JOHN MATHESON, Crofter, Upper Barvas (68)—examined.
15205. The Chairman.
—Were you freely chosen a delegate?
—Yes. This is the memorial of the people of Upper Barvas:
—Before 1833 the crofter tenants were only twelve in number, and paying rent to the minister. About 1833 they and their land were separated from the minister, and their land divided into fourteen lots, at £46 rent. A double glebe was left to the minister by law, because of the inferiority of the soil, the same containing 30 acres of the crofters former land. The crofters' fourteen lots consisted of land much more inferior. A small piece of land was promised to them from off Lower Barvas for £ 5 additional rent; but it was never given, though the £5 are yearly paid by them, and also £5 by the Lower Barvas people. Now there are 24 crofter tenants in Upper Barvas, paying £58, 7s. (a sum made up of rent proper, and what was for some time kept separate, as 5s. road money and 1s. kain or hen money). School rates, poor rates, and road money are also paid. These different items may be seen in their receipts.
—Small, and inferior in soil, also rocky, and cannot be worked by horses; best land and pasture in hands of a select few. Some parts left uncultivated, because unprofitable. Stock. Sheep and cattle more in number than can be rightly kept from the people's anxiety to have, through their sale and the reservemen's and fishermen's earnings, the sum of money needed for rent and rates. The rent never reduced. The people cannot keep out of debt. The paupers are a burden on the crofters; but they delight in supplying them with the necessaries of life, besides paying poor rates.
—Land-holdings of such size and kind, arable and pasture, and on such conditions as may, with industry and thrift, afford proper and sufficient maintenance.
JOHN MATHESON, DONALD M'DONALD.
15206. How many people were there present at your election?
—A great many.
15207. How many people are there in Upper Barvas paying rent directly ?
15208. How many are there not paying rent directly?
15209. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Does that include the paupers of which this paper speaks?
—There is no pauper staying in Upper Barvas except one girl, and perhaps also a young child.
15210. The Chairman.
—It says—'The paupers are a burden on the crofters.' Does that mean those two people ?
—It is the paupers of the whole parish.
15211. Do you mean the poor people, or the people receiving parochial assistance ?
15212. Of the whole parish
—The whole parish.
15213. There are twenty-four families paying rent, and there were formerly twelve families before 1833. How has that increase taken place ? Have they been brought from other places, or are they the natural increase of the people of the soil ?
—The people belonged to the place. Few if any outsiders were placed among us. In 1833 in addition to the twelve who were paying rent, there were two who did not pay rent at that time, and who were allowed crofts afterwards.
15214. Have you got a croft?
—Yes, a whole croft.
15215. What stock do you keep?
—I have too many for my croft this year. I have three cows, three young beasts, about twenty head of sheep, and one horse.
15216. What is your rent?
—£3, 6s., not including taxes.
15217. You said you have more stock than you should have. What is your summing?
—When I said I was overstocked this year, I meant that I had more stock than the croft can properly feed. I have no summing. That has gone out of fashion, and we are none the better for that.
15218. Are you obliged to buy fodder for your stock in winter?
—We would require to buy a great deal this year if we could only get it, but it was so scarce that we could hardly get it. We always buy more or less.
15219. How much do you buy on an average?
—In a good year we do not buy anything to speak of, but we get a good deal of their provender out of the shore—sea-ware.
15220. In an unsatisfactory year, how much do you buy?
—I would probably almost have to pay about £1 in order to maintain my present stock properly in an average year.
15221. You said you gave sea-ware to your animals. To which do you give the sea-ware?
—To the whole of them.
15222. Do the sheep eat sea-ware?
—No, not the sheep,—the cattle.
15223. Does the horse eat sea-ware?
15224. Do the cows and the horse thrive on the sea-ware, and what particular description of weed do they get?
—It is very good for them when they have other provender along with it It is tangle.
15225. Do you dry the sea-weed before giving it, or do you just give it to the beasts off the shore ?
—Right off the shore, and they go away down to the sea themselves to eat i t Of course, the people bring it up for them too.
15226. We were told in another place that if the cattle got sea-weed they swooned. Have you observed anything of the kind here ?
—Yes, and it sometimes kills them; but that is only at a certain time of the year. In the spring of the year we require to be particularly careful when they get this sea-ware lest it may kill them. I saw sixteen killed by the seaware one day; but it is only for a very short period of the year that there is that great danger, and we are very careful at that time.
