Breasclete, Lewis, 5 June 1883 - Neil Maclennan

NEIL MACLENNAN, Crofter, Breasclete Park (47)—examined.
14439. The Chairman.—Have you been freely elected a delegate?

14440. Have you got a written statement ?
—Yes. A Statement of the Grievances of Crofters in Breasclete Park (should be called Callernish Park).
—I have been elected by the crofters of Breasclete Park as their delegate, and the following is the statement I have to make on their behalf. We are now thirty-three years in Breasclete Park. We were formerly in Reef, where we were born and brought up, as also our fathers and grandfathers. The land there was good, and was quite convenient to the sea for fishing, and therefore we lived pretty comfortable. A stranger who wished a sheep farm then fixed upon Reef as a suitable place for that purpose. The result was that we got notice of removal from Mr Scobie, the then factor. We had no arrears of rent, and therefore we refused in a body to do this, and stood out against it for three years, when Mr Scobie's term of office expired. We then naturally expected justice from the next factor ; but, on the contrary, he took up at once the work his predecessor had begun, and at last got us forcibly ejected. Four families, of whom my father was one, came to our present holding, and some of the rest had to go to America. When we came here there were no stones to be got for building a house, and as we had to turn our attention at once to the working of the land which was nothing but a peat moss, we had to make temporary huts at the seashore to shelter us until we got houses made of turf on our lots. I myself remember all this perfectly well. About fourteen acres were allotted to the four families, and as the land was so very bad we got the island of Kiva for grazing at a rent of £5. This was our best help at that time, and we held it for five years, until the late factor Mr Munro came in, when it was taken from us. There are now nine families on the same amount of land a3 was originally allowed to four. Further, we have reason to complain of the annual increase of the rates, which has now reached to not less then 3s. in the £, the rights of which we cannot well understand ; in short, when we came to our present holdings, the rent was only £11, 8s., and owing to the overcrowding and increase of rents and taxes, it has come to £15, 4s. 5d. sterling. We want more lands, with fair rents, fixity of tenure, with compensation for improvements, and we hope the Government will see their way to help us to stock our lands and build houses, which we are all willing to pay with interest through course of time, and humbly hope Her Majesty's Government will be pleased to grant us our humble request.—NEIL M'LENNAN, Delegate.'

14441. Mr Cameron.
—How many heads of families are there now in this place you represent

14442. And the rent of the six amounts, as I see by this paper, to £15, 4s. 5d. including taxes?

14443. Do you know the proportion of that which is rent and that which is taxes ?
—I am not able to give the separate items.
Mr Mackay, chamberlain.
—The rent is £14, 4s.

14144. What amouut of stock do the people at Breasclete possess?
—From two to four cows each. Some of them have no sheep; some as high as twelve perhaps some few over twelve.

14445. Any followers?
—Yes, the cows have their followers—young beasts as well.

14446. It is stated in this paper that the island of Kiva was taken from you, after you held it for five years. Was any reason given by Mr Munro for taking it away ?
—No reason whatever, except to order us out of it.

14447. Who got possession of the island after it was taken away ?
—The innkeeper at Callernish.

14448. Was the island far away from Breasclete?

14449. Was it very convenient for the crofters at Breasclete?

14450. Was it good grazing in winter as well as summer?

14451. Any arable ground upon it?
—Very little.

14452. What stock did it keep?
—If it was kept without stock during the summer, it would winter about eighteen cows.

14453. You say in your paper that Reef was a more suitable place than Breasclete, and allude particularly to the fishing. Was it a better place as regards the quality of the land?
—Yes, the soil was better.

14454. Was there less rock upon it?
—There was more rock there than here, but the soil was different; here it is peat moss, and there it was sand and good soil.

14455. Did the crofters possess more stock at Reef than they do now?
—I believe we had more, and they would be better; but I believe, when Reef was cleared, there were too many people there at the time.

