Meavaig, Lewis, 4 June 1883 - Norman Morrison

NORMAN MORRISON, Crofter and Fisherman, Breanish (61)—examined.

13848. The Chairman.
—Have you been freely elected a delegate by the people of Breanish ?—Yes.

13849. How many people were present when you were elected?
—All the male population of the town.

13850. Have you any statement to make on behalf of the people ?
—I would say, in the first place, that they are crowded so much together that they have no way of living. Our places were crowded first when the neighbouring township of Miolasta was cleared. Six families of that township ware thrown in among us ; the rest were hounded away to Australia and America, and I think I hear the cry of the children till this day. There were others came from various townships since at different times as these were being cleared, and I instance various examples—one from one place one from another—and not one was placed in among us in that way, but accommodation was provided for him by subdividing one of the lots that were in the place. We were deprived of the old rights of the township moorland pasture. The half of the island of Miolasta belonged in the time of my grandfather to our township and a neighbouring township. We were deprived of that. We got no abatement of rent when we were deprived of that, but when Cameron lotted out the township the rent was increased by £30.

13851. How long is it since the island of Miolasta was taken from you ?
—Nearly sixty years.

13852. How long is it since the township of Miolasta was cleared?
—About forty-five years ago.

13853. As you are sixty-one years of age, you can perhaps remember how many families there were in Breanish before the township was cleared.. and the people taken to Breanish
—Between twelve and sixteen.

13854. How many are there now ?

13855. How many of those are crofters paying rent to the proprietor
—There are twenty-nine names on the rent roll.(See Appendix A, XLI)

13856. And the rest are cottars?
—There are some of them who pay from 5s. to 10s.

13857. Then the number of the families has increased from sixteen to forty-three. How many of that number do you think have come in from the outside, and how many are the natural increase of the place ?
—Seven came from the outsida We also consider we have a grievance with respect to the herd upon the march. It is fourteen years since a herd was set apart for ourselves and the neighbouring tacksman, and we are quite willing to pay the half of the wages of that shepherd, but we have always had the idea that the neighbouring tacksman marching with us ought to pay the other half. We were also complaining about the dyke that was built about thirty-four years ago. It was built in the time of the destitution, and the people were paid for the building of it by so much Indian meal. Four shillings or five shillings additional rent was placed upon every one that was on the rent roll at that date for this dyke, and we were under the impression that when the expense of putting up the fence was paid this 4s. or 5s. would be taken away.

13858. What good is the dyke?
—It never was of much service. It was meant to enclose the arable ground, but being only a turf dyke it stood only two or three years, and it never was repaired either by landlord or tenant. We are also complaining of the fank that was set up in Miolasta after it was cleared. It is only about 20 feet long by 12 feet broad. All the sheep sink into it down halfway to the belly.

13859. Is your township surrounded by dykes?
—-Yes, we march with a tack.

13860. You have disputes with the tacksman about sheep?
—Yes; I have seen the blankets taken off the beds to pay for poinding money, and I have seen the plaids of the women taken away for the same purpose.

13861. If there was a fence put round all your hill pasture so as to separate you from the tacksman, would that be of service to you ?
—Yes, it would be of service while it lasted.

13862. If the proprietor was inclined to put up a wire fence round your pasture would you contribute by your labour to put it up ?
—I am not able to speak on behalf of the people in that matter. We did not consult together on such a question as that.

13863. Do you think it would be a wise thing to do ?
—It would not be an unfair thing to do, but these things did not occur in the time of the present shepherd.

13864. Did you benefit by your sheep running upon the tacksman's land ?
—No, we would not allow them there, but then we cannot keep them off. They are none the better of going there at all; once they are caught they are confined.

13865. If you could get back the half of the island that was taken away from you, would you be able to stock it and pay rent for it ?
—I am of opinion that it would be of great service to them, in order to enable them to pay the rent if they got it back.

13866. If you got back the half of the island, would you be willing to pay rent for it ?
—I did not take the opinion of the people of the township on that matter, but I should think it would be a great benefit to them to enable them to pay their rent. What I understood to be the feeling of the people was that they wished to plead for the old rights of the township.

