JOHN M'LEOD, Crofter, Kershader (56)—examined.
17340. The Chairman.
—How many families are there at Kershader?
17341. Were you elected by the heads of these families?
17342. Were they all present at the time?
—The most of them were together.
17343. Will you state what they sent you here to say?
—There are three townships there, very near connected to each other—Habost, Kershader, and Garivaid—small villages situated on the south side there, and I was appointed to speak on behalf of these. The main grievances which the people have there, are the smallness of their holdings and the badness of them as well, and that makes them dear—not dear according to the space may be that we possess, but according to the hard labour we have in connection with them and the badness of the soil, so that the ground would not yield crop now as it would before, because the places are peopled so much, and each family has so little of it. Besides that, we have a general grievance on the south side for the want of any bit of road. We have not an inch of road, and we are paying according to other tenants in the country the same road money that they are paying, to the best of my kuowledge. Now, we have not an inch of road there, and I think there are several hundred families there on the south side. This same year we applied in some form or another to get a road there. That was refused. I cannot say who in fact was the author of refusing it, but one thing is, we are in want of it, and we are paying for it. Another thing they were anxious to state before the Commission, is a rise of rent that took place some years ago. There was 5s. charged upon each tenant for road money. Well, after a few years I think it was turned as moor pasture money upon the people, and the road money besides. To the best of our knowledge, this 5s. is included now in the present rent we pay, and the road money besides—so much per pound. Now, bad as the soil is, if the people had somewhat more of it, a little more than they have, they might, of course no doubt with hard labour, make a poor man's living of it--not very luxurious or easy —and I can prove that when a man goes there with a creel on his back all the days of his life, with his spade in his hand, working with the spade—and very often when I was a fisherman I had to go down with my sea boots to the knee in the furrows of the rigs where I was putting a little seed, to turn it before I could put in seed there. Now, to-day I am cutting my peats in the rigs that I had twenty years back under cultivation, and to-day they will give no crop, and the best I can make out of them is to cut them in bits to burn. I am sure the worst grievance we have is that there are so many squatters there, and though the tenants suffer very much from that condition, the squatters suffer more. I don't know what life I could compare to a poor man's life squatting there, because to my great misfortune I was there for a long time myself, and I suffered for it and I suffer for it still, and I have no person to blame for it but myself, for I was a long time in that condition. Matters with us at present are not so very bad, no doubt, but still our taxes and everything of that sort are unbearable to the poor people. They cannot stand it. We had sea-weed there, and some of that was taken from us, and the rent was not reduced to my knowledge. I don't think that it was. The only remedy that they expect to get for that is if Lady Matheson kindly would think to give more land to these people that are distressed there. While we have to acknowledge Lady Matheson's kindness in every way,—as Mr Mackay referred to that we must acknowledge it, especially this year and other years,—but still the burden is upon the people in a way that they cannot bear. They cannot live in any way like a free kingdom's subjects. If they can, it is out of any of our knowledge how to do unless we get some more land. Now, the land next to us on the south side here is quite fit for poor people, and I will give you one instance. My grandfather was in Park before he was removed to make a place for sheep and deer. Well, one year he got £ 4 for twenty three-year-old wedders. The other people of the township were envying him for getting so much. I mention that as an example to show that the land is quite fit for a poor man to live in it, and to give more rent. As the first witness spoke about his nephew who went to America, I may say that the boy left our place, and the witness will excuse me when I say that he did not go back to help his father, but he was of necessity forced to go back to his father's house, for he joined the Hudson Bay Company's service as a hired man, and he did not succeed there, and then in the process of his way to Hudson Bay he had to go back to Canada to his father's house, and was not there but for a short time. That is a trustworthy man, Donald M'Leod, from the township of Kershader, and I had a letter from a neighbour there telling me of the poor condition of Donald M'Leod —a man we could believe as far as we could believe any man we ever saw, and many here who can testify the same. Now, we cannot think of going there in the face of all this. And now the fishing of the sea is taken away in the course of the providence of the Most High. We may acknowledge that our sins are the author of it, but for all that we are suffering on that account, and we earnestly wish not to blame any proprietor, or chamberlain, or ground officer; but we might mention, if it were necessary, many instances that could show that we were suffering in connection with these things. Perhaps it will be better for this present meeting not to enlarge upon them. But the remedy for the distress is the main thing we are asking, and that is the only remedy the people think would do them—to get a road there and to get more land—and I hope, whatever shall be the result, we sbaU not have to pay more or any longer for what we have not—I mean the road. About the sea-weed, I cannot exactly say how it was, but we got the moor pasture and the seaweed in the rent before it was raised, and we possessed it up to a certain year; and 6s. or 5s. for each crofter was added to our rent, and we are paying that still. Lady Matheson no doubt gives money in charitable ways, but to the best of my knowledge not a penny was spent in the three small villages I have mentioned for houses or improvements yet. If there was, I will admit very soon that I was wrong; but only this, for which we sincerely thank her—we had a schoolhouse, and once or twice she gave us a little help in timber to keep up the schoolhouse. We acknowledged that, and still acknowledge it with gratitude.
