North Uist, 30 May 1883 - Rev John Alexander Macrae

Rev. JOHN ALEXANDER MACRAE, Minister of the Parish of North Uist (51)—examined.

12640. The Chairman—You were born here, I believe?

12641. And your father was minister here before you ?
—Yes, for forty-three years.

12642. How long have you been minister here yourself?
—Twenty-four years.

12643. Did you immediately succeed your father?

12644. Your father was the author of the paper respecting this parish in the Statistical Account of 1842? —Yes.

12645. With which you are well acquainted?
—I have read it more than once.

12646. Do you think the account—I may say the pleasing and flattering account—which your father gives of the manners and habits and condition of the people at that time applies to the present day ?
—To a very great extent it does. The circumstances of the people have changed less or more since that account was written, but as a whole I think that they can bear out the character that was given them at that date with regard to their circumstances and their manners. I may state, that the manufacture of kelp at that time and years before then made up for everything, paid the rents of the tenants in full, and not only that, but kept the manufacturers of the kelp in a comfortable way so far as food was concerned for seven or eight weeks of the year, and all the benefits of their crofts and farms accumulated to themselves. The manufacture of kelp has now ceased, and of course there is less or more change in that respect. The price of stock has risen considerably since then for a number of years back, and coutinues till now, which I think to a very extent great makes up the loss they have sustained by the giving up of the manufacture of kelp; at least that is my idea.

12647. You think that the increase in the price of stock forms to a certain degree a compensation for the cessation of the kelp industry ?

12648. But if there is any change in the circumstances of the people, do you think it is in the direction of deterioration or improvement all over ?
—I should say it is in the direction of improvement.

12649. You think it is rather in the direction of improvement?
—It is.

12650. Where do you find the evidence of improvement?
—They are improving themselves in their circumstances and a good deal in their manners, and also in their mode of dress. I may state certainly that they do not live now so much upon the produce of the land as they did forty or fifty or sixty years ago, and farther back than that. They lived wholly upon the produce of the land then, which consisted of barley, meal, potatoes, mutton, beef, and also pork and eggs. As for the exportation of these things from the country at that date, it was a thing that was not known.

12651. From what you say, they must have had some share of animal food at that time ?
—More so than they have now. I would say this, that they lived more substantially then, and they live more extravagantly now, that is in the shape of getting tea and various other things from the south that they never dreamt of then.

12652. If they live less substantially now—if they have a smaller supply of animal food, eggs, milk, and so on—do you attribute that decline to the smallness of their holdings, and the multiplication of persons upon
them, and the exhaustion of the soil ?
—Yes, I would say so. The soil is taken in year after year, and naturally gets exhausted, and cannot yield
the same amount of crop as it used to do.

12653. When you say there has been an improvement in the condition of the people, you mean rather a superficial improvement—an appearance of'greater refinement and luxury, but not a substantial improvement? —Yes, that is the meaning I want to convey.

12654. Your father in his account speaks very highly of the sandy land on your side of the island, and of the crops of barley that were raised upon that soil at that time. Is that still the case ?
—Where the land is taken in by rotation, and gets a considerable amount of rest, it yields as good crops now as it did then, so far as my observation can go; and the crop of potatoes, when it is a successful year, is every bit as great as it was in his time.

12655. Is there still a certain amount of that good sandy land in the possession of crofters, or is it incorporated with large farms ?
—There is a very large extent of it in the possession of crofters.

12656. Is it divided permanently among them, or do they cultivate it together, or have they a rotation in the possession of certain parts of it?
—It is partly divided amongst crofting farms, and there are other farms called club farms, where the land is equally divided at the time of laying down the crop, but we have not many of that sort of farms in the country. I think there are only three club farms, which was the old system of dividing the farms amongst tenants in the Highlands—not only here, but in various other parts of the Western Islands.

12657. Do they divide it year by year, or does the same person hold the same portion for three years? —They divide it year by year when they are putting down the crop. It is regularly measured, and when the land is measured an equal number of tenants cast lots, and they only possess it for one year. This is gone through year after year in club farms; but it is different in what we call the crofting farms, because their crofts are regularly divided.

12658. Do you find the people just as sensible of the advantage of religious exercises and as attentive to their duties as they were in past years ?
—Yes, equally so.

12659. Do you bslieve there are any members of your congregation, young or old, who are prevented by want of clothing from going to church ?
—No, I am perfectly confident of that. There may have been some instances in which parents gave as an excuse that the children could not attend school for want of clothing, but that has been taken away by the parochial board supplying them with that article.

12660. Do you believe there is a greater or less amount of intemperance than there was in former times ?
—I think it is much about the same ; I do not think it is on the decrease.