15227. What do you think is the reason of its being poisonous at one time and useful at another?
—The cows are at all times very fond of this sea-ware, and when they get down to the shore and get an abundant supply they take too much; but when the people bring it home to them they regulate the supply to a moderate quantity. At the beginning of spring they are weaker, being worse fed and in worse condition than at any other time, and it is worse for them when they get a gorge of it
15228. Is it good for cows in the way of making milk?
—Yes, it is very good, especially at this time of the year.
15229. What is the best food along with it?
—Straw. Potatoes, for example, are not so good along with it as straw is.
15230. Have you plenty of sea-weed?
—Yes, generally there is plenty, but sometimes we complain. There are some places better than others. jo nn
15231. Axe you allowed to gather it freely on your own shore?
15232. Is any payment taken for it?
15233. Can you gather it on the shore of the tacksmen, if there are any tacksmen ?
—The only tacksman in our neighbourhood is the minister of the parish, Mr Strachan, and he and we are upon very good terms, and we are quite free to go upon his foreshore and he upon ours to take seaware.
15234. You say that a small piece of land was promised to you from Lower Barvas for £5 additional rent. Why was that additional piece of land never given to you?
—In the days of John Munro Mackenzie there was a march between Lower and Upper Barvas, and he stated that Upper Barvas got more than its fair proportion of land. Our arable land was equal, but he assigned a certain portion of pasture land to Upper Barvas. This portion of pasture land we never got. He said that the rent of the property would require to be increased by £5 because of this additional bit of pasture land. That was done. The £ 5 was placed upon us, but the bit of land we did not get. It remained with Lower Barvas, which had it originally.
15235. Then, perhaps the people of Lower Barvas would not like to part with the ground ?
—No, certainly not. They got no abatement of rent either.
15236. Would you like to take away ground from your neighbours who do not want to part with it ?
—No; they never wanted to get any of our ground.
15237. Then what you ask for is increased holdings?
—We do not know where we can get more land. We leave that to people wiser in respect to such matters than we are.
15238. You can remember fifty years ago quite well. Do you think the people of Upper Barvas are poorer and worse off than they used to be fifty yean ago ?
—They are not so well off now. It cannot be, with the number of people there.
15239. Are they worse dressed than they were then ?
—I cannot very well answer the question. I remember that fifty years ago we were clothed with the wool and home-made cloth of our district. Instead of that they have to-day senseless rags that they buy here and there in other places.
15240. But I see the people all around me are well dressed and decently dressed ?
—Yes, it is quite true, but they are clothed in their best to-day. After all, what is it worth beside a jacket or a coat of home-made cloth, or a pair of trousers of home-made cloth, which I saw in my time ?
15241. Are the houses worse than they were in your time, or are they better ?
—The houses are considerably better. I have myself built a poor house in many ways, but I have built two houses in my time, and it is superior to the house my father had. H my father's house had been better than it was, probably mine would be better than it is.
15242. What about your food ?
—The food is not half so good. I heard one of the previous delegates speak to the same fact on that matter to-day.
15243. I have heard there are no public houses or places for the sale of liquor in the country except in Stornoway. Do you approve of that?
—I quite approve of that regulation. When there were licensed premises nearer me, I was tired enough of them.
15244. But you did not go there yourself?
—Yes, there was such a day when I used to frequent them, but even I gave it up entirely.
15245. Are there many temperance people now?
—I do not know. I never took the pledge myself, and I am not very sure that I ever regarded that mode of promoting temperance too high. If one who is satisfied in his own mind that it is a proper thing to do so, that is my idea of temperance.
15246. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Are you able to sell anything off your croft ?
15247. Do you not sell a beast?
—Yes, we sell a stirk.
15248. What did you last sell, and when?
—Last October I sold two two-year-olds, and I am rather ashamed to tell the condition in which they were in the presence of gentlemen. I only got £5 for the pair of them.
15249. When do you expect to sell another one?
—Very soon. I must sell Supposing there were only two, necessity would compel me to sell one of them.
15250. Do you sell any sheep?
—I sell a few sheep now and again.
15251. What do you get for the sheep?
—Where there is no good pasture there can be no good mutton. We sell our two or three-year-old wedders from 12s. to 20s. I have seen 20s. got for them, but that is rare.
