South Uist, 28 May 1883 - John Mcaskill

JOHN M'CASKILL, Crofter and Fisherman, Eriskay (38)—examined.
11608. The Chairman.—Have you been freely elected a delegate?
— Yes.

11609. Professor Mackinnon.—How many are there paying rent in Eriskay ?
—There are eighty-four paying rent in our island. Three occupied it formerly.

11610. Is there any that does not pay rent?

11611. How many?
—There will be about a dozen families who pay no rent—chiefly paupers.

11612. Of those who do pay rent, what is the largest and what is the smallest rent?
—So far as I know, the biggest rent is £5, and the lowest is as low as 10s.

11613. What is the stock that a man who pays £ 5 has?
—Four or five cows, two or three small cattle, two horses, and between ten and twelve sheep.

11614. What land or stock has a man who pays 10s. ?
—He may have a cow ; I don't know of any more.

11615. What is your complaint then ? Is it that there are too many people upon that island ?
—Yes, that is my complaint. There are three times the number on that island that should be on it.

11616. You don't complain that the rents are too high?
—Yes, people complain that they pay too high rent.

11617. But the larger complaint is that there are too many of them ?
— Yes, generally there are two families residing upon each small bit of croft.

11618. You said that three had the island once; how long is that ago ?
—About thirty-five or thirty-six years ago.

11619. Where did all the others come from?
—They came from the opposite side of the ground. They were sent across to the island.

11620. From Barra or Uist?
—From Uist.

11621. And you would wish to send a good number of them back again ?
—If they had any livelihood, it is that which should be done. The place which they left is still there under cattle and sheep, where they were making a good living.

11622. Who occupies that place now ?
—Mr Robert Fergusson.

11623. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—What is the name of the place?

11624. Professor Mackinnon.—Is the place there very suitable for crofters?
—It is very suitable for fishing and crofting. A share of the present population of the island came from as far north as Benmore and as far south as the island of Boreray.

11625. How many families do you think should be left upon the island to occupy it now
—The soil has become exhausted through continuous as cropping, and where we are now workiug is nothing but rock, and the other places are bogs, ditches, aud big rocks. I think we might make a livelihood if one crofter to-day had the land of three.

11626. Are you able to pay your rents?
—They are doing their best generally.

11627. If the crofts generally were trebled, as you say, and one man put in the place of three, are there men in the island who would be able to take the stock of their two neighbours?
—No, if the arrears or debt upon the island were paid it would take all its present stock to do so.

11628. Supposing you had the people reduced to one-third of the present population would they all be crofting the land, or would they be fishing as well ?
—If we had means to enable us to stock the land, as I suggested, people would prefer working on the land to fishing. The fish has deserted the place.

11629. But supposing the fish came back again, would fishing not be more profitable than crofting ? WThat remedy would you propose, or what was the remedy the people of Eriskay asked you to propose here, to improve their condition
—The people think if they had plenty of land, and means of stocking it, that they would be well

11630. Whom do they expect to provide the means of stocking the land ?
—We don't know anything about that.

11631. Have you a school ?

11632. Is there a church ?

11633. Are the people Roman Catholics ?
—Except two or three families.

11634. I suppose the church there is a Roman Catholic church?

11635. Do some of the people of Eriskay go south?
—They always go to the east coast fishing.

11636. But I suppose they always come home again?
—They mostly return back next winter, except a few young men who go abroad in ships,

11637. Do any of the young women go away?
—Yes, young women go south to work.

11638. Do they remain away?
—Some of them remain away and some of them return.

11639. I suppose there are no families who go away and leave the place ?
—I don't know of any family who left our place at all.

11640 If the people are so poor as you say they are, how is it that some of the families don't go to some other place, where they would be better off?
—I don't know what is their reason for not going.

11641. Are you a crofter?
—I have half a croft.

11642. Could you not better yourself in another place than Eriskay ?
—I don't know.

11643. You were often abroad?
—I was often abroad, and if I had scope to work at home in a way that would be satisfactory, I would prefer being at home to being abroad.

11644. What places were you away abroad in?
—I was round the coast of Scotland generally, and in England, Ireland, and America.

11645. As a sailor?
—As a sailor.

11646. And you think that in none of these places you could make for yourself a home more comfortable than in Eriskay ?
—If I had means of satisfactorily keeping the place at home, there is no other place where I would be so healthy and happy.

11647 I quite believe that, but when evidently the people have not that means, how is it they don't go to some other place ?
—We don't know where that place is.

11648. And you have been in all the countries you have mentioned?

11649. What is the total population of this island?
—I believe it is between 400 and 500.

11650. Have you any idea of the total rent of the island?
—I don't know.

11651. Do you know the names of the three people who occupied the island ?
—There was one Macdonald, one Fergussou, and one Cameron.

11652. What might be the population of the island then ?
—I am not aware. The population just consisted of the families of those three tenants, with a few shepherds and herds.

11653. Then it would probably amount to thirty or forty people?
—I don't think there would be so many.

116 54. You have said nothing about peats? Where do you get your peats ?
—The peats are well-nigh exhausted altogether. In two or three years more there will be none.

11655. Was there some pasture upon the top of the peat moss which they have been cutting ?
—In some places.

11656. Did you or did any of the people on the island make any representation to the proprietor or to the factor to relieve the island of this large population, by removal abroad or in any other way ?
—They were often complaining that there was such a surplus population on the island that they could not live.

11657. But did you make any formal application?
—I am not aware there was any special request made by the people to remove the surplus population.

11658. You have heard, no doubt, that since the present Lady Cathcart became proprietrix, she has been doing a good deal upon the estate, and giving promises of more ?
—I did hear so, and we are very much in need of her assistance.

11659. Why then did not you and the other heads of families put your heads together and make a petition to her to relieve your condition ?
—We did not do so, we are but a poor lot of people without any scholar among us to do that much for us, although we have got a school.

11660. Sheriff Nicolson.—You have a school at Eriskay ?

11661. One of the public schools?

11662. You have always had a school there?
—No, not always. There was a Free Church school in the island before they built the public school.

11663. Are there many people in the island who cannot read or write?
—Almost all the population, except the young children who are at school, cannot read nor write. A few about my own time of life perhaps got a little education, but very few.

11664. Do the children attend the school regularly?
—They are compelled to do so.

11665. Is there an officer who looks after them?

11666. Does he threaten them if they don't attend?

11667. Do the people complain of the rates they have to pay for the school ?
—Yes, they think it dear.

11668. How much do they pay iu the pound?
—5d. in the pound—1d. on the landlord and 4d. on the tenant.

11669. Don't you think it a very good pennyworth?
—We know it is. The great majority are fishermen. Fishing has been very backward for a few years back, and people are now in great debt.

11670. Are they not also in great arrears?
—I don't know the amount of arrears, but I am sure they are deep in debt to the merchant with whom they deal for their food. The one who has been keeping them up for a number of years, if he chose to force paymant, the most of the present stock would belong to him.

11671. Is he a merchant there or here?
—He is a merchant both there and on this side, Mr Fergusson.

11672. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Suppose the offer were made to you to emigrate to America under favourable conditions in families, would the people be disposed to accept that?
—They would not care about going abroad if they could live at home, and get restored to the places where they came from.

11673. Sheriff Nicolson.—I suppose the other men from Eriskay have nothing different to tell us from what you have told us?
—I am not aware there is anything different from what I have said.

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