Barvas, Lewis, 6 June 1883 - John Nicolson

JOHN NICOLSON, Crofter, New Shawbost (69)—examined.

15065. The Chairman
—Were you freely elected a delegate by the people of New Shawbost ?

15066. Have you a statement to make on behalf of the people who elected you?
—I am going to speak of the place which the previous witness spoke of.

15067. Did you hear what the previous witness said ?
—Yes. and I agree with it.

15068. Then you will have the goodness to speak of New Shawbost?
—We were formerly in the old one. There were thirty-one families of us. Now, upon a certain day, from twenty to thirty families came to us from Uig.

15069. Was that to Old Shawbost?
—To both Old and New Shawbost. Instead of the thirty-one families, there are now ninety-three,

15070. In the two places?
—Yes. We count it as one township. Now, the rent of it when the thirty-one had it was £140, each man paying from £5 to £7. The produce of the crofts maintained the families continuously from year to year. They had each from five to eight milk cows. Now we can scarcely be said to have any stock at all. The place we have to rear cattle and sheep for us will not do so any longer. In Munro Mackenzie's time he laid out a piece of about seven acres of the arable ground which was reserved for pasture. One of our own people went to ask for this piece of land as a croft for himself, but we opposed it, and Mr Mackenzie agreed with us and did not give it to him. In Mr Munro's time another went to seek for this piece of land, but our local constable objected to this arrangement, and we again prevailed. Subsequently the present ground officer, Mr M'Arthur, placed three men on it without consulting us. We went and prepared a written statement to be sent to the chamberlain, and he appeared next day after we prepared this statement and threatened us. He told us we dared not do such a thing. Then again, each one of us, however small his rent may be, pays 5s. or 6s. for this moorland pasture. The same sum is paid by the small-rented crofter as by the one who pays his £5 croft. The ground does not yield such crops now as it used to do in my earliest recollection ; but it is manifest to all meu that those who have the large lots are better off than those who have the very small ones, and if they get a proper amount of land just now, it would maintain the half of its present population. They are being crowded in upon us from aU parts of the country, and we ourselves want to get the land, but it is subdivided for the benefit of these. One poor man was sent upon us this year, probably not for his own advantage, from Sgeir-na-loch. The process goes on. Two were sent in upon us last year, squatted upon our pasture ground. The house of one of these is built The other is not yet built, and our leave is not asked in the matter. There was a man died in my place during my absence, and he asked that the third portion of his croft should be given to his son, who was married, and one of his barns. He had two barns, one on each side of the house. The son opened a door into this barn upon the outside wall, so that he could enter it without going through his mother's house at the same time. The man went off to the fishing. The ground officer entered the house in the man's absence, and the mother was there with her six months' old child. She was from home getting, the child vaccinated, and when she returned she found her fire quenched. She had nothing for it but to weep and wail by the wayside. She was there till others took her in. She got unwell, was bed-ridden, and her mother went to attend upon her. She was still going to sleep in the house, and they were keeping up a fire in it now and then. In about a month afterwards—I do not know the exact time, for I was not at home— the ground officer went with three constables and pulled down a portion of the house, and she herself and the child have not yet recovered from the exposure. She is still unwell. The widow said that in the process they broke a spinning wheel that was in the house. There is another grievance among the many we have. We were in the habit of placing a herd to look after our sheep, and we paid him at the rate of 2d. per head. This year and last year at rent collection we are to pay 3d. per head, and between the chamberlain and the ground officer we do not know what it means. If we, the people of Shawbost, are not oppressed, I do not know any in Lewis that have got the same measure dealt out to them. We do not know any relief we can get unless we get land.

15071. Sheriff Nicolson.
—What rent do you pay ?
—32s. or 33s.

15072. What stock are you able to keep?
—A cow, a three-year-old, a stirk, five sheep, no horse. There are thirteen families in New Shawbost where I live that have only one cow, and some without a cow at all.

15073. Was your father a crofter in Shawbost before you?
—Yes, and my forefathers in Old Shawbost.

15074. The Chairman.
—Are you in New Shawbost ?

15075. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Is the house you are in the one in which you were born ?

15076. What became of the house your father had ?
—It was a brother of mine who succeeded to my father's lot.

15077. Is he also in Shawbost?

15078. The Chairman.
—You said there were ninety-three famdies in New and Old Shawbost altogether. How many of these ninety-three have been brought and put in from other places, and how many are the natural increase of the township?
—There are over forty families that did not belong to the place, but were brought in. In addition to the ninety-three families paying rent, there are some other families in the town as well.

15079. But there are only forty who were outsiders ?

15080. And they occupied the lands which were improved by James Matheson ?
—Some have portions of that land, and others not.

15081 Have you got a portion of that land ?
—Yes, all my croft consists of that land.

15082. Do you remenber when those improvements were made?
—Yes, quite well.

15083. Who were the people that were employed to do it?
—They were paid for it partly by Sir James Matheson and partly by Government money, and all the people of the place would get work at it, and were paid for it. Others camo from other places to work at it. They trenched it

15084. Did those who got new land receive assistance to build their houses ?
—The assistance given during the time they were building the houses depended upon the amount of family they had. For example, a man who had three of a family got one stone of meal per week during the time they were building the house, and if the family was larger a larger amount of meal in proportion was allowed.

