Benbecula, 29 May 1883 - Ranald Macdonald

RANALD MACDONALD, Crofter, Aird (65)—examined.

11908. The Chairman.—Have you been freely elected a delegate?

11909. How many people elected you?
—About thirty or thirty-two families.

11910. What statement have you to make to the Commissioners?
—The smallness of the land, the dearness of the land, the poor quality of the land, and the difficulty of having access to pure water, are the chief grievances of our township. A considerable proportion has been taken from our township. In the time of Clanranald a large proportion of the moorland was reclaimed by our  forefathers, on understanding that it should remain their own land; but this same ground has since been taken from us and added to the tack of Nunton, both on the hill and at the macher high ground and low ground. On the portion of macher which has been cut away from us we feel more, as we have to erect a dyke to keep it in proper order, and to prevent our cattle straying, and to keep cattle on the other side from straying on ourselves. There was a large portion of the hill ground to which we used to drive our cattle, after the spring work was finished, and keep them there in shielings until the time of the year when there was sufficient pasture on the old machers to support our cattle. Some of the people of their own accord, on account of the exhaustion of the macher lands, left those and voluntarily took up stances on their hill grounds. The land reclaimed by those settled upon the moorland was added to the tack as already mentioned, and those people who had settled upon it were emigrated. The portion of the hill ground which was reclaimed, and which was not added to the neighbouring tack of Nunton, was peopled by'about fourteen cottars, who now pay a small rent. On the machers, where we have built our houses, we have no pure water. It is extremely brackish, and exceedingly injurious to cattle.

11911. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—I suppose there never was any better water ?
—No, not of the same quality to-day. There was a loch which has been drained, but this good water is a considerable distance from our houses; the portion of land which I have already stated is occupied by a small class of cottars or tenants, who pay a small rent, and we find it very difficult to get access to the water.

11912. You say the land is dear. What rent do you pay?
—£7, 10s.

11913. How many acres do you cultivate?
—9 or 10 acres under crop.

11914. What stock do you keep?
—Two cows, two horses and a yearold horse, two stirks, and five or six sheep.

11915. Has your rent ever been raised?
—The rent is lower than it was at one time.

11916. What was your rent at one time?
—£10, when the valuation was based upon kelp sales.

11917. How long is it since it was reduced ?
—About four years ago it was reduced to £7, 10s.

11918. How long is it since you lost the land?
—Before Colonel Gordon bought this estate—forty-two years ago.

11919. The piece that was added to Nunton was added forty years ago ?
—I believe so.

11920. Before Colonel Gordon bought the property?

11921. Was any reduction given at that time?

11922. Has there been a piece of land taken from you since then?
—A piece of land which we also reclaimed has been settled upon a small class of tenantry who now pay rent. This piece of land was taken from my own township, also a piece of our macher ground has been given to that small class of tenants in order to make potatoes.

11923. Was that given to them at the time the rents were reduced?
—Yes, about four years ago.

11924. Where did these cottars come from?
—Some from Balvannich; some from different townships.

11925. None from your own township?
—Very few.

11926. What is it you now desire?
—More land for pasturing and for cropping.

11927. And where do you propose to take it from?
—We have not had it at all events. We expect it where it is.

11928. Have the people of your township the means to stock a larger farm?
—Some have, and some have not, but even those who have not expend as much money in buying meal and food for their cattle as would enable them to stock a larger farm.

11929. The money they expend on meal they gain by their labour outside Benbecula, I suppose ?
—Some earn it outside Benbecula. There are some militia men; others go abroad and earn money, and bring it home to help their parents.
11930. Sheriff Nicolson.—Has the style of living of the people here become worse since your earliest recollection ?
—Yes, a great deal worse.

11931. Have they worse food or less food?

11932. Have they not plenty of food ?
—A large proportion of themhave not.

11933. Do you mean to say there are a large number of the inhabitants of Benbecula who are occasionally suffering from want of food ?
—I believe they are so suffering at this present time.

11934. Is that ordinary or is it peculiar to this season after a bad year?
—For many years hunger has not been so heavy in the country as at the present time.

11935. Are any of them able to live upon the corn aud potatoes that they raise themselves ?
—There may be some of that class in Benbecula, but I cannot at present recollect any.

11936. They chiefly live upon meal that comes from the south?
—Yes, in summer time.

11937. Do you use flour or oatmeal most?
—It is flour or Indian meal, or any meal which they can most cheaply purchase, that is the common food of the people.

11938. What are you paying now for wheat flour?
—We receive our meal from humane merchants, but there is no doubt they charge a pretty smart price for it, because some cannot recover portions of their prices.

11939. What has the price of a boll of flour been this season?
—From 35s. to £2 a bag or load overhead.

11940. And how much is the oatmeal ?
—The price of oatmeal is 50s. per bag, and if purchased in stones, the price of a bag will amount to about £3.

11941. What quantity have you used yourself since last harvest?—For the use of my family I have only ground about twenty bags of meal. All that I used beyond that I had to buy.

11942. And how many bolls did you use?
—I don't quite remember.

11943. How did the potato crop do last year?
—It was very backward. I only made twenty-seven barrels of it.

11944. Did you apply for any of the money that was subscribed for the destitution in London and Glasgow and Edinburgh?
—I heard of people in other localities receiving portions of this money, but we heard nothing about it, and received none of it, and we had none to enlighten us on the subject.

11945. Is there any fishing in this island?
—The west coast is so very rough that there is no fishing, and on the east side the fishing has been changed to Barra Head.

11946. None of your own boats go to a distance to fish?
—No. not any distance.

11947. But I suppose many of the men go to Barra and Stornoway and the east coast ?
—A good few of the young men of Benbecula go there, as well as recruits to the militia.

[Dr Black.—I may mention I passed eighteen this year for the Gordon Highlanders.]

11948. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—How many heads of families are there in Aird that you represent? Is it thirty or thirty-two?
—There may be thirty-three, but that is pretty much about it.

11949. You stated that when thirteen families or so were put in upon you from some other place, others of the people emigrated. Where did those come from that were sent abroad ?
—They were upon a portion of the land which was added to the tack of Nunton.

11950. How many families?
—Nine or ten families.

11951. Are there any works by the proprietor going on of late in this island?
—Yes, they were draining lochs that required drainage. They were reclaiming parks for the proprietor, which afforded them work, and they also manufactured some brick and tile, and also a little kelp.

11952. Are there any of those works going on at this moment?
—A clay work is still in operation, but there are not many employed about it.

11953. And is the representative of the proprietrix resident on this island—the factor or ground officer, or whoever he is?
—There is no resident factor at the present time. There is a ground officer.

11954. More than one?
—I don't think so.

11955. Do the people suffer from scarcity of milk for their children ?
—Yes; and also wanting everything that would strengthen along with the present food which they eat—meaning no beef, or fish, or butter, or cheese.

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