Dingwall, 10 October 1883 - John Forsyth

JOHN FORSYTH, Factor for Balnagown (61)—examined.

40181. The Chairman.
—You have got a statement you desire to make in connection to what occurred yesterday ?
—Yes, as to what was said by one of the Bonar delegates. I do not know that there is great need for my addressing you on this occasion, and in doing so I simply desire to make clear to your Lordship and the other Commissioners some things which I do not think the delegate Alexander Campbell made plain to you at Bonar. Alexander Campbell has only been a rent-payer on the Balnagown estate since 1871 (see his offer for croft). Previous to this date he was a sub-tenant to the late Dr Gordon, who held the farm of Badvoon and Kincardine, and who brought him on to the Balnagown property. I understand about 1868, Dr Gordon had besides Alexander Campbell thirteen sub-tenants, not thirty or forty as stated by him. On the expiry of Dr Gordon's lease, and at the time these farms were let to Mr Anderson, the then sub-tenants were continued in their holdings at the rent they now pay, £27, 5s. At the time I had not the smallest difficulty in arranging the rents with them. I had no complaints then of the rents being too high, and Alexander Campbell's statement to your Lordship and other Commissioners was the first I ever heard, with one exception. One tenant complained that his rent was too much; this was about six months ago. Neither had I any difficulty at the time in satisfying these tenants that they were better without sheep ; they consented to want them without any pressure on my part; and I am satisfied, after the experience I have had, that on that particular ground they are better without them still. If these tenants at any future time, are in a position to stock the whole of the hill, it might then be a question for reconsideration. If the crofters on the Balnagown property in Kincardine are too high rented, I assume the responsibility so far as it can be laid on my shoulders. I blame no one except that the crofters must take their share of it in their not having at the proper time complained of the rents they were asked to pay and willingly agreed to pay. Notwithstanding the present complaint, I have no hesitation in saying, that if these holdings were to let now, I could not only let them at the present but an increased rent.

40182. There were two complaints brought before us prominently in connection with the farms occupied by Mr Anderson. One complaint was that the tenants had been prohibited from keeping sheep upon a piece of ground on which they had been formerly allowed to keep sheep, and that when they were deprived of this convenience there was no reduction made on their rent. It was also stated that they might have continued to keep the sheep there, if a fence had been put up between them and the farmer ?
—It would not have paid to put a fence up there, and the piece of ground they allude to is not suited for sheep.

40183. The farmer says that the sheep upon the crofters' ground molested his farm by going across the marsh, and that it would have been impossible for him to have continued to occupy the farm if the sheep of the crofters had not been prevented coming over ?
—That was so.

40184. Well, when the sheep were put off and when the farmer was relieved of this claim, was his rent increased at all ? Did he pay anything additional for this convenience ?
—I forget whether he paid any increase or not when he took the farms. I cannot answer that question, but I rented him at what I thought fair value for the farm, and I acted in the same way to the crofters.

40185. But did he pay anything more to the proprietor in consequence of being relieved of the neighbourhood of the crofters' sheep ?
—I think it is likely he would.

40186. He paid you something more ?
—I think so.

40187. Was any portion of the increase paid by the farmer removed from the crofters ?
—No, their rents were the same, with the exception of a few shillings. I think a few shillings were taken off each of them, to the best of my recollection. I think the delegate stated yesterday that
his rent was £4, 5s. and he formerly paid £4, 13s.

40188. How long would the fence have been if a fence had been put up between the two parties ?
—Over two miles.

40189. What is the expense of putting up a wire fence, supposing the proprietor to have his own wood, which I presume is the case with you ? What would be the expense per mile of putting up a wire sheep fence?
—I think it would have cost about Is. per yard. A good bit of it would have required to be iron altogether, as it was on rocky hill ground.

40190. That would be altogether £170 ?

40191. What is the rent of the farm?
—The rent of the two farms is Badvoon £105, Kincardine £111, 5s. 6d.

40192. Then the rent of the two farms concerned in this case was about £216 ?

40193. Do you consider it would be a very extraordinary outlay on the part of the proprietor to fence a farm from its neighbours with a wire fence of this value—at an expense of £170?
—I think under the circumstances it was an unnecessary outlay, because the ground the crofters had was unsuited for sheep.

40194. But they do not seem to have considered it was unsuited for sheep. At least they complain ?
—I had no difficulty in arranging with them, not the slightest, at the time. I can show you Campbell's offer for his place if you wish to see it.

40195. What was the increase which the farmer paid in consideration of being relieved for the molestation of the crofters' sheep ?
—I cannot answer that question.

40196. Was it anything considerable? Was it £20?
—Very possibly it was. I could answer that afterwards, but I cannot do it now. (see Appendix A. LXXIII)

40197. Does it seem to you quite equitable to take an increased rent from a farmer in consequence of an advantage granted to him at the expense of others, and not to give the others some appropriate compensation?
—I don't think I took advantage of either the one or the other—either the tenant or the crofters. I acted between the two as fairly and justly as I could.

