Meavaig, Lewis, 4 June 1883 - Murdo Mclean

Mr Mackay, chamberlain on the Lewis estates.
—I am instructed and authorised by Lady Matheson to assure you and the crofters of this parish, that they shall suffer in no way in consequeuce of anything they may say here to-day. You can assure all and sundry that they shall suffer nothing at her hands or at the hands of her officials in any way.]

MURDO M'LEAN, Crofter and Fish-curer, Valtos (57)—examined.

13672. The Chairman.
—Have you been freely chosen a delegate by the people of Valtos?

13673. How many people were present at the time you were chosen? Was there a meeting?
—A public meeting in the Bernera Established Church, at which about 400 persons were present, and there was a committee of fifty-seven elected in this parish, and circulars sent round through the whole of the parish to attend the meeting for the purpose.

13674. Have you a statement to make on behalf of the people of Valtos ?

13675. Before we put any questions to you, will you make a voluntary statement of what they complain of and desire ?
—Yes. I am here on behalf of the people of Valtos, to express the grievances under which they are suffering, what I wish to state before the Commissioners to-day is that we, the people of Valtos, in the district of the fourteen hills, have among us about twenty-four families without any land at all, and these are a burden on the rest. They are not able to improve their houses. They are in very poor circumstances, especially this year. They are unable either to clothe or provide shoes for their children, so as to enable them to attend school.

13676. Do you mean the people without land, or the people with land?
—I include the whole. The cottars are a burden on the crofters. They also complain that the taxes are too high—that is, the school rate. We again consider it would be very desirable to have free education. I believe that the people, in consequence of the want of it, are kept back very much, and kept under subjection. Although they would have grievances they are unable to state them through want of education. Again, they had islands for wintering their cattle, and they had moorland for the summering of their stock. They were deprived of this moorland pasture, and it was converted into a deer forest. The islands were taken from them, and given to the large sheep farmers. Again, their rents were raised. I remember myself when I had to work for a whole week—sixty hours, without food or any allowance whatever, upon the roads. This was in the year 1850. Every man between the years of eighteen and sixty had to perform this work. They had no hand- barrows, and where the wheeled barrows could not go, they had to carry the road stuff in creels upon their backs, or in sacks, and they had to provide themselves with the cloth out of which to make these sacks. I saw that with my own eyes, and I saw the men at the work. Although many of them are not alive to-day, the thing was done in my time. Afterwards this was commuted into 5s. of a charge against every one whose name was in the rent roll (See Appendix A, XLI.). So far as I remember, this again in the year 1870 was remitted, and a regular road tax was laid upon us. One of the justices of the peace in this country told me at this church that he thought this road tax would not be levied upon any man whose rent was under £10. He said the tax was 3d. in the £ 1, but would not be chargeable against any man whose rent was under £10. This 5s. again was included in the rent that was paid by the crofters. Then the rent, increased by this 5s., was chargeable with every other assessment. I cannot go over the names of those whose names are entered in the rent roll of Valtos, but I know that for many a croft there were two names so entered, and for every name that was so entered in the rent roll, as far as I was able to know or discover, this 5s. was levied, even supposing the rent charged against them did not exceed £ 1. So far as I have been able to discover, where there are three names entered for the same croft, in that case also I understand that this 5s. is charged against each. The original rental of the township of Valtos was £150. This 5s. of which I have spoken would, for the whole township, make an additional rent of from £8 to £ 10 annually, making a total of from £158 to £160. I believe that £40 a year was the total amount of abatement that was made to the township when they were deprived of the islands I have mentioned and of the moorland pasture. But they were deprived of the islands and the moorland pasture before Sir James Matheson bought the estate.

13677. Is the £150 the rent since you were deprived of those islands and pasture ?
—Yes, I believe they were deprived of the islands in the year 1827 or thereabouts, and they were deprived of the moorland pasture a year or two before. There was no deer forest at that time. We knew nothing about deer forests at that time. At that time the management of the estate was in the hands of trustees, and this deprivation of the island pasture and moorland pasture was made against the will of the proprietor of the time.

