Barra, 26 May 1883 - Thomas Ross

THOMAS Ross, Fish Curer, Burghead, Morayshire (57)—examined.
10586. The Chairman.
Have you any statement to make to us?
—Yes. In regard to telegraphic communication, I beg leave to say that we stand much in need of some more facilities.

10587. Will you explain what the object or purpose of it principally is—to notify where and what ?
—Looking to the number of boats and curers we have got here, we have very bad facilities for doing business as regards postal or telegraphic communication. For instance, if we were sending away a telegram from here to-day, it would not be at Loch Boisdale for two days, going by the regular postal boat across the sound. If we had the telegraph on to Castle Bay it would be a great facility for the fish curing interest.

10588. Where is the nearest telegraphic point?
—At Loch Boisdale, I understand.

10589. Then you wish it to be brought on from that place to Castle Bay?

10590. Would it be submarine the whole way ?
—No, about six or eight miles.

10591. And that would be very useful to you in the transaction of your business ?
—Yes, very much so.

10592. With reference to the announcement that you had so much fish to despatch, or for what purpose?
—In the first place, we require to take all our fish curing utensils, stock, and salt from home. We only take out part at the first of the season, and then according to the success of the fishing we have to seud home for additional supplies. We have no communication to let them know what we require, without facilities. As regards salt, we take perhaps fifty or one hundred barrels per boat, and that may be consumed in a very short time. If we had telegraphic communication, we could send home for it, and have a vessel despatched immediately, giving us a supply in a very few days. Another thing is, that we would have communication with our continental markets, to see what market would suit us best. It takes about six days for a letter to come from our quarter to here, and it will take three days for a telegram. I had one lately which was five days on the way.

10593. What are your principal continental markets?
—Hamburg, Stettin, Danzic, Konigsberg, St Petersburg.

10594. They are all in the North Sea or in the Baltic?
—Yes. Then we have about 350 boats between here and Vatersay fishing at this moment, and these 350 boats are valued at £400 a boat.

10595. Including nets?
—Nets and boat. I understand that is a low calculation.

10596. What is the average tonnage of these good boats?
—I suppose it may be about twenty-five tons.

10597. And you think that one of these good boats all found is worth about £400?
—On an average, including the nets. Now each of these boats coming here would wire home on their arrival—350 boats—and also previous to their leaving, which would be some consideration to the telegraphic department. Then we take out about two women to each boat —some have one and some have two—and these women would be telegraphing home, and we have a cooper for every two or three boats, and there are thirty-three curers in Castle Bay and twelve in Vatersay. The amount of telegraphing which they would have would be something considerable.

10598. Are most of the women brought from the east coast, or are most of them found on the island? —Most of them on the island.

10599. What number of women are generally brought from the east coast ?
—I could scarcely say, but an average of one or two per boat.

10600. Do they come round with the boats?
—Some come round with the boats, and some come by Oban.

10601. Do the women generally belong to the families of the men who come with the boats, or are they hired?
—Well, they are hired, but they generally belong to the men as a rule.

10602. How long does it take for the boats to come round when they come round the north of Scotland ?
—They come round by the Pentland Firth in two or three days. I believe three days is considered a good
passage. Coming through the canal, they take four or five days.

10603. Mr Cameron,
Which way do most of them come ?
—By the canal.

10604. The Chairman.
Is the use of the canal increasing?
—I really cannot say for that.

10605. Have you made any application to the postmaster-general about this matter?
—We petitioned the postmaster-geueral three times since I came here first. This is my fifteenth season in Castle Bay, and during that time we have petitioned the postmaster-general three times.

10606. Was that for postal communication?
—No, for telegraphic communication.

10607. What answer did you get?
—-They were to take it into consideration. Last year we had 490 boats between here and Vatersay, but
owing to the failure of the fishing last year the number of boats has been reduced, but we have hopes of a good supply this year.

10608. Do you pay a great amount in wages?—As regards the women we take out from home, we generally allow them so much during the season —£3, £3, 10s. or £1. The women on the island receive £1 of earnest, and what they can make per barrel—eightpence per barrel.

10609. And they realise about the same amount?
—If the fishing is good they will realise about £ 3 or 50s. on an average.

10610. How many men are employed in the business?
—Each boat has about six men.

10611. To what extent are they paid by you?
—We do not pay these men. We only pay according to their fishing, so much per cran.

10612. You do pay the men so much per cran?
—We pay the skipper of the boat, and he generally has one or two or three fishing along with him. The crew is generally made up by four men from home.