40198. And the crofters made no complaint at the time ?

40199. When deprived of the liberty of keeping sheep, do you think they were able to keep more cattle and horses ?
—-No doubt of it, but the ground is not suited for sheep in summer. Sheep would not live on the
ground they complain of.

40200. In the other case there was a fence put up between the farm occupied by Anderson and the adjacent tenants, but in putting up a piece of ground was withdrawn from them, and added to the tenant ?
—Allow me to explain that Dr Gordon held those farms and brought the sub-tenants on to the ground, and in making this arrangement with him I did the whole thing to the best of my ability. Mr Anderson put up a fence to keep them off a particular part of the ground, but at his own expense.

40201. He told us he put it up at his own expense, and he enclosed a piece of ground which formerly belonged to them ?
—No, these crofters never claimed any right to that bit of ground.

40202. I understood the farmer to tell us they did ?
—I did not hear him, and if he said so I am certain it was a mistake.

40203. Then in either case the crofters were not deprived of anything ?
—No, the crofters were entirely on the Kincardine ground, not on the Badvoon ground at all.

40204. As a general statement, can you say that during the period of your management there has been no consolidation of farms at the cost of the small tenants ?
—None whatever.

40205. No ground has been taken from small tenants, and added to large farms'?
—None whatever. There have been one or two cases of crofts being added to one another where a family had died out, and there was nobody to succeed, in order to make larger ones.

40206. How long ago is it since these transactions took place ?
—In 1871.

40207. Has any ground upon the estate in the time of your management been turned into a deer forest?

40208. Was any portion of the ground turned into a deer forest taken from the small tenants ?
—None whatever. It was taken from the large sheep farm.

40209. Do the small tenants complain of the injury inflicted on them by the deer ?
—No, they do not. The deer are very far from them.

40210. Is the deer forest fenced?

40211. Do you receive complaints from any quarter of ravages committed by the deer ?
—None, except from our own shepherds. The sheep farm is in the proprietor's hands, and one shepherd particularly complains of the deer meddling with his croft.

40212. What is the system pursued on the Balnagown estate with reference to reconsidering, and raising it may be, the rent of the small tenants ?
—Each case is considered individually by itself. It depends on how long the tenant has been in the place, and what he has done for the place.

40213. Is that done upon the death of the occupier or done from one stated period to another?
—It is not done at any stated period. Each case is considered by itself.

40214. From time to time?
—From time to time.

40215. Has it any connection with the death of the occupier ?
—No, I cannot say it has.

40216. Has the rental of the small holders been increased during your time?
—A little, but not much. I cannot say what proportion; but not much.

40217. Has the rent of the large tenants been increased?
—Yes, it has.

40218. Has there been a considerable remission of rental on the large tenants within the last few years?
—None at all. I may mention, to give you an idea how we acted—and this has reference to Strath Carron—that the acreage of arable land in Strath Carron crofts in 1808 was 175 acres; in 1851, 229 ; increased 54; being an increase of fifty-four acres of arable land by twenty-nine tenants in forty-three years. The acreage in 1863 was 238 acres, being an increase of nine acres between 1851 and 1863, and a total increase in fifty-five years by twenty-nine tenants of sixty-three acres, equal to an average of two acres twenty-seven poles improved by each of the twenty-nine tenants in fifty-five years. Some of them improved more and some of them improved less.

40219. When you fix the rent of the arable ground on the small tenant is that done by a valuer, or by an expert, or by yourself ?
—I have done it I have relet the whole of the Balnagown property without the slightest trouble, and with great pleasure to myself. There have not been half a dozen farms advertised for public competition since the estate came under my management.

40220. When ground is improved by the small tenants and brought under proper cultivation, what is the average rental of the arable ground ?
—The average rental of this Strath is about 20s. per acre.

40221. That has been land redeemed from the moor and brought into the condition of arable?
—Yes, since 1808.

40222. It becomes worth £1 per acre?
—Yes, in this situation. In some situations it would not be worth so much.

40223. In the recovery and improvement of land in that way, what is the system pursued by the proprietor ? Does the proprietor contribute in any degree to the operation ? Does he supply tiles ?
—Sometimes. There is no special rule. It is a matter of arrangement in each case. Sometimes tiles are supplied, and sometimes it is done by the tenants paying interest. I don't know what was the system in those old times, but I understood that the proprietor gave wood to help to build the houses in those days.

40224. What is the system now1! Does the proprietor give wood?

40225. And lime?
—Not lime. That was given many years ago, and the tenants paid interest. I don't know they repaid the lime, but they paid interest, and it was added to the rent. But the proprietor does not give wood now except by special arrangement.

40226. There is no general regulation?

40227. Mr Cameron.
—This farmer, Mr Anderson, stated that the crofters made more profit out of the new arrangement, by which he gave them a certain sum for wintering his hoggs, than they did under the old arrangement, when they had sheep themselves. Do you confirm that statement?
—Yes. My experience of that place since 1871 is that they are in a better position without sheep than with them.

40228. He stated that whereas their rent paid to the landlord amounted to between £3 and £4, they received from him for wintering about threefourths of that back again; so they really sat for about 25s. apiece ?
—The delegate Campbell's rent is £4, 5s.; Mr Anderson gives him £3, leaving his rent at £ 1 , 5s.

