Breasclete, Lewis, 5 June 1883 - John Maciver

JOHN MACIVER, Crofter, Breasclete (56)—examined.

14519 The Chairman.
—Were you freely elected a delegate ?

14520. Have you a statement to lay before the Commission?
—Yes. Breasclete, May 1883.
—In answer to the questions that are required, we the tenants have to say that the rent of our town when Sir James Matheson came to the estate was £110; the number of tenants at that time being thirty families, and it has increased to forty-four families, and the rent arose to £122 ; of which five lots were cut out of the grazing pasture which our village had, and was rented, besides the former sum, these five are of the forty-four above mentioned; and besides that, another piece of arable land and grazing was taken from us, which was valued at £7, and that is turned on the rest of the town. And besides that, there is twenty-five having no lots, but squatters among the rest. This is the fourth chamberlain since Sir James Matheson came to the estate, the second one of them, namely, John Munro Mackenzie, was taking from them their cattle for the rent between £1 and £2, which would get at this time between £7 and £8, and that was reducing the mind and stock of the people.

14521. How many people were present when this paper was adopted?
—Almost every one in the place.

14522. Who wrote the paper?
—A native of the place.

14523. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—When was it that the rent was raised from £110 to £122?
—About thirty years ago, when the place was lotted out. In my first recollection there were only thirty families, but when the people were thrown in upon them, they increased. People all got poor after that, and they were huddled together, and it was at that time, thirty years ago, when the place was lotted out, that the rent was raised.

14524. Does the £122 include rates and taxes?
—No, it is exclusive of taxes.

14525. The paper states that 'five lots were cut out of the grazing pasture which our village had.' Who got these five lots?
—Men that were thrown in upon us.

14526. Where did they come from ?
—They came out of the place.

14527. There were no outsiders ?

14528. Where is the piece of arable land and grazing which was taken from you, and which was valued at £7?
—It is in this very town, beside the mill. It was cut off our township when the place was lotted out, but our rents were not reduced when we were deprived of that piece of ground.

14529. Who has it at present?
—The miller has it.

14530. Does the miller pay rent?
—We do not know. We got no abatement anyhow.

14531. Then £ 7 worth was cut away, and given to the miller, and you got no reduction?
—Yes, that is the case.

14532. You complain here that there are no fewer than twenty-five squatting among the rest. Do these pay any rent ?

14533. Do they do anything in servicer or labour for the crofters ?
—No, nothing whatever.

14534. Have they got any stock?
—Some have and some have not.

14535. Do they get potato ground in small quantities on payment of rent to the crofters ?
—From their own relatives they do.

14536. What does the township propose to do with these twenty-five cottars ?
—To get land.

14537. But where?
—Where it is?

14538. Where is that 'is'?
—It is lying waste, the best part of the land throughout this island, under sheep and deer, and the poor people kept in the worst parts of it, where they cannot make a livelihood out of it, and the best parts taken from them at every corner.

14539. How then do these poor people live ?
—They can scarcely be able to live at all.

14540. I presume, from what you stated, that they are all connected with each other,—that they are friends and relatives,—and therefore the crofters are kind to them ?
—Yes, they have relatives in the township.

14541. Are the crofters paying poor rates?
—Yes, and road money.

14542. Does it come to this, that besides paying their legal poor rates, they have practically to support these twenty-five families?
—Yes, that is the case. These twenty-five people must be kept up. Must not one poor family support another when there is no other way for it ?

14543. How many of them are on the poor's roll?
—Perhaps about six.

14544. With regard to the complaint ycu make against the then chamberlain, John Munro Mackenzie, taking from you the cattle for the rent at between £1 and £2, for which would be got at this time between £7 and £8, will you explain exactly what you mean by that ?
—These were very bad years, like this year. The markets were low, and when there was no other way for it the cow had to be sold, though it would only fetch 20s. or 25s., and BO the factor took them away, and he himself priced them.

14545. Did he keep them for some time until better markets prevailed, or did he sell them at once ?
—He sold them as he was able to do it.

