South Uist, 28 May 1883 - Donald Black

DONALD BLACK (M.B. Glasgow) (44)—examined.
11511. Sheriff Nicolson. —How long have you lived here ?
—Upwards of six years.

11512. You came from Mull to this country ?
—Yes, from Bunessan.

11513. And, as we have seen to-day, you know the language of the people well and can converse freely with them in it ?

11514. What do you think of the condition of the people here compared with Mull, where you lived before? —The crofters of Mull are better off as regards their house accommodation than they are here, but I don't know if they are better off as regards stock.

11515. Are the houses of the psople here generally poor in accommodation?
—I think so.

11516. Is the custom of having cattle under the same roof with human beings still prevalent ?
—It is to a large extent.

11517. Do you think that has had any prejudicial effect on the health of the people?
—Owing to their being constantly in the fresh air, I don't think it has the injurious effect it would otherwise have, but when fevers occur it always intensifies the illness.

11518. Of course, it makes it very difficult to keep a house clean when you have to go first through the place of the cattle ?
—Very difficult.

11519. Have you noticed any improvement in their houses in that respect during the short time you have been here ?
—I cannot say I have noticed much.

11520. You have not noticed any signs of progress ?
—I believe, on the whole, they are cleaner.

11521. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—And that is growing?
—Yes, growing.

11522. Sherif Nicolson.—As to their health generally, what have you to say?
—The public health is pretty good, except in winter and spring, spring especially. A good many chest complaints are prevalent in spring, pneumonia and some bronchitic affections, which I attribute to people
working continually upon the land with the crooked spade, poorly fed, and in that way reducing the body, and making it very liable to chills.

11523. What are the diseases most prevalent among them ?
—Pulmonary complaints in winter and spring, affections of the joints and rheumatism, which are very common in the chronic form here. Scrofulous affections are not common here.

11524. It is supposed that at one time consumption was very rare in these islands ?
—It is not my experience.

11525. Was it not rarer in former times than it is at present?
—I believe that was the fault of their not being able to diagnose properly.

11526. They used to be liable also to fevers to a very great extent?
—They are considerably liable to fever still in this parish.

11527. What kind of fever?
—Typhus fever.

11528. And I suppose the accommodation of their houses, and their proximity to each other, make it very difficult to resist the spread of these diseases ?
—Very difficult, along with bad drainage.

11529. Do you find that the children are properly clothed generally 1
—Well, upon the whole they are. You meet with exceptions, but upon the whole, they are fairly well clad. Of course there are cases where clothing is pretty scanty.

11530. You don't think they are so badly clothed that it has any generally injurious effect upon their growth or health ?
—I don't think so. It is insufficient feeding that has to do with their health, as I find, especially tea-drinking.

11531. A man to-day spoke about giving tea to the children. Is it common ?
—Quite prevalent.

11532. I suppose you don't consider that good for children ?
—I think it most injurious.

11533. In the absence of milk, what would you recommend them to drink?
—Beer, if they had cheap beer; certainly anything but tea. I think it is doing a great deal of harm to the people, especially to the rising generation.

11534. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—At what age would you begin to give beer to the children ?
—At a year or two or three years of age. I think if there was cheap beer made it would be much healthier than living upon tea.

11535. You stated that the use of the cas-chrom had a prejudicial effect upon the system ?
—I did not mean there was any specialty connected with the cas-chrom more than any other kind of spade. I mean the general labour of spring weakens the bodies of these labouring men, and renders them, on that account, much more liable to receive chills and colds.

11536. Do I understand from you then that some of that spring labour, as a rule, ought to be done by animals?
—A good deal ought to be done by animals. I have never seen so many lazy beds as I have seen in this country—that particular method of planting potatoes.

11537. Are you aware there are an unusual number of deaths among children ?
—Yes, a good many before five years of age.

11538. We are also told that children up to the age of twelve to fourteen or fifteen look pallid and gaunt, but then such of them as live grow up to be strong people. Have you observed that?
—I have.

11539. I mean that they do not look very healthy up to that age, but when they come to that age, in many cases, they spring up into strongmen and women ?
—That is true.

