Barra, 26 May 1883 - D.W. McGillivray

D. W. M'GILLIVRAY, Surgeon and Farmer, Eoligary (74)—examined.
10756. The Chairman.—Before I ask you any questions, have you any statement to make in consequence of anything that has been said to-day in your hearing?
—I wish to correct a statement made by Buchanan about the size of my farm. He said I had the half of Barra. It is less than onethird, which makes a very great difference. Some person spoke about the country people being prevented taking cockles. I have been thirty years here, and I never heard of anybody being prohibited. They were common property, and people were never prevented taking cockles.

10757. Then there never was on the shore of your farm any prohibition with reference to taking cockles? —No. The principal sand on which the cockles are found is just on my farm, in to the centre of it, and no person was .prohibited from going there to take them as they liked. At one time it was doubted whether or not they could be called something like oysters or mussels for bait, as the people in the south country are in the habit of protecting them. We made inquiry about that, and found there was no rule to prevent it, and nothing further was done. The people took them and sent them south.

10758. Were they ever prohibited taking any other description of shellfish from your shore ?
—No. There was a great quantity of the common whelks, and that is the business of the women, and they make it a great business.

10759. Do they come and take them freely?

10760. Have they always done so ?
—Yes, when the whelks are in season. There is never any prohibition of taking shell-fish of any description. We have no mussels to signify, and we have no oysters.

10761. Did you ever hear that before your time there had been any difficulty about them ?
—No, I don't think there was any difficulty about them. So far as I recollect—and I recollect Barra about fifty years—I never heard of any difficulty. I have heard that in the time of General M'Neill, in taking cockles, they used to turn up the sand a little, and when he was in the habit of driving from home, and came across a pit, he did not like them to dig pits in the sand where he was going, and that he prohibited them in the line of road, but not anywhere else. That was long before Colonel Gordon bought the property.

10762. Then with reference to the alleged price of bent exacted in labour, have you any remark to make ?
—I used to give bent freely to the people for thatching their houses, and I was always inclined to improve dykes or drains, and I put together a bit of the quay down there, and for the working of these things I gave them a quantity of bent. It was a very low charge that I made for it—a horse-load for 3s., and in the short winter days I have seen them take three days' work, and a day's work at that time was only 4 hours—from eleven till about three.

10763. Does the gathering of this bent do harm or good to the pasture ?
—I never like to pull it up. I have made pretty good grazing ground, that was sand when I came to Barra, by planting it.

10764. Is that the same description of grass that they use for thatching?

10765. And when they gather it for thatching, do they cut it?
—Yes, with a hook. We don't like to take it out of the ground. It is the best protection for sand drift that we have on the west coast, and I have seen scores of acres of ground recovered by planting bent.

10766. Sheriff Nicolson —That was first done by Dr M'Leod?—Yes, and he did it for me; and I have sometimes helped him with forty people planting bent. When I came first there was a great deal of sand drift,
and I planted it to the edge of the sea.

10767. The Chairman.—Then when the people cut the bent upon the ground, do they do any harm to the pasture ?
—They do. It is grand wintering for cattle. When it is new it is very juicy and sweet, and we just give them the strong part of it, and a certain part of it which is not good for cattle is sufficiently good for thatch, or for any other purpose than feeding cattle. We sometimes cut pieces of bent early in the season in order to make it into good high ground, and they come to it and pick it up, and about a month ago our cattle used to feed upon it.

10768. With regard to the statement of the witness that you are in the habit of receiving twelve days' labour of a man or woman for two cartloads of this grass; is that accurate ?
—It is grossly exaggerated.

10769. What is the real price paid for the bent?
—Just about 4s., or four short days' work.

10770. For how much?
—For a cart-load.

10771. Would it be one of our ordinary Lowland cart-loads?
—Not quite so much as that.

10772. How did they take it off? Did they take it in parcels or in a cart ?
—They come one day and cut it, and make it into bundles, and we count so much for the bundles.

10773. Have the people ever complained that the price was too high ?
—No, they come for it willingly. They come for it more than we could give it to them. As for the potato labour, we are in the habit of giving an amount of potato ground to the people at what I call a moderate rate.
This same year I gave a pendicle of my own farm when I saw the people in distress. Lady Cathcart was anxious that we should do everything in our power to help them out, and I gave two hundred families potato
ground on my own farm. There would be at least 2000 barrels in the course of the season, and I only ask for the planting of a barrel 2s. or two days' work at those works I mentioned. I generally bargain with the people to work, and there is no money at all ; it is all labour for the improvement of the place.

