South Uist, 28 May 1883 - Donald Macdonald

DONALD MACDONALD, Crofter, South Boisdale (71)—examined.

11237. The Clurirman.—Have you a statement to make to the Commission?
—Yes. It is as follows:—' Statement of the Tenants of South Boisdale. Before two Frobost's and Kildonan's people were removed we were better off than we are at present, as we were overcrowded by them. We suffered by their coming among us, and they suffered as much by being forced to come, and their holdings given to tacksmen. There are nineteen crofts in South Boisdale, and there are twenty-nine families on the nineteen. Six cottars are on our common ground ; two of them pay some rent to the factor, though we are under their damage. Four paupers have houses along with them, and they are very destructive to our crops, besides what they have of our land. The common ground was our best arable land; we took it in ourselves, and improved it. The rest of our land is very stony, excepting bits of macher we have. So it was from the common ground we would get the best of our crop in potatoes, and corn, and grazing, were it not for them aforesaid destroying it. About thirty years ago Boisdale was lotted longways ; nine of our crofts was cut across, and put in a lot to Boisdale. We got a gusset of land for what we lost, though not half so good; but five or six years afterwards the ground officer came to us with a paper to sign, to clear ourselves of that gusset; and he said, " Any of you that will refuse to sign will be removed." We were promised a reduction in rent We signed for fear of being removed, but no reduction as yet. There is no fishing of any kind going on in our township. We all depend on the land, and in a bad year of this kind on Messrs D. Ferguson & Co. ; and were it not for them, the most of us must have starved this year, and his account will show so. If all our debt was paid very few of us would be left a horse and a cow of his own. A few years ago we were forced to make potatoes for the proprietor; for fear of vengeance we submitted. The people of four townships made them on our peat ground. That park is out of crop this year, and the grazing let to two men unknown to the rest; and we consider that unfair, as the whole township stands in need of it. Our rent was not raised, only we lost the good of our common ground; but we consider our rent too high by cash, as this place was rented when kelp was in demand; with a promise to reduce it if comes any failure in the kelp. Kelp is of no use now, and it is very little work of any kind that is to pay anything. If South Boisdale was tenanted as formerly— one tenant on each croft and the common ground clear, as it was twenty-eight years ago—with the liberty our forefathers have had on the hillpasture, and the rent reduced, or the kelp raised to the price it was drawing when the land was rented according to the price of kelp, we would be better off than we are. At last Martinmas there was a general change to be on the crofters ; but Mr Macdonald, the chief factor, gave us the situation we have. He said as the township was so small, and the people so numerous, and land so scarce, that he would let us be as we were, though there is land which our forefathers have had in Uist. But within five months afterwards the ground officer marked out a piece of our common ground to a cottar. When we saw the promise broken in such a short time, we gathered together, and told the cottar to stop work on our land for two days, till we would get the case settled at the factor's; but he did not heed us. That shows the cottars have more liberty than the tenants, but we know why, because they are only troubling the poor tenants. We pay very high for poor rates and school dues. We will get notice very clever now how much is to pay, but no account of how that money is used.'

11238. Sheriff Nicolson.—How long have you been in South Boisdale?
—I came first from Kildonan to North Boisdale, and then I left that and went to South Boisdale. My father was evicted from Kildonan.

11239. When did you come to the place you are now in ?
—I have been in South Boisdale for thirty-three or thirty-four years.

11240. What is your rent?
—£7, 9s.

11241. Has it been changed since you came first?
—It has not been changed on me.

11242. Have you the same ground that you had ?

11243. What stock do you keep?
—I wish to explain that my son is with me on the croft, I have two cows and a horse, and a two-year-old
heifer, and my son has also a cow and a horse.

11244. How many is that altogether ?
—We have four cows between us, and two horses.

11245. Have you any sheep?
—I have four sheep myself, and my son has none.

11246. What is the condition of the land compared with what it was thirty years ago?
—By continuous cropping the land is getting so very thin and poor, and the ground being rocky, the soil is being gradually washed away from those rocks into the Atlantic. Our grazing is very much circumscribed now, owing to the settling of so many squatters upon these lands.

