MURDO M'MILLAN, Crofter and Fisherman, Gravir (59)—examined.
17438. The Chairman.
—What number of families are there in the township of Gravir?
17439. Paying rent?
—Forty-four paying rent.
17440. Were you freely elected to represent those sixty-eight families?
17441. Were they all present ?
17442. Who called them together?
17443. Did they meet before the Stornoway gentlemen came down to them ?
—The Stornoway gentlemen did not come down to see us at all, but we met immediately when we heard of the appointment of the Commission, and that delegates were to be chosen.
17444. You present a long paper. Did they have a meeting to arrange the substance of that paper ?
—Yes, it was the people themselves who prepared that statement.
17445. Was the statement read to the people ?
—Yes, the writer read it to them.
17446. How many were present when it was read?
—Probably about forty.
17447. Who was the writer?
—A next door neighbour of my own who is a good scholar, and has a brother who is a master of arts. He is at present acting as schoolmaster in the place.
17448. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Are you complaining, where you are, of want of land?
—Well we may, and we have for many a long day. That is one of our great complaints.
17449. Did the people petition Lady Matheson for a small portion of park some time ago ?
—Three times they sent a petition.
17450. Were they upon one occasion more than twelve months before they got an answer ?
17451. Did they send a reminder to her at the end of last year?
17452. Did they get an answer then ?
17453. What was the purport of the answer?
—I cannot give the purport, but the letter itself can be produced.
17454. Was it published in the newspapers at the time?
—I cannot tell. If there was no land, the circumstances could be borne; but when the land is there, and the people do not get it, it is a great grievance.
[At this stage the following correspondence was handed in to the Commission, and was read:
—'22nd Nov. 1881.—Unto Lady Matheson, liferent proprietrix of the island of Lewis, residing at Lewis Castle.
—We, the undersigned fishermen, labourers, and royal naval reserve men residing in the villages of Gravir, Calbost, and Marvic, in the parish of Lochs, Lewis, understanding that the present lease of the farm of Park, Lochs, expires at Whitsunday 1883, would take the liberty of approaching your Ladyship on the subject. At present we are either squatters, or hold small patches of land from other crofters in these villages, all of which are quite inadequate for the support of ourselves and families; and unless some means are devised to extend our holdings, to enable us to support our families, we must either have to emigrate or become a burden to the estate; and that, in the opinion of the undersigned, were a portion of the land of Park farm, which comprises the low land adjacent to the sea, let to crofters and fishermen, the doing so would not militate against or depreciate the farm for shooting, sporting, and other purposes. The undersigned would therefore most respectfully solicit that the portions of the land of Park farm, known as Orinsay and Steamerra, on the north side of Lochshell, which were at one time let to tenants, be set aside in order to be let to the undersigned in such lots or parts, and at such reasonable rents, as may be arranged under the management of your chamberlain or other officers. Should the prayer of the petitioners be granted, they will bind themselves to conform to and obey all the rules and regulations of the estate, and submit to any new rules that may be considered necessary; and further, so far as they themselves are concerned, they bind themselves to do all they can to protect the interests of the proprietrix and the sporting tenant or tenants occupying the farm of Park and adjacent lands. Copy petition signed by thirty-two fishermen.'
—Calbost, Lochs, by Stornoway, 23rd December 1882.
—Lady Matheson of the Lews, Honoured Lady, On behalf of a number of fishermen residing at Calbost, &c. Lochs, I beg leave most respectfully to send you herewith copy of a petition addressed by us to your Ladyship through Mr Mackay, chamberlain of Lewis last January, and to which we had no reply. May I take the liberty of asking that you be so good as let the petitioners know your own views regarding the matters contained in the petition. I have the honour to be, your Ladyship's obedient servant, KENNETH NICOLSON
Park, Parish of Lochs, 5th December 1882.
—William M'Kay, Esq., chamberlain of Lewis, Sir, Understanding last year that Mr P. Sellars' lease of the Park farm was on the eve of expiring, we addressed to you a petition, signed by thirty-two inhabitants of this part of the parish, with reference to that subject. We have patiently waited for the last twelve months for your reply, having called for the same at your office repeatedly to no purpose. We most respectfully request a reply in writing, so that we may consider what steps should be taken so as to secure our object. We expect that the prayer of said petition has been favourably received by Lady Matheson and all concerned, and that our very distressing condition, which is becoming more and more serious, may induce you to give us an opportunity of earning an honest livelihood in our native island, specially when such a suitable opening occurs. Waiting your reply, in name and on behalf of said petitioners, we respectfully remain your obedient servants, KENNETH NICOLSON, KENNETH M' KAY, KENNETH M'LEOD, JOHN M'LEOD, RODERICK M'KENZIE, ANGUS MORRISON, DONALD M'KENZIE, DONALD KENNEDY, ANGUS M' PHAIL , &c.
