DUNCAN MACLEOD, Crofter, Bragar (64)—examined.
15377. The Chairman.
—You desire to make a statement to the commission?
—Yes. North and South Bragar, Parish of Barvas.
—Gentlemen, the following is a statement drawn up by the crofters of the townships of North and South Bragar to be laid before your Honourable Royal Commissioners. Many complain that before they got possession of their crofts, they had to promise to pay old debts contracted by the former tenants. Notably among the complaints is Donald M'Donald, Feevie. Several years ago, alleged overstock was forcibly taken from those said to have it, and nothing like the value given to the crofters as the price of what was forced from them. The crofters, most of whom are fishermen, would like a quay built. At present there are thirteen boats there. The houses should be much improved, so that the cattle and family would be under different roofs, and not in the same apartment as they are at present. There is no road, or a passable footpath for the children, especially in wet weather, going to school from the public road to the houses, which are much needed. Roads to the sea-shore and to the peat moss are also much required. At present the peats have to be carried from one and a half to two miles by the people in creels. We have not the same liberty of putting the cattle to the moor as in former times, owing to the game being watched for shooting tenants and sportsmen, and we have often got lead in sheep after having killed them. A case has been known where a horse was found dead on the moor with lead in its body. There are twenty crofters in Bragar, and owing to poverty, each has only one cow. There are twice as many people in the place as the township can properly support. Besides legal taxes, 7s. or 8s. were added to every crofter's rent by Mr Munro, when chamberlain. A piece of land for which the township of North Bragar paid £6 was taken from them, and divided into six crofts, but no rent was taken off the township. We would like the proprietrix to give us work. The Commissioners can have no idea of the kind of land in Bragar, unless they visit the place. Every croft is honey-combed with stones, and impossible to be wrought by horses.
15378. Have you any further statement to make ?
—Nothing, except the general statement that over-population would injure any place.
15379. There is a complaint here that before the crofters got possession of their crofts they were obliged to pay old debts or arrears of rent contracted by the former tenants. Is it the custom of the people here, that the incoming tenant should pay the arrears of rent due by the outgoing tenant ?
—Yes. There are some held down in that way, who have not received a receipt for rent from the chamberlain, until the arrears of the former tenant were paid up.
15380. Is that really the arrears of the former tenant or the value of the house which the former tenant left behind him ?
—It is the arrears of rent, not the value of houses.
15380*. They complain of the want of roads to the peat moss and to the sea-shore. Have they represented that want to the factor ?
—I spoke to the ground-officer myself this year to see if he would send pick-axes and wheel-barrows so that the people themselves might make a road three miles long to the peat moss in return for the meal that was being distributed.
15381. Did he send them ?
15382. Has he promised to send them?
—There was some material sent to Shawbost in order to make a road from the far end of the village to the school, and he told us that when that was done the
material which was being used on that road would be sent to our place. I told him it would be excessively inconvenient to send them then, because by that time the comparatively idle time of the people was over and they would have to go and earn their wages elsewhere.
15383. The memorial says they wish the proprietrix to give them work. What sort of work could the proprietrix give them in the present season with advantage?
—I heard it reported that Sir James Matheson laid apart a large sum of money for the benefit of the tenants on the estate. I have only to state that nothing of that sort has been done for the tenants of our township. Our great want is a road to the peat moss and a road to the shore; and that must be done by the
15384. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—How long is it since any man paid his predecessor's arrears, and what was his name ?
—The name of one of the men is in the paper. The matter happened fifteen years ago. The individual promised to be here to-day, and he is not.
15385. Was that the last time it occurred?
—It was about that time that they were entering upon their lots.
15386. The Chairman.
—Is this system still kept up?
15387. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Can you give us a later instance of it ?
—Yes, they pay it yearly. Another man named Colin Macleod, Bragar, has paid it.
15388. Do you mean that they have paid it with their rent?
—It so happens it is a certain amount paid yearly, and these two men have been paying little sums as they could every year.
