Meavaig, Lewis, 4 June 1883 - John Mathieson

JOHN MATHIESON, Crofter and Fisherman, Aird (42)—examined.

14315. The Chairman.
—Have you been freely elected a delegate ?

14316. Have you any statement to make on the part of the people at Aird?
—I, John Mathieson, was elected by the people of Aird Uig township as one of the delegates to represent them before the Royal Commissioners, and I beg to submit a few statements here for their consideration which may throw some light on the grievances of the crofters, and the doings of the landlord and factor. Aird Uig is a small township in the most remote corner of the island of Lewis. It was first inhabited by crofters about fifty-eight years ago. Six crofters had taken it then at the rent of £30. It was then a piece of uncultivated moss, with the exception of two or three small patches which was once used by a shepherd. The crofters then got many good promises for compensation for improvements, &.C., and never got any. There was a good piece of hill pasture taken from them at the coming in of a new factor, on account of them not having written agreements on the rights and boundaries of the township, but no reduction of rent. There are now nine crofters and five cottars in the township. There are a few of the first crofters still living in the township, who have toiled all their lifetime taking in land and making improvements, and never got any compensation but their rents raised. I will give one instance here of how factors treat some of their honest crofters. One of these first crofters, a very honest and respectable man who paid rents in the township for about fifty-five years, and was never one shilling in arrears all his lifetime, was about twelve years ago going to pay rent to the factor, a distance of thirteen miles, and being in his old age and getting frail, was a few minutes behind the rest of the crofters, and did not answer his name when called, was fined five shillings, and about thirty-five shillings put on his rent for having so much bad manners as to complain that it was not right to fine him under the circumstance. Of course that was the law of the factor, and he had to submit to it, and pay it. That is the kind of treatment and sympathy the landlord and factor shows to their crofters even in their old age. One of the principal grievances of the crofters is too little land—especially grazings—too high rents, and the system of overcrowding. About years ago five shillings was put on the rents of every crofter in the township for hill pasture or summer grazing, and we never got it, though repeatedly asked. Another sore grievance to the crofters is the want of a road to the township, and also the impropriety of the site of the schoolhouse, which was erected a few years ago utterly against the people of the two townships concerned, an act which is looked upon throughout all the country as a disgrace in a Christian land, and which inevitably deprives the children of the township of the benefit of education, and this is altogether ascribed to the influence of the present factor. The highway is almost three miles from the township. There are a number in the township who ate not a diet of their own produce for the last twelve months, and from year to year have to carry all their necessaries on their backs almost three miles, as already mentioned, over a rough and dangerous ground; and as a proof of this, a few weeks ago a person got his hand broken or dislocated carrying a bag of seed for his ground. We have ever been assessed with road money, and getting no benefit. Our township, which was formerly paying only £30 rent, is now about £38. This year the Lewis Relief Committee had under consideration the necessity of a road from the public schoolhouse to our township, and gave sanction to make the road, but the factor persists in not giving us the road or any comfort whatever. These funds are apparently under his own command, and he thinks he may use them as he pleases. As a surveyor from Lady Matheson has lately taken in a report of the arable land of the crofters, which may be brought up as evidence against crofters, I may just say in a word that his report of measurement is wrong, and should be discarded until fair justice is done in this matter. Another general grievance is the undue influence of the factor over crofters at elections, getting himself and others of his own favourites and caste elected. These are only a few of the grievances which may be offered, but time will not permit me at present to go further on.'

14317. What was the name of the old crofter who was fined 5s. ?
—John Mathieson. He is not now living. He was my uncle.

14318. Who wrote this paper?
—A lad belonging to the place.

14319. Have you read it and understood it?
—Yes, I know the tenor of it. Some of it was read and explained to me.

14320. Was it communicated to all the people ?
—They all know its contents.

14321. How far is the new schoolhouse from the township
—Two and a half miles.

14322. Do the children go or do they not go?
—The strong ones go in summer, but very few go in winter.

14323. This paper complains that the schoolhouse was built in that position contrary to the wishes of tne two townships. Could it have been built in any place more convenient to all the country round, which it is intended to serve ?
—Yes, I don't believe the site could be worse chosen anywhere.

14324. Who fixed upon the site?
—The chamberlain is the only one whom we can hold responsible for the school being built there.

14325. Was the place not fixed upon by the school board ?
—Well, he was chairman of the school board, some supporting him, and some opposing him. Those connected with him in the administration supported him, and the thing was done.

14326. You complain that a road has not been made from the public school, and that there are funds in existence to make the road. Have you applied to the factor to make the road ?
—Yes, oftener than once.

14327. Do you still hope that the road will be made?
—We had some expectations that the road would be done at the expense of the committee who superintend the destitution funds in Stornoway, but we have no hope of it now that Mr Mackay has out-and-out refused to go on with it.

14328. Had you any reason to believe that there were funds at the disposal of the relief committee for this purpose ?
—Whether or not, there is expended in this parish, and upon the rest of the property, money to make roads elsewhere that not only would bring the road to the schoolhouse, but to our own homes.

14329. It is stated here that there was an old crofter who had paid his rent for fifty-five years, and, being about twelve years ago a short time too late in appearing on the day, was fined 5s., and in consequence of something he said 35s. was added to his rental. Are these facts within your own personal knowledge
—The man himself told me.

14330. Was the additional rent of 35s. actually levied from him ?
—Yes he stood out against paying it for a time, but latterly he paid it, aud took several years in doing so.

14331. Was that only for one year?
—I believe it was remitted to him before he died. I believe the present chamberlain, Mr Mackay, remitted that sum.

14332. Was the additional 35s. for one year only, or was it for every year
—For every year. He paid it for a number of years.