14546. Has the proprietor laid out any money on the improvement of this township within your recollection ?
—I am not aware of any, unless perhaps, as the previous delegate stated, some Government meal was given away for assistance.

14547. Have you received any of the money that has been collected this year by charitable people ?
—I myself got a little meal. Some in the township got some, and others did not.

14548. Were the most of them in circumstances requiring assistance ?
—Yes, the greater part of them. I could except very few here not equally in need of it.

14549. Was there any complaint as to the mode of distribution?
—It is quite impossible to get any person in the world who can satisfy every person.

14550. Did you get any potato seed?
—I got half a bushel.

14551. Was that from the proprietor, or from the charitable funds?
—I have not paid for it, and I do not know whether I shall be called upon to pay for it or not.

14552. Sheriff Nicolson.
—What rent do you pay?
—25s. bare rent My brother pays 25s. also. There is road money and poor money, and moorland pasture money, in addition to that.

14553. What do you pay for moorland pasture ?
—Five shillings.

14554. Where is that moorland pasture?
—Away out of here.

14555. Have you paid that 5s. ever since your lots were made by Sir James ?
—In my first recollection, we did not pay for that moorland at all.

14556. How long is it since it was put on?
—It was in Mr Munro's time that we commenced to pay it,—off and on perhaps about ten years ago.

14557. How many beasts do you keep?
—Two cows, a stirk now and again, six or seven sheep,—sometimes perhaps only four, no horse. Though we keep two cows, what is the use of that ? The one only eats up the other.

14558. Have you to buy food for the cows?
—Yes, otherwise we could not keep them living.

14559 Where do you get it?
—Any poor person here and there, who may not have stock of his own, may have it to sell.

14560. How much money do you spend on food for the cows in a year?
—From 12s. to £ 1 .

14561. Do you consider your rent exorbitantly high ?
—Yes, considering the nature of the soil, which is very bad.

14562. Would you be surprised to hear that we have come upon a great number of people iu Skye who pay more than £5, and are barely able to keep two cows, and have no sheep or horse ?
—We ourselves could not keep one cow for all that grows out of the ground.

14563. What do you think would be a fair sum for you to pay for the ground you have?
—I would take one-third off.

14564. What is the most rent that anybody pays in Breasclete?

14565. How many cows does that man keep?
—Three or four cows and young beasts, and about twelve sheep.

14566. Do all the Breasclete people complain of want of food for their cattle, the same as yourself ?
—Yes, and of scarcity of land as well.

14567. Where do they all get food for their cattle?
—If they cannot get fodder, they must buy food for them.

14568. What kind of food?
—They buy some stuff from the mill,—meal-dust.

14569. Is that the only kind of food they give them, besides fodder and grass ?
—Sometimes we give them meal; and when we are not able to buy anything at all for them, then they and we must want.

14570. Where does the corn come from out of which this bran is made?
—It comes off everything we grind.

14571. So it is the produce of Breasclete, after all, that feeds your cows?
—Yes, it is only one-third of that meal-dust that comes to us. Three shares go to the miller himself.

14572. How long does the corn you raise support your family?
—I only send a boll of oats and a boll of barley to the mill every year.

14573. Then do you buy meat all the rest of the year?

14574. How long do the potatoes generally last when it is a tolerably good year ?
—They carry us through the winter, along with other things, in a good year.

14575. How long did they last this year?
—We bade farewell to them this year at the time of lifting them.

14576. Have you no potatoes now to eat?

14577. What is the food of the people of Breasclete at present ? What do they take in the mornings?
—Meal from Stornoway.

14578. What is their breakfast?
—Some porridge, and some more or less of bread, just as it comes.

14579. Do they take any tea?
—Every one that can.

14580. What do they take to dinner?
—The one that can have tea will have it. There is no milk.

14581. What do they take with the tea for dinner ?

14582. Anything else?
—Those who fish may have mow; or less of fish.

14583. Do not most of the Breasclete people fish?
—There are three large boats fishing out of the township.

14584. How many small ones ?

14585. Are there only three boats in the whole'village?
—There are four fishing this year.

14586. How many men to each?

14587. To whom do the boats belong?
—Three of them belong to Mr Smith, fish-curer, Stornoway, and the fourth belongs to a native of the place.

