Benbecula, 29 May 1883 - Rev Donald Mccoll

Rev. DONALD M'COLL, Roman Catholic Priest, Iochdar (47)—examined.

12112. The Chairman.—You desire to present a statement on behalf of the crofters whom you represent?
—'Headings of the principal Grievances of the Crofters of this District, to be laid before the Royal Commission in Benecula, on the 29th May 1883.
1. There is no tenure of land. The crofters hold their lands from term to term. Leases have been hitherto unknown in this country among crofters. We want leases, provided adequate lands are given, sufficient to support a family and pay a fair rent. We ask lands adapted to the means and circumstances of individual families. By leases we could improve the land, and a certain stability given us.
2. Rack rent, or such high rent on the land, insufficient towards the support of a family, and pay a reasonable rent. There is kelp rent on the land, and kelp manufacturing ceased. Formerly the price of kelp was high, and lands were rented to crofters according to the price of kelp.
3. The crofters have too little land, and that of inferior quality. The best arable and grazing lands are in the hands of the tacksmen, and at a low rent. Crofters have been sent to inferior lands unsuitable for large farms. This is not a grain-producing country. The return is from three to four at best, while from exhausted and light
soil corn is raised solely for the purpose of feeding cattle. The crofters depend more on their cattle than on the grain return. This is more a pastoral country.
4. Spoiliation of common and reclaimed moor. The common was cut up, divided into crofts, and rented to the incoming tenant, and the rent on the original crofts were never lowered ; in other words, the crofters never got compensation for the loss of their lands. The spoliation of the common commenced after 1840, under the factor Clark, carried out with a strong hand by Dr M'Leod and all subsequent factors down to the present day. There were formerly seventy-one crofts in this district, and there are now eighty-eight, exclusive of hill
pendicles. During the great clearances for sheep walks in 1849 and 1851, many families of the evicted  population were sent to Lochcarnan, forming then our hill grazing ground, and our lands rented to them. There are now over fifty (fifty-six) families in Lochcarnan, Rughasernish, and Ardmore. Some of them pay rent, and some of them are cottars. There are now over seventy cottars in this district.
5. Overcrowding this district from surplus population and dismissed servants from the large farm. The crofters complain, as they have every reason to complain, of this glaring act of injustice.
6. Depriving crofters of hill grazing, and giving it to aliens, while the crofters have to pay rent and assessment for the same. At the present day nearly all the hill grazings have been taken from the crofters. The last place for which they pay a rent of £ 20 or upwards is Rughasernish This place was used in summer for grazing and change of water, and in winter for grazing. In 1870 four families were sent to this place from Dremisdale farm, and lands cut out for them at a rent of 25s. for each family. To the full knowledge of the local officials, cottars
from all quarters settled there within the last six years, and the crofters are deprived of the benefit of the place. The rent is the same as before. This is a serious grievance, and the crofters have a right to complain of it. Change of grass and water is absolutely necessary to the crofters on the sandy soil and west side of the island. Saline and stagnant water detrimental and fatal to cattle. Owing to the unwholesome water, few crofters in the townships of Ardvacher and Killanlay can rear young cattle. Former factors gave sites of houses to individuals, and rented the same without any compensation to the crofter.
7. No public works towards improving the property or the lands of the crofters. Neglect to repair county road facing the Atlantic, and sluices, in consequence of which the sea encroaches on our lands and grass. This was laid before the former factors, but the road and the sluices remained unrepaired. The want of a public road to Lochcarnan, to meet the steamer, is greatly felt. All our traffic in connection with the steamers is done by sea for want of a road. Besides paying for boating, our goods are often damaged. The distance to Lochcarnan is about three miles.
8. Frequent changes of factors detrimental to the interest of proprietor and crofters.
9. Neglect to enter parliamentary voters on the roll.
10. One of the greatest grievances is the number of cottars from all quarters of the country. They are a heavy burden on the lands of the crofters. Many of these cottars have more cattle and sheep, and are in every way more prosperous, than the crofters paying rent and assessment.
11. As regards emigration, we may frankly tell our minds to the members of the Royal Commission that we are in no way inclined to emigrate, while there are plenty lands in the country for us, for the next hundred years. Every one is at liberty to remain or emigrate. We desire not to see revived the cruel and forced  evictions, as carried out in 1819 and 1851, when many were bound hand and feet, and packed off like cattle on board the vessel to America. The recollections of ill-treatment and cruel evictions towards many in those
days operates unfavourably on the minds of the present generation towards emigration. We are more inclined to migrate. We want more lands, for which we are willing to pay a reasonable and fair rent. We want the land valued by impartial judges, knowing the nature and unproductiveness of our soil. We want that equal justice be done to rich and poor, to tacksman and crofter.
12. Poverty of the crofters. We are yearly getting poorer. We are hemmed in on all sides. Deprived of the common, we are confined to our original crofts, and yearly plough the same exhausted and unproductive ground, in many instances for the last sixty years. Many of us have not got a boll of meal from our own grain this year. The produce of crofts supports ourselves and families only for the half year, and we have to buy meal from Glasgow for the rest of the year. Our dwelling houses are of a very inferior kind, and in many instances cattle in the end of the same. Our part of the country is in a state of transition. Six years ago, a movement was made on the part of the proprietor to have the lands divided into lots. Uncertain of our present tenure, and kept in suspense, we have improved neither houses nor lands. We may be removed to some other part of the country or district. This state of suspense has proved injurious to our general interest. We applied to our proprietrix for redress of our grievances; our petition remained unanswered, and our grievances unredressed. The above dictated by crofters, written and read to them, approved and ordered by them to be signed by the members of the committee appointed. By order, with consent, and concurrence of all the crofters of the district.—RODERICK MACKAY, Ardvachar; FRANCIS MACPHIE, Balgavra.—Iockdar District, May 28, 1883.'