10613. Then there are men employed on the beach?
—The coopers.

10614. Are there any men actually employed in preparing the fish?
—That is all done by women.

10615. Where do you get the casks?
—We make them all at home on the east coast.

10616. Where does the wood come from, the staves and hoops?
—We get it round our own district principally, and some from Norway. There is not much comiug into our district to speak of from Norway, but Aberdeen, Peterhead, and Fraserburgh are greatly supplied from Norway.

10617. What are the barrels made of?
—Some fir and some larch. These are the two principal qualities. Larch is preferable.

10618. In your transactions with the women or the men whom you employ, do you ever pay in goods, or do you always pay in money ?
—All cash. We deal in no goods.

10619. There is no truck system of any description in your hands ?
—Nothing whatever.

10620. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie
Do you think the fishing here is capable of being developed ?
—Perfectly so.

10621. How long do you remain here each year?
—Generally about seven or eight weeks. We arrive about the first days of May and our time is out on the 23rd of June. Then we have our fish to prepare after the boats leave.

10622. What is the usual fishing time?
—Generally from the 15th or 20th of May to the 23rd of June. If we have fish when the boat's time is out, we have the fish to prepare afterwards, and to see them shipped, so we calculate upon being on the island for about eight weeks.

10623. Do you know if there is any fishing of any kind during the rest of the year ?

10624. What kind?
—Ling is the principal fishing, I believe.

10625. Is it a good station for the ling fishing?
—I understand so. I do not do anything in it myself, but I understand it is a good station for ling. I believe there are great quantities caught at times.

10626. Is it a good fishing station to keep the fishermen employed all the year round ?
—I understand it is.

10627. But of your own knowledge you do not know?
—Not of my own experience, because I never did anything in that line. I understand they do a great deal here with lobsters. Now, taking into consideration 350 boats at eighty crans per boat on the average—we are bound to take one hundred and fifty per boat, but average it at eighty crans—it comes to about £70,000. The fish cost us about £2 per cran. After paying bounty money and all other expenses, I average them at £2,10s. per barrel, and taking eighty craus per boat, it comes to about £70,000. It is a good amount of money that we have at stake. Then we take out one hundred and fifty barrels per boat, and I value these at five shillings per barrel, which comes to £ 37, 10s ; salt, £ 10 per boa t ; bounty money to each boat, £50, coopers' labour and women's labour per boat, £ 20 ;—in all, £117,10s.When these things are taken into account I think we are justified in advocating telegraphic communication as much as possible.

10628. What is the bounty ?
— £ 50. I pay that, and many others I know pay the same.

10629. What is the nature of the payment?
—When we engage these boats to go and fish for us, we give them so much per cran and £ 50 of bounty money. This bounty is just given as a compliment; we do not receive any benefit if we do not receive fish.

10630. It is a sum to secure their services?
—Yes, and they have £ 1 or £ 2 earnest money after that. I pay £ 50 of bounty money and £ 2 of
earnest to each boat.

10631. When do they receive that £50?
—Immediately on our arrival home.

10632. Do you arrange the prices before you leave home?
—Perhaps six months before we leave home.

10633. What prices do you give?
—Some fifteen or sixteen shillings per cran for about a week at the beginning—from the 15th to the 23rd or 24th of May—and then twenty shillings all over. Some do not commence to take their fish till the 20th of May.

10634. You do not settle with them till they are home?
—We give them so much to pay expenses, and settle with them immediately after arrival home.

10635. Is the price the same every year?
—No, it varies. The bounty money is the same every year.

10636. That is to say, there is sometimes more competition to secure men?
—Yes, and according to the fishing. Last year men were not willing to come out without a higher bounty.

10637. Mr Cameron.
Besides the reasons you have given for requiring additional telegraphic facilities here, is it the case that you would be very much better off if you had better means of communicating with steamers to come and fetch away the fish when there are more fish brought in at one time than at another ?
—Yes, that is very much required.

10638. You wish to telegraph that there is an extra supply of fish, so as to get it away rapidly ?

10639. I suppose that not having this telegraphic communication, you feel yourselves placed at a considerable disadvantage as compared with those on the east coast, who have these advantages ?
—Very much so. We can do no business in a manner without being prepared at once with all we get We made a great preparation last year at the commencement of the season to see what the result was, and I suppose the average of each boat did not come to £10. My own average was six crans.

10640. And you think that in fairness you should be placed upon an equality with the curers on the east coast?

10641. In any replies which you have had from the postmaster-general has he ever alluded to the cost of laying down a wire between here and Loch Boisdale ?
—Not to our petition, but I believe that was done to the proprietor.

