FINLAY MACKENZIE, Crofter, Tabost (53)—examined.
15502. The Chairman.
—Were you freely elected a delegate?
15503. How many people were there at your election ?
—There were a good many. Most of the fishers were at sea.
15504. Will you be so good as make a statement on behalf of the people ?
—The chief complaint of the Tabost people is the scarcity of land. Most of the land has been subdivided, and is now occupied by two families where there was one before. In 1850 I believe the number of families on the rent roll was twenty-two, and now there are at least forty-six. That came about, in the first place, by the new division of lots made, when Sir James Matheson came into the property. He made ten new lots, and the old lots were subdivided among the existing families. I have nothing more to say.
15505. You say there are now forty-six families, and there were formerly twenty-two. Have any of these been brought in since the lots were made from other places ?
—One or two came from other townships in the neighbourhood.
15506. Then the remainder are the natural increase of the families?
15507. Have many of the people in Tabost availed themselves of the regulations of the estate to make improved houses ?
—Yes, some have.
15508. Are there many houses in the township in which the families and the cattle live in the same room without any partition between them ?
—Some are so ; others not.
15509. In other places we have generally found there is a stone partition between the cattle and the dwelling place. Was it the old fashion in Lewis not to have a partition ?
—So far as I remember that was the old fashion. Any improvement that has been made in that respect is recent.
15510. Do you think it a bad thing that there should be no partition between the cattle and the family ?
15511. Would it be a good thing if there was a regulation to oblige them always to have a partition between the two ?
—I believe it would be good for the people to do so, and in respect of that belief I have done it myself.
15512. What stock do you keep?
—Three cows, three stirks, about thirty sheep, and two horses.
15513. What is your rent ?
—£7 besides taxes.
15514. Have you a larger amount of stock than most of the people, or is that the usual summing of a croft ?
—I have more stock and more land than most of the people. I pay the highest rent in the place.
15515 Since you have been there has any one been evicted from the township except for non-payment of rent ?
15516. Has any hill pasture been taken away since you have been there ?
—None except what was give to the new lots.
15517. Where were the people brought from who have got the new lots ?
—From the families of Tabost itself.
15518. There have been no introductions from other places?
—There were one or two from neighbouring townships.
15519. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Besides being a crofter I understand you are a merchant and have a small shop ?
15520. What do you deal in?
—General goods—tea, groceries, and clothing.
15521. Are you a fish-curer too ?
15522. What are the circumstances of the people just now as compared with what you remember them ? Are they better off or poorer ?
—Surely they are poorer in their circumstances.
15523. You know that from dealing with them?
15524. Do you know that the produce of the crofts is falling off from overcrowding and otherwise ?
—I consider that on my own croft.
15525. And I suppose you give your croft fuU justice in the way of manure ?
—Yes, so far as I can.
15526. You can tell us something about the fish traffic in this neighbourhood. Do you think that the new quay here will be of great value to the place ?
—Well, I expect so.
15527. There are not many herring brought in here?
—There are no herring at all.
15528. Whatever herring are caught go on to Stornoway ?
15529. But there is no reason, if there was a landing place, why they should not come here ?
—If there was a safe landing place for boats they would come here.
15530. How far out does the fishing extend?
—I cannot say, but they are going out of sight from here.
15531. Are you a native of the place?
15532. Have you got on in the world ?
—No, I am complaining.
15533. But everybody complains?
15534. In regard to the fish-curing, what price are you giving to the fishermen for cod and ling ?
—I don't buy cod—only ling. I give them a shilling for ling.
15535. Have the fishermen with whom you deal boats of their own?
— Only one of them has.
15536. Have you a share in the boat yourself?
—No, I have not a share in a boat. I am keeping the boats for the fishermen at so much for the season.
15537. What do you give to the fishermen who are employed for the season ? Do you give them any wages except the shilling for the ling ?
15538. Do you provide the boat and everything else?
—Yes, I provide the boat.
15539. And the nets?
—They buy the lines themselves. It is only lines they use, there are no nets.
15540. I suppose you are obliged to make advances to them?
—Yes, a good deal sometimes.
15541. And if they have anything to get from you do you pay them in money?
15542. How often do you settle with them?
—Once a year—in November.
15543. You know yourself by that time what price you will get for the ling?
—Yes, for the past season.
15544. What is the present price for meal to the people per boll?
—About 22s. here at present.
15545. You have to pay all the carriage?
15546. What else besides meal do you give to the fishermen?
—Every fishing material, and oil-skins, and the like of that.
15547. Are they complaining at all that you are charging them too much?
15548. I suppose, in the same way, when you buy in the south, you think you will be paying too much to the wholesale men ?
15549. You have told us that the only way to put the people right in your opinion is to give them more land, Is there anything else you think would benefit the people here ?
—I am thinking that they would require to get a remedy by the sea—to assist them with boats and nets to carry on the herring fishing, as the ling fishing now is a great failure.