12113. This memorial has reference to the particular district or township of Iochdar ?
—It has reference to the whole district in the north end of South Uist.

12114. How long have you been in that place?
—Since 1862.

12115. So you have had twenty years' experience ?
—With the exception of three years at Badenoch.

12116. You can therefore look back to the condition of the country about twenty years ago. Will you state whether you think the condition of the people, having reference to their moral and physical condition, has deteriorated or improved during that time

12117. In their physical condition ?

12118. In what respect is that particularly the case
—In their worldly means, in their clothes, and in their food.

12119. I saw it stated in an old statistical account of that country in the year 1841, that the people were frequently in a destitute condition with reference to blankets and night clothes. Do you think the people are in that case now
—I have seen many families without blanket.

12120. What about the clothing of the children?
—Many of them are very badly clad, but the generality of them are pretty fairly clad.

12121. To what do you attribute the deterioration which you believe to exist ?
—Want of sheep and the cutting off of the hill grazing.

12122. Do you know of any case of cutting off of the hill grazing since 1862

12123. Without any compensation to the tenants?
—Yes, within the last six years.

12124. Can you state some instances?
—There was the post, Lauchlan Macdonald, for whom a croft was cut out without any compensation to the crofter, and a lot wa8 cut out for widow Finlay Mackay from the crofters, and they got no compensation, unless they would take part of the macher and part of man's croft.

12125. Were the lands of these people cut out off hill grazing?
—No. These were sent down from Gramisdale farm, from Loch Eynort, or from Tyree, or North Uist, or Benbecula. They came and squatted on the hill grazing that was used for sheilings in summer, and for grazing sheep— about twenty families.

12126. Do they pay any rent?
—No rent.

12127. They just squatted there ?
—They just squatted there.

12128. They came there without authority, settled there, and paid no rent. What do you think the factor or administrator of the estate ought to have done ?
—The factor should have kept every one in his own place until such times as lands were cut out or compensation given to the tenants for the loss of the grazing ground.

12129. There are a great number of cottars who have settled on various lands, and who occupy them without paying rent. What do you think should now be done with these people?
—If the cottars were lifted off, the crofters would be prosperous enough. As the crofters have borne the burden for a long time, let the large farms have a share of it for a time.

12130. How would you provide them with the means of stocking crofts on those large farms?
—They are better provided, many of them, than crofters who are paying rent.

12131. Have you any statement to make with reference to the schools ?
—No. I have been only about one year on the school board and on the parochial board, and I have nothing particular to state, but that I find them in working order. I find the public schools are being taught here according to the Government Education Act.

12132. Who are the members of the school board?
—There are seven members between Benbecula and South Uist,—Mr Mackintosh and I, Dr Black, the parish minister of Uist; Mr John Ferguson, tacksman of Bornish; Mr Charles M'Lean, tacksman of Borv ; and the factor.

12133. Are there any Roman Catholic teachers?
—Not in the whole island.

12134. Have you any other statement you wish to make with reference particularly to your own communion? —None whatever that would tend in any way to improving their condition.

12135. Has the proprietrix contributed in your district to the erection of new houses or to any useful work? —Not a house that I know of, and not a stick to roof a house that I know of, unless a little fence that was put up, and they have to pay so much to the proprietrix for that.

12136. We have had a statement to-day from the factor that the proprietrix has expended more than the whole rental of her estate on the estate during the last five years. Has none of that expenditure reached your district ?
—Not a penny.

12137. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—Were you present when Mr Macdonald made that statement?
—Yes. The only public work that is being carried out is erecting a wing to an inn at Carinish.

12138. I understand that the grievance of the people of Iochdar is this, that so many cottar families with a lot of stock are eating up their grazings without paying anything whatever?—That is the case.

12139. Have you ever applied to them for rent?
—Yes, to the factor. They pay neither poor-rates nor school-rates, and the same cottars again are determined if possible to keep their children from school. They are quite independent. They are sent here the same as penal servitude. That is the great burden and grievance of the tenants.

12140. What is the largest amount of stock any one of these cottars not paying rent possesses ?
—I see them with two or three cattle, as many young beasts, and may be twenty, thirty, or forty sheep, and some of them two horses.