11247. Do these cottars pay rent to the proprietor?
—I am told they pay £ 1 or 30s. to the proprietor.

11248. Do they keep any cattle?
—They don't keep any cattle beasts unless they have a few sheep, but these are equally troublesome to us.

11249. Where do these sheep pasture?
—Through our township.

11250. What was the extent of the gusset of land taken from you about twenty-five years ago ?
—Two crofts.

11251. Was it two crofts that were cut away out of the land
—Only a small piece—about an acre each.

11252. Was that done without asking the people's leave ?
—Their consent was not asked.

11253. Was there a paper sent round for them to sigu, agreeing to it?
—No, I know nothing about it.

11254. But it is mentioned in this paper
—'Afterwards the ground officer came to us with a paper to sign to clear ourselves of that gusset, and he said, " Any of you that will refuse to sign will be removed."' Is that not correct ?
—I have heard nothing about a paper.

11255. Who wrote this paper which you have presented?
—Donald M'Phie, He is here to-day.

11256. After this paper was made out, was it explained to you what had been put in it ?
—I know it was the ground officer that pointed out that piece of land for this new settler. I know nothing about the paper.

11257. Who are Messrs D, Ferguson & Co. that have kept them from starving this year ?
—A merchant in South Loch Boisdale—the one who kept alive all the people in the country this year.

11258. What does he charge you for the meal ?—The last boll of meal I took from there cost me 32s.

11259. Is that the old boll ?
—Yes, half of a big bag.

11260. Is it flour or oatmeal ?

11261. Was it good ?
—We could get better quality.

11262. Do you know the weight of a boll?
—No, I don't know.

11263. Why do you take flour instead of oatmeal, which you were accustomed to before ?
—There is a portion of the people so poor that they must buy the cheapest food

11264. What is the difference in price between flour and oatmeal?
—I believe only 2s. of difference between the one and the other.

11265. In what shape do you eat that flour?
—Baking it with soda,

11266. Do you eat porridge at all ?
—Only when we have oatmeal. We take barley meal porridge also when we have it.

11267. What food do the children generally get?
—The children get baked flour and tea.

11268. Why do you give tea to the children?
—Because we have no milk or anything else to give'them but tea ; and it is with hen eggs that we are purchasing the tea, and sometimes the tea is black, without sugar or cream.

11269. You sell your eggs, I suppose, to Ferguson & Co.; what do you generally get for them a dozen? —Sixpence a dozen.

11270. What do you pay for the tea?
—Three shillings a pound.

11271. When you want tea and have eggs, I suppose you just bring the eggs and get the tea and other things in exchange ?
—Yes; and often we are obliged to go for tea when we have no eggs to bring with us.

11272. Do you keep pass books with the merchant?

11273. So that you always know exactly what you are owing?

11274. They say—'A few years ago we were forced to make potatoes for the proprietor,' what does that mean ?
—I was myself engaged on that land, and carrying sea-ware on my back to it.

11275. What land is that?
—In South Boisdale.

11276. Is it land in the possession of the proprietrix ?
—Land belonging to our own township.

11277. But were the potatoes made for Lady Cathcart?

11278. Was it for herself to eat, or what?
—It was on her behalf, so far as I know.

11279. Did she furnish the seed ?

11280. Did she pay for the labour?

11281. What pay did you get?
—We were paid for our work. I don't remember exactly to the penny what I got, but I was paid.

11282. How much land was occupied by these potatoes?
—I believe it would be about eight acres.

11283. How many years did this continue?—Three years.

11284. Was there a crop taken in that way last year?
—There was no crop last year.

11285. Why?
—It was white crop the year before, and left out.

11286. What is to be done with it this year?
—The grazing of it is given for money value to some people.

11287. But, according to the statement of the paper, the ground is part of the ground for which you are paying yourselves. Is that so ?
—Yes, it is part of the lands of our township.

11288. Then if it is let to any of you for grazing, and you pay for it, you are paying twice over ?

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