ALEXANDER M'NEIL, Crofter, Smercleit (80)—examined.
11703. The Chairman
—You have a croft ?
—I have half a croft.
11704. You have a written statement?
—Yes.—' Smerclet, South Uist, May 28, 1883. My Lords and Gentlemen, The troubles that we are getting here are just the want of land. The land that our fathers had is divided among two or three persons. The way that our fathers were paying the land was working on cut kelp, but these are gone away now, and there is nothing now wanting on us but the money ; although the cut kelp stopped, the rent is still the same, it is not getting low, but still rising higher. It is not a wonder that we are poor, although we would be working, the pay would be Is. 3d. a day till two or three years, when it rose higher. The land that our fathers and grandfathers had for the cattle we cannot now let them on, or else they are locked up and pounded by farmers. Some two or three years before the people from her Ladyship would come, and they would take away the cattle that we would be going to sell, and would give to us for these what would please themselves, and we would not know what they did. Although we have cattle, it is not our own, but it belongs to the person who is giving us food. This person is Mr Donald Fergusson; and if he will it till he is paid, and the rest of it to the governor, we will have nothing. The bad way that they were governing us before this, were the governor took some meal to this country, and a person had to work for a whole day on roads and trenches with spades for one pound of meal. Poor-rate money and school money are taken from us along with the rent every year, and we do know what they are doing with it, and they are still getting higher. We have very bad land here, but it is worse just now, as the water of the mill is making a great damage to it, and the rent is still the same. After all things if we would get plenty of land, and the rent as they shall see better at any price, but not on the price of a factor or a governor.—SMERCLEIT CROFTERS.
11705. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—How many crofters are there in Smercleit ?
11706. And how many families ?
—There are two families for each of these crofts, and one or two outside on the moor.
11707. Were they all agreed to send you here?
—Yes. I have been freely elected a representative to appear here.
11708. Did they all hear this paper read?
11709. Used you to pay your rent in labour, cutting kelp?
—My father always paid his rent by kelp, and he never had any occasion to buy any meal for food.
11710. Did you make kelp yourselves, or did you merely cut the seaweed for the proprietor
—We ourselves manufactured the kelp.
11711. Did you yourselves sell the kelp or merely get paid by the proprietor for your labour
—We never sold a pound but to the proprietor.
11712. Were you paid by the labour or by the quantity of kelp?
— According to the weight delivered over to the proprietor, so much per ton.
11713. How much per ton
—£2, 10s., £2, and sometimes £ 3 per ton for kelp.
11714. Why is that system discontinued
—I think the proprietrix does not care to continue this kelp manufacture, because it does not pay.
11715. Can she not get more money for the kelp than she has to pay for it ?
—I believe that latterly the price fell very much, so that she was realising little if anything for the sale of kelp, and therefore it was discontinued.
11716. You say the pay you used to get was 1s. 3d. a day till two or three years back, when it rose higher. What pay do you now get
—I have been working some days, and receiving 2s. 6d.
11717. How many people were there at Smercleit when you first remember?
—I remember when there were only twelve crofts and twelve crofters' families in the whole township of Smercleit, and they were then well off.
11718. Do you remember when Colonel Gordon bought the property]
11719. Do you remember how many crofters were on Smercleit at the time when Colonel Gordon bought the property?
11720. Are you sure?
11721. And there are now twenty-four, and some odd ones outside on the moor ?
11722. Has the factor ever taken away any cattle from you at a less price than you could have got for them elsewhere ?
—There are lads along with me here from whom cattle were taken the other year, and they ought to tell what they got for them.
11723. What are their names ?
—John M'Millan and Roderick M'Caskill.
11724. Is there a system of valuation when the cattle are taken?
—They were valued at Askernish.
11725. And do you think the value was insufficient?
—I don't think it was much under the market price.
11726. Who appoints the valuators?
11727. Does he appoint both valuators?
11728. How long is it since the people had to work a whole day on the roads for a pound of meal ?
—In the year of the potato failure.
