Barra, 26 May 1883 - Donald Campbell

DONALD CAMPBELL, Crofter, Cregston (57)—examined.

10417. The Chairman.
—Are you a fisherman1?—I am not a fisherman just now.

10418. Have you been freely elected a delegate from Cregston?

10419. How many people were present at the meeting1?
—The great majority of the people of the place, and afterwards two came with me to the schoolhouse here.

10420. Have you a statement to make on behalf of the people of Cregston?
—Yes. They complain that they are kept down for the last sixty years with high rents, their little holding is made smaller, and deteriorating from having been long cropped, so that they are not now worth cultivating.
They cannot support themselves but by their earnings elsewhere, only they lose their time by working after it and about it, and although they are still constantly engaged with it, they are not able to make a livelihood out of it for themselves and their families. They are in that condition for the last sixty years. There are to-day twenty-six families where there were only twelve fifty years ago. They are very badly off. They have been
very much held down during that time, and the first improvement was since the present proprietrix, Lady Gordon Cathcart, came into possession. It was difficult for her to do very much to improve their condition, it is so lately since she came into possession, and she found them so very poor. It was difficult for her to remedy the great poverty that prevailed. They were of opinion that if her feeling towards them could find expression she wished to improve their condition, but they have not yet been able to find much of the benefit of her good wishes,—only the time is short. They were much held down in every way. Every one that was anything like
well off in the place was holding down the others. At first we had a great deal of land in the place, and they crowded those in these places upon the other poor people. Some of us whose names were in the rent-roll of the proprietor were deprived of some of our lands to be given to these people. Others who had no bit of land at all were still a burden to us. We were keeping all these people, and we were on the rent-roll of the proprietor, and we have got no abatement of rent, although we had to maintain these people. If they had any stock,—a horse, or cow, or sheep,—we had to graze them ; and they cleared the ground for the large tacksmen altogether, and they took the people that were upon them and put them upon us. So, the piece of land that our fathers and grandfathers had, three or four families are upon the piece to-day. At one time they were preventing us walking here to the place where we could put our fish upon the rocks. Very stormy winters prevailed, and our chief means of support, the potato, has been precarious ever since the potato disease. Some years it would not grow well. During winters such as these, perhaps the people of the place
would have no means of support except shell-fish. They wished to deprive us of the shell-fish, and the poor people would go four miles away at ebb tide to gather shell-fish, having no other means of support in their households except what they would bring home of shell-fish for that day. When the tide was low, perhaps they would gather more than they would be able to put beyond the tidal mark. They were in the habit of preventing us from laying it down upon tufts of grass within reach of the tide; and they set up a notice to be posted on the doors of the church preventing us going at all. The clergyman we had here at that time told the postman that he would put up that notice upon the door of the church, he would deprive him of his situation,—so anxious was he that the people would not be deprived of that privilege. Since the poor people were aware that the priest was an educated man, they were encouraged, and they continued gathering the shell-fish. Everything of that sort they wished to deprive us of. Those who managed the property for the proprietors, until the present proprietrix came into possession, would not allow the young people to marry upon the estate or to build houses. If I allowed my son or my daughter to remain even in the stable, they would deprive me of my holding, or threaten to deprive me of my holding. But Lady Gordon Cathcart has done away with that state of matters. They have left us so poor that when the children of the poor man grew up, not one of them could remain assisting the father. They would require to earn wages through the world. Perhaps the son would go away before he was of age, to earn wages, and never return. They sent away most of our relatives to America thirty-five years ago. They pulled down the houses over their heads, and injured them in every possible way. They valued the brutes higher than the men whom God created in his own image, and were more gentle with them, and all the respect that we have received during the last fifty years has been received from the present proprietrix. But it was difficult for her to improve our condition. We must speak the truth to all men.

10421. Mr Cameron.
Have you any complaint to make of the present proprietrix or the factor ?
—The present proprietrix has not made us,—has left us as we were,—all the advantage we had received.

10422. So I understand you have no complaint to make of the present proprietrix or the factor ?
—We have nothing to say. I cannot say that they have made us anything worse than we were when she came into possession.

10423. Do you think that if this property was owned by any one who had to depend upon the rents derived from the island alone, they would be able to do as much for it as Lady Gordon Cathcart has done?
—I hope that any proprietor might do something for us. I think any proprietor might put us in the position in which our fathers and grandfathers were.

10424. What is your own idea of what the proprietor might do to benefit the people of the island ?
—To give them the land at the same rent at which their grandfathers had it ; and they are now so poor that even supposing I should get the holding at the same rent at which my grandfather had it, it would be difficult for me to stock it, for poverty has pressed upon us so sorely and so long.

10425. Then, if you and your neighbours are so poor, how would you propose to enter upon those lands which you desire to get ?
—I think, if we got assistance in some way, we would endeavour to repay it in a number of years.

10426. But without assistance you think they could not take more land ?
—There are some that could take up a little more than they have.

10427. Did you hear all the evidence given by the last witness?—I was not inside at the time.

10428. The last witness told us he held four acres, and kept two cows, one heifer, two ponies, and eight sheep, and that his rent was £4. Do you consider that a high rent?
—If these acres were the kind of land that would yield good crops, perhaps the rent might do; but in the case of auy one of my neighbours in the township in which I am, the place is rocky,—it is only rocks, and it should not be cultivated at all. For the place I occupy myself during the last fifty years, I do not remember it without a crop, and the only variation was potatoes and barley. It is about five acres so-called, half of it rocks.

10429. And you cannot plough the whole?.
—We will be endeavouring to do it, but it is hard to say what would. I could not possibly go six yards
without coming upon a rock. Duriug the last three years I was not able to take more than two returns out of it.