15550. You think that by getting assistance in the way of superior boats and nets the herring fishing could be carried on to a great advantage ?
—They are thinking so.
15551. Would the proposed harbour works here be sufficient in the meantime to accommodate a considerable number of herring boats?
—We are thinking it would keep 100 boats or so—may be more.
15552. It is not proposed at present to make it a deep-water harbour, but only a tidal harbour ?—Yes.
15553. What fall is there in the tide?
—They cannot come into the harbour at ebb tide.
15554. Mr Cameron.
—Why do you not buy cod as well as ling?
—They are not catching cod here.
15555. If they did catch cod could you dispose of cod as well as ling?
—They are not engaged for the cod.
15556. But if they did catch cod is there any difficulty in salting cod?
—No, they could be sold.
15557. You could dispose of cod as well as ling if you got them?
15558. Do you think the seasons have been worse for agricultural labour within the last few years ?
—Yes, a great deal worse.
15559. Do you think that has anything to do with the land not being so productive as well as the exhaustion of the land?
—No, I don't think so.
15560. But do not bad seasons generally affect agriculture?
—Well, I cannot say anything about that. I would leave it fully to Providence.
15561. What sort of common pasture have the people here? Is the pasture good
15562. Is it chiefly moorland ?
15563. Bog and peat ?
15564. Is any of it in the neighbourhood of Tabost susceptible of improvement so as to be brought into cultivation?
—I cannot tell that.
15565. Is any of the land in the neighbourhood of Tabost susceptible of improvement in the same way as land was improved by Sir James Matheson ?
—I dont see any in Tabost that could be improved.
15566. Or in the neighbourhood ?
15567. Is none of it capable of improvement?
—I don't think it.
15568. Is it all too boggy?
—Yes, too boggy.
15569. Are you married ?
15570. Have you children ?
15571. Do they go to school?
15572. Are you satisfied with things as regards the school?
—Yes; I cannot say anything about the school, only I would like to get a Gaelic speaking teacher. All the people wish to get that.
15573. Are you a member of the School Board?
15574. Who are the members of the School Board here?
—Mr Mackay, the factor ; Mr M'Arthur, the ground officer; Mr Helme, Galston; Mr Macbeth, Free Church minister; Mr M'Farquhar, Free Church minister, Barvas ; another Mr M'Farquhar, and Mr John M'Leod, merchant.
15575. Have the people ever represented to the board that they would like a Gaelic-speaking teacher ?
15576. Is this the reason they wish a Gaelic-speaking teacher, that he could teach Gaelic, or that he would be able to teach the children the ordinary branches of education better?
—I think they would be able to learn better if they were taught in Gaelic.
15577. The Chairman.
—Is there any person of the crofter class upon the School Board ?
15578. Was there ever previously any person of that class on the School Board ?
15579. Did you ever hear the people say they would like a representative of the crofter class ?
15580. What is the time you settle with the fishermen?
—In the month of November.
15581. At last settlement in November what was the price that was charged for meal per boll ?
—Last year they were charged at 23s. for oatmeal.
15582. Any other kind of meal?
—Bere meal, 20s. to 22s.
15583. Do they buy any wheat flour ?
15584. Where do you buy it wholesale?
—I buy it in Glasgow and Stornoway.
15585. What was the wholesale price you paid for the oatmeal for which you charged 23s.?
—I am paying from 19s. to 20s. sometimes, and the freight from Stornoway to Ness.
15586. Last year you charged 23s. for meal in November; what was the wholesale price you paid for that in Glasgow ?
—I did not buy the meal in Glasgow. I only buy clothing there. I buy the meal in Stornoway.
15587. What was the price you paid at Stornoway?
—About 20s. on an average.
15588. I did not ask you about the average. I asked you if you could remember what was the price you paid that year for the meal for which you charged 23s.?—I was not paying the same price all the time.
15589. About how much was it ?
15590. It was not more than 20s.?
15591. Was 20s. the highest?
—There was some of it higher than 20s.
15592. Are the people frequently in debt to you a long time, or do you always settle with them once a year ?
—I just settle with them for the fishing once a year.
15593. Of late years have you found the people less able to pay, and more disposed to run into debt, or are they just about the same as they formerly were?
—I dont mind that.
15594. I want to understand whether the people are in more difficult circumstances—whether their poverty is increasing or not—so I ask you whether you find they pay with more difficulty, or whether they pay as easily as they did formerly ?
—It was easier to pay in former years.
15595. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You say you settle with the fishermen every November?
15596. That is to say, you square accounts; but I suppose you do not get full payment from them ?
—No, but if any person has to get money I square the account up and pay the money.
15597. If there is any balance due to the men, you pay it in money ?
15598. But I am afraid, from what we can learn, that does not often happen?
—Not these years.
15599. But within the time you have been doing business has it frequently occurred that you paid them a balance?
15600. Frequently ?