Breasclete, Lewis, 5 June 1883 - Murdo Macdonald

MURDO MACDONALD, Crofter and Fisherman, Tobson, Berneray (49)—examined.

14735. The Chairman.
—Have you been freely elected delegate ?
—Yes. Murdo Macdonald.

14736. How many people were present at your election?
—About half as many as the place could hold.

14737. Will you make a statement to the Commissioners?
—I have to tell about the poverty of the township of Tobson, and the causes that have led to it. In the time of our fathers there were eight tenants at Tobson, and they had Bosta besides and hill pasture also. That was in the time of the fathers of those who are there now, more than sixty years ago, but some of those who were cultivating the land are there still.

14738. At Tobson ?
—Yes. The rent they paid was £5 altogether for the eight tenants. They had then cattle, horses, and sheep. Then commenced the depopulation of the island and the putting in of sheep and shepherds on the top of the people.

14739. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—How long since?
—I cannot give the date, but it is a good while since.

14740. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Was it in Sir James Matheson's time?
—I think it was before Sir James's time. The island was then filled with people coming from other places. The people of Kirkibost and Hacleit were sent in upon us. There are now twenty-five crofters in the township, and twenty without land at all. The rent of the township is £89, 10s., without Bosta. There was some hill pasture, but the half was taken away. A dyke was erected between us and the land of Bosta which our fathers had.

14741. The Chairman.
—What is Bosta now?
—It is part of the tack of Mr Mackenzie of Linshader and that wall separates us from our old burying-place. There is no gate there for us to carry our dead through, and we have to carry them over the wall, were the snow ever so deep. There was a fishing harbour formerly at Bosta, which is now useless—cut away from the people who used it before—and there are no people to make use of it.

14742. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—I understand you to say that you are cut off because it is within the dyke ?

14743. The Chairman.
—Can you not make use of the harbour ?
—It is too far away from us to make any use of it. We have a small anchorage at Tobson, but not so good as the old one. The half of the whole pasture our fathers had was taken from us. That was done in my father's time, I cannot give the date. Mr Smith was the ground officer at the time. After a few years we were not allowed to go to that hill pasture at all, or make any use of it.

14744. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Are you deprived of hill pasture altogether now?
—It was given back to us again. I do not know how, but we were allowed to resume the use of that hill pasture. After that, when we got it back again, we were obliged to erect a dyke between ourselves and the deer forest Then another piece of hill pasture was offered to us in exchange for our former one, and we had to build seven miles of dyke round it. The shepherds got hold of our sheep whenever they strayed and poinded them, and then sent them to Stornoway, and sold them. We used to follow our sheep to Stornoway, and bring them back home, and then the shepherds took from us one after another of the sheep that we retained. I have myself seen the fire of a man put out at Bosta, and he sent away to Shawbost, who was not a penny in arrears. The man himself never did any good afterwards.

14745. Was this after the people were removed from Bosta ?
—It was before they were removed by Mr Mackenzie.

14746. Before the tenants were removed from Bosta, how many families were there in Tobson and Bosta ?
—I think there were nine families in Bosta. I cannot remember how many there were in Tobson.

14747. I suppose there were about the same number in Tobson that there are to-day ?
—About the same number.

14748. Was it to Kirkibost that the Tobson people were sent?

14749. Did Mr Mackenzie of Linshader exchange Kirkibost for Bosta?

14750. And the nine families from Bosta were rather bettered in circumstances by coming to Kirkibost ?
—It gave them more room than they had in Bosta.

14751. Did the people of Tobson hope to get the land of Bosta for themselves when the Bosta people were removed from it?
—We were desirous of getting it.

14752. They had no promise of it?

14753. Did they ask for it?
—We sent a petition to the chamberlain and to her Ladyship, but we got no answer. (see Appendix A. XLI)

14754. Then the removal of the Bosta people has been good for them, but prejudicial to the Tobson people ?
—Yes. It was injurious to the people of Tobson, because the cows of the Bosta people trespassed upon our lands back and forward.

14755. If this dyke were not between Tobson and Bosta, would the people use the port at Bosta still ?
—We would make use of it still in very wild nights, when it was desirable to get to the nearest landing place, but as there are no houses there we prefer to get to the nearest point to our homes.

14756. Then, if there was a gate to the burial-ground, your objection to the dyke would be pretty well removed ?
—There would need to be a dyke between us and the shepherds, at any rate, so long as there are shepherds there.

14757. Is the hill pasture which you have got now in exchange for what you gave up as good as what you gave up ?
—Not at all.