15252. Are these the only tilings that you can sell off the produce of the croft ?
—I sell nothing else. In a very good year I once sold four barrels of potatoes, but it was an exceptionally good year.
15253. How much are you obliged to spend in a year in the purchase of meal and other necessaries for supporting your family ?
—My family is now very small; they are scattered here and there ; but when they were gathered together I would consider £20 a very moderate allowance for
what I had to purchase.
15254. Is there a scarcity of milk much more so than prevailed in former times?
—Yes, and of butter. We have lost the butter entirely of late in comparison with the day I have seen.
15255. Are you obliged to give your children tea now to make up to some extent for the loss of milk ?
—Yes. I was the father of a family myself before I could distinguish between tea and coffee. The children now can distinguish between the two articles before they are four years of age. They are not at all so innocent in that respect as I was.
15256. Is your rent altered in any way since 1833 ?
—It was raised. To begin with, there was that £5 of which I have already spoken, and then there was 6s. in the time of Munro imposed upon every crofter.
15257. For what purpose ?
—For road money and hen money.
15258. It appears that the hens at first used to be delivered in the time of the Seaforths, but do you know how long it was dropped ; how long was there between the time they gave in the fowls and the time the money was paid ?
—I cannot very well tell. I remember the time myself when the hens were being delivered, and the practice of payment commenced in Munro's time.
15259. Had the giving of the hens ceased so long that when the money was exacted it came upon the people as a new tax or new rent altogether?
—They looked upon it no doubt when it was first imposed upon them as a new imposition, but, although I myself was without any hen at the time, I remember when the old people used to say that they would prefer to pay the shilling rather than deliver the fowl.
15260. Do they still go to the shealings ?
15261. How many go ?
—Probably there will be two heads of cattle on an average going to the summer pasture from each house, and a female always accompanies them, but sometimes two neighbours may entrust the care of their cattle to one person.
15262. When do they send them ?
—About this time.
15263. How long do they keep them there ?
15264. Do the women stay all that time in the sheilings?
15265. Is the milk sent home, or do they make butter and cheese?
—The milk comes home every day.
15266. Is somebody sent for it?
—The milkman comes home every morning with the milk.
15267. How far is it?
—From four to six miles distant from the homestead.
15268. Do the women sleep in bothies?
—They sleep outside in the sheilings.
15269. Did your ever hear of an old custom of the people of the place to meet and go in a sort of procession singing a sort of chant when they went to the sheilings ?
—I have heard something of that practice, but I am not able to give any correct opinion about it. I believe it must have been long ago.
15270. What is the tradition you have heard about it ?
—They used to sing, but it.was not psalms; it was not the Psalms of David, whatever. They had some metrical composition.
15271. Do you think it was so long ago as to date from the times before they were Christians ?
—I cannot say.
15272. Is there anybody in the place who has any recollection of such a thing ?
15273. The Chairman.
—Do you remember a factor called Knox?
—Very well indeed. Everybody would know him. There was nobody in the whole island like him.
15274. Do you mean he was so good or so bad?
—I mean his personal appearance. He was a great, big, fat man.
15275. Did that factor exact a shilling for hen money?
—I remember perfectly well of the hens being delivered in his time, and I am inclined to believe that the practice continued during the whole time of his
15276. Did he exact a week's work from the people, and failing that, 5s. instead?
—Yes, the service was rendered in his time. I cannot remember the men who paid the 5s., but the service was pretty punctually rendered.
15277. Did you ever hear it said that pottery used to be made by the people in Barvas?
—Yes, I both heard and saw vessels of clay being made.
15278. What sort of vessels were they?
—All sorts. We have them here yet—a good number of them. There is one person here that makes them yet.
15279. Do they make jars and dishes for milk and butter?
—No. She could not make jars with narrow necks, but she would make crocks for butter.
15280. Were they painted, or had they patterns upon them?
—I am not aware, but, as to the woman I speak of, some of her work was sent to Edinburgh, and gentlemen who came to the place used to hunt her up and get some of the work she did.
15281. Was this an art which they learned abroad, or was it an old traditional art in the place ?
—Yes, in the days of my grandfather and great-grandfather these clay vessels were in most common use. I cannot accurately say, but my own belief is that this art was of native growth.