WILLIAM SUTHERLAND FRASER, Procurator-Fiscal, and Factor for the Estates of Achany and Gruids, Dornoch (82)—examined.
39441. The Chairman,
—Have you a statement to make or put in with reference to what has passed here to-day ?
—The first paper put into my is unauthenticated by the signature of any person. I have read it . carefully, and I find it is nothing but a tissue of falsehoods.
3944:2. Will you please substitute the word inaccuracies?
—Well, exaggerations. I have looked at another, and I may almost state the very same objection to the statements contained here, and I am quite sure of that whoever produced this as a witness here to-day had not the sanction or concurrence of the tenantry—the crofters upon the estate of Gruids—for a more orderly set of people never existed, who pay their rents regularly, never have been in arrears for the last fifty years, and never made a complaint or stated a grievance to me personally, or to the ground officer to communicate to me. It certainly astonished me to see such a long array here of grievances that I never heard of, and I do not believe there is a single grievance that can be stated from that particular part of the parish of Lairg. The man Black, who gave in this statement, pays a rent of £ 13 . He has about ten acres of arable land. He has his share of a large pasturage, and keeps horses and cattle, and he sold this very year £ 30 worth of hay and about £ 37 worth of cattle —in all, £67. That is my information; and he had the whole of the crop for the main tenance of his family,—the crop of corn and potatoes and turnips, or whatever else he had. He is a stranger, and is not a native of the district. During the fifty years I was factor on the estate I never incurred a shilling of law expenses against one tenant on the estate. I never removed a tenant. They continued to pay only the old rents that were exacted from them fifty years ago, so that I was very much taken aback by finding they had complained without previously making some statement to me of what their grievances were. I think that applies to the whole statements that appear in these papers. I only regret I was not aware they were to have been examined so soon, for then 1 would have had an opportunity of cross-questioning any person regarding the statement made.
39443. As far as I remember the tenor of this paper, the principal grievance that was complained of was this, that at a rather distant date, twenty-five or twenty-six years ago, the people were deprived of a considerable portion of their common pasture?
—That I deny. The ground officer is here to confirm what I say.
39444. Am I then to assume that since the property -passed into the hands of Sir James Matheson's family there has been no diminution or withdrawal of common pasture from the crofters?
—None, not an atom. They have not been deprived of a single yard of common pasture or arable land.
39445. And no increase of rental?
—No increase of rental. The old rent was continued.
39446. There was another statement or complaint, that under the former proprietor an assurance had been given to the people that they would receive compensation for a certain class of improved houses in case such houses should be built; are you cognisant of that old agreement.
—No, and I do not believe it.
39447. Well, there is a paper put in which pretends to be a copy?
—Yes I saw it.
39448. Did you ever hear of it before?
—-Never; I never heard of it, or any person on the estate.
39449. You mean the point was never brought under your consideration before?
39450. So if it is a hardship or grievance, it is one that was unknown to you, and of which the tenants have never complained?
—Never. There is no tenant alive on the estate that knows anything about it —it is dated so far back.
39451. It is dated 1834. In fact this agreement or this promise had never been repudiated by you in your administration?
—No, and never intimated to me, and I don't know whom it would apply to.
39452. There was a statement made which I think it right to mention,—though I do not see how it exactly affects the present property, and that is that for sometime you united the offices of tenant and factor?
—That is not the fact. My father died in 1853, and I succeeded him in the factorship. He had a farm, but shortly after his death it was given up, and was never held in my name.
39453. So you practically never were a farmer on the estate?
—No. My mother succeeded my father in it, and upon her death it was given up. I would not take it myself. It was a small sheep farm. There are two sheep farms in addition to the crofts. I brought a gentleman from Rossshire two months ago to go over these crofts, and he is willing to be examined and give his opinion of the comfort in which he found every tenant on the estate, and no grievance stated either to him at the time or to any other person on behalf of Lady Matheson, who has had it for the last five years.
39454. Were you made aware of a statement that a man who was engaged in the improvement of ground had been stopped in the execution of his improvements?
—Yes. It was no part of his lease, and he took possession without any intimation to Lady Matheson, or to me as factor. He took violent possession of that bit of ground, and commenced to trench it.
39455. It did not form part of his holding?
—It did not form part of his holding.
39456. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—With reference to what one of the delegates stated, he said there was about 1000 acres that was once arable upon the estate of Gruids, that is under sheep now and waste?
—I deny that. I don't believe there was six acres. I knew no arable land there in my time, and that goes back not only to the fifty years I had charge of the estate, but to ten years before, when I knew it.
39457. I show you a holograph document. Do you know Sir George's writing?
39458. But it has never been presented to you before?
—Never; I never heard of it.
39459. Mr Cameron.
—There was a plantation mentioned by a man John Ross, who said that when it was made it did not give any employment to the people in thinning or draining, or any tiling else; do you know anything about that plantation?
—I know that I planted it myself in the year 1848, and it might have been thinned, and was thinned, but it was under the charge of the ground officer, and he never employed any people on the estate for any work except the tenants themselves that were willing to work. I know the man John Ross, one of the most indolent tenants on the estate.
39460. Then you don't even admit this statement about the plantation?
39461. You say there was thinning carried out?
—There was thinning carried on by the people on the estate.
39462. The Chairman.
—When you mention there was no arable ground upon the property, do you dispute the affirmation that there were large evictions at a remote period, seventy years ago?
—I never heard of them. There may have been, but I never heard of them.
39463. Was this a wild country at one time, without small tenants?
—There were always both small tenants and large tenants in my recollection. There may have been evictions 100 years ago, but I had not arrived in this country at that time to know anything at all about them.
39464. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—What property are you referring to when you say you think there were no evictions ? The statement made to us was that seventy years ago, in 1813, there were evictions?
—I don't know anything at all about them.
39465. You don't deny they took place?
—I don't know; I never heard of them.
37466. The Chairman.
—Is it true or is it not true that since the Matheson family came into possession the small tenants were deprived of a large portion of their common pasture without reduction of rent?
—I have answered that—not a single yard.
39467. And you are perfectly confident of that?
—Perfectly confident of that. They came into possession in 1848.
39468. Mr Cameron.
—Do you know anything about the case of James Robertson, crofter and miller, Gruids? ' Having about two acres in his croft which was not cultivated, he employed men to trench it. After he trenched one acre of land and fenced it in, he received strict orders to stop improving his land, and he was compelled to pull up his fence, and this land is now only a common waste, but he has to pay for it ?
—That was what I alluded to as not belonging to his croft at all. He usurped and took possession of that ground, and he was stopped. Besides, it was part of the common pasture belonging to the whole tenants.
39469-70. But you had intended to plant it?
—It was intended to plant it.