10642. Did you happen to hear what that cost was stated at?
—No, I did not.

10643. Did you hear that one reason was on account of the tides and the difficulty of laying down the wire in the sea, because the tides were so strong ?
—I did hear that.

10644. Do you think that might be overcome?
—Yes; it is only in that one sound. The breadth is six or seven miles.

10645. Do you know who has been surveying the ground?

10646. I suppose there are other places in the United Kingdom where telegraphic cables are laid now under similar difficulties ?
—More so, I thiuk.

10647. Are you aware there was a select committee of the House of Commons sitting last year on the subject of fisheries, and especially as to what purpose the surplus fund derived from the herring brand should be devoted ?

10648. Was there a Mr Ferguson examined before that committee from Loch Boisdale ?

10649. Are you aware that iu the report of that committee it was recommended that this place, Barra, being without telegraphic communication, was a very great source of hardship and injury to the fishing interest ?

10650. And they recommended Parliament to find the money for the purpose of supplying the deficiency? —Yes.

10651. So I hope you feel encouraged in persevering in your attempts by that fact ?
—Yes. I hope and have confidence that it will be here if I come back next year.

10652. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
The local requirements would not need the telegraph; it is only the fishing?
—I would not say, but there are some gentlemen here who would require the telegraph as well as we do.

10653. But that is of comparatively minor importance?

10654. Are you aware that the post-office, when applications are made to them for extensions such as this, are always willing to do it if a guarantee is made that they will have a certain return for their outlay ?

10655. Do you know whether any sum has ever been stated that would pay the post-office, under which they would give this line?
—No, I never heard the sum stated, but I have heard that Lady Gordon Cathcart offered so much as a guarantee.

10656. I suppose the fish curers and others would not be disposed to do more than use the wire considerably?
—Well, I don't know about that. I heard it talked of here not long ago that they would be willing to do
something before they would want it.

10657. Do you think that is the general idea among your colleagues and others in business—that they would do this ?
—I really do think so.

10658. Can you give us any idea how much money will be left in this locality by each boat during the six weeks of the year ?
—I should say there would be from £600 to £700 altogether for women alone.

10659. I presume that most of your supplies you bring with you?
—Yes, but there is a good deal of money spent here in groceries forbye what we take out.

10660. By the crews of the boats?
—By the crews and fish curers and women.

10661. Then how much do you put it at altogether? You have mentioned a sum for women; would you double that for men during the six weeks ?
—Yes. There are a good many men engaged here for the boats. Some boats have one man and some two men belonging to the island, who receive from £5 to £7 each, and they have their meat during the time
provided by the owners of the boat.

10662. So you would run the amount up to £1500?
—Yes, I am bound to say that all that money is left behind. I know, since I came to this island first of all, a great deal of difference in the appearance of the people. I think they are getting better.

10663. What interest has the proprietrix, Lady Gordon Cathcart, in giving a guarantee ? Do you pay her any rent?

10664- In which form?
—We pay £5 each to Lady Gordon Cathcart for the ground we occupy to cure the fish on.

10665. How many curers are there?
—There are thirty-three in Castle Bay and twelve in Yatersay—forty-five altogether. Each of these pays £5
for his ground.

10666. Is that the only benefit she receives ?—No. After that we pay seven shillings and sixpence for each boat for spreading the nets to dry. Each boat has to pay that, use it or not use it.

10667. One of the delegates complained that it is taken from them?
—We pay it to the factor.

10668. But you take it off the men?
—Yes, just according to bargain. Some do not. But we have to pay that seven shillings and sixpence for
each boat in the loch, spread or not spread our nets.

10669. That is £5 per curer and seven shillings and sixpence per boat?

10670. As regards your provisions, do you try to bring everything you can with you ?
—Yes. There is one thing we are very much at a loss for here, namely, butcher meat. We have to take it all from home.

10671. Can you get plenty milk?
—I sometimes have a privilege from Dr Macgillivray, who sends me a jar now and then, which is the only
milk I see.

10672. Fresh butter?

10673. Eggs?
—Plenty; any amount of eggs.

10674. That is the only thing the cottars can give you?

10675. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
Do the crews whom you employ get their supplies from you?
—No. They provide themselves from the merchants at home.

10676. You do not assist them?
—Anything we give them is all in cash. We give them no groceries.

10677. Sheriff Nicolson.
What do they get for eggs at this time of the year?
—Fivepence or sixpence per dozen.

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