To certain of the fishermen, labourers, and royal naval reserve men residing in the villages of Gravir, Calbost, and Maravich, in the parish of Lochs, Lews.—Lady Matheson regrets that the above named respectable class of Lewis men should have been led to address her on a subject of such importance as that contained in their petition by adding to it a letter which causes her to set aside their request, as Lady Matheson is too devoted to her Queen and the laws of which Her Gracious Majesty is the representative, to listen for one moment to a petition accompanied by a threat from them to infringe the laws by which all are governed, and by the support of which, as individuals, the well-being of the land and its communities at large can alone be promoted.—13 Cleveland Row, St James's, London, 3rd January 1883.']
17455. Mr Cameron.
—Where is the letter containing the threat referred to by Lady Matheson ?
—So far as I understand, all the papers are there, and you yourselves can judge whether there is a threatening letter among them. I myself am of belief the people have not threatened. I am convinced they uttered no threats ; but it may be put in this way, that if they did not get their request they might persist in asking it. [the original letter, of which the above is a mutilated copy, will be found in Appendix A. XXXIX].
17456. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh [to Mr Mackay].
—Have you a copy of the letter that was sent with the original reply ?
—No, I never saw the reply from Lady Matheson.
17457. But the paper says the original petition was sent to you?
—I got more than one petition, and I sent them to Lady Matheson.
17458. Do you recollect ever seeing any letter or paper in the form of a threat?
—No. There was a petition presented to me at one time which I sent to Lady Matheson—a second petition—and I remarked to the people that Lady Matheson had refused it already, and it was in vain to apply, but that I would send the petition. They remarked that they would have it, should they lose their blood.
17459. Was that by the word of mouth ?
—By word of mouth.
17460. [To Witness]. Do you know what has become of that portion of farm of Park?
— Roderick Martin, tenant of Crobeg, who was formerly in Balallan, has it.
17461. Do you know what rent he is paying?
—Crobeg is £50, and he tells us that he pays £80 for the other.
17462. Were you and the other petitioners in a position to put sufficient stock upon the place ?
—Yes, quite capable of putting suitable stock upon it.
17463. Wrould you have given as good a rent as Mr Martin?
—Yes, by getting the same area that he has. He has some islands along with a bit of mainland that we wanted.
17464. I understand you were one of those who were removed from Park ?
17465. Can you give us the names of townships in that place which were cleared ?
—I can give the east side portion.
17466. Was Lemora one of the townships cleared?
—There are people there just now. I saw it cleared, but it was peopled again.
17467. Do you know Cean-tigh-Shealig ? Was that one of the places cleared ?
17469. Ailtinish ?
17472. Cean-Chrionaig ?
17473. Valamus-beg and Valamus-more ?
—Yes; I cannot give any more.
17474. Have you any idea how many families were in those townships at the time they were removed ?
—No, but I know there were a good many, but the people were not so thickly planted then as now.
17475. The Chairman.—Have you any further statement of grievances?
—All I have to say is in the paper.
17476. Can you not state it shortly, as the paper is very long ?
—I can give you the substance of the paper in a few words. The sum and substance of it is—Give the land to the people on such terms as they can live by it, under just administration, and without any oppression in any shape or form. The people will never attain to the comfortable condition in which I saw them unless they will get some relief in that way, and cease from being crowded upon one another as they are at present. There is another matter. We are within a quarter of a mile of the march of the tacksmen that have now occupied the place for forty years, and they have destroyed our stock —not only what the two shepherds at the march have done with two dogs each, but we also require ourselves to send forth one lad from each township. Everybody upon the south side of the loch knows that as well as I do. We require to send forth a man and to pay him, and this shepherd ruled over him as his master, the object attained being the destruction of our stock. They have no stock. I remember that when the township had forty-two tenants it had more stock than it has now with sixty-eight. We occupy a headland of the sea, and we are faced continually by shepherds and their dogs at the march, and of all the men that ever was thrown in upon us the last comer is the greatest scourge of them all. I have got myself thirty-four years ago, and I have not seen an old sheep of my own; they all come to death before their time. The shepherds upon one side, and our own engaged herds upon the other, destroy them between them. There is a remedy. The land in which we live is not without suitable land for cultivation and suitable tenants to occupy it. Some people may say that Park is not suitable for tenantry, but I remember the men that left it. They were old men when I was a boy, and to the day of their death they used to mourn their removal from Park, and willed to go back to it ; so that if the quite sufficient land there is fairly distributed among the people, and wisely distributed, there is plenty room for them to make a comfortable living in their own land.
