North Uist, 30 May 1883 - Angus Macaulay

ANGUS MACAULAY, Middle Quarter (30)—examined.

12490. The Chairman.—Are you a crofter?
—I am a crofter's son. I have a written statement here :
—' Unto the Royal Commission (Highlands and Islands). The following statement is humbly submitted by Angus Macaulay, crofter's son, on behalf of the crofters of Middle Quarter. I am thirty years of age, and was born in the neighbouring township of Sollas where my father and grandfather were, crofters. I live now in Middle Quarter, where my father has been crofter for fourteen years. Prior to 1815, there had been only six crofters in Middle Quarter, paying a rental of £ 3 each. Now there are nine crofters, paying a rental of £6, 10s, or nearly £8 including burdens, and six crofters having only half lots, paying a rental of £3, 5s., or nearly £4 including burdens; and six cottars. Those having a full croft keep three or four cows and two horses, and those having half lots keep one or two cows and a horse; but the place is considerably overstocked so that cows as a rule have calves only every alternate year; yet our stirks and stots, which are all that we sell of the produce of the land for payment of rent and to meet other requirements, are generally the worst in the island. The ground is again so exhausted by continual cultivation that it will yield little or nothing more than sufficient provender for the cattle and horses, nor will it yield even that without being well manured every year; and the holdings are so small that we can't leave more than from 1/8 to 1/10 of the arable land in fallow annually, and the best part of the land is never in fallow, but under cultivation every year, otherwise we can't have sufficient provender for our cattle and horses. We begin to manure the ground in the beginning of November, and  continue till the beginning of June. We have to cart the sea-ware a distance of three or four miles of a soft sandy beach, where we require a pair of horses in each cart. We also bring part of the sea-ware five or six miles in boats, which we have to keep for the purpose, and which we can only use for a short period in spring, when the day is long and the weather good, and which are of little or no use to us for fishing purposes. If we had more land, so that we could leave about a third of it in fallow every year, we would not require so  much manure, and the land would be more productive. Potatoes have been a failure for a number of years on our crofts, and we are obliged to buy ground from the neighbouring farmers, in a white sandy ground, in which it has been found that potatoes resist the disease better than in the barren and shallow grounds we have on our crofts. We pay five days' labour for every four hundred square yards which we buy thus; and besides we have to level and improve that ground, which costs us a further labour of from six to ten days for the same area. The following spring we have to manure the same ground over again, then plough, sow, and harrow it, reap and bind it in autumn, and then give half of the corn to the farmer. Yet we are glad to get ground even on these conditions, otherwise we would have little or no potatoes, which, with south country meal, is our main support. The crofters of Middle Quarter have since last Martinmas on an average bought twelve bolls of south country meal; some bought as much as twenty bolls, and they will require half as much again before the latter end of August. They all complain of their poverty, and to their being indebted to south country merchants, and say that the cause is the small size of their holdings. If they had double or triple the area of arable land, they feel sure it would support them, for they could manage it without any increase of expense in keeping horses, carts, and boats, if they had a few more cattle and sheep. On account of the distance we have to cart the sea-ware to the crofts, two horses are absolutely indispensable, and they consume fully half of the corn crop. The cause of the crofters being examined here and elsewhere in North Uist were the repeated evictions from the neighbouring townships, which were carried on while Lord Macdonald was proprietor. These evictions commenced more than sixty years ago, while Mr Cameron was factor, and were carried on by Mr Shaw afterwards; and finally, while Mr Macdonald, Balranald, was factor, the people of Sollas, Dunskellar, Middle Quarter, and Malaglet were ruthlessly evicted. When the sheriff officers met with more or less resistance in serving notices of removal, a large body of constabulary were brought from Inverness, and in a pamphlet written two years ago by Mr Patrick Cooper, advocate, Aberdeen, who was then baron-bailie of the estate, and was present to see the eviction of the people effected, we read that Lord Macdonald telegraphed to Earl Grey for a regiment of soldiers—not to protect the sheriff officers in serving notices of removal, as this had already been effected, but to protect along with the constabulary the ground officers and other minions of the factor's while pulling down the houses over the people's heads, and that his Lordship's request was granted, and that a regiment was in readiness in Fort George, but fortunately, as the men offered no resistance, their services were dispensed with. With the exception of a slight skirmish between the women and the constabulary, the officers were not molested while carrying on their cruel and destructive work. However, four men were brought to Inverness, and sentenced to four months imprisonment. Some of them never recovered from the ill-usage they got from the police, and the subsequent starvation they got in the prison of Inverness, where they were glad to chew and swallow the juice of the oakum to assuage the cravings of hunger. One of them died shortly after his return, leaving a widow with posthumous child, and four young
1 orphans. As there are other delegates who were eye-witnesses of those evictions, I will not trouble your Lordship with further details, but state briefly the demands of the crofters, viz.—
(1) More land at a fair rent to be fixed by a land court;
(2) fixity of tenure, and compensation for improvements.
There are only two ways by which the present condition of the crofters can be ameliorated, first, emigration, which is most repugnant to the feelings of the people, and of which they had a bitter experience. It is only thirty years since an emigrant ship was brought to Lochmaddy, on board of which twelve or fourteen families from the district in which I reside were prevailed upon or forced to embark for Australia. Emigrants who had been previously on board the vessel were discovered to be infected with two deadly epidemics, viz., smallpox and fever. The passage was a most disastrous one to the wretched emigrants, most of whom became victims of the epidemics; some of them died, and were thrown overboard; others were landed in Ireland, where a number of them are buried. The survivors were sent over in different batches as they recovered; families were broken up, some of them never to meet again; and their sufferings on landing in Australia were not much better as they had to sell their blankets and part of their clothing before they got to the settlement. What we have against emigration also are the different difficulties with which we would have to contend, such as the extremes of climate, our ignorance of the mode of farming in foreign countries, and our inability through poverty to get stock and farming implements on our arrival there, &c. The second and by far the more congenial way to ameliorate the condition of the Highland crofters is to give them sufficient of that land which gave them birth, and while there is plenty of land in our native country under sheep and deer, we see no reason why we should emigrate, and we are determined to resist a forced emigration to the bitter end. The forgoing statement is certified to be from the undersigned crofters of Middle Quarter.' Signed by fifteen

