South Uist, 28 May 1883 - John Mackay

JOHN MACKAY, Crofter, Kilphedar (75)—examined.

11088. The Chairman.—Have you a paper to submit to the Commission ?
The following is an exact statement of part of the grievances and hardbhps of us, the crofters of Kilphedar. We have suffered much injustice during upwards of the last forty years through having been deprived of a great extent of hill pasturage by Dr M'Leod, the then factor of Colonel Gordon, for which he promised us compensation, meaning a reduction of our rent. At the following Whitsunday he was expelled from the office of factorship without fulfilling his promise. We claimed the compensation from the succeeding factor, but was refused, saying that he would not make any alteration in the books, but leave them in the same way in which he found them. We claimed the compensation from every succeeding factor, with the same result. There
are over forty crofters and cottars located on the land, deprived from us as above mentioned upwards of forty years ago, while we pay the same rent yet, without any reduction whatever. There were twenty-three crofts in this township at first; the rent was raised on account of the ware being growing at both ends of our land suitable for making kelp; but kelp making has ceased, by which we paid our rent, but the rent remains as it was formerly. We have suffered many injustices while we were making the kelp, viz., we were every third year, for ten years, compelled to leave our own kelp stance to others who were destroying our grass and corn, while we had to go to tacksmen's lands to make kelp; after being there all summer the case generally was that we would not make as much kelp as would pay the grazing of our horses, while nothing was allowed to ourselves for any loss we sustained through those who were making kelp on our own lands. We were not allowed to keep a dog, though we would pay licence for it. Our sheep were chased and gathered to a certain place called a fault by the ground officer, constables, and other helpers, through the order of the factor, in order to see if any crofter had more than ten sheep, which was the number allowed for us to keep however high the rent of the croft might be; if it happened that any person had more than the above number he was obliged to buy grazing from a neighbour short of the above number; the reason for that was, and still is, that we were deprived of our former hill pasturage, which we claim and trust to get possession of yet. Ground officer and constables used to come two or three days before the market's day to our houses, marking our stock which was ready for the market, compelling us to drive them to the factor's house, so as to avoid us the freedom of selling them at the market ourselves. We were obliged to make potato parks to the proprietrix on our rented land; which we cultivated from mere wild moor with crooked and common spades, carrying the whole of the manure on our backs where horses could not walk, that being done without any abatement of rent. These parks are fenced, the grazing of which is let to the highest bidder. Our peats stance has been taken from us to make room for crofters and cottars, where they have a miserable living. If we complain of being overcrowded, the factor's answer is, " There is no room for the people in the country." Yes, there is plenty for twice or thrice as many, from where others were driven and compelled to emigrate to America; some of whom had been tied before our eyes, others hiding themselves in caves and crevices for fear of being
caught by authorised officers. There is twice or thrice as much waste arable land in South Uist as there is under cultivation. Our land is so inferior in quality that it will not yield one-eighth part of a year's allowance for our families. We are thus under the necessity of buying from Glasgow seven-eighths of a year's allowance of our victuals, and that of the most inferior quality, such as Indian meal, and the cheapest groceries; also our clothing, for want of sheep and competent holding. As there is plenty of arable land in the country not used or cultivated, we want as much of it (both of arable and hill pasturage) as will support our families comfortably, and that at a reasonable rent, with security that we shall not be removed from our holdings as long as we can pay rent for it. We never appealed to Lady Cathcart for the above grievances, but repeatedly to her representatives, without any result.'

11089. How many crofters and cottars are living on the township of Kilphedar?
—Forty-two families.

11090. Professor Mackinnon.—Are they all paying rent to the proprietor?
—They are all paying rent.

11091. The Chairman —Is there any hill pasture?

11092. No hill pasture at all ?
—None now.

11093. How long is it since the hill pasture was taken away?
—Thirtyeight years ago.

11094. What has become of it? Whom was it given to?
—It belongs to the crofters of North Loch Boisdale here.

11095. Have you got a whole croft, or part of a croft ?
—A whole croft.

11096. About what acreage is it?
—I have no knowledge of acres at all.

11097. Then what is the stock you keep ?
—I have three cows, one twoyear-old, three stirks, one horse, four sheep, one pig.

