Breasclete, Lewis, 5 June 1883 - Donald Martin

DONALD MARTIN, Crofter and Mason, Tolsta (61)—examined.
[Transcriber's note: the Tolsta in this section refers to the village of Tolsta Chaolais, a few miles north of Breasclete]

14618. The Chairman.
—Were you freely elected a delegate ?

14619. How many people were present when you were elected?
—A good many of the inhabitants were present.

14620. Will you make a statement on behalf of the people of Tolsta?
—I do not intend to say much. The substance of what I have to say on behalf of the people is, that there is plenty of land under sheep and deer, which might make them comfortable. I have seen the people reduced to such poverty that they were obliged to feed themselves upon dulse from the shore, and a drink of hot milk after it, which if they had not of their own they got from their neighbours. I do not refer to this present year as yet, but I have seen that in years not long back. I see them now reduced to such a hard condition that I can compare them to nothing but the lepers at the gate of Samaria,—death before them and death behind them. I see no prospect of improvement of their condition. If one tack is set free, another tacksman comes into it, to confront the people as the Philistines did who came out to battle with the people of Israel. It astonishes me to see that the proprietor takes any pleasure in the condition of the hornless sheep compared with that of men ; and I see nothing for it now but that the sheep and the deer should be sent away, or the people be sent away out of the kingdom. The old people cannot be sent away without the young people. It is only the young people who can go, and it is only they who support the old people. If the young people go, the old people will die; and it is hard for them to see the sheep and the deer enjoying the price of their fathers' blood. I have not much more to say.

14621. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—If the land which is now under tack were given to the crofters here, would they be able to take over the tacksman's stock ?
—They certainly could not.

14622. What would you propose to be done with the tacksmans' stock?
—Sell it to the drovers.

14623. And how do you propose that the people are to stock these lands?
—If they got good land on which they could work to advantage, the produce of their land would enable them to purchase stock.

14624. Do you think that the kind of stock which the crofters keep is as profitable as the kind of stock the tacksmen keep ?
—It is not, and cannot be. One of the sheep of the tacksmen is worth three of our sheep.

14625. Then, if you cannot keep a stock so profitable as the tacksman's stock, can you pay a rent at all to be compared with what the tacksmen pay ?
—If we got their land, our stock would be better.

14626. If you could not take the tacksmen's stock over, what kind of stock would you put on the ground?
—The stock that we have would improve when it got the chance.

14627. Would the sheep become hornless sheep in time?
—Yes, when they got hornless rams, they would become cross in time.

14628. If you got these lands, would you be able to build houses on them yourselves?
—We could. Last spring I began to waken up stones to erect a new house, but my son said he was going to the States, which put a stop to my proceedings.

14629. Are you employed to build houses by the crofters?
—I did at one time, but they have become too poor now. I used to go working throughout the Lewis and Harris, and also to the east coast fishing, but I have ceased to do so now. Since I married I have spent £350 on meal.

14630. What do you charge for building a house?
—I had such a mind that it was not the same price I charged everybody. The Scripture says, ' Rob not the poor man because he is poor,' and I endeavoured to act upon that.

14631. What do you charge a man who is not too poor and not too rich?
—For the gable and the dwelling part of the house, 12 feet in length, I charge £2, and I feed myself.

14632. Do you or the people gather the stones?

14633. What would it cost a poor man to build a house, besides the £2 he pays to the mason ?
—It would cost according as the stones were convenient or not.

14634. Do you know the township of Kirkibost?

14635. The houses there built of late years, do you know what they cost the people on an average?
—I do not know what they cost. I built only one house there. To build a house of 60 feet in length would cost, including the quarrying of the stones, not less than £10.

14636. Does that 60 feet include the barn and byre?
—It is the whole walls of the house.

14637. Can you tell me what is the cost of the roof, doors, and partitions ?
—I do not know what the wood would cost from Stornoway ; but drift wood comes ashore here sometimes, which is roofing, and if it were abundant the wood would not cost nearly so much as it otherwise would.

14638. Is the wood never supplied by the proprietor?
—I cannot say, but it may have been given to the people that asked for it.

