Meavaig, Lewis, 4 June 1883 - Donald Mathieson

DONALD MATHIESON, Kneep (64)—examined.

13784. The Chairman.
—Have you been freely elected a delegate by your people?

13785. Have you a statement to make on their behalf ?
—They complain of some hardships connected with the administration of the estate—the holdings made less and the rents increased. My father and grandfather lived in this township. In my grandfather's day the township was divided among eight, and the total rent was £40. This was about eighty years ago. The rent is now £80. There are twenty-six families, of whom seventeen are crofters. Some of the township was taken from us, also some of the islands that used to summer our cattle, and also moorland pasture.

13786. How long is it since the moorland pasture was taken away?
—The islands were taken away from us about fifty-five years ago. They were given to Alexander Macrae of Kintail. We were deprived of the moorland pasture about forty years ago, and it was given to a neighbouring tacksman. We march with sheep runs all round. About 1850 the township that marched with us was cleared, and a bit of our township was taken from us, and added to that cleared township. The tacksman was Mr John Macrae, the son of the Macrae who got the islands before.

13787. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What was the name of the township that was cleared?
—Reef. In the days I spoke of, in my grandfather's days, when they had the land at a reasonable rent, they were making a comfortable living. They had a pair of horses, five milk cows, and other cows such as young animals that were sent to the islands, and about forty sheep. The horses were done away with, and they themselves had often to do horses' work; and now if a man marries a wife, he must yoke her in a cart. Now, having lost all our grazings, and with the amount of ground we have now, supposing I had two cows, I would require to sell one in order to keep up the other; and if I have about a dozen sheep or so at
Martinmas, they will be worried by the neighbouring tacksmen, whose dogs continually harass them, and poind them, so that we are scarcely able to live at all.

13788. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—What rent do you yourself pay ?
—£4, 4s. bare rent, with taxes in addition.

13789. What stock do you actually keep ?
—Three cows, two stirks, and ten sheep.

13790. No horse?
—No, I have no horse. There is no horse in the place. They would not be allowed to be kept there. They were all sold.

13791. How many barrels of potatoes do you plant?
—About twelve.

13792. And how many barrels of barley?
—One barrel of barley and half a barrel of oats.

13793. What return do you get from these?
—The land has got exhausted through continuous cropping, but I get about forty barrels of potatoes and sometimes as low as twenty.

13794. What is the best return you recollect getting within the last ten years ?
—Sixty. The cattle required it all for the last two years.

13795. What return do you get of bere and oats ?
—I would make about six returns the year before last.

13796. Of bere?

13797. Besides the seed?
—Six returns altogether, seed included.

13798. And oats ?
—The land has got exhausted, as stated before. The best crop of oats I ever had was two barrels out of a half barrel I sowed.

13799. You give most of this produce to your own cattle?
—Yes, so they must; there is nothing else for them.

13800. What amount of meal are you obliged to buy?
—I bought about twenty bolls last year. I have already bought sixteen this year.

13801. Since when?
—Just after the crop is lifted. I begin to buy just after the income of the crop is eaten up.

13802. In what way do you make the money that enables you to buy this meal?
—Partially by the selling of stock, and fishing at the east coast and elsewhere.

13803. Do you fish here at all ?
—Not of late; I am too old now.

13804. Does your family fish here?

13805. Have they got a big boat?
—No. In addition to the sufferings we endure through the shepherds, we are also injured very much by the deer-forest. Supposing any of our own cattle are feeding out upon our own moorland pasture, no one is allowed by the regulations of the estate to attend to them or follow them except the herd. Even supposing any of them had a broken leg, no other person is entitled to go and look after it. Supposing any of the sheep were losing their wool, or anything of that sort, we are not allowed to go after them to shear them. One day is appointed for that purpose, and if the sheep are not found on that day they must go without being shorn at all.

13806. Has the herd the right to go a second time?
—Yes, he has the right, but when the sportsmen come he must look out.

13807. When do the sportsmen come?
—At the end of summer.

13808. Do the deer damage your crofts at all?
—Not in our particular township, but in other parts of the parish they injure the crops.

13809. How long has your rent stood at £4, 4s. ?
—About sixteen years.

13810. What was it before then ?
—I paid at first £3, 15s.

13811. Why was it raised?
—I don't know. The rent of our township was raised £ 10 in one year, and four men were put in upon us. Then 5s. was put upon us for peat ground, and then 1s. was put upon each of us which they called hen money; that is 6s. But now that is rent, and it is not set down as a separate rent

13812. Were you in the habit of giving kain hens in addition to the rent before ?
—We never paid any kain hens within my time.