11098. What is your rent?
—£10, 7s.

11099. Has that rent been increased since you got the croft?
—No, not increased.

11100. Are the other crofters in the township much in the same position as you are ?
—In the same way.

11101. If you could get hill pasture, would you be satisfied ?
—If we get what was taken from us. Our peat banks were taken from us, and other parks that have been especially enclosed by the proprietrix have also been taken from us, and we have no common grazing.

11102. But have you got other grazing equally as good?
—I can only answer for myself. I would be satisfied if I got an equal portion of land elsewhere, but I would prefer to get what belonged to us originally.

11103. Is there any land belonging to some tack which could be given to vou for hill pasture?
—No land lying suitably adjacent to our present holding.

11104. Do you take any grazing from tacksmen, or do you keep this stock upon your own crofts?
—Perhaps a very few of them may for a few days obtain grazing from the tacksmen in order to put their cattle into a condition for market.

11105. Do they pay the tacksman in labour or pay him in money?
—We give days of labour—making hay stacks in harvest time. He is not very hard upon us.

11106. You are an old man. Do you think the people were much better off in their clothing and food in your young days than they are now, or are they as well off now ?
—We were very much better off in food and clothing when I was young. When I was a young man, I would complain very much of the food I take to-day.

11107. Sheriff Nicolson.—What is the difference between the food you had in your youth and the food you have now ?
—We had butter, cheese, flesh, potatoes, and meal, of which we cannot to-day partake, and plenty of them, of which to-day there is very little.

11108. What is your ordinary food now ?
—I am almost ashamed to tell you. We have tea and eggs, and sometimes not sufficient milk to put into our tea, and sometimes not sufficient sugar.

11109. Have you not plenty of bread?
—I will tell the truth. I have a little bread, but only a little. If I would take the advice of the ground officer, I would not have even that little food to-day.

11110. What is the advice of the ground officer?
—The ground officer told me that if he had known I had applied to the local factor for seed corn, he would have prevented me getting it, because I trespassed in ploughing some bit of land beyond the orders of the ground officer.

11111. Have you ceased to make kelp here ?

11112. How long since ?
—About five years ago.

11113. What are you getting for it ?
—No value.

11114. You made a great deal of money by it when you were young?
— Yes. I could make four or five tons of kelp myself, for which I would get from £2 to £2, 10s. a ton. That kept me from getting into arrears, and also helped me to buy food, but now that source of income has gone.

11115. I have heard in some other islands that the people are less cheerful and jovial than they used to be long ago. Is there any difference in that respect here ?
—They are not quite so foolish now-a-days as they were when I was young. The struggle for existence is too strong for them now.

11116. Then there is not much gaiety in their life ?

11117. But they have not given up singing songs, I hope?
—Oh no, they have not given up songs.

11118. And they have not given up piping ?

11119. I suppose the ministers in South Uist are not against these things ?
—I do not think the Free Church clergyman near me is caring much about music or dancing or songs. He is an exception. I never heard any of my own priests object, if we behaved ourselves about it.

11120. And the parish minister?
—No, I never heard that the parish minister objected to anything of the kind, and I don't know whether he is
or is not present here to-day, but he is a good friend to the country.

11121. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—You say there are forty-two crofters now on Kilphedar?

11122. You also state in this paper that there were originally only twenty-three crofters ?

11123. How did that increase come—Was it from the natural increase among the people themselves, or were there any outsiders placed among them?
—Partly natural increase, and partly some of those that were dispossessed of the lands at Frobost, as already spoken of.

