Barra, 26 May 1883 - Ranald Macdonald

RANALD MACDONALD, Aberdeen, Factor and Secretary to Lady Gordon Cathcart (48)—examined.

10938. The Chairman.
Do you wish to make a statement in reference to what has passed here to-day ?
—I will be thankful for the indulgence. It was not my intention to trouble the Commissioners with any statement until they had gone over all the estates with which I am officially connected, but, in consequence of statements made here to-day, which, to use a mild expression, are of an exceedingly misleading character, I thought that Barra was the proper place to take notice of these statements, and that, if I postponed my reply till the Commissioners reached Benbecula, it would not have the same effect as if I stated it publicly in presence of the Barra people, who know I wish to state the whole truth in a kindly way towards the people themselves. I wish to guard against making any reflections whatever upon the parties who have come forward to-day to give evidence, but I must say—and I say it after taking a very great deal of trouble to make myself acquainted with the circumstances of the people of Barra, and after taking considerable trouble to find out the most reliable people in Barra to give me information regarding the general population —I must say that those who have appeared to-day are not the people on whom I would place the most reliance, and I have to explain to the Commissioners that, being desirous when they came to Barra to economise my time so far as practicable, I thought of asking the crofters in the different townships to meet openly and name three individuals among themselves who would give me full information regarding their circumstances, regarding
anything which they thought it was possible or practicable to remedy, and that I should have the opportunity of making some short explanations to the crofters from the different townships who met me. They did elect three persons in every township to give me information. I have a printed list of the names. I met them afterwards, and took all the convenient opportunities I had to meet those who were freely set apart by the people themselves to give me full information regarding anything they thought possible to be done—in the way of improving their condition. A printed statement of the names was sent out and circulated among the crofters
geuerally, in order that they might speak to these representatives or delegates whom they selected themselves, and in order that any grievance they might have might be thoroughly investigated, and, if practicable and reasonable, remedied. Now, I expected when the Commissioners came round, that some of those whom the crofters themselves selected in the open and unrestricted manner I have stated would have been among those
who would have come forward to the Commissioners to give evidence. I wished to avoid the possibility of any one saying that I interfered in the remotest way with the evidence that was brought forward, and I make no enquiry, and did not know who was to appear to-day. I confess I was a little disappointed—without reflecting in any way on those who came, because I wish to guard particularly against saying anything derogatory to them; but, at the same time, I must say really that they are not the representatives to give strangers an impression of the real state of matters in Barra. I say that in presence of Barra people, and they know that I am stating the truth. With that explanation I shall, as briefly as possible, refer to a few matters, reserving, with the indulgence of the Commissioners, any general statement I may wish to make until they have gone over the whole estates. I only wish on the present occasion to reply to certain statements which were made here to-day. Some of them I never heard of before, and some of them surprised me more than they could have surprised the Commissioners, because I should have naturally thought that if there had been certain grievances in Barra, when I came and met the people, and took special pains to investigate and inquire and make myself acquainted with those grievances, they should have been intimated to me. Several matters have been brought before you as if they were a sort of general practice or custom on the estate, of which I never heard the remotest whisper until I came into this room to-day. I shall refer to a few of these, and, in the first place, I shall refer to Michael Buchanan's statements.
He asked, in the way in which he and others have been tutored to ask, whether anything would be done- to him in consequence of his making certain statements; but no one knows better than Michael Buchanan that, though his -main employment has been to go about and preach discontent among the people here, no one connected with the estate would take the very slightest notice of his doings. He knew very well that whatever he did say to the Commissioners no notice would be taken of it. I am sure the proper way to deal with a person of that kind is to take no notice of him, because in the long run statements which have no possible foundation in fact have no importance whatever, and to take any notice of them would be to attach an importance to the individual which sometimes is scarcely deserved. His first statement was about taking