11540. Can you account for that?
—It is very difficult for me at the present moment to give you a reason to account for that.

11541. Is it not really because the weakest all die off?
—I don't think so.

11542. You won't say that

11543. The Chairman.—Have you had any experience of the population in manufacturing towns
—I have not. I have had no practice in cities or towns.

11544. Do you think as many children are reared in proportion to the births here as in the Lowlands or in towns
—Yes; I think so.

11545. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—And come to maturity .
—And come to maturity. The difference in their looks can be accounted for more on the ground of their food.

11546. The Chairman.—Do you think it is owing at all to the smoky atmosphere of the cottages ?
—I don't think it is owing to that.

11547. Sheriff Nicolson.—In the greater part of Skye women are subject to a great deal of laborious work unsuitable to them, of which they complain in many places as being positively one of their grievances. Are the
women here also subjected to that laborious kind of work
—Yes, they are subjected to considerable labour.

11548. Carrying creels on their back?
—Yes, loading carts, drawing barrows, and carrying sea-ware.

11549. Most of the people have horses here?
—Yes, too many horses, I think, in proportion to the rest of their stock.

11550. Do they harrow with the hand?
—I have not seen much of that in this country, but they dig with the hand. They prefer to grow their potatoes in lazy beds. They believe the potatoes flourish best in that way.

11551. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—Is it not because the land is too wet to work with the plough ?
—It may be so.

11552. Sheriff Nicolson.—Do yon think any of the women actually suffer in their constitution through the hard labour to which they are subjected?
— I have no doubt they do.

11553. I suppose you have known instances of its affecting them very injuriously?
—Yes, I have known instances.

11554. The Chairman.—Do you think that the labour of the women is in any degree imposed upon them by idleness on the part of the men, or do you think it is entirely in the nature of things ?
—It is in the nature of things. They are obliged to labour.

11555. Mr Cameron.—How do they manage to look after their children when they are working?
—They are under the charge of perhaps an older girl or boy, or perhaps the grandmother.

11556. Do the women do much labour up to near the time of their confinement?
—I should say so.

11557. Too near?
—I have never known any mishap occur on that account among them.

11558. How long do they remain at home after that?—They generally do little house work for fourteen days or so.

11559. For fourteen days they do nothing?—I believe they do, in some cases.

11560. You don't think they work too hard, either just before or after their confinement?—I don't think they do.

11561. Are there many illegitimate births here ?
—Very few ; not more than 2 per cent.

11562. Do you think less than in other parts of the Highlands?
—I think so.

11563. To what do you attribute that?
—They marry very young here, and the men are very chaste; probably their church has to do with that.

11564. Do you think it belongs more to the religion of the people here to discourage illegitimacy or bad behaviour in that respect ?
—I believe so.

11565. Are you a Roman Catholic yourself?

11566. What happens in your experience to these men and women who marry early ? What do they do when they marry ?
—They either live in the house in which they marry, or they squat outside somewhere.

11567. Which do they do generally—live in the house with their parents or squat outside ?
—I suppose they live with the parents.

11568. If they squat outside, do they build houses?
—They do.

11569. Do they obtain the consent of the proprietor or factor before squatting?
—I am not quite sure of that, but I presume they do.

11570. You are not aware there is any rule on the estate against it?
—I am not aware.

11571. Which do you consider the most injurious—the two families living in one house, or one family leaving it and squatting outside ?
—The latter, I think.

11572. You would rather they lived in the one house?
—I would rather they all lived in one house. A young husband and wife are very often associated with either parent who is getting old, and who would much prefer that they should have their hereditary descendants in the croft rather than squatting outside.

11573. But you see no inconvenience from two families in one of these small houses ?
—Most certainly it is inconvenient.

11574. How many rooms do they consist of?
—Most of them have three rooms.

11575. Of equal size, or two rooms and a closet?
—There is a sleeping place set apart, and a middle place which is used as a kitchen, and another end which is generally occupied by their cattle.