13678. Who was the proprietor?
—The Seaforth family—Mackenzie of Brahan.

13679. When the hill pasture was taken away, and the islands, was the estate under trustees ?
—So far as I can learn.

13680. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Do you remember the name of the trustee ?
—Yes, it was an Edinburgh lawyer named Mackenzie. It is said by other people that our dwellings in this island are of a very poor character. I don't speak for myself personaUy, but for the other people, that it is difficult for them to have comfortable dwellings or dwellings in which they can improve their condition. The reason is that the place is very thickly inhabited; and there are some who have small bits of lots, and these say that they have no inducement to improve their dwellings in any way, because they have no hold whatever of their holdings, in the case of their offending the manager or ground officer in any way, not even offending him, but for no reason at all in particular.(See Appendix A, XLI.) This keeps the people back, and in depressed circumstances. We believe they have mind and understanding the same as other people who have received education, but this keeps them back very, very much. Personally, I am of opinion, although I may be mistaken, that the man who is kept so under subjection has not the same inducement to endeavour to raise either his physical or moral condition as he would have if he were placed in more comfortable circumstances. Then, with regard to the school board and the parochial board, all the seats upon these boards are occupied by the people of the wealthier classes, and the poorer classes are cast aside. The parish church is situated two miles to the west from here, and that was the centre of the parish which extended from Kinlochresort to Dun of Carloway. The parochial board hold their meetings in Gara-na-hine, only four miles from the eastern boundary of the parish. The people complained of this, for they had to cross a ferry ten miles in breadth in any weather. The hour of meeting was fixed whether the members were able to attend or not. Then the books of the board were not open to the inspection of the public. A rate-payer would not be allowed to see them even supposing he wished. Again, the board was managed by the same class as the members. Every official connected with it belonged to the same class as the members. They had no connection with the parish at all; and the people of the parish believed that things were kept secret from the people of the parish, and that they were looked down upon in such a way that they were not thought fit to be entrusted with either the coUection or the distribution of the poor-rate. So great was the distrust in connection with these matters that if any native of the island was a banker, he would not be entrusted with the parochial board account. I don't wish to speak of my own personal affairs, but I may refer to them by way of iUustration. I am not afraid of them, nor do I ask any favour of those connected with the administration of the estate. As a proof of how the inhabitants of the place were despised and held in subjection, I am going to refer to a personal matter. The three parishes of Uig, Barvas, and Lochs were under the same inspector of poor. He had an assistant in every parish. It so happened that I myself was chosen as one of these assistants—I don't know how—during eight months, and at the parochial board meeting at Gara-na-hine I was paid £ 5 a year for my trouble. I told them at that meeting that I was now leaving the employment of the board, and I defied them to show I had ever expended unnecessarily or unfairly a sixpence of the public rate. I was willing to continue matters as they were for £ 5 a year. Mr Mackay, who was chairman, said that I was not paid sufficient for it—that they would not get a common herd boy for the sum of £ 5 , and he asked them to give me a salary of £15, and he himself would guarantee I would do the work efficiently. Well, the matter came to a vote. The man who wished to get my place was a member of the board. Two members of the board voted for this member. Mr Mackay told this particular man that he ought to resign his membership, which he did. Mr Mackay gave him his own vote as chairman, and he carried the day, and he got his salary of £15. They again complain that the school board is chosen in the same way.

13681. Your complaint is that the parochial board and the school board are chosen exclusively from one class, and, as it were, in the proprietary interest, and that the people are not properly represented ?
—I don't refer to proprietors, but I refer to a certain class of the people whom we call the aristocracy.

13682. You mean the interests of the aristocracy?

13683. Then go on to another complaint?
—The school board is located and administered in the same way as the parochial board—that is, in the hands of the wealthier classes so far as they can manage to get at it. We never got a detailed account of the income and expenditure of the school board, or a detailed account of the road money. We got it once or twice of the parochial board account, but we never yet got a school board account or account of the road money.