stirks and cows from the tenants, and giving no credit for them. It is well known, and I say it in presence of the Barra people, that such a custom does not exist on the estate. In 1844 I find that, in consequence of the destitute condition of the people of Barra, Dr M'Leod, who was one of the most sympathising factors they ever had on the estate, was obliged to take ponies and horses, and cows and stirks from the tenants in payment of arrears of rent. I never did hear until to-day that the people had any reasonable ground to suspect that either Dr M'Leod or any other local factor on the estate of Barra ever acted fraudulently or unjustly in connection with these matters. I shall not occupy the time of the Commissioners by referring to the cattle that Dr M'Leod got from them, because I intend to include that in my general statement, but I just wish to say this, that if any tenant on the estate of Barra thought there was a mistake—because I don't think that any respectable people in Barra would think the gentleman who had charge of the estate could ever intentionally
or fraudulently deal with the people here in the way whch has been insinuated by Michael Buchanan—I should have thought that, coming here and being anxious to ascertain everything in the shape of grievance
and anything that could possibly be remedied, some of the crofters themselves whom I had the opportunity of meeting, and some of the representatives whom they elected, and with whom I had conversation on more
occasions than one, would have told me of these things. If they had done so, I would have considered it my duty to make every possible investigation, and if there was the slightest injustice done, even unintentionally, to
any poor crofter in Barra, no stone would have been left unturned to have that remedied. Then he said that the system was carried on down to the present time. I don't wish to use strong language, but I must say that
that is not the fact With reference to receipts, he made a statement which would naturally convey the  impression to strangers and persons who did not know the circumstances, that people were treated in such a way that they did not know how their account stood; that, in fact, the system was organised in such a way as to defraud the crofters. Now, I have found in Barra and in South Uist and in Benbecula, that now and then
mistakes did occur in connection with payments made in cash by the crofters, but in most cases these mistakes did occur in consequence of the similarity of names. It will be fouud that in certain townships there
were certain crofters of the same name. It was only the other day that a man came and said he had made a payment, and it was not put to his credit. I turned up the counterfoil,—because I may state that for many
years the payment of rent has been conducted in this way, that not one penny is received from a crofter without granting a receipt for the payment, and the counterfoils of the receipts are preserved in the same way
as those in a cheque book. The receipts are partly printed, and are numbered consecutively, so that from the counterfoils of the receipts it can be seen at any time whether any mistakes have taken place with regard to a sum being placed perhaps to the credit of John M'Kinnon in one township instead of John M'Kinnon in another township. Perhaps it may happen that there is a senior and a junior of the same name, or perhaps
there is a Jonathan M'Kinnon, or perhaps they speak of the same person as Hugh M'Lean or Ewan M'Lean. It so happens that I have here all the counterfoils of the receipts, so that if any crofter should come forward
and say that he has made a payment at such and such a time, and he does not find it to be his credit, it can be seen from the counterfoils whether a receipt has been granted for it, and it is not possible that the factor could
receive the money without granting a receipt, and the crofters know that the receipts they get are upon these forms and they are generally of the same colour. I don't think it is neces ary for me to take up more of your
time with regard to these matters. Buchanan also referred to the alleged injustice done to the people by prohibiting them taking shell-fish. Well, I never heard of such a thing till I came into this room, and certainly if I
had heard of such a thing I should have been the first to say that the people should disregard out and out any such reports. He mentioned that if any one said a just word in favour of another crofter, the officials were down upon him. Now, I simply refer to himself as a man who is well known for several years as having no regular occupation, but going about in a mysterious sort of way with pen and paper in his pocket to several houses, and if anybody had been taken notice of Michael Buchanan would have been the man, but he has been taken notice of, and he is perfectly free to do anything he likes so long as he lives. No notice will be taken of his doings; and as to his statement that if any one said a just word for another the officials would be down upon him, I can only refer to himself as a striking instance of the want of foundation for such a statement
He said again that where matters were laid before her Ladyship, the factor stepped in and offered every possible objection. He said nothing in support of that allegation, and he could say nothing in support