10774. About how much would it amount to per acre—how many days' work ?
—I cannot say ; I don't know how many barrels would be planted to the acre.

10775. On these terms, have you found the people willing and desirous to obtain work ?
—Yes, very; I have often been applied to when I could not supply them. I have heard it stated several times to-day that the ground had got out of heart, and coidd not produce crop. The ground I have given is better ground, and sometimes I gave them pieces of ground that had not been cultivated before, and I improved it, and gave it to them at a very cheap rate.

10776. In fact, you have never had any difficulty with them? They have not complained that these rates are high ?
—No, they don't generally complain that the rates are high, but sometimes I believe after I give them pieces of ground in this way, it is long before I get the benefit of what I do. It takes three years before the ground recovers any proper sward of grass, and I am two years of that without any. There is nothing in it till the grass grows again, but in the end it is worth more, and that is a principal way in which I improve the land. I could not improve the outer parts of the land where it is mossy, but by taking forty or fifty people and giving it to them at a cheap rate, and they will improve it, and the improvement will be for the benefit of Lady Cathcart. W"e consider it a very good way of improving the ground. It is not sublet, because I do not take anything from it except what I take out of the farm itself.

10777. Mr Cameron.—It has been suggested that when Buchanan mentioned sixty days' labour for the potato ground he intended to say sixteen ?
Michael Buchanan.
—No, I said it on good authority, and I have witnesses here.

10778. The Chairman.
The calculation is sixty days' labour per acre ?
—Well, the way I calculate is so much to plant a barrel of  potatoes, and the people are quite willing to take it in that way.

10779. It is a mutual benefit ?
—Apparently so. They are better served; and when they are scarce of potato ground, they even come to me, and if I can give it I give it, and if not it is because there is a scarcity of it.

10780. What is the benefit it confers on your ground ?—They say there are so many cottars and people of that description that potato ground is scarce among them.

10781. That is the benefit to them, but in what degree does it improve your ground ?
—It improves my ground so far, but it obliges me also to give it to them when they are in need of it. They work pieces of ground for me. They work, for instance, at drains, &c, and take this in lieu of money. This is far more beneficial than money. Suppose I gave 2s. or 1s. 6d. a day, this is far more beneficial to them than that.

10782. It is much better that they should be allowed to work at it?
—Yes, and they would come for potato ground when they would not come for money, just because there are so many cottars and crofters together on so many places, and a scarcity of land, as it were, on account of the crofters getting so numerous. I hear the people talking about them. They are getting numerous, because they do not go away, and they intermarry amongst themselves, and just grow on the place where they are. I have
not heard of any evictions, or anything of that sort for a long time; but so many of them remain about their parents, and intermarry, that they get numerous, and the cottars are just the sons and daughters of the tenants
along with themselves. That is the way in which subdivisions and families go on.

10783. Since you were concerned with this farm, have there been any evictions?
—Not on my farm. There were evictions before I got the place. I got it cleared.

10784. You have made no evictions?

10785. And with reference to the cottars living on the farm, have you increased their rents or obligations? —No, I don't ask rents from them at all. When I give anything to any one it is just for work, such as helping
with drains, dykes, or something of that sort. At this time of the year not a man would come to me for double the wages, and in the spring of the year they would not come; but I got them in the winter, in the short days, when they cannot go out to sea and fish. That is the way the wages appear small, because I have only short days of four or five hours.

10786. Looking back to what you remember in your early years, do you think the condition of the cottar class has improved or deteriorated?
— It has improved for the last few years, because I think they prosecute the fishing better. The fishing helps them on, and for the last few years I think they are on the improving side, particularly since Lady Cathcart has
helped them on with boats, and the like of that.

10787. Do you think there is more money now coming into the country ?
—I think so. The fishing brings a great deal of money into the country. I benefit by that in several ways. I got part of my wool sold in the country, and before I had to send it to Leith.

10788. Did you sell it by the stone ?
—Yes, generally according to the market outside.

10789. What were you selling it at this year or last year?—About 14s. per stone.

10790. What sort of wool is it?
—Blackfaced, not smeared.

10791. Is there a considerable demand for it in small parcels ?
—Yes, there is a considerable demand for it if the fishing is good. A good deal depends upon that I have often given the wool upon credit to people who went and earned money in the east country, and they are very good at paying it. It is very seldom that I am at a loss for the money that I advance to them.

