Benbecula, 29 May 1883 - Angus Macdonald

ANGUS MACDONALD, Crofter and Joiner, Griminish (55)—examined.

11956. The Cliairman.—You have a written statement to submit to the Commission ?
—Yes. ' We the crofters of Griminish, Benbecula, complain
(1) That our crofts are too small insomuch that we have to provide for both ourselves and our cattle for fully six months of every year; that all the expenses necessary to meet this demand must be secured from external sources ; that these expenses are secured from the hard earnings of young men and women both at home and abroad ; and that were it not for said assistance their friends at home would inevitably come to pauperism. As a proof of said complaint, our annual expenses, exclusive of rent, amount to from £7 to £15, as the case may be, which expenses necessitate great economy in every family, reducing the constitution of
our children almost to a minimum.
(2) We state that our present crofts are too dear, which is evident from the following account of the rise and fall of rent relations which are as follows:
—Before Colonel Gordon purchased the estate in 1839, the rents were raised, not according to the intrinsic value of the croft, but according to the price of kelp which then yielded to the worker £ 3 per ton, while it yielded to the proprietor, who was the purchaser, the handsome sum of £20. The rents were fixed then  ndependent of the changes that might, and in fact were taking place When Colonel Gordon came in he got the rents at the old figure, which were so very high that the people could neither live upon nor pay their crofts. This secured a plausible reason for the most unscrupulous clearances that ever was effected in the Western Isles. The price for kelp was gradually on the decline until it ceased altogether five years ago. The people then had either to pay the rent by their daily wage or betake themselves to large towns. The people at that time had both a common and hill grazing. This common was given first for cattle grazing, which consisted of heather and peat moss. A few years afterwards the people began to complain of the smallness of their holdings and the hardships which consequently followed. The proprietor then gave the people full liberty to reclaim as much as they could of the common at their own expenses, with a promise that it would become a pendicle of the croft. The people wrought like slaves reclaiming this land by carrying manure a distance of two to three miles, first in carts and again on their backs in creels, together with the severe labour of trenching it. The Gordons proposed the work for the people with the full desire, as we believe, of bettering the condition of their tenants. In a short time, however, circulars began to come round asking the people to pledge themselves to any alterations that the proprietrix might see fit as long as she had the interest of the people in view. This the people did, with the result that they were deprived of the common for which they had wrought so hard and given to others, the people thereby being confined on smaller crofts than they had even before the common  was given to them; it is now plain that some change must take place either to the better or worse. The only remedy now is increased holdings, which would enable a family to live upon; a guarantee against removal, either at proprietor's or factor's will, as long as we pay reasonable rent, which we wish fixed by neutral parties; compensation for improvements, and when any of us would have to leave the croft from reasonable
causes that the proprietor would take all our effects at valuation, That the arrears incurred by the outgoing tenant should not be levied upon the incoming tenant as heretofore. That drainage and fencing could be  effected with the little expenses, adding greatly to the value of the land, we earnestly desire that Her Majesty's Government would be pleased to lend us cash for said purpose. These, with minor arrangements, would avert the pending calamities. Destitution, which is now staring us in the face, would, we believe, be then unknown. If these plains could be given to the people, the Highlands would once more become the home of a people who would not consider their lives too sacred for the defence of their queen and country. To the Royal  Commission.—ANGUS MACDONALD and DONALD MACRAE, delegates.'

11957. Were you freely elected a delegate ?

11958. How many persons were present at your election ?
—There were a great many in the church over here.

11959. How many heads of families are there in Griminish
—I believe there are only thirty-two heads of families in the rental.

11960. Does that include cottars and all kinds?
—I suppose it is just mixed altogether.

11961. Sheriff Nicolson.—What rent do you pay1?

11962. Is that the ordinary rent of the people at Griminish ?
—No, there are some higher and some smaller, according to the quality of the lands they have.

11963. What stock are you allowed?
—I keep two cows and a horse. I have no sheep. I cannot graze the horse. I must buy the grazing for the horse elsewhere.

11964 Have you sufficient grazing for the cows?
—Not on the croft, because there are only about five acres of it arable, and the rest of it peat moss and heather.

11965. What sort of ground is the arable ground?
—It is light mossy soil. Peats were cut there before, and the bottom is left there, and very little surface on i t ; there is a solid bottom that retains the water, and it is very shallow soil.

11966. What corn crop do you chiefly raise?
—The general corn crop in this country is barley or small oats.

11967. What sort of yield does it give ?
—A very poor yield indeed in our mossy ground. Last year I knew a neighbour who sowed sixteen bushels of large oats, and he only raised four bushels. It all depends on the season. If the season is dry, we will have some yield : but if it is wet, the roots get into a mess, and the corn is gone.