13684. Can you suggest something that ought to be done to remedy these grievances—something which you think would be good for the country and the people ?
—We know the remedy very well—that the people themselves should have an opportunity of electing members to administer the parochial board affairs. Now, as the law is administered at present, it is only a minority of the people who have a vote—that is those whose rent is over £4. Of the voters in this parish, distinguished into the wealthier classes and the poorer classes, the wealthier classes have a majority of votes, and so we are kept down on that account. That is so far as I am aware or have learned about the matter. Then we think that the parochial board ought to be placed upon an equal footing with the school board, that the members should be elected freely by the people, and not by any good will or favour. Then with respect to road money, the poor man pays it according to his rent just as the rich man does, but I understand he has no voice whatever in the administration of that fund. They have also a grievance in respect to many other matters. For instance they cannot do without heather rope3 in order to fasten the thatch upon their houses. There is one day set apart by the gamekeeper upon which you are allowed to go and pull heather to make these ropes, and if you cannot attend on that day, you are not allowed on any other day. If you do, you are liable to be fined for it. Now, it so happened that last year the male population were away at the fishing, and they had only left their wives and children at home, and they were not able to have the heather ropes prepared in time, and they lost their corn because they had no ropes to secure it. That was in the great gale of October. My idea is that they could have secured a far greater amount of the corn than they were able to secure, if they had had ropes prepared at the time. It would not matter if it was a gamekeeper or a large farmer or any one belonging to them that would see them pulling this heather. If they were reported it would be worse for them than if Sir James Matheson during his life had seen every one of them. The township of Valtos is situated upon an arm of the sea, and if their sheep stray here or stray there the large sheep farmer will poind them, and he assumes the right to worry their stock a mile beyond the march, so they themselves say, for I have no personal knowledge of the matter, and the people say that any complaint they ever made to the chamberlain's office upon the subject was not listened to. I made a personal complaint myself to Mr Mackay, the chamberlain, upon this very matter. I myself saw the dog worrying the cattle half a mile beyond the march, through the rough ground, and some of them were injured upon the march. Now, a piece of the township was taken from us and given to this very tacksman. We got no abatement of rent for that. I myself had no stock upon the place. I have no sheep at all. The people delegated me to go and speak to Mr Mackay, that it was their settled conviction to go and keep possession of that portion of the township. Mr Mackay said that the tacksman had it in his lease, but I did not believe that. I could not understand how a piece of ground that ever belonged to the township could form a part of the tack.

13685. Mr Cameron.
—Do you represent Yaltos alone, or are you also a delegate for other townships ?—For Valtos alone.

13686. The grievances you have been stating refer to other townships besides that of Valtos ? They are common to other townships ?
—Yes, I think they are.

13687. But as to the matters affecting the election of various boards, and the heather gathering, and various other complaints, are they confined to the township of Valtos, or do they embrace the other townships in this parish?
—They include the whole parish.

13688. So in this respect you have been speaking also on behalf of other townships though not elected for other townships?
—Yes, it is a general matter.

13689. Will you explain what you mean when you state that the people were unable to state their grievances through want of education ? Do you mean that the want of education prevented them stating their grievances on the present occasion, or how ?
—Although I am able myself personally to state those grievances, I am not able to write or to send them to newspapers. That is what I had in view when I stated that the people through want of education were not able to state their grievances.

13690. Would it not be better if the people stated their grievances to those who had the power to remedy their grievances rather than by writing to the newspapers?
—We did that, and it was in vain. We made a movement to that effect this year, and we did not find a man in the parish both able and willing to wield a pen on our behalf.

13691. You say the people wish for free education. Are the school fees which you pay so high as to be of an oppressive nature ?
—I consider the fees are too hieh. If a man has four or five or six children, and has to pay 4s. a quarter for them, and meanwhile has no money wherewith to
buy meal, the fees stand very much in the way of his being able to secure the education of his children.