of that allegation. I don't wish to take any credit to myself for the interest I take in the people of Barra. I think the Commissioners have not at all seen a fair representation of the honesty, in point of character, of the general body of the inhabitants of Barra. They are people of whom I have a very high opinion indeed, and if I had never seen anything of them except what I have seen to-day, I should never have formed such a
high opinion of the fishermen and crofters of Barra as I have done. I do not wish to take any special credit to myself for the natural pleasure I would have in seeing anything organised that would be the means of improving the condition of a people whom I like very much, and I certainly should be the last to step in and offer any possible opposition to any communication that might be made with the view of interesting Lady
Gordon Cathcart in their behalf. I say that the statement is a reckless statement, without a shadow of foundation that can possibly be given in support of it. You have heard already about the cockles and shell-fish, and I need not say anything more about them, except that if anybody raised any report about people not being allowed to take them it must have been a mischievous report. The report may have been raised by somebody who really wished to make the people believe that those who were interested in them were acting in a way towards them which was irritating and unjust. I don't think that any one, even the meanest officials connected with the estate, would have been a party to the circulation of such a mischievous report, if such a report was ever circulated in Barra. He said there were no fences between the tenants and the tacksmen. One of the last things I did, when I was here about two years ago, was to have a meeting with one of Dr M'Gillivray's sons and the tenants bordering upon a portion of his farm, and make an arrangement for the repair of this fence. There is no doubt it is very difficult to get the crofters to keep up their share of the fences. One man goes and does a little bit, and his neighbour goes and perhaps does it more imperfectly, and it is well known that such a fence is of very little value—it is like a chain with a broken link—it is really of no use uuless it is a proper fence from end to end. There is a difficulty in getting these fences kept in repair, and they are certainly not such fences as I should like to see, but they are fences which the Commissioners may see for themselves if they choose to take a walk for a mile or two. I don't think I should take up much time in making reference to general statements, because the Commissioners cannot fail to see how very contradictory these general statements were. Some came forward, and Michael Buchanan was one of them, who said that the inhabitants were reduced to poverty. He stated that in the strongest terms, and then there were others who came forward and said that the tenants of one of the townships are able to take a grazing requiring a capital of between £3000 and £4000 to stock it, so that these general statements neutralise one another, and it is not necessary for me to say very much beyond what I do now. I don't know what may be the amount of debts due to the merchants, but judging from all the information I have been able to get, and I have endeavoured to get the most reliable information available, my conviction is that the general body of the crofters are probably better off than they ever have been. It is well known, and it is a thing not common to Barra only, but to every other place, that you find old people speaking of the good old times ; but if those good old times are looked into, and if there is any accurate history of the state of things at the period to which these old people refer, it is generally found—I don't mean to say that they deliberately and intentionally misrepresent the state of things in their day—that they exaggerate the advantageous condition in which they suppose themselves to have been when they were young. I shall state with reference to Barra that, knowing as I do the condition not only of crofters and small farmers, but of large farmers and fishermen on the east coast of Scotland, I don't know any place in Barra so highly rented as the east coast, if we compare the value of their stock and their crop and
the effects belonging to them with their rent. It is well known on the mainland that if a farmer has a capital ten times the amount of rent he pays he is considered to be in very fair circumstances, but if we come to the estate of Barra we find that the circumstances are much more favourable than that. I have before me a very carefully prepared statement of the number of cows, stirks, calves, horses, colts, sheep, and lambs belonging to crofters and also to cottars in Barra, and I made a sort of calculation, which I consider a very moderate calculation, of the value of the stock. I find that there are 311 cows in Barra belonging to crofters, which, at £7 each, would amount to £2177; 188 six-quarter-old stirks, which I value at £5, £940; 184 stirks at £2, £368. Tims, the crofters have cattle stock on their crofts estimated at that moderate valuation to be worth £3485. They have 233 horses, which I take on an average at £8, £1864; colts 79, at £5, £395;—in all, £2259. They have 1721 sheep and 716 young sheep. As I wish to make a moderate estimate, I take the
1721 sheep as being worth £1000. Accordingly, we have £6744 worth of stock upon the crofts tenanted by the crofters in Barra.