11124. Can you mention the numbers ? Of the increase of nineteen, how many were from Frobost ?

11125. Could you pay your rents easily, or be in pretty good circumstances, if you had the hill ground as you originally had, and for the same rent ?

11126. I want to ask you about peats. It seems to be a great grievance that there are cottars placed among your peats. Is the result of that, that you have to go further away, or that the peats are getting scarcer ?
—The cottars spoil our peat moss.

11127. What do you mean by spoiling it?
—They converted it into arable land, where we used to cut our peats.

11128. And you had to go elsewhere?

11129. There is a grievance about parks? Do I understand that the people of Kilphedar reclaimed certain lands and enclosed them with walls, which are now in the possession of the landlord ?

11130. Is that let from year to year, or in whose hands are those parks ?
—They are valued, and that value is paid by those who are able to pay for it in the township.

11131. Do I understand you to say that besides the reclamation you built the dykes at your own cost ?
—No, we were paid for reclaiming it.

11132. What did you get?
—We were receiving 14s. for reclaiming a space that was containing a barrel of seed potatoes.

11133. And you got that ?

11134. You mention a grievance that the ground officer was in the habit of ordering them to drive in their cattle for the purpose of taking them out for sale, and giving his own price ?
—It is two years since it ceased.

11135. Did the ground officer, or whoever went about in this way, name his own price to the people?
—No, they were valued on the home farm at Askernish afterwards. The animals were carried away, and afterwards valued on the farm of Askernish

11136. Whatever price was fixed upon had you a voice in the fixing of the price ?
—Some were marked by the proprietor, but left in the possession of the original holders, who went afterwards to market with them, and got better prices than for those that were delivered over and valued.

11137. Then it was no advantage to the crofter tenantry that these animals were taken from them ?
—If we got good value, it mattered not to us.

11138. The beast was taken off to the home farm of Askernish, and there priced. Had you any voice in the pricing of the animal at Askernish?
—Two tacksmen—Mr M'Leod and Mr Ferguson—were the valuators.

11139. Did the tenants and the crofters generally complain of this system, which has now been happily done away with ?
—Yes, they did complain.

11140. Was it in consequence of their complaints that Mr Macdonald ordered it to be given up
—Mr Macdonald did nothing wrong to us since he became factor over us but what was wrong before. He merely followed out the old customs.

11141. I mentioned Mr Macdonald's name because I presume he was the person who gave orders to stop the system ?
—I believe that is right.

11142. You make a very serious charge in this paper which requires a little explanation. You say—' Others were driven and compelled to emigrate to America, some of whom had been tied before our eyes, others hiding themselves in caves and crevices, for fear of being caught by authorised officers,' will you explain those words ?
—I heard and saw portions of it.

11143. Will you relate what you heard and saw?
—I saw a policeman chasing a man down the macher towards Askernish, with a view to catch him, in order to send him on board an emigrant ship lying in Loch Boisdale. I saw a man who lay down on his face and nose on a little island, hiding himself from the policeman, and the policeman getting a dog to search for this missing man in order to get him on board the emigrant ship.

11144. What was the name of the man ?
—Lachlan Macdonald.

11145. What was the name of the previous person you referred to?
—Donald Smith.

11146. Did the dog find this unfortunate youth
—The dog did not discover him, but the man was afterwards discovered all the same. He had got into the trench of a lazy bed.

11147. What was done with him ?
—He was taken off.

11148. And really sent off like an animal that was going to the southern markets ?
—Just the same way.
11149. Did you hear that the same thing was done to others, although you did not see it ?
—A man named Angus Johnston, whose wife gave birth to three children, and another child was dead before, he was seized and tied upon the pier of Loch Boisdalc ; and it was by means of giving him a kick that he was put into the boat and knocked down. The old priest interfered, and said, ' What arc you doing to this man ? Let him alone. It is against the law.' The four children were dead in the house when he was caught and tied, and knocked down by a kick, and put on board.