14333. Are you sure there was not some other reason for putting on the 35s.
—I am not aware. My own father was constable at the time, and he asked him what was the reason, and that was the sole reason he gave him, namely, that he stated to Mr Munro that the land was his so long as he paid rent for it, and this additional sum was imposed upon him for his presumption.

14334. You say there are now nine crofters and five cottars in the township. Are they all paying rent to the proprietor, or only the nine crofters ?
—The nine crofters only.

14335. Have you one of the nine crofts?
—Yes, my father is still living, but bedridden, and my name is on the rent roll along with my father's, but I am the only mainstay of the house.

14336. What stock do you keep ?
—Sometimes three cows and sometimes four, but when there is a bad year, the one pair eats up the other. The summing is three cows with three calves until the calf is a stirk, or four cows with no calf at all, and twelve sheep.

14337. And what is your rent?
—£3, and the assessments are sometimes as high as 14s.

14338. Has any hill pasture been taken away from you ?
—Yes, some of what was within the marches of the township when it was originally lotted has been taken away from us.

14339. Whom has it been given to ?
—To the adjacent crofting township.

14340. How long ago is that?
—I only heard it from my mother. I don't remember the case myself.

14341. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Were you once a member of the school board

14342. Why are you not a member now?
—It is not exactly easy for me to explain that matter. My opinion is that it was because the whole population were unable to express their opinions properly upon the day of the election.

14343. Do you believe that the influence of the chamberlain was used to prevent your return?
—I believe it was in one way, and even two I may say.

14344. How many crofters were on the last board when you were on it?

14345. How many are on now ?

14346. Was it agreeable to the crofters generally that their numbers should be so far reduced at the last election ?
—I believe that some at least of the people would prefer that same of those that were out should be in ; and I am further of opinion that the crofter members that were upon the late board were better members, both from the point of view of the administration of the estate and giving expression to the feeling of the estate, than the present board are.

14347. I understand you have some experience about the encouragement that is given to the people for building houses ?
—Yes, I know the encouragement that is given in the district where I live.

14348. Will you give us an instance of the encouragement given to the people to better their houses or benefit themselves ?
—If they transgress the laws of the chamberlain, that they should be threatened with removal out of their holdings even if their houses were half built up.

14349. Is there, in point of fact, discouragement to the people to improve their dwelling houses? Do they feel that?
—I believe that if the people would get the assurance that the places would be their own, they would make all their endeavour to make their houses better.

14350. Do you want your own croft enlarged?
—I consider it too little.

14351. What do you mean by stating in the paper that the surveyor is not doing right in the way he is surveying the land ?
—That he is measuring places that are incapable of cultivation.

14352. Do you know what is the extent of your father's croft?
—No, I do not know.

14353. Are there four acres?
—I should scarcely say it was four.

14354. How many distinct pieces is it composed of? Is it contiguous or broken up into a number of patches?
—We made one piece of it finally, but it was only a piece here and there at one time.

14355. Professor Mackinnon.
—Are you aware that the surveyor is putting down uncultivable land as cultivable land in his report ?
—I cannot say as to that. 1 only know he measures with the chain ground that is uncultivable.

14356. But if you don't know he is returning it as uncultivable ground, how do you know he is not measuring rightly ?
—I cannot understand how he should measure, side by side, the uncultivable and cultivable grounds in any other way.

14357. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Have the rules of the estate been made known to you under which compensation is given for building houses ?
—Yes, I have got a copy; but I know another thing. I attempted to build a house, and I lost the skin off my back carrying stones in a rope, and since I could not engage a mason to build it I commenced to build it myself, aud when it was up to the level of the walls I had a letter from Mr Mackay telling me that when my father died I would be turned out of the croft, and he did not give any promise in that letter that I should get any payment for the work that I had done.

14358. If it was finished, don't you suppose you would get payment?
—I could not be certain. Mr Mackay promised that the ground officer should come every year to see what changes and improvements were made on the houses and lauds, and I have not seen oue coming yet for that purpose.

14359. I suppose one would come if you asked him?
—We asked him often enough for other purposes, and got no reply.

14360. Was there a contest for the school board when you were elected ?

14361. And was the last election, when you were thrown out, a contested one too ?
—Yes, but the people did not get an opportunity of recording their votes on that day. It was a very wild and tempestuous day, and they could not cross the sound. When I was a member of the board I asked the board to meet alternately upon either side of the sound, so that this portion-of the parish should get some justice. Mr Mackay would not agree to that. He never inquired what difficulties we had in attending upon him, day and night, at Gara-na-hine, at his meeting. As an instance, I got a notice to attend a meeting after night fall on a Saturday evening and the meeting was to be on the Monday at mid-day. A boat could not cross, and I had to walk back and forward twenty-two miles each way, and after all there was no quorum; only Mr Mackay himself attended.

14362. Then it is the fault of the bad weather that you were not elected at last election ?
—Not perhaps that I was not elected—but I believe that is the reason why a number of the crofters were not elected.

14363. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Did you protest against the polling place being where it was ?
—Yes, I protested against that, and the people also object to the polling place being on the other side of the sound.

14364. But the crofters had a majority on the last board, and fixed the polling place, did they not ?
—Well, if it was they who fixed the polling place, I was not present at the time. I heard nothing about it any time I was at the meetings of the board till I saw the notices posted up on the walls of the church.

14365. Is Mr Mackay omnipotent at the board meetings?
—At some of them. He was omnipotent certainly upon some occasions when I was a member of the board, and upon other occasions not.

14366. Would you and the other members be alarmed for the consequences by their going against the chamberlain if he were very firm upon any point in connection with the board ?
—I would not be afraid in the least. There was scarcely a day but myself or the others had an argument and discussed matters.

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