15085. Who coUected the stones to build the houses?
—The people themselves.

15086. Were they paid for that branch of the work ?
—Nothing whatever.

15087. Who provided the wood for the roofs?
—The people bought it, for they had it not. It was provided by themselves.

15088. Were the drains well made?
—Some of them were well done, and some of them otherwise.

15089. Do the drains still work after the lapse of those years?
—They are of no service now. They are choked up. We were obliged to open up afresh the upper portion of the ground of late years, in order to allow the water to run off, because these drains were useless.

15090. Have the drains ever been re-opened, or do they remain as they were before ?
—They have not been re-opened, but they never worked well. They never drained the ground so well as by the process we use ourselves—that is, gathering the soil together, and allowing channels to run between the various patches.

15091. Has the soil become less productive now?
—It is not so productive as formerly. There is as much straw, but less grain.

15092. When the new families were brought in and placed upon the new ground, was the rent of the previous occupants reduced ?
—Not a penny. So far as I can judge just now, the township yields about £240. It is certainly over £220. It was £140 when it was among the thirty-one people.

15093. I want to understand exactly about the case of the poor woman, part of whose house was pulled down. There was a man who died, and he expressed a desire that one-third of his croft should be given to a married son. W7as the widow to remain in possession of the other twothirds?
—Yes, the widow was to have the two-thirds.

15094. Did the man who had it before ask the factor before his death to make that arrangement ?
—No, it was the custom of the place, and he did not speak to the factor.

15095. And the factor did not give his consent?
—No, but it was the common practice of the place that a man would be allowed to subdivide his croft among his sons.

15096. Under the regulations of the estate, is it allowable to subdivide — without the consent of the factor, or has the consent of the factor to be asked ?—We do not get permission. It was that that separated my brother and myself, because we were not allowed to subdivide the croft any further. It is against the regulations of the estate to subdivide without the consent of the factor, but as matter of fact we do subdivide without his consent.

15097. Well, there was the house and the two barns, where did the son who was to get one-third intend to live ?
—He lived in his mother's house before he went to the fishing, and then he went and lived in the barn, and it was in this barn that the fire was quenched.

15098. Is it consistent with the regulations of the estate to turn a barn into a dwelling-house, and live there without the consent of the factor ?
—Some of them do it.

15099. Do you yourself think it right that everybody of his own will should go and make a new dwelling-house wherever he likes without the consent of the factor ?
—I don't think it is right at all that that should be the case, but there were other people in our township that were doing such things, and they were not found fault with.

15100. Do you know whether the factor or ground officer found fault with the married son for taking up his residence in the barn ? Did they give him any warning?
—They were not pleased at his doing so. That was the reason they pulled it down.

15101. Did they pull down the whole barn?
—No, only a part of it. He added a bit to one end of it, and I believe that was the portion they pulled down.

15102. Where are the man and his wife living now?
—In the same place. He has now got a half of that lot. There is no one now except his mother and a daughter.

15103. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—With regard to the families who came from Uig, what part of Uig did they come from ?
—The greater number of them came from Valtos. One came from Berneray, some from Pabbay, some from Reef. We are not a year without somebody being forced upon us. There have been thirty-three families sent in upon us altogether, and it would appear that the practice is not to cease. We have no less than three this year.

15104. Do you know Loch Carloway?
—Very well.

15105. On the north side of Loch Carloway, going towards the point, do you think there were any people turned out there ?
—I don't remember.

15106. When did you last sell anything off your farm?
—I don't remember—not ever since I got it. I never shall sell any. It never kept me for three months of the year in any one year.

15107. What are you obliged generally to buy for food for yourself and your family?
—£12 or £14 worth.

15108. Have you to buy anything for the cow ?
—Yes, I had to buy £2 worth this year for the three head of cattle I had. This year was exceptional I usually buy about £1 worth for cattle.

15109. Have the people of the two Shawbosts ever brought the state of the township by overcrowding formally before the chamberlain with a view to redress?
—Some were complaining, but what is the use of complaining when others are sent in ? We had the idea among ourselves that this overcrowding in upon us was through spite. Is that not natural enough to suppose when there were over twenty thrown in upon this township and not one thrown in upon a township to the right or to the left ? There was not a better township upon this side of the country than ours before it was over- crowded as it is, and it would be good yet if the pressure of population were relieved. I was alive at the time when there were four small stills in the place and they were smuggling, and in addition to maintaining our families by the produce of our crofts we were able to send to those small stills more or less of barley every year, when they used to make whisky, and sell it for 2s. 6d. a pint of three bottles. When I began to go to the east coast fishing I was among the first who went, and then we used to have money through our hands. That would procure necessary supplies, all taken from the produce of our crofts.

15110. I hope you mention this matter of the distillation merely to show the productiveness of Shawbost at the time, and not that you approve of their proceedings in setting up the stills ?
—It was productive at that time ; there is no question of that.

15111. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You said you could not sell any produce off your croft; do you never sell any cattle ?
—I only meant food. I sell cattle. I both buy and sell cattle. What I meant was that we never sold anything in the way of provisions at all.

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