DONALD M'IVER, Crofter and Blacksmith, Cross of Ness (50)—examined.
15694. The Chairman.
—Were you freely elected a delegate?
15695. Have you a statement to make?
—Yes. I that think that the island of Lewis would have been very much the better, and very fortunate indeed, if the present factor had been appointed when Mr Munro Mackenzie was appointed. I myself paid rents to three factors, and I have seen him do what neither of his two predecessors did,—that is, to wipe off arrears which poor people could not pay. Our people complain that they are still suffering from the oppression and highhandedness of the two former factors, Mr Mackenzie and Mr Munro. An old man of eighty in our township tells me that he saw the township occupied by seven families, and that the rent of it at that time was £42, 16s. 6d. To-day it is £76, 3s. in addition to taxes.
15696. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many families?
—There are thirty-five paying rent, and one not. They complain that for the last thirteen or fourteen years £100 a year of rent is imposed upon the district from Shader downwards, which ought properly to be paid by the farm of Galston. I cannot personally testify to this, but the people complain that that is the case.
15697. Will you explain it ?
—There is a succeeding delegate who can explain these matters better than I can. They complain of the want of land, and that the rent of what they have is high.
15698. There were seven families in the recollection of a very old man. When you first remember, how many families were there resident ?
—I believe it has been much about the same ever since I remember as it is to-day.
15699. You remember about thirty years back?
—I only came to this place fifteen years ago.
15700. Where did you come from?
—South Dell, in this parish.
15701. When you came here did you get a croft?
15702. Was it a vacant croft or was there a croft made for you?
—I exchanged with another man.
15703. Have you got full employment as a blacksmith?
15704. Do you find your employment as a blacksmith increasing, or has it fallen off?
—Work does not decrease, but blacksmiths increase, and so the amount of work which each gets is less, but there is more work going.
15705. Where is the nearest blacksmith ?
15706. How far off is that?
—About half a mile.
15707. Do you think the people have fewer horses now than they had when you came here ?
—About the same.
15708. Have they more carts now?
—The carts are not fewer; probably they are more numerous.
15709. What stock do you keep in your croft?
—A horse, two cows, two young animals, twenty sheep.
15710. What is your rent?
—£3, 1s. in addition to taxes.
15711. Has your rent been increased since you came?
—Yes, very much.
15712. In what respect?
—The very year I came Mr Hunter, then ground officer, rearranged the rents. He increased the rent at that time. There was 5s. that used to be paid in labour, and this man imposed it upon us in the name of moorland pasture, as rent. Then he charged 1s. a head extra to defray the cost of the estate books in which he entered down our names in the rent roll; that is, he told us so. Then there was hen money, Is., and my share of the rent of Galston about 1s. in the pound, I believe. But our township pays less in proportion than any other township in Ness of this Galston rent. I used to hear that other townships were charged 2s. a pound for this Galston business.
15713. How much was added altogether?
—I reckoned it about 9s.
15714. But 5s. was instead of labour?
—Why was it put down in the name of moorland pasture, because we were paying for the moorland pasture before.
15715. Probably part was the one and part was the other?
—He did it through high-handedness.
15716. You say you have one horse, two cows, two stirks, and twenty sheep per £3, Is. Do you think the rent is too high?
—I do not complain so much of the high rent as of the small holding. If I had a third more land I would be much better off—or perhaps half as much again.
15717. Do you depend most on your trade as a blacksmith or most upon the land ?
—To tell the truth, I believe that the one source of industry injures the other. If I had half as much again of land I might perhaps keep a pair of horses and a servant lad, and then I could give my whole time to my own trade, but as it is, I am injured by acting as a tradesman to-day and acting as a farm-servant to-morrow.
15718. Are your own charges the same now as they were fifteen years ago ?
—No, they are not exactly the same. The old custom of the country was that each crofter paid a peck of corn, as blacksmith's dues, for keeping his agricultural implements in good order, but now the people have got very poor, and they cannot pay us in grain or money, so that we tradesmen suffer in that way.
15719. Do you make the same charge for shoeing a horse that you did fifteen years ago ?
—The price varies, depending upon the price of coal and iron. A few years ago these were very dear, and we charged 4s. for a complete set, or Is. per shoe. We do it just now for 3s. per set, or 9d. per shoe.
15720. Do you find iron much cheaper now than it used to be ?
—It is much cheaper than it was some years ago.
15721. But comparing your charge with what it was fifteen years ago ?
—It would be about 3s. fifteen years ago. The 4s. was a few years ago when we paid very high for iron and coal.
15722. Do you work for ready money, or do you give the people credit ?
—We give credit, and we are none the better of it sometimes.
15723. Do you find the people are less able to pay their debts now than they were formerly ?
—They are less able. They would pay if they could.
15724. Do you think that that is a proof that people are poorer than they were ?
—Yes. The great poverty of the place is the cause of it.
15725. What is the name of the delegate who knows about this £100 upon Galston ?
15726. The Chairman.
—Did you say that 1s. had been imposed for the expense of the estate books that were used ?
—That is what the ground officer himself told me.
15727. How long ago is that?
—About fifteen years. Hunter did an additional act of high-handedness in our township which I had forgot. He took land from an old man who had a croft there, and he gave him a new croft, and of that croft there was only brought under cultivation at the expense of the proprietor a small bit, and the crofter himself stated that he got it at the rent of waste land. Afterwards this ground officer, John Hunter, doubled the rent and deprived him of his horse.
15728. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What was the crofter's name ?
—Allan Graham. He took from him his horse in payment of arrears. The man had a weak family, and was scarcely able to keep matters agoing.
15729. The Chairman.
—But with reference to this question of the shilling, you say that Hunter told you it was for the expense of the books. Now Hunter has authorised a gentleman named Mr Walter Rose at Stornoway to contradict this. The same assertion was made by another witness previously; Mr Rose has been authorised to say that such a charge never was made at all ?
—I believe I can get plenty of witnesses to whom he said it as well as to me.
15730. Was the shilling charged only for one year, or was it made a permanent charge ?
—We pay it yet. It was added on as additional rent.
15731. There is probably some misunderstanding or mistake about the reason why the shilling was put on, and I will inquire into it ?
—I had the ground officer's own statement for it.
15732. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Could Hunter speak Gaelic?
15733. And you have no doubt in your own mind that he so stated it ?
—No doubt whatever. I believe he said it to many another man as well as me.
15734. With regard to the other matter of Macdonald, who was illtreated, where was the croft ?
—In our own township.
15735. What became of him ?
—He is in the new croft he got
15736. Is he here ?
—No, I don't think he is here to-day. I asked him to come, but he did not come.
15737. The Chairman.
—Mr Mackay, the factor, informs me that there is no such shilling entered in the books, and he does not know what the ground officer may have said in former times ?
—We don't know what he may have done with it. I only repeat his own statement.