the view of fixing the rent? Would it not be more the business of the proprietor to give that consideration towards the tenants to see how long they had been there, than for paid professional valuators to go into these questions?
—Well, I don't know, but perhaps these men had been instructed to do so. I am of opinion the Duke meant a just valuation, and all inquiries to be made about the land.

39710. How many tenants are in Balvraid?
—Ten in Balvraid and fourteen in Badinish.

39711. Then you are a delegate from these ten?

39712. Do you know why they appointed you delegate rather than one of themselves?
—I have been so long among them that they look upon me as one of themselves.

39713. The Chairman.
—What season was it when the valuators came round; were the crops on the ground?
—Yes. I am not prepared to say the exact time, but I think it was about August, or maybe sooner, or some weeks later. I know it was, back or forward, about that time.

39714. Do you think that the valuators were ordered just to value the ground as they saw it without any reference to who made it so, or do you think they were told to take into consideration the work that had been bestowed upon it by the tenants?
—Well, I could not say, but I would think, in my opinion, that they were told to make a fair and just valuation. That was my opinion.

39715. You gave a case in which there had been two rises of rent; tell me the particulars again?
—Neil Leslie married a niece of the former tenant.

39716. What was the former tenant's rent?

39717. Was Neil Leslie's rent put up?
—When the tenant died—his wife's uncle—he was rented at £5, 10s.

39718. Who died next?
—He is still in possession.

39719. What rent is he now paying?
—£5, 10s.

39720. But that is not the case I mean?
—With regard to Isabel Mathieson, at first her father paid a nominal rent of Is. When the father died, the son was entered as tenant, and he was rented at £3. Then the son died six or seven years after the father, and Isabel succeeded.

39721. How much was she rented at?
—About £6, 10s.

39722. What was the estimate of the value of the holding?
—I cannot say.

39723. Did she get it above or below the valuation?
—I cannot say.

39724. How many acres has she got?
—Eight or nine acres of the sort of soil.

39725. Is there any hill pasture attached?
—None at all, and the soil there is not worth even Is. 6d. an acre.

39726. You mean, now it is improved, it is not worth more than Is. 6d. ?
—I asked a man who was a judge of pasture some weeks ago, in case the tenants were ejected from their holdings, what rent he would give for it for a sheep pasture. He said he would not have it for nothing, for in two years it would turn to heather again.

39727. Is Isabel Mathieson married?
—No, she lives with her sister. She is about seventy years of age.

39728. How do the two women work the croft?
—The best way they can, I suppose. They get help from the neighbours. They cannot keep it long. It is just a struggle for existence

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