14639. Don't you know what the custom of the estate is?
—I do not know.

14640. What are the wages of masons in this island at the present time ?
—From 3s. 6d. to 5s.

14641. Professor Mackinnon.
—How many families have you got in the township of Tolsta ?
—Fifty-six, I believe.

14642. How many crofts ?

14643. So there are nearly twice the number of families that there are of crofts ?

14644. How did that stats of matters come about?
—It came from the multiplying of the people ; and perhaps a man whose rent was £2 had the sum spread over three families.

14645. But the people multiply in other places as well, and the like of this does not occur?
—I believe that if we had had English teachers instead of Gaelic teachers, which was all we used to have, probably I myself would not have been where I am, and others besides me.

14646. Have you English teachers now?
—We have, but the people are not satisfied with the school.

14647. Do you expect that the influence of the English teachers now will partly at least remedy the state of matters in the future in Tolsta ?
—It is only up to the age of fourteen that their parents are obliged to keep them at school, and they cannot give them any more schooling after that or send them to college.

14648. Your son told you last spring that he was going away to the States. Has he got an English education ?
—Yes, as much at any rate as would enable him to make his way through the world.

14649. Do you agree thai it was a wise step on his part to leave Tolsta and go away to the States?
—He thinks so himself.

14650. But seeing how affairs are in Tolsta, and how poor the people are, don't you think it was wise in him to risk it?
—I believe he would have gone before now but for his affection for his parents, whose only support he is.

14651. Perhaps he can support them quite as well from America as if he had remained in this country ?
—Yes, for ought I know, fortune might so far befriend him, but death might come upon him also.

14652. You stated at the outset that the land that ought to belong to the people was now under sheep and deer. That is the cry all over the place. Do you think there is plenty of land under sheep and deer to give a sufficient amount of land to all the people of this parish, so as to make them comfortable?
—I know the whole of this parish. I have walked over it more than once. I do not know if it would be improper for me to say it, but as the Queen of Sheba said when she came to visit Solomon, that all she had heard was nothing to what she had seen, so would any one say who had walked over the land of this parish, and seen how much of it is under sheep and deer.

14653. Taking the ground that the people of Tolsta have just now, arable land and moorland pasture, how many families would it support ?

14654. And there are fifty-six?

14655. Do you think that the places that are under sheep and deer in the parish would provide room for two-thirds of the people of the parish ?
—Yes, and more.

14656. So you are quite satisfied in your own mind, that if the people were spread over the parish, there is land enough for them ?
—I am certain of it, for there were no poor in the parish thirty-five years ago. The poor were then three times as well off as they are now.

14657. If they got this land, would they be prepared to pay reasonable rent for it?
—Certainly, and it would be easy to pay reasonble rent compared with the amount of money we spend on meal.

14658. You said already that not many of the people would be able to put the necessary stock upon the land?
—I said they could not buy stock.

14659. How would they be able to pay rent until their own stock would increase ?
—They could pay the rent by the money they make at the lobster fishing, long line fishing, and east coast fishing.

14660. During these years they would not be able to give as much time to the lobster and east coast fishing as they do now, because they would have to work some of their own land, and how would they be able to pay the rent when they are now so poor?
—I understand that quite well, but when they would get good land it would bring forth crop for them, and though they should be behind for two years, they would afterwards make up for it when it produced good crops, so that two rents could be easier then to pay than one at the beginning.

14661. You think then that the people would see that their circumstances would in a few years be improved so much that they would meanwhile work all the harder ?
—They could not work any harder than they are doing at present.

14662. But you think, if they got over the first two years, they could manage ?
—I believe they would be all right then, if a year such as this last one would not come upon them.

14663. And you think that the giving of the land to the people of the parish would remedy the condition of the whole parish as well as the people of Tolsta?—It would, and it would do good to the whole country.

14664. And that no other remedy would be required?
—I do not know anything else that would so improve the condition of the people as to give them plenty of land.

14665. Mr Cameron.
—If they could pay the rent of the new land which you wish them to get by lobster and other fishing after two years, why cannot they now buy meal from money obtained in the same way ?
—It is a hardship to them, because they have no profit out of the ground at present. However little a bit of land a man may have, he must attend to it and work it just the same as it were a larger and better croft.