12141. The Chairman.—And they pay no rent ?
12142. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—Do they pay nothing in the way of days' labour ?
—They neither pay me my fees, nor the factor, nor the schools, nor the parochial board, nor assessments, nor the doctor.

12143. How many souls, men, women and children, are in this position among the cottars ?
—Three years ago there were seventy-one families. The population in my district is about 1000. There are 880 Catholics and hardly 200 Protestants, including crofters and cottars.

12144. But how many men, women, and children, are in the position of not paying rent or doing anything else?
—I should say 250 or 300.

12145. Do the younger members of these families go out to labour and earn wages for themselves?
—They crop our crofts as they please, and graze on our grass, and respect not our crofts. Some of them leave for the militia, and some of them for the Lowlands, and some of them take a trip sailing, and that is the whole.

12146. Is this still going on?
—The number of cottars is increasing yearly from large farms. I have seen one poor woman who was told to
be out off a place the day after her husband's death, not to be a burden on the tenant.

12147. Should you not have gone with a deputation to see the proprietrix. and make a representation to her to take the matter into consideration?
—It is very difficult to get at her, we so seldom see her in the country.

12148. The Chairman.—Do you think that many of those cottars are the children of crofters in the neighbourhood who have not been provided with land ?
—Many of them are not. Some of them are from Tyree and others from Skye, North Uist, and Loch Eynort.

12149. But all those places except the last two are not Gordon places at all?

12150. Sir Kenneth-Mackenzie.—Did these people receive any authority from anybody to settle where they have settled ?

12151. If they attempted to settle upon a tacksman's land, say upon the farm of Nunton, what would be done?
—That was in my mind; if twenty cottars were to scatter down on Nunton, with all their cattle and horses, what would he say?

12152. Don't you think the tenant farmer would be the first to take steps to remove them?
—We have abstained from violence or agitation against them.

12153. But it is the tenant's business to remove people who come and settle on their lands in such a way? —But the individuals were ordered down by factors

12154. I asked if they were ordered, and you said they were there without authority ?
—Individuals came, such as from Loch Eynort.

12155. Then I suppose the tenants could prevent these from settling there?
—They could not go against the factor.

12156. So far as the factor has authorised it, you have a ground of complaint, but so far as he has not authorised it, has he not a ground of complaint against the tenants?
—We have spoken often to him on the point, and I have spoken to him personally.

12157. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—Do you know that the proper legal process would be for the tenants to raise a process of removing against the cottars, but they could not do that without the consent of the proprietrix. Would she give her consent ?
—Where could she put them ? She would not remove them to large farms.

12158. You think it doubtful whether she would give her consent to the crofters taking out legal process against them ?
—Yes, in my opinion it is doubtful .I wish specially to call attention to the parliamentary voters' roll, so that the crofters could have their names entered upon it.

12159. The Chairman.—I am afraid we cannot help you with that matter; it is the assessor's duty. Are any of your crofters paying £12?
—Yes; we pay as high as £16.

12160. Mr Cameron.—What rent have you paid?
—£16 in cash.

12161. How long had you paid it before last election ?
—I came here in 1867.

12162. Have you always been entered at £16 in the book?

12163. Sheriff Nicolson.—Has the number of crofters increased very much since you came to Iochdar? —Yes, greatly.

12164. Have you any idea how many of them have settled down there since you came ?
—About twenty from different quarters.

12165. Have they built houses for themselves ?
—Kind of huts, the best way they could.

12166. Do they behave themselves differently from the rest of the population?
—Very questionably.

12167. They seem at any rate to have no great respect for other people's rights or for the law ?
—I am the loser by it.

12168. Are many of them members of your congregation?
—Many of them are and many are not.

12169. The Chairman.—Are you personally aware, within the last twenty years, of any cases of hill pasture being taken from a crofter in a township and given to a tacksman?
—Not in this district since the time of Mr Birnie, when he sliced up Ormicleit Hill and Grinnisdale.

12170. But not within the last twenty years?
—Hardly within that time.

12171. Have you been witness of any cases of harsh eviction of crofters from their holdings ?
—Net with my own eyes. It has not been carried out since 1849 and 1851.

12172. Is it your opinion that the scale of rental is too high or oppressive upon the people, or is it rather the want of larger crofts ?
—It is too high, and the plots are too small. It is exhausted land, that produces nothing but ox-eye or thistles or weeds in general. I desire, however, to make this statement, that Colonel Gordon wished crofters whoever was anxious to pay ready cash down for his lands, to get one-third reduction, but no kelp—no work.

12173. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—The parish minister told us yesterday that on his land he was able to grow very good crops, and he thought by a better system of cultivation the crofters too might grow very good crops. Don't you think that the exhaustion is iu part due to a bad system of cultivation ?
—It is not due to bad cultivation, but to the exhausted soil. The minister can allow ground to be there for years and years before he ploughs it, but the crofter must plough it every year.

12174. What success have you achieved for yourself in forming a garden in this part ?
—Well, I manage it better than the crofters, but it is not a paying affair to me, because I work it with servants; but I get better returns by drainage.

12175. Do you get flowers to grow in the place you occupy?

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