Barvas, Lewis, 6 June 1883 - Malcolm Mcphail

MALCOLM M'PHAIL, Crofter, South Shawbost (65)—examined.

14983. The Chairman.
—Were you freely elected a delegate?

14984. Will you make a statement to us on behalf of the people who elected you?
—I have to say, in the first place, that we were crowded together by people being thrown in upon us and that that spoiled our township in comparison with what it was in the time of our fathers. Again, there are about twice as many paying rent to-day as there were when I first began to pay rent as a young man. In connection with that I have another statement to make. The people of the township have no land worth calling land. It is stony ground, that cannot be worked by horses. I introduced a horse and plough, and I had to give them up. They were of no service to me. Then another cause of our discomfort is that we have no high road—no road to the shore—so that we cannot take the sea-ware from the shore, except upon our backs. The second cause of the poverty of the people is that we were deprived of the portion of the ground upon which our cattle used to graze, and the rent was left as it was, though this was taken away. Not only that, but we were obliged to put a fence between us and ourselves, so that we, by our own action, were made to separate ourselves from our own pasture, for which we paid rent.

14985. Was that a fence between the arable and the pasture ?
—We set up a fence between ourselves and that portion that was taken from us, which was ours by right. Afterwards, instead of ourselves being made to keep up that dyke in repair, one shilling a head was laid upon each of us, and a man was engaged to keep the dyke up. The man that marches upon the other side has the use of that dyke, but still we are not aware that he pays a shilling. I have another thing to complain of, which neither myself in my younger days, nor my father, nor my grandfather, had reason to complain of. Our moorland pasture in those times was held in connection with the township. This moorland pasture, which was ours, we have now to pay a separate rent for, and I will tell you how this came about. As a young man I got land. We were paying a week's service upon roads to the proprietor, and we were told that 6s., instead of this week's service, was laid upon us as an addition to the rent—that we would have to pay road money no longer. Now, there are not very many people old enough now living to testify to it, but my father used to tell me that there was a shilling levied of hen money along with the rent, and packet money, and it was unjust to lay upon us these burdens. I did not pay any of them when I got land first. We complain very much of that. Now, there is another matter in connection with that. I myself was at the east coast fishing, and when I was there, the ground-officer came and in my absence compelled my wife to gather the cattle. I was not a shilling in arrears at the time. He took away the best head of cattle I had, for which I could get some £6. He valued it at £2, 5s., and £2 was all I got for it. Its hide would be of as much service to me.

14986. How long ago is this ?
—Off and on about twenty years ago ; I cannot give the date. Unless they are relieved in some way, and some opportunity or advantage is given to them, I am quite unable to see how the people of our township can improve their condition, so that they will not be, as they are, virtually beggars living upon the charity of the people of the south. There are some of the people who have no stock to speak of that is worth calling stock—perhaps only one cow.

14987. Mr Cameron.
—What do you mean by the charity of the people of the south ?
—I think that is easily explained. It is upon the contributions of the people of the south that they are living up till now.

14988. Do you refer to this year, which was an exceptional year, in consequence of the storms of last October, or do you refer to a period of years ?
—I have this year in view, for it was quite difficult for me to see how the people could live through this year, except for the relief which they received.

149S9. Then the people in former years were not so badly off as they are this year ?
—They were not actually as ill-off, but in the matter of being able to keep their stock up they were just about as bad.

14990. What stock do the people have to seU every year on an average ?
—Very little.

14991. What ?
—Perhaps they might be able to sell a head of cattle, two sheep or thereabouts.

14992. Where do they sell their cattle?
—At Stornoway, and to drovers that come.

14993. What price did they get for their cattle last year?
—According to the state of the market, the best of the head of cattle that we would sell would average perhaps about £6 or £7, and the worst £2, 10s. or £3, that is for a four-year old.

14994. Do you sell anything but four-year olds?
—Yes, we sell them younger.

14995. Why don't you seU them at three years old ?
—We have so very few to sell.

14996. But if you got rid of a beast a year sooner you would have room for another ?
—Some of them do that. Some of them sell them at three years old, and some at two years old.

14997. When does a beast come to its full age, when it does not do to keep it any longer ?
—At five or six years.

14998. But it is at its full growth before that?
—It is not at its full growth till it is four or five ; the pasture is so poor.

14999. So it pays a man to keep a beast till it is four years old at any rate ?
—We get a higher price for it.

15000. What was the price of cattle at Stornoway when you were a young man ?
—Just up and down, as it is to-day—some years better and some years worse.

15001. But, as a rule, are cattle not much higher than they were thirty or forty years ago ?
—Yes, perhaps that may be the case, but I have seen years at that time when the price was higher than it is to-day.

15002. Who got the land that was taken away from the crofters in your township ?
—A shepherd beside us. It is as though you just cut up the half of a seat into two, and added the other half of the seat to his share, and we shoved into a corner.

15003. Do you mean the shepherd of some big farmer?
—Yes, he is virtually a tacksman. Every one who is a tacksman we call a shepherd,

15004. What was this tacksman's name ?
—The present tacksman is Mr Sinclair of Dallbeg. It was to his predecessor that it was first given when we lost it.

