Golspie, Sutherland, 8 October 1883 - Angus Matheson Polson

ANGUS MATHESON POLSON, Merchant, Golspie (32)—examined.

39531. The Chairman.
—You have been chosen as the delegate of the fishermen particularly from Golspie ?
—Golspie, and Embo as well

39532. Will you have the goodness to read your memorial on behalf of fishermen ?
—Statement by the Fishermen of Embo, parish of Dornoch.
—The village of Embo {alias Fisherton) contains from 70 to 100 families, and numbered at last census about 700 souls. This statement or memorial is intended to acquaint the Royal Commission with the circumstances of the people of this village, and to pray that the Royal Commission may consider their case, and suggest the use of such measures as may improve their circumstances. The fishermen of Embo, in so far as their external lot is concerned, have little more than the following grievances to complain of :
— 1 . They have no land.
The crofters in other parts of the parish complain of too little land, or of the poverty of their land, but the people of Embo village have no land whatever, good or bad. They pay high rents for the stances on which their houses stand, the erection and maintenance of which devolve upon themselves; and yet they have no land allowed in which to plant potatoes or any other kinds of crops to help them to maintain their families. What is desired is allocations of not less than two acres of land for each household. This amount of land can easily be reclaimed from the common on the north and east sides of the village, and the memorialists are willing to reclaim the land themselves.

2. They have no harhour or place of refuge for their boats.
—Did the fishermen of Embo have a good harbour and the facilities for prosecuting their own profession, which a harbour would afford, they might feel the want of land less. But, in consequence of their being without a harbour, they are unable to prosecute their own profession in any weather but the finest; and while at sea they are in imminent danger of losing life and property from want of a convenient place of retreat to flee to in the event of a change of weather. They are further exposed to disadvantage from the trawling system and the occasional visits of large tug steamers, whereby the fish is destroyed in large quantities. In regard to the two disadvantages named, the fishermen of Embo feel assured that there is no fishing community, either on the north-east or west coasts of Scotland, so badly off as they are. When the herring fishing fails, owing to the local inconveniencies for fishing, their efforts to make up for the loss by the home fishing are very precarious; and should they fail both in the herring fishing, and in the home fishing, their entire want of land leaves them in circumstances of the greatest poverty. For these and other reasons which might be mentioned, and which may be mentioned in the event of the Royal Commission according to them a hearing, the fishermen of Embo
bespeak the kind consideration of the Commissioners; and in the event of the Commission suggesting any means whereby their circumstances may be improved, the memorialists will ever cherish a sense of their obligations to the members of the Royal Commission and to Her Majesty's Government for appointing them. At a meeting of fishermen residing at Embo, held at Dornnoch, the following parties were appointed as delegates to give evidence before the Royal Commission at Golspie, or at any convenient centre in the neighbourhood at which they may be invited to meet the Commissioners :
—William Ross, Donald M'Kay, Donald Cumming, Kenneth Fraser, Peter Fraser, Hugh Grant—all
fishermen and inhabitants of Embo. In addition to the advantage of an allotment of land financially, the delegates are strongly of opinion that it would be a great service morally to the inhabitants to have a small portion of land to engage their attention during those periods of the year when their occupation cannot be prosecuted. The fishermen are also prepared to pay to his Grace the Duke of Sutherland (for fairly good land) at the rate of £ 1 per acre, and it may be mentioned that they now pay in the locality at the rate of £7 per acre, and provide the manure required, &c. As to harbour accommodation, they admit that it is hardly practicable to have one at Embo. But at Golspie there is every facility afforded, and the one now started there ought to be constructed to suit the requirements of the fishermen of Embo as well as Golspie. They fish upon the ground off Golspie, and can get out and in there even now (without a harbour), when it is quite impossible to do the same at Embo or other harbours along the coast. As an example of one of the many hardships endured by us, we beg to state the following narrative :
—Upon the 19th September last, owing to the bad state of the fishing at home (and in our opinion mainly owing to trawling), nine of our boats were obliged to go to Loch Hourn, to endeavour to make at all hazards, by every means possible, a living for our many dependants. But yet, after all our efforts, we were actually starved out and obliged to come home. We reached here (Embo) upon the 5th October, and during our absence the nine boats only fished three baskets (or one basket less than a cran). It is needless to say what state we found our dependants in on our return—many of them in poverty and want. The delegates formed part of the different crews, and it may be of interest to state that Kenneth Fraser has got a wife and seven of a family to support, William Ross has got a wife and nine of a family to support, Donald Mackay has got a wife and eight of a family to support, Donald Cumming has got a wife and eight of a family to support, and Peter Fraser has got a wife and five of a family to support. Now, seeing that it is truly impossible for us to make anything like a fair living out of the sea alone, we do hope that aid may be granted us, and that land may be had to suit our wants, and all we ask for is two acres for each family and we will gladly pay for the same at the rate of £ 1 per acre, in fairness to ourselves as well as to his Grace the Duke of Sutherland (that is, of course, for fair land). At the present time, we may state that we pay the tenants in the locality at the rate of £ 7 per acre for potato land, and have also to procure the manure required (along with our wives and families) long distances in creels upon our backs, very hard work indeed. So far as regards Embo, and now with regard to Golspie. The principal grievance there is the want of mussel bait, and they consider it a very
hard grievance. Many years ago they had the use of the bait at Little Ferry at 5s. per head. Afterwards the price rose to 7s. 6d., again to 10s., and again to 20s. per man. Thereafter Is. 6d. per basket as charged, again 2s., and yet again 2s. 6 i , the present price. One basket of mussels is hardly sufficient to bait the lines of one man, and very often the return for the 2s. 6d. is only 6d. per man. With regard to the scandalous mode of life to which the women and children of the village are subjected, it does not require me to say much to convince your Lordship that matters ought to be and must be bettered. The bait which I refer to the fisherwomen require to carry in creels or baskets (weighing when full about two cwt. each) a distance of nearly four miles (or out and in about eight miles). They " redd " the lines and also bait them. They dig in the sand with spades—very arduous work even for men—for certain kinds of bait, and in the coldest days of winter they are obliged to wade much over knee deep (and that barefooted) into the chilly brine, with hard frost and snow on the ground. They assist in launching and hauling up the boats, often long distances. They carry the men into and out of the several boats. They require to assist in carrying the fish from the boats to the curing yard, and often travel long distances to sell the same; and besides all this, they require to attend to their household duties.