14588. How are the men paid upon these boats by Mr Smith?
—The boats are his. and they give him the fish.

14589. What pay do they get?
—He gives them so much per ling,—tenpence or a shilling. A cod counts half a ling,—fivepence or sixpence.

14590. Who pays for the lines they use?
—The fishermen themselves.

14591. Do they buy them from the fish-curer?

14592. When does he account to them for the fish they get?
—At Martinmas; but he supplies them with meal when they are working.

14593. Do they know at the commencement of the season what the price of the fish is to be ?
—Sometimes they do, and sometimes not.

14594. Has he accounted to them yet for the fishing of this year?
—No, there has been no settlement yet, but he is providing them with meal meanwhile.

14595. What does he charge for meal?
—I cannot say : I never worked for him.

14593. What are you paying for meal just now ?
—Eighteen shillings to £1 per boll.

14597. Mr Cameron.
—You said you would like the rent of your croft reduced by one third,—that is, from 25s. to 17s. Supposing the other 17s. were taken away also, and you had your croft rent free, would you live comfortably upon it?
—It would not be proper that I should ask it for nothing.

14598. But is the size of your croft, and the productiveness of it, each that if you sat upon it rent free you could live upon it and be comfortable?

14599. There is nothing said in your paper, but in the other paper the crofters ask that they should get assistance of Government in building houses and in stocking new crofts. Do you agree with that ?
—Yes, if we could get it without any difficulty about it.

14600. In this paper of yours there are a number of grievances, but you do not ask for any particular remedy. Do you and your fellowcrofters wish to get larger holdings, in the same way as the crofters in other townships have asked for them ?—Yes; the thing of all others that I want is more land.

14601. Then do you wish that, in order to stock that land and build comfortable houses, you should obtain Government assistance, or would you be able to do it yourselves?
—If they got more land, and if for the term of two years they got assistance, which they themselves might pay back afterwards by instalments, they could manage. If they got more land to work, it would be of the utmost service to them. They would be able to get increased stock as well as more produce.

14602. The Chairman.
—Have you got a road near Breasclete?

14603. Who made the road?
—It is a kind of a road; we made it ourselves.

14604. Is it a good road?
—It is not what I call a good road.

14605. Did the proprietor contribute anything to make the road?
—I cannot say for certain, unless the assistance we got this year can be held as a contribution towards it. The greater part of the work upon the road was done this year.

14606. Did you receive any money wages for making the road?
—No, no money wages as yet.

14607. Has the proprietor built any dykes or made any improvements about the place ?
—No; as many march fences as are set up were built by ourselves.

14608. You said there were twenty-five families of cottars who were a burden to the crofters. Are these twenty-five families almost all relatives of the crofters. They are all relatives of one or other of the crofters.

14609. Are some of them sons or grandsons of crofters?
—In some cases there are three married couples in the same house.

14610. Then do these cottars, who you said were a burden to the crofters, sometimes assist their parents or other relations, or do the parents and relations always support them?
—They mutually assist each other.

14611. Are mauy of these twenty-five families of cottars engaged in fishing?
—Not the majority, but some of them are.

14612. Do any of them go round to the east coast fishing?

14613. Mr Fraser Mackintosh.
—Did yon say that oats were ground at this mill here, the produce of Breasclete?
—Yes, it is there we grind all the oats we have.

14614. Is this part of the Lewis quite capable of growing oats?
—Yes, oats will grow.

14615. To advantage?
—It depends on the soil in which they are; sometimes they yield an average crop.

14616. In several places which we have visited among the Western Islands we were told the land would not grow oats at all. Does that apply to this neighbourhood ?
—Some of the ground in this district also though it may grow oats, will yield no fruit, but in others it is different. It depends en the soil in which they are.

14617. Do most of the crofters in Breasclete grow some oats, as you do ?
—Yes, most of them do.

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