12661. But not on the increase?
—No, I think not.

12662. Has the recent temperance movement made any progress here?
—It has not made much in this quarter yet.

12663. Have you any public houses on your side of the island?
—There was one, but it has been given up at this term. There are only two licenced houses in the island, at Lochmaddy and Carinish.

12664. So there is no unnecessary temptation thrown in the way of the people?
—No, not so far as that is concerned. I may state there was another wholesale licence at Lochmaddy, which has been given up also.

12665. Professor Mackinnon.—I suppose, as matter of fact, the people really don't drink unless they come the way of Carinish and Lochmaddy ?

12666. And that was always the case?
—Yes, so far as I know. There is one statement I would like to make to the Commissioners in regard to the honesty and truthfulness of the people. I was rather annoyed to hear a statement made by one of the delegates, I think from Carinish. There was a question put to him about the raising of turnips in the district, and
so far as my memory serves me he stated that they could not raise them there with any degree of safety, because they would be stolen. Now, any wandering boy may go into a field, and take up a turnip occasionally—I daresay we all did it occasionally when we were boys,—but as to the general character of the people, I must say that they stand very high in that respect, with regard to pilfering or stooping so very low. I think it is just and right in me to contradict a statement of that kind which has no foundation.

12667. The Chairman.—In fact,.you think that if they took any trifling object of that sort it would be from thoughtlessness ?
—Just thoughtlessness and carelessness—certainly not with the intention of thieving.

12668. Sheriff Nicolson.—Is there any sheep stealing?
—Well, sheep stealing was a matter that created a very great deal of Ì excitement at one time throughout the whole of the West Highlands, and very much in the Western Islands here. I may say it is a thing that is hardly known now, or, I am glad to say, for a number of years back.

12669. The Chairman.—Do the sheep and the stock generally in a bad season run all through each other very much ? Do not they get mixed, and may they not stray a good deal ?
—That is quite a likely thing.

12670. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—Do you know whether in those townships that hold their land under the run-rig system there is a less tendency to an increase of population ?
—I think as a rule there is.

12671. Do you know if iu the rest of the parish the young people are apt to settle down on the croft where there is only room for one ?
—Yes, there is a tendency to that.

12672. Do you think the tendency is less where the run-rig system prevails, where there is a club-farm? —Yes I think, as a rule it is.

12673. The other tenants don't allow that to happen?

12674. You said you found that where a proper rotation was observed and proper rest given, the crops were, as good as they used to be. What do you consider the proper rest for land in this country ?
—Two years in grass.

12675. Do you farm yourself?
—I hold a glebe, and I used to farm it, but it turned out that I was a very bad farmer, and I let it out to a tenant; and I find myself more benefited by letting to a tenant at a rent than by farming it myself, because I did not know very well how to superintend farming operations, and those who worked it took advantage of me.

12676. Is your tenant a good farmer?
—He is a very thriving one.

12677. Have you observed what rotation he adopts?
—I think it is about two years,—from two to three years; it depends very much on the quality of the soil. There are certain crofts in this country that have been cultivated at least for a period of sixty years, year after year, and it is perfectly impossible that they could yield the same crop. In regard to the raising of potatoes, when the potatoes do succeed they have a very abundant crop.

12678. Have you any idea what the return of potato seed is in the light sandy soil here?
—I have seen two barrels of potatoes planted, certainly in a very good piece of soil, and they yielded sixteen returns; but as a rule I should say there are eight returns on the average in a good year.

12679. Do you know what the returns of seed are in the case of grain ?
—I should say that the usual return is a boll to the peck. There are sixteen pecks to the boll.

12680. You speak of barley?
—Yes, but that is a very large return; I should say ten returns is the average.

12681. Do you know how many pecks of barley they sow to the acre?

12682. Do you know what the returns of oats are?
—No. It is only small black oats that we raise; there are a few places where there are white oats, but as a rule we don't raise them.

12683. You have heard of sixteen returns of barley in your time?
—I have seen it.

12684. That is exceptional?
—Yes, in a very good growing year and with very good soil.

12685. Sherif Nicolson.—Are you a member of the school board of the parish ?
—I am not now.

12686. How did that happen?
—They said I was very stringent in exacting the regulations of the school board, and they put in two members
instead of myself and one of my co-presbyters. However, I know a good deal of the working of the school board.

12687. You heard the statement in regard to Boreray?
—Yes, I am quite aware of that.

12688. Do you think anything could or should have been done by the school board to establish a school there?
—I certainly think there should have been something done, because I always considered it a great hardship for the people to pay school rates and not get the benefit they were entitled to on that account; but the statement which the man made was perfectly correct with respect to the supply of education by the Free Church Ladies' Society in Edinburgh, which is continued now. There was a school connected with the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge for a good many years, and when that was given up, the ladies'  association took it up. So far as I remember the school board had ia view the erection of buildings there, but it so happens that that has never been accomplished.

