JOHN MORRISON, Crofter, Loch Eport (60)—examined.
12437. The Chairman.—You have a statement to lay before the Commission ?
We, the crofters of Loch Eport, beg respectfully to take advantage of this opportunity which is now afforded us of laying the substance of our grievances before the Royal Commission, which may be briefly stated as follows :—Among the many clearances which took place in the West Highlands, the " Sollas evictions " rank so prominently, both for cruelty and injustice, and are so well known to the public, that we need hardly now refer to them; but perhaps as the remnant of the sufferers of those cruelties are now living in the country, it may not be out of place to mention some of the hardships and privations to which we were exposed in consequence. About thirty-two years ago we were evicted from the district of Sollas, a fertile part of this parish. There we lived in ease and plenty, in a happy and prosperous condition, until we became the objects of the covetous eyes of the land-grabbing and aggrandising powers that be, and we soon realised that might was right. The first indication of this was the depriving us of a large portion of our grazing and arable land,
which was added to another farm, as well as other hardships, which reduced us in our circumstances, until at last we were finally evicted about thirty-two years ago, as we have mentioned. Those evictions rank among the most notorious which have taken place in the Highlands, being now handed by posterity under the appellation of " Blar Shollash," or the "Battle of Sollas." To this engagement was attributed the death of at least one individual, the permanent disablement of others, the imprisonment of some, and the great loss to many of their personal property. It resulted of course in a victory for the nobles, and the defeat and utter discomfiture of the peasantry. As is always the case, this battle was fruitful of immense sufferings, hardships, and loss to the defeated. Many of them were compelled to emigrate to the colonies, but fresh trials awaited them before getting to their destination. A deadly case of fever broke out in the " Hercules " (the vessel which conveyed them), to which the most of them succumbed. Some were buried in Ireland, others were committed to a watery grave ; thus the survivors had, together with all their hardships, to mourn the loss and untimely end of some of their nearest and dearest relations. Others who remained got corners in other parts of the country,
whilst the remainder, who have now the honour to address you, were pitied by the "Highland Committee," and were supplied with labour to keep them alive, until finally sent to Loch Eport, where they still struggle to exist. The hardships to which we were exposed in the interval between our being evicted and our translation here are beyond description. The severities of a winter, living in rude turf huts, and without fuel except what we had to carry twelve miles, told on the health of many. The inferiority of the soil of the place we live in, and its unsuitableness for human existence, is indescribable. When we were sent here, it was, with the exception of two spots, a wild, bleak, barren, mossy heath, numerously intersected by rainfurrows. There we had to build huts in which to live, and try and improve the waste as well as we could; and notwithstanding that we have laboured for the last thirty years, our crofts will not yield us to-day as much food on an average as will support our families for two months of the year. The ground is of such a nature that it can scarcely be improved, and the soil so much reduced by continual cropping that it is almost useless. The place is overcrowded; there being thirty-four crofts, on which live forty families, where formerly there were only three. Our common pasture (if it can be called by that name) is extremely bad, so much so that in winter, those of us who have cattle must keep constant watch else they will stick in the bogs. Human beings cannot travel over portions of our crofts in winter. There is no fishing or industry of any other kind in the country, from which we can derive any support. Formerly we derived some benefit from the manufacturing of kelp, but now we are deprived of even that. All who are able leave in the beginning of summer to earn their livelihood as best they may by sea and land, and thus help to improve the condition of their families whom they leave behind. Finally, we must admit that we are in poverty, and suffering privations and inconveniences of a nature to which the bulk of our countrymen are strangers. We most earnestly pray that the Commission will recommend our removal from this place to some other, where we can live by the productions of our labours in the soil.' Signed by thirty-two persons.
12438. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—Do you recollect the circumstances that are detailed in this paper about the Sollas evictions ?
—Yes, perfectly well.
12439. Is the statement you have given in here, signed by the people, perfectly correct ?
—Yes, it is perfectly correct; and even supposing there were additional statements, they would be perfectly correct as well.
12440. Who was the person who principally directed the removal?
—The factor, Balranald—James Macdonald.
12441. He is not alive now ?
12442. Were the Macdonald estates under trust at the time ?
—I am not perfectly certain, but I think they were.
12443. Was there any head factor under the Macdonald trustees at that time ?
—Yes; we saw Mr Cook coming. It was Mr James Macdonald that was before. He succeeded, but they were together there when we were put out of the place.
12444. What became of the lands from which the people were evicted? Who got them?
—The factor. It was he who got them first
12445. The greater part of Sollas?
—The whole of Sollas.
12446. Can you mention the number of families that were evicted at that time out of Sollas ?
—There were two townships. Thirty families were evicted.
