GEORGE MACRAE, Crofter and Fisherman, Grimshader (49)—examined.
17629. The Chairman.
—What is the number of families in Grimshader?
17630. Do they all pay rent ?
17631. How many?
—Fifteen; seven do not.
17632. Were you freely elected by the twenty-two families in Grimshader?
17633. What did they ask you to say for them?
—Specially, and in the first place, the high rent of our township, the bad soil, and because of many things in connection with the management of the estate that bear hard upon us, we are really not able to live in our place. Our first complaint is that a forest fence was set up, and that we were deprived of our moorland pasture.
17634. Did you put up that fence yourselves?
—No, it was not we who put it up, but we had to pay for it. Then at the time our present chamberlain entered upon office, we got the promise that we would get the marches removed to the old boundaries. Then we really thought that we had the right to this moorland pasture, and when we were driving our stock out to the grazings in order to give rest to the home grazings, the gamekeepers met us and prevented us. They told us we had not the right without their permission—that we were not allowed to send our cattle whenever we pleased out upon these pastures, unless they gave us permission first. It was we also that paid for the herd that kept the fence there. Last year we did not pay him at all. Now, there has been a fence herd appointed recently to look after our stock; but we have very little stock now. The gamekeepers and the herd have drowned and destroyed both cattle and sheep. In order to find out whether this was gamekeeper law or chamberlain law, I was appointed to meet the gamekeepers here about a month ago. The head gamekeeper upon the whole estate told me he had full authority to do whatever he pleased in the matter, to which I replied that if he had such authority he might use it ill as he had already done. About the 29th of last month, when we were in the very hurry of the spring work, we saw the fire set to the moor and approaching our place, so the constables were asked to go away and inquire who were the authors of this matter. We understood it was the gamekeepers. The constables refused to go. One of them went to Stornoway about the matter. He did not see Mr Mackay, but he saw the head clerk in the office about the matter, and what the head clerk told him was that the gamekeepers, by a written authority obtained from the estate office, might burn heather wherever they pleased. All I can say about it is that it is a most oppressive and terrible thing for us, because this very place that was burned was the place that kept alive our cattle during the winter in snow time. The fire came into our peat moss near our crofts, and some portion of the township was afraid even of their houses.
17635. Are you not in the habit of burning heather for your own purposes?
—We would be burning places that we did not think of much use, but the place that kept our cattle alive in winter, in snow time, we would never think of burning.
17636. Do you consider long heather good for cattle?
—Well, we have no grass, and there is only soft, boggy moorland without grass, and we think that unless the sheep are able to crop the heather during snow time they cannot live at all.
17637. Did you lose much grazing when the forest fence was put up?
—More than half of our moorland pasture was taken from us.
17638. When was that?
—Nineteen years ago.
17639. Was the place where you were driving your cattle when you were stopped by gamekeepers beyond this fence ?
—Yes, it was beyond the dyke. The thing occurred the year that Mr Mackay led us to understand that our old rights would be restored to us, but we never tried to send them over since then.
17640. Is the fence so broken that you can drive your cattle through it?
—The fence is in such a condition that you can trace it, and that is all, and the gamekeepers keep our cattle on this side of that fence yet.
17641. Did you ever go to Mr Mackay and complain about the conduct of the gamekeepers ?
—We could not very well understand the matter. We were sending the constables there, and what occurred between them and the chamberlain we could not very well make out, but we were dissatisfied with the whole matter, and that is the reason we make it a foremost complaint here to-day.
17642. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Is the gamekeeper you refer to a servant on the estate, or a servant of the tenant ?
—He is the head gamekeeper in the service of the estate.
17643. Is the piece of ground you were prevented going upon cleared of sheep ?
—No, our own stock are endeavouring always to get at it, but there are no other stock.
17644. Is it part of the forest?
—Yes, it is a deer forest—under deer.
17645. Who was paying rent for the grazing of that park?
—I think it is we who pay for it. It belongs to the old rights of the township. That grazing was ours of old.
17646. Are you aware whether it is customary or usual to burn heather in the forest?
—Yes, I think it is quite customary.