14456. Where did the other people go who did not come to Breasclete?
—Some of them went to Ness, some to Borv, and some to Lochganvich, on this side of Stornoway. Those that went to Lochganvich had afterwards to go to America.

14457. How many families left Reef besides those who came here?
—There would be about thirty-one or thirty-two families. Four came here, and the rest went elsewhere.

14458. The paper states that they refused in a body to remove, and held out for three years. What form did their resistance take ?
—Just refusing to go.

14459. Did the factor serve summonses upon them ?
14460. Did they refuse to receive the summonses, or did they receive them and then refuse to obey ?
—The sheriff officers were in the habit of leaving the summons in the key-hole.

14461. And you refused to receive them ?
—The people just disregarded them.

14462. Was there any violence used or any encounter with the police, such as we have heard of in Glendale?
—There were no police sent there.

14463. In fact, it was a passive and a peaceable resistance ?
—Yes, there was no violence.

14464. How came they to go away at last when Mr Munro insisted upon it ?
—So far as my own recollection goes, and the testimony of the only old man now living who came from there at that time, there were works going on—roads and so on—under Government, and it was by these works that they were in the habit of providing for their families, and paying their rents. So, when they were turned out in this way, and refusing to leave the place, each foreman having charge of the works got notice that no work was to be given to the people of this place. They then fell into arrears of rent when they did not get work, and so, when this additional hold was got on them, go they must, because the rent was not paid.

14465. This paper states they were not in arrears. Was there much poverty amongst them at that time ?
—Some of them were poor enough. The years in which they were sent away were very bad years. One of the men who was sent from there to Lochganvich, and afterwards was sent to America, was uuwilling to emigrate. The officers came to his house and quenched his fires, and sent him out of the house to the steamer that was waiting to carry him away, and his only cow was left at the back of the door, and he got nothing for it. His brother afterwards sold the cow, and sent the proceeds to him.

14466. What was the nature of the works you alluded to which were a help to the people at that time ?
—District roads.

14467. Were those works executed by Sir James Matheson ?
—It was the proprietor who paid the expense of these roads. There was a little Government help and Government meal at the same time.

14468. How long did those works continue after the period when work was refused to this particular township ?
—I cannot tell.

14469. Were there any other works going on that employed the people, except roads ?
—Not under the proprietor. There was fishing going on.

14470. But there were no works by the proprietor?

14471. Do you know how many people were employed on these roads ?
—I cannot tell how many. The whole population was getting work, that is, all those who applied got work, and paid their rents.

14472. Was there any other work going on in the island except what was supplied by the proprietor and the fishing ?

14473. Are there any works going on now?
—Nothing on this side of the country except the fishing.

14474. Can you tell us when the works given by the proprietor ceased at that period ?
—I cannot tell.

14475. It must have been some time ago?
—Yes, a large number of years ago.

14476. How many people were present at the meeting at which this paper was drawn up ?
—All our young people were there, unless there was one who was from home.

14477. Who wrote it out?
—A lad belonging to the place.

14478. Did he compose it, or copy it ?
—I supplied the material myself; a lad belonging to the place, who lives in Stornoway, composed it, and a lad who lives hero copied it.

14479. Was the last paragraph beginning 'We want more land,' which is in a different handwriting from the rest, composed and copied by the same parties, or was it done at a subsequent period ?
—The native of the place who lives at Stornoway, and who composed the rest of tho paper, composed the last paragraph, and it is in his handwriting.

14480. So the last paragraph was written in Stornoway ?

14481. And the rest of it was written here?

14482. Who was the lad who composed it?
—A lad of twenty, one of ourselves. He writes a good hand, but does not know English much.

14483. The Chairman.
—When the people came from Reef to this place, to whom did the land here belong ?
—It was waste land—peat mosses, which belonged to the people of the district. Sir James Matheson, the proprietor, had meanwhile trenched it somewhat, and turned the ground.

14484. Did they get any money for the houses they left at Reef ?
—Not a penny.

14485. Did they bring the roofs of the houses here ?
—Those of us who came here brought the roofs of the houses with us. Others left these things there, and they went useless.