13692. What are the fees?
—One shilling a quarter.

13693. How many heads of families are there in Valtos ?
—About seventy families.

13694. Has each family got a separate croft?

13695. How many of these are cottars?
—About twenty.

13696. Have the crofters got any right to common pasture anywhere?

13697. What is the average head of stock which each crofter keeps in the township?
—If they were limited to the number of cattle that the crofts could feed in winter, I don't think they would exceed a cow for every £ 2 of rent that is paid in the township.

13698. What is the average number of acres of arable ground?
—Not one man there has an acre of arable ground. It is only rocks and stones, sandy ground which was blown by the wind.

13699. What kind of crops do you raise there?
—Potatoes and barley. Oats will not grow. The sandy ground burns up the oats.

13700. How many barrels of potatoes does each man plant in a year?
—Well, I pay £ 3 of rent, but I am paying £ 1 extra. I would plant about five barrels to give justice.

13701. How many do you actually plant?
—This year I planted about four barrels. I was short of seed.

13702. And how much bere?
—Rather less than a bushel

13703. What stock have you got yourself on the croft?
—Three cows,

13704. Any sheep ?

13705. Or horses ?

13706. Just three cows ?

13707. Professor Mackinnon.
—Any young ones ?

13708. Mr Cameron.
—Have your neighbours about the same number?
—No. Two of them were fed from Aberdeen. I bought the wintering of them.

13709. Do these cows graze on the common hill ground ?
—Yes, as long as it continues.

13710. Till the end of harvest?
—Yes, it is so small for the people that it lasts no time.

13711. You mentioned that £40 of abatement of rent was given when the islands and the moorland were taken away from the township ?
—Yes; Valtos was at that time £180 of rent.

13712. And that was in 1827?
—From 1825 to 1827.(See Appendix A, XLI.)

13713. Do you know what rent for those islands is now paid by the farmer or whoever it is that has got them?
—I know the rent one farmer was paying, and I don't think the present farmer pays anything higher. I knew Mr Macrae when he had the farm of Linshader, and when he got the land of Pabbay-more, paid £32. John Munro Mackenzie was factor at the time.

13714. Is that the rent now?
—It has passed through two or three hands since then.

13715. What other lands were taken away?
—The half of Vacsay. I know the rent that was paid for that twenty years ago. It was £15 for the whole.

13716. Do you think it is higher now?
—Yes, I think it is ; I cannot tell.

13717. What other islands were taken away at that time?

13718. What is the rent paid for that?
—£4 or £5.

13719. Now, do you know the rent which was paid for the moorland which was taken away sixty years ago?
—Most of it is in the forest.

13720. Do you know what is the rent paid for it ?
—About £1000.

13721. That is for the whole forest, but I mean for the grazing which was taken from Valtos in 1825?
—Well, I suppose the most part of it belonged to Valtos.

13722. You think the most part of that £1000 now paid was taken from Valtos ?

13723. Do the people complain of their not having these islands and the moorland, or is it merely that you wish to inform us as to the exact possession ?
—Oh, they complain of it.

13724. What rent do you think they would pay for it if they got it. It appears to have been valued then at £40?
—They would willingly pay the rent it was raising in 1801.

13725. Was that less or more than the rent paid in 1825, when it was taken away ?
—Well, I think it was rather less. Rents have been increasing till this very day.

13726. But it was valued at £40 a year in-1825?
—£32 was the rent of it when the small crofters had it.

13727. And you think the people would now be willing to pay £32 for it if they got it ?
—As for that, I don't like to go into details.

13728. But about that ?

13729. Any way, they would not be willing to pay £1000?

13730. And the moorland is now let for £1000 apart from the lands?
—The moorland and the land are not together at all.

13731. But you put them together, and said the islands and moorland were worth £40 a year ?

13732. And you now say the greater part of the moor which is worth £1000 belonged to Valtos?

13733. Then you don't think the people would be willing to pay £1000 for it?
—Not likely.

13734. You said £40?

13735. The Chairman.
—When the moorland was taken away from the township of Valtos, what amount of sheep or cattle did it keep?
—They kept horses at that time as well as sheep and cattle.