10939. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
Would you mention how many crofters there are?
—About 205. The cottars have 52 cows, 29 six-quarter-olds, 19 animals between calves and stirks, 56 horses, 15 colts, 188 old sheep, and 140 young sheep. I value these at less than the crofters' animals, and
I take £1320 as the value of the stock belonging to the cottars who pay no rent to the proprietor. These sums amount altogether to £8064. Mr Phillips, who is now in charge of this parish, has gone over every croft in
Barra and inspected the extent of ground under potatoes, bere, black oats, white oats, and turnips, and I have an abstract of his report before me, which was very carefully prepared, and I find that the value of the crops
is £1720, 12s. The total value of crops and stock is £9784, 12s. Of course the crofters have, besides, the roofs of the houses belonging to them, which would increase the value of the capital that may be said to belong to them. Now, the annual rent paid by the crofters at the time of this annual valuation was £551, 5s.; and if the rent is compared with the value of the stock and the crops which they have upon their crofts—to
what extent it may be burdened by debts to the merchant I don't know —the stock is 30 or 40 per cent, more than can be got on the most prosperous places on the mainland with which I am acquainted.

10940. The Chairman.—Can you give us the gross amount of arrears?
—£2899, 12s. 5id. There are a few of the tenants who are not much in arrear, but there are others who are very deeply in arrear. Calculating the whole, and comparing the gross amount of arrears and the gross amount
of rent, there are upwards of five years' rent in arrears, and some of them are upwards of ten; for instance at Mingalay, where, if there is Home Rule at all, the inhabitants of that island enjoy it. The only other point I wish
to refer to is the complaint made about the increase of rent and the land being taken from them. I happen to have before me the rental of the estate of Barra from Whitsunday 1836 to Whitsunday 1837. I believe it is the rental on which the estate was purchased.

10941. The gross rent?

10942. Of both tacks and crofts?—Yes, the whole rental of the estate, and the value of the land then in the occupation of General Macneill. I find that the witnesses who have come before you have misrepresented
the state of things, and have misrepresented it very greatly indeed. I may state first, generally, that the paper which I have here shows the total rental of the estate in 1836, and I have the details and names of all the
crofters and tenants at that time. The total amount of the actual rental of land let to tenants and crofters in 1836 was £1948, 17s. 7d.

10943. How much of that was crofters' rental?
—Almost the whole of it was crofters' rental, because it happened that General Macneill had most of the other places in his own occupation. The largest rent is £30, and there are some at £20, and a good many at £10. I have no rental here higher than £30.

10944. There were no large tacks then at all ?

10945. Was the area in General Macneill's occupation equivalent to the extent of the large tacks now ?
—Just about the same. I have here an abstract of the rental and valuation of the estate of Barra in 1838. The rental of possessions now let, as returned by the factor, was £1948, 17s. 7d. ; add twelve and a half vacant crofts not occupied, formerly let at £97, £2045, 17s. 7 d . ; value of farms in Colonel Macneill's possession, offers for which were under consideration—home farm capable of grazing 4000 sheep ; Vatersay, 1600 sheep; hill of Bentangaval, 1100 sheep; island of Sandray, 500 sheep ; island of Flodda, 200 sheep; small islands, 200 sheep ; number of sheep that the land in Colonel Macneill's possession was supposed to carry, 7600 ; which, at 2s. 6d. per head, would give £950. Therefore, the amount of the land rent of Barra at that time was £2995, 17s. 7d. There was added—kelp on the shores, £500 ; alkali works which were carried on
with a view of extracting valuable materials from the kelp—no sum placed opposite to this ; mansion-house, fishings, and other things, £200;—gross estimated rental, £3695 ; but there is £ 700 struck off as fanciful.

10946. What is the present rental ?
—The preseut rent is £ 551 , and the crofters' rents have been very greatly reduced.

10947. What is the gross rental of the estate at present?
—From the last valuation return in 1882, the total is £2172, l i s . 2d., but deducting schools, churches, and glebe, which were not included in the valuation, £122. it leaves £2050, l i s . 2d. as against £2995, 17s. 7d.

10948. Professor Maelrinnon.—You receive £ 550 from crofters and £1500 from large farms at present, and in 1836 it was £ 1950 from crofters and £950 from large farms. Are the boundaries the same ?
—So far as I know. I wish to take the opportunity of stating that I never until to-day heard of any alteration of boundaries sixteen years ago. I took the opportunity of consulting Mr Phillips, who has been over all the crofts, and he never heard of anything of the kind.