14486. Had they any assistarce from the landlord to build their houses ?
—No, nothing.

14487. While they were preparing their ground here for cultivation, did the landlord continue to assist them in preparing the ground ?
—No, nothing except what was done before we came.

14488. Did the people of Callernish, on whose ground they were settled, have their rents reduced on account of the ground taken from them ?
—They themselves say no.

14489. Did the four families who came here get a share in the hill pasture belonging to Callernish ?
—Yes, they got a share.

14190. Was the rent of the people at Callernish for the hill pasture reduced?
—They themselves said they got no reduction whatever.

14491. What is your own present rent?
—£1. It is a piece of land that never was cultivated before, and that I trenched, and I believe I have it cheaper in consequence.

14492. What is the rent of the other crofters who pay rent?
—There is no new lot besides mine, and I believe my neighbours pay £1.

14493. I do not mean the new lots, but the old lots ?
—One pays £3, 13s. 6d. of bare rent, and another £3, 1s.

14494. Take the one at £3, 13s. 6d., what stock does he keep ?
—The regulations of the proprietor was to have oue cow with its followers and four sheep.

14495. But I want to know what he actually has?
—Three cows, one or two young beasts, and three or four sheep perhaps.

14496. Any horse?
—No, there is no horse upon that lot.

14497. Are there any horses at all?
—Yes, there are three horses in the place among the six people.

14498. Where do you get your sea-weed?
—We get some of it upon that island we had ourselves long ago, and some on another island.

14499. Do you pay anything for it?

14500. Do you pay anything for the peats ?

14501. Have any of the people availed themslves of the regulations of the estate respecting building better houses?
—Yes, they have improved their houses.

14502. Are they satisfied with the regulations about the houses?
—We would be quite satisfied with them so far as the bouses are concerned, if there was sufficient land to maintain ourselves in connection with them.

14503. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—When did you last sell any animal?
—I sold one last year, at the autumn market.

14504. What did you get for it ?
—About £5. It was a three years-old.

14505. When will you be in a position to sell the next?
—I will be obliged to sell one this year, in order to provide food for my family, unless I find some other means of maintenance. Although I should sell all I have, I would not get out of debt.

14506. Is that beast the only thing you are able to sell of the produce of your croft ?
—Yes, that is the only thing. I buy something every year to feed them in winter.

14507. How much are you generally obliged to expend for meal and provender in the year ?
—Some years I expend £25.

14508. Have you any sheep?
—Five head of sheep—three sheep and two lambs.

14509. Are you in the habit of selling a lamb annually?
—No, I never sell a sheep. The ground is bad, and the young ones die in winter unless they are hand-fed.

14510. Do you know the Christian name of the person who was mentioned in the paper as Mr Scobie, who began first to trouble you?

14511. Who was the person who actually did force you out,—who succeeded Mr Scobie ?
—Mr Mackenzie, who succeeded Mr Scobie.

14512. Were these things done in the time of Sir James Matheson ?

14513. Where was the house you refer to where the fire was put out, and the animal was left behind the door?
—At Lochganvich, five miles along the road between here and Stornoway.

14514. Who was the person that was forced away?
—Angus Maclean.

14515. Were you a witness of the matter, or did you hear of it at the time?
—I knew the man, but I was not present when the thing was done.

14516. When was the latest money expended on your locality by the proprietor, or has there been anything done from the time you entered?
—I am not aware that he expended a penny since we were settled there.

14517. The Chairman.
—Are the three cows and the young beasts, and the three or four sheep, supported all the year round upon the ground you occupy, or have you to buy provender for them in winter?
—There is not one of us who has stock in the place but is obliged to buy provender for them. There are some in the place who have no stock at all, and we can
get fodder from them.

14518. How much have you to spend in an ordinary winter to buy supplementary food for your stock ?
—From £ 1 to £2 every year.

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