GEORGE MACKENZIE, Crofter and formerly Fisherman, Laxay (63)—examined.
17378. The Chairman.
—How many families are there in Laxay?
17379. Were you elected by those forty-three families?
17380. How long ago?
—About a fortnight ago.
17381. Did they meet of themselves, or was it the gentlemen from Stornoway who asked them to do so ?
—We took steps upon our own part before the Stornoway gentlemen came.
17382. Was any other gentleman among them ?
17383. They had no other meetings?
—Yes, after the election.
17384. Who take part in those meetings?
—Mr Murdoch took part.
17385. Was this paper which you present written before Mr Murdoch came?
—It was written after that meeting, but the paper was prepared before the meeting.
17386. Does it represent, so far as you know, the wishes of the people?
—Right Honourable Gentlemen, Being called upon to narrate grievances from Laxay, the township in which I reside, I herewith take the liberty to say, in the first place, that my age is 63 years; that I came to Laxay at the age of eight, along with my father and other ten crofters, who were driven away with all their belongings from their thriving and agreeable holding at Aline and Park, in which they knew nothing beyond prosperity and happiness. Park, which nature seemed to mean for man, with all its arable lands, hill pasture, and bays of the sea, offering grand opportunities of comfort, as a reward to human industry, was quite unprecedentedly relieved of the inhabitant population of twenty-eight townships. To the perpetrators of such deeds the discontentment and bitter feelings of the fugitive inhabitants appeared as nothing at all compared to the peculiar pleasure they enjoyed from the fact that now the sheep and the fleet-footed deer could graze on the meadows and on heaths impiously depopulated. Some of these men were evicted to America, others scattered here and there at home, on small patches of land in the less-thought-of districts. A crofter having the misfortune of falling under the displeasure of factor or ground officer, however innocent the poor man may be, has not the ghost of a chance of getting along uninterrupted. As an illustration of this, I can say I knew of a person, a crofter in this village, who was compelled to abandon three different holdings and three different new houses, which he built in the sweat of his brow, on three consecutive years, without even a kind word in the way of aid or compensation for his labour, time, and expenses. There is another man, still living here, who underwent a similar disagreeable process. The deer and sheep began their chase upon him at three or more different places at Uig, drove him over to Carloway, and he had been no sooner there than the land was considered too good for man, at least for such as crofter population, and so to make room for sheep the poor man was turned out, and the said individual had to make another painful flitting. When we came to Laxay, as already referred to, we found seven crofters there. Then it was divided into seventeen crofts, at the rent of £80. Soon, however, £ 10 more was added to the rent of the village, and five shillings road money and one shilling for hens, which is looked now upon as natural rent. There are now twenty-nine crofts, the latest of which is placed in our pasture way. The land is now almost entirely exhausted by continual ploughing; this, with high rent and taxes in some cases, together with subdividiugs of crofts, make the prospects of the crofter very dark and hopeless. Mr M'Kay, the present chamberlain, has committed very gross injustice upon a sister of my own, who with peculiar industry kept her croft in good order and paid rent regularly, cruelly turned her out of the croft six years ago, and would not accept its rent from her. She was blind and helpless ; they never inquired after her. I had to take her to myself when the land she had was given to another man (see Appendix A. XL). It is high time Parliament should make an investigation as to the cause or causes of grievances amongst Her Majesty's most loyal subjects in the Highlands, and especially in Lewis, where factor and ground officers pretend to be in absolute and arbitrary power, and labour hard to keep people in perpetual awe of their own importance (not of course denying them; their proper places). We herewith suggest, respectfully, some of the remedies necessary for our well-being and comfort. To obtain the arable land and hill pasture, now under sheep and deer, at fair rents, fixity of tenure, and compensation for improvement. Park, which keeps 11,000 sheep and an innumerable amount of deer, would of itself, if given to our enormous number of cottars and others, meet a vast deal of what is needed.
17387. You state that you were eight years old when you came to Laxay, and now you are 63, so, I suppose, the evictions of which you speak took place fifty-five years ago ?
—Yes; about that time.
17388. Did all the evictions take place at that period, or have any evictions taken place subsequently?
—There were other townships that were cleared since that time within the farm of Park, Oronsay, Cleater, Stiomara, and Shealdinish. A voice from the crowd says forty-five townships, but I am not prepared to say there were more than twenty-eight.
17389. But have there been any evictions since the date at which these twenty-eight townships were cleared fifty-five years ago ?
—I can speak to four townships that have been cleared since that time, and that are now included in the farm of Park.
17390. Do you know how many families were removed from these four townships?
—I lived far away, and I cannot give accurate information upon that matter, but there are many here who can.
* See Appendix A, XL.
17391. Do you know where they were removed to?
—Some of them came, to Crossbost, some to Grimshader, and some to Balallan.
17392. Were these people removed to places where there were already crofters, or to lands in the possession of tacksmen ?