12689. In point of fact, if it were not for the Ladies' Association, the children of Boreray would not be educated at all?
—No, the attendance was very small; the number attending was about thirty.

12690. I suppose the existence of that Ladies' Association school relieves the mind of the school board of the parish from any anxiety on the subject ?
—I do not know what they think now, but when I was a member of the board we very often had it under consideration, but it was never decided to erect buildings. As I have said, I think they had it in view to erect buildings there.

12691. Do you know what is the school rate in the parish?
—I think it was 1s. 3d. last year.

12692. Mr Cameron,—Is that between landlord and tenant?
—No, it is 2s. 6d. between landlord and tenant; the poor rate is the same.

12693. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—In regard to the returns of seed which you mentioned, did they grow upon crofters' land or large farmers' land?
—Upon large farmers' land—land that wa3 taken in by regular rotation.

12694. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—Has the population increased or decreased within the last forty years, or is it stationary ?
—It has increased but not very much.

12695. What was it in 1841 ?
—I don't think it was 4000.

12696. What is it now?
—4264, and since the census of 1871 it has increased 158.

12697. With reference to the pleasing and satisfactory account which your father gave of the people of the parish at the time, as being all in good circumstances, can you account for the forcible eviction from the estate of so many people ten years afterwards ?
—I can hardly account for that except in the way of clearing the laud for others. That is all I can say.

12698. Now, having been born in the parish, and having been connected with it all your days, you have probably traversed every bit of the parish ?
—I have.

12699. When you are going your rounds, don't you see the remains of of scores if not hundreds of houses that are now in ruins ?
—The only district in which I can see that is in the district of Sollas—not in any of the other districts which have been cleared.

12700. Can you state of your own knowledge or observation that there is a great deal of land once under cultivation that has now run out into pasture ?

12701. Can you put it into acres ?
—I cannot do that at all.

12702. You have heard it stated that a considerable time ago no corn was imported ?
—Yes, and I remember that myself.

12703. And you have heard it stated, and probably know from your own knowledge, that a great deal is now imported from other quarters ?
—Yes, a great quantity.

12704. Don't you think that arises to a great extent from allowing some of the land to run out from cultivation into pasture ?
—I do.

12705. In regard to the clothing of the children, I think you said that you did not think that there were any children prevented attending public worship in consequence of the state of their clothing ?
—I am perfectly well aware of that.

12706. There is no such thing?

12707. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—You speak only of your own congregation ?
—I speak of the whole island.

12708. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh,—It has been alleged in other places that that is the cause, and a very good cause, but that is not consistent with your observation ?
—It is not.

12709. With regard to the observation you made as to the delegate who spoke about the turnips, don't you think that what he meant was that the people are so poor at present, and so bothered with cottars who paid no rent, that there was a danger of their perhaps taking a little more of his turnips than ought to have been the case ?
—Well, he may have meant that, but I may state that turnips are rather a new thing among the tenants, and they would go rather more from curiosity than bad feeling. That is my impression.

12710. We have heard a great deal in other places about the consumption of tea, and the answer we got was that it has come very much to supplant the want of milk ?
—It has.

12711. That is consistent with your own observation?
—It is.

12712. Can you give us an enumeration of the large tacks that are now in your parish ? I suppose there are not above half a dozen altogether ?
—I do not think there are more than half a dozen in the whole island.

12713. Will you name them?
—Newton, Clachan, Avore, Grenitote, Sollas, Vallay, Ballylone, Balranald.

12714. Do these eight tacks comprehend the great bulk of the rich land of North Uist, both arable and pasture ?
—They do.

12715. Are all these tacks held by separate people?
—No. Newton is held by oue. Clachan and Avore go with Balranald. Grenitote is a separate one, Sollas is a separate one; Vallay is held by Mrs Macdonald, and Ballylone by Mr Stewart of Scorrybreck.

12716. Of these then there are apparently two non-resident tenants?
—That is all—Mrs Macdonald and Mr Stewart.

12717. Has the proprietor any land in his own hands?
—He has the two hills of Lea above Lochmaddy.

12718. Are these grazings?
—Yes, sheep grazings.

12719. Is there a resident proprietor?

12720. Has he a residence on the island?

12721. We have heard that there are in certain places in North Uist a very considerable number of people in the position of cottars, who pay no rent to the crofters on whose lands they are squatted, but who are still in
possession of a considerable quantity of stock. Is that consistent with your knowledge ?