13813. But did they always pay the shilling in your time?

13814. Then why was the 1s. put on?
—I cannot tell, except that that was about the time it was put upon us by the chamberlain Donald Munro.

13815. Why was it called hen money ?
—I don't know why it was called by that name.

13816. What was the name of the island you lost?
—Little Wia. Our township had the whole of it, and then we had a portion of Yacasay, the island which the previous delegate spoke of. That was what our township separately held.

13817. You mentioned that four families had been put in upon you. Where did they come from ?
—From another township that was cleared—Dun of Carloway.

13818. Have any other families been put in upon you at any time besides these four ?
—Not since I became a crofter. The increase has been the natural increase of the land, except these four.

13819. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Who has that island, Little Wia, and the half of that other island ?
—James Macrae has Little Wia and Alexander Macrae has the portion of Vacasay which belonged to our township.

13820. Have they a good deal of land besides ?
—They have. Alexander has a very large stretch of country—four townships added together.

13821. Why were these islands taken from the Kneep people ?
—I cannot tell, except to make the oppressors that came in more comfortable, and provide them with wintering for their stock.

13822. Was it for the benefit of the people of Kneep ?
—On the contrary, to our great injury.

13823. Is the latter state of Kneep worse than the beginning?
—Sevenfold worse—sevenfold and seventeen times, and I say so.

13824. You mentioned that the town of Reef was cleared. Do you know how many families were cleared out of Reef ?

13825. Would there be twenty altogether?
—There were about twentyeight.

13826. What became of them?
—They suffered great hardship and oppression in their removal. I remember it well myself. They were scattered here and there, and some were seut abroad—some to other places where hardly a snipe could live.

13827. Who has Reef now?
—James Mackenzie, Linshader.

13828. In regard to the forest, is there any fence for keeping the deer in ?

13829. No fence whatever?
—No, they have the run of our own moorland pasture for grouse and shooting.

13830. Supposing you got these islands back again, would they help you very much in your condition ?

13831. Is your own position very much worse than the position of your grandfather ?
—-Very much indeed. I must live henceforth on the earnings of other people—on my own family whom I reared under great hardship. The croft which I possess does not contribute much to my support.

13832. You mentioned formerly you had been in the habit of going away and earning money for the support of your family in other places, but you are now too old to do so. Is that correct ?

13833. Was it necessary for your grandfather to go away out of this place to earn his living ?
—Never beyond the bounds of the township.

13834. The Chairman.
—Does the common pasture—the hill pasture of the township—march with the deer forest ?
—The grazing of Valtos comes between us and the actual forest, but the sportsmen have the run of all the ground for shooting purposes.

13835. The sportsmen have the right of shooting grouse and deer over your common pasture ?
—He has the right to go through our crops in the shooting season, and he exercises the right of going through our crops and shooting snipe along the shore and elsewhere.

13836. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—With dogs?

13837. Do they take dogs through the corn?
—They went through it quite common last summer.

13838. The Chairman.
—Do the shooting tenants do your stock and crop any substantial injury?
—Well it never was complained of, but there is no doubt that there were some places where substantial injury was done.

13839. Do the shooting tenants show you any kindness or render you any service of any sort ?
—We hold no communication with them.

13840. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Or they with you?
—There is no communication between us at all.

13841. The Chairman.
—Do the gamekeepers molest you or do you any hurt?
-— We have nothing to complain of in that respect, except the matter of the heather. The hill is set apart at the beginning of autumn, and if we cannot get at the heather that week we must do without, whatever injury may befall us for want of it.

13842. Do you get sea-weed from the shore?

13843. Do you pay anything?
—No, nothing whatever.

13844. Do you get anything from the tacksman's shore or only from your own ?
—We take it off our own shore, but there was a portion preserved of the shore which belonged to neither tacksman nor crofter, which was occupied by the proprietor for the manufacture of kelp. That is not used now, and we get the use of it.

13845. And do you pay anything?
—Nothing. We would not be allowed to go upon the tacksman's land.

13846. Do you live on good terms with the tacksman ?
—Some ten days ago some of our people went to gather drift-ware upon the tacksman's shore and were prevented doing so.

13847. Mr Cameron.
—Did I understand you to say that the sportsmen habitually shoot snipe in standing corn with dogs ?
—I would say five or six times in the season. The shooting tenant pays £700 or £ 800 for the privilege of shooting over what is our ground and the ground of the neighbouring crofters—the moorland pasture—throughout the whole parish. The proprietor gets that amount of money without any outlay whatever on the place.

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