12447. Do you recollect soldiers being sent from Inverness about the matter ?
—I saw them.
12448. Were their houses knocked down about the people's ears and the people taken out ?
12449. Did they get any compensation for the value of their houses at all or for the crop that was on the ground ?
12450. Did they get any assistance in building the new houses, such as those who went to Loch Eport side? —No, not a penny.
12451. Some of them remained in after Whitsunday. At what time of the year did they actually remove ?
—It was in autumn they were pulling down the houses.
12452. Was it well on in the year at the time they were building their temporary houses at Loch Eport ?
—It was well on in the year. It was during the winter that the first houses were built.
12453. Were you charged rent or anything for the land you got ?
—Yes, we were charged rent.
12454. At once or shortly afterwards?
—During the first winter we worked for wages and during the following summer, but when the work ceased we commenced to pay rent.
12455. Did you get any assistance, otherwise except in the nature of this work from the proprietor, for the removal ?
12456. Did you get any assistance in materials from the proprietor?
—Nothing whatever in the way of materiaL We only built turf houses at first.
12457. But for the subsequent houses, did you get help?
—No, nothing in the shape of wood or anything.
12458. Were all the nice houses we saw coming up the side of the loch to-day on the left side entirely built at the expense of the people themselves ?
—Every one of them at our own expense.
12459. Did you get any assistance from the landlord for the reclamation of the crofts which are now under cultivation, or did you all reclaim them with your own hands ?
—We reclaimed them all ourselves without any assistance so far as I know.
12460. Is there any proper road to your place where the road terminates at the pier where we landed? —There is no road going past that, and we cannot get down at all at night time when the tide is high.
12461. Had you any relatives among those who were sent away to America ?
—Yes, many of them.
12462. Did they ever reach America?
—Several of them reached America. Very few are alive to-day.
12463. In regard to those who reached America, have accounts cornerns to whether they got on well, or the reverse ?
—We heard of those who have survived.
12464. How have they got on?
—Some are well off and some otherwise.
12465. Did any of them ever come back to revisit Uist?—There was one who left at that time, and who came back on a visit a year or two ago. He went away from the west side, not from our side.
12466. Is that the only person who came back?
—Yes; he was not one of the evicted men.
12467. Do you know a place called Bal-vic-pheall ?
12468. Where is that place?
—Upon the north side of North Uist.
12469. How many of the families at Loch Eport are people who were evicted from Sollas, or children of those who were evicted from Sollas ?
—There are thirty-four families there altogether. It was thirty who were evicted, but there are other people in Loch Eport who were sent from elsewhere. The greater number are children of those who were evicted at Sollas.
12470. How many families were in Bal-vic-pheall?
—I cannot tell.
12471. Can you not give us a rough approximation?
—They were sent out of there before I was born, and I am not able to say. There is an old man at Loch Eport who knows of it, but I never asked him, and I don't remember having heard the exact number.
12472. Have you ever been upon the place?
12473. Have you seen the remains of numerous houses about?
—No, they had made fences of the ruins of the houses before I saw them.
12474. Who has got the place now ?
12475. Who had it before him?
—We had Mr Cumming there before him, and Sheriff M'Lachlan before him.
12476. Do you know a place called Caolas?
—Yes, very well.
12477. Do you know there were people there once?
—I remember them being there.
12478. How many families were put out of Caolas?
—Eight, I believe.
12479. Who has got Caolas now?
—It is joined to the factor's tack.
12480. Are these two townships of Caolas and Bal-vic-pheall good land ?
—Yes. There are other places as good, though.
12481. What places?
—-The places we were evicted from.
12482. Was Sollas as good as any place in Uist?
—I think it is.
12483. Was it not reported in the old times that it exported a considerable quantity of corn
—Yes, it used to do so.
12484. You want to be removed from your present place altogether; have you any place in view in your own mind where you and your cocrofters would like to go to ?
—The place we were evicted from is about as desirable a place to go back to as any that could be got.
12485. According to your statement, all the families that were taken out of Sollas are in a worse condition and sent to a worse place. Who benefited by these evictions ?
—The tacksman; we could not gain any way.
12486. Sheriff Nicolson.—Did you all build your own houses down there ?
—Every one of them.
12487. What did yours cost?
—If I had had another man putting it into the very condition in which it was, I believe it would have come to
about £13 or £14.
12488. I suppose there are plenty stones there ?
—No; we had to quarry them out of a hill.
12489. Is there any one now living, so far as you are aware, who was responsible for or connected with those evictions in any way, from the proprietor down to the ground officer ?
—I am not aware there is. The proprietor and the factor of the present day are in no way responsible for what was done to us.