40229. And you think that by keeping sheep themselves they would not derive so much profit as they do now from this wintering arrangement?
—I do not think they would.

40230. You corroborate Mr Anderson on that point?
—I do.

40231. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Is there only one deer forest on the Balnagown estate ?

40232. When was it constituted?
—In 1872. The ground was cleared of sheep in 1872. I should say there are two. It is let to two tenants.

40233. What is the acreage of the whole ?
—I think about 40,000 acres, but that is not all cleared of sheep. There are sheep upon a portion of
both places.

40234. You stated, in answer to the Chairman, that these had been made out of sheep farms. Had the ground been ever in possession of small tenants ?
—I don't think so, because that ground before a sheep was put on to it was under deer, and in going over it I can see few or no traces of where crofters had been.

40235. Can you give us any idea of the extent of the ground in question between these small tenants in Kincardine and Mr Anderson that would require two miles of fencing? How many acres would there be?
—Some 3000 or 4000 acres, roughly.

40236. Have you not heard over and over again that there is a great demand on the part of crofters for additional grazings ?
—Yes, I have.

40237. And you are still prepared to say that the loss of those 4000 acres is really no loss to them ?
—They never had it.

40238. Did they not possess it?
—No, they never possessed it.

40239 Where did the 200 sheep pasture?
—They wandered over the whole place without any authority on the part of the tenant to keep them.

40240. Then they were really not deprived of anything?
—No, they are not deprived of the acreage of the hill, for pasture on the hill. They never had any right to it.

40241. You did not state that before?
—I had not the opportunity.

40242. You say they never had any right to it?
—They never had. They never paid any rent for it.

40243. Are there not cattle at this very moment upon it ?
—Yes, but only on a portion of it. These crofters have each his own house and his own bit of arable ground, and a piece of pasture ground in connection with it. That is their whole holding.

40214. And the other was merely a tolerance—this great quantity?
—Yes, the other was merely a tolerance.

40245. Let us suppose it was merely a tolerance. Then Mr Anderson comes and complains of their sheep. Why did not you give them an opportunity to fence themselves off, if they wished to retain the land ?
—Because they did not ask to retain it. They departed from it without any trouble. Besides, I did not think they had capital to carry on these farms. They never said they had stock to carry on these farms. If they had said so the matter would have been considered.

40246. Would it be considered yet?
—I have said so in my statement. If these tenants at any future time are in a position to stock the whole of the bill, it must then be a question for reconsideration.'

40247. You gave us the increase of the new land taken in by the tenants since 1808; what was your object in making that statement?
—I thought I was asked to explain about it. I understood some of the Strath Carron tenants were to be examined about it yesterday, and I wanted to show how the increase was made.

40248. Do you consider that increase was proportionate to what it might be in that long period ?
—I don't think it is out of the way.

40249. Then you did not make that statement in any way as showing the people bad been indolent for the last fifty or sixty years ?
—No, I did not make it with that intention at all.

40250. Would you explain as briefly as you can why you say that, in your opinion, the people are better off without the sheep than having them ?
—Because the ground near to their own ground is unsuited for sheep. Sheep would not thrive on it in summer.

40251. But they themselves are very sorry they are not able to keep sheep ?
—Well, it is matter of opinion.

40252. Are you a sheep farmer yourself ?
—I manage a sheep farm.

40253. Is sheep farming not profitable?
—-It has been more profitable than it has been these last few years.

40254. I suppose all you mean is, that in this particular case, from the situation and lie of the ground, it is not advantageous for these tenants to have sheep ?
—Entirely so.

40255. You do not say it is disadvantageous for small tenants to have sheep ?
—No, by no means; it was entirely with reference to this particular piece of ground.

40256. Were you at all aware that there was any dissatisfaction, since this transaction was carried through, among those twenty-five tenants?
—None whatever. I never had a complaint from one of them on the subject, except one tenant who complained about six months ago that his rent was too dear. His rent was £2, 10s. for a house and two acres of ground.

40257. Are you in the habit of seeing those people occasionally or some of them ?
—I see them every year. I have been in every house on the property and am personally acquainted with every tenant on the estate.

40258. And you have made yourself accessible to every one of them1?
—Quite accessible. They can come to me at any time, and are quite aware of that.

40259. And I presume the estate and you yourself have every wish to nourish and cherish those small people who have been long there, as much as you can ?
—It is not only my own wish, but it was my instruction from the late Sir Charles Ross, to take care of the small tenants, and not to press them or over-rent them.

40260. Are the people in the parish of Edderton very ill off for roads to their houses?
—They are not well off.

40261. And yet they pay road money and assessments?

40262. Have you done your best as trustee to put that right for them ?
—I have never done anything in the county, but at this time I am preparing to make a mile of road in the parish at the proprietor's expense, and I had a road from the public road to the station put in order, and down to the shore, at the proprietor's expense.

40263. But I am referring more particularly to roads for crofters ?
—Yes, but they are scarce and not plenty.

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