11968. Then so far as arable ground is concerned, you have not enough to live upon ?
—No. I have been there three years. I was one of the parties who were put out upon common; but I was fourteen years on another croft in the centre of the township, and a very bad croft it was. I was very glad to get out of it.

11969. Do you find regular occupation as a carpenter?
—No, sometimes very seldom.

11970. What are the regular wages of carpenters here?
—4s. and 4s. 6d. a day is the highest I have seen here for a good tradesman.

11971. Mr Cameron. —It is stated here that the kelp manufacture ceased here about five years ago, but the previous witness told us it ceased only two years ago ?
—That is what I was told; perhaps there was a little of it done, but it ceased to a great extent. I have seen it sometimes when all the people would turn out to the east and to the west for the cast kelp, and for cutting kelp on the east side.

11972. Since when has this poverty begun to make itself felt in the island
—I daresay it has been always with some of them. I have seen some worse than others every year.

11973. The hill grazing of which the people complain as having been taken from them was taken from them a great many years ago. When did the effects of that begin to make themselves manifest? Is it only lately, or ten years ago, or how long ?
—It is only lately. They complain lately of what has been done to them.

11974. I want to get your opinion about why it is only lately that the effects began to be felt when the cause occurred so long ago as forty or fifty years. To what do you attribute that?
—I think the people were always on the decrease as to means. They have been coming down every year. From my own recollection, and it is twenty-six years since I came here, they are getting worse every year..

11975. But if that began so long ago, by this time they could have got so bad that they would hardly be in the condition in which one sees them. To what, in your opinion, may be attributed the cause of people getting so bad of late years ?
—There is a great deal of that owing to the want of kelp making. I may say kelp was the sole support of the people here; and, although they had not a great deal of wages for doing it, still the whole were turned out doing it, and there were stores of meal in the country, and no destitution while the kelp was going on. They would get plenty meal when they were at the kelp.

11976. Supposing the kelp ceased five years ago, as I understand it, the poverty of the people has increased in a far greater ratio than it did between the date when the hill pasture was taken away five years ago, when the kelp ceased ?
—It did.

11977. So that cessation of the kelp manufacture has had a more injurious effect upon the condition of the people than the taking away of the hill pasture ?

11978. There is something said in this paper about the practice which exists of the incoming tenant paying the arrears of the outgoing tenant. Is that commonly the case ?
—Well, I am not sure as to the son following his father in that respect. I believe the arrears stand, but one of our tenants tells me here to-day that he is in possession that way.

11979. But it is not an ordinary practice ?
—Oh, no; it is not an ordinary practice.

11980. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie. —Did the tenant who spoke to you today follow his father?
—No, I don't refer to him at all. I refer to another person.

11981. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—You state in your paper that 'when Colonel Gordon came in he got the rents at the old figure, which were so very high that the people could neither live upon nor pay their crofts. This secured a plausible reason for the most unscrupulous clearances which were ever effected in the Western islands ?'
—There are delegates here who were eye-witnesses.

11982. What are their names?
—I think Angus M'Kinnon is one of them.

11983. Were you born in the island?
—No, I was born on the estate of Major Fraser, Kilmuir, Skye.

11984. The Chairman—Do these improved houses which are now being built give you any work at your trade ?
—Yes, sometimes.

11985. Are you obliged to go away from the island sometimes, or do you find a living here?
—I find a living here; I find a living sometimes, I have sons who work away from the island. They are tradesmen too.

11986. Have you got any apprentices ?

11987. You work alone?
—Yes, I work with others at jobs-that may come in the way.

11988. Do you find more work at the present moment than you used to do ?
—No, there is not so much demand for carpenter work as there used to be.

11989. But I see a good number of new houses built in the place all round?
—Yes. There was a great deal of joiner work done upon these new houses.

11990. There is more joiner work done in the new than in the old houses ?

11991. Then how is it you have not more work now than you used to have ?
—At the time of the erection we have it, but that will not continue very long.

11992. You said a carpenter got about 4s. or 4s. 6d. a day. Do you charge by the hour or by the day ?
—By the hour.

11993. How much by the hour?
—Running between 5½d. and 5¾d. or thereabouts, according to the rate, working ten hours a day.

11994. But the rate is 5½d. an hour?
—I suppose that will be about the figure.

11995. What was it when you were a young man—when you first came to the island ?
—4s. a day.

11996. What was it by the hour?
—It was by the day—working ten hours for 4s.

11997. How many years ago is that?
—About twenty-seven years ago.

11998. Has there been no change in the rate of carpenters' wages during the last twenty-seven years ?
—Yes, they have been gradually increasing.

11999. You said it was 4s. a day twenty-seven years ago and it is 4s. 6d. now ?
—Though I got that wage I had some charge of people at the time, and the others were getting 2s. 6d. That was the wages generally.

12000. And now 4s. 6d. ?

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