10430. How many cows have you on the common grazing ?—One cow and a heifer.

10431. Any sheep ?

10432. Any ponies or horses?
—Two horses.

10433. What is your rent?
—£2, 15s.

10434. Have you ever been in any other part of the Highlands?

10435. Have you ever compared the rents in other parts of the Western Highlands with the rents which you and your neighbours pay here ?
—No, I was only a poor working man.

10436. Are you a fisherman?
—I was at times fishing, but I have given it up now.

10437. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
Are you buying meal every year?
—I had to buy for the last two years every morsel of meal that supported ten of a family. I am bringing home during this year two bolls of meal every month.

10438. What does it cost you?
—Oatmeal, 22s. a boll; flour, 17s. 6d. and 18s.

10439. Are the people in your township ill off for milk for their children ?
—Very little milk. I had not for the last twelve months as much milk as would allow for one meal a day to the family. Our cattle are so poor for want of grass that they could not provide milk. They could not feed the
calves. They also give very ill usage to our cattle in another way here. If they grazed upon the lands of the large farmers they would pound them, and then the cows would be ill-used. They would lose their calves, and
the mares would lose their foals. The shepherds would put them in in the morning, and they had not the civility to send us word; although I and my son would be searching for the animal the whole day, they had not the
civility to send us any word about it, and gave us no warning, and perhaps when I reached the door they would be in the other end of the place and I would have to go home.

10440. Have the cattle that are reared upon Dr M'Gillivray's farm a considerable reputation in the market?

10441. Supposing that you and your co-crofters got a share of these nice rich lands that we hear of, would you be able to rear plenty stock to give milk?
—Yes, certainly, if we got any land suitable. I know well it is the worst portion of the land that we have got.

10442. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
Do you sow oats, or only barley ?
—Both oats and barley; a little oats.

10443. What return of oats do you get?
—I scarcely get any return at all. I use the best of it as fodder for my cattle. I only got as much as resowed the crop.

10444. What return of barley ?
—Two returns.

10445. How many returns of potatoes?
—For the last two years, six returns.

10446. Did you get that last year?
—Last year, about five.

10447. And seven in the previous year?
—Yes, about seven.

10448. What in the highest year?
—The best year would be eight or nine.

10449. What.quantity of oats do you sow?
— About two bushels.

10450. How much barley ?
—About other two.

10451. And potatoes?
—About eight barrels of potatoes, but it is not my own ground I plant them on.

10452. But on your own ground ?
—If I planted eight barrels of potatoes on my own ground, I could only sow one bushel of barley and one bushel of oats.

10453. But, as you usually sow two bushels of each, how much potatoes do you plant besides that ?
—About three barrels.

10454. And you get about twenty barrels back?
—Yes, the year they yield an average crop.

10455. Have you a family fit for work?
—The eldest I have fit for work is a girl of twenty, and the next to her is fifteen.

10456. If you do not go to sea, and have no more return than you have mentioned, where do you get the money to buy twenty-four bolls of meal in the year?
—I earn it. I have been in the south country continuously for the last thirty years earning wages to support my family.

10457. As a labourer?
—As a labourer, getting any work that I could get. I was many years at the east coast fishing.

10458. Did you ever work at the Barra fishing?
—Yes, I used to serve as one of the crew upon an east coast boat.

10459. Why did you drop that?
—I was poorly, and was getting weak for the work.

10460. Are any of your neighbours working at the Barra fishing?
—The young men serve in the crews of the east coast boats here.

10161. Have none of them got boats of their own, like the east coast people ?
—Yes, about seven or eight, which they got a year or two ago.

10462. Are they doing well with those boats?
—Yes, they are doing as others do; sometimes better, sometimes worse.

10463. If the people all had boats such as the east coast fishermen have, and as good tackle, could they make as good a living as east coast fishermen do?
—Yes, at some times. The fishing would suit remarkably well here if they were in the same condition in which my father aud grandfather were. The place is very much exposed,—a wild coast,—and there are many times of the year when they cannot fish. They could fish when the weather was suitable for fishing, and if they had land they could work upon it when it was wild weather; but to be fishermen solely, without anything to support them during the wild seasons, causes them loss. They will require to risk the boats and the tackle in wild weather when they have nothing to support the family at home. Perhaps, after one has bought fresh tackle, it may be destroyed by the rough shores before he is able to earn as much money as pays for the tackle alone.

10464. If you are able to work at the fishing only at odd times of the year, do you consider that working at such odd times would really pay the interest on the cost of an expensive boat and full tackle ?
—Yes, if you only fish iu good weather.

10465. The east coast fisherman fishes the whole year through, and he is thus able to make a fair living, and pay interest upon his expenditure. Could you make a fair living, and pay interest upon your expenditure, if
you fished only a part of the year ?
—The shore that the east coast fishermen have is different from this. Their shore is a channel; it is not so
rough as this. [Question repeated] I think that if I tried the fishing here during the wild weather I might lose both interest and profit.

10466. We understand that, but, if so, will it pay to have this expensive tackle at all?
—They can only work the big boats here with expensive tackle, and the big boats are here only at the fishing season at this time.

10467. The Chairman.
—Do you say that while the proprietrix, Lady Donald Gordon Cathcart, has shown respect to you, and done nothing to make your condition worse, she has done nothing to make it better?
—She has not made it better as yet. Some of us have not got the benefit of her good wishes as yet, but she has given liberty to some. Before this time, when young people married, they were preveuted from building houses. She has given them orders and permission to build houses.

10468. Has she done anything in the way of improvements ?
—She made a pier, and I believe that those who got big boats received assistance from her in order to get the boats.

10469. Has she made any charge for interest or otherwise upon the money advanced to the people to buy better boats?
—I do not know; there are others who can tell about that.

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