13736. About how much of all kinds of stock?
—Well, they had as high as fourteen cows—those that were paying £ 6 at that time.

13737. But you cannot give me any idea how many sheep or cattle that moorland kept which was taken away for the sake of the farm altogether?
—Some of it as high as six score sheep.

13738. Have you any idea how many acres were taken away?

13739. But you think the piece taken away amounts really to half the area of the present deer forest?
—I think it is fully more than half the area.

13740. You mentioned that the people were prevented making improvements on their houses or crofts for fear of arbitr ary eviction on the part of the ground officer. Can you state any cases of arbitrary or wanton eviction within your memory ?
—Yes, by the sheep farmer. I am not stating it at all, but I can show it.

13741. But I mean by the proprietor or factor. Do you know of any case of wanton or arbitrary eviction in your memory, by the proprietor, factor, or ground officer?
—Yes, I could tell several instances. At Callernish, for instance, there were regulations given out in 1848, when this parish was lotted by a surveyor, and there were plans and specifications laid out for building a new kind of houses, and the men were going on with these houses and supporting themselves by the shell-fish from the shore. It was a very very bad year. A great deal of destitution was prevalent that year, and one man in this parish died for want of nourishment. These houses were built according to the regulations of the estate, and the work will bear evidence, will show itself. And the people were driven away out of it in the year 1851, and some of the houses are half built and the people in Canada. The people were driven away, and their stock was taken away from them for a nominal price—a sheep and lamb 4s. 6d. a head. (See Appendix A, XLI.)

13742. And the people were emigrated out of Scotland?
—Yes, and scattered all through the island, and that was merely through the large farmer keeping the march up to them. He was lodging complaints against them.

13743. How long ago is that?
—In the year 1851.

13744. That is thirty-two years ago. But within recent times has there been any isolated case of individual arbitrary evictions?
—Yes. There was a case not twenty years ago, and another case at Bernera, through the influence of the ground officer; and even here, in this parish, they have been removed.

13745. You mentioned there was a difficulty in obtaining the heather ropes for securing the thatch of the houses, and that a day was appointed on which they were obliged to gather the heather. Is there only one day of the year appointed ?
—Three days in one particular week of the year.

13746. Supposing it was very bad weather, or that they were unable to get out, would they get leave to take it on other days ?
—No, they would have been reported by the officer and fined.

13747. Is any payment exacted for gathering heather?
—No, not so far as I know.

13748. You stated that in the election of members for the schoolboard the wishes and opinions of the people were not sufficiently considered, and the representatives were all taken from one class. Have the people ever endeavoured to put forward a candidate for the school board agreeable to themselves ?
—Yes, but the people were uncertain of the rules of the school board from the commencement, and did not know anything about it.

13749. When was the last election?
—October 1882.

13750. Could not you or someone having better education have explained to the people what their powers and duties were ? Did you ever endeavour to assist them to elect a delegate in their own interest ?
—I did not want to go in to be troubled with anything of the kind. I had some other business to attend to.

13751. Has anybody ever represented to the factor or proprietor that they would have liked to have representatives of their own class upon the school board ? Have they ever expressed their desire ?
—Well, I suppose they have.

13752. Do you know they have?
—I cannot answer that question distinctly.

13753. You said there were twenty families on the township without land. How do these families gain their subsistence ?
—They have a division of their friends' lots.

13754. You say you are a fish-curer. Can you suggest any means of helping the fishing industry ?
—Yes, but I considered the fishing a secondary consideration. Land is the first, if the people are to be elevated in any shape or form.

13755. I ask you whether you have any specific suggestion to make—whether secondary or primary—for the benefit of the fishing population?

13756. Then make it?
—Well, so far as I can understand, everything that can be done for the fishing curing we have been doing. We have supplied the men with good substantial fishing boats, in the first place. They can go thirty miles from the land. It is the ling fishing that is principally carried on here, and they go about thirty miles from the land, and they have good boats—some of them as large as 33 feet keel, all decked, with the best fishing material. Well, this year was a very bad year—boisterous weather—and the fishing is of very little consequence when there is bad weather.