11729. You complain that the mill stream is damaging your lands. Have you complained of that to the farmer? —I spoke to Mr Macdonald last spring.
11730. What satisfaction did you get from Mr Macdonald?
—He said he would do his best to put that right, and he has helped us to some extent since he promised.
11731. You say you are willing if you get more land to pay a fair rent for it, but not on the price of a factor or a governor. How do you want the rent settled ?
—If that is mentioned in the paper the paper is not right. Who can or will settle it except the factor? I am sure the Royal Commission will not assist me in fixing the rent, and therefore we must go to the factor.
11732. What rent do you yourself now pay ?
11733. What stock have you on the land?
—Three cows and horses.
11734. Have you any young beasts ?
—I have one stirk and a calf.
11735. Any sheep?
11736. Do you know the extent of your croft?
—I believe my share of the croft is about 6 or 7 acres.
11737. Is it all cultivated, or is part of it in grass?
—Very little can be afforded to be left. We are constantly turning it.
11738. How many barrels of potatoes do you plant usually?
—I plant nine or ten barrels and take none out.
11739. That was last season, but in an ordinary season what return do you get
—In a very good year I might take out forty barrels as the result of planting nine or ten.
11740. How much oats and barley do you sow?
—I sow about four or five barrels of seed oats and I don't fill these barrels again at the end of the season when threshing them out.
11741. And barley?
—I get hold of a little of the barley. A storm carried off the land altogether, but in ordinary years I have more return from the barley than from the oats.
11742. What barley do you sow?
—Three or four bushels.
11743. And what return do you get ?
—About two bags of grain.
11744. Do you make meal of the barley?
11745. Do you make meal of the oats ?
11746. Is it for the sake of the straw you sow oats?
—Altogether for the sake of the straw.
11747. Would it not be better to sow grass and get hay?
—I believe it could not be worse.
11748. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—Have you been all your days in the same town ?
—Yes, always ; over sixty years in the same township.
11749. In your younger days were the people more comfortable in their circumstances or more cheerful in their dispositions than they are now ?
—We are constantly growing poorer—three times poorer than in my earliest recollection. I have nothing to eat unless I get it from these merchants at Loch Boisdale.
11750. Is it a fact that in your younger days you produced most of the meal that was required from your own crofts ?
—Yes, when my father had a croft for himself he never bought a pound of meal, and in those days the potatoes would be in heaps.
11751. Are the people as cheerful in their minds and dispositions now as they were then ?
—No, not half. They cannot be very happy when they are hungry.
11752. Are you aware there is a very considerable scarcity of milk for the children compared with what existed in your younger days ?
—When I was young I would get more milk than I would drink. To-day we cannot get a mouthful at all, many of us.
11753. That is not, I presume, on account of the milk being sold or sent out of the country by the people themselves ?—They don't sell milk here at all.
11754. Is it because they haven't it ?
—Because they haven't it. The few eggs they have they sell for tea, and that is the substitute for milk.
11755. Will you say, when the charge is made against you and others that you consume so much tea, that it is a substitute now for milk ?
—That is my answer.
11756. And does it apply to your class generally?
—Yes, it is quite true of those in my position. I am certain that it is.
11757. Was it common for the people to go to the south and other places in search of wages to support those at home ?
—When I was young no one had to leave the country to labour. Instead of going south they used to labour at kelp at home ; but now, in the absence of that industry, they are obliged to run away to the east country or wherever they can get employment.
11758. Taking this parish of South Uist, was it more populous in your young days than it is now ?
—Not so numerous as to-day. They are much more numerous to-day than they were then.
11759. That is your opinion ?
11760. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—Do the calves get more milk than they used to get ?
—The prices are decidedly better than they used to be. I don't think the milk is even so plentiful to give to calves as it was in those days.
11761. Is that because the grass is less?
—Just so—just on account of the want of grass—no grass at all.
11762. Do you mean the lands you have are over stocked ?