39533. Sheriff Nicolson.
—When was the village of Embo founded? Has it been there from time immemorial?

39534. Have they ever had any land?

39535. They have lived entirely by fishing?

39536. Is the fishing entirely white fish?
—All kinds.

39537. Do they go to the herring fishing also?

39538. What kind of boats have you?
John Grant, fisherman, Embo (50).
Small boats about eighteen feet keel. We cannot go far out, because there is not a harbour where we can haul them up or down.

39539. You don't complain in your paper of the harbour?
—No, but if we could get a piece of land for our family, so that we could dry our nets. I pay £ 7 or £ 8 an acre for land.

39540. Have you not so much as a kailyard?

39541. Had you never such a thing?
—Yes; our grandfathers had land.

39542. When was it taken from them?
—It was taken many years ago.

39543. Was it given to some farmers?
—It was given for big farms. There is a farmer who has 2000 acres of land.

39544. Have any of you a cow?

39545. Where do you get milk?
—We have to buy it and pay for it.

39546. Where have you to go for it?
—Four miles, three miles, and two miles—perhaps as far as the first farm that will give it.

39547. Is the complaint about the bait confined to Golspie, or does it extend to Embo? Do you complain about the mussels?
—We complain the very same.

39548. Only you have not so far to go for them?
—The very same. We have to go to Little Ferry and Dornoch, and sometimes six or seven miles.

39549. Is there no other bait that can be used?
—We can use cockles, but there is a great deal of labour with them. I have to be barefooted on the ground in the snow and rain, and then carry the basket four miles on my back.

39550. Is it not possible for you to get any other bait?
—No, we could not buy them as they are so dear—2s. 6d. a basket; that is horrid —it is past bearing altogether. If I paid that 2s. 6d. it would not pay me, because perhaps I would not get a shilling's worth of fish.

39551. The Chairman.
—Who gathers the bait, and who sells it?
—The Duke of Sutherland has a man there.

39552. It is gathered and sold by a man who gathers the bait on the shore?

39553. Do the mussels belong to the Duke?
—He claims them when they are on the edge of his ground.

39554. Does he let the right of gathering the mussels to a man? Does the man who gathers the mussels and sells them to you pay a rent to the Duke?
—No, but the Duke pays him so much a year to do so.

39555. To gather the mussels and then to sell them to you?

39556. Sheriff Nicolson.
—I thought you gathered the mussels yourselves?
—The man gathers them, but they would grow better the way they are, but they are making out to claim them.

39557. The Chairman.
—Do you say the Duke employs a man to gather the mussels?
—Yes, six or seven.

39558. And these men sell the mussels to you?

39559. Who gets the price you pay; does it go to the Duke?
—It goes to the Duke.

39560. And you say the price has been very much raised of late years; but perhaps the Duke has to pay higher wages to the people to gather them?
—I cannot say about that, but they don't want anybody to go near them at all

39561. Then the bait is gathered by the Duke's agents. About the land, if the Duke pleased to give the land, is there any land near the village which he could take away from a farm and let to you?
—Yes, plenty.

39562. Did you say you were sometimes paying £7 or £ 8 for the land ?
—Yes, if not more. I pay 2d. a yard for a piece six yards broad, and that comes to about £7, 10s.

39563. You pay that to the farmer?

39564. But you would be willing to pay £ 1 to the Duke?
—Yes, besides our own labour.

39565. What do you think could be done for the improvement of the fishermen here?
—Mr Polson. The best thing that could be done would be in the way of granting a proper harbour suitable for the two villages, and at the same time to allow them an allotment of land.

39566. Is there something being done towards a harbour?
—There is something on a very small scale.

39567. Is it done at the Duke's expense?
—No; it is done altogether through some gentlemen who are interested in the fishermen of both places.

39568. You mean some gentlemen are combined to improve the harbour?

39569. Will they have to pay any rent to the Duke?
—I have not the slightest doubt we are willing to pay for the harbour.

39570. If you had a harbour, would it be possible to introduce a better kind of boat?
—Yes. The boats are now perfect shells, and very dangerous indeed.

39571. Are none of the large decked boats in use at all?
—No, they cannot come in. At Embo the boats require to be drawn down 300 yards till they reach the water.

39572. You spoke about the hardships the women endure; do the women endure greater hardships than is common among the women of the fishing classes in general?
—Ever so much, because they have harbours in other places, and here they have not.

39573. Why do they carry their husbands ashore on their backs?
—-I can hardly answer the question, but it is really a sad state of matters.

39574. Could not the men get out of the boats and walk ashore?
—I cannot answer that. The men are often very tired, and in going out again they require to get out to the boats dry.

39575. Have they not got waterproof clothes?
—Not many of them.

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