Ness, Lewis, 7 June 1883 - John Macdonald

JOHN MACDONALD, Crofter, South Dell, (57)—examined.

15738. The Chairman.
—Where is South Dell?
—About three miles west of this.

15739. Were you freely elected by the people?

15740. Have you got a statement to make ?
—Regarding their poverty. I have more than time will allow me to tell. You have heard already of the small holdings and the high rents, and I need not enter into details on that matter. They are very poor. Some are in want of food. That is their sorest cry. The land is so heavily burdened that it cannot yield crop, and just as that is the case the land that is pastured on by sheep is, as it were, crying out to be cultivated. We complain of the heavy assessments. The schools are a very great burden upon us. We were not used to that burden, and our poverty scarcely can bear it well. We prefer the schools we had before. Our objection to the present mode of education is that the rule which the Almighty has given us for our salvation is treated as a boy plays at 'skippack,'—just a slap, and be done with it.

15741. Do you mean there is not sufficient time given for religious education ?
—Yes, that it is merely a name. I have nothing to say against the late proprietor or against Lady Matheson, although they had bad managers under them, and just as the proprietors were badly served in our district so the Government is badly served in our district also. I must tell of a piece of impertinence where we were made a laughing stock of by the whipper-in of the children,—that is, the officer of the School Board,—just that he opened a letter that we were sending to Mr Mackay, the chamberlain. Mr Mackay himself knows about it. When there is such an amount of distress as that, these are not suitable people, as they would say in England, to administer a new colony. Our poverty would plead for patience and compassion in dealing with us. To put it in one word, the state of the place ought to be a matter of serious concern and humiliation to the people that are assembled here to-day. It is as though we were suffering from the wrath of the Almighty upon man's sin.

15742. You complain that the religious education is not sufficient. Do you think the children learn less of their religion now than they did formerly ?
—I am quite certain that they do. They do not understand what they are learning.

15743. Do they learn the Shorter Catechism ?
—A small portion at the beginning—the easy bit.

15744. Do they learn it in English or learn it in Gaelic?
—Oh! what but English, that they don't understand.

15745. Do they learn to read the Bible in Gaelic ?
—No, not at all.

15746. Have you ever represented this complaint to the School Board ?
—No, we did not.

15747. Are you dissatisfied with the present School Board?
—We complain of it.

15748. You know you can change the board at the next election ?
—I believe we have that power.

15749. You said the Government was ill-served because the officer of the School Board had behaved in an overbearing manner. Now the officer is not a servant of Government, but is a servant of the School Board, and if you change the School Board the School Board can change the officer ?
—I understand that quite well, but I wish to state in reply, that the officer when he did the act was quite convinced that he was backed by sufficient authority.

15750. To whom was the letter given?
—To the compulsory officer to bring it to the post office.

15751. Was the letter closed and sealed?

15752. Was it opened before it was put into the post office?
—It never was put into the post office.

15753. How do you know it was opened by the compulsory officer?
—Well, we went to search for that letter, and we could not get it in his house until his son would come home from school. We found it then, and we knew that it had been opened. There was an address upon it then in a different handwriting from the original one.

15754. Did you complain to Mr Mackay?
—He was spoken to about it at the School Board.

15755. What did Mr Mackay do ?
—He said the man ought to be taken up.

15756. Was he taken up ?
—The fiscal would have nothing to do with it, because he was not a servant of the post office.

15757. Has the School Board discharged the man?

15758. Do you think be ought to be discharged?
—Well, I do not want a man to be destroyed,—killed indeed,—but I wish that evil deeds should cease.

15759. They cease when they are made public?
—I wish that would come about.

15760. You complain about the school rate being so heavy. Now the minister told us yesterday that if all the children in the parish went to school the Government grant would be so large that there would scarcely be any rate at all. Have you ever been told that ?
—Yes, I heard that, but every person in this district is not a minister, and as such, able to shoe his children so that they can go to school.

15761. But the children all over Scotland, at least in many parts, go to school without shoes ?
—That is the case. There is no man here who is more anxious that children should be educated than I am, but I see clearly that cannot be done.

15762. Do you candidly think that the parents could not do a little more to send more of their children, and more regularly, to school ?
—I believe that the parents do not in that sense do as much as they could. I am further of opinion that if the man who introduced the Bill into Parliament had been a Ness fisherman, or a fisherman on the West side of Lewis, he would not have introduced such a measure at all.

15763. But it is very difficult to make laws which are equally applicable to all places ?
—That is quite the case.

15764. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What is the name of the officer who opened your letter ?
—Donald Murray, Tabost.

15765. Though you and your fellow-crofters know that you can change the School Board at next election, are you afraid of doing so, and thereby offending the higher powers?
—Yes, poverty causes us to be afraid.

15766. How many people are now living in your township ?

15767. Were you born there ?

15768. How long have you been there ?
—Fourteen years.

15769. How many were there fourteen years ago ?

15770. Do you know how many were there fifty years ago?

15771. Do you complain of being over-crowded as well as of high rent ?
—Yes, we are.

15772. Do you know about the people who were removed from Galston ?
—I ought to. I was born there, and my ancestors lived there.

15773. What was the name of the town you lived in ?
—North Galston.

15774. How many families were removed from that town?
—There were over sixty of them. Fifty-four paid rent.

15775. Were there any more townships cleared besides North Galston ?
—Other three.

15776. Name them?
—Balmeanach, Melbost, and South Galston. In Balmeanach there were ten families, in Melbost twenty-five, and in South Galston thirteen.

15777. Were these removed at one time, or did it run over several years ?
—Over several years.

15778. How long altogether?
—Would it take ten years?
—They were removed at intervals during a period of twelve years.

15779. How long is it since the last clearance?
—Twenty years ago.

15780. Was the whole of this done in Sir James Matheson's time?
—The whole of it, and without his knowledge.

15781. Was it all done under the one chamberlain?

15782. Who were the two ?
—Mr Munro Mackenzie to begin with, and then Mr Munro.

15783. What was done with the land from which these families were cleared ?
—It was given to the tacksman.

15784. Was it the case that as each successive clearance took place the tack was enlarged ?
—Yes, that was the case.

15785. Were you well off when you were living at North Galston ?
—I could not ask to be better off.

15786. Was that the case with your co-crofters generally at the time?
—Almost the whole of them were so at first, but at a later period the tenants of South Galston were added on to them, and then they were not so well off.

15787. There seem to have been 108 families altogether, we shall say upwards of 100. What became of those families?
—About forty of them went to America. The rest was scattered all over the country.

15788. Was it against their will that they were put out of Galston?
—Yes, it was against our will, but we went away without being summoned.

15789. Was it for the benefit of the Galston people that they were turned out in this way and went some to America, and some to other places ?
—I don't know one who benefited by it except one family.

15790. Who was the one family?
—Angus Graham, now in Shader.

15791. How did he benefit?
—He got better land where he went to than the land he was put out of.

15792. Why was he favoured?
—There was a reason for giving him a favour too ; he built a slated house in that place.

15793. Would you like to go back to North Galston?
—I would have some of my furniture there before I slept if I got it.

15794. In regard to the Gaelic, you stated that the children were not taught their religious knowledge, and especially that the want of instruction in Gaelic was against them. Is there any Sunday school in connection with any church where they teach the Bible ?
—There is a Sabbath school in the schoolhouse up in our place for about an hour.

15795. Who teaches that ?
—The schoolmaster, with some assistants.

15796. Are they taught in Gaelic there to read the Bible?
—I cannot tell, I will not allow any one to go to it myself anyhow. They are making a greater amount of mischief going and coming, than they are obtaining good within it.

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