14758. Who has got the old hill pasture?
—It is in the deer forest.

14759. How long is it since this was added to the deer forest ?
—I think about eleven years (see Appendix A. XLI)

14760. How long did it take to put this wall of seven miles around your new pasture?
—We raised it in the course of the winter and the spring of the first year, because until we raised it we could not put any beasts upon the hill; we were not allowed. Nobody was allowed to go out with his boat to fish at all till that dyke was finished. We ourselves made that regulation that nobody should go out to fish, or send his wife anywhere, till that dyke was finished. (see Appendix A. XLI)

14761. What rent do these twenty-five crofters now pay?
—£89, 10s.

14762. Is that equally spread over them all?
—No. Some of them are paying a little above £ 1 ; the highest rent, so far as I know, is £6.

14763. What is your own rent?
—£4, besides taxes.

14764. What stock do you keep ?
—I have two cows, one stirk, and seven sheep.

14765. Is the £4 your own rent, or the rent of yourself and your brother ?
—That is between myself and my brother.

14766. Has your brother the same stock as you have ?
—Yes, he keeps the same stock.

14767. Do you send your cows to the mainland pasture in the summer time to the sheilings ?
—Yes, we would have none if we did not do so.

14767. When do you send your cows to the sheiling ?
—We send our sheep ashore the first week of summer, and we send our cattle ashore at the end of the first month of summer; that is, about the end of this week. (see Appendix A. XLI)

14768. How long do they remain there?
—Till the end of summer.

14769. Both cattle and sheep?
—The sheep remain till the end of autumn.

14770. Have you a herd for the sheep?

14771. Do the women go with the cattle to the sheilings?

14772. Do they stop there through the summer ?

14773. Without going home ?
—The whole time.

14774. How do they spend their time there ?
—We bring food to them by boat.

14775. Do they make butter and cheese?
—Those that can make butter and cheese; those that cannot must do without.

14776. If the cows do not give milk, what is the use of the women going there ?
—It is hoped they will have milk yet, if they have not now.

14777. Do they bring the milk home, and take food with them?
—We go for it, and bring it.

14778. Are they all in one sheiling?
—Sometimes two crofters have one sheiling between them, and sometimes one has the whole sheiling to himself.

14779. Are the cattle housed there, or only the women?
—The cattle are out at night.

14780. Are you a fisherman ?

14781. Have you a boat of your own?

14782. Do you fish for hire?
—I fish as one of the crew of a boat belonging to a curer.

14783. What pay do you get for it ?—Some years eightpence and some years ninepence, one shilling at the most, for ling; and sometimes they will not take the cod from us at all; they don't think it worth having, but if we take it to them they will give fourpence for it.

14784. Are the cod not of good quality here?
—They are good in the winter.

14785. Are the ling good all the year?

14786. When do you get payment from the curer?
—We often have to get it before we earn it.

14787. That is to say, you get advances from the curer?
—Our accounts are made up at HaUoween, but we get payment beforehand from him in meal.

14788. Have you drawn much meal this year?
—Yes. I have purchased eighteen bolls this season, between what I bought and what I got.

14789. What did you pay for what you bought?
—The curer charges twenty-four shillings a boll.

14790. Is it from the curer that you got what you bought ?
—I did not buy it all from him.

14791. What did you pay when yon bought it elsewhere?
—Nineteen shillings, and the best £ 1 .

14792. Is the curer's meal this year twenty-four shillings?
—I do not know what it will be this year.

14793. When will you know what it will be this year?
—About Halloween, when we make up accounts.

14794. Will you not know the prices of the ling till then?
—I do not know the least what prices we will get this year.

14795. What curer have you been fishing to lately ?
—Hector Mathieson, in Valtos.

14796. Have you been long fishing for him?
—Yes, four or five years.

14797. Has he settled with you every year at Halloween?

14798. Are you told each year at that time how you stand with him ?

14799. Have you ever had money to get from him?
—I had money to get from him the last year at any rate.

14800. And when you did not have money to get from him, did you feel bound to fish for him the next season?
—He does not bind himself, but I consider myself under obligation, if I am in debt to him, to fish for him.

14801. Although the price of the fish is not fixed, and the prices of the advances of meal is not fixed?
—I do not see it to be my duty, though poverty compels me to do so.

14802. Do you know of any case here where people have made as much money by the fishing as would enable them to buy boats for themselves ?
—I do not think I know of any, but they did clear off or made money enough to pay for boats that the curers had given them.

14803. Are these people now fishing with their own boats?
—The only one in our place that I knew who did so is not able to make use of the boat now. He has nobody to assist him with his land.

14804. Would it not be worth his while to hire labour to assist him with his land ?
—I don't know.

14805. What extent of land has that man got?
—His rent is about £4.

14806. Has he enough to make him comfortable without fishing ?
—He is one of the best off in the place whatever, but he has only a small family.

14807. Do you think that the fishing might be so prosecuted by some of them that it might be for their advantage to give up the land, and thus leave more land for the others ?
—Of late years fishing has fallen back. It is far away from the land. We can have no living without the land, and plenty of the land which our fathers had in view of us,—twenty townships in possession of one bed-ridden man, and hundreds of us without as much as we can say that we have a right to.