10949. Then with regard to this great reduction of the crofters' rent from £ 1950 to £550, is that chiefly owing to the cessation of the kelp manufacture ?
—I suppose so; I suppose they were not able to pay the rent. They were deeply in arrear, and, in fact, are deeply in arrear still.

10950. The Chairman.
—It would be satisfactory if you were able to state in a definitive way that the area of the crofts is the same as it was before, because the extent of the reduction on the crofters' portion is so extraordinary that it raises a sort of doubt as to whether it is the same ?
—I shall be very glad to make every investigation into the matter. I may state that certain places which were under crofters in 1836—Fuday and Hellisay—are now occupied by Dr M'Gillivray. Then Ollosdale was occupied by eighteen crofters, for which they paid £140, 9s., and it was let as a single farm until this year, when I thought it would be an advantage to try the system of increasing the crofts, so that there would be sufficient employment for a family all the year round on the crofts, and with Lady Cathcart's consent Ollosdale was divided; and instead of having it at £140, we proposed to have it at £110, or £ 30 less thau it was
in 1836.

10951. At any rate, making allowance for any areas withdrawn from crofts, there has been an enormous reduction in the crofting rents since 1836. Can you suggest any reason for that except the cessation of the
kelp manufacture?
—And some of these places being let to Dr M'Gillivray. I think that about £100 or £500 would be for land formerly in the hands of crofters, and now let to Dr M'Gillivray, and for Ollosdale.

10952. Still you are able to affirm at this moment that there has been a great reduction on crofters' rentals on the same area?
—Yes, I have no doubt of that, because we have to deal with certain places where there can be no difference on the area, which did not lie contiguous to large farms. I shall give one or two instances to complete my statement. Glen, which is the place where we are now, the modern name of it being Castle Bay, was occupied in 1836 by twenty-five crofters, paying from £ 4 to £10, and the total reut was £169, 15s. The present rent of Glen is £52, 11s.

10953. On the same area?
—So far as I know. Then on Cregston, in 1836, there were fifteen tenants paying £112, 17s. 7d., and now the rent of Cregston, including the priest's croft and the doctor's, is £65.

10951. These are very interesting views of the change and progress of the estate, and we should be very happy to have a statement in writing from you, only it would be very desirable to verify the extent of the change of area between the large farms and the crofts, and that can be done at any future time ?
—Yes. There are seventeen crofters now in Cregston, as against fifteen in 1836.

10955. When you stated to us these aggregate rentals at the time of the purchase of the estate, do you think that these rentals had been raised fictitiously by the M'Neills when they were about to sell?
—I should not like to say so, but it is very difficult to account for the great reduction which it was absolutely necessary to make.

10956. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
Do you know how many years' purchase of tho rent Colonel Gordon paid?
—I cannot state precisely, but I shall make it up. I find that Bentangaval was in possession of General M'Neill
in 1836, and also the adjoining grazing of Vatersay.