17647. What is the date, as near as may be, when the burning came close to your doors ?
—The 25th and 29th of May this year.
17648. Do you know that by the law of Scotland there is a period for burning, after which heather cannot be burned ?
—Yes, we got that in some of the estate regulations, that nobody could burn heather except upon certain days.
17649. Then a regulation is put upon the tenant which is not obeyed by the proprietor ?
—We obey the regulation.
17650. Does the proprietor obey his own regulation?
—It looks as if they did not, for what they told us was that they would burn it whenever they pleased.
17651. Are not the regulations of the estate mutually binding upon both proprietor and tenant? Is that not your understanding?
—We would understand that, if really it was adhered to.
17652. What is the name of the gamekeeper who was overriding the estate regulations ?
—The servant of the head gamekeeper.
17653. What is the name of the head gamekeeper who overrides the estate regulations ?
—Duncan is his first name; I don't know his surname. He is a stranger here.
17654. How long has he been here?
—Between five and ten years.
17655. Do you think this gamekeeper ever saw the estate regulations ?
—I cannot tell. We thought, at all events, that he broke a regulation that we ought to get the protection of.
17656. Why did you not go direct to the chamberlain?
—I have told already what happened when I was deputed myself to see the head gamekeeper in connection with another matter about a month ago, and at that
interview that man behaved himself as though he was over every person connected with the administration,—so much so that I said to him it was time he should be looked after anyhow—that I myself, as representative of other people, was worthy of respect in my own position as much as he was in his.
17657. Mr Cameron.
—Has the grass come up since the burning of the heather?
—There is some of the place where the grass will never grow. It was of no use except for keeping alive the stock during snowtime. It was heather, not grass.
17658. How tall was the heather?
—Some of it might be two feet long.
17659. Do you consider heather two feet long good for cattle even in snow ?
—Yes, where it keeps a green top the cattle can live by it in places where they can get no grass.
17660. After the heather is burned and the grass comes up, is it not your experience that cattle and sheep go to that place much more quickly than before ?
—Yes, that is quite true; but we knew that this place would never grow grass.
17661. Has it had time to grow grass?
—There was another spot on the same piece burned fifteen years ago, and not a blade of grass has grown on it since. It is a black bog where the cattle go into it, and where they are very much injured by it. The long heather grows upon the portion of the pasture bordering upon the sea.
17662. Do you think this heather was burned from ignorance or from spite on the part of the gamekeeper ?
—They should have come to us and asked if it was of any use to us before they burned it.
17663. When did Mr Mackay promise you this bit of land to which you complain the gamekeepers would not allow you to send your cattle ?
—At the time of the first rent paid to him as chamberlain.
17664. Did he make a verbal promise to you?
—Yes; I was one of two to whom he made the promise. There were three. One spoke, and I was one of the other two.
17665. Have you ever reminded him of his promise since?
—I did not remind him of it myself, and I cannot be perfectly certain whether the constables did so or not.
17666. Have you had an opportunity of reminding him?
—Yes, we had an opportunity of reminding him of it, but these gamekeepers told us they were acting under the authority of the estate.
17667. Did it not occur to you that they might be mistaken, and that it would have been better to apply to the chamberlain?
—Well, so far as regards complaints we had to bring to the estate office, we were not more satisfied with the treatment we got there than the treatment we got from the gamekeepers. We have four miles to travel without an inch of a road. I was upon a wild winter night, after being turned back by wind and tide, watching a boat and the provisions in it which I was not able for want of a road to bring to my dwelling. We pay all the assessments that the people who have road advantages pay, and we consider this a great hardship.
17668. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Did you hear a previous delegate state that a number of townships were without a road ?
—Yes, I heard part of that, but the greater portion of his evidence was given before I came in.
17669. We have already had evidence to that effect?
—And now the deer come in upon us, and we have to watch by night ever since the corn comes in the ear until it is stacked in our stackyard to prevent the deer from utterly destroying it.
17670. The Chairman.
—How long is it since the deer began to do this ?
—They commenced about five years ago, and they are getting worse every year.