15389. In fact you mean that they entered at an increased rent over the preceding tenant ?
—Yes; these arrears make it an increased rent.
15390. Does there ever come a time when the rent will drop to the old thing ?
—Not if the years continue as bad as they are.
15391. What is Colin Macleod's rent ?
—I cannot give the exact penny.
15392. Do you know the amount of arrears he has to pay up ?
15393. How much of that has he paid this year ?
15394. What is about his rent ?
—Off and on, about £2, 10s.
15395. In fact he is paying £3, 10s. of rent?
—Yes; every year that he can pay it.
15396. In what form is this entered in the receipt ?
—They get no receipt even for their own rent until this sum is all paid up.
15397. Do you know this of your own knowledge ?
—Yes, I know it of my own knowledge.
15398. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Who was the person whose arrears to the extent of £20 this man was paying up ?
—His mother-in-law, Mrs Mary M'lvor. Macleod was a young man without land; and here was a widow woman who had the land, and this man could not get his own
name entered in the rent roll without undertaking to pay the arrears of rent of his mother-in-law.
15399. I suppose he succeeded to his mother-in-law's stock too?
—No, he did not.
[Transcriber's note: Mr Mackay is answering questions from this point onwards]
—This man is labouring under a mistake. Colin Macleod succeeded his mother-in-law and got her effects and all that belonged to her house and croft. He wished to succeed her. He did so, and undertook to pay the arrears that were upon her croft at £1 a year. He got all the effects and the crop, whereas, if he had not got the crop he would not have had to pay anything. What means she had went to the credit of her arrears, but he got all her effects.
15400. Did he get any stock?
—Live stock and house.
15401. You are well advised that he got the live stock ?
—He got whatever stock she had.
15402. Professor Mackinnon.
—Was the stock valued?—No, he took possession of it.
15403. Does he get a receipt for his rent?
—Of course, when he pays his rent.
15404. The statement made here was that he got no receipt until that debt was paid ?
—I cannot say as to that. A receipt is not given till the rent is paid in full.
15405. So that for all the rent he paid for the last fifteen years he has no vouchers, and he might be called upon to pay it over again?
—I cannot say that.
15406. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You do not give a receipt for partial payments ?
15407. The Chairman.
—But the payment is credited in your books?
15408. Professor Mackinnon.
—Is this looked upon as debt and not rent ?
—It is debt arrears.
15409. Why then is a receipt not given for the rent?
—The rent and the arrears go together.
15410. So that, as a matter of fact, he has no proof that he has paid a penny of rent these years ?
—Probably he has not a receipt unless he has been clear since he entered.
15411. The Chairman.
—Are you able to state in general terms that an incoming tenant on the estate is never asked to pay the arrears of the out-going tenant ?
—Never so far as I have had to do with the estate.
15412. Mr Cameron.
—Except in the case of a relation?
—When a relation gets the effects of the party.
15413. Professor Mackinnon.
—But the effects of the party are not valued ?
—No ; he offers to take them and pay the arrears.
15414. Whether they are a fourth or a half,—or whatever is the amount of the debt ?
—Whatever it is.
15415. The Chairman.
—But that practice is never used except in the case of relations ?
—Yes, relations who have got the estates. A stranger would never be asked to pay.
15416. If a stranger would offer to take the croft and take the effects too would such a rule be allowed ?
—He would get the effects at what they were worth.
15417. But would he be allowed to enter in with the effects of the previous tenants and with the debts too ?
—No. I would not take the debts from him. I would not accept that arrangement from a stranger. I would take the value of the stock and allow him for it.
15418. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Are the tenants who do not get receipts from you until they are paid off entitled at all times to access to your books to verify their payments ?
—Yes, if they like to ask it. They never dispute the correctness. Sometimes there are from five to ten payments in the year. We take any amount that comes in.
15419. You consider yourself bound at all times to exhibit the books ?
—Yes, if it is asked.
15420. The Chairman.
—What is the reason why receipts are not given for partial payments?
—It has just been a custom on the estate, and there would be so many of them. Our office is open for payments every day of the year.