10957. The Chairman.
—You need not enter into details on that point at present. Have you any other statement upon the different heads of what I may call accusation as regards what occurred to-day ?
—There was a statement made to day about the people being refused the island of Vatersay. Well, the people here petitioned for the island of Vatersay, and of course it is very difficult to know, even with the additional information I got since they made the application, whether they were really able to make good their application or not. I may say that the matter was very anxiously and carefully considered by Lady Cathcart, and that if she had believed it would have been a benefit to the crofters to get the island of Vatersay, she would have given it to them, but this being an island, the experience of other islands where people are located led us to think that it was most unsuitable for them. For instance, the island of Mingalay, which was said to be a pretty good island, is found to be most unsuited for the people, if we judge by their circumstances aud the amount of their arrears, which is not a bad indication of the condition of the tenants. They are upwards of ten years' rent in arrears, and in consequeuce of the difficulty of getting to the island, they have enjoyed for some considerable period a certain amount of Home Rule, and the result in Mingalay has certainly been most prejudicial. The man who was a sort of constable there met me when I was last in Barra, and told me of the state of the people, and I was really sorry that they should be left in such an island; but, in consequence of their attachment to the locality, and the difficulty of even recommending crofters to leave one place and go to another, they must just be left there. Latterly, however, they found the place so unsuitable for them that I had several applications from Mingalay people to come over to prosecute the fishing here. I told them that those who were good fishermen would certainly get a share of what was proposed to be a sort of club farm for Castle Bay, where the amount of ground they would get would not so easily iuterfere with what I considered to be absolutely necessary for successful fishing—that is, that it should be prosecuted not by fits and starts but as a business, the same as any other business is prosecuted. I don't know any business that is prosecuted not
now and then, but thoroughly all the year round, that does not prosper, and I don't believe it is possible for fishermen, either in Barra or in any other place, to be as prosperous and successful as they might be, and as
they ought to be, unless they disencumber themselves of what really interferes with the continuous prosecution of the fishing. On the east coast, with which I am most intimately acquainted—having to do I suppose with the largest fishing village in Scotland, namely Buckie, where there are between 400 and 500 fishermen—till within the last twenty-five or thirty years the fishermen had what were called fisher lots. They had three acres, aud were a sort of crofters, aud grew potatoes ; but since they commenced to devote their attention to the fishing, everyone of these lots, which were known and marked on the estate plan as fisher lots, is occupied by cottars or feuars or merchants. Not a single individual fisherman among all these hundreds would take the trouble of working a lot, because they found that it seriously interfered with the prosecution of the fishing, and probably very often, when it was absolutely necessary that they should either be prosecuting the fishing or making active preparations for fishing at home or at a distance, they would require to be at home tilling their ground or taking in their crops. I know how difficult it is to overcome local prejudices, and I know how difficult it is to interfere in a violent way with these prejudices even when they have no foundation whatever, and I should consider it injudicious to deprive the fishermen here of a small piece of ground, but I don't despair of seeing the time when the fishermen on this coast will exactly take the course which by experience the fishermen on the east coast have found to be best for the promotion of their interest.

10958. Have you any other statement to'make with reference to the circumstances under which Lady Cathcart declined to grant Vatersay ?
—I was going to say that, instead of giving off crofts to those fishermen, Lady Cathcart thought it was probably better that they should get as much land as would be potato ground and enable them to provide provender to keep a cow to supply the children with milk. Accordingly, after considering the matter carefully, I made out a memorandum and submitted it to the fishermen, offering forty-five fishermen a portion of the grazing of Vatersay which lies contiguous to the anchorage here, because it was believed that if they had land, it should be in close proximity to the sea ; and I find, as I have often to grant building sites on the east coast, that they must have the houses as near the sea as possible, because they may have to go out early in the morning; whereas, if they were to get crofts and have detached houses, not only would the cultivation of these crofts interfere with the prosecution of the fishing, but, having the houses dotted over the place, it would be practically impossible for them to adopt the only mode of fishing which is found to be successful where people have had longer experience than they have had upon the west coast.

10959. Then you have offered them a portion of Vatersay?
—Not of Vatersay, but of what was formerly the grazing of Vatersay. We have offered them the whole of the portion of the grazing of Vatersay, which is on the mainland, and close to the port. We have offered it at a less rent than the agents of General Macneill valued it at in 1836, and at the same rent we could have let it to a tenant who would have given no trouble, but paid his rent across the table. The place is supposed to carry seven hundred sheep and forty cattle in a good season. I wanted them to take only seven sheep each and a cow, and I proposed that they should select a committee of five, so that they might manage the sheep in a way that would bring them some return. I was particularly anxious that, in giving them this piece of ground, arrangements should be made so that the sheep stock might be managed in a way which would be profitable to themselves, and would open the eyes of the other crofters on the other parts of the estate, so that they might be induced to adopt a somewhat similar mode of managing their stock. Latterly, Mr Phillips wrote to me that they were not able or not willing to buy the seven sheep, which is little more than one-third of the sheep stock on the grazing ground. The grazing ground offered to them was about 1700 acres.

10960. We understand that you are to meet us at our next station. Will you have the goodness to give a general view of the management of the estate on Monday?
—I shall do so on Monday or Tuesday. I beg also to hand in the list of the committee appointed by the tenants to give information as to any grievance requiring remedy, if it was possible to do so.

No comments:

Post a Comment