11150. Speaking generally, are you able to say from hearsay that you have no doubt in your own mind there were many other hardships and cruelties committed in the course of these evictions ?
—Yes, no doubt. I myself had charge of a squad of men working on a road when Mr Chisholm and Murdoch M'Lennan wished me to go to Loch Eynort to bring people out of their homes to be sent out in an emigrant ship.

11151. Who were these two people you named ?
—Just tacksmen in the country, with the view of clearing the country for themselves.

11152. What did you say to that ?
— The office does not belong to me. I am in charge of a squad of men working upon these roads, paid by the
proprietor. I have nothing to do with searching houses or taking men out of them. If you have constables send them. They went away and sent other constables after that.

11153. The Chairman.
—You speak of a man who hid himself, and was discovered and taken by force on board. Did that man belong to a family which was going away ?
—A brother also went away at the same time, and there is a nephew here to-day.

11154. What was the age of the man who was taken away?
—Over twenty years.

11155. Professor Mackinnon.
—Were his father and mother going that day ?—His father and mother were both dead at that time.

11156. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—Were they in the habit of sending away husbands without their wives? —No. I never heard any instance of that kind, unless a man voluntarily left his wife when they would disagree.

11157. But you understand that one man was put on board a vessel by force with four dead children in the house, where was the wife at that time ?
—She followed him on board.

11158. Professor Mackinnon.—The dead children would be buried before that ?
—The four dead bodies were buried before the mother went on board.

11159. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—I think you mentioned in Gaelic that that was a case you had heard of, but had not seen
—No, I did not see it, but I knew both the husband and the wife.

11160. How long is it since this happened
—In 1850 or 1851.

11161. Who was the factor at that time?
—Mr Fleming; and this was the year the late Mr Birnie came to be factor.

11162. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—Was that the last forcible eviction which occurred on these estates? —Yes. Five emigrant ships left Loch Boisdale, and that was the last occasion of any forcible eviction between
this and Barra.

11163. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—You complain that the proprietor took possession of part of your lands—the reclaimed lands. What is the extent of the reclaimed lands of which you have been deprived? —There are three parks, and two of them contain about thirty acres. I cannot tell the acreage of the third.

11164. Were they valuable grazing ground?
—Yes, they were cropping it.

11165. You get fair wages for the reclamations
—We did receive payment as already stated. We would have been much better pleased if they had left the ground to ourselves.

11166. You got no reduction of rent?
—No. We don't complain of any of the present factors, they did not do the harm. They simply exact from us what former ones exacted.

11167 But this reclamation took place under the present factor, did it not?
—Yes, but I think it was against Mr Macdonald's wish that the late factor Mr Walker did make those parks in certain places. Mr Macdonald's intention was to reclaim land that had never before been cropped, and not
to enclose land that was formerly cropped.

11168. And is Mr Macdonald aware that laud which had been formerly cropped has been taken from you? —Yes.

11169. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—You said that five ships went from Loch Boisdale. Were all the people who were on board sent from the
Gordon estates ?
—From Benbecula to Barra Head.

11170. I want to ask you this general question. Were the lands from which these people were sent away at that time given to the crofters in any part, or were they added to tacks, or made into new tacks ?
—Some of them at the south end were given to crofters by doubling the crofts. But most of the lands were added to the tacks of Askernish and Milton. Frobost, of which we have heard to-day already, was cleared, and added to a neighbouring tack, and also Kildonan. Twenty-seven families were evicted from Kildonan, and also about twenty-four families from Bornish.

11171. And these were all added to the big farms?
—Yes. There would be fully twelve in Lower Bornish.

11172. Are you on ground which formerly belonged to Clanranald
— Yes, the whole country there.

11173. Were there any removals in their times?
—None but those who would voluntarily go.

1 comment:

  1. He was my ancestor. The best statements are found in the Glasgow Herald for that day. The quotes in the commission were edited. He was asked by Carmichael to speak Gaelic and he replied English is our first langauge which it always has been. He lived to great age