13757. Excuse me for a moment. I wish you to suggest anything that could be done. You say the fish-curers have given them good boats. Is there anything the Government or the proprietor could do in the way of boats or harbours or anything for the benefit of the people ?
—Well, the proprietor spent very little money upon the fishing; and as for the Government, I think landing places might help them a little. We are standing very much in need of landing places at Valtos. We have a good natural harbour.

13758. Could you write down a list of the places where you think landing places would be useful ?

13759. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many families were in Valtos in 1825, at the time these places were taken away?
—About fourteen families. It is before I was born. It is not likely I would be able to give the number there were before I was born.

13760. The former condition was this, that there were fourteen families in 1825 in Valtos, and they possessed, generally, fourteen milk cows, six score sheep, and some horses. Was that the state of Valtos in 1825?
—Well, I did not mean the whole of them had that—-so many cattle, sheep, and horses—but those who were paying as high as £6. I mentioned that.

13761. And the condition now is that in place of these fourteen families there are upwards of seventy, with a very diminished stock ?
—Yes, that is the state of matters.

13762. Mention the name of the tacksmen who first got these islands which were taken away?
—Mr James Mackenzie, Linshader, and Alexander Macrae.

13763. How long was the moor pasture taken away before it was let as a forest for rent ? I am told it was only let as a forest for money quite recently. While it was in the proprietor's hands had he any stock upon it ?
—A tacksman had it before it was converted into a forest.

13764. Who was the tacksman who got it?
—Alexander Macrae of Scaliscro.

13765. What rent were they paying?
—About £100, but they had Scaliscro.

13766. Where are these islands, and why was this pasture taken from Valtos ?
—Because they wanted it to be converted into a sheep farm, and through the influence of the ruling power.

13767. It was not for the benefit of the people of Valtos?
—No, quite the reverse.

13768. You spoke about some evictions that took place in 1851; from what township ?
—Carinish and Reef.

13769. These were houses they were put out of, not land?
—The whole lands, gardens, grazings, houses, and everything.

13770. Who got the lands from which they were put out?
—James Mackenzie, who has Linshader and Pabbay.

13771. Then the eviction was not for the benefit of the crofters who remained ?
—There were no crofters remaining on those places.

13772. They were all put away?
—They were all driven away.

13773. Where were those people taken to? Were they driven out of the island altogether ?
—No, some were scattered through the parish, some sent to other hamlets beyond the parish, and some were compelled to go to America.

13774. Do you know a person called John Mathieson of Uig?

13775. Is he one of the delegates?

13776. Has there been a surveyor going round measuring the crofts of the people lately ?
—Yes, I saw one.

13777. Do you know what he is doing or why he is doing it ?
—I spoke to the gentleman, and he asked me about my own croft, and I told him it was half a croft I was tenant of, and he asked me for the other name, and
the answer I got was a peculiar one.

13778. Are you aware the people generally were rather alarmed at this inquiry?
—Yes, they did not like the idea.

13779. Do you know now yourself exactly what the object is?
—The opinion I formed in my own mind was that he was from the factor's office, because he had aU the crofters that were in the rental in his book. I understood in my mind he came purposely from the office.

13780. Are you aware the object was in order to get the exact extent of the cultivated land of the island merely for information ?
—That was not all the measurement he made. He measured the lochs.

13781. In reality it was for the use of this Commission, to get exactly the extent of the arable land that was under cultivation ?
—Well, the people did not believe he was sent from the Commission, because I got one of the schedules to read, and my understanding was that Lady Matheson might get her own schedules for her own side.

13782. But that surveyor is paid by Government?
—Well, he should have told that politely. It would have left the people more satisfied. They were not satisfied with him, because he did not speak very politely to the people.

13783. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You said there were fourteen families in 1825 and seventy now. Where have these families come from?
—It is the natural increase of the place.

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