13867. Professor Mackinnon.
—I understand that to be that they should get it back without any rent ?
—Yes, that is the feeling of the people—that they ought to get it back according to the old rights of the place without any additional rent.

13868. The Chairman
-—When it was taken away from you, was the rent reduced ?
—No; on the contrary, the rent was raised. There was £30 additional placed upon the township, since I succeeded my father.

13869. What was the total in your father's time?

13870. What is it now?
-—£100 now, bare rent.

13871. When was it raised ?
—The rent was raised since Sir James Matheson bought the property, when Mr Cameron, surveyor, lotted out the place.

13872. What was your individual rent before it was raised?
—The rent of the township was raised when I got possession of my croft, and it was raised at the very time the crofts were lotted out, so that I cannot tell the former rent. I already stated the rent to be £ 5 of bare rent and £ 2 of assessments. The croft is divided between myself and my brother.

13873. What do these assessments consist of?
—There is 4s. or 5s. for the dyke fence I spoke of. Then there is 4s. or 5s. more for moorland grazing. Then there is the school rate and the poor rate, and the doctor's money, and 1s. for hen money.

13874. Where is the moor pasture you speak of ?
—The moorland ground is summer pasture. At the end of summer the cattle graze upon it for four or six weeks. We don't send sheep there—only the cattle.

13875. When did you get that pasture, or did you always have it?
—In my grandfather's time or before that.

13876. Did you pay the 5s. then, or was it included in the rest of your rent ?
—This 5s. was added to our rent in Sir James's time. I never heard of it before that.

13877. How near is the school to you at Breanish?
—About 100 yards from the nearest house.

13878. How far are you from the church?
—We are about eight miles from this one.

13879. And how far from the Free Church?

13880. You are the furthest away township on the west of Lewis are you not?
—Yes, that is inhabited by crofters.

13881. There is no other between you and Harris?
—No, there is no other crofter township between us and Harris.

13882. Is there a road to Breanish?
—There is no road past Miolasta.

13883. How far are you past that place?
—About one mile.

13884. And how far is the doctor from you?
—About thirty miles by land, and about eighteen by water by taking advantage of the ferry.

13885. Have you ever had a doctor nearer you than that?
—It is only one doctor before that we ever had in the parish.

13886. Is it a grievance to be so far from the doctor?
—Very great. When we come down to take advantage of the ferry we have to get a boat from some other person.

13887. What is your stock ?
—Two milk cows and three young beasts.

13888. And your sheep?
—Fifteen or twenty sheep.

13889. And a horse ?
—No, I never had, and never shall have until I get grazing for it. My grandfather had. My brother has about the same amount of stock that I have.

13890. And what is the rent of your own and your brother's croft ?
—£3, and there is 10s. of taxes in addition.

13891. Then your whole rent is £ 3, 10s. Do you consider that rent too high ?
—Yes, for all the crops we can take out of the place.

13892. Have any of the other people of Breauish a horse?
—No, there is no horse in the township

13893. Where is the land near you that could be added to you ?
—Once you pass Valtos there is not a crofter between that and my own house—a stretch of ten miles—and every foot of that is available.

13894. In whose hands are these ten miles?
—Two tacksmen—John Macrae and Alexander Macrae, and Mr Mackay. It is not more than ten years since they were removed from one of these townships, but it is a large number of years since they were removed from the others.

13895. Is there very good arable land on these farms ?
—That was the garden of Uig both for crops and pasture.

13896. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—With reference to a remark you made about some people being evicted, that the wail was still ringing in your ears. Who was it that put these people out?
—Sir James Matheson's predecessor.

13897. Who got their land?
—John Macrae from Kintail.

13898. Who has got the land just now ?
—Mr Mitchell

13899. Where does he stay?

13900. Does he live there ?

13901. Is he a native of the island ?

13902. I would like to get some explanation about the herd you spoke of. You complained that they had to pay the whole wages of the herd with the adjoining tacksman, but I understood you also to say that the tacksman nominated the herd. Is that so ?
—We appoint him ourselves, at the instance of the chamberlain and Mr Mitchell; but it is not our present chamberlain that imposed him upon us, but his predecessor, Mr Munro.