12722. Is that a great grievance to the crofters ?
—I seldom heard them complain about it. They do complain of it now to a considerable extent, but that is a recent thing. The cottars pay rent to the proprietor. At any rate they are charged rent by the proprietor, which is a recent thing too.

12723. Do you know any glaring instances of cottars having several head of stock who are really living upon the crofters' lands ?
—I do not think the amount of stock of any of them comes to several. Some of them have a horse and cart, a cow, and a few sheep. I do not think it goes over that

12724. Would it be an exaggeration to say that there are two hundred people living upon the crofters with stock of various kinds ?
—I would say there is that at least.

12725. And you as an outsider, and a minister looking after the interests of the people, would say that is a very great hardship to the crofters ?
—I would say so—a very great hardship indeed.

12726. How might that have arisen originally?
—It may have arisen from intermarriages. I think that was the origin of it, and they got a hold upon the croft, got the stance of a house, and continued until they became resident there, and with nothing in their possession but what the crofter gave them. That is the only way I can account for it.

12727. You are aware that in all parts of the island there is a great demand for additional land and to get their holdings increased. Are you generally in favour of their getting that ?
—I am.

12728. And supposing that that were done, would you recommend that, so far as the hill is concerned, it should be a common stock ?
—I should say so.

12729. Managed as a club farm?
—So far as the hill is concerned.

12730. With one herd ?

12731. They would have, of course, exclusive rights to the low arable land ?

12732. Are you aware that has worked very well in some other parts of the country ?
—That is the way they generaUy work their stock in this country. They have one herd for the stock they graze on the hill, and keep the arable land exclusively in their own hands.

12733. Is there any reason why a well-managed club farm of this kind in the hands of several crofters with enlarged holdings should not as sellers hold their own in the market with the big tenants ?
—There is no reason why it should not.

12734. Sheriff Nicolson.—In regard to the Sollas affair, what was the reason given at the time by the representatives of the landlord for removing the people?
—This island was in the possession of Lord Macdonald at the time, and all his estates were under trust. There was a commissioner appointed to manage the affairs named Mr Cooper, an Aberdeen advocate, and he visited this island in March 1848. He found that the people of this district of Sollas were very much in arrears of rent indeed, but the principal reason of that was that they had not recovered from the very great shock of the destitution of 1846, 1847, and 1848. When this commissioner saw they were so very much in arrears, he proposed an emigration, that he would send them to Canada. This offer was accepted by the people of the district, but when he came back in the month of June to make preparations for their removal he found them of quite a different opinion. A feeling had got up amongst themselves that they were singled out from the whole district of the country, not with a very amiable disposition, and they resisted, and hence the evictions. I may also state that a very great feeling got up in the south in favour of the people, and there was a large fund of money collected in order to better their condition here. The managers of this sum, which was put together, offered or at least guaranteed the rental of the farm of Sollas—the whole district of Sollas—which consists of four different farms—Sollas, Duine, Middlequarter, and Maliglate. This offer by the managers of that fund was not accepted, and it was then that they got possession of this black moor of Langash and Loch Eport, which did not last more than a period of two years, I should say. The eviction took place in the summer of 1849, and they were allowed to remain in their houses until the following year, and the most of them emigrated in that unfortunate transport the ' Hercules' in 1852. They all went except those who remained at Loch Eport, and are still there. These are all the circumstances that I know about it.

12735. The Lord Macdonald of the time had nothing personally to do with that unfortunate eviction, and I was told that he was very sorry for t when he knew what was being done ?
—He was powerless in it. His estates were under trust, and were altogether committed to the management
of Mr Cooper.

12736. You know the land very well. There was some evidence given by one of the Loch Eport people. Do you consider that their land is in any way comparable to that from which they were evicted as a place to live upon and get a living with any degree of comfort ?
—There is no comparison in the world so far as my experience of land goes. There are thirty-four crofters at Loch Eport, and I should say ten would be quite enough for it.

12737. With regard to the feelings of the people here and the grievances they represent, there is a belief on the part of some people that those feelings have been excited very much by influences outside of themselves, and that they are not altogether spontaneous. Do you think any such external influences have had any considerable effect upon them in leading to the statements we have heard to-day ?
—Less or more.

12738. Have there been any agents at work among them from other quarters ?
—There were, but I don't think they have had any great effect upon them so far as the people of this island are concerned, so far as I know.

12739. I suppose they read the newspapers now a great deal more than they did twenty years ago ?
—They do.

12740. Have you any knowledge what kind of papers are most popular amongst them, or to what extent they read compared with what they did at that time ?
—I circulate a great deal of the public news among them, and I read a very carefully and well conducted paper, the Glasgow Herald.

12741. You have no Irish papers here?

12742. Or the Glasgow Daily Mail?
—It comes here occasionally.

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