North Uist, 30 May 1883 - Angus Macdonald

ANGUS MACDONALD, Crofter, Island of Boreray (57)—examined.

12544. The Chairman.—Were you freely elected a delegate?

12545. Have you got a statement to make to us?
—' Island of Boreray, North Uist, 29th May 1883. To the Right Hon. Lord Napier, Chairman of the Royal Commission Highlands and Islands.—Sir, The following are a few of the grievances of which we complain, viz., the smallness and dearness of our holdings, the overcrowding of the people, and the unproductiveness of the soiL The island on which we live is not a square mile in extent, including a brackish loch covering more than 30 acres of land. The population is about 150. The most of the arable land is ploughed every year for the last one hundred, which renders it so light that in spring the winds generally carry away the corn seed. There
are twenty horses working the arable land. Each crofter sows on an average five bushels of barley, and even in a productive year they only grind ten bushels. The cattle are almost starving in the winter for want of fodder, which leaves them in a wretched condition during the whole year. In former years we used to pay our rent by draining the fore-mentioned loch and securing and sloping sandbanks, but since the present proprietor bought the island no such work exists. We generally pay our rent now by cash and some kelp. We have to carry our peats eight or nine miles by sea from the factor's ground for which we pay. We are paying school rates for the last ten or eleven years, and as yet the school board has not taken any steps to build a schoolhouse for us. The Ladies' Association kindly supply us with a teacher. The appointed delegates will answer any question which your Lordship may deem desirable to ask them.—We are your Lordship's humble servants, Crofters of the Island of Boreray, per ANGUS MACDONALD.

12546. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—Were you born in the island of Boreray ?

12547. How many people were there in your younger days ?
—Twenty crofters.

12548. Were there cottars also ?
—Yes, eight cottars as well.

12549. Has the population increased very considerably since your time ?
—Yes, it has considerably increased. There are 150 now, including cottars.

12550. And, I suppose, as the island is limited in extent, this increase of population presses upon you? —Yes. There are twenty crofters just now and eight, cottar families. The eight cottar families have thirty-two people among them ; the rest are made up of the crofter families.

12551. You stated here that you used to pay your rent by draining the fore-mentioned loch and securing and sloping sandbanks, but since the present proprietor bought the island no such work exists. Why did the proprietor give up that work ?
—I do not know why the present proprietor ceased.

12552. Did he carry it on at all from the time of getting the property ?
—I am not aware he did any work of that kind.

12553. Could the sea be stopped from getting into the place ?
—It would not be very easy. It enters it every spring tide of the year.

12554. But is it possible to do it ?
—The former proprietors were keeping it out before the present proprietor.

12555. Have you got any reduction of rent in consequence of losing the value of this loch to a great extent? —No, the rent has been left as it was with the former proprietors. There has been no change during the present proprietor's time, only there are now taxes which make the rent higher.

12556. It seems incredible that the poor people are obliged to bring their peats eight or nine miles by sea from the factor's ground. How long have they been obliged to carry them all that distance ?
—They have been taking them from the same place ever since I remember.

12557. Then I presume you want a great number of the surplus population to be removed from the island ? Is that the only way to put them right ?
—The cottars upon the island would require it all for themselves,
to put them in proper condition.

12558. Did you ever represent your very serious condition to the proprietor or the factor ?

12559. Why did you not do it ?
—The factor is very kind to us.

12560. That was all the more reason you should do so?
—We did not know where he could send us.

12561. You have been here all day?

12562. Did you hear some of the previous delegates say that there was plenty of land in Uist

12563. Do you approve of that?
—Yes, to provide for all the people, if only they got it.

12564. Where did the people come from originally1? Has the island been inhabited from time immemorial by a certain number of people ?
—The proprietor of Boreray held it once.

12565. And there were no people on it then?
—Only himself and his servant.

12566. Who was he?
—John M'Lean, laird of Boreray.

12567. What time was this?
—Was it one hundred years ago or so?—I think it is short of one hundred years, but I do not remember the time within a large number of years.

12568. When it fell into Lord Macdonald's hands, was it then that the people began to settle in it ?
—Lord Macdonald never had it. It was not part of the estate of North Uist at all. The M'Leans possessed it all along. My father was alive when tenants were sent to Boreray.

12569. From where ?
—Some portions of it were given to his own servants, and others came by his orders from other places. One came from Bernera, and others from adjacent places in the sound of North Uist.

12570. Are you much in arrear with your rent ?
—I am not aware that we were ever so much in arrear as this year, siuce the present proprietor got the property.

12571. Are the people generally very poor?
—The greater number of them are very poor indeed.

12572. Do you derive no benefit from the board schools ?
—There is no board school, but there is a Ladies' Committee in Edinburgh that supplies us with a school.  That is the Free Church Ladies' Association.

12573. In point of fact, you are paying school rates, and have positively no school accommodation ?
—That is the case. We pay school rates, and get no return for them.

12574. How far is Boreray from the mainland ?
—The ferry is three miles broad.

12575. Sheriff Nicolson.—Have you made representations to the school board about getting a board school ?
—We never made any such representation,

12576. How many children are there generally attending the Ladies' Association School ?
—There are about thirty children of school age, but I cannot exactly say what the attendance is.

12577. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—How long would it take you to reach the nearest board school ?
—It would not take them very long if they could walk it ; but the ferry is three miles.

12578. Are the children brought in at the inspection of the nearest board school ?
—No, but Miss Rainy of Edinburgh comes every second year to examine the school.

12579. Do your children pay fees at the Ladies' school ?
—No ; the only fee is to provide the schoolmaster with peats, and that is not very easy for those who have no boats to ferry the peats. It is not easy for them to do their share of that work.

12580. How do those who have no boats manage to get peats for themselves ?
—They pay the others for ferrying the peats across.

12581. Are there no peats nearer than nine miles from them ?
—I am not aware, perhaps the distance is not exactly nine miles, but it must be about eight at least.

12582. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—Where did the schoolmaster come from ?
—From Islay.

12583. Mr Cameron.—For whose benefit was the loch drained that you talked of ?
—For the benefit of the people of the place.

12584. The Chairman.—Was there a sluice in the loch ?
—Yes, there was such an arrangement once upon a time.

12585. Was that to keep the sea out?

12586. And then to let the fresh water out at low water ?
—Yes; when there was one to look after it, the sluice raised at low water to let out the fresh water of the loch.

12587. And that increased the amount of cultivable land?
—Yes; we remember the time when places that are never dry now were cultivated.

12588. Do you still pay the same rent?
—The present proprietor has not increased the rent, but kept it as it was left by the former proprietors.

12589. Mr Cameron.—Did you get wages for draining this loch ?
—Yes, when the former proprietors had it.

12590. And there was no interest charged upon the expenditure by the proprietor ?

12591. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—What amount of wages were they in the habit of expending annually on this loch ?
—I cannot tell that.

12592. Were they paying as much as the rent you were paying?
—I do not think they were, in draining the loch.

12593. Did the people generally make their rent by their work?
—With the addition of kelp, they were able to pay their rent—by these works and kelp in addition. The cultivatable ground is just now as white as if it were covered with snow by the drift of the sand. About Whitsunday it is peculiarly bad, and it is not oats that grow there but weeds, that are not good for fodder or anything else.

1 comment:

  1. And when the harvest of kelp is no longer worth the price to carry the memory of such a life the island lives on only in its' death throws.
    May its' aim be good enough to include those that now live by the greed that gave them power over those that only lived to serve the land they loved.