17344. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How far are you from the high road?
—On the south side of this loch.
17345. How many miles is it before you get to the high road?
—About 14 miles going round the loch.
17346. And there is no road?
—Not an inch.
17347. The Chairman.
—Is the nearest way to the high road 14 miles?
—Yes; the ferry across will shorten it with us, but not with the rest of the district. There are several townships all round there where there is not an inch of road, nor is there a post-office on the south side, nor any civil benefit whatever, only we have got one church there, and one churchyard very lately.
17348. Do you remember the time before the road to Tarbert was made ?
17349. Was there a mail going then?
—I think there was a postman going.
17350. Where were the letters for Kershader dropped?
—They would be left on the south side with some person on the road, and all the townships there and I have to pay extra for all the letters we get.
17351. Where is the post-office now?
—It is in Balallan, in the most inconvenient place for the parish that can be.
17352. Is there not a post-office opposite to you across the ferry?
—No ; it is in Balallan, in the furthest end of the loch; but there is another office at Crossbost that is accommodating the district.
17353. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How do you get your letters just now?
—I must send for them, or pay extra to the man who would go for them.
17354. Mr Cameron.
—How many cottars are there in the townships you represent?
17355. And you say they lead a very hard life?
—I say so, and I can prove that
17356. What do they work at?
—They are away to the fishing to earn wages, and to any place where they can get a job.
17357. But where do they go to?
—To the east coast and to the south, to Badenoch and to Glasgow, and any place where they can get work.
17358. How long do they stay away at one time?
—They have no certain rule—as long as the party who employs them agrees.
17359. Do they sometimes stay away for a whole year?
17360. Do they send money to their families?
—Yes, they do.
17361. Have they any cows grazing?
—Most of them have.
17362. To whom do they pay rent?
—Some pay it to the crofter whose ground they are on, and some pay no rent at all.
17363. Where do they come from?
—Most of them have grown up in the place.
17364. The natural increase of the population?
—Yes, the most of them.
17365. You say you could cut peat on your old arable land?
—Yes, I do.
17366. Are you cultivating new land now?
17367. Did you improve it yourself ?
17368. Is there much more of that land capable of improvement?
—That same was not capable of improvement. I did my best to improve it since I had it, and it is not fit to yield any good crop.
17369. But it yields better crops than your old land did?
—Yes, of course, but not according to the expense.
17370. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have referred to several townships on the south side of the loch that have not an inch of road. How many families may be in that position and how many souls?
—I think between 300 and 400 families.
17371. What would be the population altogether?
—I believe it is 1690.
17372. Without a single inch of road?
—Yes; they have not the benefit of an inch of road.
17373. Are they in arrears in those towns?
—There are some arrears in the townships I represent.
17374. You have paid your own road money, although you have not a road ?
17375. The Chairman.
—Has your rent been raised since Sir James Matheson came, except the 6s. ?
—Yes, it was raised in the days of making the lots by Munro Mackenzie.
17376. The land was revalued at that time?
17377. Are you a merchant?
—Yes, for a short time. I was a fisherman, and my health failed.