—Crossbost was under a tacksman at the time. Balallan was under crofters. Grimshader was also under crofters. One of them was a large farm at the time, and the other two were under crofters.
17393. Were most of the people removed to land that was under tack or to land held by the crofters ?
—The greater portion of them went to the place that formed the large farm—Crossbost.
17394. Was the land to which they were removed greater in extent than the land from which they were taken?
—The land to which they were removed was less in extent.
17395. Are you sure that the land to which they went was less in extent than that from which they came ?
17396. As to the quality of the land, which do you consider was the best quality?
—I was not of age to judge as a tenant myself at the time, but the land that they left was roomy enough. It yielded good crops, and there was plenty of room for good stock.
17397. Are you acquainted with the land to which they were removed?
17398. What is the quality of that land?
—The land is good enough of its kind, but then it is so thickly peopled that it cannot do good as it is used.
17399. How many years ago was this?
—Off and on about forty years ago.
17400. Have there been any removals since then?
—Yes, I can remember of some tenants coming in upon ourselves where I lived from the other side of the country, over in Carloway, a place called Dallmore.
17401. Has the population of Laxay increased of late years?
17402. From what cause has that increase arisen ?
—The increase is due partly to the natural increase of the place and partly to people coming in from the outside.
17403. Have any come in recently from the outside?
—Probably about ten years ago was the last.
17404. Where did they come from ?
17405. Do you know why they left Balallan?
—The man was not able to get a place there.
17406. There was only one man?
17407. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Can you give us the names of the twenty-eight townships that you referred to us as having been cleared out of Park, or as many as you can ?
—There was a place called Lemora that was cleared and afterwards reconstituted with crofters; Oronsay, Stiomara, Eesgin, Bunish, Cean-loch-Alich. It is only one that would be particularly acquainted in that district that could recite all the names. Seaforth, Stromas, Sgealadale. I can scarcely give any more; I was but young at the time. John Smith, a previous witness, could give almost the whole of them.
17408. Have you any idea of the number of families that would be in those twenty-eight townships ? Would they amount to over a hundred ?
—I cannot tell; people were not so numerous then as they are now. They were spread over the place.
17409. Would you say there were fifty families ?
—I should think there would be more than that.
17410. The Chairman.
—You mention a case of a crofter in this village, I presume the village of Laxay, who was compelled to abandon three different holdings and three different new houses, which he built in three consecutive years, without getting any compensation. What was the name of that crofter ?
17411. Where was he when he built the first of these houses?
17412. Does M'Leod live in the village where you are ?
—He is not living now.
17413. Do you know anything of the history of his case ?
—Yes, he was in Seaforth first.
17414. How long is it since he was in Seaforth ?
—He was building a new house every year of the three, and Seaforth was the first.
17415. Don't you know how long he was in Seaforth?
—Then the next year he was sent to Ardentrean.
17416. Do you know whether be was sent by the factor, or did he flit there as a squatter?
—Yes; and he gave him a place there for a year.
17417. You are certain that he got leave to build a house?
—Yes, he got leave to build a house.
17418. From whom did you hear this?
17419. And he said he had leave to build in these places ?
17420. You say you know of a second case of a mau who underwent a similar process. What is the name of that man ?
17421. Where is he living now ?
17422. How long is it since he was driven from Uig ?
—He came to our parish when Chamberlain Mackenzie lotted the place.
17423. Had he a place of his own at Carloway ?
17424. Did he build his own house there?
—It was in Dallmore at Carloway that he built it.
17425. Did he get no compensation for the house that he built at Dallmore ?
—I cannot tell anything of that, but I know that he came into our place in room of some of those who went to America. It was by an act of high-handedness that he was removed from Dallmore.
17426. The rest of the people of Dallmore went to America, did they not ?
—Some of them did ; some did not.
17427. And those that did not go to America took the places of those in other townships who did go to America ?
—There were some who did not get places, but were sent to Stornoway and elsewhere.
17428. Was this paper read to the people of Laxay who sent you here ?
—Yes, to those who came to hear it.
17429. Who wrote it?
—A lad belonging to the place wrote it.
17430. Was it the lad who composed it?
—It was myself and others who composed it.
17131. Who put in the fine English words that are in it?
—The lad himself is responsible for the English.
17432. Is he a teacher ?
—Yes, he was for a while a student.
17433. About this injury to your sister—is she a married woman?
—No. she is weak and blind.
17434. Was she so when the croft was taken from her?
—She was able to keep up the place. She had a servant.
17435. Was she in arrear ?
—No, she was not. The rent was sent back to her. and she was driven out. She was not a penny in arrear.
17436. What was the reason given for depriving her of the croft?
—Nothing, except that she was now growing old, and that it would not be left with her any longer.
17437. Was her land being properly worked?
—Yes, like her neighbours'.