11576. Then two families don't use the same sleeping place?
—I believe they do in many cases.

11577. How many people have you known sleeping in one room of all sorts and sexes ?
—Of one family I have seen eight sick in one room, lying in fever.

11578. You mean you have been attending them?
—Yes, the whole family.

11579. And, in health, how many have you known to be commonly occupying one room ?
—As many as seven or eight people.

11580. Of all sorts and ages?
—All sorts and ages.

11581. And both sexes ?
—Both sexes.

11582. Do you attribute much of the poverty we have heard of in this island to the difficulty of disposing of these younger branches of the family when they marry—their remaining in the house or squatting?
—Most certainly.

11583. Marrying young, and not leaving the country ?
—Yes, I do. No doubt, the poverty is owing to over-population.

11584. Have you had any conversation with these people as to whether they would like to emigrate, or whether they would prefer living on the croft where they were born ?
—They would much prefer to remain at home.

11585. Have you ever urged on them the advantages of seeking their fortune abroad?
—I have certainly mentioned it to many.

11586. But they don't seem to do so?
—They prefer to remain at home, and they would very much wish to increase their holdings by sharing in
some of the tacks in the country. That is the general opinion, so far as I can glean.

11587. As there must be obvious difficulties in the way of doing that all at once, does it never occur to them to go and seek their fortunes elsewhere? They would prefer to remain as they are ?
—Yes, but I have no doubt, if they received assistance, and entire families were taken out, many would take advantage of it and emigrate.

11588. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—You think, if Government adopted a good scheme of emigration, it would be of advantage to this country ?
— As an alternative scheme.

11589. And the people would like it?
—I think some of them would.

11590. The people here build their own houses ?
—They do.

11591. You say they are not nearly so good as the houses in Mull. Do the people of Mull build their own houses ?
—They do.

11592. If the people had leases here, do you think they would be encouraged to improve their buildings, and have as good houses as those in Mull?
—They often say so, and they give it as a reason for being so backward that they have no pleasure in improving their houses and surroundings when they have no security of holding the land.

11593. Have you any idea what security the people in Mull have?
—They have no security, but I don't suppose if they pay their rent they will be disturbed.

11594. They have no promise of compensation if they are disturbed?
—No promise.

11595. You say there is a good deal of consumption in the spring of the year from over-working and under-feeding. Do you think, if it were not that the people are under-fed, they are over-worked ?
—Not at all. I don't think they are over-worked if they were properly fed. I have hardly seen any cases among tacksmen or their servants, because they are well clothed, well fed, and well housed.

11596. In books written about this country one hundred years ago, you will see it stated that from poverty the people suffered every spring from a very great deal of fever. Is that the case now ?
—Yes, it is typhus fever which is the disease of the poor, and it is associated with under-feeding.

11597. It also arises from bad drainage
—Yes, and over-crowding.

11598. But particularly under-feeding?
—Under-feeding, with the other conditions of house accommodation.

11599. You stated that the people here have as much stock as the people in Mull. In what respect are they placed in an inferior position as compared with the people of Mull ?
—As regards their houses.

11600. But as regards their earnings, the people of Mull are able to feed better than people here. They have no fever ?
—They have no fever now. They have better houses, and probably they are better fed.

11601. Why are they better fed, if they have less stock?
—I say they have less stock in proportion to the rent they pay.

11602. The people here don't pay a high rent for their stock, but they have not enough of it
—They have not enough of it.

11603. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh,.—With regard to crofters crowding and young people marrying, suppose a man has a croft and has six of a family—three sons and three daughters. The eldest son probably will succeed to the croft, but what becomes of the other two sons and three daughters ? Don't the daughters generally go out to service unless they get married ?

11604. And the younger sons go away, I presume, and earn their living ?
—In many cases they do.

11605. That is geuerally what may happen to each crofter'having a family ?

11606. Of course, if a crofter's wife dies, probably one daughter will stay at home ?

11607. You also stated you did not think the people were over-worked. Is not that a thing they should complain of, that they have not enough of work, and that there is no regular employment?
—That they have no regular employment at home.

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