12491. Is your father living in the possession of the croft just now

12492. Have you yourself worked on the croft, or have you received your education and been in other places?
—I have been working on the croft.

12493. We do not think it necessary to examine you on the particulars of these old evictions, because they have already been published, and they are fully stated in this paper, but we should like to kuow something about the present state of the township itself. How many families are there in the township ?
—There are fifteen crofters' families and six cottars—twenty-one families.

12494. Has the number of crofters increased of late years? How many were there twenty or thirty years ago? —I am not aware they have increased. I think they are just about the same, only there were sixteen crofters about ten years ago.

12495. And now there are fifteen?

12496. Then no people have been brought in from other quarters and placed upon the land of your township?
—None since the evictions of Sollas.

12497. Except the cottars?
—Not even the cottars.

12498. They are all hereditary cottars belonging to the place?

12499. The demand is for increased holdings. Is there any land adjacent to you belonging to tacks which might be conveniently given to your people ?
—Yes, there are farms on both sides. Of course, there is another crofter township on the one side and farmers' tacks on the other.

12500. Has any hill pasture been taken away from your township of late years ?

12501. Have you anything to complain of in the conduct of the tacksmen about your stock or about their treatment of the crofters generally?
—Well, we would be the better of having fences between us and the neighbouring tacksman, for we are complaining of the tacksman's cattle, and he complains of us.

12502. Have you any difficulty about getting thatch for the houses?
—We have to buy thatch from the tacksman,

12503. Do you pay for that in labour or in money?
—Sometimes in labour and sometimes in money.

12504. Is there any complaint about it, or do you live on good terms with the tacksman ?
—Generally we live on good terms.

12505. Have you any complaint about sea-ware? How far have you to bring the sea-weed for manure? —We have to bring it a distance of from two to four miles in carts, but we don't get it near the crofts even when we take it with boats. We cannot get nearer the crofts of Middle Quarter than a mile.

12506. How is it brought from the road or the sea?
—In carts.

12507. Do you pay anything for it on the shore?
—We have right to get part of it ourselves, and sometimes we pay labour for other parts of it.

12508. If it is gathered on the shore of the tacksman, do you pay in labour ?
—Yes, we pay in labour for that; but we have right to part of the sea-ware even on the shores of the  tacksman, and the tacksman has right to a part that comes on our shore.

12509. Then there is no part of your arable or of your pasture which has been of recent years taken and given to a tack ?

12510. What rent does your father pay?
—My father has only a half a lot, and he pays £ 3 , 5s.

11511. What is the stock he usually keeps?
—Two cows, a horse, and about half-a-dozen sheep.

12512. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—Your father was removed from Sollas ?
—Yes, in 1849 or 1850.

12513. Has the land which he was removed to at Middle Quarter been entirely improved by himself ?
—No ; he did not come immediately afterwards to Middle Quarter; he was sent in common with the other crofters to Loch Eport.

12514. How long has he been at Middle Quarter?
—Fourteen years.

12515. Did he find a house ready built for him when he went to Middle Quarter ?

12516. Did he pay anything for it to the other tenant?
—We had the walls built, but we had to buy the timber and roof the house.

12517. What did you pay to the man who preceded you at Middle Quarter ?
—When we went there we paid his arrears of rent. I think we paid about £4 when we entered into possession on the first half croft we had there

12518. What did you get for that besides possession of the croft?

12519. Did you not get the roof of the house?
—No. We only got a half croft first from the man who had a full croft, and there was only one house on the croft and the walls of another, and we roofed these walls ourselves.

12520. And that man was in arrears ?—He was in arrears.
12521. And he took you in order to pay his arrears?

12522. Did the factor know he took you in?
—Yes, it was with the factor's permission.

12523. Did you pay that £4 to the other tenant, or did you pay it to the factor ?
—I think my father paid it to the factor.

12524. Of course you don't know that of your own knowledge ?
—I am sure it was paid, and I think it was to the factor it was paid.

12525. Are you aware whether it is common in the country to pay arrears of rent in that way ?
—I believe it was customary then, but I don't believe it is customary now.

12526. Then you gave that £4 in order to get possession of a better place than where you were ?

12527. You have heard it stated to-day that potatoes were sold this year and sent to Glasgow for the sake of buying meal. Have you had any potatoes yourself to spare ?
—I had a few, but I did not send them to Glasgow. I had not them to spare.

12528. But it was said that some people sold potatoes in order to buy meal. Do they prefer to live on meal rather than potatoes ?
—The potatoes were exceedingly dear this year, and consequently they would get more meal

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