14808. But if you had the whole of the land that your fathers had, there are four families now for one there was in your father's time. How are all the others to be provided for
—We think, if the land were given us, that we would work the land,—that we would borrow money for a few years, and after we had the land sufficiently stocked that we could then repay the money.

14809. But you think that a man holding £4 of land is too much occupied to devote himself at all to fishing ?
—When there are two able men in a family, they could both work the land and also the fishing. I have another thing that I must say—about the sportsmen. Some of us walking upon our own pasture have been threatened by them that if we did so, they would put lead into our bodies. That was done within the last four years.

14810. Who was it that said so ?
—That was said to Malcolm Macdonald of Tobson by the sportsman who was then living at Scaliscro.

14811. The Chairman.
—What is the sportsman's name?
—Mr Williamson.

14812. Did Malcolm Macdonald complain to the factor that he was threatened by the sportsman ?
—No. The gamekeeper said he wondered he did not fire at him.

14813. Did the man really believe that the sportsman would have fired at him, or did he only think he was angry?
—He told me he was very much frightened by it.

14814. Have you any other complaint to make of the sportsmen ?
—Yes. I could not think of going to get heather to make ropes for thatching our houses, except during the week we are permitted to do so by the factor.

14815. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—On our pasture.

14816. When is that week?
—A week about Lammas time.

14817. The Chairman.
—When the man was threatened by the sportsman, was he on his own hill pasture or was he on the Scaliscro ground, belonging to the shooting tenant?
—I could not be sure which side of the dyke he was on.

14818. Do you think generally that the shooting tenants are unkind to the people ?
—We got no kindness from them better than that.

14819. Do you know whether the shooting tenants here have sent considerable subscriptions this year for the relief of the poor in their present distress ?
—I am not aware of that.

14820. I will let you know by-and-by how much they have sent. Now I wish to ask you some questions about the fishing. Do the fishermen generally think that the curers are harsh and unjust, or do they think that the curers treat them with justice?
—We know that the curers are hard upon us.

14821. Are the fishermen very anxious to be independent of the fish-curers, and have boats of their own ?
—That is a thing they greatly desire.

14822. If the proprietor or Government would supply them with boats would they endeavour to pay for these—to pay interest and repay the capital ?
—I should think they would.

14823. You mentioned two dykes in the course of your evidence; one dyke was built between Tobson and the tack of Bosta ?
—The first dyke mentioned between Bosta and Tobson was erected by Sir James, but there were other two dykes we made ourselves.

14824. What sort of dyke was erected by the landlord ?
—A stone dyke.

14825. Was that useful to the people of Tobson; did it do them any service ?
—It kept our cattle from going to the other side, and cattle on the other side from coming to us.

14826. Then what was the second dyke you built yourselves—not the dyke against the deer?
—The first dyke was erected on the west side of the deer forest, to shut us out from the deer forest.

14827. What sort of dyke was it?
—A turf dyke; there was no stone to be got.

14828. Was it made entirely by the crofters?
—Yes, every bit of it.

14829. The proprietor gave them no help?

14830. Was the object of that dyke to prevent their stock straying upon the deer forest ?
—Yes. If any part of the dyke fell, anybody who had his cattle there at the shieling was obliged to remove away.

14831. I mean, that dyke was erected not for the sake of the crofters, but for the sake of the deer forest ?
—It was on account of the deer and not of the cattle.

14832. And yet the crofters paid for the whole of it?
—We did it all notwithstanding.

14833. And they never had any compensation?

14834. How many days' work of the community did it take to make this dyke ?
—We spent a day in going there, and we spent a week there before we came home.

14835. Then we come to the third dyke—that was the dyke seven miles long ?
—That is the third dyke.

14836. Was that put up for the sake of the deer forest and not for the sake of the crofters ?
—That was also erected for the sake of the deer.

14837. Was it entirely put up by the crofters, and did they never receive any compensation ?
—Without any compensation.

14838. How long did the dyke take them to make?
—My brother and I and our servant spent ten weeks working at it.

14839. Did they never receive any reward or consideration for it in any form ?
—Not the worth of one halfpenny. The only promise I heard made was that if we made the dyke in the course of a year, a cope or paling would be erected on the top of the wall for additional protection, which was never done.

14840. Was that wire?
—Yes, a wire fence. When any part of the dyke gives way now, we have to go and repair it, or pay somebody for doing so.

14841. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Is Berneray a populous island?
—I don't know the population, but there are a considerable number.

14842. Is a considerable part of the island under tacksmen?
—Yes, two good farms are in the hands of tacksmen.

14843. Can you give us any idea of the comparative division of the island between those two tacks and the small crofters ? Have those two tacks the half of the island ?
—It is not the half of the island.