15005. What was his name?
—John Mackenzie. He was ground-officer at the time.

15006. How long ago was that?
—32 or 33 years ago.

15007. What amount of stock could be kept upon that portion of land that was taken away from the crofters?
—It was the best part of the township for cattle, and we were of opinion that it could keep about the third part of the cattle of the township.

15008. And you say the rent was not reduced then?

15009. Had Mr Mackenzie any other farm at the time to which this land was added, or did this land constitute a totally new farm for him ?
—Yes, he had Dallbeg and Dallmore before this was added to him. The best hill we had for our cattle was taken from us. It was on that very hill that we used to have the greatest portion of our cattle. Then, whenever he got it, he began to pound our cattle, if they strayed there. He used to keep them in that pound for two or three days, and then when we took the sheep out their stomachs were very empty and we had to send them away to the hill again, where we never saw anything further than their skins.

15010. Where did the people come from whom you say were crowded on the township ?
—From Dallbeg and Dallmore, the two farms which this man got.

15011. At the same date?
—About the same time.

15012. In regard to the quality of the ground, you say that the crofts are situated in such stony ground that you cannot work them to advantage. Do you know any other ground in the neighbourhood which is not of the same quality?
—There is very little of that kind of good ground on this side of the country. We must work it with spades because of the stony character of the soil.

15013. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—In coming along this morning, we saw the signs of a great deal of depopulation in Dallbeg and Dallmore. Do you know how many families resided in those places ?
—There would be over 20 in Dallmore. In Dallbeg there were five, of whom the ground-officer, who possessed the greater portion of the place, was one.

15014. Then am I to understand that this ground-officer took the place of those 24 families ?
—That was the case. I myself, along with one of my own age, when we heard the place was to be cleared to Shawbost, offered to the factor to give as much rent as he would get from any other person, if he would give us the place for ourselves, and that we would associate the other people along with us, and would pay the rent twice a year. We did not ask that any one would be made responsible for the rent, except us two. We did not get it.

15015. Who was the factor at the time, who refused?
—Mr Munro Mackenzie.

15016. I suppose the whole of those families did not come to Shawbost. How many of them came to Shawbost ?
—Five—two from Dallbeg and three from Dallmore. Our towuship could not contain them all.

15017. What became of the other people?
—They were sent to America and to other places after they had but recently erected new buildings. Their fires were quenched. Had you seen it, you could scarcely bear the sight. Their houses were broken down and their fires were quenched.

15018. Is not Dallbeg a pretty place, with good pasture ?
—Yes, and Dallmore too, and a capital place for crofters.

15019. Is there not a nice bay, where boats could be pulled up and fishing carried on ?
—No, it is not suitable for a fishing place.

15020. Did any of the people at all fish in former times ?
—No, they did not require to fish at that time; they were otherwise comfortable.

15021. What was the name of the ground officer who took the beast from your wife when you were away at the fishing ?
—Thomas Macdonald. If I had been at home, there would have been something to say before he got it.

15022. Did you not say anything about it when you came back ?
—What would be the use ? I would not be listened to.

15023. Can you assign any possible reason for thus lifting a man's cattle by the strong hand ?
—Because it was held I had more than my proper ramming.

15024. Supposing that ware true, was that a proper way to remedy the summing ?
—No, so long as the rent was properly paid, that was no business of the landlord's. If anybody had a grievance in the matter it was my neighbours and not he.

15025. You said that in your younger days you did not pay charges for fowl money and other things. What was the name of the factor who began to put that money on you ?
—It was in Mr Knox's time. The practice in his time was that, if I paid more than the rent he kept it, and if I paid a sum short of the rent, he did not make much noise about it ; but if he got the money he kept it to himself. That was the beginning of these continual impositions.

15026. Was he a head factor?
—Yes, he was.

15027. How long was he factor ?
—He was factor under Seaforth ; not under Sir James.

15028. You stated that you had to pay a shilling for maintaining the fence and that you were not aware the man on the other side paid a shilling; who was the man on the other side ?
—When this portion of land was taken from us and added to the farm of Dallbeg, we were taken bound to build half the fence between us, and the tacksman, of Dallbeg was to build the other half. Our grievance is that it was then stated we were not keeping up our own half of the fence properly, and this shilling was imposed upon us to be given to a man who would do so. The same condition was not imposed upon him. He still is allowed to maintain his own half. I was not aware of the arrangement until I was made to pay it at the rent collection.

15029. What is the name of the first crofters' land on this side of Dallbeg and Dallmore ?
—South Shawbost, where I reside myself.

15030. Upon the right hand of the road coming in this direction, there is a good deal of land very regularly drawn out and cultivated. Who was it that took in that land ?
—That is land newly taken in.

15031. Was that part of the land taken in by the proprietor?
—The people did the work, and they got more or less of meal for their work. We believe it was at the proprietor's expense. We got also money if it was due us, if we did not draw our wages all in meal.