10792. Is it both spun and woven in the cottages ?
—Yes, they weave it themselves, and make it into cloth in different parts of the country.

10793. Do they use native dyes?
—They buy some, and use native dyes too. They make dun of the lichen that grows on the rock, and they use
the root of saggeus—rue—that grows on the low ground here, which makes a reddish colour.

10794. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—Have you any cottars living on your farm ?
—I have no cottars at all, only herds, and so forth. There were no cottars on the farm when I got it.

10795. How long is it since you got it ?
—About thirty-five years.

10796. Has anything been added to the farm since you got it ? Is it the same size ?
—The same size. I heard some one say it was added to, but it is the same size. I have had three leases of it.

10797. You think that the people have been improving in their condition since you first remember them? —They are improving. They were nearly as well off before the potato blight as they are now, but the potato blight put them far back. At that time there was an emigration promoted by Colonel Gordon, which relieved the property very well. The people of South Uist and Barra petitioned in a body to be helped away, and Colonel Gordon helped them away. He sent a vessel to South Uist and a vessel to Barra to take them. He also sent clothing for scores of families.

10798. Are those the people of whom we hear as having gone to Canada, and as having arrived there destitute?
—Yes. I heard of a lot of people who went from South Uist and Barra, and some of them have done well, and some few have not done quite so well. They sometimes get apples and fruit there, which brings on disease of the bowels, and they die in consequence of that.

10799. Mr Cameron.—But what we want to know is whether the people who emigrated at the time spoken of were those who were referred to as having landed in Canada in a state of destitution ?
—I don't know that. There was only one emigration that I recollect, but I did not hear of people being landed in a state of destitution. There was a person named M'Neilan, from Mull, who used to send a great many away on his own interest. That was before Colonel Gordon got the property, and it may have been some of those?. That was a business which the man followed for years. I recollect several vessels being sent away by

10800. Was he an emigration agent ?
—He was.

10801. But you don't know whether it was under his auspices that these people were landed in a state of destitution ?
—No, but I think the people whom Colonel Gordon sent away did better than that,

10802. Do you know whether there is more or less disinclination to emigrate now ?
—Well, there is not the same feeling about it, because this M'Neilan made a business of it, and showed himself among them, and when a few signed with him to go, a number would go with their friends.

10803. I am referring to the petition you speak of as having been sent to Colonel Gordon. Do you think there is more disinclination to emigrate now than there was at that time
—Well, I think that if the people saw they were to be assisted they would go. The general impression now is that the population is getting thronged again.

10804. How is it getting thronged ?
—In the way I have mentioned, by their intermarrying, and not leaving the country.

10805. But no people have been brought here?
—No; no person has been brought in since the last emigration, except a mere individual here and there.

10806. You stated, in regard to the bent, that it was no advantage to your farm to take away the bent, but rather the reverse. Would you rather that the people should have no bent at all and give you no labour ?
—No. Sometimes if I had anything particular to do, and the people wanted to get bent for their houses, they would come to me for bent when they would not come for money; and I would give it to them under these
circumstances rather than forego the work that was going on.

10807. Would you rather continue the present system than give no bent and take no work?
—Yes. I consider it is useful to both. They could not get the thatch so conveniently in any other way.

10808. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
Would not that bent be the better of being cut at a certain stage ?
—Yes, and we cut the whole almost every second year. We begin one year, and cut it for a quarter of a mile, and then we cut another piece next year, and so keep it fresh.

10809. That is for your own purposes?
—Yes, and for any purpose. It gets withered and dry, and is not worth anything.

10810. The witness Buchanan said that you frequently refused bent, is that correct?
—Very seldom. I don't recollect refusing it. Sometimes I gave it, but gave it rather unwillingly, when they would tell me that their houses were blown away with the wind. There was scarcely a year but I gave it after a gale. The October gale did a vast deal of harm to the houses and crops, and had it not been for that gale the people would be twice as well off as they are now.