14844. Nearly the half?
—Yes, the crofters have three farms, and the sheep farmers have two.

14845. How many out of the whole population are living on those two farms ?
—There is nobody living on Mackenzie's farm.

14846. How many may be upon the other?
—There is one family living on the other.

14847. What are the names of those two farms?
—Bosta and Croir.

14848. If the people got these two towns would it very much benefit them in their circumstances and position?
—It would be a great help to them, and still more if they got besides Little Berneray, which the people had before.

14849. With regard to the dyke which prevents you getting into the burial ground, why was there not a gate left in it through which you could carry the bodies ?
—When the dyke was being made I was working at it, and we made a gate for the purpose of access to the churchyard, and it was shut up and filled with stones, and notice was sent to us by the farmer of Linshader that we must fill it up.

14850. Did you make any remonstrance to the authorities at Stornoway ?
—I don't think so.

14851. Are you aware that it is not lawful by the law of Scotland to shut up a road to a burial ground?
—I did think so.

14852. Then why did you not apply to the authorities ?
—Because the local government was stronger than we.

14853. In consequence of the shutting up of the wall, are you, in point of fact, to this day, obliged to lift the bier over the wall when you come to it ?
—Yes, we are obliged at this time to lift the coffin up on to the wall, and men to stand there, with others on the other side.

14854. Do you know whether the proprietor or those in authority were aware of that fact ?
—I don't know.

14855. In regard to the rent, which was originally £5, and which is now increased to £89, with great deductions taken from you, are you
aware when the last rise took place ?—When the ground was lotted by Mr Cameron.

14856. Was the rent added to considerably at that time?
—The chief rise was before Mr Cameron's time, but it was added to in his time also, and the present rent was then fixed.

14857. What is the name of the place where you have got your present hill pasture ?
—Our first hill pasture was Bein-na-chuillein, and our present pasture is at Earshader.

14858. Is your present pasture good grazing, and of considerable extent ?
—It is spoiled by the number of cattle that are put upon it. The people of Kirkibost and Croir have a right to pasture as well as us.

14859. Are the shielings of the different townships close to each other?
—There are so many people who have a right to have them there that they must be near each other.

14860. Have you any idea how many women and children will go there this year ?
—There will be thirty from our own township, ten or eleven from Hacleit, twenty from Kirkibost, and six or seven from Breasclete.

14861. How do the women spend the day ?
—Knitting stockings, making shirts, caps and frocks, and such like work, and looking after the cows.

14862. Do they keep up the old custom of meeting, when the evening falls, and having singing ?
—The young people undoubtedly like that.

14863. Have they any music except singing?

14864. In your younger days did there use to be pipe music, or anything of that sort ?
—No. There were pipes in my father's time.

14865. We have read in a book that when they set out for the shielings, they had some particular song. Was that the case here ?
—No. I have heard of such a thing, but I cannot say anything definite about it. There are old people who might be able to tell.

14866. In regard to the limitation upon pulling the heather for thatch, is that heather in the forest ?
—We are afraid to gather heather except on the inside of our pasture. I repeat what I said before. We are not allowed to gather heather on our own hill pasture, except during one week.

14867. Why?
—It is one of the orders ot the estate, for the sake of sport and not disturbing the deer.

14868. Is that restriction in the articles of lease or regulations of the estate ?
—I think that is in the regulations.

14869. Is it intended for the benefit of the sportsmen or for the benefit of the pasture ?
—I cannot say why it is done.

14870. Is there to you any sense in the regulation?
—We obey it, at any rate. It is trying to us.

14871. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Is this the regulation to which you refer—rule 14—'No tenants shall pull heather, or cut rushes, or bent, or carry away the same, except on such days as shall be appointed by the groundofficer or gamekeeper of the district, and at such place as he shall point out' ?

14872. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You told us about a man whose fire was extinguished. What was his name ?
—Malcolm Macdonald, Bosta.

14873. How long ago was this?
—A few years before Bosta was depopulated.

14874. Was it in consequence of the hardships he endured at that time that he was unable to do anything more for himself ?
—I don't know he was personally injured in any way by the removal, but he was heart-broken by it—his children left him—and he never did much afterwards.

14875. You spoke about a man who was threatened to be fired at. Is that man present here ?
—He is at sea. There are some here who heard the threat.

14876. Did the people in your township receive any of the money that was collected by charitable people ?
—Yes, we did.

14877. Were you satisfied with the way in which it was distributed?
—Some were and some were not, but I was pleased, and I was in need of it, and am thankful to those who gave it for seed and food. But for the gentle-folks who did it, we would not have been alive.

14878. The Chairman.
—I think it right to tell you that the shooting tenants m this part of the Lewis have sent £160 to the relief fund, and you will find the details in this paper which I now hand to you ?—The one thing we want is justice from the Queen and from her wise counsellors whom she authorizes.

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