13903. Would you not, unless compelled, get a herd at all?
—A herd is necessary. He is engaged there during the half year, the summer and autumn, and the tacksman's shepherd could not keep the march very well without a herd. We are quite willing to pay the half of the herd; the tacksman has a shepherd upon his side of the march.

13904. But you don't pay any of his wages?
—He has a shepherd upon the other side of the fence, and we pay no portion of his wages.

13905. Then, I suppose, the real grievance is that this herd can only be utilised and made use of at the march alone?
—Yes, he is appointed entirely for the march. He was imposed upon us fourteen years ago, and we have paid £61 for him since. That would go a great way to pay the arrears of rent to the proprietor.

13906. Do any of the tacksman's sheep come across into your ground?
—They don't come much across except in autumu, when they come into our arable ground.

13907. Do you poind them then?
—No; since the first shepherd came in there has not been a sheep poinded to the present day, so far as ever I heard.

13908. Notwithstanding that yours were poinded ?
—Yes, and taken to the man's house. It was called the black prison from John Macrae's time until the present time.

13909. What was the reason you never poinded tacksmen's sheep, were you afraid of the consequences ?
—That would only make matters worse. The harrowing and harassing of stock would be greater if we were to poind upon one side and they to poind upon the other. Then we have to provide peat ground for the shepherd at Miolasta. His peats are cut for the last fourteen years just where our sheep and cattle rest. This was also done by Mr Munro, the former factor.

13910. Are you and your neighbours worse off in your circumstances than your grandfathers were ?
—Very much worse. My father never earned one penny out of the island of Lewis, and he was not a penny in arrears when he died. Neither did my grandfather earn a penny out of the island.

13911. It was not necessary ?
—No. My great-grandfather marked thirty-six black lambs of his own in one year, in addition to the white ones in Miolasta. Then they had horses, cattle, and sheep in addition; and we have no doubt whatever it was the crowding upon us of other people, and the subdivision of the lots, and the land being taken from us, that has reduced us to our present state. We have no hope of being improved in our condition except by getting enlarged holdings.

13912. And you say there are ten miles that you could walk through without a house ?
—Yes. Then, if you go to the other side of our township, there is a stretch of twelve miles till you reach Harris, and there is no one there except big sheep and shepherds.

13913. What is the name of the place?
—The whole of it is occupied by two men—Mr Mitchell, Miolasta, and Mr Macrae, Edaraoil. There are eight or nine townships cleared there. Each of them would make provision for one or two crofters.

13914. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—How many descendants paying rent to the landlord has your grandfather left ?
—Five paying rent.

13915. Are there any heads of families besides ?
—There is no other. There are young men who are not married. These are all the male heads of families.

13916. Sheriff Nicolson.
—At what age did you marry?

13917. And your brothers, when did they marry?
—My father had two families, and of my three brothers one of them married about the same age as myself, and the other two were somewhat younger.

13918. Most of your people marry very soon?
—They don't marry socsoon now as they used to do in my younger days.

13919. The Chairman.
—Did you ever pay anything for poinded sheep to the present tenant, Mr Mitchell?
—Never to Mr Mitchell, but to his predecessor.

13920. How long has Mr Mitchell been there?
—Fourteen years.

13921. So you have not paid anything for poinding for fourteen years?
—No, I paid nothing myself. My stock seldom strayed.

13922. Has anybody else paid Mr Mitchell poinding money?
—I am not able to say.

13923. Do you keep your shepherd the whole or only part of the year?
—Half of the year.

13924. Does Mr Mitchell keep his shepherd the whole year?
—Yes, the whole year. I don't know he keeps him upon the march the whole year, but he is in his service the whole year.

13925. But he probably comes to the inarch during the course of those six months?
—I have no doubt he frequents the march the whole year round, when our herd is there and when he is not there.

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