15032. Do you know if there is any summing put upon large tacksmen?
—I can say nothing about that.

15033. Did you ever hear of a beast being taken off a big tacksman for overstock in the way in which yours was taken ?
—Oh, they don't touch them. Then there is another matter. It is impossible for us to bear the amount of taxation that is imposed upon us. When I got my lot at first the rent was £ 3 , Is. My rent just now, taxes included, is £4, 8s. 8d. From the receipt the bare rent is £3, 7s., and the taxes are £1, 1s. 8d., but 2s. 6d. of that is shepherd money. There is 10s. 6d. for school rate, and I have no child of school age. Another matter I want to lay before you. Whereas my father and grandfather lived upon milk and butter, and flesh and meal, I live upon meal, hot water, and sugar. My father had a croft of £5, and such was the produce of it that not only did we not buy anything, but we were scarcely able to consume the produce at that time. There is another thing which I must mention which vexes my soul. In the Naval Reserve there are 1500 or 1600 Lewis young men, and not a tacksman's son is among them, so far as I am aware. Think of it now! Take, upon the one side, these tacksmen with their sheep, and, on the other side, the young men I could produce and which would be best to maintain the strength of the country ?

15034 The Chairman.
—Are any of the tacksmen's sons in the militia ?
—I am not aware there are any from this island. They don't require to go. They are well enough at home. They have the best portion of the island.

15035. Are there any of the tacksmen's people in the volunteers?
—I am not aware there are any.

15036. You complain that there is no road to the sea. Have you applied to the factor for a road ?
—Yes, I myself spoke to him about it.

15037. Is the ground such that a proper road could be made?
—Yes, a road could be made.

15038. What did the factor say?
—The factor told me that if the people were to say it was necessary to make a road he would not oppose it, but things remained as they were.

15039. You complain that in the time of the Seaforth people a shilling was imposed upon the crofters, called hen money. Did you ever hear that that was in place of hens that they had previously been obliged to pay ?
—I heard it all, and I know it well.

15040. Then when you made your complaint, I think you ought to have stated that ?
—I know it well, but the question was not asked at me. In my grandfather's time they used actually to go with a pair of fowls to the castle.

15041. And eggs?
—I cannot say about eggs, but there was a pair of fowls.

15042. You complain that a shilling was imposed upon the crofters to keep up the fence. It was their duty to keep up half of the fence. Can you say they performed that duty regularly, or did they neglect it ?
—They set apart a day every year to repair it.

15043. But in the meantime there may have been a great number of holes in it ?
—No, not during the year; but of course some gaps might have got into it since we repaired it.

15014. Don't you think it was a better plan to have one man to look after the fence and be responsible for the whole of it ?
—There are gaps upon his own side of the fence as well as upon ours. The best plan would be to give us our own ground which our fathers had, and for which we still pay rent.

15045. When the people were brought from Dallbeg and Dallmore to your township, was the ground prepared for them by the proprietor ?
—They got portions of our own lots. The ground did not need to be prepared.

15046. Was there no ground prepared by the proprietor ?
—No, nothing. He gave them the ground of those who feU into arrears and lost their places.

15047. When were these people brought from Dallbeg and Dallmore?
—Thirty or thirty-two or thirty-three years ago.

15048. Was it under Sir James Matheson ?
—Yes, I think so.

15049. Was it so, or was it not ?
—It was during Sir James Matheson's time, when Mackenzie was ground officer.

15050. Who was factor?
—It was Mackenzie also.

15051. Is the ground officer who took away your beast still alive?
—I cannot say.

15052. What is the stock which you yourself keep?
—I have four cows, two stirks, about fifteen sheep, and a horse..

15053. How much is the rent?
—£3, 7s.

15054. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—How many crofters are there at South Shawbost?
—About 52.

15055. Where there any more crowded upon you besides the five from Dallmore and Dallbeg?
—I am not aware there were any.

15056. You say there are twice as many people in the township now as there were when you were young. Are they are all the natural increase of the township except these five?
—Yes, it is the natural increase of the place, except the five I have named.

15057. Was there much additional land improved in Sir James Matheson's time?
—Not any at all in our place, but one park ; I cannot say now many acres.

15058. In your father's time did the potatoes grow better than they do now?

15059. Was that due to land being better then, or is it that the potato crop has generally been a failure of late years ?
—I am quite certain that the land was better when I was a young man. The old land that was cultivated by our fathers has got exhausted.

15060. Are Dallmore and Dallbeg in the parish of Barvas ?
—No, our township is not in this parish at all. We belong to the parish of Lochs.

15061. What would you propose to do to remedy the great poverty in South Shawbost of which you have spoken ?
—My remedy is the remedy that every seiious man would propose if he would only speak out—that is, to give the land to the people at a reasonable vent-—the land that is now waste. It was ours by right. God gave it to the children of men, and our right is better than the tackman's,

15062. Is there any other land than Dallmore and Dallbeg?
—Yes; there is another place called Lamishader, which is joined to the tack of Linshader. There were a few crofters comfortable there once.

15063. Is that on this side of Carloway?
—On the north side of Loch Carloway, between the township and the sea.

15064. These are the only tacksmen's lands in this part of the country ?
—Yes, in our district.

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