14666. Do you find the fishing here profitable?
—Some years it is profitable, other years it is not.

14667. Do you yourself prosecute fishing here?
—I sometimes fish myself.

14668. Do you fish in company with others?
—I do not fish now; my son fishes.

14669. Do the people in your township fish?
—Yes; some of them have gone away already to Shetland.

14670. How many boats ?
—There are only two boats this year belonging to the place, but some of them fish in boats belonging to Loch Carloway.

14671. Do the boats belong to themselves, or to the fish-curers?
—Some of them are their own, and some of them belong to the fishcurers.

14672. Do the two boats you mentioned belong to the people themselves?
—Only two boats belong exclusively to the Tolsta people.

14673. Then they have nothing to do with the fish-curers?
—Yes, they have to do with the fish-curers. Most of them are employed in boats belonging to the fish-curers.

14674. Then do I understand that in Tolsta there are two sets of people, some of whom have boats of their own, and the rest fish in boats belonging to the fish-curers ?
—There are sixteen men who in company have these two boats of their own.

14675. How many people in Tolsta fish in boats belonging to the fishcurers ?
—These two boats belong to the fish-curers, as well as the other ones.

14676 But you said just now that they belong to the people themselves ?
—What I mean is that these two boats are kept at Tolsta. There are five men who own a boat of their own.

14677. Did you hear the evidence given by the last witness on the subject of fishing ?
—I did.

14678. Are the arrangements between the people who fish from Tolsta and the fish-curers the same as those described in the evidsnce given by the previous witness ?
—I believe so.

14679. In answer to a question, you said there was an immense quantity of land in this parish under sheep and deer. Do you know at all the proportion which is under sheep and deer, compared with that which is occupied by crofters ?
—I do not know what the measure of the land is respectively, but I know from walking over it—at least it is my belief—that there is more of the land under sheep and deer than under the possession of crofters.

14680. How much more, do you think?
—I cannot say.

14681. Were you at the meeting yesterday which we had in Meavaig?
—I did not hear the figures mentioned by the factor.

14682. Did you hear afterwards that we had it given us in evidence from the Ordnance map that there are 63,000 acres of land belonging to the crofters, and 56,000 acres under sheep and deer altogether ?
—I am not going to say anything against that; what has been measured nobody can contradict.

14683. Mr Fraser Mackintosh.
—What parish are we in just now, and what parish have you been speaking of?

14684. You say you have travelled over the parish, and know it well; do you know that, whether the lands held by the crofters are bigger or less than those under sheep and deer, the parts held by the tacksmen are the best parts ?
—The land that is under sheep and deer is like food with kitchen, and the land that the crofters have is like food without kitchen.

14685. You were asked what you would do with the stocks of the large farmers in the event of the land being divided, and you said, ' Sell them to the drovers.' I ask you now, would it be necessary to purchase the deer ? Would the crofters keep the deer ?
—There were deer before there was any tack in the parish.

14686. But if the crofters got the land with the deer, would they keep it as a deer forest ?
—The grass would keep up the deer, it is not the people that would.

14687. What stock would they put upon the land now occupied by the deer?
—Sheep, and cattle in summer.

14688. They would not keep the deer, in fact?
—They were kept there before.

14689. You have said something about the Gaelic, and complained that formerly they were not taught English. Is that correct?
—When I was young we had only Gaelic in the school at Tolsta, but we had an English school after that from the Free Church Ladies' Association.

14690. You would not like that Gaelic should be done away with altogether, would you ?
—I would not by any means; but I wish that the English should be taught, and they would learn the Gaelic along with it.

14691. Where are they learning Gaelic at this time?
—There is a Sabbath school in which they are taught Gaelic.

14692. Do most of the children attend that?
—Yes; the church is near them.

14693. Do you approve of Gaelic being taught, so that they may read the Bible in their mother tongue?
—I think so.

14694. Now, do you represent the feelings of the whole people of Tolsta in their demand to get enlarged holdings and some permanency in their possession ?
—I speak for the island of Lewis as well.

14695. Their minds are set upon it?
—Yes. ' Love your neighbour as yourself.'

14696. With reference to the question, whether or not the crofters have capital to stock the land, supposing there was a widow who had a little money, and there was a man who had only his own hands, would not the man who was able to work be as able to take a larger croft ?
—Just as well.

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