17477. You say the land is not without suitable land and suitable tenants to occupy it. Well, the island is not without money and suitable people to use it. Why don't you claim a share of that money ?
—That was not ordained by ourselves, but the land which God created was ordered by Himself.
17478. From that point of view, don't you think you are entitled to a share of the land without paying rent for it?
—Well, we would not ask it in that way. We would ask that those who are the actual possessors of it should live by it as well as we.
17479. But on the footing on which you place it, what title have those people to it ?
—They have the right of proprietorship, and it is their duty to administer it wisely.
17480. Mr Cameron.
—Who was the tenant whose shepherd annoyed you, and was master over your herd ?
—Mr Sellar. There was a very bad thing that was done in connection with his tenancy too. There was a shepherd he had for twenty years, and though he had 7000 sheep himself, after his service this shepherd would not get a foothold upon the whole of his farm, but had to be sent in upon our township. He paid rent to the proprietor, and we paid rent to the township as well. His master would not even give him the site of a house. I have seen another case in our township. The land was divided into three bits, and a man was taken in from a neighbouring township, Maravaig, and given the one third of this lot, and a rent of 30s. was put up in it, which this man had to pay, and the old tenant with two-thirds paid the same as he had paid for the whole holding.
17481. I think you stated that the farm of Park keeps 7000 sheep?
—Yes, there were 7000 sheep on it.
17482. Are you sure ?
—I am certain ; the manager told me so.
17483. The paper handed in by the last witness states that Park keeps 11,000 sheep. Do you think that accurate?
—The manager told me 7000, but I myself believe that the place could carry more sheep than that, only of course they would not have the same grazing accommodation that the tacksmen would allow by keeping only 7000.
17484. What do you mean by saying that the shepherds on the other side and your own shepherds destroyed the sheep ? Why did your own shepherds destroy the sheep ?
—Our own herd was obliged to do what the other shepherds on the other side of the march told him.
17485. What was that?
—To help them to drive the crofters'sheep over the march, and to worry them as they please.
17486. Did all crofters' sheep go on to the land of the tacksman ?
—Yes, and his sheep crossed over to ours.
17487. Is not that the custom in every sheep farm, that the sheep go on both sides of the march?
—Yes, but in some places they use the stock better than in other places.
17488. But were the sheep of the tacksman driven back to the tacksman's land ?
—Yes, they would go for them at shearing time and at smearing time. I have seen them on our ground for six months on end, but no doubt they would be driving them back. We did not drive them back as a rule, neither did our herd.
17489. Did you allow the tacksman's sheep to pasture on your crofts without driving them back, or endeavouring by remonstrance to make the tacksman take them back?
—Yes, we did not drive them back, and we did not make a remonstrance. We sometimes helped the shepherd to get them, or the like of that.
17490. Do you seriously say that the crofters allowed their sheep to be hashed by the tacksman, and when they had the opportunity of retaliating upon the tacksman at their own march they did not do so ?
—That is quite the case. We did not retaliate in any way, and the people here can testify to that.
17491. You stated that they wish the land to be given to the people without oppression. Do you refer by the term ' oppression' to the present condition of things or to the past ?
—I speak of the past, so far as the administration of the estate is concerned; but there is no question whatever, we were oppressed by this last incoming tenant. It is the greatest oppression we ever had.
17492. In point of fact, the only oppression under which you suffer now is from your neighbour, the tacksman?
—Well, it is the greatest oppression we have got.
17493. What is his name?
—Roderick Martin. I include in this oppression of which I speak the excessive crowding in together of the people in small holdings.
17494. But that refers to a past time, and not to the present administration?
—Yes, that is also a thing of past administration, and not of to-day.