10811. Are you aware that Lady Gordon Cathcart sent some people to Canada from her estates ?

10812. And she presented them with a large sum of money?
—Yes; I thought she was too liberal.

10813. About £100 each?
—Yes; that was more liberality than we have seen at any other time.

10814. Don't you think she might have expended that £100 in improving their condition here ?
—I don't know she would, because they were crowded, and this gives them a chance in a place where they are not so crowded. If more of that was done it would be a benefit for all parties.

10815. Don't you think that if she had made an arrangement with you and settled these families, or given them £l00 to settle them on nice crofts on Eoligary, that would have been as good as sending them to Canada ?
—Yes, for a time; but it would become just like the east side of Barra. From the fact of their being a fishing population, and the people not going away, they have scarcely room upon it; and, supposing my farm was cut up and them planted upon it, it would be crowded in a few years.

10816. You have stated correctly that several parts of the island of Barra are crowded, but are you not aware that the population of the island is a good deal less than it was in former years ?
—Yes, but there is not very much difference.

10817. Could Lady Gordon Cathcart raise as many men as the old Macneills did. We are told they could raise 250 to 300 fighting men
— I don't know, they are not so much inclined for that sort of thing now; they would rather go and fish.

10818. I should like, in consequence of the contradiction about the shell-fish, to come to a clear understanding about it. Buchanan states that the affair occurred six years ago, and he states in the most distinct manner that they were prevented from going down to the sea-shore, and that notices would have been posted up on the church door, but that the Roman Catholic clergyman declared it to be illegal ?
—I don't know about that at all, but this I can say, that the sand is part of my farm, and I never knew that
anybody was prohibited. If anybody was prohibited it was entirely without my knowledge.

10819. Have you any relative or connection in the island?
—-No, except Roderick M'Lellan, my brother-in-law.

10820. Do you know whether he did this matter which is put down against you ?
—I don't know.

10821. Is he still living?

10822. You stated that the extent of your farm was very much overrated, and that you had only about one- third of Barra. How many acres has it been computed to be?
—Between 4000 and 5000.

10823. Does that include the numerous islands?

10824. You say that you are now in your third lease?

10825. Has your rent been increased much?
—Yes. I laid out about £400 on repairs under the last lease, and I have had a great amount of work done.

10826. May I ask what the rent was when you entered thirty-five years ago ?

10827. Your rent was not raised during the time, but you expended a considerable sum of money ?
—Yes, in order to get the lease I made that offer.

10828. How long has your lease yet to run?
—Fourteen years.

10829. Did the Macneill family live where you are for some time after they left the castle ?
—Yes, and I was intimate with them for some time; and I was intimate with General Macneill.

10830. How long is it since they left the castle of Kisimal ?
—Five or six generations ago. I recollect an old gentleman whose mother was born in the castle.

10831. That was the last person?

10832. Did they allow it to fall into decay?
—They came ashore and came to Borv, and lived there for a time. They then went further north to a portion of what I have just now, Vaslin ; and General Macneill's father got married there.

10833. Are there any Macneills remaining?
—I don't know any one except distant relatives, nephews.

10834. Are they in a good position?
—I don't know, but they were inclined to do well when I saw them last.

10835. Did you hear one of the delegates mention a statement about the officers of the Macneills coming and taking away his mother's cow almost by violence?
—I have heard something of that sort, but I cannot speak with precision about it.

10836. Are you aware there were such extortions ?
—There were at the time of John Macneill, the fellow that lost his property.

10837. Mr Cameron.
And took other peoples?
—There was a sort of confusion, and the officers went round.

10838. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
Then the story which this man told about his sister meeting the officers with the cow and taking it home, you
have no doubt is accurate ?
—I cannot say it is accurate. I heard of some parties taking liberties—not the factor or the laird—but some parties in the shape of ground officers, and there was no law. There is another thing I should like to mention, namely, that we would be very much the better of a Sheriff Circuit Court here. We find a little difficulty in consequence of disputes about trespass, and if we had a Sheriff Court it would be of great benefit. There never was a Circuit Court here.

10839. Were there no Small Debt Courts?
—We had Small Debt Courts at one time, but they have been given up.

10840. Is there any justice resident in this district except yourself?
—Yes; Roderick M'Lellan is a justice too.

10841. Are these the only two?
—Yes, besides the factor. We used to have little courts for settling matters connected with trespass and injuring people's corn; we used to settle all that amongst ourselves.

10842. Why was all that given up?
—The factors who were coming after that were not justices, and the thing broke down

No comments:

Post a Comment